I hope those who have commented on my piece on police brutality (or my previous posts, for that matter) will forgive me: Four entries into my new HuffPo blog, I'm just now figuring out how to join the conversation. "Learned helplessness" is a lousy excuse for rudeness, as is technophobia. I'm anxious to join the fray on future topics.
Judging from some comments, a little perspective on my career seems to be in order: After coming to grips with my behavior as a rookie, I set out to reclaim the values I thought I'd brought to the job--and turned myself into a hydrophobic gasbag of a police reformer. Alienating many of the people I most wanted to influence, i.e., my superiors and fellow cops.
Can you say compensation?
I engaged in nonstop, self-righteous finger pointing, got myself quoted in publications condemning the racism, sexism, homophobia, and brutality I saw as rampant in the police field. I railed against the paramilitary structure of American policing (senior thesis at San Diego State: "The Community as DMZ: Breaking Down the Police Paramilitary Bureaucracy").
In both San Diego and Seattle I argued for rigorous, genuine civilian oversight of police policies and practices. (Still do.)
I fired a lot of cops for excessive force and other abuses, and advocated for prosecution of police officers who criminally misused their authority.
I also learned along the way that if I wanted to be respected--and influential in my field--I had to show some respect, and listen to my cops. Especially when we disagreed.
Against that backdrop, let me respond to several themes in your comments.
Yes, police work is delicate, demanding, and dangerous (I helped bury over 20 officers in my time). Which is why I have tremendous respect and admiration for those who do it well, cops who are part of not apart from your community.
The sheriff's deputy whose actions prompted my post has been charged by King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. To which I say Amen. More prosecutors need to be willing to file charges against police officers. And more juries, when presented proof beyond a reasonable doubt, need to find the spine to convict them; convictions of law enforcement officers are notoriously difficult to obtain.
By the way, the deputy is being defended by a first-rate local attorney. And that's also as it should be. As angry as I got watching that tape (over and over), Paul Schene is every bit as entitled to due process as any other defendant.
Your comments about increased militarization in police work are spot on. Blame distortion of the lessons of 9/11, the perverted definitions of "homeland security," as far as I'm concerned. But the War on Drugs is also hugely implicated, and I've not written my last on that topic.
For those who cited Milgram and/or Zimbardo's famous experiments on how decent human beings can morph into sadists, a hearty thank you. For those who believe it could never happen to you, dream on.
Peer pressure, in-group solidarity, rewards and punishments, the very structure and culture of an organization have a way of sucking people in, as several readers pointed out. Happens in the military, happens in a police department. Happens...everywhere.
That said, let me register my unconditional belief in personal responsibility. And accountability. I was wrong to do what I did, and apologized for it years ago (not over a cup of coffee, incidentally).
I believe in the power of apology, and forgiveness. And redemption. I also believe if we allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity, or to get hooked by personal smears we might as well hang it up right now. Hate mail, which I used to attract by the bagful, most of it from colleagues, used to sting. No more. Goes with the turf.
Today, I prefer a focus on issues, but I do enjoy the occasional ad hominem attack. Like the one I got when I marched, in uniform, in Seattle's gay pride parade. "You, sir, are a dried up, useless scrap of scrotum," one fan wrote.
Let me repeat something I said in the original post. True, fundamental and lasting police reform requires civilian oversight, an eagerness of police chiefs and sheriffs to fire "bad apples," prosecutors to haul them into court, and an organizational structure (nothing less than a new apple barrel) conducive to policing a democratic society. But it also desperately needs good cops willing to stand up, speak out, and seize control of their own culture.