Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hi! I'm Officer [Illegible] of the Ferguson PD

I was reading an article* today about the Ferguson police. Apparently, quite a few members of the force have taken to wearing "I am Darren Wilson" bracelets (similar to signs used by Wilson's supporters at protests) on their uniforms in support of the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. The Justice Department has ordered them to stop doing so, as it is "exacerbating an already tense atmosphere between law enforcement and residents of Ferguson, Missouri." 
I agree that wearing these bracelets is a bad idea that will only contribute to the high level of distrust of the Ferguson police and to the overall negative view that many have of that particular police department. In turn, this is also extremely likely to make it even more difficult for these officers to do their job. And it will also mean that victims or witnesses of crimes will be less likely to report it and/or cooperate with a police force that they don't trust and that doesn't trust them.
Not to mention the implied breach of command structure and lack of unity in the department this situation makes, as the act of wearing these bracelets while in uniform sends the message that although their chief of police has apologized**, these officers don't support said apology. At the very least, it undermines Chief Thomas Jackson's promise that "all those things that are causing mistrust are being evaluated and we are going to be making changes." By wearing these bracelets these officers are saying, "We are not sorry. We did nothing wrong. We will not change."
I don't know why these officers have decided that sporting a piece of "I Am Spartucus!" type of jewelry is the correct approach here, but it's hard to imagine why they thought that this was in any way appropriate given the serious breakdown between the police and the citizens they are supposed to serve and protect. 
While reading the article, a single sentence jumped out at me and demanded my attention: 

"They [the Ferguson police] also need to wear legible name tags." 

The DOJ asserts that police in Ferguson need to wear legible name tags, identifying themselves to the general public. That seems reasonable. Beyond reasonable, really: it's just common sense. It's something that should be taken for granted in police departments throughout this country. But apparently that isn't the case in Ferguson, Missouri. 
The DOJ's directive raised a number of questions. The first being: they need to be told this? It isn't just a routine part of the required uniform? Or is it not so much a requirement across the board as it is a policy that is left up to various departments to decide whether or not to implement? If so, who makes these decisions and why have they decided that the same sort of visible identification that is essential in order to sell a Big Mac isn't a priority for the men and women whose job it is to enforce the law? 
I don't think I have ever seen a uniformed cop without a name tag. And they have always been machine-printed and thus easy to read. They are not unlike the ones I wore as a bartender at an international airport. So what are these officers doing that makes their name tags "illegible" and/or are they just not wearing them at all? 

Obviously, more information is needed than was offered in this one article. Information that the DOJ has and which led them to instruct the men and women in blue of Ferguson to rectify this situation. 
So in essence, if you were pulled over yesterday in Ferguson there was a good chance that the only name displayed on the officer's uniform is not the name of the person asking for your identification...but that of a man accused of executing an unarmed teenager. 
Contributing to the dissension, indeed.
I remember speaking to an officer years ago who told me that he was required to have business cards on him at all times...and had to pay for them himself from the not-exactly-huge paychecks he earned as a beat cop. I was surprised, because I was a bar manager at an airport at the time and my name tags, ID & cards were provided for me. Can we not do the same for our police officers, who surely need visible & reliable identification more than a person pouring beer for business travelers? 
One of the reasons this name tag issue jumped out at me: I often counsel people who are new to the unpleasant world of being stalked to ask for an officer's business card each & every time they have to call. You then write the date/time on the back, save them, and take them to court. It helps you remember when and where the incident took place, and judges can then call the officer or even just take the card as evidence that the police were involved. If the officer doesn't have cards, or has run out, I advise them to jot down the officer's name (and ideally their badge number as well) and add it to their incident report (a log kept by stalking/abuse victims for use in court.) 
I have never had anyone tell me that the officer did not identify themselves and either didn't have a card or refused to give one, in the 20 years I have helped fellow stalking victims. Again I this a thing?!? 

And if it is...I get the feeling it might have more to do with corners being cut in police budgets than any desire at subterfuge. Perhaps this can be a catalyst to a much-needed nationwide discussion on said budget cuts? And further, on the need for trust and transparency between police and citizens?
Food for thought...




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