The latest fallout from the death of a young African man because of a harsh beating received at the hands of five, now former Memphis police officers is quiet disturbing and shocking enough to turn most stomachs. I am a retired police officer who thoroughly enjoyed my job at a time when police did their job because of excellent training to prevent what has happened, not just in this case, but over the last few years. This was more of a gang initiation (termed “a jump in”) in gang parlance. These five former officers who were part of a specialized unit acted as a gang. I also ask where was the supervision? Which seemed to be MIA.
My husband, a retired Law Enforcement officer of 42 years, has worked all levels of Law Enforcement including City, County, State, and Federal. He worked in a city that had multiple gangs. Drive by shootings and gang warfare occurred every night. In this incident we have seen improper or criminal police activity that was widely recorded in the past, such as Rodney King, (which my husband wrote about), and George Floyd, which illustrates a lack of proper training and supervision.
No, I am not judging because I wasn’t there personally, but the videos speak for themselves. I was asked, (playing devil’s advocate by my husband), “so what would you have done if you were there as a backup and saw what was happening”, (as he knows I have been very vocal about these events in the past),.. my answer? I would have challenged the officer’s behavior. I would have physically interacted between the officers and the suspect, even by pulling the officers away from their actions. I probably would have risked being criticized not only by those at the scene, but perhaps also by many who still wear the uniform. I would have risked losing my pension, my reputation, and the career I loved and was good at. Maybe if this had happened, so much of what has happened such as indictment and loss of life would have happened.
What we see in a lot of these events is lack of training, lack of control, but more significantly lack of supervision as noted already. To take a suspect into custody that requires more than two officers is something we both don’t agree with. I have seen officers who are big, and strong looking, but not able to control even a young female who wants to resist or fight, falling to the ground and the officer is struggling to maintain control. I am not saying that there are not times that require more backup when you are outnumbered, but to take someone down can be done without escalation of force.
I have had my fair share of bruises and strains due to fights and to control violent suspects. I know that when the cavalary arrives, the relief factor kicks in. I have never been in a situation where my partners or myself used escalation of force to control a suspect or take him or her into custody beyond the necessary force.
What happened with this young man should never have gotten to the end that it did but based on these officers who have now been charged with murder, manslaughter, innocent till proven guilty, (which is in the minds of many) guilty, (leaving the verdict up to the jury), is not going to end until better training, screening of personalities, psychology examinations, are improved and reviewed. Training is the key. Right now, everyone has lost, the family loses a son, officers lose their career, freedom, and reputation, with the label of “Convicted Felons.”
I feel for parents who lose a son, I can only pray for healing on all levels. I pray for the officers’ families. It is sad that the life that ended the way it did, was unnecessary.
Great article Lynn. The video was hard to watch and hopefully those five officers will never see the light of day. Watching all the pundits this weekend most say there needs to be a law. Ok what law would have stopped this? Those five officers were hell bent for whatever reason, to administer “street justice”. The only law the victim may have and I say may have broken was “reckless driving”. I also read that one of the officers may have had a disciplinary problem before related to prisoner abuse. So why was he on this Unit? One more thing, this was I guess a specialized unit so where was the supervision?
I worked a Major Felony Unit consisting of six two man cars. We had Shotguns in our vehicles and a green light if needed. We were veteran police officer’s with minimum 10 years on the job and also had a veteran Sgt who ran that Unit and he held our feet to the fire, We also had constant training and retraining.
What those officers did was not only criminal but may have put the lives of all Officers who work the street every night and take “Protect and Serve” as sacrosanct in jeopardy.
Thank you Tom, it just makes me so angry knowing that this incident and others could be avoided. I mentioned slipping through the cracks to one of the comments, regarding the officer with a previous disciplinary problem, that he should have been removed from the streets and given a rather long examination of internal behavior. I myself was chastised for simply questioning the actions of a few officers when I worked undercover, yet the disciplinary problem for one of these officers allowed him to return to duty? Hummmmm… well, I don’t know what will become of the Law Enforcement career of many, including recruitement of applicants going forward, but something has to change.
Lynn: My first reaction after watching the cam shots was where was the supervision of these officers? Where was their Sgt, their lieutenant? My next question was what kind of a “special unit” was this group? They acted more like a street gang than police officers. There have always been bad police officers, just like there have always been bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad financial advisers, and just plain bad people. The key of course is to identify and weed out these bad apples early on before they do damage to the public and the reputation of their fellow officers. I’m not qualified to lay out a plan to accomplish that. But, the first thing I would do is to form a panel of seasoned active and retired officers to lay out a plan for reform. (No politicians on the panel.)
First, thank you Ken for your comment on my article. Second, there is truth to your comment regarding absence of supervision, claiming the term “special unit” as well as their behavior. You are also correct that there are bad officers who have no business wearing the uniform, perhaps they slipped through the cracks. Bottom line is politicians need to butt out! I have often said, “put a uniform on one that has no idea what it is like to work the streets for just one day and let them see what is needed to wear that uniform”. Something has to give…
Well said Nightingale. There are many lessons that can be learned from this man-induced tragedy. To “Protect and Serve” was lost on these “gang-mentality” officers. Their horrid actions will make it much harder for the good hardworking officers, who take their oaths seriously, to actually “Protect and Serve”.
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment as I know your thoughts are that of mine in regards to what was lost on that night that this young man encountered the actions of these officers.
Yes and amen to all you shared Lynn. Sadly many law enforcement agencies are lowering standards in order to increase recruitment……that causes one to expect that we will likely see more of the same in the future. However, even given reduced hiring standards – appropriate (longer and enhanced) training combined with longer probationary periods and direct supervision by seasoned officers might go a long way toward stemming the tide and returning the profession to the high level of respect and admiration it once enjoyed and that the great majority of officers deserve!
Thank you Mike, and sadly its the people that are to receive the best from those who have sworn to protect and serve suffer. Although I know that the majority of the men and women who wear the uniform don’t agree with what happened because of the integrity within them, it places a shadow over all. I also agree that longer probationary periods should be the standard most certainly.