It has been a while since I wrote a blog, and after the events of this week I feel the need to reach out, but also feel discouraged about doing so. Sometimes it feels like saying anything just risks adding to the division we should be eliminating.
To begin, I want to thank our community and the men and women I have the pleasure of serving with. The support we have witnessed from so many people in our community has been heartwarming, and stands in stark contrast to so much we see in the media on a regular basis. It choked me up to come to work on Friday morning and see the flowers placed in front of our station in honor of the officers slain in Dallas on Thursday night. For those of you who brought flowers or reached out online or in person, thank you. Your gestures mean a great deal to us and remind us of the meaning we seek in serving.
I am also thankful for the professionalism and dedication of the people I work with, both in the Santa Rosa Police Department and the larger law enforcement community. They love what they do and continually seek to learn and improve regardless of the events occurring around them beyond their control.
On Thursday night I posted a picture of the Dallas Police Department badge with a short message of support for the fallen officers from the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police and the Dallas Police Department. I took encouragement from the outpouring of support demonstrated by the comments. I also noted some commenters expressing their anger or frustration with law enforcement and wondered how, or even if I should, respond.
One person asked where our public statements were for the people killed by the police each year. I was going to ignore the comment because I really don’t want to start an online argument. I’m so weary of controversy and divisiveness. I also believe however that leaders cannot retreat from controversy and need to promote open dialogue. It seems frequently that one of our problems is that instead of engaging in real dialogue we are only speaking at each other, without being willing to understand or change our own beliefs. I think we need to change that.
I do not speak for law enforcement in general, but will try to answer the Facebook commenter’s question from my own perspective. Like many of you, I watched the videos of the shootings in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. I didn’t want to, because I didn’t want to see anymore death, but you can’t get away from them on the news or social media. Watching someone die is heart wrenching, and it doesn’t get better with experience. A job in law enforcement requires more than an emotional reaction though. We have to put emotions aside to examine the incidents from a legal perspective.
I do not generally make public statements about officer-involved shootings or uses of force that take place in other jurisdictions because I don’t have enough information to make an informed judgment about what happened or about whether the officers’ actions were lawful and reasonable. I have been a police officer for 24 years and been involved in many confrontations and uses of force over that time, some minor and a few major. I have helped supervise the investigations of officer-involved shootings. I have been a use of force instructor. I have written and enforced policy on both police use of force and how we administratively investigate officers’ uses of force.
Even with that experience, I do not feel I am able to pass judgment on whether a use of force was reasonable or not based solely on a few seconds of video or news coverage. There is so much information missing in the initial accounts. Once that information is collected and the investigation is completed, it is usually found that the officers acted appropriately according to the law and their training. I recognize that is of little solace to a family who has lost a loved one or a community with little trust in the accountability processes of the criminal justice system, and I wish I knew how to change that. In those cases where officers do act inappropriately, my colleagues and I will be among the most forceful voices arguing for corrective action. We tend to work within the system to make those changes, and we could do a better job of reaching out to talk about the lessons we learn when we act improperly or make a mistake.
The different lenses through which we view these incidents and our inability to see alternative points of view are, in my opinion, some of the greatest sources of division between the police and portions of our community.
Officer-involved shootings, actually all uses of force, are complex, frequently chaotic, and often tragic. Law enforcement has a duty to abide by the law and only use reasonable force. We also have a duty to continually examine our practices, deescalate situations when we are able, and be accountable to those we serve. I am very proud of the work of the Santa Rosa Police Department in these areas.
As I’ve said before, public safety is also a shared responsibility, and members of the community have a role to play as well. The law conveys no right to resist an officer, and people have a duty to comply with an officer’s lawful commands. Deescalation can and must be practiced by both law enforcement and those we contact.
Anyway, that’s a really long way of saying that I don’t post statements about events like those in Baton Rouge and Minnesota because I don’t feel that making an statement about those tragedies is appropriate or helpful since I know so little about what really happened.
I will probably not be writing my blog posts as frequently over the next 18 months. In addition to my normal duties, I am also attending a graduate school program and will have to focus my writing time on my classes.
As always, thank you for reading. Be safe, be kind, and look out for each other.
– Captain Craig Schwartz