Gallery H
"Them And Us"
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Are Modern Police Officers Really Acting Stupid?


By James Donahue


President Barack Obama is taking heat from G.O.P. circles and police agencies this week because he said something a lot of people in America believe . . . police are acting stupid. Or in the president’s case, he said he thought one Cambridge, Mass. police officer may have done something stupid.


The president was responding to a question from a reporter about the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by local police after Gates lost his keys and was observed by a neighbor breaking into his own home. Mr. Obama admitted that he did not know all of the details of the incident, but he thought that the decision by Sgt. James Crowley to arrest Gates after Gates objected to the police entry to his home, showed his identification and proved that he lived in the house, was acting “stupidly.”


The president has since recanted his statement and taken steps to make peace between Sgt. Crowley and Professor Gates.


The case, which was blown out of proportion by the media, has racial undertones since Crowley is a white man and Professor Gates is black.


We, like a growing number of Americans, tend to agree with the president that more and more police officers in this country are doing stupid things ranging from misuse of their electronic tasers to beating and arresting anyone on the street that gets in their way. It is as if the officers believe they are above the law because they are the law. Unfortunately, in many cases, the courts reinforce their behavior.


It wasn’t always like this.


During my years of covering police news stories, I grew to respect many of the officers in the field, developed friendships with a few, and, as with any group of individuals of any profession, I experienced a severe dislike and distrust of others.


I want to believe that good, sincere and honest officers are still out there and doing their jobs. Now that I am no longer working with the police and can’t get an inside vantage from which to observe them, there has been a strange sense of separation. Even my old friends on the force have put up barriers. There has been a realization that their interest in me was built entirely on my work as a news reporter rather than a sincere bond of friendship.


From where I sit today, I find that too many contemporary police officers seem to be cast from a particular mold. They have the personalities of bullies, out-of-control egos, and suffer from a lower than average IQ.  These personality types are somewhat troublesome in the field. They are quick to follow orders and sometimes take action on their own without questioning the moral ethics involved in what they do.


From my own observations, I can also say that some of the brighter officers become master criminals hiding behind badges, guns and the authority the uniform prescribes to them.


In the early years, before police stations became off-limits to reporters and dispatchers began hiding behind one-way bullet-proof glass, there was camaraderie between desk sergeants and reporters. I used to have my own personal coffee cup hanging on the wall behind the coffee maker. I often rode with officers in those black and whites on their nightly beats. There were mornings when I would drink coffee and have friendly conversations with not only the sergeant but the shift officers before they went on the road. That was how I got the news.


I also had access in those days to the night log, and could read every entry. That was how I found interesting little stories about UFO sightings, odd creatures in the woods, frantic searches for lost children, and once a report of a detective that accidentally shot himself in the foot when reaching for his handgun. He had holstered his loaded weapon without putting the safety on.


Those are stories you don’t hear about now. The dispatcher (now a hired radio voice) hands out reports that are approved by the people in charge. No reporter reads the log.


I have witnessed a shift from a time when police officers saw themselves as public servants rather than public enforcers. It was a different time when Americans felt safe when they saw a black and white patrol car cruising their street. I miss those days.


The change in attitude crept over the police in the United States like a silent cancer. It was so slow in its advance that we hardly noticed. Yet slowly my ability to cover police stories was reduced to a point until, at the time I retired, I didn’t bother even going to the station. I simply called the desk officer and asked if there was anything for the press today. If there was an accident, or something they wanted us to have, it was faxed to my desk.


That is what you get on your six o’clock news now. Faxed or e-mailed reports from the police, approved for release by a person in charge. They are usually dull, dry and poorly written pieces filled with police jargon about accidents, burglaries, or action by police involving unnamed people who were either killed, taken to local hospitals, arrested or held for questioning. The stories always conclude with “the case is still under investigation,” which means there were no arrests, no conclusions, and unless you press, you won’t hear any more about it after the initial report.


Before I retired I covered arrests by sitting in court. Court proceedings are still open to the public. But details of the crime allegedly committed are rarely known unless there is a trial. Most cases are plea-bargained by the prosecutor's office so unless we could get a trusted informant within the police department we rarely get much information. 


Hidden behind this strange smoke screen is something I have found extremely troublesome. There has developed a jaded sense of "them and us" as to how the public perceives the police. The people we once hired to watch over us are now watching us.


There has developed a feeling among many people that they do not want police involved when they have problems. They say this because police officers only tend to intensify the trouble rather than be of any help.


Also from my own experiences in reporting the news, many police officers have gotten themselves deep into the drug culture. While they may arrest suspected peddlers of marijuana, cocaine and other controlled substances, we have reason to believe many officers have turned into neighborhood drug pushers. They are living too high on the hog, with modern ranch-styled homes, new cars, motor homes and pleasure boats parked in the yard.


Not only are police becoming more and more corrupted. They really seem to be getting dumber and dumber.


I hear stories about police dressed in black attack armor breaking down doors of the wrong homes in “drug busts” only to frighten some innocent homeowner into cardiac arrest. How can the police raid the wrong house? This happened in a city near my home about a year or two ago. It is happening more and more frequently all over the country.


Then there was the case of Dave Newman of San Marcos, Texas, who braved swirling river currents to save the life of a drowning person, and then was arrested by local police because he “interfered with public duties.” The police who arrived on the scene after the rescue was completed decided that it was supposed to have been their job to make the rescue and local citizens were expected to stay out of it.


Police in Camden, New Jersey, searched for three days for three little boys who disappeared from the yard of one of the children’s homes before someone thought to look in the trunk of an abandoned car parked in the yard. By then the children, who got trapped in the trunk, were dead. How could trained police officers have walked by that car, leaned on it for three days to smoke their cigarettes and have their coffee, without thinking about looking inside?


Officers recently pushed their way into a private birthday party in a Chino, California home after getting a noise complaint from a neighbor. When the occupant of the home expressed objections to the way the police were acting like bullies the officers broke up the party then tased the man before arresting him for resisting arrest


In Webster, Texas, police turned a taser gun on a church pastor, Jose Elias Moran, after Moran got involved in a traffic stop in the church parking lot. Moran said he attempted to assist the driver, who was a member of his church, and merely asked police what had happened. Police accused Moran of interfering with police business. Officers then used pepper spray after about 30 members of the church congregation came out of the church and surrounded the scene.


Yet another story that is still occasionally making headlines is the search for Natalee Holloway, the pretty, 18-year-old blonde girl who went missing while vacationing on the island of Aruba, just off the coast of Venezuela. Police arrested and authorities held three young men and are still harassing one of the three who were the last to have seen Holloway, believing they had something to do with her disappearance. Yet no trace of the girl has been found and nobody has found any evidence that the young men did anything wrong.


It does not seem to be occurring to the local authorities that Holloway’s disappearance might be connected to a similar disappearance in 1998 of another young traveler, Amy Lynn Bradley, who stepped off a travel liner that docked at Aruba on its way to Curacao in the Netherlands. Some are suggesting that young women who come to Aruba may be kidnapped by gangs and sold into the world sex slave market.


Ah, but then such things are not supposed to be happening today are they? Just ask the police. They will tell you.