My Thoughts on Video of SLCPD Officer Mistreating Intoxicated Woman in Presence of Her Daughter
By Ken K. Gourdin
Video has surfaced of a now-retired Salt Lake City police officer mistreating an intoxicated woman whom he arrested in the presence of her daughter after the woman spat upon him. (Reader advisory: The video contains unedited strong language, and my response to it does not mince words. See Salt Lake Tribune coverage of the incident and of the video here, last accessed July 8, 2016: http://www.sltrib.com/news/4092027-155/utah-attorneys-shocked-that-violence-in.)
I hope to comment separately on the recent killings of five Dallas, Tex. police officers (and the wounding of seven others) by a sniper on Thursday evening, July 8, 2016. While the killing of police officers is never justified, conduct such as that exhibited by the officer in this video causes people who target law enforcement to feel justified in such actions. Even if it does not incite people to such action, it fuels public skepticism and cynicism of law enforcement.
The reality is, police culture needs fundamental change: I’ve heard officers speak of civilians to each other the same way this officer spoke to the woman in this video. While most officers who speak this way to one another would be quick to reassure us that they would never dream of speaking to a member of the public this way, it is difficult (if not impossible) for such attitudes to not affect their interactions with the public, whether implicitly or explicity, subtly or overtly, and perhaps in ways the officer doesn’t even recognize.
Such attitudes as those discussed in the preceding paragraph become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As I have written elsewhere on the Blog, one need not work very long in law enforcement before concluding that there are two kinds of people in the world: cops—and everyone else; and that no one appreciates officers, while everyone is against them. Still, a key part of the solution to these problems is not for officers to distrust everyone; that simply affects nearly every interaction they have with the public negatively, and, in turn, reinforces public suspicion and distrust. Even optimism that occasionally is betrayed is better than cynicism and pessimism that are always rewarded.
Regarding the reaction of Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown when the video came to light, I wrote:
I love the fact that Chief Brown uses the words “we” and “our” in his response. It’s as though he’s saying, “Look, if one of my officers does something, good or bad, I (along with everyone else in my department, because it affects everyone who wears the uniform of the Salt Lake Police) am responsible and accountable for it”: “Our actions were deplorable.”
Regarding the video itself and Salt Lake Tribune coverage of it, I wrote further:
I am one of the most pro-police, pro-prosecution people you will ever run across in cyberspace, and I have taken plenty of heat for that in this forum and elsewhere, both for comments posted using a screen name and for material published under my by-line and/or mwy photo in print, in the Tribune and elsewhere.
One of the reasons for that is because my father was a police officer for 43 years, and he had a widespread, fearsome reputation as someone you didn’t want to cross: he earned that reputation as someone who commands respect. Notwithstanding that reputation, and notwithstanding the DIS-respect (bad language, probably spitting, and worse) that was directed toward him, he didn’t have to use bad language in response to bad language (or even spitting) directed toward him; he didn’t have to call anybody names; he never called anyone a “f******* b*****”; he didn’t have to face-plant handcuffed suspects into the ground; he never … would … have … done … anything … like … this. Ever.
Yes, this lady was disrespectful. No, there’s no excuse for what she did, but guess what? If all one wants is respect and admiration, or “excusable” conduct toward him, he sure as hell shouldn’t go into law enforcement. While the respective circumstances surrounding each occurrence were different, this officer should have learned something from then-Chief Burbank: when one of Destiny Norton’s relatives, acting out inexcusably but out of completely-understandable frustration, spit in Chief Burbank’s face, he didn’t skip a beat and simply kept … on … speaking.
I suppose that, for many, the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics has become tres passe, simply a formality that must be endured before one becomes “official” at the Academy rather than actual words to live one’s professional and personal life by, and that’s a shame: “I will … maintain courageous calm in the face of … scorn or ridicule … I will be exemplary in obeying … the regulations of my department …”
Yes, it completely sucks to get spit upon. Yes, it’s disrespectful in the extreme. But guess what? Even if someone spits on you, you don’t get a free pass to use whatever language you feel like using, to call her whatever names you feel like calling her, or to do whatever you feel like doing to her in return. You don’t get to do things to her that, if a private citizen did them, you would arrest that private citizen for assault (no matter what provoked it). You wipe off your face, put a hood on your arrestee, and continue to go about your business. Is that fair? Nope, but guess what? Nobody said life is fair; you want “fair”? Don’t go into law enforcement.
Assuming this officer retired when he first became eligible to do so, for all I know, he may have rendered 19 years and 364 days of honorable service to the profession. Even so, on that day, he was a inexcusable disgrace to it. Police should operate under the assumption that someone, somewhere is recording every action they take and every word they say on video and/or on audio, and that any record so made will get out: because chances are, someone is, and it will.