The Price of Being Timid in Police Work

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Recent news from Chicago might help you to understand why Uvalde police failed to act decisively on the Robb Elementary School shooting of May 24, 2017.

Chicago police received a Shotspotter alert on Saturday that 10 gunshots were being heard at 615 South California Avenue. This is the city’s West Side. A Shotspotter officer spotted the shooters exiting a Dodge Charger with a black hood and accessed the camera. They drove off and returned to their car. A man was found dead of gunshot wounds by the first officer who arrived on the scene.

Officers were given a further description of the Charger, including its license number. It was reported as stolen and had been involved in an incident in which no one was hurt.

Eight minutes after initial reports of the shooting in California, officers from the Lawndale neighborhood saw the Charger and attempted to pull it over. The officers pursued the Charger, and he continued to speed. As the Charger drove west towards Cicero, an officer from Chicago Police Department stopped him. The sergeant ordered the officers to end the pursuit. The murder suspects were not arrested as of the writing of this article.

Chicago is over a thousand miles away from Uvalde. However, Chicago is still affected by the same type of risk-averse, sclerotic management philosophy that allowed cops to stand outside an unlocked classroom door while teachers and children died inside.

If the Chicago pursuit had been allowed to continue, it could have led to a collision with traffic and possibly injury or death for the suspects or other uninvolved persons. This outcome would have made the monitoring sergeant the subject of public criticism and official discipline. He refused to take this risk and ordered that the pursuit be abandoned. This despite the fact the Chicago P.D. It was not required by the pursuit policy.

There are many opinions on whether it is wise to pursue vehicles for non-serious offenses. They also debate where the line should be drawn when considering crimes that could warrant a pursuit. Do we pursue burglary or robbery? You can be convicted of rape, but not for a lesser degree of sexual assault. While we can have that discussion and draw the line as you wish, can we agree that murder should be included in the list of crimes that officers are allowed to pursue? How safe are residents in a place where you know that it is possible to kill someone and avoid arrest by simply driving away?

The Chicago pursuit policy provides that the Department will not discipline any member who ends a motor vehicle chase. So when those three murder suspects continue to kill, and they have been shown that there are no consequences — why would they? The timorous sergeant won’t be held responsible, at least in any official sense. However, the officers under his command and officers throughout the department will see that he is the one who allowed the murderers to escape. No matter how high he rises in the ranks or where he works, his courage will always be suspect.

Since George Floyd’s passing in Minneapolis, two years ago, I have been writing about the growing trend toward timidity in police work. Officers who want to move up in their police departments are well aware that the next promotion could be canceled by any hint of controversy. They, therefore, conduct themselves to avoid any potential problems. This strategy has been successful for many. As I look at the Los Angeles Police Department’s current roster, I notice several people I knew as either patrol officers or newly-appointed sergeants. Some of them were notorious for being late to hot calls (if they ever arrived), and I noticed that one of them is the commanding officer of this same division. She was assigned there years ago as a new sergeant, but she wouldn’t have gone if the station was on fire.

Timidity breeds timidity, mediocrity fosters mediocrity and all of this leads to increased crime and the death of innocents in police departments. The price of inaction in police work is often paid by others.