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Reeder: “We need to ask how to increase public safety and minimize police shootings”

Tuesday, Jun 22, 2021

* Background is here. Scott Reeder is often an interesting columnist because he’s a staunch conservative who’s no fan of unions, but has a strong criminal justice reform bent. He can be very blunt as well as thoughtful. His latest in full…

Police officers are agents of state violence.

There is nothing particularly radical about that notion. After all, they strap on Tasers, nightsticks, pepper spray, handcuffs and guns every day.

Society has bestowed these men and women with an enormous responsibility.

Their job is to keep order. And they have special sanction from the state to use violence to do just that.

Rock Island Alderman Dylan Parker caught heat recently because he referred to cops as “Agents of state violence.”

It was not a diplomatic statement. But it is an accurate one.

In response, 50 Rock Island police officers showed up at a city council meeting in uniform, stood at the back of the chambers and stared down the city’s elected representatives.

It was an intimidation tactic plain and simple.

Sure, the officers have the right – like any citizen – to petition their government for a redress of grievances. Free speech is the foundation of democracy.

But they didn’t show up in t-shirts and jeans, shirts and ties or their other off-duty clothes. They came under the color of law. They were using their state-sanctioned authority to send a message to those who are charged with holding them accountable.

I’ve seen this play out before. In 1991, the police department in Davenport, Iowa, fired Officer Anthony Chelf after authorities found he used excessive force when he beat a man with his department-issued flashlight. Records show the man ran a red light on a motorcycle, and Chelf gave high-speed chase. Chelf beat the man with his flashlight after other officers had subdued him, facedown, on the ground, according to court records.

I was standing in the room when the Davenport Civil Service Commission affirmed his firing. The commissioners were visibly frightened. Hands were shaking and eye contact was avoided. In fact, they voted behind closed doors, not in public as the law required.

Why the fear? Why the refusal to disclose how individual commissioners voted? Well, it might have had something to do with the department’s entire SWAT team standing in uniform in the room glaring at them.

Police unions are too quick to defend the worst in their ranks. Take for instance the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Americans were horrified to see him beg for his life as Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck and slowly asphyxiated him.

But Robert Kroll, the head of the city’s police union, didn’t see it that way at all. In a letter to members, he referred to Floyd as a “criminal” and bemoaned that Chauvin and officers with him had been denied their “due process rights.”

He seemed oblivious that Floyd’s rights were violated.

Labor contracts negotiated by these unions make it difficult to fire even the worst officers.

We employ police officers to make tough, sometimes violent, decisions on the street. It’s an important job that can determine whether someone lives or dies. We know from the deaths of George Floyd and others that sometimes officers use lethal force inappropriately.

And sometimes deadly force is unavoidable.

But what rarely gets discussed is whether deadly force, even that which may be legally justified, could have been avoided. Could a situation have been deescalated that ultimately resulted in police officer shooting someone?

Instead, after every police shooting I’ve covered during the past 33 years, public discourse devolves into jingoes: Back the badge; Blue Lives Matter; The Thin Blue Line.

They’re catchy sayings. But they fail to answer the basic questions: How can we ensure public safety and reduce the number of people police officers kill?

Over the past fifty years, capital punishment has been debated in just about every statehouse in the country. At election time, politicians are routinely asked their position on the death penalty. Theologians, philosophers and ordinary pundits weigh in on the issue.

Last year, 17 inmates were executed in American death chambers. But during the same period 970 people were killed by police officers.

My point?

Almost all state-sanctioned killings happen at the hands of police, not judges and juries.

We need to ask how to increase public safety and minimize police shootings.

The ire of Rock Island officers was raised when a member of the city council dared to raise such questions after a police shooting.

On April 1, four Rock Island police officers engaged in a foot pursuit of DeShawn Tatum who was carrying a gun and attempted to hijack a car. Officers responded by shooting the 25-year-old man four times. He died of his wounds.

The Rock Island County state’s attorney ruled that the shooting was justified. Having watched the videos of the pursuit and slaying, it’s difficult to see it as anything but appropriate. In fact, I believe the officers showed restraint in not shooting him earlier in the encounter.

But Alderman Parker was critical of the department for not having a policy on foot pursuits before this happened. Could the outcome of the encounter have been different if the officers had handled it differently? Were bystanders needlessly endangered when bullets starting flying?

These are questions that need to be asked. And it’s appropriate for a policymaker such as Alderman Parker to be asking them.

After a deadly encounter such as this one, we need to ask not only were the officers’ actions legally justified but if anything could have been done to avoid such an outcome.

Take for instance a March 5 incident in Chatham. Jonathan Small’s mother called police and told dispatchers her son had a knife and was harming himself and threatening others in the family home, according to the Chatham Police Department and Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Upon arriving at the residence, a police officer reported that he found Small, 30, holding a knife and attempting to harm himself. According to police, Small did not listen when the cop told him repeatedly to drop the knife and instead advanced toward the officer. The officer shot Small four times. He is recovering from his wounds.

An investigation by Illinois State Police and review by Sangamon County State’s Attorney Dan Wright concluded the officer was justified in his use of force.

While the officer was justified in using violence, we now need to ask ourselves deeper policy questions. Should police departments offer additional training on how to deal with mentally ill individuals? What, if any, steps could officers take to deescalate these situations? Could non-lethal alternatives have been pursued?

And while police officers are sanctioned to, at times, employ violence, it’s an alternative that needs to be turned to far less than it is today.

* Related…

* Can’t get Chicago cops to take your police report on the phone? You’re not alone: Anyone who calls to file a non-emergency police report gets transferred to the Alternate Response Section, staffed by about 220 Chicago cops on “permanent light duty” for medical reasons or there because of a pending disciplinary case that’s seen them stripped of their police powers.

* Civilian police review compromise reached over Lightfoot’s objections

* Chicago Police Department retirements soar, 2021 figure already tops all of 2018, could end up among highest

* Lightfoot calls videotaped killing ‘horrific’ as Chicago police search for suspects: “But as you saw from that horrific video, it wasn’t just one person. There’s one person who dealt the fatal shot but there were others who were standing by, who dragged that poor woman out of the car, the man who was killed literally used his body as a shield and he paid for that with his life,” Lightfoot said.

* Mayor says police know who fatally stabbed Maryland grad student in the Loop and are ‘scouring’ nearby homeless camps: But at a later news conference, Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan stopped short of saying investigators know who the attacker is. “We are seeking the identity and the eventual arrest of the person who stabbed that female,” he said.

* Bailey Delivers Cards to Local Law Enforcement

- Posted by Rich Miller        

39 Comments
  1. - Proud Papa Bear - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 6:41 am:

    For years I’ve heard that the solution is more training. Is this training not being done? Will this training also change the culture of departments?


  2. - Jockey - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 8:31 am:

    It should be Derek Chauvin, not Anthony.


  3. - Jockey - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 8:32 am:

    Derek Chauvin, not Anthony.


  4. - Give Me A Break - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 8:40 am:

    For the first time in my memory, police and their tactics are being openly questioned by many, long overdue.

    For too long police have been allowed to become “military forces” in everything from their procedures to their uniforms to the vehicles they use. They are no longer trusted to carry out their work fairly or without abusing citizens.

    Time for the citizens to rein them in. They have proven they can’t or won’t police themselves so the public will have to do it for them.

    Start with zero funding their new toys and military equipment. And stand up to their unions by refusing to grant new contracts and benefits until they reform their ways.

    They can fly all the “Blue Lives Matter” flags they want, they work for us and we the people will determine the future of policing in the US.


  5. - Horseshoe Voter - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 9:07 am:

    Also should be Gregory Small, not Jonathan.


  6. - Donnie Elgin - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 9:12 am:

    “Police officers are agents of state violence”

    They also serve and project, run to trouble, and face death/injury daily. According to NPR This year has been especially dangerous for LEO’s.

    “The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reports that as of Monday, June 21, a total of 151 total deaths were recorded — an 11% jump from last year”


  7. - Son of a %×÷=% - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 9:41 am:

    Well written but as usual he wants one solution to fit all situations. That’s not reality. H
    By his own admissions the actions were justified, that’s doesn’t make them wrong just because you feel as if another option could have been tried.


  8. - Larry Saunders - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 9:59 am:

    Should also be “GREAT column, Scott Reeder! Right on the money! This type of police intimidation is also used in courts and before Grand Juries. If name correction is all you got to say here, you don’t have much.


  9. - Jocko - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 10:23 am:

    ==They also serve and project==

    Increased militarization, qualified immunity, and ‘us versus them’ thinking leads to LEOs protecting themselves at the expense of the community.
    The last time a cop was called out by a colleague on duty was Cariol Horne in 2006.


  10. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 10:41 am:

    ==he wants one solution to fit all situations==

    He didn’t say any such thing. Try reading it again and attempt some comprehension this time.


  11. - The Way I See It - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 10:56 am:

    A surprisingly even handed look at law enforcement.


  12. - Amalia - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 11:11 am:

    yeah, that state violence phrase can go in the dumpster with the phrase defund the police. what is needed is the both and, reform and crime reduction. tamp down the rhetoric. when CNN…not just Fox… has a map of the US with mass killings on it and talks about murder stats increasing in the US, and the top issue in the NYC mayor’s race is shooting, you know that crime will be an issue in the next Congressional race. solutions not inflammatory rhetoric.


  13. - SAP - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 11:21 am:

    Like Uncle Ben said: “With great power comes great responsibility.”.


  14. - Anyone Remember - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 11:48 am:

    Militarization?

    Start with losing the “warrior” mentality - they’re guardians.
    Change entry level training, first, by not calling it “basic training” … .
    Change entry level training by explicitly making the “instructors” just that, not drill sergeants / instructors.
    Change entry level training by making all training “commuter” - that is, at the end of the day, the trainee goes home to the community (s)he lives in.
    And … lose the hairstyles that look like airborne troops jumping into Normandy.


  15. - Payback - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 11:57 am:

    “They also serve and project, run to trouble, and face death/injury daily.” I believe that according to the U.S. Labor Dept., police work is no longer even in the top ten of dangerous occupations, whereas farming, logging and fishing is. But there is a cult of cop glorification about how hard their job is.

    Re. Rock Island county, look into the death of motorist Shane Cataline from Ohio on Nov. 22, 2013, by DNR cop Steven Francisko and ISP trooper Luke Kuehl. Cataline called Rock Island dispatch after being questioned by a guy in camo (DNR cop Francisko), then was followed onto Interstate 80 and stopped again, then blown away. The Whiteside county State’s Attorney at the time who legally cleared Francisko was Trish Joyce, who is now a circuit judge in the 14th, which includes Rock Island. Police killers cannot exist without legal cover from lawyers, prosecutors and judges, just like Jon Burge.


  16. - Mama - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 12:06 pm:

    Several police officers went from the war to community policing. I think some still feel like they are are still in a war zone.

    I agree there needs to be better training for people entering the police force and continuous training annually.


  17. - Highland IL - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 12:17 pm:

    === 50 Rock Island police officers showed up at a city council meeting in uniform. ==

    It may be safe to say that any local body of government that has tried to reign in the police has faced this intimidation tactic. Although they are to be governed by a civilian body, not unlike our military, they balk at that idea all of the time.


  18. - Dotnonymous - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 12:22 pm:

    Why do so many Americans deserve to have Tasers, nightsticks, pepper spray, handcuffs and guns used on them?


  19. - Enemy of the State - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 12:27 pm:

    “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” George Orwell, former policeman and author.


  20. - LakeCo - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 12:35 pm:

    +when CNN…not just Fox… has a map of the US with mass killings on it and talks about murder stats increasing in the US, and the top issue in the NYC mayor’s race is shooting, you know that crime will be an issue in the next Congressional race. solutions not inflammatory rhetoric.”
    Solutions like gun control?


  21. - Incandenza - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 12:51 pm:

    Police officers are agents of state violence, that’s just a fact. In order to function in it’s current form the state necessitates the threat of violence.

    I don’t condone the techniques used in that violence. But you can’t have a state without the monopoly on the use of justified violence. Being upset about this is like fire fighters getting upset when they are described as a public good used to put out fires: it’s just a fact.


  22. - Dotnonymous - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 1:10 pm:

    “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf” - ?

    More likely attributed to Rudyard Kipling…who (for the remainder of his life) bemoaned gassing up his own Son’s head for war…where he died at age seventeen…minus any of the glory.


  23. - Annoyed - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 1:17 pm:

    Hey Payback, interesting story you used to show policing isn’t dangerous. A simple google search showed the individual you mentions reversed his vehicle into a state trooper, pinning him in, and the officer then shot the driver.


  24. - Mason born - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 1:33 pm:

    I’d just like to see any officer who claims to have used lethal force because they were in fear of their lives to be judged by the same standard as John Q. Public is. It seems like there is some type of weird combination that since Police are the Agents of State Violence we can’t ask if the “fear” they are using for justification is rational. When you add this to Qualified Immunity preventing Civil suits digging into the question, no one really digs into why the police are scared of someone complying with their own orders.


  25. - Eagle - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 1:40 pm:

    ==According to NPR This year has been especially dangerous for LEO’s.==
    Yes. Sadly many of them struck down by covid-19.


  26. - Annoyed - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 3:15 pm:

    Mason, my PO buddy from grade school (St Trib’s) ordered guy to drop it, buddy ended up with 3 rounds in him before he returned fire, so yeah keep up with your ‘weird combination’ rationale. And Scott and friends have it wrong, the military are the agents of violence, as any newly minted 2LT can tell you the mission is to use violence (break things and kill people) to achieve National political objectives.


  27. - Glenn - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 3:21 pm:

    “People (like Anjanette Young?) sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” George Orwell, former policeman and author.

    Things must have been different in the day of Eric Arthur Blair.


  28. - North Park - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 3:22 pm:

    This is always the logical disconnect that I don’t understand from the right. The government is too stupid and incompetent to tax the populace and administer programs for anything, but they can’t be questioned on how they police and administer capital punishment.


  29. - DMC - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 3:30 pm:

    The militarization (sp?) of the police is debating which came first? The chicken or the egg? The police respond to what they are seeing in the streets. Can’t go to a gun fight with a knife. I also think training is dated and needs to be ramped up with more martial arts training for de-escalation and calming a situation, not ramping it up. And we need more funding to support them, mental health etc. They are fighting battles they aren’t equipped for.


  30. - Excitable Boy - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 3:40 pm:

    - “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” George Orwell, former policeman and author. -

    George Orwell never said that. When he did criticize pacifists it was in defense of revolutionaries using violence against the state, not on behalf of it.


  31. - Incandenza - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 3:41 pm:

    == They are fighting battles they aren’t equipped for ===

    Then why not send people who are equipped, like social workers? We don’t need people with guns to help the homeless or someone having a mental health crisis.


  32. - Mason born - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 4:01 pm:

    Annoyed

    I missed where I stated all police shootings were bogus but hey. In your example it sounds like the officer would have been justified under the standards we’d use for anyone, now explain the Philandro Castille shooting.

    As for not being agents of State violence you’re joking right? Good Lord you can be friends with police without pretending they’re somehow saints who are infallible. Personally I think if we allow them to carry firearms and act on behalf of the government we should hold them to a higher standard than John citizen, kind of like we do the military.


  33. - Glenn - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 4:07 pm:

    People assume that police are there to quiet chronic civil unrest.

    This problem is beyond the ability of police to solve.

    Police are in a no-win situation.

    Civil unrest is a problem caused by a political economic invention unsuited to the purpose.

    When fear of police is strong in an underclass, self help may prove to be a better alternative than calling for help from agents of the state that chronically act with impunity, either as executors of the law or above it.

    Fifty seven men were in jail on father’s day because they could not post bonds less than $500, accused of, but not convicted of, non-violent misdemeanors.


  34. - Annoyed - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 4:16 pm:

    Mason, my response speaks for itself.


  35. - DMC - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 4:23 pm:

    Incandenza I said that. Mental health etc needs to be funded.


  36. - 62468 - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 4:55 pm:

    Thank you to all officers, deputies and troopers who continue to go to work every day and night.


  37. - Amalia - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 5:26 pm:

    yes, one solution is more gun regulations. when it is ok for the public to wield an AK-47 and the cop is not carrying that, there is an imbalance. As has been pointed out, numbers of cops killed on duty…and not from cars….is increasing. I’m guessing the shooting in Flint…woman opens fire on a cop from her car, he returns, kills her…will somehow be spun as a problem of the cop. no, it was the woman…oh boy, equality of violent behavior.


  38. - MyTwoCents - Tuesday, Jun 22, 21 @ 7:51 pm:

    First of all, to the examples in Reeder’s column, no police officer should be allowed to wear a uniform off duty. The uniform is a representation of the agency the work for and to use it to intimidate their own employer (as a city council member is) IMHO borderlines on an action worthy of discipline.

    Amalia, where was it pointed out that non-vehicle or COVID deaths are the reason for the increase in line of duty deaths? If you actually read the referenced NPR article, it stated that vehicle deaths have increased 44% over this time last year. There is no discussion over the number of firearm related deaths for this year vs. last year.


  39. - Eagle - Wednesday, Jun 23, 21 @ 9:45 am:

    You really need to give your search engine the pink slip. It took me 5 seconds to find this using Google.
    https://thedaily.case.edu/study-finds-more-active-duty-police-officers-died-of-covid-19-in-2020-than-all-other-causes-combined/


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