Warring Cops: Making Our Mission Even Tougher
I’m sure many of my fellow law enforcement professionals watched the video carried on Fox News Channel, myfoxphilly.com and other outlets that showed neighboring Pennsylvania law enforcers at war with each other. I think all would be as embarrassed for our profession as I was.
A far cry from good community relations, the viral video makes these officers from Darby and Colwyn boroughs look like the proverbial keystone cops, and worse.
According to Fox, the incident caught on video all started when a Colwyn officer crossed the street into Darby to nab a man that had just punched a woman in the face. The officer had apparently been flagged down by the woman.
The problem (at least in the eyes of the Darby Police chief) was that it was in the neighboring Delaware County borough of Darby. While I understand the jurisdictional legal concerns that may be present, I would argue that the officer couldn’t just continue driving and ignore the woman. So he stopped to render aid and control the situation.
As the report details, the Darby Police chief came soon thereafter to the scene yelling at the Colwyn officer to get out of Darby. Incredibly, officers had to use their skills – you know, the ones they use on emotional members of the public at calls for police service – to de-escalate the police chief, but it was to no avail. Officers then had to physically intervene to stop the fight from escalating to a physical level. All of this played out in public view involving the very type of behavior that we are called to control. Incredible.
Now, I know it’s best not to believe all that is put out by the media. And I also know that sometimes events happen before the video is rolling that help to put what is seen in context. That said, the video speaks volumes of the situation. I am hard pressed to find any justification for what I saw on the tape.
The damage to officers everywhere, including those on scene, is immeasurable. This impacts all of us in a number of ways.
1) We’re in an era where budget cutters do not see police officers and firefighters as the untouchable sacred cow immune to layoffs. Witness what happened in Camden, NJ not too far from the Philadelphia area. Officers were pushed off the public payroll. The same thing happened in Newark, NJ. Incidents like this do not help bolster the fiscal health of law enforcement agencies or their employees.
2) Many people who viewed this disgraceful video have used it as fodder for their call for regionalization of law enforcement services. While the concept itself is worthy of debate, it should not be on the coattails of clearly avoidable schoolyard kid style conduct.
3) That particular area of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, is apparently rife with crime and drugs. Such displays do little to convince the beleaguered community that their police are up to the task.
4) Leadership emanates from the top. If this is the hot-tempered publicly displayed behavior of the police chief, who should be the most seasoned, rationale, and calm person on the municipal police agency, I shudder to think what some of his subordinates may have done.
5) As a defensive tactics instructor who has handled volatile calls in uniform where emotions are high, I know it is a basic tenet that you must have control of yourself before you can expect to have control of the scene. With a man in custody and a woman being treated by medics on the street, no ongoing scene safety or investigation has control or integrity while the law enforcers themselves are arguing emotionally and publicly on the scene.
6) From a national perspective, long-standing critics of the police are already pointing to this video to bolster their anti-police argument. Their contention has long been that crime fighters are just street fighters with badges. They want people to believe their skewed view of law enforcers. This video does nothing to refute their argument and does everything to bolster it. They are able to apply a broad paintbrush to the 700,000 ethical and hardworking police officers, deputy sheriffs, and state troopers in the United States based on the actions of a few.
Specifically in regard to this incident, while we can blame the video and the news media for disseminating it, the reality is that if the officers, starting with the Darby police chief, had not acted in such a manner, there would be nothing news worthy to display. The Colwyn officer should have walked away from the chief and not been baited into a confrontation.
As professionals, we need to address this conduct and identify it as not worthy of our position of trust in the community. The days of circling the wagons or sticking our head in the sand are long gone in policing. Our credibility is at stake and we need to distance ourselves from such conduct and repudiate it.
The intensely bright spotlight on isolated viral episodes, such as what transpired in Darby, are diminished if we acknowledge them as being outside the standard of professional conduct we as professionals hold ourselves to. We need to highlight the good work done by 700,000 law enforcers in the United States, and many more internationally, that gets overshadowed by the tarnished badge behavior of a few. It’s hard to get the mission done that with emotionally charged, warring police chiefs and officers out there fighting.
As I’ve told basic law enforcement academy students for a number of years, we live in an era of video technology. You should always assume that you are on camera and should act in a professional manner worthy of the oath we took and the badge we wear. In short, the conduct should be such that it that would make your mother proud. I doubt the Darby police chief’s mother would be proud of her son today.
Dr. Richard Weinblatt, “The Cop Doc,” is a former police chief, ex busy jurisdiction patrol deputy sheriff, and criminal justice educator who has written articles and provided media commentary since 1989. He can be reached via www.TheCopDoc.com.