Sunday, April 01, 2018

Danny Ray Thomas shooting cast harsh spotlight on Harris County police shootings

The shooting of Danny Ray Thomas, a mentally ill man with his pants around his ankles who was shot to death by a Harris County Sheriff's deputy, has made national headlines and led to a greater-than-ever light cast on shootings by law enforcement in Texas' largest county.

Grits wanted to round up a few of the more notable stories, as this episode appears as though it will frame debates over police accountability in Texas for the foreseeable future:

15 comments:

Steven Seys said...

It's deeply ingrained in police culture that they stand alone against a whole world of perpetrators. This concept excuses the shooting of unarmed civilians since "they're all perps, and "it's us against them." Until we address the cultural sickness pervasive in police agencies we shall do no more than first aid on a problem that requires complex surgery.

The Phantom Bureaucrat said...

In the op-ed "Here’s how Houston can prevent police shootings", the only solution presented was to have an "event review" which would spawn understanding, better policies, and all the rest. Even without reading who wrote it, I could tell it came out of an academic approach by people with zero experience in the real world. This is not to say the approach completely lacks merit, only to point out that it will not change the culture of the police or those who confront them, these one sided answers generally not as applicable given the reality of the situation.

I don't think there's a single solution to be had, endless Monday morning quarterbacking or review by desk jockeys has never solved many problems in the past. Locally, much of the focus has been on training police in legalistic approaches that spend a lot of time on making sure that those involved in shootings have dotted their i's and crossed their t's to avoid prosecution, the result being that very few grand juries indict them courtesy of state laws giving sweeping authorization to cops to shoot when they "feel threatened". Frankly, by that standard, we should be glad there aren't far more shootings because it is a catch all that anyone can use and it is almost impossible to prosecute.

The emphasis I see as a regular reader of this website is to reduce police access to data, limit access to existing protections, and to provide outside review boards that can second guess police administrator decisions. This approach of trying to catch shooters in lies or get additional bites of the apple cause police to go nuclear in their responses to genuine reform. But changing laws and policies has a big role to play, even small things like demanding police ride with partners, that they are prohibited from responding to dangerous calls for help without supervisors or additional officers, and things like that because those things tend to reduce fear, and given the law, fear reduction is crucial to reducing the number of shootings.

On the flip side of the matter is the very real belief that many, not all, shootings could have been prevented if people facing the police would follow instructions, keep their hands empty, and communicate in less hostile ways. Maybe teaching kids in school at regular intervals how to interact with cops isn't as crazy an idea as some of us used to think. Fear reduction and better communication can't hurt in these situations, even a spot review of most local shootings prove most of them had elements that could have been addressed beforehand to reduce the likelihood of a shooting. As far as claims about the "us vs them" culture, well, activists that follow that same narrative and promote confrontation can look in the mirror for some of the blame because it's not just the cops doing it. Like it or not, we all know who wins in most such confrontations too.

So better review, better education, fear reduction, and policy/law changes might have a better impact than a top down approach of event reviews. Anyone?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:03, I'd start by implementing de-escalation policies from the Police Executive Research Forum, then move to transparency and accountability reforms.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That said, transparency is important. I've been working on these issues for more than 20 years and it's only been recently that we could even define the scope of the problem.

Also, I'm not an opponent of event reviews, they've been (somewhat) effective on innocence issues. Not a cure-all, but can confirm the specific local need for reforms (like deescalation) that are proposed more generically by groups like PERF.

CS McClellan/Catana said...

I keep wondering why no one ever mentions hiring practices. If you hire people likely to be violent, then that's what you'll get. Psych testing, background checks for psychological status and previous encounters resulting in violence, including spousal abuse.

Improved training won't do crap unless the potentially violent are weeded out first.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to potential recruits, psych testing along with other measures designed to prevent undesirables from being commissioned aren't taken seriously. Indeed, there is always a way around them as Dr.Carole Busick and her husband, Don Busick, a licensed professional counselor, proved by certifying thousands of Houston-area peace officers without ever conducting proper psych testing. All of the policing agencies knew their officers were skipping the requirement, but none ever raised the issue because this type of skirting is so commonplace. And once this was discovered none of the wrongfully hired officers were required to be re-screened. It's not only a problem in Texas as one psychologist who designed tests for Indiana police officers stated that he had to redesign the normal tests as too many applicants were registering as psychopaths.

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Fit-for-duty-Thousands-of-law-enforcement-7421829.php

Officer Friendly said...

I guess I'll chime in since none of you appear to have any insight from the POV of an officer.

Steven, I was never taught any of that garbage in my decades of police experience. It was and remains drilled into us that we are the protectors of civilians from all walks of life. I've personally had many opportunities to legally shoot someone but found a better way, the same as almost everyone I know and have worked with.

Phantom, teaching the masses common sense will never happen and there will never be enough officers to double up or send a supervisor to all such calls for service.

Grits, every large city police department has been teaching de-escalation for years, Austin, Dallas, and Houston all demanding multi-day classes for years that do not teach the knife rule mentioned. Dallas and Houston have programs that have served as national models for over 10 years.

CS & Anon 9:37, it has long been established that a potential officer has to be willing to use force when needed so screening that out would be a paradigm shift with major consequences. Dr.Carole Busick never interviewed me nor participated in the hiring process, the many tests given were given in a large room with many applicants and at different times, no marks on the booklets to guide us to the correct answers. When her case came up, it was addressed by a command staff member that told us how her services were only used when processing large groups of applicants as overflow, all the testing testing done by our organization. Locally, all applicants were properly screened for domestic violence, backgrounds, and the rest but would be ignored to fulfill hiring quotas for certain groups as needed starting during the Mayor Brown administration.

Charlie O said...

How much of a coward do you have to be, to claim you're in "fear for your life" by guy with his pants around his ankles? Cops are, by and large, nothing but cowards.

TriggerMortis said...

I've always felt like cops and criminals are cut from the same cloth. The only real difference being that one side has a badge, is respected, and protected by the government, while the other side isn't organized nor protected. There are many who will disagree but those are the ill-informed. Those who are well-informed...know it's a fact.

Before Trump was elected there was a site that kept track of the thousands of criminal cops and their crimes. But since Trump was elected, his pals, the Koch Brothers, have shut the site down. However, if you wish to see for yourself just how many thousands of criminals have a badge, you can look through the history. Everything from cold blooded murders to child rapists to drug dealing: https://twitter.com/npmrp?lang=en.

Officer Friendly said...

Charlie, focusing on a single detail from a shooting that has not even been fully investigated yet doesn't help any more than calling names. The matter will be investigated by at least four separate groups but if you're so sure you know how to do the job better than anyone else, please come apply for one of the many openings found locally. Did he have a weapon, was he hopped up on drugs or have a history of mental illness as he continued to advance on the deputy while being told to stop, all of that will come out.

Trigger, police officers and criminals are cut from the same cloth in a sense since they are all human but there are very real differences between the two groups. Maybe you are thinking of the highly flawed Stanford Prison Experiment that compares guards to prisoners since it is so often cited improperly or its conclusions embellished. Your declaration that people who agree with you are well informed and those who disagree are not is exactly the kind of thinking that comes from a lack of knowledge. Consider this too, the Koch Brothers are not pro-police in any viable sense, nor is President Trump. Take a moment and research who funds most of the any pension efforts against public safety workers and you will find the Koch Brothers spending many millions of dollars trying to lower police pensions. If you think any of the three made efforts to take down specific anti-police websites, at least have the decency to provide some evidence because there are plenty such websites out there.

Anonymous said...

The most unfortunate optic is that no officer seems to ever be liable for the shooting of anyone, armed or unarmed, black white or purple. The resolytresis always that they "feared for their life" and "followed policy," but that's become as cliche as "hopes and prayers" in a tragedy.

Officer Friendly to his GREAT credit has yet to lean towards our good friend Bark Growl Bite describing people as turds, perps, or any other dehumanizing epithet and I want to believe that he and many others like him put their pants on one leg at a time, followed by their empathy briefs, common sense socks, and last of all their holster.

We've all yet to see an officer surrender his commission after a shooting simply because he felt remorseful about taking a life, we haven't seen a department close ranks against an officer who shoots a child or unarmed suspect, and we've yet to see an apology for a policy that allowed an unarmed man, a compliant man, or just a scared man to die.

Unfortunately the reality is that if a police officer is shot we all know who the "bad guy is," but when we're faced with an unarmed man with his pants around his ankles, everyone has to ask if he had to die.

Anonymous said...

Officer Friendly said..."Koch Brothers are not pro-police in any viable sense, nor is President Trump"

................

Is this fool for real or just trolling? Surely he isn't that uninformed, is he?

Just a coincidence that the Koch Bros. shuts down their site...

And Trump, well he carved himself a spot as the most cop-loving president we've ever had.



Officer Friendly said...

Anon 7:07, I don't know who you are referring to but I'm not any different from most of the people I work with when it comes to dealing with people. I can't take any special credit for treating people like people just like they treat me. I've heard most of the dumb comments about police from my brother in law regularly ambushing me with news accounts that were as far removed from my experiences as anything I see at the movie theaters. I don't speak for all officers and haven't even met a third of them from my own department after all these years so the belief we're all in a special club with a secret handshake and full knowledge of each other is a fantasy. Addressing your point about officers involved in shootings, I've known a few who quit or retired after getting in one. They were cleared legally but told us all that the job just wasn't worth it and moved on.

Anon 8:09, when President Trump took office he made a big speech that most police groups spoke out against. He then signed some orders that did nothing to change the reality of modern policing. Since then, he has not lifted a finger to improve the lot of police and has even cut funding to a number of police initiatives in his latest budget. I stand by my comments regarding the Koch Brothers trying to cut police pensions and you can Google search it to find many examples if you like. I still haven't been able to find any examples of them influencing anti-police websites so I'll look forward to one of you providing me some proof if you would.

Brad Walters said...

Where were you when Trump was campaigning as pro police and backing suspicionless stop and frisk. I guess you missed his pardon of Arpaio who wad systematically violating the 4th Amendment in violation of a court order to stop. What about him campaigning to cops and telling them not to worry if an arrestee bumps his head getting in the car. You cannot be serious or you have not been paying attention or maybe you just lack candor.

Officer Friendly said...

Mr. Walters, if you read my comments, I agreed that when Trump took office he spoke a good game. He did likewise on the campaign trail but that is very common for politicians when trying to buy our votes, yes? But ultimately, what has he really done for the average officer across the country, not some aging character in Arizona that appeals to a segment of the country? As I pointed out, his latest budget cuts police programs and he has not lifted a finger to help officers in communities where budget shortfalls have led to pension and benefit cuts. Campaign rhetoric and a few meaningless gestures aside, I have yet to see him do anything of substance to merit a pro-police status but I freely admit that I lack the fancy education some here must have or the time to dwell on the minutia of his detractors day in and day out as I try to provide for my family. So I'll ask again, what has Trump or the Koch Brothers done to make the lives of regular police officers better?