Merry Christmas to you and your fellow law enforcement officers…

Posted: December 30, 2009 in News and politics

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your fellow law enforcement officers in this season of joy, sorrow, and anxiety over the rash of shootings in Washington State of police men and a woman.

As a proud graduate of the Bremerton Citizens’ Police Academy I can say I have resolved most of my issues with the Bremerton Police Department. I procrastinated way too long in sending a critique to you. At the time I could have written a book…

There was, and is, one issue I didn’t address when it was my turn to speak when we were seated (I believe it was) the first day of the seminar. I did speak out about having issues with the Bremerton Police Department built up over the 20+ years I had lived here. This was in response to Lt. Lopez’s query to a group of about 30 attendees, “Is there anyone here who would like to share with us why they are here?”

I and one other person spilled our guts.  I was too busy composing my response to pay attention to the other guy’s .

Fast-forward to a year ago last summer. I was relaxing, enjoying a beautiful summer day at Evergreen Park. I had been shooting some hoops and had walked over to the boat landing to watch my grandsons play on and near it.

Suddenly, without warning, one of Bremerton’s finest approached and told me that somebody had turned me in for offering candy to children. I calmly replied that “no, I was just enjoying this beautiful summer day with my grandsons.” Then he asked for my identification; which I offered to him in the form of my Washington State driver’s license.

By that time at least two other officers came up to us. As the first officer apparently spoke into the microphone on his lapel while he wrote information from my driver’s license into his note pad, one of the other officers engaged me in a friendly q. and a. about what I was doing there, my campaign buttons on my hat, and whether that was a cell phone in the waist-band of my pants.

Finally the officers wished me a good day and left.

Slowly the enormity of the event penetrated my mind. I shared my disbelief with a few people who expressed bemusement. One guy, however, took note and decided a single adult male probably shouldn’t spend time there. He had recently lost his job and thought this park was a pretty good place to relax and collect his thoughts: not!

Now it’s time to talk about the issue left unresolved all these years: honesty.

In a crime drama on TV some time ago an official used deception to defuse a dangerous situation and save somebody’s life. Few would imagine not lying to save a life. In the crime drama the judge dismissed the charges against the suspect in the case because the official had lied to gain the cooperation of the suspect. Yes, it was a fictitious story; but it is a basic truism that art imitates life and I believe this story isn’t too far away from reality.

But, where do we draw the line? If we would lie to save a life, when would we not lie? It’s been said that police officers use pretexts (true or false) to stop somebody and check their identification; and this is supposed to have happened when Timothy McVeigh was apprehended in the Alfred P. Murrah bomber. I think that was an argument in the Supreme Court case about using pretext to find a suspect in a serious crime.

On the front-page of the Kitsap Sun there was an article some months ago revealed that people are routinely stopped and questioned in “high crime” areas. I remember the article listing criteria that designates an area to be “high crime”.

I was an undergraduate at Gonzaga University and a member of the Gonzaga glee club in 1961. One of the other members showed up late for practice one night because he said he was stopped and detained by Spokane police because they said they were looking for a suspect in a burglary. About 20 or so years ago a young man who I believe doesn’t make up stories told me he was stopped as he walked out on Kitsap Way at night. The officers said they were looking for a suspect in a report of voyeurism in the neighborhood. The young man continued that the next day he went down town to the police station to ask about the stated case and was told there was no such case. So, who do you believe: the officer out in the neighborhood or the officer behind the desk at the police station?

One of my favorite poems is by Carl Sandburg that starts, “Remember the chameleon…” I am including a copy of it for your perusal in consideration of the subject of honesty.

I have been a student of the subject of lying for many years. I have subscribed to the idea that if somebody has to tell you he is honest he probably is not.

Few would argue against the proposal that honesty is the best policy. How completely that saying rules our conduct is a very personal commitment. So the question repeated at the end of “Remember the chameleon…” helps us come to the realization of our own personal honesty.

Probably the most important consideration for promoting honesty by police officers in their dealing with the public is a case being brought to court a few years ago that waited for selection of a jury. When polled for their beliefs, prospective jurors were asked if a case depended on the word of a police officer against that of the defendant would they believe the police officer over the defendant. Sadly, too many prospective jurors answered in the negative. Why do you suppose that was?

I started this with a greeting and a wish. My greeting included a mention of very sad recent events. After reading of several shootings I am asking what is going on.  Why is this happening now? What is different now from years passed when isolated incidents of police shootings remain isolated? Is there more discontent and frustration at high unemployment?  For those who are employed (the vast majority of those who want to work) it is easy to overlook just how frustrating it is for the unemployed and underemployed. Especially at the Christmas season when it is said that tension yields more domestic disturbances, can increased cases of violence targeting law enforcement officers be understood in a climate of seasonal stress.

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