The following interview is with a retired San Diego police officer who is Black and served that city for more than 20 years. He led different initiatives throughout his career including teaching traffic school and gang relations. His name will remain anonymous as he did not wish to disclose that information.
Where are you from originally? I am from the east side of St. Louis. Some would call it the roughest part of the United States.
What is your background - college graduate, major, community involvement, etc.? I attended Southern Illinois University, San Diego State University and Miramar College, San Diego as a criminal justice and mathematical science major. My background is in law enforcement serving on a police dept in several areas. I’ve also had lots of community involvement as a longtime fraternal member involved in several humanitarian efforts.
What led to you becoming a police officer? I became an officer because I hated bullies after seeing so many lives attacked by them. I wanted to make a difference in the world of crime, I simply just wanted to help people!
How long were you a police officer in San Diego? I was an officer for over 20 years, joining in my early 20’s in the 1980’s.
Do you believe that officer training provides the mental tools to deal with the multitude of potentially dangerous situations that police must work with? The training certainly gave effort towards handling a lot of the dangers, but I believe there were a number of areas where police weren’t needed or should be handling certain calls...other professional help was needed or should have handled. The mental tools had to come from a lot of common sense, street sense, compassion and understanding of people, which I believed some did not have it in them and did not gain enough of it in training. There are different responses that each officer will have based on their experiences (including outside of their job). So, some officers may respond with empathy and kindness while others will respond simply based on the law.
What does defund the police mean to you? Defund the police to me means taking away from police funding to help make it operate efficiently or appropriately and/or those tools needed by police to operate. To take funds from the police field, then you must use them in other areas like mental health, juvenile division, etc. Then get the public to use those areas of help instead of police, that way they get more direct help with those that know how to address those specific problems.
What would you consider the duty of police? I say the duties are to answer the calls of the citizens to protect and to serve, giving the best service for all the different types of calls that that officer may encounter.
What does “To protect and serve” mean to you as an officer? It means to use all of your training, common sense, smarts and abilities to bring protection to all those different types of services from persons or property.
Did you during your times ever shoot a suspect? If so, how many times did this happen? If not, why do you think that you were able to serve without shooting anyone? I say this proudly and thankfully that I never had to shoot anyone. Why not, with a bit of luck, but I mainly attribute it to being able to do a great job at interacting with all the different types of people that I had to encounter. I used great “verbal judo,” as they called it. My ability to humanize situations and to make them understand why I was called to the “scene” helped create less resistance and more of an understanding between myself and the offender.
Would you consider it “normal” as an officer to be in a position where you need to shoot suspects? I would not consider it “normal” to be in that position.
Do you consider any criminal activity a reason for using deadly force? For example, if you have a jaywalk suspect, does that person’s defiance to an officer’s commands warrant a shooting? Not any criminal activity warrants deadly force. Only those actions which cause that officer to protect himself or others. All kinds of actions can be considered a cause or a reason for contact by an officer, then where it goes from there, well it’s up to that contact.
How could the police respond to certain crime scenes without the use of deadly force? For example, Breonna Taylor’s situation. Should police formally announce themselves and request a response before entering or shooting? In those certain crimes, the police have to use the best possible means to be safe, yet try to capture those that they are after. Sometimes, police will use a formal announcement, but other times a surprise is the safest means. To know you have the right place and used the best intelligence so there are no mistakes in those difficult captures, is what police need to do. Do your homework correctly, lives depend on it.
Is there an issue of trust that is based on relationships between the Black community and other communities of color and police officers? Yes, there is an issue of trust. The relationships are strained because the treatments are not the same across the board. That needs to change tremendously, across the board.
I saw a video of a white male who was pulled over for a traffic stop. He had his hand on a gun inside of his car as the officers came to the door. He verbally told the officer that he would shoot them if they tried to pull him from the car. The officers had guns drawn on the suspect and he eventually drove away without any shots being fired. How can that level of restraint be given when a Black man simply getting into his car without any indication of a gun be shot for simply getting in the car? The same type of scenario that involves a Black man, seems to more than likely not receive the same type of outcome. I can’t understand how the restraint can happen with a white male, but even less than that type of action could end in a black male being shot. My conclusion, as I see it, those officers are “scared” of a black male as compared to a white male.
Should (specifically white) officers receive specific training on managing their emotions and understanding their biases which affect their responses for non-white suspects? Or do they already? The answer is simply “YES!!!” Have there been some type(s) of training, yes, but not just specifically for white officers. Does it sink in? I don’t believe it does because I say those individuals/officers have decided how they will handle non-white suspects.
As a Black police officer, do you feel pressure to arrest Black suspects or to do anything differently from your white counterparts? For example, do you feel pressure to be more “by the book” with a Black suspect than you would with a white suspect? I never felt pressure to arrest black suspects. I wouldn’t let that be in my way to serve and protect. I wouldn’t let any type of quotas or pressure be my way of policing.
Do you see bias in the arrest rates as an officer? Of course, I see bias in the arrest rates of officers to blacks, in particular and I disagree with it being that way.
What do you attribute to the high incarceration rates of Blacks throughout the country? Obviously, this is a loaded question, but from a police background, are there more Black criminals, is there a focus on Black crime/communities, or is there something that you can “point” to that would help the public understand? I contribute it to unfair judicial treatment across the board, as I stated earlier. I see a lopsided situation that does not help Blacks. Starting with helping and giving to the black communities. Then looking at the number of Blacks in high profile roles to make a difference. There are not more Black criminals compared to others. Again, it’s that treatment that has caused all these negative effects to be in place. Simply stated, there is “No Fairness to the Black Community!”
How does racism affect policing or not? Racism does affect policing because those that have that ill fated demeanor will not and do not do the right things and in the big scheme of things, it makes all or so much of policing look bad!
Did you ever do any activities in Black communities as an officer to help reduce the tension between police and the community? One of the biggest things that I proudly say that I did, I would talk with gang members about the community and how police would deal with what they were destroying. I worked on the Juvenile task force to interact with troubled youth and their activities. It was my main ministry in policing.
Looking back on your career and seeing where we are as a society today, how do you think police could better serve the Black community and other communities of color? It could better serve the community by being more transparent, by doing a better job of getting rid of those biased/racial officers, by getting our entire judicial system set up in a more fair process, by having more Black officers to work with the problems.
I would like to add in, Colin Kaepernick said it all the best and if they would have listened to his cry versus wrongfully trying to destroy his real meaning, we would be heading towards a better community and policing. And that’s without even having to mention the fact that many civil rights leaders have previously and continue to fight today for a better society. BE FAIR and SHARE!!!
(personal communication, April 27, 2021)
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