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by Peter Moskos

April 2, 2016

56 Rounds: What it means to "have cops' backs"

Yesterday I was asked by a journalist what it means for politicians and police brass to "have cops' backs." It's a fair question. It doesn't mean not being critical of police. It doesn't mean defending cops when they make an unreasonable mistake. It does mean giving cops the benefit of the doubt and supporting officers when they do their job.

Take the recent police-involved killing of a father and son in Baltimore on the 400 block of E. Lanvale (314 Post, AKA Bodie's Corner.)

This is Baltimore City Police Commissioner Davis having the cops' backs (I transcribed from the video in this story):

We had three police officers who were in the right place at the right time.
The police came and did their job and did what they had to do.

And I would add to that if not for the Baltimore police department yesterday, we could have had a mass shooting on our hands where several innocent lives could easily have been taken. I'm very proud of the work of our police officers yesterday. Their bravery. We can't run from danger. We don't run from bad guys with guns. We engage them.

We fired 56 rounds yesterday, until this threat was eliminated. I want to put that right out there right now: 56 rounds. And you can see, and you can perhaps imagine confronting, in a neighborhood street in broad daylight, a father and son duo, with an intent to kill, that's what it took to eliminate that threat.

I'll add to that, the son, one of the two men that we shot and killed yesterday, the son was out on bail for a handgun offense and the father was out on probation for a handgun offense. And that's why I've personally spent so much time in Annapolis in this legislative session, in an effort to convince lawmakers, and we certainly have convinced the ones from Baltimore, about the necessity to do more with these laws and make these misdemeanors felonies. It's about time. But that message still isn't getting through.

But our police officers and our community knows [sic] that unfortunately there are violent repeat offenders among us, who live right here in our city, who think nothing about carrying two guns like that in broad daylight and popping out of a car. If it weren't for the bravery of the Baltimore City Police Department, we could be having an entirely different press conference right now.
Kudos to Davis. You couldn't ask for more. Now this is what one would expect from a good leader. But good leadership, especially in Baltimore, is not a given.

Davis didn't have to say what he said. He didn't have to say anything. Or he could have had a spokesperson say something neutral like "we're investigating the incident." Or he could have raised an eyebrow by mentioning the number of shots fired before emphasizing how the "officers guns were taken immediately after the shooting and they remain on modified duty, as is departmental policy."

But Commissioner Davis didn't do any of that. He went out of way to support his officers how bravely engaged with armed gunmen. This matters.

Contrast this with former commissioner Batts who, in the name of progress and reform, threatened cops and led the city into riots and violence.

But really contrast this with Baltimore City's elected State's Attorney, Marylyn Mosby, who pushes a cops-are-the-problem perspective. Her husband is running for mayor. She's wasting her precious prosecutorial resources by prosecute good cops who may or may not have made an honest mistake.

After this shooting, Mosby treated the officers like criminals. For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, officers involved in a good shooting were read their Miranda Rights like common criminals. For shame. These cops aren't criminals; they aren't suspects in "custodial interrogation."

Were it not for Davis and his strong and passionate words at the press conference (and also good journalism by the Baltimore Sun from which Davis quoted), it's easy to imagine an anti-police narrative taking root. After all, this is Baltimore, where police are quick to gun down a father and son (with latter with junior-high-school graduation pictures at the ready) over a misdemeanor! (In Maryland and many states, illegal gun possession is just a misdemeanor).

I'm sure some non-present "witness" could be found saying, "The cops didn't have to fire all those shots. They had already given up." Academics would criticize Broken-Windows policing. Al Sharpton, able to get a few days off work, would appear to criticize racist policing. Protesters could chant "56 shots!" while the national media returned to Baltimore and ask if (ie: hope that) more violence would be forthcoming.

In that world, if Davis doesn't have the cops' backs, the next time a group of officers in an unmarked car see two guys getting out with guns? The cops could just keep on driving.

Eventually, after the shooting stops and bodies drop, somebody would call 911.

Would you engage armed gunmen? Why risk your life? Why face potential criminal prosecution? This is why having cops' backs matters.

Update: Regarding Mosby reading the cops their rights, here's the FOP's statement:

2nd Update: Also, homicides year-to-date are up 25 percent this year compared to last. But given the post-riot near doubling in violence last year, being up only 25 percent from pre-riot figures is actually a massive improvement of sorts.

3rd Update: Mosby's office denies it. (I wasn't there. But I don't believe her. It's not like she has a track record of telling the truth.) And the BPD decides not to engage. But the union will play:
Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Saturday that the statement from the state's attorney's office was "so completely inaccurate that it should be labeled an outright lie."


Unknown said...

When did roughriding become an honest mistake?

Moskos said...

I'm not convinced Gray got a rough ride.

john mosby said...

Are we sure they weren't given a kalkines warning, vs Miranda? As you and many readers know, kalkines is almost the opposite of Miranda: It compels a public employee to make a statement, but prevents the use of the statement to incriminate her.

That would make more sense in a situation where the PO has already refused to make a statement.


Moskos said...

No. We're not sure. But if it came form the S.A.'s office, it wouldn't be a Kalkines warning. And it's hard to imagine a cop mistaking that for Miranda. Since, yeah, it's kind of the opposite.

I dunno.

Tyler B said...

I think this article makes a few good points and lays out other possible scenarios that could of went down instead. Its very important to publicly show that you have the police's back when dealing with a lawful and reasonable shooting, especially in today's society when it seems police are unlawfully killing people left and right. Police Commissioner Davis did the right thing by praising these police officers for their bravery and commitment to the department and the city. By doing this he is setting an example for all police officers to step up in time of crisis and also sending out a message to the city that the police will not run and hide from situations like this but instead will face and defuse situations like this. If the police commissioner did not stand behind these police officers, or the police did not respond in the way they did who is to say that later down the line some criminal's see this and take it as a sign of weakness of the department which would trigger them to commit a crime knowing the police wont respond in an agressive matter. Now im not saying the police should always shoot people but in situations where the criminals are armed with prior gun charges and are looking to kill people it is important the police act agrresivly.