Police, the Lovely and the Ugly
On May 26th 2011, I graduated from the Seattle Police Citizens’ Academy after attending a ten-week course designed to help civilians understand the workings of the Seattle Police Department. My motivation was to understand how the Seattle Police works and then to push Muslims to join the Police. I firmly believe that Muslims must get involved in the life and the workings of every country where they live, because that is the best path towards helping the non-Muslim majority populations understand who we Muslims are and to help them accept us as no different than any of them. How else can the departments be helped to a better understanding of who we are and how else are we to de-fang the myths that are promoted against us, by fear-mongers?
Towards this end, I believe Muslims must become volunteers, interns and members of law-enforcement departments (Police, FBI etc.,), political offices and service agencies wherever an opportunity should present itself.
At the end of the ten-week session, I found myself in a strange position; I still promote Muslims’ involvements in every field, but I am deeply disturbed by the training and attitudes that are ingrained in every Police officer. I was so torn between support of an agency whose goals are admirable and the training of their officers, that I kept putting off writing about my experience, week after week, because I was unable to work it out for myself.
It is time I wrote.
I will start with each week, sharing my impressions and outlining the things I like and advocate for and things I did not care for, in the Police. It must be noted that while I am writing about my experience with the Seattle Police, I am quite certain that it applies to every Police department in the US; Some may be better and some may be worse, but in general, they all probably fall within the same range as the Seattle Police.
The Police is our public safety agency, they are assigned the task of keeping the public peace, ensuring that people live in peace, without threats to their person and that in the main, public life continues without threats to anyone. Their job is to help people follow the law, because the law is designed to protect people and property.
One issue I had with Police jargon was the use of the word “citizen” when they clearly mean “civilian”. The use of the term “citizen” is misleading and could create the feeling among non-US citizens, that they are not important enough to be protected or that their rights are not strong enough where the Police is concerned. I asked a senior Police officer why such language is used and he thought perhaps it was because the Police refer to their civilian staff as “civilians” and in order to distinguish from staff, the Police use the word “citizen”. Police departments all over the countries of Europe and (Pakistan) where I have been, use “civilian” when they are interacting with the public and they use “civilian staff” when talking about their own civilian staff and even the military does the same. I fail to see how using “civilian” and civilian staff” can be such a complicated terminology that the Police cannot use it, especially since such language can help better the comfort level between civilians and Police.
Week 1. Introductions by Deputy Chief Metz, Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) and a Mock Trial. I missed this session but I can register my high regard for Deputy Chief Metz and my low regard for the OPA.
A few years ago, the Muslim communities had some problems with the Seattle Police selection of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Tool for Tolerance “sensitivity” training. We objected to paying an organization that moonlights in the promotion of fear and hate towards Islam, Muslims and Arabs and ironically, is building a “Museum of Tolerance” on a site of an ancient Muslim cemetery in the face of massive opposition by Muslims and Jews of good faith. During the discussions we asked if anyone had done a background check of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC)and it turned out that the OPA had not conducted any research on SWC. It was at that point that the OPA ran for cover and stopped responding to our concerns. In my opinion, the OPA was neither professional, nor did it hold itself accountable in this contentious situation. In my rare later interactions with OPA, it did not appear as if they had undergone any change since that time.
Week 2. Traffic enforcement, Criminal Law, Arrest and Search-and-Seizure procedures. A good course. We learnt about the improvements in technology which can help the Parking staff verify if people have been at the same spot beyond their time or not. We also learnt about the limits of Police authority and how we the public have a lack of understanding of our rights.
People cannot just be stopped and checked out without some probably cause. If an officer stops me and wants to see some id, I can say I don’t wish to show it unless s-he has reason to ask me and I can say I do not wish to be stopped unless s-he is detaining me or, taking me under arrest, in which case, I need to know what the charges are. The Police can connect with me exchanging pleasantries, but I can move on any time I wish. I must comply with their directives, but I can state my objection to being stopped in which case, the officer has to justify their interaction with me.
Too often, we are so intimidated by the fact that a law-enforcement officer (Police, FBI etc.,) is talking with us, that we forget that we have rights that they may not violate.
Week 3. Patrol ops & procedures and 911 communications. The 911 communications was very interesting. It took us from the time a call is made, to the time response arrives; how they determine the urgency of the call and the accuracy of the location and how they send out the nearest Police or other assistance unit.
The Patrol Operations and Procedures is where my discomfort with the Police training began.
It appears to me that the Police is trained with entirely the wrong emphasis for the use of force. Police appears to be trained to protect themselves and their partners first, second and last. It appears that civilian life is not held in high enough regard to make the Police hesitate before shooting and when they do shoot, they are trained to kill. I was disturbed at being faced with the prospect that we are being protected by a cadre of Kill-Ready people who are armed and quite willing to shoot to kill at the slightest pretext.
When asked why they cannot shoot to disable the person instead of shooting to kill him (they used the word “Stop”), one officer began to swing her arm back and forth and asked how one would shoot the gun out of that hand. The point, in my opinion, is not to see if the Police can shoot the gun out of the criminal’s hand a la a Western movie, the point is to disable him by taking a few shots at his legs instead. Yes, there is a danger that the criminal will take a shot at the officer and kill or injure him, but that is a part of the risk one takes when they don the Police uniform.
The justification of shooting to “stop” the person whether he is armed with a gun, a knife or a stick…or just his hands, is the protect the officer and his partners. The training provides for shooting in the center of the chest (heart) area and putting 3-4 bullets before stopping to see if it worked. Officers with rifles are trained to aim three shots, one at the heart, one at the hip-leg where the femoral artery is located so the person is “stopped”…in fact he bleeds out in seconds. And the final one at the head.
To be sure, the target is “stopped”, but does he NEED to be killed?
Is the Police life so precious that people may be killed simply to avoid the chance that the officer might get injured or killed?
Is a civilian life so cheap that killing a “suspect” who is uncooperative is not worthy of consideration?
I looked that the bullets that are issued to the Police and was shocked to see they were hollow-point bullets. They are designed to ,”maximizing tissue damage and blood loss or shock” and also, to stop while they are still in the target’s body; the ‘humane’ consideration here, may be that the bullet should not be allowed to pass through the target body and perhaps injure someone else, but I believe more consideration should be given to not shooting until absolutely necessary in the first place.
In my opinion, the extreme emphasis on “officer safety” and “partner protection” is grossly misplaced, the extreme emphasis should be in public safety and if that makes the Police officers reluctant to perform their duties, then they should seek another profession.
Week 4. Arson/Bomb and Sex-Offender & crimes against property. Very instructive. The Bomb-Squad dog was very attractive and quite good at sniffing out things that have the potential to go ‘Bang!’. It was fascinating to see how the Bomb experts were trained and how they performed they jobs in the face of such unpredictability and danger. We learnt about the differences in Misdemeanor and Felony crimes and how various crimes against property are defined, including computer hacking and a whole host of other crimes against property.
Week 5. Use of Force and Officer Safety/Defensive Tactics. This again brought up my misgivings about the use of force by the Police. I believe the latitudes given to the Police on the use of force is far too broad and not enough accountability is required when force is used. Of course, the officers using force are required to debrief on their use of force, but when the limits are as broad and vague as they are, it should not surprise anyone that “investigations” on the use of force almost always come up showing the officer used “appropriate force”. Even in cases as deeply disturbing as the one where a Lynnwood (my city) officer Meade shot and killed a drunk, non-compliant man, the officer was exonerated because it was not deemed an inappropriate use of force to kill him…all the officer had to do was say he felt threatened by the drunk’s behavior. In an extraordinary contradiction, Officer Meade was found by a jury, to be not guilty of criminal charges of killing the man, but was found to have shot the man “not in self-defense”.
It never ceases to amaze me, how permissive Police departments are, about the use of force against members of the public, even during stopping or, handcuffing “suspects”.
Week 6. Firearms training and Shoot-don’t-shoot exercises. I missed this one, I should probably try to attend it next time around.
Week 7. Narcotics and Crimes Against Persons. Interesting course about the work Police does against narcotics, how Methamphetamines are cooked and how they affect people mentally and physically. Crimes against persons also helped us understand how personal crimes are defined.
Week 8. Elder Abuse and Crime Scene Investigation. Elder abuse is a very critical issue, it is also a very neglected one.. both, by the public and by the relatives of the victim. Too often, elder abuse is an escalation of small neglects and small slights until it becomes a full-blown abuse situation that is dangerous to the elder victim. The great tragedy is that nobody sees what is happening and few people recognize it sufficiently to report it to the authorities. Abuse can take the form of gross neglect, where the victim is living in decrepit situations, it can also be in the form of people (children) taking advantage of their elders and using the elder’s funds for themselves. All I could say at the end is that I am glad the Police is taking note of such cases and that I wish they had the resources to assign more officers to it.
Week 9. Domestic Violence and Swat. Domestic violence is another terrible tragedy in our society and again, not enough is being done to prevent it, not enough education and not enough recognition. Victims of DV are exploited and abused, both mentally and physically. Some societies turn a blind eye to DV, thinking it is only the family’s (man’s ) business while others think speaking to the perpetrator is enough to make him realize his faults and stop. Sadly, none of these inactions work. DV needs to be stopped as soon as it raises its ugly head and if the man does not change his way immediately, then he must be reported to the authorities and the woman helped to move to a shelter.
Week 10. Bias Crimes and Graduation. Bias crimes was quite interesting, this course defined some of the differences between “Free Speech” and actually bodily threat and what constitutes a legal hate-crime.
All in all, this was a very educational program of ten courses, that helped us understand how the Police works and the many different ways in which they can help us. My problem remains with a training program for the Police that transforms them into what I would say is an occupation force that is Kill-ready at every interaction with the public. Such a training creates many barriers to civilian cooperation including a lack of trust that goes both ways. It also creates a lack of care for the life of the target, once a Police officer has selected a target. The training is for the officer to protect himself and his partners, no matter what and therefore, the life of the target person loses value.
I still believe Muslims must join the Police force as volunteers and as officers because that is the only way to help the Police understand that Muslims are the same as people of any other faith. I now also believe there is a need for the Police to change their jargon and label civilians as civilians and not as “citizens” which is a misleading label that subconsciously biases both sides of a Police-civilian interaction. The Police must also be trained to a calmer level of thinking such that they are not as quick to aim a gun or pull the trigger at people who may be perceived as “threats” just because the Police mentality is set on red alert all the time; less focus on “officer safety” and more focus on safely stopping violence.