SYMPATHY

Five days ago, officers of the LA Police Department opened fire on a pickup truck that "matched the description" of one driven by headline-dominating murderer Christopher Dorner. At least 20 rounds were fired, many of which missed the truck by several yards and hit parked cars and nearby homes. Miraculously, neither occupant of the truck (two women, 45 and 71, delivering newspapers) was killed or seriously injured.

Later that same day, Torrance police officers intentionally rammed another pickup truck "matching the description" of Dorner's. One of the officers got out and fired three shots at the driver for good measure. Miraculously, the decidedly non-Chris Dorner driver was not killed.

The description given to police was of Dorner's gray Nissan Titan. Dorner is a large, muscular black male weighing over 250 pounds. So it is not clear how all of the cops involved managed to confuse a teal blue Toyota Tacoma driven by two Hispanic women, one of whom is elderly, for the vehicle in question. Nor is it clear how the police mistook David Perdue, a short, wiry, white male driving a pickup truck that was neither gray nor a Nissan, for Chris Dorner. It's almost as if the police were completely out of control.

This is when the media (and most of the public, in fairness) jumps in to remind us that these officers are under a lot of stress so, you know, accidents like firing 20+ rounds at the wrong people are going to happen. Apparently we are supposed to be sympathetic. Apparently when cops feel like they are in danger we're supposed to excuse their violent, undisciplined responses. If only the same rules applied to us. For example, how much sympathy do victims of mistaken identity get? Let's say you look like Suspect A and the police jump you. A natural reaction by a person being manhandled for no reason might be to throw a punch or fight back, at which point they've bought themselves about a dozen felony charges for resisting arrest and assaulting officers.

Does anyone, let alone the police, look at a situation like that and say, "Well geez, I understand why he fought back, it's very stressful and he certainly wasn't going out of his way to attack the police"? For all the hand-jobbing nonsense about how police are highly-trained experts in law enforcement / American Heroes, they have a shocking tendency to act like a posse rounded up from the local bars. Shoot first, ask second. Draw your weapon just to be safe. If you shoot, be sure to empty the entire magazine. Details such as the identity of the person you're firing at can be determined later.

I know being a cop is a hard job. I also know that the reason we pay people to do this difficult job is so that the law is enforced with professionalism and restraint. But I guess as long as there's some great excuse like "They were scared" or "They believe the victim in this tragic accident looked like Suspect A" we're supposed to be comfortable with them patrolling our streets, having authority over us, and being given the power to kill when in their clearly impeccable judgment it is necessary to do so. Certainly the Dorner case is one in which we can all understand why the cops are on edge; what is less clear is why we no longer expect the police to do their job properly and with professionalism as soon as they feel scared or stressed in what is an inherently dangerous job.

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30 Responses to “SYMPATHY”

  1. Jonathan Says:

    When has terror *not* been an important tool in controlling the underclass? SWAT teams are state-administered domestic terrorism.

    As for professionalism, it's essentially become a synonym for servility.

  2. sluggo Says:

    he was hiding in condo across the street from comand central. they aren't the sharpest
    tools.

  3. jon Says:

    If there's ever going to be a draft in this country, it should be for police officers. If any profession needs to be democratized more, it would only be Congressman.

  4. pjcamp Says:

    Cops are scum.

    The only difference between these cops and former cop Chris Dorner is that he angered the wrong people. Keep on the right side of local politics and you can Yosemite Sam it up all you want.

  5. LK Says:

    With all the trash we can throw at the cops (and it's as bad in most of the developed world), they are still overworked, underpaid, stressed-out people. I'm not justifying in the least bit what they're doing, but we have to work on the incentives from the top, not from the bottom.

    My first reaction to this story was "mandatory compensation". File a complaint with the county/city (no need for judicial proceedings), and if your damage claims roughly match what the police did that day, you get full compensation _taken out of the Police Department annual budget_. Add in a small percentage (again, from the PD budget) that goes to this "claims checking" agency out of every rightful claim (again, incentives) to make sure the clerks don't dismiss claims out of loyalty.

    The problem with this scheme is that it generates a new incentive for the cops- lie in your reports ("no sir, I only fired one shot, and it was a warning shot aimed at the sky. I have no idea how that truck got twenty bullet holes in it- the guy prob'ly got involved in some gang-related shooting, and wants the Police to pay for his damages"). Now this needs a different solution. Audio recording on every officer's belt, anyone?

  6. xynzee Says:

    @LK: Let's take this one step further. Every gun has a blackbox chip in it and at the end of the shift they have to turn over the chip.

    If something "untoward" has happened to the chip at the end of the day… especially if there were any "incidents". Well then he's looking at something pretty bad eh?

    The best thing is to end the WoD and get rid of mandatory sentencing. Imagine that people no longer have to fear the presence of police?

  7. LK Says:

    @xynzee: I like the blackbox chip idea, but violence can take other forms, not just shooting (tasers, BTW, have this feature built in, and cases were already made against cops thanks to it). A simple audio recording can go a long way – the "holy grail" would have been video, but that's hard to implement even if the cops don't scream their lungs out against it – and it is much simpler to roll out and manage than blackbox chips inside guns.

    About the War on Drugs, I tend to disagree. It has been a great excuse for police arming themselves to the teeth and acting irresponsibly, but they will find other excuses just as easily. Violence like that is a disease- once it catches on to one part of the body, it makes it much harder to use any other method, and quickly becomes contagious.

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    In the old days in NYC, when I was growing-up, the police walked a beat, and they knew everyone in the neighborhood – good, or bad. They could prevent trouble.
    In the late '60's, due to budget constraints, they were taken off the streets and put in cars, ala LA's "Adam 12." Now, instead of preventing trouble, they were responding to it.

    LA's police have a long, long history of violence, and being in cars. That city is much, much more spread out than NYC, and many, many others.

    And there's something about being in a car, that turns some people into @$$holes – men and women. They drive in their own little bubble. And those are the citizens!
    Now, imagine that's your jobs, to sit in a car for 8+ hours, armed.
    Now, imagine being armed in a car, and having to stop another car. There are over 300 million guns and rifles in this country. How do you know the person you're stopping doesn't have one in his/her car?

    Imo – We have several major problems regarding our police forces – and, our country:
    -The War on Drugs, as xynzee said above, and the consequent incentive for profits.
    -Too many guns in citizens hands- especially semi-automatics, with large magazines.
    -The growing militarization of our police forces – think SWAT teams. And now, as the occupation in Iraq has virtually ended, and the one in Afghanistan is drawing to a close, police forces have been hiring returning vets – which should be a good thing. But is it?

    So, we have a high-risk/high-reward drug selling culture – armed up the kazoo.
    And we have a lot of former veterans who recently returned from wars and occupations where you needed to be alert and proactive to make sure you and your fellow soldiers get home in one piece: in other words – you ask questions later.
    And how many of them have some form of PTSD? Well, we don't know, since many veterans are unwilling to go for psychiatric exams, let alone treatment. And the military isn't exactly pushing the issue, since there's a chance then that they'll have to pay for treatment – for a long, long time.
    And these police are armed with many of the same things they had in the fields, mountains and towns of Afghanistan, and the plains, cities and towns of Iraq. No "flashback" potential there, is there?

    No.
    I don't see any prescription for trouble here.
    Why?
    Do you?

    If you do, let's take some steps:
    Legalize drugs, and treat them like we do alcohol – with regulations and taxes.
    Ban assault weapons and large magazines. Register and tax the remaining guns, and make sure their owners pay insurance, like the rest of us do WITH CARS!
    And examine the hiring, training, retraining, pay, and incentives, for our police forces.
    We have a lot of great police officers in this country. But the "cowboys" make the rest of them look bad. Work to identify what seperates one from the other, and look to hire and keep those who are becoming police officers for the "right" reasons.

    Now, neither any one, nor all, of the steps above is a cure, since America has been a gun-loving, violent society from day one.
    But, I think it would be a step in the right direction.

  9. Tim H. Says:

    Seems to me high capacity magazines aren't the best thing for the police to have either. But sometimes, there's nothing like a jack-booted thug, if you're dealing with an excrement-equivavence like Jimmy Lee Dykes. Go here:
    derfcity.com/blog/blahblahblah.html
    look for: "Here's to the jackbooted thugs!"

  10. Sarah Says:

    According to Dorner's manifesto he had serious issues with use of excessive force which he was witnessing by his co-workers in the LAPD. This dude was a highly decorated Navy man and the LAPD didn't seem to have a problem with him until he opened his mouth and started giving away their dirty little secrets. I am in no way trying to excuse the murders he committed. However, but for that he would have been on the side of the angels, and I would compare him with Bradley Manning. There is no system in place to report the sort of corruption which is rotting our agencies of authority to their cores, and there is certainly no protection for anyone who tries to do anything about it, from within or without.

  11. JohnR Says:

    It's "Us vs. Them", baby. Too bad for us that we're "Them".

  12. Drangus Says:

    @Sarah: They also burned him alive in that cabin he was in. They were reckless and had no idea if there was anyone else in the building. When the LAPD wants you dead, their police 'brothers' won't hesitate to kill you in any way possible. Whatever talking that Dorner could have done, they certainly prevented his voice from being heard. Attempting to fire on random vehicles and then burning down a cabin is only the beginning if they want you silenced.

    I'm not one to cry conspiracy but this has the making of a conspiracy if I've ever seen one. I'm not worried, we'll find a way to bury this in a week, but there are serious implications as to what is going on in the LAPD.

  13. c u n d gulag Says:

    Drangus,
    I doubt there was a bookie in the world who'd have taken my bet – especially if they knew anything at all about the LAPD – but I'd have bet my house that Dorner was never captured alive.

    They wanted any excuse to kill him before he saw trial.

    Especially since he embarassed the living sh*t out of them by hiding, Osama bin Laden-like, right beneath their noses!

    And by hiding right beneath their noses, the made the LAPD look like a team of Inspector Clouseau's.

  14. c u n d gulag Says:

    OY!

    Uhm… "he," not "the," in the last sentence!!!

    Ken oui haz "Edit" pleeze?

  15. Jon Says:

    And then there's this from Cleveland: http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2013/02/cleveland_police_chase_and_shooting_scene.html

  16. acer Says:

    @xynzee:
    The closest thing we have right now is cheap video and YouTube, which is why we know so much more now about police "overreach" than we did circa the Rodney King beating.

    Between that and the inevitable crackdown on police pensions when the Tea Party starts running out of scapegoats, cops will get about as much respect as Congress by 2020.

    The best thing cops can do is to accept that every bull-headed thing they do "under extreme stress" is going to be recorded and broadcast throughout the world before they're off their shifts, and adjust their behavior accordingly.

  17. sluggo Says:

    He did not kill the two people in the condo, or the guy and his dog whose truck he stole. That does not match the portrait painted by the cops and the media.

    I saw the video of the shootout, and it sure did sound like he had automatic weapons and a lot of ammo (high capacity magazines?) Maybe this could have been avoided if he had not been so well and easily armed.

  18. 1douchebag Says:

    None of this surprises me from the LAPD. I've lived here for most of my life and I can't remember a time when LA cops were ever friendly. They've always been hyper-violent assholes. "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" as the old cliche goes.

    I know exactly the way this is going to play out, cause it always goes the same way in LA: Chief Beck will promise that there will be an inquiry and punishment for these officers who shot harmless civilians, if they're found guilty. There will be a closed door disciplinary hearing (which, btw, are not public record in LA) for the officers charged (whose names will also be kept completely confidential) and they'll get a slap on the wrist. A couple weeks off without pay at the most. Maybe 48 hours of sensitivity training or something.

    As a side note, Gloria Romero led the charge in the CA legislature to force LAPD disciplinary hearings to be opened to the public but her bill was shot down.

    A great article by Dave Zirin about the paramilitary attitude of the LAPD and where it all began
    http://www.thenation.com/blog/167630/want-understand-1992-la-riots-start-1984-la-olympics

  19. Andrew Laurence Says:

    I don't know about other places, but cops in the Bay Area are hardly "underpaid." The BART force pays nearly six figures to start, including fully-paid CalPERS (the most generous retirement system I've ever heard of).

  20. Rosalux Says:

    As a lawyer, I'm stressed out most of the time (let's say every second of the day that doesn't involve me taking a coffee break to resuscitate my perennially sleep-deprived brain). But guess what is not an excuse for me, say, making mistakes that cost my clients hundreds of thousands of dollars, or stealing client funds, or hurling the copy machine through a plate-glass window? Stress. I do any of those things, and I get disbarred. Why do we treat mistakes by the police by a different standard? Give me a fucking break.

  21. terraformer Says:

    I'm reading a pretty cool SF book right now ("Great North Road" by Peter F. Hamilton) that describes a possible future wherein "smartcells" are integrated into our eyes and throughout our body, and where "smartdust" is sprayed on any and all surfaces, with which (for the former) to continuously monitor our health and to record what we see – and (for the latter) to continuously capture and record whatever crosses the sensor.

    Until we can have that kind of panopticon technology – which is a whole other discussion in terms of our rapidly dwindling (if not already completely gone) notion of a "right to privacy" – I think we should use whatever means that we have, be it smart chips in gun clips or AV recorders on cars and/or on uniforms – to capture and record what our police do. That kind of power is abused all too often, and given the instant power afforded those who can make it through Academy (assuming there is one; not so much for Bent Armpit, Wyoming Police Dept.), it tends to draw folks who have some form of mental imbalance leaning toward authoritarian "respect my authoritah" mindset. And it's those folks we need to worry about; they unfortunately cause a broad brush to be used on all police, when in reality (like most careers), the bad apples are hopefully the exception rather than the rule.

  22. Da Moose Says:

    All I know is this: If that happened to me or anyone I cared about, I would put all of my resources into legal action. Unfortunately, our dumbass hero culture that started after 9/11 to make up for our unfortunate treatment of Vietnam vets has, like the cultureal disease that it is, seeped into our view of cops. Sorry to say but cops, for the most part, are dumber than shit and try to make up for it be defaulting to an overly conservative authoritarian approach. Cops need to be watched and held to account at all times and in all situations.

  23. TomAmitaiUSA Says:

    sluggo;

    If you read Dorner's manifesto, http://boywithgrenade.org/2013/02/07/christopher-dorners-manifesto/ , he lists the weapons he had and points out how ludicrous it is that he could obtain them legally.

    Da Moose;

    Don't you think police officers who are willing to open fire without first making sure of their targets will do whatever it takes to "encourage" innocent victims to drop their lawsuits or accept minimal token settlements?

  24. Enron Hubbard Says:

    I have been lucky enough to meet many American crime novelists over the years. I am reliably informed that many of the novels of James Ellroy and others are only fiction in that "Names and identities have been changed because the author wants to continue breathing".

  25. SunilR Says:

    Ed, that's a nice voir dire you outline above for clients charged with battery on an officer. And you're right, the state has no ability to understand why a citizen might defend himself from cops; or maybe they understand and just don't give a shit. After all, it's the state against a citizen.

  26. Greg Says:

    http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2013/02/cleveland_police_chase_and_shooting_scene.html

  27. Xynzee Says:

    @CU: to add to your dystopian view of the future is that along with those vets come those who either choose not to become cops or can't get in. Given the state of the economy, and that the police may be about the only reasonably paid job opportunities.

    Hmmm… so a bunch of unemployed, disenfranchised war hardened and scarred soldiers that have been force fed a steady diet of anti-govt Faux and Rush… Sounds like a party to me!

    Hopefully in the back corridors of DC the saner elements are reminding each other rather important observation where assault weapons are concerned. Before they completely wind down ops in Afghanistan.

    Something that was overlooked are the Tough on Crime, and Revoling Door Justice mantras of the last 40yrs. So I wouldn't be surprised at how those have manifested themselves through the system. Cops were obviously acting in shonky ways. Miranda anyone? So instead of trying to lift their games, they kept trying get away with bad policing whilst being watched. So of course the person is going to be let off. These were never an issue until middle class white college kids started getting busted for drugs in the 60s.

  28. Ruthie Says:

    When you consider that officers in Orange Co., Riverside Co., San Bernardino Co., and San Diego Co., were actively looking for this guy, they should have been a hell of a lot more organized, and less stressed. These incidents weren't cases of mistaken identity; they seem to indicate the intent to kill someone at all costs. And the police already know from past experience that throwing teargas canisters into a closed space where there is the possibility of an open flame–i.e. gas or a fireplace–is the same as tossing a firebomb. This is one police inquiry that should be open to the public.

  29. jjack Says:

    It was almost like LAPD was trying to prove Dorner right.

  30. lumpkin Says:

    If you google it, you find out that being a cop is nowhere near the most dangerous or stressful job in the country, but that doesn't mean we don't have the most dangerous and stress-out people doing it. It's a profession that attracts people who like confrontation and think that force solves problems. What we basically have is over-stressed, violence prone people who can legally employ deadly force. We see the results daily, with sometimes completely innocent people killed by the cops and often people who didn't really "need" to be killed who are killed anyway, just because someone over-reacted.