Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Overreaction To The Irate And The Clumsy?

From the AP I learned that a woman died in custody after she got angry over not being allowed on the plane which hadn't yet left the gate but which was no longer boarding.

Officers handcuffed her and took her to the holding room, where she kept screaming, authorities said. They checked on her when she became quiet and found her unresponsive, said Phoenix police Sgt. Andy Hill.

I find this to be the latest of many situations where the offense was nothing more than being irate or in some way non-compliant. It was clear to the officers that this woman wasn't thinking clearly when she became irate, or there would have been no need to detain her, yet they left her alone in a holding cell with handcuffs on. The theory is that she was trying to get the handcuffs off and accidentally strangled herself. They ignored her screams which I see as negligent since those could have been screams for help.

This was a 100% preventable death but it gets attention mostly because she is described as a good person and mother who in no way was suspected of being a terrorist and because most of us can relate to getting to our gate when the plane is still there yet being denied our assigned seat. We would not want our natural frustration to be used as an excuse to lock us up.

If instead of a she who was otherwise respectable, this had been a he from a foreign country, many people in the US would shrug and blame the dead man for acting in a suspicious manner. That would be a huge mistake. Think about the stories you hear about a US citizen who goes to another country that is not a close ally of ours, is detained and then dies in custody. We don't normally react positively to these stories. Why would people from other countries view this same occurrence as positive if it happened here?

If it is barbaric when it happens in a country foreign to us, it is barbaric when it happens here.

The reason her death was 100% preventable is that escalating the situation is not the only workable response to the irate. Yet many police and security officials are trained as if this is the only way to respond.

This is what I call, "Got to show them who has the power" response.

If the person doesn't yield to this power then you have to show them more power until they finally do yield. The response is deliberately greater than the offense which naturally leads the non-criminal person getting that response to feel they are being treated unjustly. We are often less than compliant when we feel we are being shafted which feeds the escalation.

Hence tasering a student at a John Kerry speech who doesn't want to give up the mike at the allotted time. He was told to stop talking and he refused to listen. Under this model, it doesn't matter that he was not committing a crime and that he was not a danger to anyone. All that matters is that he did not comply.

That makes this tasering punishment for noncompliance.

I heard that he resisted arrest and that is why he was tasered, but for a valid arrest, you need a crime. Hogging the mike wasn't a crime the last time I checked -- at least not in the US. Making the arrest first and searching for the crime later is counterproductive and does more to undermine the valid authority of the police or security guards than noncompliance could ever do.

Because this response is a planned behavior which can be included in training, shouts of "police brutality" don't ring true to the police or security involves. If this assessment of individual behavior shows that it is in line with standard operating procedure, that is the end of the investigation. The problem is that standard operating procedures can be unnecessarily brutal and even unnecessarily deadly. They can also create pockets where law enforcement reaches the level of a police state.

Comply instantaneously or else.

Before the change in response which views all disruptions at airports as a national security issue, those who bore the brunt of this type of response were those who were different and potentially threatening in some way such as the transgendered or black in the wrong neighborhood or autistic.

Brute force is when the police and security are at their weakest. There are times when brute force is truly the only viable option, but those times are few and they should be reduced as much as possible by smart policing.

When brute force is used solely as a means of control or as a way to demand respect, that shows lack of control and a lack of smarts or a lack of respect for other people's humanity. Mobsters work this way. Abusers work this way. Effective police do not.

Yet the use of tasers has risen, as have the deaths of those who were tasered. If every taser shot resulted in a mandatory paid leave of absence and a review to ensure that there was no excessive force, many officers would be less taser happy.

If you are in trouble and desperately need help are you going to call for help from those you perceive as bullies or overreactors? The answer is obvious yet often police openly show confusion over this predictable response.

If a video comes out which shows force by police or security officers against someone unarmed, the response is that we need to understand the other side of this story, but the police in many areas refuse to follow their own advice. They get defensive and refuse to understand the situation from the perspective of those who feel violated by the police.

This attitude is what can lead a high school security guard to break a student's wrist over a dropped piece of birthday cake. And instead of issuing an apology for the overreaction, they charged the girl with littering and battery. If in response to my littering, somebody shoves my face into a table and breaks my wrist and I'm not likely to respond with the required passivity.

Rather than earning the respect of students, this action by security guards and police will undermine the respect of those who don't blame the injured student. This in turn is likely to make the school more dangerous rather than safer.

Fortunately, since this is learned behavior that comes from policies, it can change as those policies change. Fortunately, this change has already begun in efforts such as the Memphis Crisis Intervention Team: "This unique and creative alliance was established for the purpose of developing a more intelligent, understandable, and safe approach to mental crisis events."

Being irate isn't a mental illness, but many of the techniques that are effective with the mentally ill are effective with the irate or the non-compliant. The skill set is more complex than shooting a taser or wrestling someone to the nearest flat surface or slapping handcuffs on, but increased safety is worth it.

Through this effort and others like it, enforcement officers are learning that traditional demands for compliance isn't the only way to deal with the irate and still maintain order. There are other ways -- with fewer risks to the irate -- but some of these ways run counter to the idea that law enforcement needs instant obedience.

That means giving up the idea that the police or security officer must be in total control and have all the power to be effective.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:02 AM   2 comments links to this post


At October 02, 2007 11:48 AM, Blogger Seeing Eye Chick said...

I am not convinced that hers was an accidental death. What they describe is anatomically impossible unless she was double jointed or had two broke arms.

The Taser incident at the University of Florida left me irate. It was uncalled for. I have been to such functions and have witnessed people who acted worse, than the young man {Who didnt do anything wrong} who were not dragged away kicking and screaming, and then tasered.

We seem to be on the verge of an irrefutable police state. Some will say we are already there, but it has to appear in the media to convince others.

At October 05, 2007 11:06 PM, Anonymous Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

When I read this stuff, I feel like we are still a third-world country. It is getting worse as people justify this kind of violence in the name of "security."

On the plus side, I know many cops who would welcome training on how to diffuse situations without violence.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home