Let’s get this straight from the gate; there are many good police officers out there not only doing their jobs with unquestionable professionalism, but willing to put their very lives on the line in doing so. The problem is that the questionable decisions by many bad officers tend to over-shadow this fact. And given the number of high-profile cases in the news of late, it would be easy by some to conclude that the police are out of control. Personally, I would argue that police professionalism is out of control.
By this, I mean that many of us are so overly-sympathetic to the dangers that police officers face on a daily basis as public servants, we tend to give their overreactions and excessive caution a pass. Indeed, some hard-nosed law-and-order-supporting citizens are quick to point out that [understandable] police mistakes should be overlooked if no one is physically hurt by such actions—wrongful arrests, the stop-and-frisking (and release) of “suspected” individuals, profiling individuals by ethnic and/or racial grouping come to mind.
The problem with such actions is that it’s always easy to ask and or expect someone else to have their civil liberties inconvenienced to make the others feel comfortable. Take for example yet another recent questionable police action, this time from Texas. A young mother and her four children were pulled over by officers from the Forney, Texas Police Department. According to news reports, the officers were responding to an emergency 911 call from a passing motorist reporting that “four black men were waving a gun out the window of a beige- or tan-colored Toyota."
Dashboard video from one of the present patrol cars shows that the mother was taken out of the car at gunpoint, in front of the four terrified children. Apparently, it wasn’t until a 6-year-old was told to exit the car with his hands up that the officers realized their mistake (read the online account of the incident here). And despite the officers' attempt to calm the children after realizing their mistake, the damage had already been done. No doubt, the mother and her children will remember this particular experience with the police in nothing but negative recollections.
Now while some might say "no harm, no foul", there are several points of contention with this incident. First, the report indicating that it was 4 black males allegedly waving a gun—not a female accompanied by 4 children. Second, the automobile belonging to the mother, Kametra Barbour, is a burgundy red Nissan Maxima. Lastly, the lack of employing proactive common sense by the officers. Clearly, not all of the information they had received about the reported individuals matched the situation. And commanding a 6-year-old to exit a car with his hands in the air seems—pardon the pun—overkill in the prudence department. Despite these inconsistencies, there is no forthcoming apology from the Forney police department. In fact, “The police department defends the traffic stop saying the officers responded appropriately to what they believed was a dangerous situation” (WFAA News).
Police dashboard video of the Forney, Texas police stop of a mother and 4 children.
Now to be honest, something inside me “told me” that the family involved would be either black or someone belonging to an ethnic minority group before I researched this story. Sadly, ethnic minorities seem to be those expected to accept the business-end of questionable police practices with an understanding nod.
Granted, they have a job that requires caution when dealing with the public in general, and criminals in particular. But as we saw a couple of weeks ago in Ferguson, Missouri, mistakes without employing professional prudence can lead to a loss of faith in our public servants, as well as—possibly—a regrettable (and unnecessary) loss of life.
As I have said on many occasions, police departments across the country really need to reassess their training and procedures, and individuals wishing to serve the public as law enforcement have to think more about their actions before reacting out of base caution and unthinking reflex.