About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

October 10, 2015

"We can't walk away."

Baltimore's Acting Commissioner Kevin Davis speaks about this video where officers fight with a suspect:
The community doesn’t expect police officers to walk by that type of thing.
I’ve watched the video 5 or 6 times and think the officers showed remarkable restraint.
This is where the art form of policing is really best spoken about. What does the community, what does leadership expect police officers to do in that scenario?

We can’t walk away. I don’t expect those officers to walk away.
Well spoken, Commissioner Davis.

This made me think of the Blake takedown, the tennis player wrongly identified and cuffed in a fancy hotel lobby. In another post commented:
I'm certain the tactic [Frascatore] used to bring down and cuff Blake could have been just what was needed... in another situation.
You know what? This is that situation.

The CCRB just ruled against Officer Frascatore for the force he used against Blake. My guess is Bratton will throw Frascatore under the bus. (Not just because of the Blake incident, but for a pattern of earlier abuse.)

I am impressed with both cops in Baltimore for staying in the fight. Everybody has got a plan... till they get hit. She doesn't back down. She gets in there. He gets back up after being hit. But the officers were not able to get the guy under control. [They also, apparently, didn't get on the radio. You gotta call it in. Not a 10-16. Just a 10-23 or a 10-14 or an address so other cops know something is up and can point their cars in the right direction.]

Cops will be in fights. But cops should never be in a fair fight. Once an "unarmed" suspect gets the upper hand and stand pounding the shit out of an officer, you shoot him. So let it be said -- given the wonders of 20/20 hindsight not available the the cops at the time -- these officers were not physical aggressive enough. Either that or they needed to maintain until backup arrived.

This is exactly the situation where you want an Officer Frascatore to make a good aggressive takedown and keep the fight from happening. And then you need a department to back you when a video shows good physical tactics under the banner: "police brutality!" But then in a hotel lobby with a calm person suspected of a non-violent crime you need officers like Frascatore to have enough mental skills to not use their physical skills.

Like most of policing, it's complicated.


Adam said...

"Once an 'unarmed' suspect gets the upper hand and sta[rts] pounding the shit out of an officer, you shoot him."

I think that's often right, though some armchair police critics would disagree. It makes me wonder about the fact that black victims of police shootings are more likely to be unarmed than white victims. That could be explained by racially biased police officers. But couldn't it also be the case that black people are more likely than white people to do the sort of shit on display in this video? I have to say, it wouldn't surprise me if blacks were more likely than whites to violently resist arrest. Maybe that level of resistance to police authority is explainable (some might say justified--though I wouldn't go that far) based on the fact that the police truly were a vehicle of racial oppression at one point in our not-too-distant past. But if it's true that rates of physically aggressive resistance to stops/arrests differ between blacks and whites, I think that could play a big role in explaining racial disparities in police killings of unarmed people.

P.S. kudos to the female officer for applying some nice ground grappling techniques to get the suspect under control!

Moskos said...

Maybe. I don't know. I never policed in a white neighborhood. But word on the street was the low-class whites actually were more likely to brawl with cops.

Unknown said...

Adam, you might be interested in the conclusion reached by sociologist William Kephart in his 1957 study of the Philadelphia Police Department. He wrote:

“In general, white patrolmen are inclined to be more strict in their dealings with Negro offenders than in their handling of white offenders. Negro offenders tend to resist arrest more often than do white offenders. These two tendencies nourish each other.”

Kephart found this was also true of black officers. Both white and black officers gave black suspects rougher treatment in part because they expected black suspects to put up a fight. (A large share of white officers at and above the rank of patrolman also greatly over-estimated the rate of black criminality and generally considered black people a "menace" to the city.) Kephart presented no empirical support for his claim that blacks resisted arrest more. I want to say he came to this conclusion based on his interviews with police, but I can't recall for sure.

William M. Kephart, Racial Factors and Urban Law Enforcement (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1957), p. 107.

It's an interesting historical example. I'm not sure it sheds any light on the problem we're discussing here, however, except that the distrust and animosity for police that many black people still feel obviously strains ordinary interactions on the street, which police no doubt sense and perhaps react to.

john mosby said...

I dont have any stats for this, just anecdotal experience: Real criminals are paradoxically less likely to resist. They know the drill, they expect some down time as the cost of doing business, and cooperating minimizes the down time.

Ordinary people caught in a one-time mistake, or just mistakenly stopped, are much more likely to freak out, as they see the world crashing down around them. This effect is more pronounced at low socioeconomic status, such as rednecks and urban minorities, because they have worked so hard for the little bit they have.

Of course there's going to be variations per the individual.


Adam said...

Thanks, Alex. Having policed both poor white and poor black neighborhoods, I can't say I really noticed one way or another. But it's probably the case that where there's more crime and therefore a heavier and more aggressive police presence, people are more likely to have enforcement-type encounters with cops. This probably wears on the locals and makes them more frustrated and angry the next time a cop approaches them, and thus makes them more likely to physically resist stops and arrests and more likely to assault police officers. So in black neighborhoods (where crime rates are higher) we might expect more police shootings of unarmed (but physically resistant/violent) people. We'd also expect the same to be true in poor/high-crime white neighborhoods as compared to low-crime white neighborhoods.

My other thought was that given the history of racial oppression by cops in this country (think Black Panther era), some black folks may find it a little more socially acceptable to resist or even fight with the police. Not to mention that to the extent blacks feel they've been racially profiled by the police (and I don't doubt that many have been), their fuse might be a little shorter during encounters with cops.

Unknown said...

"Once an 'unarmed' suspect gets the upper hand and sta[rts] pounding the shit out of an officer, you shoot him."

Why "suspect" and "officer" in the quote? Why not "person" and "someone"? A cop has no more legal authority to shoot in self-defense than anyone else.