An alternative approach to police misconduct

We have seen how in the US, the police in some cases get away with literally murder, often because they have powerful unions that fight to protect their members even when they commit the most egregious of acts, and sometimes because local prosecutors and city leadership are unwilling to take the actions needed to deter such behavior.

But policing in the US is a local matter and not all jurisdictions take such a lax approach. Take for example, the city of Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio where I lived for 30 yers before moving last year to California. It is an integrated community that is about one third African American. When the debate between Biden and Trump was held in September, Cleveland called upon the police in neighboring communities to assist in providing security and during the event, a police officer in a black Shaker Heights police van was caught on camera giving the finger to Black Lives Matter protestors as he drove by.

If you slow the video down, you can see him in the black van doing it at the 8-second mark, immediately followed by a woman shouting “Hey!”

This caused outrage and the city has responded by firing the officer yesterday.

I also received a letter from the mayor of the city David Weiss explaining why they fired the officer. The mayor’s letter concludes:

The City of Shaker Heights and the Shaker Heights Police Department (SHPD) moved promptly and decisively because we consider this incident a very serious matter. The behavior of this officer violates all that the SHPD stands for including our unwavering commitment to preserving the rights of Black Lives Matter and all demonstrators to peacefully protest. I know I speak for City Council, Police Chief DeMuth and the many dedicated Shaker Heights police officers when I say that we condemn, in the strongest way possible, any action by a police officer that interferes with or disrespects the rights of citizens to demonstrate peacefully.

The men and women of the SHPD are dedicated to upholding the highest standards of professional conduct and to the fair and equal protection of all individuals; it is embedded into the oath which they swore to honor upon becoming a police officer and to which they are deeply committed. When that oath is violated, we stand united in taking swift and appropriate action. We know our residents expect and deserve this, as do the many police officers who serve with the utmost professionalism on a daily basis.

We recognize that this incident has damaged the relationship between the police and the community. We have worked hard to build this relationship and earn your trust, and we will continue to do so. I hope that our actions in this case demonstrate our resolute commitment to treating and protecting all residents of Shaker Heights with dignity and respect, and in a just, fair, equal and professional manner. We know you expect that of our officers, and they expect that of themselves and of each other.

So a police office was fired for giving the finger to protesting citizens. Quite a contrast from some other cities where nothing happens even when police assault or kill people. Some might consider firing to be excessive punishment for a gesture of contempt. But the fact that a police officer, who is supposed to be serving the community, felt free to display such open contempt for ordinary people engaged in lawful activities shows that he does not really understand his relationship to the community.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … he does not really understand his relationship to the community.

    Or that he understands it all too well, and the liberal do-gooders don’t see what goes on on their own streets.

    I’ve recently edited some oral history interview transcripts for a local newsletter, including some featuring members of a women’s group (Gainesville Women for Equal Rights) which led many moves toward integration in a medium-sized southern town in the late ’50s-early ’60s. They figured out an approach not mentioned much now:

    … the GWER board met at my house to entertain Chief of Police Joyner. … we had then done some research on what he was paying the sheriffs [sic]. We compared it with other departments in more progressive cities, and we presented him with this payroll, and we said, “A man can’t support a family on what you’re paying them.”

    He said, “Oh, really? Is it low? I didn’t know.” He was a wealthy man! He didn’t know that you couldn’t live on two thousand dollars a year. He was genuinely shocked. He was getting some pretty rough people who were bitter because they were underpaid, and they were probably poorer than you, Cora, as an underpaid African American schoolteacher.

    The conversation then veered off on another tangent, and nobody said whether this led to better police pay or less police brutality -- but I suspect there remain areas where Black Lives Matter organizers could use such an approach to shatter stereotypes and build unexpected alliances.

  2. garnetstar says

    I have to point out also, as just a practical matter, that departments should fire such officers who display contempt or animosity. Because, they are absolutely needlessly ratcheting up the level of resentment that they and the other officers will face the next time they’re in some kind of confrontation with members of the despised group, and so more violence might result, affecting everyone involved.

    During the initial night of protests in Ferguson after the Michael Brown murder, there was little or no violence or disturbance at all, just peaceful protesting. Then I saw a video on the news of an officer who’d led his police dog to the memorial of flowers and crosses and messages that people had placed on the spot where Brown died. The officer made his dog urinate on the memorial.

    My head hit my desktop with a groan, as I knew then that this would not end well. And police actions like that are definitely a big part of the reason. Absolutely uncalled-for expressions of contempt and despising people, they deliberately escalated that without any possible excuse of “I was just doing my job” or “It was self-defense.”

  3. G Pierce says

    One of the ideas I have heard (and I am sure there are obstacles and down sides I do not appreciate), is to have individual officers have to be able to maintain personal liability insurance like doctors do to cover civil suits if they engage in misconduct. When misconduct occurs in a city and they end up settling for a large amount of money, unfortunately that money is paid with tax dollars that came from the community that was the victim of the abuse.

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