Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What do we Expect from those who Serve and Protect

It is easy to be the Monday-morning quarterback. Viewing events in retrospect lends to analysis that is perhaps impractical in real time. And, it seems popular these days to be critical of various professionals and their interactions with the public. The following is not about "piling on," or criticizing, but merely asks consideration of what can be reasonably expected by the public. 

There seems to have been a recent series of occurrences involving law enforcement officers. Today, there are those who see trends in both news gathering and reporting. They contend that one story in a particular direction seems to lead other news sources to feature similar stories. This was a subject of discussion this summer regarding stories of school teacher infidelity, which seemed to come to be headlines on an almost daily basis. Some question whether events themselves are more prevalent at a given time, or whether some otherwise consistent volume of events merely becomes more news-featured at a given time.

Three police stories caught my attention in recent days. the most prominently featured involved the Salt Lake City police department. Investigators there were working on a motor vehicle accident. Jalopnik.com and others have reported that there was a high speed police pursuit. In the course of that, which is depicted on that site in a disturbing video, the pursued vehicle strikes a truck and explodes. The pursued driver does not survive, and the driver of the truck is transported to the hospital. 

The high-speed chase, and the judgment decisions that were involved, has not received much coverage. Past critics have written on the subject however, in publications like USA Today. There are difficult questions about whether the various injuries and deaths precipitated by high-speed police chases are an acceptable risk in a crowded society. While that is not the focus today, that might be an appropriate discussion among those who formulate police procedure and practice. 

But in Utah, according to the York Daily Record, the high-speed chase victim was admitted to the hospital. He was unconscious and unable to provide consent to having blood tested when police detective Payne presented and demanded that of a nurse. The nurse reportedly followed both the law and hospital protocol in declining to procure blood for detective Jacob Payne, as the patient was not under arrest, incapable of providing consent, and there was no warrant. The video of that exchange was captured on the police body camera of another officer. That video has since been viewed by many and received significant publicity,

Detective Payne was persistent and insistent regarding the procurement of blood, and his behavior was perceived as threatening by the nurse's supervisor, who was involved in this conversation by speaker-telephone. Becoming frustrated that the outcome was not as he wished, Detective Payne arrested the nurse, who was "dragged and physically removed" from the premises, placed in a police car and detained for "interfering with a criminal investigation." Her calm and professionalism during the conversation provide a stark, and to some disturbing, contrast to detective Payne's behavior.

The detective has since been suspended, as has another officer apparently involved in the decision-making process. The video of the hospital scene has "gone viral" and the comments posted in response to news stories and the video have been largely critical of the police. The local District Attorney has called "for a criminal investigation into case." There exists a potential then that detective Payne could face charges for his assault, battery, and detention of this nurse.

The fallout continues though. Most recently, the New York Times reports "police officers will be barred from patient care areas" in this Utah hospital. Those appointed and sworn to "serve and protect" will not be allowed to enter areas in which medical care is delivered. Those who deliver care in that facility apparently feel more threatened than protected. 


Turning now to another of the three recent stories. In Miami recently, reported by the Miami Herald, an unmarked police car struck a man on a bicycle. Bicycles and cars can be a deadly combination. Tampa Bay Online has reported that Florida is a national leader in bicycle fatalities. In this Miami incident, a sandwich delivery rider was on his bicycle "in a cross walk," when an unmarked police car struck him. Florida has a statute regarding crosswalks. Section 316.130, Fla. Stat. says:
Notwithstanding other provisions of this chapter, every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian or any person propelling a human-powered vehicle and give warning when necessary and exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any obviously confused or incapacitated person.
It is the statutory responsibility of every vehicle driver to watch out for the person in the cross walk. The cyclist alleges that this driver was "on her phone" at the time of the collision. That is not currently prohibited in Florida, but there have been statutes proposed and debated in that regard. Many contend that cell phones are a distraction from safe driving. 

After this Miami police officer hit the bicyclist, one might have thought that an apology would follow. The bicyclist was angered by being struck, and threw his bicycle at the car that struck him. The police care was dented. This officer that struck the cyclist elected to forgo the apology, and instead arrest the bicyclist. He was reportedly detained for 12 hours. The Herald story does not support that the officer's cell phone talking or striking of person in a crosswalk is either being investigated or discussed. 

In a similar time-frame, Fox News reports, Ms. Danielle Allen in St. Louis called the police to report that a "a police officer sideswiped her legally parked car." Having reported the hit-and-run, this citizen anticipated repairs to her vehicle. However, she instead “got a letter saying the police officer was not responsible, not liable for accident, and is denying it all." 

Ms. Allen was not satisfied with the outcome. She was fortunate to have home surveillance video of her vehicle being struck, and thus produced evidence. When the local news channel contacted the police department on behalf of Ms. Allen, and when the video was provided to them, the situation changed. The city committed to paying $2,400 to repair her vehicle. 

Although the city has agreed to pay for car repairs, and although a city official said the evidence "suggests to me that it did indeed strike Ms. Allen's car," there is no news that the city is investigating the police officer regarding the involvement in an accident, the property damage, or the potentially illegal departure from the scene of an accident. 

Missouri law, MO Rev Stat § 577.060 (2013), seems to suggest that it is a Class D felony there to leave the scene of a motor vehicle accident that involves property damage in excess of $1,000. St. Louis officials have agreed to pay in excess of $1,000 for property damage to a vehicle. They have done so based upon video evidence that supports a police car struck that vehicle, and left the scene without stopping. But, there is no news of a city investigation into the potentially criminal activity of the city employee that drove that police car?

Back in Utah, the Mayor has apologized to the nurse that was assaulted, arrested, and detained by detective Payne. Though that apology extends also to the hospital, the facility has elected to bar those who "protect and serve" from patient care areas. The Mayor says the situation is "a troubling setback to efforts to train officers to de-escalate situations." The arrested nurse advises that police "need to be having conversations about what is appropriate intervention." 

Some have expressed perceptions, in various comments to these stories, that certain people believe themselves to be "above the law." Many of the comments have been critical of both the police officers and those who supervise them. Should those perceptions be part of these suggested conversations? Does the discussion of such behavior strengthen our society of laws, or is there some valid reason for not investigating a vehicle striking a pedestrian in a crosswalk or a parked vehicle? Could an investigation strengthen public faith and trust?

We live in a time where virtually everything we do or say is subject to both recording and distribution. See, Assume Everyone is Watching, It seems likely that misbehavior and simple mistakes will continue to occur and that they will be documented, publicized and discussed. Will that fact drive those who "serve and protect" towards better behavior? Will the increasing probability of video and publicity drive those who supervise and are responsible for people who "serve and protect" to better monitor and manage? 

Should people who stand in crosswalks, leave their cars parked, and treat patients be able to expect respect from those who "serve and protect?" Should we all be able to have such expectations?


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