Summing up a year like 2009 can be an almost impossible task. I could say it sucked, which would be true for the vast majority of people in this country, but not for everybody. Regardless of the terrible events of a year, for somebody it was a good year. I mean if you're out of work in 2009, then nothing good happened this year. But if you won the lottery, fell in love, had a child, or gained some major success in life, then 2009 will always be a good year for you.
Summing up a year is a subjective exercise. So is trying to come up with a year-end list of 10 incidents, events or announcements that had the most effect on law enforcement during that year.
Which means that the following is an opinion piece. These are the 10 things that happened in 2009 that I believe had the most impact on American police officers. You may disagree with the inclusion of some items and my ranking order. And if you do (or if you agree), I urge you to comment below.
Here's my list:
10. The Beer Summit
Question: What happens when the president of these United States says that a municipal cop acted "stupidly" during a national press conference? Answer: All hell breaks loose and all of the aggrieved parties—plus Joe Biden—have a brewski at the White House. While the beer summit itself was an absurd exercise in political theater, the incident that sparked it was all too real for many cops who have been accused of racial profiling.
On July 16, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates returned from a trip to China and had some difficulty entering his house. A neighbor spotted Gates trying to break into that house and called the cops. Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge PD responded. Gates, an African-American, believed that he was being racially profiled. Gates and Crowley had words and Crowley arrested Gates for disorderly conduct. Crowley, who is white, was vilified as a racist by the press for the arrest.
Truthfully, Crowley should have arrested Gates for being a jackass. Professor, when a police officer comes to your house to prevent it from being robbed—even if you are the "robber"—the proper response is to thank the officer for caring enough about your property to help try to protect it.
9. The Case of the Disappearing Police Chiefs
Police chiefs of major departments—Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, just to name a few—retired and resigned at a record rate. This means a new generation of leaders will be assuming these commands in 2010. Some are already in place. Let's hope these men and women believe in leading from the front and being cops first, administrators second.
8. New Cars on the Way
The last new patrol car to hit the market was the Dodge Charger, which debuted in 2006. So it was pretty exciting this year when not one but three new police cars were announced: Carbon's E7, Chevy's Caprice PPV, and the Ford Taurus.
I'm cheating a bit with Carbon. We got our first look at the company's concept car at the 2008 International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) show in San Diego. But the company has really made a splash this year, so I include it in this roundup. The E7 is expected to launch in 2012. The company is currently setting up its Indiana production facility.
Chevy's new Caprice PPV was unveiled at this year's IACP in Denver. Available in 2011, the Caprice PPV comes in two versions: a 355-hp V8 and a tamer V6. If you want to know the difference between the two, go test drive a V6 Camaro and then drive its V8 sibling. The Caprice PPV is being built on the same platform. Chevy says the V8 Caprice PPV will accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds.
Ford announced a while back that it is discontinuing the Crown Vic Police Interceptor (CVPI). But that doesn't mean the company is abandoning the law enforcement market. In November, Ford announced that it will release a new patrol vehicle potentially built on the Taurus/MKS platform in 2011.
7. Cell Phone Video Captures BART Horror
One of the most important law enforcement incidents of 2009 occurred just minutes into the year. Early New Year's morning, officers of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Police Department responded to a report of a fight involving 12 males on a train at Fruitvale Station. Officers removed some of the men from the train, including 22-year-old Oscar Grant III. After an altercation between officers and the suspects, Grant was face down on the ground apparently surrendering when he was shot in the back and killed by Officer Johannes Mehserle.
Mehserle was dismissed from the force and has been charged with murder by the Alameda County District Attorney. His attorney says the officer intended to draw and fire his TASER, not his .40 S&W SIG.
Video and still photos of the incident were captured by passengers on the train and disseminated to local and national media. They have also been posted on numerous Websites, including PoliceMag.com.[PAGEBREAK]
6. Meet the New Boss
The inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States in January was historic for many reasons. For law enforcement, it meant a changing of the guard from a conservative administration to a very liberal one. President Obama will have an opportunity to nominate numerous judges, including Supreme Court justices. That means the law enforcement impact of this liberal president may be felt long after he has left office.
Experts say if Obama wins a second term, he could reshape the court from its 5-4 conservative-liberal ratio to a liberal majority. That could mean a period of judicial activism in civil rights rulings that affect search and seizure and other police operations.
5. Where Did All the Crime Go?
If the stats are to be believed, America is becoming a much safer place to live. Crime in many major cities is reportedly dropping by double-digit percentages. New York City and Los Angeles are reporting their lowest murder rates in ages. Sociologists are scratching their heads over this one. They expected a crime wave because of the recession. Maybe criminal operations are outsourcing work to China like everybody else.
4. They're Back
Any idiot who thought that al-Qaeda's major beef with our Western democratic, freedom-loving, non-Muslim way of life was the presence of George Bush in the White House just had a cold shower of reality. On Christmas night, a Nigerian AQ operative gave himself a PETN vasectomy when he tried to trigger an underwear bomb on a Delta flight landing in Detroit. So the Obama administration is wondering what went wrong. Hint: Maybe putting a man with no intelligence experience in charge of the CIA and turning terrorists into criminal defendants was not the way to go if you really wanted to keep America safe.
Right now every politician and pundit in America is in a lather about trying to keep the homeland safe. As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman says, "The sheep (the American public) only have two speeds: graze and stampede." The stampede is on. But if you sheepdogs (police and other protectors of public safety) keep your eyes open and your powder dry, we'll be alright. Thank you for your service.
3. A Billion Here a Billion There...Soon It's Real Money
The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus) that was supposed to create new jobs was pretty much a big fizzle. But one place it did help was in law enforcement. About $4 billion was set aside in the stimulus to hire new officers and buy new equipment. This money likely prevented many police layoffs.
2. Police Layoffs
The Great Recession, as some people call our current economic mess, resulted in a variety of major cost-cutting measures at police agencies. Some like the NYPD canceled their academy classes. Others let their academy classes graduate and then immediately laid them off. Sadly, the worst ramifications of this disaster may be with us for some time, as county and city coffers will decline with the reduced taxes paid by the millions of American workers who are now unemployed. County and city tax bases will also be dented by the death of so many businesses in the economic downturn. It will take a while to recover from this mess.
1. Mass Murders of Police Officers
Sometime during this year the nation's dirtbag population declared war on you. I know, some of you are saying, "What's new?"
OK. Fair question. What's new is that these dirtbags are willing to open fire on multiple officers not necessarily because they are trying to escape apprehension but just because they can.
The result has been a sort of strange paradox. It was actually a pretty peaceful year in terms of police officer deaths. The National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) recently reported that fewer officers were killed in the line of duty in 2009 than any other year in the last five decades. That's really good news, except the number of officers killed by hostile gunfire rose from 39 in 2008 to 48 in 2009.
Mass murders of officers became shockingly commonplace in 2009. First, four Oakland cops were shot down by a parolee in March, then three Pittsburgh officers were slain in April by a reputed white supremacist, and finally four Lakewood, Wash., officers were murdered by another parolee in November.
No other story hit law enforcement with more impact in 2009. Let's pray the carnage doesn't continue in 2009.
That's my list of the most important law enforcement stories in 2009. If you have comments on these or other stories, please post them below.