A Plague of Killer Cops?

In celebrity circles, bigotry towards police is fashionable--they're mostly wrong

By Jim Glennon  |   Dec 2, 2015

“Movie director Quentin Tarantino and actor Viggo Mortensen claimed recently that too many cops are simply uncharged murderers. A recent Huffington Post article by University of California-Berkeley sociology professor Jerome Karabel was headlined, ‘Police killings surpass the worst years of lynching, capital punishment, and a movement responds.'”

That’s how Gerry Spence a trial lawyer of over 60 years began his article in USA Today on November 29.

I’ve seen Spence featured in documentaries, on the tube and have read his stuff for almost 30 years. He seems to constantly characterize police officers as arrogant, brutish, uncaring thugs who are smug about the violence they inflict on the public and the crimes they get away with.

So, generally, I don’t like the guy.

All Heat, No Light

Reading the article my dander found itself in the up position (whatever dander is) and I got angrier and angrier as I read his musings.

“I’m a trial lawyer. During a career of more than 60 years in the courtrooms of America defending the poor, the forgotten, the lost and the damned, I’ve shut out a haunting question: Are we safe from our own police?”

There he went again, elevating his status, stroking his self-righteous ego and demonizing his favorite target, cops, all in one sentence.

“This past year, the news media have drawn our focus to far-ranging, rampant police brutality.”

He’s a windbag. “Far-ranging rampant police brutality” perturbed my Irish derriere.

He then of course throws in the race issue, just to clarify his anti-police leanings and appease the limousine libs who believe they’re the only ones in the country who aren’t full-blown genocidal racists, like this nation’s police officers are.

What really set me off was the following:

“In America, we are free to select our life’s work, and the choices we make tell their own story. What is the difference in the persona of a school teacher, a mechanic, a nurse, a truck driver or an Internet technician on the one hand and the personality structure of the cop on the other? Ask the teacher why she chose her life’s work and she’ll tell you, ‘I love children and want to help them succeed.’ Ask the cop the same question and his answer will be equally benign: ‘I want to keep people safe.’ He’ll never say, ‘I’m looking for the opportunity to shoot a harmless, unarmed running black man in the back.’ The teacher is motivated by love while the cop, going in, embraces the ever present prospect of physical violence against another human being. That invites a different variety of the human species.”

Basically his not-too-subtle-hypothesis is as follows: Many or most of those who seek out law enforcement as a profession have a “yearn to dominate, to mutilate and even to kill others.” A truth he says that “has long been recognized.” He even says, “Where does all this leave us? It leaves us where we have been from the beginning—with killer cops on the loose.”

Finally, he—a lawyer mind you—then ponders this question: “What has happened in the lives of our officer candidates that causes them to seek power over others, especially over the powerless?”

Sounds more jealous than inquisitive. Can you imagine the psychological profile of those who seek application to law schools? What would be their primary motive for such an undertaking? Truth, justice, equality? Or power, prestige and the all-mighty buck?

OK, I think I’ve satisfied my need to chastise, castigate and rebuke Gerry. His ramblings are biased, prejudiced, close-minded and at some level … correct.

What?!

Yeah, I absolutely hate to agree with anyone on any level who paints such a negative picture of an entire class of people (the very definition of a bigot), especially one filled with people who—contrary to the law professor’s opinion—truly do want to help people and prove it every second of every day in this county. It does require a certain kind of character.

These “killers” with damaged childhoods who seek power and authority only to inflict pain are the ones risking their lives by jumping into rivers, running into burning buildings and confronting true evil and violence, all in an effort to save innocent strangers.

How many other professions do that?

But again, that doesn’t mean our profession doesn’t attract some damaged people—sociopaths, and criminals in some instances. Most of us have known one. Hell, I’ve personally been involved in the firing of a couple of them.

What we cannot do as a profession is pretend we are all heroes who are pure of heart.

What we cannot do is close ranks and ignore anyone not on our side of the line.

What we cannot do is avoid introspection and examine what we do right and what we are doing woefully wrong …

Areas for Improvement

I believe two of the areas we can do better in are in the hiring processes and the subsequent training we afford our officers.

Who we hire: We must reevaluate who it is we want as our police officers. What skill sets should they possess? What level of education should they have? What type of life experiences? What kinds of mistakes and failures do we not only want to see in some candidate’s past but which ones will we accept? Smoking dope, shoplifting at 15, fights in high school, underage drinking tickets?

Hiring the proverbial boy and girl scouts, I can tell you, does not translate into common sense cops.

Better and continuous training: When it comes to training, in many states, literally, you have more training requirements to style and cut hair than you do to put on a badge and carry a gun. And then what about continuing education? Do we invest in the type of training that teaches and exposes our officers to the type of stress they will encounter on the streets? The type of stress that skews reality and often results in poor decisions that may result in injury or death? And if we do, how often?

Doing the bare minimum just to satisfy some antiquated or senseless state requirement doesn’t ensure competent officers on the street.

Does “check the box” training (the type officers attend only to document that they were there) dominate the course calendar?

Stress training – training in real stress situations – is woefully lacking around the country.

What we do: Finally, we must reevaluate what it is we want our cops to do.

9-1-1 has become a default for everything from owls in trees “hooting strangely” (real call) to feelings getting hurt at bus stops. From kids refusing to get out of bed and go to school to keys locked in cars (which happened in my driveway on Thanksgiving), we field them all.

Requiring the police to do and be everything for everyone at any time doesn’t make sense. If you expect cops to be able to stop bleeding; start hearts; change tires; calm the irrational; comfort the heartbroken; control schizophrenics when doctors can’t; straighten out unruly students when five teachers can’t; make life-and-death decisions in split seconds; learn city, state and federal case laws and be able to understand, remember and execute the intricacies of over 2,000 general orders in the blink of an eye while engaged in bizarrely chaotic and dangerous situations in the middle of the night …

… I forgot where I was going with that.

Oh yeah: We may, as a society, be nuts.

We’re Already Paying for It

Police officers are human beings. Many have only high school diplomas (some of the best cops, by the way) and are making literally minimum wage. Too often their agencies afford only minimal training and provide inadequate supervision.

As governments we are too often short-sighted. In order to save pennies we gamble that our poor training won’t result in financial losses down the road. But they do. According to the Chicago Sun Times, between 2004 and 2014 the city of Chicago paid over $521 million to people who sued Chicago cops! Suing the police is literally a business. And when sued the first thing those suing ask for are training records. (By the way, I think Chicago cops are some of the very best in this country.)

Conclusion

The real job description for a cop is almost beyond explanation.

But I do know this: Viggo and Quentin couldn’t do it.

And Gerry Spence, esq., couldn’t either. In a courtroom you have the benefit of specific training, set rules, years to make decisions, interns and assistant lawyers researching and crafting arguments for you. It’s all so civil.

How would Gerry do in the middle of the night trying to balance the needs of a female victim who is intoxicated and unruly, while trying to hold back her violent ex-con boyfriend high on meth who is threatening to beat both your and her ass, all while eyeing 15 drunks shouting profanities and threats at the top of their lungs?

I’ll tell ya what he couldn’t do: ask for a recess.

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.