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Sunday, June 7, 2020

Officer Chauvin Stares At the Abyss and Plunges In

Let's hope it doesn't have to get worse before it gets better.

How spiritually sick do you have to be to sit on someone's neck for nearly 9 minutes, in full view of the public, and kill someone? Who does that? But more importantly, why?

I retired from law enforcement 13 years ago. Leaving law enforcement saved my life. So I am not going to regurgitate the same stuff you've been reading about Derek Chauvin all week.

I really had no idea what the profession would do to me and the toll it would take. I have seen other cops work 25 or 30 years and remain emotionally unscathed.

But that wasn't me. For 10 hours a day, I answered bad calls and tried to catch bad guys. For a fair amount of my off duty time, I mulled over pending cases and how I was going to resolve them. So I didn't spend 10 hours a day being a cop- it was more like 16. I did this every day for 24 years. Devoting over 100 hours a week to your occupation, especially one as adversarial and confrontational as law enforcement, takes a very heavy emotional toll.

Some guys took no real interest in resolving criminal cases instead they simply filed them away and went home. Forgetting about them. They just didn't seem to really care whether the bad guys got caught or the Smith's received their stolen property back. Those unemotionally attached cops looked at their job as some sort of political dance where you schmoozed the victims and made some half hearted attempt to catch the people responsible for the crime. Those cops didn't really care about effective policing but the flip side of that laissez faire attitude was that the job never impacted them too negatively. They didn't seem to lose sleep over it and as one cop said to me once, "it all pays the same."

Over time, I began to wonder if I had it wrong and all those self serving souls had it right. Even the people we worked for were apathetic. The truth is, the public doesn't really expect too much from the police and the police know that.

So for 24 years or so, I tried to solve or resolve every problem I encountered. I tried to catch vandals, wife beaters, drunks, burglars, and other felons. I cleaned up suicide scenes, death scenes, bloody traffic accidents. I delivered horrible news at homes and hospitals. I fought with criminals and prosecutors. I played coy with the press. I met some really despicable characters over those years and a few of them had advanced degrees and wore suits.

By the time my end was near, I had worked 24 years. I was overweight, smoked, drank too much, I was clinically depressed and in poor health, and getting a divorce. I was angry at the universe for sneaking up on me like that. I was a decent human being or so I thought. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life but leaving law enforcement was not one of them. I was tired of being someone else's shitty day.

I was able to see my life without law enforcement and that helped me sort out where I had been and what had happened to me. I lost 50 pounds, quit smoking and drinking, and I managed to get my life back. I had to get right with everything that had happened to me along the way. It was a process most of which is over. Part of that process was examining my self, my good and bad choices, and realizing what role my occupation played in all of that. It was considerable.

So I'm about to wrap this up with a few caveats. First off, I'm not looking for sympathy or trying to make excuses. I don't give a shit about those things. Secondly, Derek Chauvin will get his day in court. I don't need to declare his guilt to make the angry mob happy that I have joined them.

I've read the stories that Chauvin and Floyd both worked in the same nightclub. In the western states, those without unions- cops working off duty in bars, night clubs, and strip clubs is strictly verboten. I was in awe that any police department anywhere would allow Chauvin to work in a place where criminal conduct would most certainly compromise him. Don't underestimate the union influence in a place like Minneapolis. I'll take this one step further. If Chauvin truly worked at El Nuevo Rodeo for 17 years- then Chauvin must have seen and looked the other way on an absolute abundance of criminal conduct. He may have been involved in some. But investigating that is the job I used to do. Could Chauvin and Floyd be involved in nefarious acts? It sure seems plausible but again- sorting that out is no longer my job.

By policy, you generally must seek permission to work second jobs while employed in law enforcement- and I can damn sure tell you that as an administrator I'd never have allowed an employee to work part time in a bar.

So what happened with those three cops standing idly by? One was only on the job 16 months.

Once when I was a young cop, I saw a prisoner dragged out of a car while handcuffed and hobbled and jerked out of the squad car onto a concrete floor with no means of breaking the fall other than his shoulder and head. His head "thunked" on the floor. I was absolutely shocked when I saw it. I didn't know what to do. It was just a singular event that although I knew it was deliberate- I wasn't ready to sacrifice careers over it. The cop that did it said that he had made a mistake. That amount of defensible and plausible deniability kept me from reporting it. However, from that day forward I promised myself I would never stand by and watch that sort of thing without intervening. That's the lesson I learned that day. That's a lesson that apparently caught three police officers staring into headlights in Minneapolis.

So all that shit comes home with you. It has a cumulative effect stretching out over a 25 or 30 year career. It's unlike a soldier who endures a few years of violent and harsh conditions. The soldier comes home for access to mental health counseling at the VA. Cops don't really have that available to them and even if they did- they wouldn't take advantage of it unless they were ordered to.

I have a friend that says the cumulative effects of policing are so bad- that nobody should be allowed to remain in law enforcement beyond 10 years.

Chauvin clearly stumbled into the abyss. I thought about all those complaints he had received, and his entire chain of command and perhaps a union, that allowed him to continue in his capacity when clearly he was at risk. You don't just wake up one day and say, "I think I'll go kneel on some guy's neck until he dies." That is a process. A 19 year process wherein a number of people must have looked the other way. Chauvin's superiors had to know better. They had to have seen any number of cops go off the deep end, suffer from depression, alcohol and drug abuse. Do they ever bother asking for a "fitness for duty exam?" Could they have prevented Floyd's death?

The whole point of having supervisors is that hopefully they are intelligent and have enough police experience that they can spot at risk officers and intervene when necessary. That clearly didn't happen here.

Interestingly enough and despite all the protests and riots, I am not entirely convinced this was racially motivated at all. The liberal public and the black community love to discount the proportion of crime that the black community is responsible for. The black community commits an overwhelming amount of crime in this country, well beyond their 13% demographic. When you run into the police that frequently- bad things are bound to happen. Could this very incident have happened with a white victim under the same set of circumstances? Yes, I think so. Chauvin had an 18 complaint work history. It was probably just a matter of time.

I think it's best to examine the whole picture. To look at how effective or ineffective the Minneapolis Police Department is at policing their own. When I saw them abandon a precinct, clearly under orders, and let rioters burn the building down- I began to question everyone and everything. The Police Chief, the Mayor, and even the Governor. A lot of people have fallen asleep at the wheel in order for this mess to happen.

That's how it always is. A comedy of errors. A tragic ending could have been avoided had just one courageous soul intervened.

In the years to come, I really believe there will be an examination into the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of police officers who are clearly losing it and tottering on the edge of the abyss. It's accepted science for soldiers, why haven't we done this for police officers? Detecting and offering officers help rather than punitive action (or looking the other way) will save lives. If one good thing comes out of this entire mess I hope it's that. I hope we start examining the poor performance of our police departments and the archaic ways they have of managing a very at risk group of officers and their mental health needs. We need to remove the stigma of seeking mental health help. I don't think there is anything wrong with ordering officers into fitness for duty exams, therapy programs, couples counseling, alcohol and drug programs. Cops will never do this sort of thing on their own. You have to order them in, maybe kicking and screaming. But trying that first is a lot better than ignoring the problem. Ignoring and pretending there is no problem seems to still be the first line, perhaps the only line, of defense employed by police departments nationwide. That isn't doing anybody any good.

It's time we start recognizing the risks, helping cops, and saving a few lives in the process because I don't see this getting any better on it's own.