We'll be talking police reform, gun laws and more on the radio this afternoon starting at about 5:05 p.m. on the Dave Congalton Hometown Radio Show on 920 KVEC on California's Central Coast. You can listen live by clicking the link at the top of the page here.
The current plan is to talk briefly about the pending bankruptcy auction for the McClatchy newspaper company which owns the local newspaper, the San Luis Obispo Tribune. I'll have a few thoughts as a former newspaperman who was laid off shortly after my paper's acquisition by a hedge fund.
If we skip this, then my view on the issue can be described simply as this: If you think that staffing and coverage of local issues can't possibly be further reduced; you're wrong.
Police reform and Joe Tarica's Joetopia Column
From there, the plan is to segue into guns with the first topic being this column by Tribune editor Joe Tarica.
Make no mistake, Tarica does have some points that are well taken; however, when it comes to use of force doctrine he hits some pitfalls that are not uncommon for people who have not studied the issue or only done cursory reading on the issue.
Where we agree:
- There are ways that police can handle traffic stops that are less accusatory and more sympathetic. Getting pulled over is never a positive occurrence (and should never be done to offer gift cards or gimmicks like that that are occasionally done) and it would probably help everyone if they were a little more chill.
- Far too many cops are far too quick to pull their sidearms when confronted by dogs. It's one thing if it's a situation where they arrive on the scene having been told a dog or dogs are attacking people, like this tragic case in nearby Grover Beach, however the vast majority of the time this is not necessary, and can lead to situations where people accidentally get killed. I don't know if it's part of their training, or if they're simply conditioned to think the worst, but this has been a long-term problem. And we're not always talking about pit bulls or other large dogs that could actually do some serious damage, but chihuahuas and miniature dachshunds.
- Police agencies need to be much more transparent in their dealings with the public. Bodycams and dashcams should be the norm. Police should understand that all of their interactions with the public on public property are public, not private, and anyone should be allowed to record what's going on as long as they are not actively interfering in the police officer's lawful investigation. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department's failure to issue a press release on notifying the public about an officer drawing his firearm and shooting a dog until four days after it occurred and only after being asked by the media about the incident is unacceptable.
Where Tarica goes wrong:
- Tarica suggests that maybe law enforcement shouldn't exit their vehicle when approaching people if there's a dog around, lessening the possibility that they would unnecessarily draw their gun if the dog turned out to be aggressive. Unfortunately, if an officer does come across a bad actor, especially one who is armed, it can be more difficult for the officer to draw their sidearm and defend themselves if they're seated in a vehicle.
- Tarica seems to believe that officers spend a lot of time at the gun range honing their skills. Tarica suggests that law enforcement spend more time on gun training than de-escalation techniques. He would likely be surprised to find out just how little time many officers spend on firearm training. It still may be less than they do qualifying with their sidearms, but for many that may not be a high bar to cross.
Where Tarica goes really wrong:
An officer should never fire a gun unless fired upon. EVER.
This is where Tarica really betrays his ignorance of policing, use-of-force policies and the dangers law enforcement encounter every day.
Let's start with the long comment/hypothetical that I posted to Tarica's piece.
Joe, you make some good points, with one huge exception. Your admonition that an officer should not fire their weapon unless fired upon. "EVER." The all caps helps draw attention to the dumb.
Here's a hypothetical.
A female officer is called out to a situation where a man is behaving oddly--probably on drugs--on the street. She is 5'5" tall and weighs 145lbs. She is the first to arrive. The man is unarmed, in fact, for purposes of this hypothetical, he's completely naked. The second she steps out of her vehicle, the man becomes enraged and charges at her. The man is 6'5", weighs 350 pounds and is obviously a bodybuilder.
Following the Tarica protocol, she's banned from firing her weapon because she has not been fired upon. Best case scenario? An unconscious cop and a hopped up psycho with her gun and access to her vehicle which has a shotgun mounted to the dash and a fully automatic (not the semi-automatic kind civilians are limited to) AR-15 and body armor in the trunk.
On the bright side, the body armor sized for the cop probably won't fit him.
It'd be nice if you had someone in your newsroom who could point these things out before you made a foolish mistake like this.
For the record, a blanket policy like this one would effectively ban most women from law enforcement careers.
Other police reforms we should be looking at
I'll quickly touch on a couple other law enforcement changes that can and should be made at all levels of government.
- Qualified Immunity is far too wide ranging and needs to be reigned in. We don't need law enforcement officers to also be constitutional scholars, however recent court decisions on the breadth of qualified immunity excuses behavior on the part of those in the legal system—both law enforcement officers and attorneys—suggest that they can't be trusted to know that stealing is wrong.
- Civil asset forfeiture needs to be ended. If the government can prove that money or other assets were acquired through illicit activity, that is fine. But civil asset forfeiture often involves the government agency suing an amount of money or a car or home, and then the owner of that property having to prove they acquired it legally. It turns the presumption of innocence on its head has become a method of government agencies enriching themselves. (You can find some outrageous cases here.)
Gun laws and more
Time permitting (and a dearth of people calling in, which may not happen on this subject), we may also touch on the Supreme Court's refusal to take a slew of Second Amendment cases, a new assault weapons ban in California, Hawaii v. Young, or Rhode v. Becerra.
We may also touch on my unlucky prescience on gun sales and more at the beginning of this pandemic.
You can listen to my radio appearance below.