Some folks reject the old cliche`, “Don’t judge an entire profession by the actions of a few.” But it’s true.
Having been a cop for thirty years, and well aware of how news stories are often skewed to give the appearance that police are the bad guys, I generally hold back judgement on reports about brutality until both sides of the issue are known. In 1991, Rodney King was subjected to a street whipping by L.A. Police after leading them on a chase, assaulting the officers and resisting arrest. The famed video tape was played on national television a thousand times over, but only that portion which made the cops look bad. (And they did)
My sense of loyalty will always lean toward police officers who put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect Americans. If there is a hint of doubt about the veracity of an accusatory report, I will support the police until I am convinced otherwise. After all, they are my extended family. With rare exception, they are brave, diligent American patriots who might be relaxing over a lunch one second, then facing a sudden crisis the next, expected to make the right decisions at all times, no matter how instant.
This time, it’s tough. Two recent incidents alleging police misconduct have hit the news media, both of which are hard to swallow, even without knowing the other side of the story.
Stark County (Canton) Ohio, Mrs. Hope Steffey was hauled in to jail following her own call to the cops, after allegedly being assaulted by her cousin. Because she produced a drivers license that had belonged to her deceased sister, the police thought her to be suspicious. She claimed it was an error, that she held her sister’s license for sentimental reasons, and then produced her own identification. When the woman — who had no criminal record — asked for her sister’s license back, the officer refused. Somewhere in the interim, tempers flared and the woman’s face was slammed to the hood of the police car, chipping one of her teeth. She then was taken to the ground where she was arrested and handcuffed.
Okay, maybe the woman was unruly and the cops were justified. Maybe. Benefit — doubt.
Next, Mrs. Steffey was taken to the county jail and forcibly strip-searched to naked, under protest — while handcuffed — by six or seven deputies, including two male officers. Stark Countýs policy — as are all police policies — states that a strip search must be conducted by a same sex officer. The citizen turned inmate was left unclothed in a cell for six hours without even a blanket, wrapping herself in toilet tissue for warmth and modesty. She was not allowed a phone call or medical attention. When she was brought to booking, only a small weighted vest was provided to cover her nudity. She had been charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
More amazing, is that these officers not only engaged in conduct which appeared improper, they did it under full scope of a video camera. Check it out. It’s quite condemning: http://www.sheriff.co.stark.oh.us/
Stark County Sheriff Tim Swanson states the reason Mrs. Steffeýs clothes were taken from her and she was left naked in a cell, was for her own safety. Sheriff Swanson maintains that his deputies are not guilty of any wrongdoing and that they have a job to protect prisoners in their custody.
Needless to say, litigation has already begun. I hope Stark County is solvent.
The next case is even more disturbing. On February 12th of this year, a disabled man was arrested for a traffic warrant in Hillsborough County, Florida, and taken to the police station. Brian Sterner had suffered a neck injury fourteen years before, and has no feeling below the chest area. With an adapted vehicle, he is able to drive.
Though a bona fide, wheelchair-bound, quadriplegic, the female deputy at the station apparently thought Mr. Sterner was faking the whole thing. So, she stepped behind his wheelchair and unceremoniously lifted the back handles and dumped him like a wheelbarrow full of cement upon the station floor. Another deputy is seen in the tape, apparently amused. Mr. Sterner was then searched while lying on the floor like a beached seal, obviously paralyzed. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I would have doubted it all. Click here:
By all accounts brought out in the tape, these officers should be stripped of their badges, not only because of their contemptible actions, but for utter stupidity knowing that despite the video cameras rolling, they still act like barbarians.
I feel comfortable in asserting that 99 percent of all police officers in this country are fine, upstanding and competent public servants who do not engage in such behaviors. The other one percent would comprise a very small number from the 850,000 cops in the United States, and even that, I’m sure, is an exaggerated number. But by broadcasting these incidents over national news, over and over, it will unfortunately give the cynical public an impression that the majority of cops are unfeeling idiots who should be feared and not trusted. Nothing can be further from the truth.
During my career with a three-thousand man department, I rarely encountered cops who indiscriminately abused citizens. With rare exception, officers I knew treated citizens with respect and dignity, even child molesters and murderers. Yet, when it came time to bring a bad cop to justice, my colleagues and I never had any compunction. My last arrest as a sworn officer, in 1980, was that of five officers charged with the brutal killing of an unarmed traffic offender. Their acquittal led to the Miami Liberty City riots of May, 1980.
Police agencies spend arduous time and a great deal of money screening applicants and training officers to prevent such incidents from happening. Now and then, a bad cop will slip through the cracks. That’s the way it is with most any profession. I’m sure the cops who acted so poorly in these two videos will soon be experiencing a new direction in their lives.
In 2007, 186 police officers were killed in the line of duty protecting you and me. Another five thousand were seriously injured. Folks should bear that in mind before judging harshly and broad brushing the police profession.
I’m proud to have been one of them.