Under the leadership of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake there have been some big changes in the Baltimore police department since the Freddie Gray controversy broke out. When Police Chief Anthony Batts was replaced by Kevin Davis, citizens were promised that there would be a greater focus on “community policing” and getting the cops back on the streets and involved in the lives of the citizens they serve and protect. That’s a great concept in theory, but it can be difficult to implement, particularly if you don’t have the support of either the citizens or City Hall. Another focus of this new leadership structure was to cut down on the number of lethal encounters between police and criminal suspects, and one way of doing that would be to train officers to use non-lethal intervention where possible.
One of the primary tools available in that effort is the Taser, assuming the suspect isn’t armed and putting the lives of officers in immediate danger. Sounds great, right? Well… if you ask some of the activists in Charm City, along with their primary print news outlet, even that is a bridge too far. (Baltimore Sun)
Baltimore police officers exceeded widely accepted safety limits for Tasers more than any other force in Maryland, and in nearly all cases fired the weapon at suspects who were not complying with police orders but did not pose a threat.
Most of the suspects hit by Tasers in Baltimore were black, according to data obtained and analyzed by The Baltimore Sun, and more than two-thirds of the incidents from 2012 to 2014 took place in ZIP codes with the city’s lowest median incomes.
The trends concern the city’s top cop.
“Who suffers the most when police departments have deficient policies and procedures? Minorities and poorer communities suffer,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said in response to The Sun’s findings.
If you ask the cops in Baltimore, New York and elsewhere, this comes down to the enduring question which seems surround all police encounters. What are the cops supposed to do when they are attempting to get a criminal suspect under control in the course of their investigation and they simply refuse to comply with reasonable instructions? Belligerent suspects who refuse to submit to a search or accompany officers for questioning have to be brought under control somehow. The alternative is to simply let them walk away if they don’t wish to cooperate. And if the situation goes beyond the level of simple refusal and verbal abuse to shoving and fisticuffs, what do activists expect the cops to do? Beat them down with a baton? That doesn’t sound like much of an improvement.
Is there risk involved with tasing someone? Obviously. Depending on the person’s physical condition they might have a severe (if not fatal) reaction to an electric shock. But consider the case of Eric Garner in this context. He was overweight and in generally poor physical health, while still being large and strong enough to put up a serious fight. The cops in that case put him in a choke hold and he died. Would his heart have given out if he’d been hit with a taser? We’ll never know, but if it had we’d likely have wound up having the same discussion we are now.
This taser question in Baltimore is yet another example of the cops being the default “suspects” in any encounter between criminals and law enforcement. Considering the environment the police are operating in these days, it’s probably not all that shocking if officials don’t release their names immediately when such encounters turn violent. That’s another complaint we’re hearing from the media these days, as was seen in this report from the Washington Post last week.
For 2015, reporters obtained the names of officers responsible for 780 of the 990 shootings. In about 600 shootings, officers’ names were disclosed by police departments in news reports. In a handful of cases, names came to light through lawsuits or leaks to the news media. Where the names remained unknown, The Post contacted the departments and requested the officers’ identities.
In 145 fatal shootings, the departments declined to release the names to The Post, citing pending investigations, state or federal records laws, agreements with police unions or department policies. In another 65 fatal shootings, the departments did not respond to multiple requests for information.
This is one area of the deadly force debate where my opinion has slowly and reluctantly begun to change. My original, default reaction to questions of identifying police officers was one of transparency and sunlight. Reports of cops failing to wear identification badges during tense encounters were very troubling to me. The good guys shouldn’t need to hide their identity. But in the era of Black Lives Matter, that’s old school thinking. Any time there is a violent encounter between police officers and criminal suspects, the default maneuver is for the media to provide not only the name, but particularly the race of the officers involved, turning them immediately into the target of SJW protests and threats. That’s not transparency… it’s facilitating a campaign of targeting those who serve their communities. Going after the department over their training and demanding performance records to identify the occasional bad cop is one thing, but immediately putting a target on the back of any officer involved in a shooting before the facts of the case are even known doesn’t serve the public interest. It’s just another tool in the inventory of the SJW in their war on the police.