Headaches in Miami

In this day of social media, one officer's misconduct reflects upon all

By Jim Glennon  |   May 17, 2018

I recently wrote an article titled Us vs. Them. It resulted in a number of comments and emails. The premise of the piece was that most of the divide in 2018 between the police and the public can be blamed on the media, pundits, and politicians.

Needless to say this provoked some contrary responses. Most of them were respectful. Some, not so much …

Those who questioned my hypothesis pointed to the many examples of police misbehavior found all over social media. And they have a point, as I mentioned in my piece. But, as always, they referred to police as if we were one entity and one mindset. This is ridiculous.

Police do make mistakes. And when we make mistakes, they tend to make the news. (Bad cops sell; good police work does not.) As I watch such videos of purported police malfeasance, I consider the full context. I consider human performance factors and the stress load the officer, and citizen, might be under. I consider training deficiencies and possible perceptual distortions and so forth. In short, there’s usually a lot there.

Still, there are too many videos I’ve seen that I just can’t rationalize. These are the viral videos depicting an officer out of control, behaving unprofessionally and sometimes criminally.

But even in many of those, there are different opinions. Case in point: Miami, Fla. 

A New Viral Video

A suspected car thief led police in a vehicle pursuit that evolved into a chase on foot. The man eventually complied with an officer’s order and went to the ground. The officer moved in and was in the process of handcuffing the now compliant suspect when a second officer ran up and kicked at the subject’s head at full speed. The kicking officer then reversed himself, fell onto the suspect and appeared to place on him a chokehold.

My first thought was that he perhaps saw the subject reaching for a gun.

No.

Maybe he was grabbing the officers Taser.

No again. No matter how many times I look at this, the man seemed to be, at least at that moment, complying.

Miami police chief Jorge R. Colina, said the video depicted “a clear violation of policy.” He immediately suspended the officer without pay and now he has been charged with misdemeanor assault by the district attorney.

A Facebook post by a citizen who witnessed the event live: “He ran around and then he was face-to-face with police. He put his hands on his head. The police said lay down. He did. And then the police just came and kicked him.”

Note that she wrote that “the police just came and kicked him.” She didn’t say “an officer,” she said “the police.” She was thus describing the entire profession, or at least Miami, as being at fault.

This is the nature of what we face. A single action by one officer will reflect upon, for better or for worse, every other officer in the U.S. The negatives will then be circulated around the nation as evidence of the racist nature of our police and society at large. It can even take on international import, evidence of the evil nature of our nation.

The Miami Fraternal Order of Police union has waded into the controversy too. According to the police union president Edward Lugo, Figueroa’s attempted face-punting was, in fact, a “de-escalation technique.” He went on to say that the foot swipe at the suspect’s head was a sign of “great restraint.”

Figueroa added that, “The only thing brutal about this entire incident is the suspect that endangered the lives of the community in which our Miami Police officers risked their lives to take this dangerous man off the streets. From the onset, the media stated that Officer Figueroa had kicked the suspect on the head.”

This ultimately proved to be wrong as the officer missed. Figueroa’s contention is that the miss was intentional and meant to “de-escalate” the suspect’s resistance.

My View

Why would a police officer try to kick the head of a prone and restrained subject? My guess is that he was stressed from the call. You can call it an ‘adrenaline rush,’ but stress is what it is, and, frankly, most departments don’t train officers to work through it. The result is that officers will over- or under-react. In the heat of the moment, I think, he did something he shouldn’t have done.

Where law enforcement does contribute to the “Us vs. Them” divide is when we avoid taking responsibility for when our officers do make mistakes and act inappropriately. One of the reasons we do, I believe, is that we are so often demonized—even when we are right. How often we are called racists and criminals is shameful not to mention counterproductive.

So we get mad. Defensive. We hunker down. Refuse to admit mistakes even when they are obvious. We separate ourselves from those we believe view us as reprehensible. And the divide grows.

I’ll conclude with what my standard line about events limited to a video: I don’t know what really happened. I don’t know all the facts. But we need, as a profession to understand what we say as individuals, what we do while in uniform, represents the whole profession—whether we like it or not.

There are way too many people in positions of power who claim that they want the divide to narrow. But their actions are how they must be judged. Often they benefit from that divide. In addition, the powerful sometimes believe the divide can only be narrowed by the police. The cops are the only ones who have to make a change.

Which is utter nonsense.

Good cops know that the relationships we have with our communities are two-way streets. Building those relationships takes both sides. Part of our responsibility is to take responsibility when we are wrong.

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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.
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