Necessity of police reform as cop killings, public anger escalate

Chattanooga police chief Fred Fletcher, left, and his boss, Mayor Andy Berke. (Photo

Chattanooga police chief Fred Fletcher, left, and his boss, Mayor Andy Berke. Policing is a function of municipal corporation’s executive branch, with little oversight from the city’s legislative branch, the city council. (Photo

The mayor Andy Berke administration released results of a survey that will help its chief of police selection committee focus on the conventional narrative regarding how to best fill the post.

The survey, released a few days before the Tuesday deadline for applicants, maintains the status quo perspectives that the mayor seems to have, even though his solicitation for a reform-minded candidate for chief would play to his Democrat political base.

By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM

The results of queries among 225 people give useless categories to the question “What do you think is most important for the new chief to focus on?” The leading item is “reducing violent crimes like assaults.” The next one is “shootings” followed by “building relationships with neighborhoods” and “increase training for officers.”Noogaradio logo 92.7 fm

The committee initially included six people, three of whom represent a pro-state or status quo interest in that job. Those three chosen were former district attorney Bill Cox, former U.S. prosecutor Bill Killian and sessions court Judge Christy Sell. Mrs. Sell recused herself avoid conflict with judicial ethics rules. The other three members are people in whom there might be some hope of a reform interest. That includes Pastor Ternae Jordan of Mt. Canaan Baptist Church, Techtown CEO Chris Ramsey and an artist and neighborhood activist, Olga de Klein.

After I made phone contact with Mr. Killian, he was quoted in the press saying he would be making no statements about his committee work to the media. I did not follow up. Rev. Jordan did not return several phone calls. Mrs. De Klein messaged back, saying she would be happy to talk about art but not discuss the chief selection process. I had a phone conversation and sent an email to Mr. Ramsey at Techtown sketching out the pro-reform position. He did not return followup phone calls for an interview.

Argument for shake-up of police training

Mayor Berke, a traditional Democrat who appeals to black voters along traditional plantation lines, appears to be ignoring a position favorable to his political ambition.

And that could be a strong stand on behalf of black people and the poor who are most strongly abused by police. Mr. Berke might be wise to study the work of Chuck Wexler at Police Executive Research Forum, whose freely available papers are vital treatises on police abuse and reform.

The main one is Guiding Principles on Use of Force (July 2016). A second policy paper, Re-engineering Training on Use of Force, (August 2015) explores how training can be reformed to allow for fewer police killings and police violence leading to hospitalization. Thus far, 562 people across the U.S. have been slain by police.

Reform is vital because of two cases on which we have reported. The Hanson Melvin case and that of Rochelle Gelpin suggest that a culture of threat and deception brews under the watch of the chief Fred Fletcher. In both cases, officers acted without probable cause and perjured themselves twice, once in misdemeanor perjury on their reports, and secondly in felony perjury in false testimony before the grand jury. Jeff Rahn remains on the force. Officer David Campbell was canned.

Lone defendant says ‘no,’ puts system in tizzy

But his firing was not for perjury and oppression (all statutory crimes), but only for false arrest, harassment and policy violations in the dangerous use of his police cruiser. The department covered up a conspiracy of harassment against Mr. Melvin in which several officers took part minutes after a friend drove Mr. Melvin to his apartment. District attorney general Neal Pinkston ignored allegations of crimes against the two innocent citizens.

Reform in police training would reduce the temptation to view people, especially young black men, as enemies or human trash. Reform would be premised on renewed respect for the requirement of probable cause before any police encounter with a purported violator. Police training would enhance the value of human life (“the sanctity of life”) in the mind of the officer, and would prevent such executions by city employees as that extra-judicial death sentence imposed on the spot in East Ridge by officer Daniel Stephenson on plumber Todd Browning.

It would reduce gunplay training (“shoot or don’t shoot) and expand three, four or five times the training in verbal skills, cajolery, the giving of time to people with mental problems — alternatives to shooting. Reform in training would shift officers’ concern from their own safety as primary to the safety of all people. It would end the habitual reminder among cops that their main duty is to make it home to their families that night.

The 4 legs

Reform’s four legs are the use of time, space, cover and de-escalation. Training in these skills would save American lives and reduce the number of hospitalizations from police encounters — about 55,000 a year.

It would attack the never-back-down mentality that requires the officer to solve a problem right now, a mentality that rushes him to the use of force under the mechanical “use of force continuum.” It would deflate the phony “21-foot rule” that gives cops defensible authority to kill anyone standing near who appears a threat. It would reduce the abuse of police firepower in the slayings of “suicide by cop” victims such as Chris Sexton, whom Hamilton County sheriff’s deputies slew Jan. 17 in a fusillade of bullets near the Tractor Supply store in Soddy-Daisy.

The culture of lying and deception among Chattanooga police officers, the culture of intimidation, the habit of racial contempt revealed in the Hanson Melvin case cannot be undone by the genteel concept of community policing.

Ordering cadets to rub up against gays, Hispanics and immigrants doesn’t create the necessary sympathy and identification between cops and the people. These practices are palliatives, unable to undo the corrosive damage that even routine policing and police violence do against the spirit of the people and their property rights.

Mayor Berke, in the interest of saving American lives and avoiding violence, should be on the lookout for a reform candidate. The committee assigned to give him three nominations should carefully examine the need for reform, and disregard the petty survey.

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