Saturday, January 19, 2019

In the News

"Have you ever served in an infantry unit, son? Ever served in a forward area? Ever put your life in another man's hands, ask him to put his life in yours?" Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) A Few Good Men (1992).

What happens when a member of your department, or another, is arrested? 

It's difficult to express any opinion, even one brimming with caveats and disclaimers, that might not be instantly attributed to my position as a police officer. This has been said, but bears repeating. I write this as an individual, not as a representative of my organization or the place that I work. These are personal opinions, and are based on information that is not subject to any restrictions regarding release.

Let's start with a basic premise - that everyone accused of a crime in the United States must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or plead guilty to criminal charges. The officers seen on the news  in Denver have not been convicted of anything. But, the reality of human nature cannot be ignored.

The "presumption" of innocence is a misnomer. A presumption is something supported by facts. In most cases the only things known are the persuasive  inculpatory facts that led law enforcement to file charges, and prosecutors to accept them. If anything, the presumption - especially among citizens reading newspaper articles or watching TV - is that sufficient evidence exists to presume something happened.

To repeat - Any officer accused of a criminal act has the legal right to have the charges proven against them in court, by competent evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt determined by a jury.

That said... It's painful to watch our profession dragged through the Press. Inevitably, some people conclude that the individual is guilty based only on the allegation. By inference the indictment of an individual law officer is an indictment of the profession as a whole.

In the arcane, impenetrable world of formal logic, this is the Fallacy of Composition. That is, "Assuming that what is true of the part is true for the whole." One is a long way from proving law enforcement is corrupt because of the activities of an isolated few. Even if one were to establish that groups are flawed (which has happened far too frequently) this does not, in and of itself convict those not involved, or the entire profession. Why?

You've read it here, before - law enforcement as a whole has never been so professional, so dedicated to the wellbeing of citizens and so good at what we are asked to do. The reason is simple.

We hold ourselves, each other and our profession, accountable as never before. Gone are the days of cover-ups, excuses and ignorance. Applicants are rejected for behavioral and psychological reasons. Recruits wash out because their performance and attitudes fail to meet accepted standards. Officers are not retained in field training after close scrutiny of their merits, and flaws. Established officers deviate from organizational expectations, leaving or being ushered out.

Yet, there are those who - for whatever reason - fly below the radar for far too long. Police leaders have adopted the admirable stance of committing their agency to support the investigations, to abhor proven or admitted transgressions and redoubled efforts to prevent, not just punish.

I have spent the better part of fifty years -most of my life - studying, practicing or enforcing the law. My present assignment lets me be present when young men and women begin their police careers. Our curriculum is difficult, demanding and begins with this premise:

Each person is endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They are not permitted those things by government, but merely by their birth on this Earth. Anyone who presumes to infringe on those rights, even with iron-clad legal justification, must do so with caution, empathy and respect. Nothing else is acceptable. Each one of us is personally accountable to ourselves, our agencies and our peers to uphold the highest standards attainable.

And, they, from the beginning of their careers to the last day, are accountable to those of us who have given so much, and those thousands who have given their everything, to get us to where we are, one of the most admired public professions in our country.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Inexplicable Waste

“There are patterns because we try to find them. A desperate attempt at order because we can't face the terror that it might all be random.”
Lauren Beukes, The Shining Girls

About fifteen years ago my phone rang. A friend was at work, listening to a nearby agency working a fatal traffic accident. A massive girder on an overpass under construction had fallen on a car, killing an entire family in one shocking moment.

"How random is that?" she asked. "I mean... One second either way and it misses them."

Five law enforcement officers were killed at work this week. Each is tragic, the loss of a favored colleague, a son or daughter - a dad, a mom... A human being with hopes and dreams and ambitions. Someone who had planned to come home and accomplish the mundane chores that string together a life.

Perhaps none have hit people as hard as the twin and inexplicable deaths of Natalie Corona and Chateri Payne. Officer Payne, of Louisiana, had completed her training in November. Officer Corona had been on her own after field training for a few weeks.

Officer Payne was on her way to work, in uniform, when an unknown asshole shot her four times. She was described as an all star, an elegant and happy soul. At this writing no suspect has been named. Indeed, if the agency knows who it is they will wait to spill the beans until their SWAT team is closing in, holding Chateri's cuffs at the ready.

Officer Corona had responded to a motor vehicle accident, that most ordinary of calls. Her organization saw unlimited potential, part of their future as an agency. In a bizarre but not unheard of happenstance some dipshit rode up to her on a bicycle and killed her because - this is not out of the ordinary - he thought the police department was broadcasting "sonic waves" to his brain.

Random? That's our occupation. In the thousands of traffic stops I've made in a career, there had to be (if statistics are to be believed) at least one person who was armed and willing to kill me. For whatever reason, they chose not to try.

That doesn't include the calls we knew were dangerous, that played out that way. Early in our careers another agent and I responded to a domestic with a gun. A woman was able to call 911 and report that her estranged...whatever...was armed and had assaulted her. He took the phone from her, struck her with it and then beat a hasty retreat. Right into our laps. We knew he was armed and handled him appropriately. Yeah. We smashed him into a wall and took his gun away from him.

Those aren't the events that make a normal cop crazy. It's the bizarre randomness we see. It is especially difficult when it is someone going about their business when, out of the blue... A cop at a stoplight, shot for no other reason then they are an officer. It's not unheard of that the knock on the door at home is some jerk who found out this was the home of a cop, and shoots the person who answers. A family driving to the mountains, gone between heartbeats.

What do we do about this?

What can be done. Prepare, be vigilant. Understand that the uniform is designed to makes us visible and identifiable. Be the hard target, try to tip the odds in our favor. And understand, from the very beginning, that sometimes shit happens to good people, for no real reason.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A New Year's Promise

"N-n-n-n, wait, wait. It was firm, it was adamant, it was resolved... It was resolved." Dr. Benjamin Gates (Nicholas Cage), National Treasure, 2004.

My Dad and I
CLETA Graduation 1979
New Year's resolutions get a bum rap. Post that you are going to visit the gym more and someone out there will chuckle - "What, two or three times?" Lose weight? Restaurant Week is next month. Save money?

I've spent the concluding three months of 2018 preparing to make 2019 my last year as a police officer. How's that for a New Year's Resolution?

May 1, 1979. I arrived promptly at eight AM... What would come to be 0800 hrs hereinafter. I met with the sergeant to whom I was assigned. He assured me it was okay to load my sidearm - a Smith and Wesson Model 64 .38 - with the rounds I had purchased myself. We met with "Number 1" and the Mayor, who swore me in. They gave me used body armor, introduced me to my training officer and... Three weeks later I was on my own. Three months later I went to CLETA, the regional police academy that was eight whole weeks long.

A figurative hair's breadth from forty years later I am rounder, grayer and have a much better idea of what I was getting into. And, a much better idea of what I'm leaving.

Part time work? No clue. Stick it out until the end of the year? Likely. Go back to Patrol, ride the bike for another year?

I'd love to. I'd love to reunite with the men and women with whom I've spent so many hours serving our community. Unfortunately...

Careers move on. People move on. Life moves on.

Yesterday, I spent several wonderful hours watching grandchildren. Today, I'll run errands and write a lot. Tomorrow?

Who knows. Next week vacation ends and my 2019 work year begins. My last?

It is resolved...

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Into the Breach

"In peace there's nothing so becomes a man. As modest stillness and humility; But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger." Henry V, William Shakespeare (1599).

I have to admit, even after so many years of "pushing a radiator" around Lakewood or, more pleasantly, riding a bike on duty, I have fallen into the trap of driving to work in the morning happily ensconced in Condition White.

Most of the time, headed south on Kipling St., I'm immersed in an audio book - at the moment a charming reading of Michener's excellent Caribbean - mind wandering. Recently, an officer admitted to following me one morning. He'd remarked, "Do you know the speed limit on Kipling?

From memory. But, when the reader speaks of the ocean breezes blowing across lovely Barbados... I long to be plopped down in the sand, love of my life at my side, sipping something cold and refreshing, warming my soul in the sunshine.

It was in this semi-aware state that I rolled up to the red light at Kipling and Alameda on a recent morning. It's perpetually busy, and not just because of the number of cars present. There are double left turn lanes, right turn lanes, and the timing of the lights changes as the day goes by. One cannot venture into the intersection uncommanded - every movement is controlled. Then I saw...

A cyclist. They (here English is unartful, but I'm pressing ahead) were dressed in several iterations of visibility, scarf covering their face to ward off the cold. A light perched atop their blaze-yellow helmet shone brightly. A brighter bulb flashed rhythmically mid-handlebar. Reflective tape, striking hi-vis coat, orange ankle straps. Their gloves contained bands of 3M material. Visibility-R-them.

This person had chosen, for their foray across one of the busiest intersections in Colorado, a left turn lane from Eastbound Alameda to Northbound Kipling. There are bike paths available, ped crossing lights and places on raised gore points to wait safely, out of traffic. But, no.

To be clear, nothing this person was doing offended traffic law. We teach this very maneuver in Bike Patrol class on an equally busy street - which generally scares the crap out of the new riders. The proximity to traffic, the feeling of vulnerability... If one need not do this, don't.

The rider I was watching looked all ways in the intersection and promptly made their left against a red light. Against a red light! They then darted across three lanes of traffic and sped urgently down the bike path.

The tapestry of human nature is one of the great appeals to awareness. Human beings are rarely ordinary, if one is susceptible to embracing their nuances.

I returned to Michener's story, having just seen something stranger than fiction.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Don't Know Much About History

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare (1597)

Here I am, sitting in the shadow of a good friend's retirement, anticipating my own. We joked repeatedly - look at his retirement countdown calendar, add 365 and there you had it.

The scholar in me rebels at going into such a life-changing moment without consulting the experts. Pat and I attended classes, did the workshop and met with our longtime financial advisor. I spoke to someone who knows about cop retirements. Everything I read, wrote or heard was valuable, but this little gem beat all.

"Don't spend a lot of time arguing with people you don't know about police work on Facebook."

I don't know if wiser words were ever spoken, so let me tell you a story.

Several days ago, on a police site focused on supporting law enforcement officers of all stripes, someone asked an entirely reasonable question. Paraphrased - why do most police departments call their officers "officer" but the [my department] calls them "agent?"

That is an entirely reasonable question, one I am often asked by LEOs from other jurisdictions, and by citizens. The answer is easy...sort of. Let's take a step back in time.

Law enforcement in the middle 60s was something of a shit show. Good work was being done by honorable men (and a smattering of women) but scandals plagued departments coast to coast. Graft was endemic, training was uneven and, in some places, cops were the focus of criminal investigations. In Denver, for example, this nugget was popular: "If you find a burglar in your house just get his badge number. We'll get him at briefing the next day." An excellent book, Burglars in Blue, was written on the subject by an ex-cop who went to prison.

In 1965 President Johnson commissioned an examination of the police, with the study published in 1967. Among the findings and recommendations - have several levels of officer, with each succeeding level reflecting greater education and experience.

In 1969 a group of citizens living in Jefferson County, CO decided to "incorporate," that is they decided to create a new city. The successful vote had the collateral effect (or, to an extent the intended effect) of causing a new police department to form.

It was someone's idea - the first generation cops would know this - to pattern this ground-floor organization after the 1967 recommendations. Fair enough, huh?

One suggestion was to allow experienced officers to move from department to department without the need to start at the bottom - to "lateral," so to speak. It is a term that survives to this day and has found a formal process in POST rules.

Another was standardized state requirements - Colorado's (and everywhere else's) Peace Officer Standards and Training office is the result. God help us all.

The Commission envisioned that police officers would have high school educations or perhaps some college credits. They would undertake basic police investigations - the sort of bread and butter things street cops have done for almost two hundred years. The more sophisticated the investigation, the more likely it would need someone with more training, a higher level of education. That position? Agent. A department would have both, paying the agents more.

Of course, in typical [my town] fashion it was felt someone with a higher level of education could pick up the mundane stuff in their spare time and so, except for one group in the 80s, we never adopted the "officers and agents" structure. Legend has it that the mundane stuff was occasionally put off in those early days, but oh well. When I got there a bachelor's degree was required of everyone applying for the agent position, there was no officer rank and the department was structured along fairly traditional lines.

That outline persists to this day. One might argue that a degree is no guarantee a person is suited for a law enforcement career. Conversely, it's said that the lack of a degree doesn't preclude someone from being an exceptional cop. Trust me, both are irrefutable. Nevertheless, our way has worked for us so far.

Oh, yeah... The blazers. Following the Commission's original notions, the initial uniform issue was a blue blazer, gray slacks and a light blue shirt. The gun belt was worn under the blazer. Women wore skirts at first, but that's for another day. Eventually, it became obvious that the outfit caused more problems than it solved. Now agents wear a traditional blue uniform that is evolving right along with everyone else's.

Several of the commenters on Facebook made fun of the blazers, the title agent and the presumption that having a degree in - I don't know - underwater basket weaving made you something special. Or, that we were paid twenty-five grand a year more. I took a pay cut to come over from my original department, so I'm not sure where they got their information. Yeah, yeah. Whatever. 

I'm very proud of my organization and the people I work with. They are committed to service, dedicated to professionalism and among the bravest people I have ever met. When one of our folks took a job with the FBI (and became - wait for it - an agent) he interacted with a number of agencies on the East Coast. His assessment? "[Our shop] does it right."

So, now you know. 


Monday, December 3, 2018

A Spot of Bother

SHERWEN: I don't like to feel that I'm commentating to the cycling fans because there's 50,000 to 100,000. I like to be commentating to your mom. I like to be commentating to a little old lady down the street who says, wow.
Mourning the passing of cycle racing commentator Paul Sherwen.

Most Bikecopblog readers are aware of how important cycling has been to the author. I know, right? BIKEcopblog. A cross-country ride over my Bikecentennial summer of '76. Rides with memories to last a lifetime. Bike patrol - night, day. Good weather, snow. Teaching, learning... In the company of forever friends.

Then, there is racing. Never having raced has not cooled my interest in the men and women who can make the bike fly.

I followed a man through much of Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming during that 1976 bike odyssey. He called himself "Pro Padre," but his real name was Glenn. He rode like the wind, a back wheel I could hold for only so long. In the hour-long runs between refreshments (mostly junk food) he would run out to a hundred yards ahead, me red-lined the whole time. Together we braved driving rain, hail, obnoxious (but very flirtatious) teenagers and too-many-beers-to-run-into-the-organizer intoxication. He made burritos we washed down with fable Coors beer and bought a duck call in a hardware store outside of Eugene.

We were camped in the shadows of the Teton Mountains, drinking beer and sitting by a campfire. Several road-weary riders asked to share our fire, and our site. We all got to talking. One of the visitors said "No shit!" and looked at me. "Do you know who this guy is?"

Me: "Glenn."

Him: "He's Glenn Griffin."

Me: "And?"

Him: "He was road racing champion of California!"

I didn't spend a lot more time with Glenn. Eventually he pressed ahead on a day I struggled. But, in the meantime he regaled me with tales of racing bikes, of training and striving and riding the dog-eat-dog pelotons in California.

I moved to Colorado, and followed racing here. The Red Zinger, Coors Classic. What was supposed to be a Quiznos race, except that Lance screwed it up by being a douche.

I watched the Tour de France on TV, helping my wife understand and then appreciate the subtleties of professional team bike racing. My partner in crime - an Englishman who'd grown up in Africa. Paul Sherwen.

He had a knack. Every rider was awesome, fabulous. They suffered doing a job of work. A struggling rider pedaled squares, and was in a spot of bother. His broadcast partner Phil Liggett has a bit of Frank Gifford in him - "It's first and ten at the forty... Or, is it first and forty on the ten?" Paul would seamlessly point out "That's actually [fill in a rider's name] when Phil had totally botched it, and we'd all forgive Phil.

They played off each other the way best friends do, two men watching the best cycling in the world next to someone who knows them better, perhaps, than their own family. Decades crammed into cars, commentary booths in small town Belgium and the billion watt "City of Light" as Le Tour heads down the Champs.

Paul taught us well, two avid fans sitting in our basement hanging on his every word. During the 2012 London Games Columbia's Rigoberto Uran led Kazak Alexandr Vinokurov to the line at the end of the road race, the usual game of cat and mouse evolving, a question of who would flinch under tremendous pressure. Who would jump first. Rigo looked left.

My wife leapt to her feet. "He's looking over the wrong shoulder!!"

Vino darted right, went full gas and won the gold.

How did she know that? Because, for years, we'd learned from Paul Sherwen. We were the couple he was broadcasting to, the ones he wanted to reach from so far away.

God bless you, sir. Ride like the wind.  

Saturday, December 1, 2018

"What They Do is...America"

5. George Bush plays for Denver Bear
July 12, 1984
George Bush was the sitting vice president when he donned a Denver Bears uniform and entered the old-timers Game at the start of the fourth, playing first base. When his time to bat came up, the second baseman allowed Bush's lazy pop fly to bounce harmlessly to the ground. Given another chance, he smacked a legit single off Warren Spahn. Also appearing in the game were Ernie Banks, Brooks Robinson, Billy Martin, Bob Feller and a fellow named Joe DiMaggio.

"Top Non-Bronco Sporting Events at Mile High Stadium" The Denver Post.

Mourning the passing of former president and Naval Aviator George Herbert Walker Bush.

The pros this morning - some toiling into the wee hours - will write hundreds of thousands of words about "41." Certainly, for a man who lived into his nineties, was married for nearly seventy-five years and was shot down (at age 20) flying a TBM Avenger during World War II only to become President of the United States some decades later, there is a lot to tell.

I remember him as a man who served admirably in the background of Ronald Reagan's breathtaking aura. Elected to his own presidency in 1988, he faced first the upheaval attendant to a political theatrical performance known as the "Iran-Contra Affair" and the understandable (and unfair) comparison to his old boss. 

In late 1990 an obscure dictator with delusions of...just delusions works fine...invaded oil rich Kuwait on a pretext as thin as a human hair. "This will not stand" President Bush noted. Not the most eloquent, nor impassioned speaker, he nevertheless backed up his assertion with a coalition of military might that swept aside Iraq's most powerful brigades with overwhelming force so shocking that dispirited Iraqi troops surrendered to the first available coalition unit...or to members of the press. Or, a drone.

America held its collective breath as the first instantly-broadcast war unfolded. The war fighters got most of the attention, commandeered most of the press conferences and in short order negotiated the succession of hostilities. George Bush was sometimes criticized for not "finishing" the war - invading and conquering Iraq when her routed troops were being handily slaughtered by the thousands as they fled Kuwait in every stolen vehicle they could start. The experience America would later have with President Bush's son at the helm has cast that decision in a kinder, gentler light.

George HW Bush also presided over...well, he was anyway there as a horrified witness to...the collapse of the "Savings and Loan" industry. America ponied up a cool half trillion to keep the shock waves from devastating the economy. Among the institutions that toppled was an S&L in Denver controlled in part by son Neil. By and by, a president who had been wildly popular months before was challenged in reelection by a quirky Texas billionaire and defeated by a faux country boy from Arkansas - with whom he eventually became fast friends.

George Bush and his gracefully outspoken wife Barbara retired to their private interests, staying involved in politics where it seemed most appropriate and staying silent otherwise. His sons George and Jeb were successful governors. George W - well, history has a funny way of smoothing out the rough edges of a presidency. Time will tell. 41's public political statements were often bipartisan - he bristled at the treatment afforded Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, saying she deserved a fair hearing based not on wild accusations, but on facts. No fan of Donald Trump, he let it be known he'd voted for Trump's opponent.

In 2009 George HW Bush, then in his early eighties, had occasion to walk the flight deck of a Nimitz-class carrier named for him. His public pronouncements - of pride in the men and women serving aboard - did not include what his private thoughts were, about what he had done so many years before from just such a vessel. Such was the focus of an honorable man.

In the aftermath of the liberation of Kuwait by coalition forces, political writer PJ O'Rourke encountered a man on the streets of Kuwait City. In tears, overcome by emotion, the man grabbed O'Rourke and said - "You write that we would like to thank every man in the allied force. Until one hundred years we cannot thank them. What they do" - words failed him - is America.

George Herbert Walker Bush served his country with distinction. In so many ways, his was a life that is America.