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by Peter Moskos

October 6, 2016

"Chicago cop murders unarmed man after fender bender"

That's the headline that wasn't.

Instead we have this headline: "Officer Didn't Shoot Attacker Because She Feared Backlash."

A 43-year-old female 17-year-veteran suffered this:
The man had punched her and "repeatedly smashed her face into the pavement" until she was knocked out, police said. She suffered head trauma and multiple cuts to her face and head.
When you're a cop losing a fight and a man is bashing your head on the ground trying to kill you, it's OK to shoot the guy. Can we agree on that?

Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times:
A “simple traffic accident” that turned ugly.

“A subject who was under the influence of PCP attacked a female officer. Viciously pounded her head into the street as her partner was trying to get him off of her. This attack went on for several minutes,” [Chicago Police Supt.] Johnson told the assembled dignitaries.

“As I was at the hospital last night visiting with her, she looked at me and said she thought she was gonna die. And she knew that she should shoot this guy. But, she chose not to because she didn’t want her family or the department to have to go through the scrutiny the next day on national news.”
The superintendent said he plans to turn that around by “encouraging” his officers and assuring them he has their backs.

“But, at the same time, we know we have to change this national narrative that the cops are the bad guys. The cops are actually the good guys trying to do a difficult job,” Johnson said.
It took many cops to arrest this guy. And three of those cops were hurt. The female officer is still hospitalized.

Tribune Columnist (and fellow Greek American) John Kass:
She's alive, but what if she had pulled her gun and used it?

We'd be going through the old rituals we know by heart, angry activists, the dead re-created as the victim of state-sponsored racism, politicians cowering and turning their backs on her, the entire urban political liturgy we've seen so many times.
Cops are getting in trouble for shooting armed suspects. You think she's get a pass for killing an unarmed black man? (I'm not 100 percent certain the man is black, but the neighborhood is.)

"She murdered an innocent unarmed man!" "They should have helped him after his accident." "How could one man be a threat to multiple officers?" "They didn't have to kill him!" And indeed, they didn't. He was taken alive.

Of course the guy who beat the cop is a violent felon. But who would hold that against him after being victimized by police? I'm sure there's a nice picture of him and relatives willing to say how "he was turning his life around" and would "never hit a woman." Who would believe Chicago cops?

So this officer was willing to let herself be beat to unconsciousness in order to save her family and the department from the now inevitable "scrutiny" had she decided to use lethal force.

So what should have she done? Honestly, I don't know. I'm not convinced she made the wrong choice. The reality today is there would be hell to pay if she shot the guy. Her job and family might be ruined. There would be protests. Threats. She could lose her job or face criminal prosecution. She might have to move and take her family into hiding. She made her choice. But that is a choice no cop should ever have to make, especially at the moment when your face is smashed on concrete again and again and the world fades into darkness around you.


Beat 522 said...

I experienced a related incident on a much smaller scale.

I work in plain clothes downtown and am a true believer in broken windows policing. I'm with two partners in an unmarked explorer and we observe a man near a park in the Loop drinking a 12 oz can of Busch beer, not even in a paper bag.

We go to stop the guy (to probably give him a ticket or at least a warning) and he starts putting up a fuss. He becomes an active resister walking away and shouting as my partner (who is trained in Crisis Intervention) attempts to calm him and down and deescalate. That didn't work.

He continues to cause a scene and then tries to reach into his bag, at which time my partner draws a taser. I shouted at him to stop reaching into his bag, which he did and then began to walk away shouting, and we just let it be.

Two years ago, this man would have been handcuffed, using whatever force necessary, and then issued a citation unless a warrant popped or that he resisted to the point where he should be physically arrested. Instead, in 2016 Chicago, I kept thinking whether perception of what we were doing would be misinterpreted. What if we did have to go hands on with this guy and even tase him. I kept thinking the headline would be "three police officers overwhelm, strike, and tase one man then arrest him for simply drinking a beer" even though everything would have be within the departmental Use of Force model.

That's the reality of the situation. We let this guy go because we feared what the public would think of us. Clearly he was wrong and should have been issued a ticket (you can't walk around downtown Chicago drinking a beer in the open, this isn't Las Vegas). What the hell are we supposed to do when a minor violation has the potential to lead to much more, Eric Garner style?

Thomas McGiill said...

Double tap!

Peter Moskos said...

And then what? Shooting was the "correct" choice, tactically and even morally. But I'm not certain it would be the better choice. For her. Had she shot, her injuries would be less severe, yes. But when the protests come, and "witnesses" say the suspect had his hands up, surrounding? What then? Her home address and the names of her family members are released? The death threats come? Politicians throw you under the bus to please the rabble? Maybe you get suspended without pay or health insurance after an overly ambitious prosecutor presses murder charges. Then what? Your career is over. Your life is ruined.

As it stands, she can probably go out on medical disability and live a happy life, being lucky she wasn't killed.

If nothing else, this is case for body cameras.

Otis Blue said...

I think that a significant sector of people (and almost all in the BLM/ACLU camp) would consider the statements made by the Chicago officer as progress. That's not to say I think almost all or even most BLM/ACLU folks want dead cops, but I think they are content with a cop suffering life altering injuries in lieu of the cop shooting a criminal high on PCP who causes said injuries.

I read her comments and understood the sentiment completely, however, I doubt this sentiment will assist police agencies in recruiting and retaining officers.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Trying to think of the time when mass protests happened because police shot a violent suspect who was in the middle of injuring an officer, as you seem to think happens all the time.... There was Michael Brown, where protests happened because people didn't believe the officer's account. The account was later confirmed by the Justice Department, the officer faced no career impediment, and the Brown protests fizzled, (though there were plenty of other unarmed, non-violent men shot dead to fill the protest gap), and the same Justice Department made clear that protestors were quite right not to take the cops' word for it. Other than that?
If this officer is telling the truth about why she didn't shoot (and it should be noted we're getting a second-hand anonymous account), then she has been horrifically betrayed by Fox News, the police union, and by her fellow officers, who have filled her head with a bullshit narrative that put her in real danger. And add in betrayed by her academy, which seems to have given these officers less capability to take down an unarmed dust-head than your average nightclub bouncer.
It is sort of amusing that the FOP is saying the solution is to "change the narrative" rather than improve police training. Reminds me of all those Republican candidates who think they can win minority voters by changing the narrative rather than changing their policies, and just keep failing. The FOP doesn't want fewer unarmed people killed, they just want it noticed less.

Thorn said...

If someone is actually willing to let a crook beat them unconscious- thereby likely getting control of the officer's gun and becoming that more dangerous to every subsequent officer- it's time to find a new profession. I'm not sure if that is actually what happened here, of course... but I wouldn't be happy going on a call with any officer who is thinking that way, just like I wouldn't be happy going on a call with an officer afflicted by tombstone bravery (the other end of the spectrum that can also get me killed).

I know that plenty of cops have rethought how they do things (i.e. maybe let someone flee instead of trying to capture them) but this is a step too far.

Peter Moskos said...

I don't think the narrative is bullshit. You tell me what you think would have happened if she pulled the trigger and killed this sweet unarmed man. In Chicago right now? I think it would have been big.

What is happening all the time is a cop shoots an *armed* suspect and gets accused of murder on the evening news. Off the top of my head, I can think of three times it's happened just in Baltimore in the past couple years. God forbid cops shoot an "unarmed" suspect (even if he is a threat).

It doesn't take mass protests (though that happened in Charlotte). Small protests, a few news stories, and no support from your department are enough to ruin a life and career.

As to one's ability to take down an attacking unarmed dust head? Please, kung-foo master, based on your fighting experience, tell us the tactics she should have used.

Also, you're a total fool if you actually think Darren Wilson faced "no career impediment." Like he's waiting to called up after taking sergeant's exam or something. He resigned, moved, and he and his family remain in hiding. Other than that... his career is going great.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Given that 21 people were killed by police in Illinois in 2016, with minimal protest or publicity, yeah, I'm sticking with "that narrative is bullshit".

Peter Moskos said...

What?! First of all, only 6 of those have been killed in Chicago (a near-record low). I can think of protest and publicity in about half of those. How the hell would you have any clue about what is going on in Chicago?

Adam said...

Why on earth is it relevant that "21 people were killed by police in Illinois in 2016 with minimal protest or publicity"? Aren't we talking about the fallout after an officer shoots an unarmed yet violent/attacking suspect? Of the 21 people shot and killed by Illinois cops in 2016, the Washington Post lists zero as having been unarmed. (One is listed as "unknown," and that guy had recently murdered a 21-year-old mother during a carjacking).

There are other examples, beyond Ferguson, of protests erupting after that type of shooting. Dontre Hamilton and Devin Guilford come to mind. (Imagine the protests if Guilford had been black). I don't think there are dozens of these cases a year because I don't think it's altogether common for police officers to be savagely beaten by unarmed suspects, but if you're the rare cop who finds yourself in that situation, I think you've got good reason to feel that you're damned if you do (shoot) and damned if you don't.

fh said...

What is so wrong with not killing somebody? She avoids the psychic trauma associated with that result (I'm not even talking about being accused of an unjustified use of force); I mean taking someone's life is a negative for her even before BLM. Second, he lives. Why isn't that a good result in and of itself. Don't we prefer living criminals to dead criminals? The cost is the concussion. lacerations, and bone chip she suffered. Maybe she made the wrong calculation, but too many cops have made the wrong calculation the other way killing people they absolutely should not have (some of those have been ruled unjustified, but many have been ruled justified). Hindsight is 20-20, but I am glad to see the needle moving towards trying to avoid fatal encounters. Next up, train cops on better non-lethal techniques (and de-escalation although de-escalation is not going to work on a PCP user).

Peter Moskos said...

Because hypothetically, when your head is getting bashed on concrete, you don't know whether than one last blow will just knock you out, put you in a coma, or kill you. You don't shoot somebody to avoid a fight (at least you shouldn't, though I think too many cops might), you shoot so you don't f*cking die. What's wrong about her *not* killing this guy is but for luck and the grace of God, she could have been killed.

I'd be willing to get hurt to not have to kill somebody. I'm not rolling the dice on dying. If it's him dying or a good chance I'm dying (or very permanently hurt), it's gonna be him.


Ia it too much to ask that cops just do their jobs. Neither overreact or underact but act like trained professionals. Moskos makes good posts sometimes but he falls back on "if you criticize cops, don't blame them for not doing the jobs that they get excellent pay and benefits for."

aNanyMouse said...

Is it too much to ask that cops *just* do their jobs? Yea it may well be too much, if we can't reach a consensus in what these jobs are!

Peter Moskos said...

You know, your job: help the public, prevent most crime, catch most crooks, use no physical force except come-alongs, and (most importantly) make no mistakes in judgment or demeanor. And make sure your hat is on straight and there are no visible tattoos.

No, Jeffrey, dammit, I have never said, "if you criticize cops, don't blame them for not doing the jobs." And it kind of pisses me off anybody would think so, because, well, what's the point of me writing all these words if you don't understand them.

What I have said, and said repeatedly, is that if you criticize cops for doing their job, don't blame cops for redefining what their job is. "Why don't cops do their job"? is such a frustratingly ignorant and, more importantly, a meaningless statement. What is their job?!

There's a lot more to policing than "don't over- or underreact." It's like hiring a public bus driver and saying, "just do your job" and giving only two guidlines: A) don't drive too slowly, B) don't drive too fast. Sound advice, indeed, but the entire skill-set of being a good bus driver -- knowing how to operate the bus, knowing rules and regulations, knowing the route, collecting fares, dealing with public, completing paperwork, and actually driving the bus in a safe manner (which is another whole set of skills) -- is everything in between.

We've made it very clear what we don't want cops to do (kill innocent people, be racist, etc). Some people and organizations go further and say they don't want cops to be proactive, enforce quality-of-life issues, or police in a way that disproportionately affects minorities.

But nobody (and I've said this ad nauseam): Nobody is telling cops what *to* do. And specifically in their interactions with violent criminals. And specifically when said violent criminals are not in the immediate act of committing a crime of violence.

Responding to calls is easy. You show up. That's not the job. It's what you do when you get there that makes all the difference. And it's what you do when you're *not* answering calls that defines you as a cop.

Joseph Dundee said...

How do you think they allow this situation to develop in the first place? One person taking on 3 police officers, and somehow you have an officer on the ground getting their head pounding repeatedly into the pavement apparently unimpeded. It seems to me 3 officers should be able to subdue an unarmed man without resorting to deadly force.