A Discussion of Criminal Justice Issues and Other Things

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Shooting of Police Officers Increases

Over 63 law enforcement officers have been shot and killed this year so far, according to this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's a topic of concern that's circulated numbers of law enforcement discussion groups both at the street officer level but at the administrative level as well.

Questions range from a lagging economy, more guns available to criminals, increased gang activity, lack of focus by the federal government at local safety issues because they are watching international terrorist and others. All good questions that have merit but it doesn't answer why increasing numbers of law enforcement officers are being killed violently. There have previously been deaths related to vehicle accidents and even some training incidents but the number of shooting deaths is significantly higher.

My observation seems to center on the change of attitude of the public toward law enforcement officers. It would be helpful for one of the think tanks to survey comparing attitudes of the public over the past several years and determine if there is a change toward law enforcement officers. Another question to ask has there ever been a deterrent to violence toward police officers and if so was if formal or informal and has it literally or figuratively changed?

It is this writer's opinion that simply arming the law enforcement with bigger guns and more aggressive tactics will beget similar responses from those bent on their demise.

It would be helpful to measure public sentiment toward law enforcement officers from those communities experiencing increased violence toward police and those who have not seen an increase or even experienced a decrease.

A recent comment made by a gang member explains some of the mentality. Simply that since police wear body armor. it's important to shoot them in the head to make sure they are dead. A recent discussion group of which I belong stated that the bounty (the amount paid to have someone killed) is exponentially higher on a law enforcement officer because of the likelihood of the shooter not surviving the encounter. My concern is that the word "bounty" is even associated with law enforcement officers.

Ninety-nine percent of the population ought to view our law enforcement officers as individuals who are a resource; to be of assistance. For that other one percent, they should know that officers will treat them with respect and use only that force necessary to restrain them. For those who are intent on killing officers, they should be aware that the officer is trained well to survive and will do everything possible to do so. Cops are no different than any other individual. They want to go home safe at the end of the day.

Investments in less lethal equipment, training, problem solving, and confidence building takes time, people, money and other resources. Image and conduct may be part of the equation, but those that set policy must understand that police officers are peace keepers, not a local militia. They should clearly spell that out in policy, training and their public support for so called "non traditional policing programs."

We will not arrest ourselves out of the issues of violence and the other social concerns that are at the core of the acts of violence and crime. Law enforcement officers have a role to play in the problem solving and can contribute great insights into what they see and hear in their communities if people are willing to listen and not "kill the messenger."

I've said repeatedly that law enforcement is a calling, not simply a profession. It takes a special person to have the drive and dedication to do the job right with honor and ethical conduct. We as police administrators have to work hard to make sure we can find those people and encourage them to join our ranks. The community must be willing to participate, partner, and find the resources necessary to solve the problems. Accountability rises higher than the police ranks. Self-examination of community programs and responses help to create the healthy environment that hopefully allows individuals to find constructive ways of venting their anger and frustration constructively rather than through acts of violence or property damage.

It's not an easy task but one that needs to have open and honest dialogue underway immediately.

Gunsmoke, Wrestling and Higher Education

It's been over 40 years ago now that we would go visit my grandparents on their farm, usually on weekends. Two things were absolutes: Saturday night was Gunsmoke and wrestling and Sunday meant going to church. No exceptions to either day's events.

For those of you too young to know that this Gunsmoke isn't something recently fired from a gun, it was a television program that got started in the 1950's and ran a very long time. In fact, I got to live in the town where the show took place: Dodge City, Kansas. This was in the mid 1960's and it was great because I never lived in a famous town before where there were tourists. I even got to drink sarsaparilla in the Longbranch Saloon on the old front street where they created shoot outs that look a lot like the kind we see here in Northfield during the Defeat of Jesse James Days. Dodge City is also the place where as a 6th Grader I picketed the the newspaper The Daily Globe but that's another story.

Ok, with the history lesson out of the way, then the theme here is transition and grounding in good family values.

When we visited my grandparents, the rule on Saturday night was it was quiet during Gunsmoke because it was serious stuff. There was an intermission between the 10 pm news and 10:30 when a local television station in Hastings, Nebraska hosted live wrestling. Guys with last names I could never pronounce would fight it out in the ring with lots of drama, bravado, and really, really, bad acting. Most of the guys were local and we all knew them. A couple wore masks but we figured out who they were too. We would sit there with popcorn, sodas and lots of yelling and cheering for a full hour of the stuff. For a young kid getting to be involved in the "adult" shows was cool as far as I was concerned. I have to admit that I don't follow the wrestling circuit much since the age of 12. ..

It would be a late Saturday night with my grandad, uncles and my dad talking politics, telling jokes and lots of interesting stories. Regardless of the late hour to bed, grandma got us up early for church. She said that if we could waste all that Saturday night stuff on violence and silliness, we owed the "Good Lord" at least an hour of His time back in the week. So we would get dressed and all go to church school and then a church service. After that, we went back and had great Sunday meals and spent the rest of the day basically messing around, getting in trouble and eating leftovers before leaving to go home.

It was a blue collar existence and it was wonderful. Growing up I know there were times that what we had to eat came from our garden because there were no funds for store purchased food. I watched my dad take correspondence classes and work to get hired as an air traffic controller when the requirement meant a college diploma but his military service and extra studies paid off.

When it came time to write a thank you note or send a homework assignment back to school. They were scrutinized by my mom. If there were misspellings or grammar problems, we did them over. Mom always said that how you speak, how you write, how you look and how you present yourself determines your future success in life. She was adamant about all those qualities and I owe her much for what she taught us.

As Dad worked harder, improved his education and improved in his government employment grade, life got a little better. By the late 1960' we found a color television sitting in our living room one night. Dad did some extra work on the side to pay for it but it was a great thing if you were a kid. One thing Dad did tell me was that I was going to go to college. Something that the Korean War interrupted his chance to accomplish. It wasn't negotiable. He said I was going to go if both of us had to work 3 jobs to pay for it but I was going to get there.

My dad died in 1970. Things changed and college was put on hold for a while. I picked up a few classes here and there. I joked that I got through undergrad school with the class a year plan. In 1992, I got my degree from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. I graduated with honors and accomplished it by taking night classes and the support of a very understanding wife. I worked on the degree because it was a goal because I wanted to be a police chief someday and I knew I needed a degree to get there...but the diploma just as much belongs to my dad who early on encouraged me to work hard to get there.

A few years later we made the decision that I needed to finish a masters degree. So in 1998, my family joined me in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and watched me march down the aisle to receive my master's degree. Again, we joked about the "degree courtesy of Visa" but we got it done. Now, in 2007, I find myself at Hamline University working on a doctorate in public administration. I'll have a son starting college next year and have a fairly demanding occupation. We talked about it and decided it was the right time and thing to do. (We being my wife and myself).

Visiting my mom this Thanksgiving brought back a lot of the memories as we talked about those visits to grandparents' homes and family activities. She told me she was proud I was the first one in either of my parents' family to earn a degree. She said my dad would be proud too. I told her that I was proud of them because they worked hard and despite their situations, worked hard to make a better life and instill a desire to learn and dream.

There's a song out right now by Tracy Lawrence entitled "You Can't Hide Redneck"
and although I don't think I'm that extreme, I am proud of where I came from and the struggles that have brought me to where I am today. It's fun to sit in the coffee shop and talk grain futures with local farmers and it's also great to sit in a graduate level class and discuss public policy implications. I truly believe I could not do the later without my life experience. Who I am and what I am today is a result of the dedication of a lot of educators, adults and family members who provided the encouragement but also realizing those life struggles help keep me grounded and humbly remind me of my obligations to faith, family and community.

I thought it was fitting after a great Thanksgiving visit and a few calls to some old school friends to give thanks for my family, friends, Gunsmoke, Wrestling and higher education.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Impressions Mean So Much

I got a call from a very good friend today who commented how he had called for police assistance and received a prompt response by a younger officer whose name he could not recall. He said the reason for his call was rather minor compared to some things but he was concerned about an issue in his neighborhood. My friend went on to say the officer genuinely took the time to listen to his concerns, made several suggestions for things he could do and offered to call him back to follow up if he wanted him to do so. Needless to say, my friend was very impressed with the officer. If I get a chance to find out who it was, I'll certainly give him credit here.

I'm sure other stuff was going on at the time but it speaks well of the officer giving this individual the attention that he deserved.

Good Job!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hooters Swat Team

My attention was called to this CNN news clip by a member of a discussion group of which I belong. Our discussion was developing positive images of law enforcement for future recruiting efforts of qualified police professionals.

It would sure appear that these officers put their chief, mayor and community in a very bad position. This type of behavior does a disservice to every dedicated officer everywhere.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Northfield News, William White and Theodore Roosevelt

Credit a convergence of unrelated events over the past week for this posting. I recently obtained an original copy of a book authored by Theodore Roosevelt on his views of Civil Service. Northfield News Managing Editor Jaci Smith wrote a blog posting about a couple of successful journalists and I happened to pass through Emporia, Kansas.

I'm a fan of Roosevelt, partly because he wasn't afraid to push the envelope and in a large part, wasn't afraid to speak his mind, regardless of the consequences..something of which I find a bit of a kindred spirit with the man. His "bully pulpit" philosophy is one I've embraced and hopefully have used with due regard for the public good.

Roosevelt was adept at using the Media to his advantage both politically but also for causes he felt were important, such as the environment. Roosevelt established a friendship with a small town newspaper editor by the name of William White, who just happened to own the paper in
Emporia, Kansas. The relationship between White and Roosevelt was solidified with their affiliation with the Republican Party just as much as a journalistic relationship.

White became a prominent journalist on a national level with his political analysis and willingness to take on sensitive topics. White had a reputation for taking a stand even when it wasn't very popular.

In 1922, Kansas Governor Henry J. Allen supported a new state law that prohibited picketing in an attempt to keep the lid on a coal miner's strike. Allen was a good friend of White. White, who disagreed with the law on the basis of free speech proceeded to post a strike placard and was subsequently arrested. White's editorial response "To An Anxious Friend," written in July of 1922, received national attention and awarded White a Pulitzer Prize. White went on to serve several presidents and brought them to the small Kansas town as guests, putting a small Kansas community on the international map.

White also served on numerous presidential commissions and was an outspoken critic of the Klu Klux Klan. He was a journalist who through his integrity and tenacity not only reported history but made it as well.

Reading Jaci's column about the trials and tribulations of reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada as they dug into the issues of steroid use by baseball players and the challenges they faced when prosecutors and judges threatened them with contempt orders and jail time if they didn't reveal their sources, reminded me of White and his relationship with Roosevelt.

In my estimation there are journalists and then there are people who just happen to work for a newspaper. The difference is the integrity and tenacity found in White, Williams and Fainaru-Wada makes them journalists. Individuals who simply just cut and paste information they find from other sources or strive only for exposure or controversy simply happen to work at a newspaper.

White's introductory June 3, 1895 column when he took ownership of the Emporia Gazette said "the new editor hopes to live here until he is the old editor..."

One can only hope that there will always be individuals interested in the journalism profession who will continue to hold true to White's values.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Giving Kids a "Head Start"

The St. Paul Pioneer Press in their Friday Edition published an article describing how police found a four year old boy with no shoes or shirt standing on a street corner of Rice and Pennsylvania at 2 in the morning when the temperature was in the low 30's. The article states the mother, Chatel Chase, 25, apparently left the 4 year old and a 20 moth old child alone to go pick up a friend. Police were waiting for her when she arrived home and provided her a free ride to the Ramsey County Jail.

I worry about kids.... a lot.

When I was very young, I learned how to stand in line in my preschool Sunday school class at the Edgar, Nebraska Methodist Church. We learned a lot about manners that had been steadily reinforced by my parents and grandparents.

Not every kid has that kind of family opportunity or chance to learn at an early age, basic skills that will allow them social competence to keep their self-esteem strong and their desire to learn on fire.

I was a lucky guy about 20 years ago now when I was asked to join the policy council for the local Hall County Head Start program in Grand Island, Nebraska. I watched how these really young kids who come from very different homes and backgrounds than I did, work together, play together and even learn how to stand in line and take their turns together. Simple things like using eating utensils and basic social skills that most of us just assumed we were born with were provided to these eager youngsters. These were our future leaders who would have the strength of their original heritage and also an American perspective. I was excited to think of the future of the potential leaders our country will have.

And then I read an article like the one above. Please understand I'm not so much after the parent as I am the process that does not allow our families to have the basic skills and needs to be self-sufficient. Head Start is one of those opportunities that so often is overlooked, underfunded and mocked. Parenting classes for newcomers and health care access are key to getting a head start for our future adults.

It's a conversation we need to have and it needs to be more detailed than simply a bottom line cost analysis because we can either invest in our early childhood development or we can deal with the adult issues that are causing us to build new jails and spend a lot of money on programs that simply keep the wolves outside the door.

Government needs to be sticking to the business of providing the foundations not just for bridges but for our kids' future self reliance. Invest wisely and help all our families know the dignity of education, obtaining a job and getting involved in the community. We need to help one another and I'm afraid if we continue to wait for the dollars to fall from the federal or state clouds, it will be another long drought. It's time to roll up our sleeves as a community and help our kids long before we find them standing on street corners at 2 in the morning.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Institutionalization of Task Forces

task force
Main Entry:task force


: a temporary grouping under one leader for the purpose of accomplishing a definite objective

That's what Webster defines a task force. I find it increasingly interesting the number of task forces that are formed for a variety of reasons and never seem to go away. I would call attention to the word "temporary" included in Webster's definition.

The concept of a task force seems to be a valid one: identify a problem, put a few heads together to deal with the issue and then resolve it. Unfortunately it's been my experience that task forces seldom cease to exist once they are founded. I find it interesting that when they get together and develop their mission statement, goals and objectives and ways to measure their progress, they never include the manner in which to disband.

This is particularly the case in drug task forces and task forces formed to address crime and criminal acts that are symptomatic of a larger social concern. For over 30 years now, I've been witness to federal and state dollars invested in the formation of task forces to fight drugs and gangs. I'm also guilty of complaining rather loudly when the funding has been threatened. Why, you may ask am I now raising the issue of the longevity of task forces.

Quite frankly it's because the manner in which the drug and gang task forces were formed based on old federal law enforcement models have failed. We still have drugs on the street, there are still street dealers and I just read an article this morning about a gang-related incident so it would appear that those hoodlums are still at large as well.

To his credit, Governor Pawlenty ordered an examination of how funding of task forces were used in Minnesota. It raised a big bru ha ha to say the least. My gosh, you mean we have to justify that millions of dollars invested over the past 30 years has made a difference?

You betcha.

And I won't even begin to go into how misleading the numbers reported regarding drug arrests really are.

Please understand that I'm not being critical of the law enforcement folks and prosecutors who are involved in fighting this mess. They are doing the best with what they are being given to work with.

I'm just suggesting that the task force concept probably isn't the best venue in which to continue.

In looking at different issues, I'll use two premises in which to base my discussion:

1. our current process (the so called war on drugs) is not working
2. legalizing drugs is not an option - simply an admission that we can't find a real solution to a problem.

Current task forces fight over turf, information, money, publicity and personnel. Somewhere in that mix, they find the time to bust a few drug labs or buy mercenaries to buy some drugs and make a few busts. Ironically, most state troopers probably seize more dope during regular traffic enforcement than do all the other efforts.

What we do know is that the time proven police practice of developing intelligence through informants, citizens and comparing various cases leads to good case management and a better than average solvability factor.

There is also this myth that drug users and those who sell them are not very bright and are unsophisticated. A good example was the beating I took this summer when I suggested that providing mainstream media the facts we had regarding drug distribution and the fact we were tired of them messing with our kids. Well, believe it or not, most of those in the drug business do monitor the media and how to manipulate it as they choose and they certainly know how to use computers. If we are going to stay ahead of them from an intelligence gathering standpoint, our cops had better get with it and our communities should stop discounting the fact that these thugs are pretty savvy when it comes to communication. Drug dealers love it when communities are so busy pointing fingers at each other over who knows what about who uses drugs in their communities because while that is all going on, they are quietly going about their drug selling business.

So if one works from the premise that no one wakes up one morning and says " I think I'll become a slobbering junkie today," then a social impact implication on the use of any intoxicating substance should be considered. The economics of the business must be examined as well as the transportation system used. The law enforcement end of the business would be coordinated from a multi-jurisdictional level on a national scale with computer access and contact via PDAs to all those involved. With an international flair to this business and the use of
GPS and other electronic tools, the need for high level drug speculation would not be necessary, just better collection of information at the street level. That means the cop working the late shift fills out a field interview card, works traffic enforcement aggressively and verbal warnings where no data is collected goes away.

The process would take a while. It would be literally like fighting a small country but could be accomplished. Keep in mind that Al Capone went to jail for tax evasion, not being a gangster. If the squeeze economically was consistent on the money flow and the interruption of their transportation routes, the impact would impact the business. If treatment became easier to access than the drug of choice isn't there a chance an impact could be made?

We should consider the impact of drug usage in this country as big a terrorist threat as any one person hiding in caves in Afghanistan. With the right leadership, I believe that countries will ban together to fight this problem on the political, social and economic levels where it deserves to be attended to. It's time to stop insulting the intelligence of reasonable people around the world by pretending to arrest our way out of this problem and give it the global attention it deserves.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Do Crime Intervention Saturation Patrols Really Work

This Washington Post article reports on how a recent attempt to put "all hands" on the street didn't accomplish a reduction in crime in Washington. DC Police Chief Lanier often critical of her predecessor Ramsey, feels her approach reduces crime better than his crime alert emergencies.

Putting the politics aside, the larger picture is whether putting a high concentration of law enforcement officers in a location for so called "zero tolerance" or"saturation" activities is practical, cost effective and worth the risk of civilian and law enforcement personnel.

Without a concentrated effort from police, probation social services, we are doomed to fail, simply stopping activity for a short period of time or simply moving it some place else.

Instead of taking all staff away from proactive and education program and eliminating those positions working to identify problems and work with the communities to reduce and eliminate crime, we will continue to operate under the misconception that more cops visible will deter crime. The now famous Kansas City experiment showed us about the only difference in levels and visibility of officers in various areas accomplished was to make residents feel safer...even if they were not.

Surprisingly, one of the best overall deterrents to crime is an organized and well executed traffic enforcement program. Not only does it provide visibility, but also quick officer deployment when needed. The number of individuals stopped for violations that ultimate result in warrant arrests is usually surprising. Given the issues of profiling now, it makes this concept more difficult to supervise but still doable.

Herman Goldstein in his books policing a free society and problem oriented policing, rightly describes the need to identify the causation factors that lead to the problems that are identified. This means homicide detectives should a devote a portion of their time to analysis and prevention not just investigation. It takes time and there is a very real risk for any police administrator who tries newer concepts not embraced by television programs since it seems the majority of policy holders and those who hold her/his job in their political balance often assess their performance based on how they compare to CSI Miami.

With the advent of intelligence led policing there is an opportunity to evaluate trends and work to anticipate where problems occur. It is then wise to allocate scarce resources to those areas to prevent and deter crime. Of course this doesn't make good 6PM news footage but it is good solid investigative police work.

Since I'm regularly accused of not adhering to "real police work", IE, kicking A_ _ and taking names, I'm pleased to report that since that type of policing has it roots in managing the slave trade in the 1600 and 1700's through fear, intimidation and violence, I'm happy to advocate a new way of doing things. I suspect that are a lot of folks out there who feel the same way.

Don't be fooled by the smoke screen of a surge or sweep mentality. It won't serve the long term problem. Contrary to commonly held belief, the bad guys/gals read the paper and watch TV too. They are savvy in knowing how far an administrator can go politically before getting their wings clipped. The only folks who win in these situations are the crooks.

Monday, November 05, 2007


To all of those of you I got to know, in the 7900 wing at United Hospital in St Paul last week, I want to thank you for your caring and assistance that that allows me to recuperate from home one week later.

Some of the follow up procedures you had to assist with were far from pleasant and I truly appreciate your genuine concern and compassion.

Thanks to every one of those of you who helped.

God Bless you all!