It Isn’t Always the Cops

‘I was just reading a book’: Canadian cops called on black man reading C.S. Lewis in his car

This from the Washington Post.  Law Enforcement fails to point that this happens often and they allow themselves  to be sucked into situations in the name of customer service. 

In the Washington Post story a black man was parked on a public pier reading a book, for over two hours. A short time after he left he was stopped by the RCMP as a “suspicious person”.  This was not the judgment of the officer, but that of some idiot that called in a complaint. The police get a call for service, the police answer a call for service. To be sure, oftentimes the citizen’s observations and subsequent efforts to contact the police are helpful.

There is another side of the coin.  Many citizens should not be allowed to have anything sharper than a rubber ball.  I worked in a wealthy suburb of San Antonio.  I am convinced that most of the inhabitants inherited their wealth because they were too stupid to have earned it on their own.

A well dressed black man sitting on a bus bench in the middle of the day was generally good for a half dozen suspicious person calls.  Persistent questioning by the dispatcher would reveal that the man hadn’t done anything, other than exist in “09”.  Mexican’s pushing a lawn mower down the street were not worthy of comment, that was what they were supposed to do.

At various times “09’ers” have reported police cars, fire trucks and ambulances as suspicious vehicles. My favorite was the caller that complained he had difficultly finding the telephone because the power was out.  He nevertheless wanted the police to check out a suspicious white bucket truck and it’s occupants who were climbing up and down a telephone pole outside his house. Cuss the dark and cuss the people trying to bring light, some people are never happy.

Faced with the suspicious black man call, my solution was stop and engage the man in a conversation.  I would inform him that he had been the subject of a suspicious person complaint. My investigation showed that it was a bogus complaint, no further action was necessary.  He might keep the incident in mind, as it is indicative of the type of person he was likely to meet, in the area.

This type of call happens all the time.  A wise officer assigns credibility to a call based on how much he can verify, independent of the caller.  The problem arises because some officers give the callers credibility based on the source, dispatch. They plow straight ahead, like the information came directly from J Edgar Hoover’s lips to their ears.

There is a disconnect here.  There is a dance that must be followed, the steps are laid out in Terry v Ohio, they have been in place for almost fifty years.  The stupid officer believes that since the information comes from dispatch, he has all the authority in the world to resolve the complaint.  He is wrong.  The reality is that he has second hand information relayed from a source that may have absolutely no credibility.  To make matters worse 90% of the time the complaint is not valid, no further action is taken and the aggrieved target of the contact is left with no recourse.

An arrest would trigger an independent review by the District Attorney or the Courts as to the legality of the stop. That means that the stupid officer will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again unless or until he is checked.  Maybe body cams will help.  That presupposes that the people watching can recognize Terry V Ohio, if it bites them in the ass.

The next step is to convince certain quarters of the public that just because they have taken the ski mask off, and stashed the gun, that doesn’t mean they are not guilty of robbing the corner store they are running from.