'The true Soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because He loves what is behind him.' -G. K. Chesterton

15 December 2014

A Response to Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary

I'm breaking my long silence in order to respond to this from Howard Tayler, the creator of Schlock Mercenary, an online web comic. It's entitled Law Enforcement, Violence and Racial Bias. I find it astoundingly one sided and profoundly ignorant. Now, I have read, supported and respected Mister Taylor for many, many years. Even sent him money. I've linked Schlock Mercenary on my blogroll for a long time. Yeah, that's over. It pains me to even say this but I suspect Mister Tayler may be a Social Justice Warrior. Maybe yes maybe no. Only time will tell I suppose. For me I'm going to assume the worst and act accordingly. You will note that he seems to have never taken comments on the post. A typical SJW tactic but I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

Some quick housekeeping. If you want to know my bonafides please peruse my archives under the tag Police. You'll see my writings on a variety of topics, including the Use of Force and Hysterical Incompetence. I have examined and talked about specific incidents and officers, sometimes in great and quite painful detail. I have stories and at least anecdotal evidence for my views. I try very hard to present my opinions in a logical manner, backed up by what I consider best evidence. I am hardly the smartest guy out there, indeed I suspect Mister Tayler is considerably smarter than I but, in my humble opinion, in that screed he exposes his ignorance of the subject matter on which he opines. On the other hand, based on my education and experience, I am at least a passable a subject matter expert on modern policing in America and on the use of force by those same police officers.

 In places I will go through Mister Tayler's post by paragraph, otherwise I'm going to simply write a general response and do my best to cover all the points he brought up. There's virtually zero chance he'll ever read this but on the off chance that a member of the Fascist Ilk should ooze by and notify him of my sacrilege I'm going to address most of this directly to Mister Tayler himself. Mister Tayler's words will appear in Italics. Like wise quotes from sources. All the rest are mine.

I read your post Mister Tayler and thought I'd respond and make a point or two. Since you never turned on the comments for your post I'm just going to have to do it here. I'm going to ask you a question first. You'll probably see it several times in the course of this post.

What have you done or are doing, besides writing that somewhat less than helpful screed, to address the issues you raised? If the answer is anything less than involvement in your local, state and perhaps even national politics and law enforcement so as to have a positive impact on police/race/public relations then I submit that you are part of the problem.

Policing does not take place in a vacuum. Contrary to what seems to be the current  popular opinion, the police do not take policy matters into their own hands or if they do then you do indeed have a broken department. Police departments (or Sheriff, Constable, what have you) operate under civilian control and oversight. Yes, the officers are themselves civilians but that's semantics. It's simply easier to refer to cops and civilians. And yes, I am very familiar with Sir Robert Peel. The politicians either directly set departmental policy or indirectly do so by hiring the Chief Officer and the command staff. In some cases (Sheriffs for example) they are directly elected by the populace. As you can see in either case there is an opportunity to exercise some form of control by the voters at the very least. Are you exercising what control and influence you have? Been to any city council meetings lately? Ever met your Police Chief? Officers? Does your department have a Citizen's Academy? Ride Along program? Volunteer Program? What does your local elected representative know about how the department works and what it's policies and procedures are? What have you done to address the issues you seem to be trying to call attention to? Does your department follow Community Policing guidelines? What is the Use of Force policy for your department and how is it taught? How much continuing professional training do your officers get and how is it mandated? If they do any or all of the above are you interacting with your officers and keeping a watchful eye on your reps? If not, why not?

But first. Let's take a quick peek at the FBI's annual Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) report for 2013. 
Here's a couple of snippets that tend to support the point I'm about to make;
For rookie and veteran officers going through LEOKA’s Officer Safety Awareness Training, it’s these first-hand accounts that bring the job’s dangers to the fore. “It’s a wake-up call for officers in the class to see and listen to an interview with an offender who has killed a police officer,” said McAllister, who conducts some of the interviews in addition to teaching the eight-hour seminars.
 “It makes a huge impact on these guys,” said Lt. Herb Rosenbaum, of the Trussville Police Department near Birmingham, Alabama. “When we’re out on the road, we all have a tendency to fall into a routine. You’ve made a thousand traffic stops and you’ve never been challenged. This brings it back to the forefront.

Officer Safety training is part of every police training curriculum I am aware of. If you know differently please do let me know. I have said on many occasions (and written about if you're still unconvinced to comb through my archives) that modern Officer Safety Training must be revised with more emphasis on common sense solutions to violent encounters and less emphasis on end of the world I'm about to be killed horror stories. But that doesn't mean that officer safety can be done away with and the officer's life ignored.

I used to tell my officers that it was important to remember that in each and every call they went to there was at least one gun present; theirs. A lot of cops are killed every year with their own weapons. Maybe that's something we should remember as well? Like the grand Jury in Ferguson did? Because it's pretty clear that Mister Brown tried to take Officer Wilson's weapon which turned a serious and potentially violent encounter into a lethal force encounter. That was Mister Brown's choice not Officer Wilson's.

Ok. Now take a read through this, "Do Policed Discriminate? Evidence from Multiple-Offender crimes" by Paul Heaton from RAND and Charles Loeffler from Harvard University. From the Abstract;
A large body of prior research examines whether differential arrest rates of minorities reflect disproportionate minority involvement in crime or institutional bias that targets enforcement towards minorities. This research has been limited by difficulties in measuring the extent to which minority offending differs from offending in general. In this paper we exploit the fact that some crimes are committed by groups of both Black and White offenders to estimate the extent to which minority offenders face differential probabilities of arrest. Our research design permits us to control for all observable and unobservable circumstances associated with each offense for this subpopulation. We find that Black offenders are 3% more likely to be arrested than their White counterparts. Although this difference suggests institutional bias against minorities, such bias is insufficient to explain the large racial arrest disparity.(emphasis mine)

Well that's hardly a ringing indictment against institutional racism in modern American policing now is it? Perhaps your training and education in the subject matter causes you to differ? Though I noted that your post was disappointingly thin on detail, facts or references. Not exactly pride inspiring but I'm betting 3% is probably pretty close to the margin of error. What was it you said? Oh yeah.
"I am afraid that our police officers are currently embedded in a culture where a number of factors, including racism, increase the likelihood that they will use lethal force against unarmed black males."
 Maybe not so much.

Now I've met a few DAs I liked. Kinda. But the fact is that most cops don't really like them and they don't really like us. We had a knock down drag out with our local DA when they charged a suspect who broke an officer's leg in a drunken brawl with an Infraction. That's like a traffic ticket. There isn't a DA alive who wouldn't sell their first born for a chance to prosecute an officer for some form of corruption or wrong doing. Frankly, I had a much better relationship with defense attorneys than any DA I ever met. So no, the cops and DAs do not love each other. And oh, in case you missed it, a lot of these cases are going to Grand Juries who are made up of the local citizenry. Quick, make a racist or demeaning comment about them. Here's a link to a paper on Vicarious Liability. If you're going to persist in promulgating the myth that officers and jurisdictions face no peril for the officer's actions perhaps a little light reading is in order.

Yes, in a lot of jurisdictions it's tough to fire a cop. That's both good and bad. If the agency is competent in HR matters they are identifying the problem candidates/officers early enough in the process to weed them out. Most have a probationary period where an officer can be fired for essentially no reason at all. For those who make it through their probationary period unfired it's harder but hardly impossible. It does take persistence and competence though. The first place to look is your elected rep for your fire lighting needs. There is a flip side though. Whistle-blowers. Take a look at the ATF for all you need to know about how they are treated. Employment rights, like California's Peace Officer's Bill of Rights are written specifically to ensure fair treatment of officers by administrations that are more concerned with empire building and less concerned with public protection. Those laws came about precisely because so many agencies were trying to rid themselves of 'meddling priests'. Here's a quick story for you. We had a policy concerning insubordination that basically allowed the Chief to call most anything he didn't like insubordination. It was section 1.06. A few of us got so many for simply saying "No, I won't do that because it's unconstitutional" that we actually started a tongue in cheek club called the 106 Club. We had t-shirts and everything. It said 106 Club. Bad dog, no biscuit. Yep, I was one of them and if not for the protections provided by the POBR I'd have been fired and had no chance to influence my department toward constantly evaluating every situation for it's Constitutionality. It's competence we want out of our elected leaders not blanket power. Please remember that.

I do happen to agree with you about a few things. Officer Involved Shooting reporting is atrocious and uneven and needs to be addressed. I'm betting Officer Involved Shootings aren't under reported in the media though. Of course they pick and choose based on their own biases. Now where have I seen something like that recently? Hmmm. And I also agree that training on use of force is spotty and needs to be a lot better. Heck, I think all police training should be constantly reviewed and updated. There is essentially no such thing as an over trained officer.

And listen. You are hardly an expert on community/police relations so please forgive me if I take your 'diagnosis' for what it's worth (diddly) and seek my answers elsewhere. Arrogance and narcissism do not a subject matter expert make.

I have to present this one in it's entirety here. For context if nothing else.
"I said “factors.” Racism is the big one, but the word “racism” is a heavily overburdened term. It has baggage. When I use it, I’m not suggesting that cops are consciously racist. I’m saying that there is an unconscious bias in place, and it centers upon skin color. I’ve found racism and other biases in my own work, and they’re hard to root out. So when I say “racism” it’s not an accusation. It’s a diagnosis."
Get help. If you're a racist then shame on you. May I suggest you work out your problems on your own? Kindly resist painting the rest of us with your broad, self portrait brush. Especially the half million or so police officers simply trying to do the most difficult job in America as best they can. Hey, here's someone who agrees with me!

And here we come to the true crux of your argument. Victimhood and your attempt to don that cloak onto your own shoulders.
If I were black, I’d be outraged, and terrified, and I would feel helpless to change the system.

I’m white, and frankly, I’m a lot more afraid of police officers than I used to be. I’m outraged, and terrified, and I feel helpless to change the system.
First off you're not black so please check your white privilege and stop it with the SJW White Knighting. Second. You may very well be so delicate that you're feeling outraged and terrified but if you are saying you're helpless to effect change you're either stupid or disingenuous. Buck up Skippy and give your local elected representative a call and talk things over. Maybe take in a council meeting. You're not helpless you just want to be a victim. You have enormous potential influence. If you choose not to use it for the good of society as you envision it that's entirely on you.

 I’m also grieving. I hurt for those who have lost loved ones. I identify with them. I have a daughter Michael Brown’s age. I have a son Tamir Rice’s age. My kids cosplay like Darrien Hunt did.  I’m a little older than Eric Garner, and like him I have asthma, and children. Some might say that it’s a good thing my family and I are white, but that shouldn’t have to be a good thing, and it hurts to know that some might say that.
Again with the inserting yourself into a discussion that is not about you. How about trying for a little less emotional response? No? Too hard?
Ok, I'm going to go through this carefully so please pay attention.
Michael Brown tried to kill Officer Darren Wilson. In my opinion Officer Wilson was either stupid or really poorly trained to put himself in the position that he did but once things went to a struggle for his gun and shots were fired it was Katy bar the door. A suspect who will try and kill an officer is one who will try and kill anyone. Bad approach, justified shoot. Cause for retraining (and maybe the command staff/Chief's jobs) but not for  prosecution. The Grand jury thought so as well. Didn't you hear or do you just not care what the local citizens thought?

Darien Hunt had a sword. Doesn't matter a whit whether or not it was a display sword or dull or whatever. It was a deadly weapon. Period. If they'd let him go and he'd hurt or killed someone else it would have been their fault. Once the officer's made that initial contact they were duty bound to see it through to the end. Hunt ran and according to the officers turned on them with the sword.

Tamir Rice is the real tragedy here. I have to wonder where his parents were and I have serious doubts about the involved officer. 

Eric Garner. Yeah, I hate that one too but, again, once the decision to arrest was made and he resisted they were legally allowed to use enough force to overcome that resistance. Constitutional law, legally entitled to be where they were, reasonable initial contact. If he'd gone with the officers Mister Garner would likely be alive today. And here's another place where you can have an impact. Make your case for outlawing the Carotid Restraint. Hell, I'll help you! And how about some vitriol where it belongs? That law against tobacco was made by Mayor Bloomberg, as vile a liberal SJW as has ever existed. Those officers weren't enforcing a made up statute. It was enacted into law by elected officials put into office by people like you. Or, being totally fair, us. Want officers to exercise discretion on what laws they enforce or how they enforce them? Fine, but kindly refrain from complaints when some decide that laws against activity you find abhorrent shouldn't be enforced or that those violating such should be treated with kid gloves instead of handcuffs. My view is that officers should be absolutely neutral and leave the decision on what should be outlawed to their elected supervisors. Which brings up another round of mirror looking from all of us (including you) who allow such nuisance laws to be on the books in the first place.

In three of the four cases you cited it is clear to me that if the decedent had complied with the officer's orders and submitted/obeyed he'd be alive to sue those officers at this very minute (inherent or incipient medical conditions notwithstanding). The problem with most of these (Tamir Rice being the exception) is you didn't get the result you wanted and to hell with what the evidence and facts said. Here's another clue for ya. The local Grand Juries and/or DA determined that the officers acted within the scope of the law. What, those most involved and with a stake in the outcome get no say at all? If you really want to end police shootings may I suggest you simply disarm the police completely? Or a blanket legal decision by the Supreme Court that all police shootings are unjustified. Because anything short of that is wishful thinking. No police guns = no police shootings. Blanket prosecutions = no police shootings because there won't be any cops left. Win win, right? The clear lesson is do what the nice officer asks and everything will work itself out in the end. That's what civil courts are for you know.

I have friends, some of them quite close, who are police officers. I hold them in high regard. They tackle a demanding, dangerous job with an attitude of selflessness that I admire and aspire to. One of those friends once told me that he’d rather take a punch than throw one, and would prefer to take a bullet than take a life. In his work, he daily seeks to defuse situations so that they do not come down to kill-or-be-killed decisions. His approach demands a skill set that looks like a mash-up of dual PhDs in sociology and psychology along with being a champion of speed chess.
Yes. And no. I agree with everything except the punch and bullet and those are kinda biggies. Remember what I said about a gun being at every scene with an officer present? What your friend is saying is that he'd rather be knocked out and allow a felon to possess his weapon to unknowable ends than defend himself and the public he swore his oath to. Same with taking a bullet. Better to leave the clean up to someone else rather than take his responsibilities seriously. It's called Moral Cowardice. What did Heinlein say about this? "Your life isn't yours to throw away in a vain grab at glory nor it it yours to keep should the situation call for you to spend it." A good officer is one who can recognize the difference when faced with that call not one who baldly announces his intention to abandon his duty and rely on his betters to unscrew his mess. Do your friend and the rest of us a favor. Convince him to seek out a profession better suited to his personality and moral compass. And this is coming from a man who once saved a black man's life by choosing to take him on hand to hand while he was trying to draw a pistol. Yeah, there wasn't any media attention paid to that one. I wonder why. Come to think of it, you didn't mention it either. Didn't know? Neither did anyone else outside the officers I worked with. If you're the least bit intellectually honest you will ponder on that for a bit.

As for the rest, I agree. An officer is one who must keep his or her head in each and every situation they may face. Must. When all is chaos and madness the one person we rely upon keep calm and bring about order and peace is the beat cop. All too often one of us fails but that's because our police forces are made up of fallible humans. We ask them to be perfect but we don't really expect it because we know that's impossible. A good officer is one who constantly strives for that perfection. The solution is to help them and help our agencies to identify good candidates not to roundly scourge all for actions we don't like.

(NOTE: Comments are off, and will remain so. This is a position piece, not an invitation to have a discussion. I’ve written my thoughts, and if they inspire you to write yours, there are lots of better places for you to do so.)
How noble and problem solving of you. A position piece yet. Color me suitably impressed.

So, I'm going to ask of you again. What have you done or are doing to resolve the issues you raised? What standards are your very own local officers trained to? What do they think of their departmental policies concerning their actions in relation to the general public and how that impacts how they're viewed by those they police? What is your local elected representative's views on policing and how can you, working together, ensure reasonable, lawful and effective policing?

All of that to say this.

We don't get the policing we deserve, we get the policing we allow. That may be good. It may be indifferent. It may be bad. But it is a direct result of our actions or, more likely, inaction. I'm going to give you three words I hope you will remember and consider.
All three are areas where many of our police departments and municipalities are failing or are blatantly incompetent. Have a direct impact on any of those three areas and you can change law enforcement across the country. Don't speak to me of helplessness, speak to me of empowerment because I just gave you the ammunition you need for a revolution. I happen to agree that there are an awful lot of areas where law enforcement is failing. Unlike you, I am addressing those things and making an impact where and when I can. Not to mention the 24 years I spent on the inside.

 You are stoking the flames of racial hatred and divide with your nasty little poison post against American policing. Do us all a favor and get yourself both better informed and more involved. Otherwise you're nothing more than just another poo flinging monkey and, Great Ghu, we have enough of those.

Goodbye Mister Tayler. Believe it or not this whole things troubles me greatly and it pains me to do this. Thank you for providing me with entertainment for so many years. I have been a smart ass and at times insulting but I am passionate about this, the profession I devoted my working life (and a good bit of my body) to. I hold no ill will against you. I wish you well in your future endeavors and leave you with this offer. If you should choose to take me up on my challenge to you to get more involved you have only to ask and I will offer you whatever assistance or advice I can provide. All I ask is that you do so with a pure heart and an open mind. And if you remain unconvinced perhaps you will give me the chance to change your mind.

In any case fare well.