Good cops defuse violent situations instead of escalating them. They act in the interest of keeping everyone safe, including crime suspects or belligerent people who don’t seem to grasp that police have the authority to use deadly force if necessary.
I’ve seen good cops in Sacramento who have done their jobs without having to use the force at their disposal. In the wake of Ferguson, where a Missouri cop shot an African American suspect to death and triggered months of racial unrest, it’s important to remember that not all cops handle their grave responsibilities equally well.
A few years ago I rode along with Sacramento police on a routine afternoon of service calls and warrant checks in a Del Paso Heights neighborhood known for its high incidence of crime. Much of what we saw was terribly sad.
We responded to complaint calls of vile smells and found elderly people living in deplorable conditions. There’s nothing quite like the smell of the home of a senior citizen who hasn’t cracked a window in a long time.
Then we got the call. A young guy had to be taken in for outstanding warrants. When we arrived, he was sitting forlornly on his stoop with his preteen daughter, a woman and a handful of others.
The daughter was crying. The young guy, maybe 35, was lamenting how he had no job and how he was going to jail in front of his daughter. I tensed up when some people on the street drew closer to watch. Then the woman said, “Why do you have to take him in?” The young man grew increasingly agitated. It looked like the situation could spin out of control.
But the cops split up. One talked to the woman and promised her that the young guy would be OK. Another talked to the young man himself and told him two things: He didn’t want to make things worse in front of his daughter. And if he cooperated, they would walk him to the end of the street and place him in handcuffs out of sight of his family.
Sacramento police officers had the authority to cuff the suspect on the spot and move disrespectful neighbors back and use force if things went haywire. But they read the situation and defused it. In this case, the suspect and all the people around him were white. Leading the officers that day was Daniel Hahn, who went on to become the first African American police chief of Roseville.
Since then, I’ve witnessed the trust that Sac PD has inspired among African American clergy and have seen that relationship prevent violence.
Clearly, there are times when a police officer has no choice but to use force. But when officers place public safety over everything else – when they have stronger ties to the community – force can be avoided along with polarizing questions of racial injustice and police brutality.
Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.