Doing what they were trained to do?

Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore City policeman who now teaches criminal justice at John Jay College in New York City, wrote that police are now told in training to use pepper spray and Tasers not just to protect themselves, but to enforce compliance with orders.

In the police academy, I was taught to pepper-spray people for non-compliance.  I.e.: “Put your hands behind your back or I’ll… Mace you.” It’s crazy.  Of course we didn’t do it this way, the way we were taught. Baltimore police officers are too smart to start urban race riots based on some dumb-ass training.  So what did we do to gain compliance?  We grabbed people.  Hands on.  Like real police.  And we were good at it.

Some people, perhaps those who design training programs, think policing should be a hands-off job.  It can’t be and shouldn’t be.  And trying to make policing too hands-off means people get Tased and Maced for non-compliance.  It’s not right.  But this is the way many police are trained.  That’s a shame.  (Mind you, I have no problem using such less-lethal weapons on actual physical threats, but peaceful non-compliance is different.)

Source: The Washington Monthly – Ten Miles Square.  (Hat tip to Ta-Nehesi Coates.)

Is this true?  Is this what police are told to do in training?  If that’s so, the policeman who sprayed the peaceful demonstrators was just doing what he was trained to do.  And it becomes easier to understand the numerous incidents of senior citizens, physically handicapped people and mentally retarded people being Tasered, sometimes fatally, when they pose no threat.

One of the contentions of the UC Davis police was that they were “surrounded” by the protesters and had no choice but to use pepper spray to break out.  This is refuted in the beginning of the longer video above, which shows a policeman casually stepping over the row of sitting protesters, before pulling out his pepper spray.

Here are Peter Moskos’s earlier thoughts on Occupy Wall Street and the New York City police.

If cops could wave a magic wand, the protesters would simply go away.  But if cops could wave a magic wand, the whole damned city would probably disappear.  Police relate to the demoralized employees in the film Clerks: “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.”  … …

If we accept that Occupy protests, like all large public gatherings, need to be policed, there are guidelines of protest behavior that can mitigate police unpleasantness:  (1) don’t hurt yourself or others,  (2) don’t shut down the city,  (3) don’t antagonize the police, and  (4) no surprises.   If these simple rules are followed, police will gladly stand around and collect overtime while others chant and rally.

Source: Slate Magazine.

Click on UC Davis police defend use of pepper spray on Occupy protesters for a report from the Los Angeles Times.

Click on Cop in the Hood for Peter Moskos’s web log.

[Update] However, not everybody thinks the policeman acted wrongly.

Charles J. Kelly, a former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department’s use of force guidelines, said pepper spray is a “compliance tool” that can be used on subjects who do not resist, and is preferable to simply lifting protesters.

“When you start picking up human bodies, you risk hurting them,” Kelly said. “Bodies don’t have handles on them.”

After reviewing the video, Kelly said he observed at least two cases of “active resistance” from protesters.  In one instance, a woman pulls her arm back from an officer.  In the second instance, a protester curls into a ball.  Each of those actions could have warranted more force, including baton strikes and pressure-point techniques.

“What I’m looking at is fairly standard police procedure,” Kelly said.

Source: CBS News.  (Hat tip to Ta-Nehesi Coates.)

“Baton” is a nice word for “club”.  Kelly is saying clubbing passive resisters is standard police procedure.  Is this true?  I’d like to think that Moskos and not Kelly is right about how most policemen think.  Is he?

Click on Police Chief at U.C.-David Put on Leave in Pepper Spray Incident for an update from the New York Times.

[Update 2]  Click on The Hypocrisy of Occupy Wall Street for Wendy Kaminer in The Atlantic, making the case that protesters have no right to occupy public lands.

[Update 11/22/11]  Pepper spraying is not harmless.

When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats.  Several of these students were hospitalized.  Others are seriously injured.  One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

Source: Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.

Click on Ten Things You Should Know About Davis’ Police Violence for more background.

Click on An Open Letter to My Students and Colleagues at UC Davis for the perspective of a UC Davis faculty member.  The following is a comment to this open letter.

Allow me to begin by saying I am neither a law enforcement officer nor a student at U.C. Davis.  Now that that’s done and over with, let us examine what happened.  On the infamous video at U.C. Davis, Lt. John Pike raised his hands holding the pepper spray.  Pike then went from one end to the other spraying the mace into the faces of students sitting down.

From a layperson’s perspective, it looks horrific. From a legal perspective, it was perfectly legal. How so?  Pike was trained in a POST (Peace Officer’s Standards and Training) certified police academy.  And everything Pike did was approved from the management, to POST (post.ca.gov) and arguably, the USDOJ.  In other words, there is no way legally, a prosecutor would file charges against Pike or even the UCPD.  Unless, they are shamed.

The same thing happened with the LAPD with Rodney King.  The four officers did what they were trained to do.  Not getting into detail, any deviation from the academy training can result in a verbal warning to imprisonment.  So in plain view, Pike did what he did, as did the other officers from the UCPD. Does this seem unfair? Does this seem violent? Yes it does. But, with videos and camera phones rolling, Pike did what he was taught to do and that was spray, make the students vulnerable and finally arrest them.

Source: Comment to An Open Letter to My Students and Colleagues at UC Davis.

[Update 2 11/22/11]  Alexis Madrigal wrote in The Atlantic about how standard police tactics toward protest demonstrations have changed over the years.

The changes in police responses to protests from the middle of the 20th century to today … are described in one July 2011 paper by sociologist Patrick Gillham called, “Securitizing America.”  During the 1960s, police used what was called “escalated force” to stop protesters.

“Police sought to maintain law and order often trampling on protesters’ First Amendment rights, and frequently resorted to mass and unprovoked arrests and the overwhelming and indiscriminate use of force,” Gillham writes and TV footage from the time attests.  This was the water cannon stage of police response to protest.

But by the 1970s, that version of crowd control had given rise to all sorts of problems and various departments went in “search for an alternative approach.”  What they landed on was a paradigm called “negotiated management.” 

Police forces, by and large, cooperated with protesters who were willing to give major concessions on when and where they’d march or demonstrate.  “Police used as little force as necessary to protect people and property and used arrests only symbolically at the request of activists or as a last resort and only against those breaking the law,” Gillham writes.

That relatively cozy relationship between police and protesters was an uneasy compromise that was often tested by small groups of “transgressive” protesters who refused to cooperate with authorities.  They often used decentralized leadership structures that were difficult to infiltrate, co-opt, or even talk with.  Still, they seemed like small potatoes.

Then came the massive and much-disputed 1999 WTO protests.  Negotiated management was seen to have totally failed and it cost the [Seattle] police chief his job and helped knock the mayor from office. “It can be reasonably argued that these protests, and the experiences of the Seattle Police Department in trying to manage them, have had a more profound effect on modern policing than any other single event prior to 9/11,” former Chicago police officer and Western Illinois professor Todd Lough argued.

No one wanted to be Seattle and police departments around the country began to change. ”  In Chicago for example, paramilitary gear such as that worn by the Seattle Police was quickly acquired and distributed to officers,” Lough continued, “and the use of force policy was amended to allow for the pepper spraying of passive resistors under certain circumstances.”

Source: Alexis Madrigal – The Atlantic.

Click on Securitizing America for Patrick F. Gillham’s paper.

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