Officer simulator training increases

My Call for More Officer Training That Mimics Real-Life Events is Heeded 

By Ken K. Gourdin

First, some useful background.  (Or perhaps it really isn’t all that useful; if you think so, skip to the paragraph that begins, “None of the foregoing, however, is the real point of this post.” ;-D)  Salt Lake Tribune editorialist George Pyle wrote a piece that can be found here criticizing the view that a better-armed citizenry makes for a safer society and commenting on the incident in which New York City Police shot sixteen times at an armed suspect, hitting him only twice while hitting bystanders nine times.  Some New York Times coverage of the incident can be found here (last accessed today): http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/nyregion/bystanders-shooting-wounds-caused-by-the-police.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.  Mr. Pyle’s piece can be found here (last accessed today): http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/mobile/54797389-68/gun-guy-com-bad.html.csp.  I replied to Mr. Pyle’s piece in a letter to the editor in which I opined, in part, as follows:

Pyle’s commentary verifies one conclusion of my op-ed column “Officers sometimes forced to shoot armed suspects” (Opinion, Jan. 1 [2011]), in which I defended officers who killed an armed man outside the LDS Church’s Oquirrh Mountain Temple. Officers are trained to shoot at center mass because adrenaline makes them less accurate: Better to shoot at center mass and hit an extremity than to shoot at an extremity and miss entirely.

I would rather not be shot. But if I am, I prefer to be shot by police officers who are not aiming at me, rather than by a criminal who is.

My letter in response, in its entirety, can be found here (last accessed today):

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/54842581-82/officers-shoot-armed-opinion.html.csp.

Perhaps this deduction is merely the result of the ineffective workings of my simple mind, but it seems entirely uncontroversial to me to suggest that I’m more likely to be seriously injured or killed by someone who is aiming at me than I am to be seriously injured or killed by someone who is not aiming at me, but who happens to hit me anyway.  Alas, not so, according to the superior minds who opined on my letter in on line comments.

One commenter said, “If those nine bystanders all had guns, none of this would have happened, right?  Wrong.”  I replied, “I don’t recall making any arguments for a better-armed citizenry [in my letter].  Perhaps you could point out to me where I did so?”  Alas (and shockingly, at that) he was silent in response.

In snide derision, another commenter wrote, “[E]veryone knows that ‘accidental bullets’ hurt a lot less than intentional ones.”  I replied, “My argument isn’t that “‘accidental bullets’ hurt a lot less than intentional ones.”  It’s simply that I’m more likely to suffer a serious injury or death from someone who is aiming at me than I am from someone who is not.”

He responded, “My point [emphasis in original, meant, no doubt, not-so-subtly to convey the message that his point is, ipso facto and res ipsa loquitur, superior to my argument] is: a bullet doesn’t give a **** [asterisks in original] who it hits.”  I responded, “A bullet may not give a you-know-what who it hits, but a criminal who fires it does. If s/he’s not aiming at me but hits me anyway, s/he’s more likely to hit me in a less critical area than someone who is aiming at me.”

Another commenter wrote, “Please explain what the difference [between being hit by someone who is aiming at you and being hit by someone who is not] is.  Does it hurt less? Will your family miss you less? Will you get to heaven faster that way? It’s obvious that you couldn’t be educated less.”

I responded:

Thank you for the compliment!  If you honestly believe you stand a better chance of being seriously hurt or killed being shot by someone who isn’t aiming at you than by someone who is aiming at you, then your dig at my education speaks volumes … I don’t think it says what you think it says, but it does speak volumes.  Even if I’m hit by someone who isn’t aiming at me, yes, it probably would hurt less, since the likelihood is that I wouldn’t be hit in a critical area.  I also stand a better chance of sticking around to enjoy more time with my family,  and of not taking a premature trip to “heaven” … or wherever I go after this life (assuming I go anywhere).  [All ellipses in original].

In perhaps the best response of all to my letter, another commenter wrote simply, “What a stupid letter”—Res ipsa loquitur, ipso facto, and quod erat demonstrandum.  What more needs to be said?  Alas, since I’m (self-evidently!) slow on the uptake, I responded:

Thanks for the substantive response, [screen name redacted].  In the unlikely event that you DO wish to engage me substantively rather than simply hurling empty insults, I’ll ask, with which of the following do you disagree?

  • That the fight-or-flight adrenaline response which occurs when someone is under fire makes that person less accurate?
  • That a shooter is more likely to seriously injure or kill someone when that shooter is aiming at the person hit rather than when the shooter is not aiming at the person hit?
  • That officers need more than simple occasional range practice with stationary targets to improve their response to under-fire situations?

Which of those points do you think is the stupidest, or are they all equally stupid?  (If you don’t agree with any of those points, I’ll be quite surprised: the only one which is even remotely debatable is the second one.)  I made all of these points in my letter. Do you still think I’m stupid?

His response?  “Yes.  Very much so.”  I replied, “Thanks again for the substantive response!  Have a great day! ;-D”

None of the foregoing, however, is the real point of this post.  (“But you made us read it anyway?” you ask.  Yeah; I’m just funny that way.)  My letter to the editor concluded as follows: “The New York incident also illustrates why occasional range practice using stationary targets may be insufficient. Officers should get more simulation time that mimics real-life events.”  (Another poster, a former law enforcement officer, said that his agency had its officers run ½ mile before range practice to simulate the adrenaline fight-or-flight response that officers experience when they are genuinely under fire.) Fortunately for both officers and for the public they “protect and serve,” as was the case with the former officer I quote above (and consistent with my recommendation), officers are getting more training that mimics real-life live-fire situations.

To avoid a lackadaisical, “Who cares if I get ‘killed’?  This is only a simulator anyway” response, perhaps, consistent with the point made by the former officer in the preceding paragraph, officers should be required to undergo physical exertion before using the simulator, as well, although one officer quoted in the Deseret News story I link to below (last accessed today) notes that simulator action, too, provokes a fight-or-flight response:

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865613019/Virtual-training-facility-helps-officers-make-split-second-decisions.html?pg=all.

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Defense Ethics & “The Judge”

Shyster Lawyers? Reflections on Legal Ethics in Light of the Movie, The Judge, and on How Lawyers Can Defend Obviously-Guilty Clients and Still Sleep at Night 

By Ken K. Gourdin

At the outset, full disclosure is in order: I am not a lawyer.  I will gladly defer to any lawyer who disagrees with me about the points raised herein, and anyone with questions about legal ethics should contact a licensed attorney.  Now, with that out of the way, I recently saw the movie The Judge.  Robert Downey Jr. plays Henry “Hank” Palmer, a high-profile Chicago white-collar defense lawyer.  Hank is summoned back to his small, Indiana hometown when he receives news of his mother’s death.  His return forces him to confront the question of whether he has been true to the values with which he was raised and whether, in fact, he should have allowed his outsized ego and aspirations lure him away from those values.  While he is home for his mother’s funeral, his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (the movie’s title character, played by Robert Duvall), is accused of a hit-and-run, and Hank struggles to convince his father to put up a vigorous defense.

As often is the case, audiences have liked this movie better than critics.  While many of the latter have dismissed the film as sentimental, either audiences must prefer such sentimentality, or they must disagree that the movie falls prey to it.  As of October 16, 2014, it has a score of 7.8 on a scale of ten based on 3,990 user reviews at imdb.com.1  At rottentomatoes.com, it has only a 47% “fresh” rating from critics, while it has an 82% favorable score from audiences and an average rating of 4.1 out of five based on 23,677 user reviews.2

My purpose in writing, however, rather than providing a review of the movie as a whole, is to focus on its portrayal of defense lawyer Hank.  At one point in the film, Hank is asked the proverbial question asked of almost every defense lawyer in any legal drama, “How can you defend people you know are guilty?”  My purpose is not to analyze Hank’s answer to that question; anyone who sees the movie can do that for himself.  Rather, my purpose in writing is to provide my own answer to that question, and to explore the implications of that answer from the standpoint of legal ethics.

Near the beginning of the movie, during a court recess, a prosecutor comes in to the men’s restroom as Hank is relieving himself to question why Hank won’t accept the prosecutor’s reasonable plea offer on behalf of Hank’s client.  Before Hank is finished relieving himself, he turns and “accidentally” sprays the trousers of the prosecutor’s (no doubt expensive) suit with his bodily fluid.  (“You startled me,” Hank deadpans as an excuse.)  It’s conceivable (even likely, one would think) that the prosecutor would lodge a complaint against Hank for this behavior, and that Hank would face discipline as a result.  However, with respect to Hank’s refusal to accept a plea, it should be remembered that while strategies and tactics (including those relating to trial) usually are the province of the lawyer, and while decisions that will affect defendants’ substantive rights no doubt often are made with a good deal of input from the lawyer, according to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, whether to accept or reject a plea offer is the province of the client.3

To begin our analysis of the movie’s portrayal of Hank, I’ll offer the uncontroversial, axiomatic view that I don’t think defense lawyers (or prosecutors, for that matter) should strive to win at all costs.  Integrity matters.  If I were to do something illegal or unethical in order to win a case, I think (and I hope) that I would have a hard time looking myself in the eye in the mirror, and a hard time sleeping at night.  In fact, I should have a hard time doing those things.  If I didn’t people would have the right to wonder whether I’m a sociopath.

I’ve heard people claim that prosecutors have unlimited resources, while their opponents at the defense bar have unfairly limited resources.  While whether lawyers who defend indigent clients in any given jurisdiction should be given more resources to do so certainly is a debate worth having, and while prosecutors do have considerable resources, I don’t believe those resources are unlimited (and not simply because speaking in such absolute terms is a logical fallacy).  If prosecutors truly did have unlimited resources, they would have nothing to lose by taking every case to trial rather than engaging in plea bargaining and other pretrial diversion options.

I offer the above to reassure my reader that I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for prosecutors.  Still, although I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for them, the fact remains that they do have obligations that defense attorneys do not.  For example, if I were a defense attorney, and if my client confessed that he actually did what he is charged with doing, I would have no obligation to report that confession to the prosecutor, and if I did so, I could be disciplined for violating the ethics of my profession.  Conversely, if I were a prosecutor, and if I encountered evidence tending to show that the accused in reality did not do what he has been charged with, I would have an ethical duty to turn that evidence over to the defense; if I did not do so, I could be disciplined.

As the conflict in the movie between Hank and his father about defense tactics indicates, defense attorneys have a duty to defend their clients zealously and vigorously.  Regarding that duty, I wrote the following elsewhere:

How does anyone sleep at night knowing that he defended (perhaps successfully) someone who actually was guilty by exploiting one or more “loopholes” in the law, such as the exclusionary rule [which mandates that evidence obtained in violation of constitutional rights cannot be used in prosecuting the accused]?  The simple answer (provided he acted ethically in doing so) is, because the Constitution and the law say he can.  That is not to say that anything that is legal also is right, but a lawyer’s first duty, provided no other ethical considerations rightfully intrude, is to his client, and his next duty is to the ethics of his profession—even if those ethics produce what some [perhaps many] might consider an undesirable result.4

Expanding further on an attorney’s duty of zeal, I also wrote the following:

I might tell a jury (at least if I were defending a “hopeless” client with a lousy reputation in the community), “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, don’t convict my client simply because he’s an S.O.B., and because everyone who knows him thinks that what he stands accused of seems exactly like something he would do.  If you’re going to convict him, convict him because you’re convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he actually did what he’s been accused of.  Make the prosecution carry its burden of successfully proving every single element of the crime or crimes with which my client has been charged.  And if you were my client, you would have every right to expect me to do for you exactly what I’m going to do for him.  In fact, the ethics of my profession demand it.  And not only do the ethics of my profession demand it, the Constitution does, as well.5

The case of the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman provides a useful illustration of how an attorney’s duties of zeal and vigorousness in defense of his client work in practice, given the fact that many people felt that George Zimmerman should have been convicted (and some, it seems, felt that way despite the quality of evidence against him).  Regarding the case, I wrote:

[I]f the situation had been reversed [i.e., if Martin had been put on trial for killing George Zimmerman], Martin would have wanted the most vigorous, zealous defense possible within the bounds of law and legal ethics. He would have wanted his attorneys to cross-examine the state’s witnesses vigorously, just as Zimmerman’s attorneys did. He would have wanted them to elicit as much mitigating, exculpatory evidence from those witnesses (as well as from his own witnesses) as possible, just as Zimmerman’s attorneys did. In short, he would have wanted exactly what George Zimmerman got. And nobody would be rioting (or even protesting) in the streets if he had gotten it.6

In commenting further on the Zimmerman case, I pointed out elsewhere that as much as we might disagree with any given verdict, “justice by mobocracy” based on the weight of public opinion would replace the current regime of “rule of law” in the United States with “rule of men.”  I wrote:

While we might say that we believe it’s better for a hundred guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted, too many of us want to have our cake and eat it, too: if a jury reaches a verdict with which we disagree, many of us blame the very system whose protection we would demand if we were falsely accused (or if we believe there is insufficient evidence to convict us).

Many then take to the streets chanting such slogans as “No justice, no peace!”  What is justice?  It is what we say it is.  What is peace?  Peace may be achieved by using the system to further whatever ends will keep us from rioting in the streets.

That sounds an awful lot like “rule of men” and not a whole lot like “rule of law” to me.  As much as I understand why those who don’t believe that a just result was achieved in the Zimmerman case are frustrated, that’s not a country in which I think most of us would want to live.7

Another case in which the sympathy of many for the victim (in this case, combined with the antipathy of many toward law enforcement) seemingly colored their view of what a proper result is has been the case of the State of Utah v. Shawn Cowley.  Former West Valley City Police Detective Cowley and his partner, Kevin Salmons, shot and killed Danielle Willard after Willard allegedly tried to run Cowley over with her vehicle.  Regarding that case, in a recent Deseret News Op-Ed, I wrote:

We often form opinions based on what we, a priori, “know,” then we become upset when charges are dismissed or an acquittal is returned against someone we “know” is guilty, or when someone we “know” is innocent gets convicted.

It’s ironic that if someone we “know” is guilty is acquitted or has charges against him dismissed, we decry the system’s ineffectiveness. Conversely, when someone we “know” is innocent is convicted, that once-ineffective system suddenly becomes heavy-handed and oppressive.

In a court of law (unlike in the court of public opinion) it doesn’t matter what anybody “knows,” or how sympathetic a victim is: it only matters what they can prove. Whatever anyone’s opinion of the justness of a given case, rulings and verdicts should be based on the law and on the evidence.

Either everyone accused of a crime is entitled to the most vigorous defense within the bounds of law and legal ethics, and to a zealous advocate who will hold the prosecution’s feet to the fire by demanding that it prove every element of the crimes charged, or no one is.

If we were accused of a crime, we would want (indeed, we would be constitutionally entitled to) the same thing Cowley got: a vigorous defense by a zealous advocate and weighing of the evidence by a neutral arbiter.8

In summary, how, in good conscience and good faith, do defense attorneys defend those of whom it often can be said that the weight of public opinion (if not the weight of the evidence) is against them, and still sleep at night?  Because the Constitution, legal ethics, and other laws say they can.  Whether this will change the often-stereotypical view of defense attorneys portrayed in movies anytime soon is doubtful, but such portrayals are simply another reason in a long list of reasons why knowledgeable viewers will be required to suspend disbelief in order to watch Hollywood portrayals of the law.

END NOTES

  1. See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1872194/?ref_=nv_sr_1, last accessed October 16, 2014.
  2. See http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_judge_2014/, last accessed October 16, 2014.
  3. The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.2, “Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority Between Client and Lawyer,” states, in relevant part, “In a criminal case, the lawyer shall abide by the client’s decision, after consultation with the lawyer, as to a plea to be entered[.]”  See the following address, last accessed October 17, 2014:

    http://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/rule_1_2_scope_of_representation_allocation_of_authority_between_client_lawyer.html.

    The Utah Rules are in accord. Utah Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(a) states, “In a criminal case, the lawyer shall abide by the client’s decision, after consultation with the lawyer, … as to a plea …” (emphasis added).  The rule is available at the following address, last accessed October 16, 2014:

    https://www.utcourts.gov/resources/rules/ucja/ch13/1_2.htm.

    Even some prosecutors appear to have lost sight of this rule.  See, e.g., Ken K. Gourdin (September 28, 2014) “In Defense of Defense” (Letter to the editor), City Weekly 4.

  4. Ken K. Gourdin (March 25, 2013), “The Ethics of Zealous Defense” (Blog post), http://www.greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/the-ethics-of-zealous-defense/, last accessed October 16, 2014.
  5. Ken K. Gourdin (July 31, 2013), “The Ethics of Zealous Defense II” (Blog post), http://www.greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/ethics-of-zealous-defense-ii/, last accessed October 16, 2014.
  6. Ken K. Gourdin (July 16, 2014), “Living With Unlikeable Verdicts” (Blog post), http://www.greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/living-with-unlikeable-verdicts/, last accessed October 16, 2014.
  7. Ken K. Gourdin (July 30, 2013) “Zimmerman acquittal tests faith in U.S. legal system,” Tooele Transcript-Bulletin (Utah), A4.
  8. Ken K. Gourdin (October 15, 2014) “Justice system: Same for everyone,” Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865613139/Justice-system-Same-for-everyone.html?pg=all
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Tooele, Utah, USA’s World-Famous Mentally Ill Man

This Just In, from the “Any Publicity is Good Publicity” Department

By Ken K. Gourdin

In 2006, after I wrote a grant proposal that resulted in a $12,500 grant for a non-profit psychosocial rehabilitation program in which I participate called New Reflection House in Tooele, Utah (a Clubhouse Model program), our exceedingly politically-correct small semiweekly, The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin published a story on the grant under the headline, “Mentally ill man wins grant for facility.”

The photo with the article bearing the infamous headline can be seen here:

http://s1181.photobucket.com/user/Kenngo1969/media/TooelesWorld-FamousMentallyIllMan.png.html?o=0

That poor headline writer should have visited our program.  I hope, if he had, he would have written a vastly different headline.  In member-driven, Clubhouse Model programs, the focus is on members’ strengths, talents, and abilities, rather than on any illnesses, disabilities, or liabilities they may have.  However, not only did our hapless headline writer opt for that unfortunate choice of words (I guess if one is desperate enough to find a headline that will fit a front-page, above-the-fold story on deadline, that headline will do as well as any other! ;-D), and not only did representatives from the International Center for Clubhouse Development visit NRH, and not only did the ICCD reps take a picture of me holding the article with the atrocious headline, they posted it on the ICCD’s Web site!  (There’s no such thing as bad publicity!) ;-D

True, someone would have to be exceedingly curious, dedicated, and techno-savvy to find out what that headline actually is.  I doubt that many people, if anyone, went to the time and effort necessary to capture that photo and blow it up big enough actually to see that atrocious headline, but one never knows.  (Not to worry: as I say, any publicity is good publicity!)

For more on New Reflection House, visit our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/New-Reflection-House/106754672745520

For more on the Clubhouse Model, see Valley Behavioral Health’s Web site.  (Valley Behavioral Health is a tri-county provider of behavioral health services serving Salt Lake, Tooele, and Summit Counties in Utah):

http://www.valleycares.com/services/psychosocial-rehabilitation.

For still more on the worldwide Clubhouse Model, see the Web site of the International Center for Clubhouse Development’s Web site (on which appeared the photo with the atrocious headline; hence, my moniker of “Tooele, Utah, U.S.A.’s World-Famous Mentally Ill Man”!):  http://www.iccd.org.

I’ve also written about New Reflection House elsewhere on the Blog:

https://www.greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/new-reflection-house/

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Law Enforcement & Deadly Force: A Few Random Thoughts on Recent Incidents

By Ken K. Gourdin

Pondering the shootings by police of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; of Danielle Willard in West Valley City, Utah; and of Darien Hunt in Saratoga Springs, Utah, I had the accompanying random thoughts. At the outset, I’ll affirm the (perhaps obvious) point that law enforcement use of force that results in loss of life is a tragedy.  No officer goes to work intending to harm or kill other human beings.  (If he did, he would be considered a psychopath or a sociopath.) The prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in officers following even justified shootings seems to suggest that there is not a high incidence of sociopathy or psychopathy among them.  As distasteful as it is, however, the prospect of inflicting harm or death on someone else must be weighed against the likelihood that anyone he would do the same to other human beings.  Thus, as unpleasant as the prospect might be, since he is sworn to protect the public he serves, he sometimes is placed in the unenviable position of threatening or using deadly force.  In the overwhelming majority of cases, he does so simply to prevent an even worse result.

In Hunt’s case, if he had a weapon and had already threatened officers with it, in my book, the shooting still would be justified even if he were fleeing because officers can ill afford to give subjects who flee with weapons the benefit of the doubt.  A similar justification would apply in Brown’s case, since, apparently, he had already assaulted and attempted to disarm Officer Darren Wilson.  To those who would say that neither set of circumstances, without more, justifies officers’ use of deadly force, I would question whether that stance puts officers in a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” position: what if Hunt and Wilson had committed violence against the public after fleeing from officers?  Would law enforcement critics then claim that officers aren’t doing enough to protect them?  As for Cowley’s case, when my father, who is a retired 43-year law enforcement veteran, asked me if, with my reduced mobility, even I could get out of the way of a moving vehicle,  I told him that I can.  Still, I’m reluctant to criticize Cowley too harshly: for one thing, I don’t think for a moment that he wanted to kill Danielle Willard; and for another, a duly-authorized court has found that he acted without criminal intent, and I am loathe to question that determination.

Of the two remaining incidents that have not been adjudicated, if it is determined (as has been reported) that Brown was charging at Wilson (after having already assaulted and attempted to disarm him), I think, notwithstanding the fact that the Brown shooting has been the subject of the most fervent (and, dare I say, violent) public protests, that it is most likely to be ruled justified.  As for Hunt, the three observations I have regarding his shooting are: (1) If he was looking for a job and/or attending (a) job interview(s) on the morning he was shot, why did he even have the sword (“toy” or otherwise) to begin with?  What might a perspective employer be inclined to think of someone who brought such an implement to a job interview (“That?  Oh, don’t mind that; it’s just my toy sword”)?  (2) Even if it was a simple “toy,” who’s to say that its maker wasn’t aiming for realism, and that, if such is the case, its “harmlessness” wouldn’t immediately be apparent to officers who perceived it as a threat?  After all, we know that, tragically, a similar thing has happened with realistic looking toy guns; why couldn’t such a thing happen even with a “toy” sword? And (3) Even if he wasn’t a threat (while I’m not saying that this justifies officers in shooting him), Hunt apparently had disengaged from the outside world to enter his own world by listening to music in earbuds.   Potentially, that makes others a danger to him even if he had never encountered law enforcement.  He wouldn’t be the first person to ignore a traffic signal or to fail to perceive surrounding potential hazards because he was distracted by his device.  That’s a risk anyone who wishes to disengage from the world in such a manner takes.

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Community Policing At Its Finest

Community Policing At Its Finest 

By Ken K. Gourdin

Officers get a bad rap – sometimes deserved, but often not.  Too rarely do they get appropriate recognition, appreciation, and praise for what they do.  Too often, officers see the “bleed over” from problems in the home, in the family, or at school, but as often as they are called upon to be psychologist, sociologist, foster parent, surrogate family member, authority figure, role model, and so on, the problems they so often see in those arenas are ones they couldn’t solve no matter how much they want to do so.

Time is too short, resources are too limited, and the problems are too vast and too deep; there’s an entire community to protect, always another report to write, another call to respond to, another unsafe motorist to stop, another traffic citation to write, or another hearing or trial to testify at.  Yes, officers are sworn to uphold the law “without fear or favor, malice or ill will,” but the law does have its limits.  There are some problems the law simply cannot solve – ones that it was not designed to solve, such as those alluded to above, in the home, in the family, or at school.  There’s no way an officer could be everything needed to solve the problems he so often encounters.

And as I’ve written before, often, it seems that an ungrateful, apathetic public wouldn’t care – and wouldn’t give officers credit where it’s due – even if they could solve all of those problems.  As I’ve said elsewhere on the blog,

There’s a good deal of cynicism in law enforcement, and not without good reason.  As I’ve written on the blog before, it’s hard to work very long in law enforcement without beginning to feel as though there are only two kinds of people in the world: cops—and everyone else.  It’s easy to give in to the feeling that no one appreciates you.

But every once in awhile, an officer finds a way to make a small difference, or a small way to make a big difference, in the life of someone in the community he serves. Norman Rockwell’s painting Runaway, seems to evoke that ideal.  For my imagining of the scene depicted in Runaway, see here: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/2222/.

By all accounts I’ve heard, Draper, Utah, P.D.’s Derek Johnson was such an officer; Utah County S.O.’s Sergeant Cory Wride was such an officer.  (For more on Officer Johnson, see here: http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/end-of-watch-sergeant-derek-johnson/.  While I was writing of Officer Johnson, I’m sure those sentiments are no less applicable to Sergeant Wride.)

And then there’s this, an account in the spirit of Officer Johnson, Sergeant Wride, and the Trooper depicted in Rockwell’s painting.  Indeed, this account is that spirit come to life in the person of Emmett Township, Mich. Officer Ben Hall, who, instead of citing a mother for her failure to secure her daughter in the required booster seat (which the mother could not afford), bought the daughter a booster seat: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/world/58496250-68/seat-booster-delorenzo-hall.html.csp.

Kudos to all of the officers out there who follow the lead of the Officer Halls, Officer Johnsons, and Sergeant Wrides of the world.  Even optimism and goodwill that sometimes are betrayed are better than cynicism and pessimism that are always rewarded.

Be safe out there.

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The Family That Does Drive-Bys Together

“The Family That Does Drive-Bys Together . . .” 

By Ken K. Gourdin

You’ve heard the old saying, “The family that [fill-in-the-blank] together, stays together”?  (The one that I always heard growing up was, “The family that prays together, stays together” – not to go all “preachy” on you, but I believe that one.)  Well, as the title indicates, there’s now a new twist on that old statement.  See today’s Deseret News, here: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865612130/Mother-and-son-charged-in-drive-by-shooting-after-fight-at-school.html.  “We were just . . . bonding, Your Honor –  just enjoying some quality mother-and-son time together while working proactively to solve a family problem.”

I was a not-infrequent target of bullying during elementary and junior high school.  While I have very few bad things to say about very few of the teachers and administrators who worked at the schools I attended, the truth is that this was in an era in which teachers and administrators were much less proactive in dealing with bullying than they are today.  Even my parents, with one notable exception, were much more passive about it.  As tempted as she might’ve been to intervene, my mother realized that eventually, I was going to have to fight my own battles.  Did she take the wrong approach?  Should she have followed this mother’s lead?  “They won’t get away with this!  C’mon, Son, let’s go get ‘em!  You bring the gun; I’ll drive!”

Unlike in many other jurisdictions, there are few distinctions between principal liability and accomplice liability in Utah law.  Thus, this mother and her son have both been charged with nine second-degree felonies and one third-degree felony.  Each second-degree count is punishable by one-to-ten years in prison, and the third-degree count is punishable by zero-to-five years in prison.  But wait!  It gets “better”!  Both mother and son reportedly are gang members.  Under Utah’s gang enhancement statute, the second-degree felonies become first-degree felonies and the third-degree felonies become second-degree felonies.  Thus, even without the gang enhancement (while this is unlikely to happen) if each were sentenced to the maximum possible aggregate punishment, each of them could serve 95 years in prison.  With the gang enhancement, if they were convicted on all counts, they each could serve a minimum of 145 years in prison. “Look on the bright side!  We don’t have to pay rent anymore!”

Alas, even living rent-free for life is an awfully high price to pay for not hitting anybody you shoot at; if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to bet (increased potential penalties notwithstanding) that both of them wish he’d had better aim.  For both of their sakes, I hope they really are members of a gang: perhaps no type of organization considers “false advertising” to be more of an affront, or is more efficient at separating “contenders” from “pretenders,” than street gangs are, even in prison.  When it comes to claiming gang membership, “You can’t just say it, you’ve got to display it.” And if it is true, while they’re unlikely to be back out on the streets anytime soon, at least it will increase their “street cred” in prison.

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Lesson #1 in Whom to Avoid While Dealing Drugs

Lesson #1 in Whom to Avoid While Attempting to Deal Drugs

By Ken K. Gourdin

Then there’s this, from today’s Salt Lake Tribune (last accessed today):

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58442150-78/lake-salt-drug-officers.html.csp

I commented:

In the immortal word of Homer Simpson, “Doh!”

I wonder if some enterprising defense attorney now isn’t going to attempt to argue that uniformed officers (pa)trolling in an unmarked car doesn’t constitute some sort of Due Process violation?  If this were the Ninth Circuit, I wouldn’t put it past the trial court to uphold that argument and to toss the charges as a result, whereupon the Notorious Ninth would, of course, uphold that decision … until it got to the Nine Wise Souls to whom, alas, even the Ninth Circuit must answer.

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