And now to an interesting little controversy in my own backyard.
First, the video:
And then the story. From the Seattle Times:
In Monday’s incident, Officer Ian P. Walsh grabbed the arm of a 19-year-old woman who tried to walk away from him after he stopped her for jaywalking on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South near Rainier Avenue South. A pedestrian overpass was nearby. As he was trying to handcuff the woman, the 17-year-old girl intervened, grabbing and pushing Walsh, who responded by punching her in the face.
And this isn’t the first incident of its kind in Seattle lately.
Auditors who oversee complaints against Seattle police officers have repeatedly expressed concerns about jaywalking stops and minor street confrontations that escalate into physical altercations, and they say better training is needed.
Diaz said that although police officers hold a dangerous job and need citizens to act civilly, the department needs to take the “extra step” of maintaining good relations with the community. Police say they ticket jaywalkers because a number of people in Seattle have been injured and killed dashing out into traffic in areas where drivers can’t see them.
Because if you say “Please”, criminals and their associates will be happy to submit to authority. Of course, with a crowd like that, if someone had grabbed Officer Walsh’s gun and decided to ventilate him, they would be perfectly justified in doing so, because he didn’t take the “extra step” of “maintaining good relations with the community”.
Of course, this is also feeding a complaint that a blind man could see coming from 100 miles away…
Leaders of Seattle’s African-American community called Walsh’s punch an overreaction, while also criticizing the 17-year-old’s behavior. Both the girl and woman are black, while Walsh is white.
Maybe they need to think a little harder about the 17-year-old’s behavior. It seems to me that the “Static Rule” was in play here. Perhaps it was because I went to school with and worked with the sons of the police officers back in the mid-Michigan community where I grew up, and therefore I was familiar with what they did before the became police officers that would make me think long and hard about interfering with a police officer who is clearly trying to subdue and cuff a suspect. Police have a tougher job than most, and they really shouldn’t have to deal with attitudes from teens that they are trying to arrest. And it is the little things that are blowing up into these confrontations in Seattle right now.
In a 2006 report, Pflaumer [Seattle P.D. Civilian Auditor 2003-2009] wrote that she found it “distressing to see how many of the excessive force complaints begin with minor street confrontations: Over jay walking, possible impounding of a car, or even, in one case, refusal to show an officer a ‘receptacle’ for disposing of dog waste.”
Pflaumer noted that citizens “often do not show officers respect or attention” when confronted over minor offenses.
“When they verbally challenge or disregard orders given, it often leads officers to respond more harshly than warranted,” she wrote.
The solution? “De-escalation training”, and a lot of second-guessing by people who weren’t present.
Last year, a new auditor, Michael Spearman, who had served as a King County Superior Court judge, cited similar concerns. “What stood out most often was the number of instances in which citizen/officer contact escalated from innocuous to the use of force situation,” he wrote in a report.
Spearman, who left the job after being appointed in March to the state Court of Appeals, noted that on many occasions, the initial contact stemmed from a jaywalking allegation that escalated when the citizen failed to comply with an officer’s order to stop.
In some cases, Spearman wrote, the failure to stop resulted from inattention or bad judgment and, in other instances, from a belief — right or wrong — that the officer was motivated by racial bias. He also urged the Police Department to intensify the training of officers in de-escalation techniques to minimize the use of force.
“Certainly, when an officer observes a jaywalking or other minor infraction, there is some obligation to make an effort to either cite the offender or in some way encourage compliance with the law,” Spearman wrote. “However, whether the use of force in this situation is a best practice is questionable.”
I like Judge Spearman. While I have never tried a case before him, I have attended CLEs at which he lectured, and he has consistently demonstrated the demeanor and the character that I expect a judge to exhibit. However, I think he gets this wrong.
In a crowd like the one in the video above, the officer already has to have his senses heightened that much more than normal, because he has to be watching not just the suspect, but the other people all around him. It would be easy for this to go badly, and the 17-year-old could have just as easily been an aggressive male, or someone determined to grab the officer’s sidearm. We charge these officers with enforcing the law. That means the little ones as well as the big ones. The 19-year-old may have thought it silly to be stopped for jaywalking, but it isn’t just about her. There is a reason that there was a pedestrian overpass in the background, and it wasn’t so someone could get killed and cause significant property damage by crossing the street illegally there. It makes a tough job that much tougher. When the officer is in that situation, he or she needs to be able to deal with interference in a direct manner that sends a clear message and discourages other bystander participation.
In a state where we just recently buried 4 officers killed at the same time in my community earlier this year, you wouldn’t think that this would be such a difficult concept to grasp.