Updates On Police Shoo…No, Wait, Now Alfred Olango Is Dead

This post was going to provide updates about investigations into the police executions/murders/killings/accidents that claimed the lives of Terrence Crutcher* and Keith Lamont Scott**, but because time keeps on ticking away, it was not able to be drafted before police in El Cajon, California shot and killed Afred Olango, an unarmed black man.

As in previous cases of police-involved shootings, all of the following occurred:

Vox is up on the story. Its reporting includes this:

Police said that Olango, a 30-year-old black man, ignored orders to take his hands out of his pockets. He then pulled an object from his pocket, aiming it at officers while taking what El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis described as a “shooting stance”: “At one point, the male rapidly drew an object from his front pants pocket, placed both hands together on it, and extended it rapidly towards the officer, taking what appeared to be a shooting stance, putting the object in the officer’s face.”

Even if we believe the officers’ accounts – it is almost as if video would certainly be useful in bolstering the claims being made – one wonders how exactly Olango could be simultaneously punished for having his hands in his pockets and for removing his hands from his pockets. Or perhaps it matters more for the next guy, given that Olango is now dead.

Those who defend these killings as having been the sole responsibility of the person killed often insist that there was something that the dead could have done that would have saved their life. “If only they had done something else…” is the common lament, which is then followed up by, “…but they didn’t.” Exactly what the dead could have done is never entirely clear and whether that is a feature or a bug is never thoroughly explained.

But for the record, here is what we know: taking your hands out of your pockets will get you shot (as it did Olango) and walking backwards will get you shot (as it did Scott) and putting your hands up will get you shot (as it did Crutcher) and reaching for your wallet will get you shot (as it did Philando Castile) and having police officers laying on top of you will get you shot (as it did Alton Sterling) and laying on the ground with your hands up will get you shot (as it did Charles Kinsey) and…

Well, we could keep going, although what that would achieve is unclear. We can, though, predict precisely where this conversation is going to go. Those of us who are hostile to the idea of a policing approach that leads consistently to the death of people who might have been dealt with more peacefully are, predictably, going to see Olango’s death as yet another in what seems to be a steady stream of such killings that have occurred over the last however many years. Those who give the police considerably leeway when it comes to killing citizens are, predictably, going to see Olango’s death as unfortunate but ultimately justified owing to the officers’ concerns that he posed a threat, regardless of whether he actually did. (He did not.) And those who are racists or authoritarians or both will celebrate Olango’s death, just as they have celebrated after every other police killing before, and will celebrate after whomever it is that dies next.

Knowing where the conversation will go is easy. What is more difficult is imagining what exactly will help to slow the occurrence of these shootings, especially when considering the three groups described above. What middle-ground is there, if any, especially when perfectly reasonable solutions (like additional training, financial sanction, and yes, body cameras) are rejected with righteous fury because of what making any change implies about what is currently occurring? But the conclusion that there is nothing to be done is equally disheartening, if only because innocent people are getting shot (and dying) at a very routine pace, so quickly in fact that we can barely learn one name before we are asked to learn another. So it will almost certainly go with Alfred Olango, a man whose name we will begin to forget because some other equally awful thing will have happened in the meantime.

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*Crutcher’s killer, Betty Shelby, has been charged with “heat-of-passion” manslaughter. The charges came almost immediately and are limited in their nature – Shelby would face a minimum of four years in prison – and seem to have gone a long way in keeping Tulsa calm in the aftermath of the shooting.

**Keith Lamont Scott’s killer has not been charged, despite video evidence clearly showing a man with his hands down, walking backward away from the plainclothes officers pointing guns at him. Police have acknowledged that no video shows him making a move at police officers. Those who wish to justify the shooting are now exploring Scott’s apparently violent past in the hopes of finding something that will justify decisions made in real-time without any of the subsequently discovered information.


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135 thoughts on “Updates On Police Shoo…No, Wait, Now Alfred Olango Is Dead

      • It’s just…..they carry guns! They know what guns look like!

        I know, I know, “heat of the moment” — but if you’re that flipping jumpy or that poorly trained, maybe….policing isn’t for you?

        On the one hand, we’re supposed to respect police because they ‘risk their lives’ for us, but on the other hand they’re so quick to pull the trigger that they keep shooting unarmed people and then saying “It looked like he had a gun”.

        Any shot you’re going to make and hit with your official freaking sidearm is close enough to see whether it’s a gun (or at least shaped like one, like a toy gun).

        Dude, you know what a gun looks like. It doesn’t look like “nothing in his hands” .It doesn’t look “like a book”.

        So we know what happens. The cops I’m supposed to respect for risking their lives don’t want to hesitate even the, oh, two seconds it would take to assess the threat, and instead decide to let God sort it out. Because they DON’T want to risk their lives.

        And hey, I can’t blame them. I don’t really want to go confront a maybe-armed guy in a nervous situation. That’s why I never considered policing as a career.

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        • My reaction to the idea that we are supposed to respect police for risking their lives is that this is inconsistent with the defense that it was reasonable to shoot that unarmed guy out of cowardice. If you find the sight of melanin so terrifying that your reaction is to start shooting, then get a different job.

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                    • It never stops being fascinating that you are more concerned with the safety of people legally authorized to kill in almost every imaginable situations, but not with the safety of those who enjoy no such protection, legal or otherwise.

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                    • Oh no, they should worry about it. What they shouldn’t do is be so terrified of the possibility that they panic at the mere suggestion (in their heads, which is often the case when no gun is recovered) that a person might have a gun and could, quite possibly, point it in their general direction.

                      Seriously, if a person panics that quickly such that the fear response takes over and they lose the ability to asses risk[1], then they are either poorly trained, or unsuited for the job. Either way, the failure here is on the police, not the public. It is on them to reform. The fact that many departments resist[2] so stridently is telling.

                      [1] For instance, the boy who was killed after pulling a BB gun out of his pants. It was dark, officers had just engaged in a foot chase with a suspect they (AFAIK) had been told was possibly armed, and the gun was pulled during the arrest attempt. While I can certainly envision a scenario where the boy was trying to surrender the weapon rather than point it at officers, absent a body cam that showed that, I am going to learn toward the officer being tragically in the right.

                      [2] Credit where it is due, some departments are really trying to change their approach.

                      ETA – The more a department resists body cams, or treats the footage of an incident of public concern as privileged, the more I suspect they have very deep cultural issues.

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                    • PS We both know very few criminals use rifles. Hell, damn few even bother with the FN57 or anything like it. The guns they get aren’t for killing cops, it’s for intimidation or killing other people.

                      Except for the few that are just done and want to kill cops, they’ll go for the rifle.

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          • My reaction to the idea that we are supposed to respect police for risking their lives is that …

            Does anyone respect loggers, miners, underwater welders, for risking their lives to make a living?

            I mean, if they enforced The Law outa the goodness in their hearts, that’d be a whole different story. They’d volunteer for overtime without pay and so on…

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          • Can only people who have murdered terrorists and disarmed wayward attackers criticize the police now?
            Because, if you want, I can get one of them on the line. He’ll tell you that the cops are just another gang of thugs. One with legal impunity to harrass and hurt people, so long as they’re of the right class.
            And don’t even get him started on Alburqueque.

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            • True story. Anyone with military experience will tell you that at a civilian checkpoint in hostile territory, they’d be dishonorably discharged and courtmartialed for any number of these things we are supposed to believe are unavoidable when cops do them to black US citizens.

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          • So you’d never consider being a cop but you are more than happy to second guess them?

            Yes, every day, as often as I can, because they are agents of the government with the legal authority to arrest and power to kill, ostensibly in defense of me. Additionally, if I ever had to defend myself with force, the police will, without question, be second guessing my every act.

            As much as it is their obligation to second guess me (because they are the police), it is my duty to second guess them, because they fecking work for me!

            Sorry, but Col. Jessup was wrong, we all get to question the manner in which our security is provided.

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            • but Col. Jessup was wrong…

              Let me tell you something, you snot nosed little punk.

              The existence of FDA regulators, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, fills a need. There are regulators standing on a wall that separates you from dangerous and ineffective drugs.

              When you need that Epipen, you want me on that wall, you NEED me on that wall and you don’t want to think about how that pen got into your hands or why.

              Did I shut down that unlicensed pharmacy?

              You’re damn right I did!!

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              • This is the quote I was actually thinking of:

                I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way,

                So, , it’s not that you shut down the unlicensed pharmacy, it’s that you did it with a SWAT team in full battle rattle, at 0200, at the owners home, where you shot his dog and one of his kids.

                Because, you know, officer safety and all that…

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                • I don’t know if many here remember the incident in the 1990’s where the EPA raided some California farmer’s operations for violations of the Clean Water Act or something, and the right wing went ballistic, full “Farmer’s Lives Matter” stuff.

                  Rush was screaming about the law enforcement guys being “jackbooted thugs” and G. Gordon Liddy was going on about how people should shoot them in the head.

                  I mean, seriously, these guys were carrying on like Tupac and Ice T at an Occupy rally.

                  For the right wing, government is always to be trusted, except when the jackboot steps on an inconvenient neck.

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                  • Oh, I remember. I remember a lot of other such incidents that didn’t get nearly as much play*. In a perfect world, such screaming would represent an awakening, rather than merely partisan points scoring.

                    *Because raw milk is for hippy freaks, and tomato plants do kinda look like pot, so, you know, honest mistake…

                    Etc. etc. ad nauseum…

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    • Or he was trying to show or give something to the officer. Shooting stance is a pretty generic term. Was it weaver, isosceles, tactical turtle? Guess we’ll have to wait for video.

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          • No but so what? If simply being armed or unarmed was the standard that would be one thing but it isn’t. If you have an object in your hand that cops can’t identify and assume a shooting stance then you are likely to be shot.

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            • notme,
              Yes, and if you run from the police you are likely to be shot.
              I’m sure Sam has about a hundred other examples, ranging from “if you put your hands up” to “if you pull out a wallet” (where the person didn’t have time to ASSUME A SHOOTING STANCE with a freaking wallet).

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              • Why would having a legal gun justify police murder?

                Let see, maybe you don’t drop the gun when told to or maybe you point it at them for some reason. See it wasn’t even that hard to answer.

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                    • So you are saying that, in response to being asked why possessing a legal gun was grounds to be shot, the answer is: “Because you didn’t follow orders to drop it and/or because you pointed it at police.”

                      What then of people who were not given orders to drop it and did not point it at police? Because we have many such stories. What error did those individuals make?

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                      • I’m saying that legally possessing a firearm doesn’t excuse you from obeying the orders of a cop., i.e. to drop the weapon or don’t point it at a cop. If you want me to comment on specific stories you’ll have to give me specific stories to comment on.

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                        • Tamir Rice wasn’t ordered to drop his non-firearm nor did he point it at police.

                          Castillo never held his gun, nor was ordered to drop it, nor pointed it.

                          The gentleman in Tulsa had no weapon nor orders regarding a weapon.

                          The gentleman in Walmart… no orders to drop, never pointed at police.

                          What did these victims do wrong?

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                            • You’ve seen the video, there is no way Rice could have heard that order, processed it, and dropped the gun before the police opened fire. His brain probably hadn’t even glommed onto the fact that there was a police car in front of him where one shouldn’t be (because no road), much less processed any commands. If they’d done that to you, you’d be dead too.

                              You have some exceptionally naive ideas regarding the ability of untrained and unprepared people to react to things.

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                                • Technically correct, functionally irrelevant. If the police don’t allow people the time to parse commands and comply, or worse, if the police issue contradictory commands and then get violent when people fail to comply, that’s functionally equivalent to not issuing any command and then committing violence.

                                  Again, this is why I think a lot of departments aren’t keen on cameras, because they know damn well this kind of crap happens and have no clue or desire to stop it, and certainly don’t want the public to become consciously aware of it.

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                            • Evidence? The video I’ve seen and which Sam questioned you on does not indicate as much.

                              So, your argument is now that if someone holding a legal weapon does not immediately drop it upon being ordered to, it is justifiable to shoot him dead. And that if someone holding a legal weapon neither ignores orders to put down that weapon nor points it at the police and is shot dead, that might be unjustified?

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  1. Jeebus. Continues to wait for the eventual response to all this……

    More cops getting shot. The question is when is the tipping point achieved?

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    • Revolution is the tipping point.
      This is a deliberately engineered race war, brought to you by the Powers that Be, who really, really hate populism.

      As if all of this didn’t happen exactly the same in the 1990’s.
      Jena this ain’t.

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    • I’m not sure I agree with it fully, but this is an interesting read:
      http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-07-10/what-happens-after-cops-start-getting-shot

      It starts out *sounding* like it’s anti-protester, anti-BLM, but keep reading…because it then points out that the protesters *will win*, period. They cannot lose at this point.

      The question is *how fast* do they win, which is basically, a combination of ‘How long before people start murdering police officers?’ plus ‘How long does the government keep playing games with police officers lives instead of reforming the system?’.

      And it makes a point I’ve made a few times: We lie too much about the peaceful nature of the civil rights movement in this country. So much we’ve internalized the lie.

      The Civil Rights Act happened because of the *imminent threat of violence and total societal disorder*. Not because of fluffy bunny protesters on the side of the road holding signs.

      Likewise, the ‘stop the police shooting unarmed black and disabled and homeless and mentally ill and everyone else’ movement will continue onward, and get more and more violent *if that is the only way to make progress*. It might be *existing* groups that become more radicalized, it might be *new* groups, it might not even be groups at all….but eventually, someone is just going to start shooting the police.(1)

      Or, you know, we could try *doing something about the police* before that.

      1) The weird thing is, the right likes to pretend this has already started, and somehow that’s *justification* for not doing anything.

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  2. If we could just make guns illegal, we could train police to think about people as if they were most likely not armed.

    The assumption would always be “oh, he doesn’t have a gun because guns are illegal”.

    Then this sort of thing could stop happening.

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            • Perhaps you could tell us if there is any proof that gun control works? He just said that NYC had a lower murder rate than other cities but didn’t attribute that to gun control. I can find lots of cities with strict gun control that have high murder rates.

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              • Local gun control is ineffective if other localities have loose control. It’s better than absolutely nothing.

                Gun control works in CA, WA, OR, and other West Coast cities because it’s an 8 hour drive to get to the Mountain West where gun laws are lax. Same thing with New York – there’s a bunch of states with strict-ish gun laws surrounding.

                OTOH, you can hop on the train and be in either Wisconsin or Indiana, where you can easily get a gun. Same thing with Maryland – Virginia has lax gun laws. It’s also why DC has issues.

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          • Referencing the zerohedge link…

            Maybe the insurrectionists should focus on the SC and associated families. A little “encouragement” to decide the case the “correct” way might be an idea.

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          • Did you actually read the link? The third example of the guy shooting a cop landed him 10 years. And the last paragraph talks about the guy who got off as “pretty striking”.

            Besides, if it was legal, there wouldn’t have been an arrest and it wouldn’t have gone to the grand jury.

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            • The link demonstrates that the law says what you want it to say. The fact that it is differentially *applied* is a separate issue. Also, killing in self defense is typically followed by arrest and trial, that has no reflection on whether self defense is legal.

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              • I don’t know where you get the idea that killing in self defense is typically followed by arrest and trial. Pulled down for questioning, yes. Subject to an investigation yes. Arrest and trial? Depends upon the circumstances.

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                • Pretty sure that if the guy you killed in self-defense is a cop, you get arrested and put on trial.

                  After all, people have been woken up by an armed assault at 2:00 AM and made the mistake of firing back at the SWAT team that just invaded the wrong house.

                  Now I can’t recall all the outcomes so far, although I think many weren’t put on trial because they were dead. So I guess if you’re going to defend yourself against a copy, try to die in the process to avoid the pretty inevitable trial.

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                • You’re still talking about how the law is applied. The law states that self defense against the police is LEGAL and the courts have supported this. The fact that people get harassed, arrested, tried, or even convicted for doing so does not mean that it is ILLEGAL. Nor would the SC re-affirming that it is LEGAL change the way it is applied. The problem you’re talking about would only be solved if the SC said that the burden of evidence lies on the state *prior to arrest*, or something equally revolutionary. If that’s the law you want you should articulate it.

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                  • “he fact that people get harassed, arrested, tried, or even convicted for doing so does not mean that it is ILLEGAL”

                    Finding it hard to be convinced that someone can be convicted of committing an action that’s legal. Please point out and example of someone doing something that’s legal and they are convicted of doing that thing in a court of law. Hell, the SC has clearly ruled that even if you are right, and the cop is wrong, you are required to obey his orders and file a protest AFTER.

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  3. In other news, here is some police video out of Louisiana, in which police pull up to a scene, immediately start shooting, and kill a child. The shooters were charged. The racial dynamics of this particular situation are quite interesting/galling/shocking.

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  4. The second-last paragraph is remarkably disingenuous. It’s clear from your articles that your point of emphasis hasn’t been the method of policing, but your belief that racism is behind a lot of this. I have questions about the method of policing too, but I’m not part of any group mentioned in that paragraph. There are simply your camp, the leeway camp, and the racists and authoritarians who will cheer. And that’s the biggest problem with that paragraph: there’s no mention of the racists who will riot.

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  5. I brought this up in the other thread but I’m shocked that selectively releasing information about the case is not broadly condemned. This isn’t bending the rules to put a finger on the scale, it’s straight up witness tampering. Here’s what’s going to happen:

    * Eyewitness accounts will be taken down at the scene
    * Those eyewitnesses will go home and read up on the case that they are now involved in
    * They will see the still image of Olango taking a shooting stance, or a gun allegedly found at the scene, and the story will change in their mind. Witnesses who didn’t see a gun will start to re-think whether the black glove they saw on the ground was a gun. Witnesses who saw Olango give the officers his vape will start to re-think whether his stance was more aggressive than they initially remember. Witnesses who recalled the incident as consistent with the leaked evidence will become more confident, and start to forget any doubts that they had.
    * Eyewitnesses will be called in again for second and third interviews to look for inconsistencies in their story. The pro-victim witnesses will express new doubts about what happened, they will say “I thought I saw glove, but maybe it was a gun”, they will be questioned aggressively on these doubts and their testimony will be deemed unreliable. The pro-police witnesses will be more confident in their initial version, they will unequivocally say “I am confident I saw a gun and not a glove”. Because their story fits the pro-police narrative their doubts will not be probed and they will not be presented with counter-evidence. Although it would be appropriate to show these witnesses a picture of the glove and ask “Is this the gun you saw” to identify unreliable pro-police accounts, this simple test will NEVER happen.
    * Only after all of these interrogations are carried out will the officers on the scene be interrogated. In most cases they will have had 30 days to interact with their lawyer, other officers, and the media to develop a consistent story. In most cases they will also have access to *all* evidence taken down in the case to identify aspects of their story that are grossly inconsistent with the eyewitness accounts. In the rare instances they don’t have direct access to this evidence, they can easily obtain it from the same officers who leaked evidence to the media.
    * The DA will deem that the pro-victim testimony is generally unreliable, and that the weight of eyewitness accounts – coupled with statements by the police officers that are rigorously consistent – favor the pro-police narrative.

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    • Eyewitnesses are awful. Memory is really bad. It’s a godawful form of evidence, not the gold standard.

      There’s often great, reliable evidence (in the form of “video footage”) that for some reason they never want to release, and when they do often seem to only release part of it.

      In a sense, it’s a self-correcting problem — cops want to avoid body cams, but we’re all carrying around video cameras these days. And the all the shouting is because the superior witnesses (the cameras) are not showing the cops in a good light.

      Which has led to people suspecting them of lying from the get-go.

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      • Riots, articles, and comments are not disclosing incomplete or false information that was not already in the public domain. Publishing a photo of a glove and saying “this is the gun we found” or publishing a still from a video and saying “this is the pose the victim was in” is disclosing incomplete or false information that was not already in the public domain.

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  6. As these events keep happening, or I am being made more aware of them, a few thoughts keep running through my head.

    1) About 15-20 years ago, not sure when, but long enough ago that I was able to stay up late watching crappy TV, I stumbled on an episode of Cops that followed officers in England. I was fascinated as I watched the officers speak in low tones, treat the people they encountered with respect, and not once raise their voices to what could be construed as a confrontational tone. They came across as authoritative rather than authoritarian. They seemed to really adhere to the goal of diffusing a potentially volatile situation. Did this show represent the average UK cop? Who knows, but it was very interesting to contrast it with the next episode where the behavior of the American cops was less consistent, with some of the same authoritative behavior used by some cops, while others seemed to go more authoritarian. There was definitely more yelling going on with the American officers.

    2) I know very few police officers, but the ones who are “in my circle” are not the ones who are shooting first and asking questions later. They are of the school of thought that the less you draw your weapon, the more effective you are as an officer. I am totally okay with assuming that most officers are like this, but there needs to be some traction within the law enforcement community to dig deep and start addressing things internally. Just as it is in the best interest of teachers and the teachers’ union to help identify bad teachers, and either help them get better, or ask them to leave/dismiss them, so it is for police officers. Pressure from outside may help push them, but any reform that has buy-in from the majority of the law enforcement community is going the be more effectively implemented and will be more meaningful for the community at large. Some departments have done this, but it needs to be more universal.

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