A flash flood at 3:00 AM forced Marty and me to find an alternative route as we drove though St. Louis, Missouri on our way to a wedding in Charleston, South Carolina a few years back. While listening to the radio trying to find information on the flooding, a news report stated that the police were having problems with people shooting at them as they walked from the parking lot into the police station. How could the relationship between the community and the police degenerate to the point that officers had to live in fear walking into their headquarters?
Friday’s Des Moines Register’s front page reported that the drowning death of Brandon Ellington was simply an accident. The Missouri State Patrol was not responsible, even though the young man was in its custody and the officer did not properly secure the life jacket. Brandon’s father called the decision “a joke”.
Page 4A of The Register read, “A Wright County jury will begin deliberating today whether a man accused of fatally shooting a Rockwell City police officer during a standoff last year is guilty of first-degree murder.”
Page 7A, reported that officers were cleared in a shooting death. “The Scott County attorney said two Davenport police officers were justified in using deadly force against a man armed with a knife.” It seems seven shots were fired with four hitting the man in the chest.
On page 9A, “An Ankeny police officer who shot and killed a woman after she reportedly pointed a gun at him won’t face criminal charges stemming from the shooting, Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said Thursday.”
On the same page under the Police Beat section – Police add Tasers to tool kit for 1st time— “The Waukee Police Department received 12 of the electroshock weapons last month at a cost of roughly $15,000, funded by asset forfeiture money from the Dallas County sheriff’s office…Waukee Chief John Quinn said adding the weapon is a technological advancement for the department in an attempt to minimize injury or death when confronting criminal activity in the community. He said the Tasers would typically be used to protect officers or civilians from an armed subject with a weapon like a knife, baseball bat or pipe – situations that would otherwise call for lethal force with a handgun.” For the record, Iowa Code 702.7 Dangerous Weapon definitions include “any portable device or weapon directing an electric current, impulse, wave, or beam that produces a high-voltage pulse designed to immobilize a person”. These weapons can and have proven just as lethal as a handgun.
Finally, on page 3B of the USA Today – The Des Moines Register – Metro Edition, reported that “The Justice Department has opened a broad investigation into allegations of unlawful policing tactics in Ferguson, Mo., scene of last month’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen that set off sometimes violent protests.” Ferguson is part of the Greater St. Louis metropolitan area.
So, how does a community’s relationship with law enforcement break down so badly? When do isolated incidents across a state become a destructive pattern? And at what point does it become too late to talk to people who are struggling in the community instead of “confronting criminal activity in the community” with dangerous weapons as the go-to option for law enforcement?