For some reason, people complaining of improper treatment by a police officer rarely mention their guilt or innocence. They merely try to transfer the blame for their own guilt onto the officer, and want their case tried in the non-existent court of public opinion. There have actually been instances where the accuser of the police refused to cooperate and to even talk to the LPD to provide information about their complaint, choosing to present their case to the media instead.
We have so-called leaders in the community who repeatedly exacerbate the situation by believing everything that the alleged victims of the police tell them, and by automatically assuming that the police just have to be wrong. If these people were true leaders, they would be giving their constituency some simple advice — cooperate with the police, and in all probability, nothing bad will happen. Following that advice would significantly reduce the number of arrests, and all but eliminate the use of physical force during arrests.
It is a simple fact that the arrestee is the one who is in control of what happens during the arrest. It he or she cooperates, the worst thing that will happen is a trip to jail. The extensively trained officers of today do not want a confrontation; the arrestee is the one whose actions determine how much force has to be used.
Now there are members of Lima City Council who appear to be going down the path of assuming that the police are wrong, and wanting “impartial” third party investigations. I just hope that their idea of impartiality doesn’t mean someone who agrees with their own point of view. Investigations are best done by trained investigators like those who work within law enforcement agencies. They are trained to be impartial, fair, and to enter the case with no preconceived opinions.
The LPD has had some bad experiences with so-called outside impartiality. Officers have been fired for just cause, and then ordered reinstated by “impartial” arbiters, who seem to usually be on the side of the officer.
Back when facts trumped feelings, and I occupied an upstairs office at the LPD, occasionally someone showed up wanting to complain about improper treatment by one of my officers, particularly following a charge of resisting arrest. My usual response was a simple question, “Were you arrested?”
If they had been arrested, my advice was, “Go to court and plead not guilty. When the judge finds you not guilty, come back and see me and we will investigate.”
Few ever came back, for the simple reason that almost all of them either pled guilty, or were rightfully found guilty. They totally lacked any substantiation of their view of what happened.
Back then, the LPD did not have to spend hundreds of man hours investigating groundless complaints like it does today. I can guarantee that when investigations were required, they were done impartially. Our only interest was in finding the truth. People who worked under my command knew that if they were right, I would have their back, but if they were wrong, I would have their rear end. Wrongdoing was not accepted, but neither were false accusations.
Unfortunately, guilt and innocence are irrelevant today. No matter how wrong you are, if you cry long enough, someone with an anti-police bias and a sympathetic ear will be willing to listen and take up your cause.
The only place that true impartiality will be found is when the arrestee’s case goes before a judge in the Lima Municipal Court, which is exactly how the process would work if people with all of the impartiality of an enraged hippopotamus would stay out of it.
The courts are the system of checks and balances on police arrests. If an arrest was made, the NAACP and the politicians should not be involved until the court has ruled on the matter. If the court says the arrestee was right and the police were wrong (and that does happen), then investigate and take whatever action is necessary. Until then, further investigation, particularly from the outside, is redundant and certainly not impartial.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.