Wednesday, March 26, 2014

...and we expect perfection

Last week, Police Chief Jim Peschong and I met with two faculty members from the University of Nebraska who are interested in research related to police decision-making. We are often approached by faculty and graduate students about research projects, and at any given time we are likely to be participating in at least one or two of these. I can think of two in process at LPD right now. We like research, particularly when it is the type that might actually inform our professional field. Better understanding of the factors that influence police decisions could do just that, and provide insights into how we can help police officers deliver superlative service to the community, so we were in a receptive mode, and listening.

After discussing a type of decision that might be good research target, we offered to send some data about the issue to the professors, and a sample of an investigative report--with names redacted. I assembled that information and forwarded it. The following morning, I received a response from one of the researchers. I could tell from the tone that he had been impressed after reading the case report I had sent, in which the officer explained what she had observed, what she heard from those she interviewed, what she learned from her own investigation, how she assessed the information, considered alternatives, and the thought process that led to her ultimate decision on the best course of action.

In Lincoln, we call this a Supplementary Report, or an Additional Case Investigation Report, and this one was quite typical for the type of case in question. He questioned whether this was typical, and I forwarded him a few other examples, all of which were selected completely randomly. All of these are evidence of compassionate, professional, deliberative decision-making, which is the norm. He closed his email by telling him how impressed he had been by the information we provided, and I told him this story:

It was the summer of 1975, and I was in my first solo assignment after a little less than a year on the department, as a motorcycle officer. I was dispatched to a disturbance in an upscale neighborhood deep in southeast Lincoln. I encountered a victim who had been beaten by her husband, who was in a simmering rage. As his wife had been trying to escape his wrath, he had grabbed her by the hair right outside the front door, and smashed her head against a concrete step. She broke away and managed to call 911. He was a physician, and could not believe that I had the audacity to arrest him. He was a lot older than me, and quadruple my income and social status, or more. The cuffs fit just fine, though. 
A cruiser officer who had arrived as backup transported him to jail. The victim needed to go to the hospital. She had a split lip, a lump on her temple almost the size of a baseball, and was in extreme emotional distress. Even as a 21 year old, I knew that the source of her distress was complex, though unspoken. She was frantic over the impact my arrest might have on her family, her husband's job, her children--and she was almost certainly in a panic thinking about what he might do to her now. She had wanted to end the beating, but had no time to consider what her 911 call might set in motion, nor to comprehend the resolve of the young man with a badge who first arrived in response. In addition to all this, going to the hospital would now inevitably result in revelation of the abuse within Lincoln's tight medical community. 
Unable to either console her or to convince her to go with me  to the hospital, I sought assistance from a nascent human service agency, which dispatched an advocate within about 30 minutes. The volunteer who arrived was even younger than me. She was completely ineffective, seemingly in shock at actually witnessing the aftermath of genuine domestic violence, unable to communicate. Despite my sense of inadequacy in dealing with a case that epitomized every dynamic of domestic violence, I was left to my own devices, and muddled through.

As I told the professor, things are a little better today. The training of new officers, for one thing, is much better than what I received. The field of victim advocacy and support has also matured, and a similar call today would bring a seasoned, trained advocate. But I remind myself a couple of times every year, around graduation time, that we still give guns to 21 year olds, then send them forth to deal with the most complex interpersonal and societal issues than humankind can dish up, often pretty much alone--and expect them to do so with perfection.


Steve said...

Your blog today gives the average citizen a much better incite into the difficulties encountered by police on a routine basis. To many who simply read articles in the paper about police calls, it often seems obvious what should or could have been done in any given situation. However, we seldom get the facts and circumstances of an event in enough detail to understand the emotional aspects or comprehend the complex relationships of those involved in an incident.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget that even if everything is done to perfection, the officer's decision is questioned by a lot of people. The entire police department, the County/City Attorney, the defense attorney, the suspect, the victim, the suspect's family, the victim's family, the media, the community in general and more can all have an opinion on whether the officer's decision was the right one. Cop's will never be paid enough money.

Anonymous said...

Military enlistment + honorable discharge = GI Bill > BSCCJ degree seems like a good route to a "fast-track" career in law enforcement, even if it would make it take 6-10 years to enter the police academy.

This might be a shorter route - how do LE agencies view an applicant who had the MOS of Military Police and an honorable discharge? You could do that in 4 years (or less, depending on service branch). After all, you've got to do something until you reach the age of 21.

James Johnson said...

A huge responsibility for anyone, and even more so for those who protect and serve and have a duty to pursue. Many LEO go through an entire career and never fire a shot in the line of duty. Others are not so fortunate and must live with that split second decision for life. I think LPD hires some of the best police in the nation, bar none.

Anonymous said...

So what was the outcome/disposition of the case you mentioned? Did the victim press charges? How did you resolve this? This case is somewhat well-known in some circles in Lincoln.

I know that there was a change in philosophy in that now domestic offenders are arrested regardless of the victim's wishes, primarily because often victims had a "change of heart" when the police arrived. And once police left, the abuser sometimes became even more violent.

I witnessed this scenario back in the early 1980s with a neighbor who beat the crap out of a female (I assume his girlfriend) whom he accused of stealing from him. The cops were trying to mediate and when the female suggested that the male's male friend may have stolen the money, the male went ballistic and attacked her in front of the police, who only then arrested him. Then, she started pleading with them to let him go because she "loved" him and eventually, she took swing at the officers and she got arrested, too.

I have no idea how this was resolved. But it reinforced for me the volatile nature of what officers encounter every day.

Thank you, LPD, for serving our city.

Tom Casady said...


I think most agencies consider military service to be quite valuable. Personally, I'm not so interested in the specific MOS as I am the fact that the applicant with military service has already learned a few things that are valuable, such as:
1. Not everyone is like me, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
2. I can work for someone effectively even if he or she is not my cup of tea. In fact, I don't have a lot of choice in the matter, so I better adapt.
3. The sum is greater than the parts: we accomplish more together than we do individually.
4. I sometimes will have to do things I don't really want to do.
5. It's a big world.


I don't know. I actually looked up the case file on microfilm, and I had most of the details right, but there is no indication of what the ultimate court disposition was, and it predates electronic records. One of the key things I had wrong was who called. I thought it was her, but it was a neighbor who witnessed the outdoor portion of the assault.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget #6 (which should be #1) that is learned in the military. Life isn't always fair.