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Dean Scoville

Dean Scoville

Associate Editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.
Patrol

Stupid Policies Are Costing Us on Multiple Fronts

Working in law enforcement is tough enough without the addition of ridiculous and often dangerous restrictions.

June 26, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

As part of POLICE Magazine's Maggie Award-winning State of Law Enforcement series, I wrote a feature story on police policies. Any objectivity I might have mustered in that piece was hard earned, as a primary reason for my pulling the pin and getting the hell out of Dodge in the first place was the promulgation of asinine policies I was witnessing within the law enforcement community. The longer I stayed on the job, the more likely I'd get my tit in a wringer over one of them and end up losing much more than I was otherwise willing to jeopardize (like, say, my life).

Liberated from such strictures, these days I am also largely free to write of what I want, as I want—the usual inhibiters withstanding. And I'll admit, there's been a time or two that I've used a choice pejorative herein when I didn't need to simply because I still bristled against the stifling protocols imposed by the sheriff's department. These days, I try to minimize the B.S. while refraining from spelling it out, too.

It follows that when I revisit the matter of policy herein, it is without any pretense of objectivity. There's been enough couching of sentiments that I don't see a need to perpetuate the idiocy further, especially since that's what I'm up against. So without further ado, here are some of my unsolicited reservations about modern law enforcement policies.

Not Shooting at Vehicles

The rationale often offered is that it is ineffective to shoot at vehicles (which probably attests to the need to shoot at their drivers). This argument becomes even more specious when one considers that it was a shooting death of a motorist that provided the impetus for LAPD's policy change in the first place. Come again?

Of course, our dunderheaded critics want it both ways. If we pursue a suspect's vehicle to some inevitable collision, they'll ask, "What were you thinking?! Didn't you know he was in a 4,000-pound weapon?!" But if we shoot Mad Max *before* he crashes, then they'll be sure to ask, "What were you thinking?! He wasn't armed!" Come again?

This has found law enforcement increasingly moving toward…

An Over Reliance on Stop Sticks or Spike Strips

During live television coverage of a police pursuit, I watched as a CHP officer did a dynamite job deploying a spike strip. He'd set up beneath a freeway overpass and stood on the blind side of the column support where at the last second he threw out the strip just as the suspect vehicle approached. There was no way in hell the driver had a chance to shoot or run over him, or avoid the strip. Although the pursuit had gone on longer than I would have liked, the spike strip did its job. Eventually.

But earlier this year, one Corpus Christi lieutenant paid the ultimate price while attempting to stop a suspect who was being pursued by police. Just as the lieutenant attempted to lay out the spike strip, the pursued suspect intentionally ran him down. This occurred AFTER the goddamned suspect had already deliberately rammed patrol units (for which he should have been shot in the first place—see above).

The lieutenant's death was just the latest of several related to the attempted deployment of stop sticks going back the better part of 20 years. And as we're well into double digits of officers killed through similar acts of intervention, perhaps it's high time to re-evaluate our dependency on such tools. Indeed, in the absence of the new and improved technological immobilizers that have been promised over the last 15 years, I say consideration should be given to shooting people who flee the police in such a manner as to put a community's welfare in unquestionable jeopardy. As it is, if we punch, kick, or hit the SOB, we'll probably see the suspect get rich and find ourselves saddled with…

Moratoriums on Flashlight Strikes

Years ago, I borrowed Dep. Jeff Fenn's flashlight. Prior to coming onto the department, Jeff had garnered some fame as a Sparklett's delivery driver when he intervened on an attempt on Teresa Saldana's life by a knife-wielding stalker, thereby saving the actress's life.

In any event, the night I borrowed his flashlight I ended up in foot pursuit of a GTA suspect, the terminus of which found the suspect trying to relieve me of the burden of carrying my sidearm. I ended up breaking Jeff's flashlight over the SOB's head and don't think for one second I wasn't relieved to have that source of illumination available to me (and yes, I was only too happy to buy Jeff a new one). And while I didn't use flashlight strikes in the field with the frequency that I did my PR24 baton (and not that I used that a helluva lot, either), the fact that I generally had one available with enough physical heft to serve as an alternate means of defense gave me some peace of mind. So did a policy that entrusted to me the discretion to do so, if necessary.

But because of a few controversial—made so, if not inherently so—flashlight incidents, LAPD has made dramatic physical and procedural modifications of its flashlights and their use. Now, flashlights are only to be used as striking instruments in a deadly force situation—in which case you'd wish you had something other than the lightweight one you're issued.

How do you know you have a ****ed up flashlight? Ramona Ripston of the ACLU loves it.

Not Allowing Backup Guns on Duty

I'd love to argue with the SOB who came up with this one. I bet Jason Pruitt, the officer profiled in the May Shots Fired column, would like to do so, too. Pruitt's life was saved by virtue of the fact that he carried not one, but two backup weapons—each of which came into play after he was shot by a prisoner he was transporting. 

In fact, I'd be willing to bet money that this will prove to be one of those policies that inevitably gets violated and invalidated in the process as opposed to...

Financial Disclosures

Most officers probably won't worry about violating this one as they won't be able to get their foot in the door in the first place without signing on the dotted line. 

As a means of curtailing possible thefts of narcotics, properties, or monies, LAPD has adopted the draconian measure of having its officers sign financial declaration statements. Meanwhile, civilian employees who are not subject to the same level of scrutiny in the hiring process - and who are paid considerably less than patrol officers - are able to handle the evidentiary items in question without commensurate safeguards.

As one sagacious LAPD sergeant says, you would think that, all things being relative, these civilian employees might prove more susceptible to dipping into the envelopes than the officers who booked those manilla temptations. Not surprisingly, many officers are either transferring or promoting out of affected assignments, taking their considerable experience and expertise with them.

"You have all of these people who are dealing with huge sums of money on a regular basis that are paid a lot less than coppers, and they aren't even on the radar," my sergeant friend notes in disgust. "They don't have to sign financial disclosure statements."

To the department's arguable defense, disclosure became effective March 29 of this year. Anyone who wants to go to gangs or narcotics majors will be bound by this decision. They then have to meet with a proctor to make sure that everything is correct, a process that will be done every couple of years.

Many cops point out that their wives and kids don't work for the city, so decline to list their information on the city's forms. 

Despite assurances that such information will be kept under Bratton's lock and key, these same officers greet such promises with raised eyebrows knowing full well how many times they've been disappointed with "privileged information" coming to light via news media and other sources. Such as when the names of 143 officers who had been accused of racial profiling and subsequently exonerated were released because of a mistake by the police commission.

Imagine if this financial information were to fall into the hands of some defense attorney or an attorney who is suing the city.

My sergeant friend said that three highly qualified people who were in line for anticipated vacancies within his unit withdrew their applications after realizing the implications of the department's financial disclosure policy. Not to worry, LAPD. Doubtlessly these vacancies will be filled by lesser candidates.

The only saving grace to this charade is that there is a two-year grace period for those who are already assigned to these positions, which means that those who come in later will be like anybody else starting on the ground floor of some new assignment—blissfully ignorant of how things were done before.

In an attempt to justify the measure, the attorney testifying on behalf of the Federal Monitor asserted that this was a "best practice." Unfortunately, he wasn't able to come up with the name of a single agency anywhere in the country that currently practices it.

Whatever else, any future agency contemplating similar measures will now be able to point to LAPD for validation of their "best practice" contention.

Hopefully, with the recommended lifting of the consent decree, Bratton will show some backbone and make this thing go away. Otherwise, these cops will end up looking for a new home even if it wouldn't otherwise come down to…

Residential Requirements

Cops like and deserve their relative anonymity. Beyond that, they should be able to live wherever their personal preferences and finances permit.

Common sense dictates that when you work where you live, you run an increased risk of dealing with people who know who you are and your place of domicile.

And given the increased likelihood of a proactive patrol officer getting fired for using common sense and violating one of the foregoing policies, shouldn't they at least be able to retreat to a home that's not right next door to a dirtbag they've arrested?

Recommendations

And here I take a sudden shift in tone and focus from flippant sarcasm to the root of the problem that encourages it.

Our leaders. 

It would appear that many possess an elitist's sense of prerogative without having the elitist's goods—intelligence, logic, and an eye for the pragmatic. That's not to say that they're not shrewd and cagey. Knowing full well they might get SUED, they then develop and sign off on these over-the-top policies in a bid to stave off lawsuits.

Rather than hold the individual transgressor accountable, they cater to him by hamstringing his peers. 

Instead of committing funds to more officer safety training, they earmark them for cultural sensitivity, sexual harassment, and hostile workplace workshops.

Instead of bringing intellectual solvency to matters of judicial dispute - we do owe a debt of explanation for our actions; we should give one - they roll belly up.

In lieu of risking political opprobrium, they sacrifice their own.

The cops' take on these matters? It isn't just that they don't like these policy makers—nor should they—but that they don't trust them. Nor should they.

One shouldn't begin to criticize unless one is willing to propose alternatives. Implicitly and explicitly, I offer them herein.

Have some balls and show some backbone.

Exercise a little common sense.

Don't hire dirtbags and give them guns, then express horror and surprise when they fuck up. 

For those who warrant the trust to carry sidearms, make sure they've the training to use them accurately. Recognize that there will be occasions where a flashlight strike might actually mitigate a more lethal use of force.

Screen for hypersensitivity during the psych portion of your background hiring. I seriously suggest that anyone who can't stand the sight of a beefcake poster probably isn't going to cope very well seeing a body turned inside out after a high rise fall, vehicle accident, or industrial tragedy. Similarly, those who can't take an innocuous joke have no business carrying a gun and badge in a profession where they're apt to hear, "I'll take that f----- gun and shove it up your m------ f------- ass!"

Quit playing surrogate parents and get rid of DARE programs. Encourage schools to bring back courses on civics and the law so that the next time some moron yells, "I know my rights!" he actually might.

And if, as the saying goes, bad cases make for bad case law, then by God come up with game plans to get bad case law overturned via good cases. Pool law enforcement's best minds together in symposiums to discuss, dissect, and analyze current case law. Then commit those resources toward a test case; don't just let one agency run with the ball. Collectively, the law enforcement community has lost too much ground by waging a scattershot campaign, firing an occasional volley here and there in the war against common sense law enforcement.

(To this day, my head spins trying to divine any logic explaining law enforcement's liability for one of its agents having had the temerity to pursue a bad guy who crashed. Nothing that I've read of Rube Goldberg-inspired case law has helped to resolve my confusion.)

As it stands, the degree of clairvoyance and telepathy expected of cops to mitigate force matters is enough to put the Psychic Friends Network back in business.

To swipe from Ronald Reagan, "Police chiefs and sheriffs—tear down these walls!"

Which of these is the dumbest police department policy?


Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

tpd223 @ 6/26/2009 4:11 PM

Outstanding article.

tpd223 @ 6/26/2009 4:11 PM

Be careful, speaking the truth is dangerous!

ROB ROY @ 6/26/2009 7:49 PM

Out(f@%k*&g)standing, you just said, what's on the mind of every, police officer, deputy, constable, trooper, and corrections officer before he/she goe's to work every day!!!

David Moore S-55 @ 6/26/2009 10:42 PM

It's sad but quite true speaking the truth should be encourages however, it seems this day many would rather you play politics (I dislike that word and agree with Max Weber defined politics as the struggle for power)!! This hits on many valid points - very hard ones that when employed more than likely get you assigned to Jail detail...from patrol. May not agree with all but get's you thinking if nothing else to use the common sense and act on your feet why you got hired right?! The part I like the most as I see this far too much today either you stand for something or fall for everything syndrome or the fence sitter's what ever side is likely to win even if wrong:

The part I like the most: One shouldn't begin to criticize unless one is willing to propose alternatives. Implicitly and explicitly, I offer them herein. Have some balls and show some backbone. Exercise a little common sense.

jogibbs @ 6/27/2009 9:31 AM

That sir, was inspired. Now that you have retired, I think you would be an excellent person to do some lobbyist work, say, for the FOP. It doesn't take a genius to see what a jewel they have in you. I just typed a lengthy 4500 word post, duh, about 2500 words too long that parallel some of the same concerns about contemporary law enforcement that you expressed. I dare say, it was not as informed or eloquent as yours. You caught me completely off guard when you shifted gears towards the end of your article, I laughed my ass off. I know it wasn't meant to be funny, so sad, but not funny. There is a lot to be said of gallows humor. On a more serious note, I agree when you make it a priority to hire a cross section of the community for which you police, and totally disregard standards like morality, integrity and accountability, you are often a victim of your own success. You are stuck with a cross section of gang members, petty crooks and general malcontents, which you now have trained and armed. Then, you act amazed and horrified when things go awry, how do you do that with a straight face. Hey, New Orleans is missing a couple hundred thousand of currency taken from the evidence room, wow, what a shock...NOT!!!

mtarte @ 6/28/2009 10:34 AM

Dean, an OUTSTANDING article and a problem not just in law enforcement. I had to retire 15 years ago due to OTJ injuries and now currently teach. The same type of article (minus the use of force and pursuit stuff of course) could apply to education. Johnny's not prepared for class? Don't criticize the 20 year old, work with him to make him realize he should be prepared so as not to damage that self-esteem built so carefully in our K-12s. Jannie doesn't like the homework assignment? Make sure to have alternatives so as not to cause Jannie to feel discriminated against. I could go on, but your column needs to be part of the education of ANY one who receives a promotion, not just chiefs. By the time some reach that office, they are too scared of their own shadows to be effective leaders. It has to start at the sergeant's level and we must all work together to change these ineffective and ultimately dangerous policies and trends. Great article.

elitehunter1$ @ 6/29/2009 2:44 AM

Very well put sir!

Now while I do believe all these points are very valid, at least I can see the bureaucratic (and extremely weak) reason they are in place. However, I am still at a loss as to why departments prohibiting the carry of a back up weapon. I can understand not wanting to purchase them, but if you are willing to buy it your self what does it matter? There is no additional liability or cost the department faces. Every time I present this question to a superior, I always seem to get the same answer. Generally it is vague, and at the end of it leaves me just as confused and when I initially asked. Can anyone answer this???

ratitchenal @ 7/1/2009 7:32 PM

If only the national news would cover these debats.

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