The Truth, the Police and a Shooting

Update: San Diego Police has released security camera footage and body cam videos of the shooting. This is a good move from a transparency aspect. This is the kind of speed that needs to happen more often than not.

So we had a shooting in downtown San Diego. The person who was shot, according to the police, was a 25-year-old Hispanic man, identified as Leonardo Hurtado Ibarra. He remains in Intensive Care.

The police wanted to talk to him since there was a robbery two days before, and Ibarra fit the description. And as the officers approached, he aimed something at them, and officers opened fire. They said that they returned fire, however, the person never fired his weapon. Police rendered first aid, and according to one of the videos posted on social media, it included chest compressions. Medics took him to a local hospital where he later went into surgery. According to news reports he is recovering as of this morning. And he was shot in the stomach area.

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San Diego Police
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San Diego Police

San Diego PD has so far released a photo of the gun involved, which originally was tightly wrapped in a Cammy bandana from the looks of it. It’s a six-shooter and looks like an Army Colt from the 19th century. They also released a still, extremely fuzzy picture, from a security camera that seems to show somebody pointing something at one of the officers. Of course, the homicide team is investigating and the officers involved are in paid leave. So far, standard from the point of view of the police.

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San Diego Police

And here is where we get into the issues police are having. Word in the street is that they are lying. There is no trust in what the police are saying, and the only reason why we do not have hundreds in the street right now is that Leo, we got that from social media, is not dead. The feeling in the street is that the police are releasing information carefully to set a favorable narrative. And at this point, the trust is so low that for all we know they are telling the god honest truth. But few are buying it.

Last night we had the next step in the narrative at the local level. First off, those who spoke to the crowd that gathered around the scene were incredibly well informed about the city budget. People were citing the actual numbers and asking the critical question. Why was the police budget increase authorized even when we still have low crime? Granted, a large percentage of that budget is pay, benefits, and retirement funds, but…as the speakers pointed out, library hours are going to be cut back. That affects the ability of people to access bathrooms, computers, and even a safe space.

They also touched on another critical matter. Police receive minimum training before they hit the field. Granted, the San Diego Regional Academy is better than others in the state, as in slightly longer, but it’s still six months. So they were correct in highlighting this. Why am I mentioning this? Many people believe that activists do not understand the issues at hand. They do. And they do read budgets. They fully understand that spending in American cities is out of whack. And under the rubric of public safety, we are spending a lot of money on things that do not benefit the community. Yes, you can make an argument about public safety being critical, but when all you have to respond to a 911 call is an armed police officer who does not have the training or skill set to deal with many of these calls, it leads to tragedy. For example, a police officer is not trained or equipped to deal with homeless individuals, and they do not trust the police either. Why? Police harass them often.

Now, local activists were calling for defunding the police, which means redirecting funds away from law enforcement to oh…parks, libraries, and social workers. No, they did not mean to get rid of law enforcement, just keep law enforcement for core functions such as responding to a robbery. You would not send a psychiatrist to a robbery, the argument is that an officer should not be the primary responder to attempted suicide. I am sure many officers would be happy with this change. Last night though there was a change in the chants. For the first time, we heard what has become increasingly common…disband the police.

Why? Well, there is no trust. As I said above, the reaction from the community regarding this shooting, which is not the exception at this point, is a lack of trust. The police will investigate itself, with the homicide unit, and internal affairs. And as usual, the people expect the District Attorney to find this a good shooting. And here is where things got strange:

This is not common. The fact that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office are getting involved means that either the police realize any finding by the local DA will not fly. Or there is more to this story. And the community, in general, is smelling something. People also are demanding the camera footage from the body-worn cameras, because the still released by the department is as fuzzy as can be.

At this point, there is no trust between communities and police departments around the country. We also know that the fact that cops can lie (and do, often) means that whatever they tell the public is tainted by that. The short training they get before they hit the field is also entering the equation. So is us v them mentality that is part of American law enforcement. That thin blue line that is enforced by officers every day. The truth is a fungible thing and now is in short supply.

Activists in the streets are morphing their demands from just defunding the police, (and funding the services that are needed to respond to community emergencies, such as homelessness.) to disbanding departments. We need to talk seriously about what needs to happen to law enforcement. So here is a shortlist of reforms that are needed yesterday, (And some of this will cost money.) Nor will any of these reforms return any trust to law enforcement for some time. They will have to earn it, and right now they are starting from the sub-basement. However, they continue to dig themselves in.

First lets tackle training, which at the moment is short, and involves a lot of paramilitary training. This will take money.

  • Academies should go for at least two years. At the very least candidates should receive a two-year college degree.
  • Training must get rid of the warrior mentality in law enforcement.
  • Training must be done by mostly civilian staff, to short circuit us v them mentality.
  • Training must include the history of policing, ethics, and the development of a guardian ethos.
  • Training must put a premium into the developing of a sense of community, and get rid of broken window policing and reducing disorder.
  • Military-grade equipment most go. So must military thinking,. We are not in Fallujah.

Then we have the issues with officers who even now feel they can do anything. There is a sense of impunity in law enforcement that needs to go.

  • Police will no longer be allowed to lie. If they do, that is an automatic firing offense. At this point its second nature. This is why citizens do not believe officers. Increasingly this is entering courtrooms as well, where they are not supposed to lie because they are under oath. Moreover, they are officers of the court. No other officer of the court is allowed to fudge with facts, let alone blatantly lie.
  • End qualified immunity.
  • Each city should have a civilian review board that has an independent investigator, and legal counsel. They should never rely on internal affairs. This board should be able to make recommendations that stick.
  • No Officer-Involved Shooting should be investigated by local District Attorneys. Ideally, the teams should not even be local either.
  • Police Unions should not be able to either endorse or donate to District Attorneys at the local or state level. This creates an automatic conflict of interest. These unions are unique since their members work hand in hand with the DA to develop cases. This is not like the electricians union endorsing any politician. Yes, some policies will come from those politicians, but they are not working side by side in the investigation and prosecution of crimes. Nor are they in a direct conflict if a member kills somebody else.

Will this change law enforcement overnight? Nope. These reforms are needed. Executives understand it. Line officers will resist. Why? This will bring accountability to the profession, and if we have better-trained officers, with a different mentality, this will also change how law enforcement works.

The use of force protocols also need to change, as well as an awareness of how implicit bias affects policing. But the first step is not for the community to admit we have a problem. People are already in the streets demanding change. This is not even for police to understand they have a problem, because command level staff do. It is for city councils and mayors to get it. Some already are, and they have started to redirect funds from their police departments to other places in the budget. See, for example, Los Angeles. Their police are not getting all they wanted. Other cities, including many in my county, are not. They are still giving law enforcement all they want.

This goes beyond just dollars and cents. Reforms have to be systematic and long term. If they are not done, we will continue down this path which places citizens and police in direct conflict with each other. This will destroy any Legitimacy law enforcement still has.

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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