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sacrificing the centurion

it’s who you do it to

updated: february 3rd, 2006 11:26 am edt

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tim dees

earlier this week, the los angeles police commission released its findings on
their review of a shooting incident that took place almost a year ago, on
february 5, 2005. the conclusions they reached illustrate why the lapd and other
law enforcement agencies are having difficulty recruiting police officers, and
hanging on to the ones they have.

the facts of the case are, for a change, not in dispute. the incident took place
at 3:45 a.m. in the south central area of los angeles. two uniformed lapd
officers riding in a marked patrol car saw a toyota camry, carrying two
occupants, making repeated traffic violations. the car was stolen, although the
officers did not know this until much later. the auto theft report was being
processed when the car as first seen. when they attempted to make a traffic
stop, the vehicle fled at high speed, beginning what would be a seven-minute
pursuit. the pursuit ended when the driver lost control of the car and crashed
into a wrought iron fence.

the lapd officers assumed a “felony stop” deployment, with the patrol car
positioned behind the toyota and the doors open, using the doors for cover. they
drew their sidearms and pointed them at the occupants of the car. the passenger
immediately got out and ran from the car, one arm swinging and the other held
tightly at his waist. even though this is a very common posture for people
carrying handguns (and arguably exactly what the passenger wanted the cops to
think he was carrying), neither officer shot him. the passenger was later
apprehended, and it appears that he was holding a cell phone.

the driver of the toyota, 13-year-old devin brown, employed a different, though
hardly original, tactic. he threw the toyota into (r)evenge and rammed the
patrol car. the toyota struck the right front fender of the patrol car and
continued down the right side. the officer who was on that side, steven garcia,
decided that he wasn’t ready to have one of those long patrol car parades
conducted in his honor and correctly concluded that there was one thing he could
do to save his life. he fired ten shots into the toyota, killing devin brown.

thus began the predictable wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth that follows
this sort of incident. the police commission took almost a year to issue their
findings, although one might assume that they were more concerned for the
political outcome of their investigation than to insure that justice was
afforded to officer garcia. they found that officer garcia’s use of force was
“out of policy,” or in the vernacular, a “bad shooting.” chief william bratton
had already expressed his view that garcia had acted properly to defend his
life, but he has now been overruled by the police commission. the case will now
go to a review board to determine what discipline is appropriate. officer garcia
could get anything from a reprimand to the loss of his badge.

there is an ethos in law enforcement that is not unlike that of many military
units — you never abandon one of your own. if a cop is calling for help, you’re
not supposed to ask who it is, and then decide whether you like him or not
before you decide whether to go. you do everything you can to get to where
you’re needed, and on arrival smite mightily those who would dare to oppose one
of the brethren. the idea that we would determine that it was too much trouble
or risk to assist an officer in need is just unthinkable. the los angeles police
commission, not being subscribers to this philosophy, are comfortable with
sacrificing an officer for doing the right thing, and throwing the corpse to the
wolves of popular opinion. it is apparently too much trouble to do otherwise.

the hypersensitive south central community (the same folks that were burning
down their own neighborhoods because they were miffed with the outcome of the
first trial of the officers accused of beating rodney king) is condemning the
shooting of devin brown mainly because he was only 13 years old. i doubt very
much if either officer garcia or his partner had any notion of how old their
suspects were, or if that factored into their decisions. if garcia hadn’t fired,
and instead had allowed himself to be crushed by the door of his patrol car as
it was smashed by devin brown’s toyota, he would be just as dead or maimed as if
the driver had been an adult. how much in the way of community and government
resources would have been committed to make that right?

officer steve garcia acted as he had been trained to act. in fact, his restraint
is borne out in that he didn’t shoot the passenger running from the scene, when
the passenger’s behavior telegraphed “gun.” he responded with deadly force only
when his life was in imminent peril.

people that condemn garcia and his actions want to paint a picture of continued
police persecution of the underclass. that sociological model compels the
proletariat to resort to crime in order to survive the oppressive yoke of the
bourgeoisie. no sale. devin brown didn’t steal a car because he intended to sell
it for food or rent money. he stole it because that’s a popular from of
recreation in his neighborhood. car thieves drive past their high schools so
that their friends can see them, and wave at the tv news helicopters so that
they can get their fifteen minutes of fame. the losses of the property owners
and the risks that the cops and the people involved in the ensuing pursuit
entail are irrelevant, not even a factor in the equation. devin brown should
have been worrying over his grade in fifth period world history and whether he
might get to first base with cindy lee, not stealing cars for a 3 a.m. joyride.
officer steve garcia didn’t have any input into whatever circumstances created
that situation, and he did what he had been told to do, and he’s probably going
to get clobbered.

become a cop.
do as you’re trained.
get crucified for it.

that would be a cool t-shirt. maybe we should buy them for police recruiters.

web links:

police commission president john w. mack's comments on tragic use of force

lapd chief overruled on teen's death

tim dees is the editor-in-chief of dees worked in law enforcement

for 15 years with the city of reno, nevada and later with the pyramid lake
paiute tribe of nevada serving primarily as a uniformed patrol officer and
sergeant. he has also served as a field training officer in dui enforcement, as
an instructor at the police academy and in-service training programs, and as a
drug influence recognition expert. from 1994 to 2001, he was a criminal justice
professor at colleges in wisconsin, west virginia, georgia, and oregon.

dees was most recently a regional training coordinator for the oregon department
of public safety standards and training (dpsst), based in pendleton. he holds a
master of science degree in criminal justice from the university of alabama, the
certified protection professional credential from the american society for
industrial security (asis), and is a certified law enforcement trainer with the
american society of law enforcement trainers (aslet).