Wednesday, March 8, 2017

After You Fluff Your Pillow Tonight

On Feb. 20th 2017 Keith Boyer, a 27-yr veteran of the Whittier, CA Police Department did what he was supposed to do: he went to help people. In this case, he went to help people involved in a serious motor vehicle accident. What officer Boyer didn't know was that the "victim" in this accident had been released from the California Department of Corrections a week earlier as a parolee. Despite his prior convictions for robbery, burglary, and resisting arrest (among others) Michael Mejia was considered a "low level" inmate under the newly passed California Assembly Bill 109. 

Officer Boyer also did not know that Mejia - shock of all shocks - had murdered his own cousin earlier in the day, and had no intention of going back to prison. So, here we have a situation in which an officer hardwired for  elping meets a hardened, violent criminal who simply has no value for a human life. When attempting to PAT search Mejia for weapons Ofc. Boyer was shot and killed, leaving behind adult children. At his memorial, one of his sons said, 

"We knew as kids growing up what our father did, and the risk, but my dad never showed fear," said son Joseph Wayne Boyer. "He absolutely loved his job."

The author of AB 109 is a man called Michael Romano. Professor Romano sits in his office at Stanford University and frets about the poor people locked up in prison. Admittedly, when I read this story I was infuriated. A life long liberal and intellectual, I decided to send Mr. Romano an e-mail inviting him to expose himself to the perspective of the "other side" of the cause he has taken on. 

The difference between those with intellectual integrity and those who are blind is the ability to seriously and honestly  consider the "other's" perspective; to understand the other's perspective on their own terms, not on one's preconceived biases. 

Here is the e-mail I sent to "Professor" Romano: 


I am a mental health professional with decades of direct experience working with some of the most disenfranchised people in our society. For example, I worked for years in the San Francisco County Jail providing mental health treatment to some very sick, and often quite violent individuals. 

I am also a police officer who has seen, over and over again, violent criminals - the type of people you apparently want on the street. I've arrested them for shocking, senseless, brutal crimes. If I had a nickel for every time my jaw dropped when looking at their arrest histories, I'd be retired by now. How many times have a screamed the thought, "Why the fuck is this guy not in prison?" 

As you know but probably strategically ignore, the best single predictor of future violence, is a history of violence. A sea of people with long, documented histories of violence in their communities, are being released after serving a few weeks in county jail. 

Now lets talk about you. 

You are a thinker. You sit in your office and think. A Yale graduate and shooting star at Stanford, our society has given you quite a nice platform for your ideas. But, you also have an agenda don't you? You've convinced yourself by selectively reading ideas similar to your own, that the criminal justice system has failed too many people. You think people deserve a second, and no doubt third, fourth, and fifth chances to show society that they're really, deep, deep down, good, hardworking, honest people with caring hearts. You've worked hard to give them these chances and can congratulate yourself for having succeeded in this. 

It doesn't really concern you that our community mental health system is in complete shambles, because that's not your problem. Your problem is trying to figure out how to get career criminals out of jail and back home. Never mind that, without drug and mental health treatment, many of these career criminals are most certainly going to reoffend. 

And, of course you don't see this first hand because you probably live in a two story Spanish style Tudor in Menlo Park. You certainly can't see it from the Ivory Tower at Stanford. Sure, you roll your shirt sleeves up and go to San Quentin to hear the sob stories of psychopaths (which you apparently take hook, line and sinker). 

After you fluff your pillow tonight and roll over to sleep, I'd like to invite you visualize the family of Keith Boyer. Who is he you ask? He's the Whittier police officer that was murdered the other day by one of the "victims" of the criminal justice system you got out of jail under Prop. 109. 

Officer Boyer was doing what cops are supposed to do: help people. He was coming to help a motorist who had just been involved in a bad collision. Oops, no, it turned out to be one of those criminals that makes my jaw drop when looking at his arrest history, and which pulls on your heart strings. 

I'd like to invite you to visualize a hypothetical conversation between you and Officer Boyer's family. In fact, you don't even have to think of anything to say to them that you haven't already said. You can tell them, as you told the LA Times, that any assertion that your champion bill has led to more violence in the community is "fake news." 

Officer Boyer's incident is merely an anecdote, carrying none of the heft of other types of evidence. Even if I plopped hundreds of thousands of these anecdotes on your desk at Stanford you would dismiss it wouldn't you? You ignore anecdotes unless their your own. I'd bet my next pay check you have an anecdote about how you personally have been pulled over and harassed by the police, don't you? 

You see, cops don't have the time to sit around planning, implementing, and evaluating high quality research. We're busy trying to separate the small but prolific number of psychopaths you've let out of prison from regular, tax paying citizens. 

Unless you have more intellectual integrity than I'm giving you credit for, you probably won't really spend much time tonight thinking about your conversation with Officer Boyer's family. I'm guessing your heart will go out to Michael Mejia, the young man you let out jail and Officer Boyer's, I mean, "alleged" killer. 

Mr. Mejia is REALLY in trouble this time. You may want to roll up your shirt sleeves again to look at his case. Here's his picture for you. Note the sad puppy eyes. Good luck on his case, and sleep tight. 

Inline image 1


Jeff Shannon

Words of Wisdom for New Officers

Very good article here.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Mind Toward De-escalation: Throwing away the fake, adopting the real

“De-escalation” has become a real buzzword in the law enforcement industry. A confluence of forces have thrust our ability to talk to people into the forefront of modern policing. As tempting as it is to critique these forces, I think we have to accept that the community, the courts, and our departments now expect a whole lot from us with regard to our ability to talk to people. Specifically, agitated people, in a rapidly changing environment, with lots of opportunity for Monday morning quarterbacking. 

There is nothing new in the idea of trying to calm people down so that we don’t have to use force. Much of the older generation learned “Verbal Judo” in the police academy, a full-throated endorsement of using words to settle people down. The latest version of Verbal Judo is now embedded in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), tactical training, and management training at all levels. 

Our police chiefs, sheriffs, and public information officers leap at any opportunity to drop the de-escalation buzzword in their public comments. All of this, in response to the communities perception that if we jam de-escalation training down every cop’s throat, people won’t be shot and killed anymore. 

Unfortunately, the press has perpetuated the myth that more “sensitivity” training for officers with regard to our interactions with the mentally ill, will translate into less OIS’s. Training is ideal for those who are ready to learn, and who take some kind of interest in the topic they’re learning about. In reality, training is but a small part of what is required to reduce the number of mentally ill subjects being killed in the country. 

I’d like to take a moment to strip away all the fluff and garbage surrounding the typical de-escalation training, and give you five things to think about on the topic of calming people down. Some of these ideas require introspection.  They all lead to practical, in the field options for officers wanting to settle someone down. 

(1) Being Authentic
Presented with a caricature or robotic police officer, people in crisis will inevitably escalate. In this sense, agitated subjects are reaching out for a real human connection. That connection will offer up keys to the castle for the de-escalator. The officer’s task then, is to respond to the escalated person, not as a cop trying to be ‘human,’ but as a human speaking with another human, keeping in mind his/her police duties. This can be very uncomfortable, especially for new officers. 

(2) Responding versus Reacting
Reacting is the first thing that comes to your lips. Responding is giving it a second, letting this first impulse pass, and speaking tactically. Everything that comes out of your mouth should serve the singular purpose of calming this person down. Throw what you want to say out the window. 

(3) Writing the Biography
As an advanced crisis de-escalator, you will become the personal biographer of the person you’re trying to settle down. You will be curious about what’s going on from their perspective. You’ll immerse yourself - if only for two minutes - in the world of the person in crisis, becoming familiar with how they see the situation. When writing the biography, officers should be asking questions, rather than making statements or providing commentary. 

(4) Holding the Environment
In the midst of everything, the effective crisis de-escalator exudes a sense of comfort with taking control of the situation. This is a skill that largely comes with direct experience in the field. It’s not about being “controlling” as much as it is about knowing that you are in charge. When you know you’re in charge, and buck stops with you, your agitated subject will be more responsive to your interventions. Importantly, this isn’t something you’ll want to show off. It starts with your internal sense of confidence in being able to manage the call. That confidence will permeate your interaction with the person in crisis. 

It’s important to remember that some adults need limits. Many people who feel out of control will respond favorably to the officer who says, “no.” It helps them feel protected. Setting a limit is a tactical decision, again, based on the singular goal of calming the subject down. 

(5) Offering Hope
The person in crisis is drowning at sea. You are the Life Preserver being tossed overboard. Why should the agitated person reach out to you? Because you really believe that if they get the help they need, they will be in a much better place in their life. 

Recovery is possible for people with schizophrenia, substance abuse, depression and all the other major mental illnesses. You have to believe that. As an advanced de-escalator, you will know about the mental health options for those you are talking to. The more you know about these programs the better. 

Embedded into the identity of any law enforcement officer is that of “helper.” We strike our own balance between enforcer and helper; a balance that may change with years on, life experience, and work experience. Stripping away all the external pressure we now feel, the above officer tasks, if taken seriously, will reduce the necessity to use force, increase the communities confidence in us, and - perhaps most importantly - keep us safe.