The cost of fast-forward reform

If it isn't apparent lately everything has been about sound bytes, knee-jerk reactions, click-bait headlines, and edgy hashtags.

I've seen hashtags like #defundthepolice, #abolishpolice, #policereform and so on.

Our own mayor wants all sorts of changes done within 90 days.  She is going to force reform one way or another.  I've seen the new co-chair of the working group for the city say if she doesn't get her way, she has the ability to go over the mayor and superintendent and have a federal judge force the changes.

Let us be honest, we all dislike change.  New schools, new grade, new house, new job, new significant other....everything comes packaged with an awkward and anxious-filled phase.  Learning the ropes, where things are, trying not to look lost, and so on.  But for whatever reason cops hate change even more.

I don't have an exact answer why, my own personal opinion is I don't feel I've been doing anything wrong.  It took a while to learn the rules, especially since we work in the gray, and how to articulate what steps I took or observations or why I did what I did in my capacity as a cop in a report.

And now you want to change the rules again?

We'll say things like "they aren't broken", "didn't they just change the policy?", "we are already doing that", and my favorite "what asshole screwed up so bad they are getting a policy unofficially named after them?". 

But what happens when the race to reform, defund, or abolish the police hits a critical mass of sorts?  Who pays the price and what is the currency?

2016 was a miserable and bloody year for Chicago.  Death was every weekend, and multiple times per weekend.  I can remember volunteering for an overtime traffic mission to just end up running from murder scene to murder scene to help with crowd control as frantic family showed up on scene.  Especially since that was when Chicago would leave the bodies of the now deceased on the streets under white sheets.

Blood, brain matter, lifeless stares....the entire year seemed like one long Faces of Death movie.  2016 was right on the heels of the McDonald/Van Dyke dashcam video release.  The city plunged into turmoil, reforms were made, new policies, new reports, and change happened.  At the same time a lot of active cops, who didn't even have the new rule book yet, slowed down or had to change tactics or their style of policing.  I was still new and didn't know any better, but some of the cops I looked up to didn't want to teach me much of anything.

"Fetal is best kid.  Get your car, get your coffee, find a hole, and answer your calls" would be the maxim I'd hear all the time.  I took it upon myself to learn, find the few cops that did good police work and try to latch onto them.  I would come in early and read case reports, arrest reports, TRRs (our form for use of force incidents), ISRs (stop reports), and so on.  I would find myself understanding how to paint a vivid picture in my reports for court and I got good at putting people in my shoes through my words.

Then I had to learn body language.  How to "read" someone on the street, but I had to learn that from an even smaller set of officers.  I had a chance to work with some old timers, they could point out who had the gun on the block, or was dealing, or was up to no good.  I was like Stevie Wonder sitting next to them while looking at the same situation.  So I read up, began to try to articulate in my reports why I stopped someone, began to watch footage of people around police, I became a trained observer. But a lot of what I learned was self taught, or I had a very light foundation from some other really great officers and supervisors.

You're probably thinking what does this have to do with police reform and cost?

Ever read the last chapter of a book?  I did once and I never read the book.  I ruined the book for myself so much so that I couldn't enjoy it.  Like getting a VHS from Blockbuster that the previous renter didn't rewind and you turn it on to an important point in the movie now totally ruining it.

Policing today, at least in Chicago, is the last chapter of 5 years ago when it a lot changed here.  I can look back at the reforms made, the policy changes, the law updates, new case law and so on and see how it shaped what little I knew into what I know.  I didn't have a lot of "old habits", I was a pretty fresh-eyed rookie taking it all in.  Learning where I could and teaching myself when I needed.

But looking back, the cost of the reform wasn't in lawsuits against the city or department.  It wasn't in the investment in better equipment or new training.  The cost came in the form of bodies.

Black and brown bodies to be exact.

Not killed at the hands of police, although there were several fatal police shootings during that time.  But at the hands of rival gangs, jilted lovers, or social media beefs.

I know there is a whole other arena to explore in regards to WHY things are like that (socioeconomic, generational poverty, underfunding, etc.), but that isn't why I'm writing this.

Current events both local and nation-wide are both waking people up, and shutting others down.  I consider myself a go-getter because I can trust my partner and I know what I'm doing is right, but I don't get the luxury of reading the last chapter.  I don't know what set of rules I'm allowed to play by anymore.

Neither did a lot of cops at the beginning of 2016.  Things changed so fast many were happy to not do anything, and that cost families and communities dearly.

I am by no means anti-reform.  We need it, and we need it now.  Not like right now, as it seems a lot of politicians are trying to make it happen, but we need the ball rolling.  Maybe faster in some areas and slower in others.  I could list off multiple things I have found lacking or needing correction or changing in Chicago.

A lot of cops, and myself included, are perplexed at recent events and their outcomes, but also in support of the changes that are coming.  But this rush to make all the changes presents the challenge of "who is going to be the first to fuck it up".  Every policy we have has had tweaks done because some copper screwed up (not maliciously) and they need to adjust the policy.

Things like prohibiting officers from shooting in a vehicle would mean an incident like Nice, France  couldn't be stopped.  Or removing qualified immunity would mean that officer who was really good at reading body language and catching the criminals with an illegal firearm no longer stops people because the fear he could stop a law-abiding citizen with a conceal and carry (and is now in a civil suit).

For the next 90 days I can foresee most cops in Chicago will sit on their hands a little more, do a few less DUI stops, drive a little slower to a call allowing the bad guys to get away, or maybe keeping the windows rolled up and missing someone's cries for help.  And in a city as segregated as Chicago, where the violence is held to small areas of the city, where the violence and poverty go together, and those go hand-in-hand with the minority communities in Chicago.

Five years from now I am sure we will look back and all agree the reforms were needed, just as I can look back over the last 5 years now and say the same about back then.  But while policing is holding it's collective breath to see what reforms are coming, the citizens will be the ones to pay the price. 

Maybe the 90 day reforms will be better, more of a "rip the bandage off" and shorten the learning curve, but ripping bandages hurts in the meantime.  Apply a salve will take more time to heal, causing more incidents like with what happened to George Floyd.

There has to be a middle ground, because on the ground will be more bodies, most of whom will be black and brown.  It was a cost I'd seen paid once, and I'd rather not see it paid again.


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