Police Behavior in McKinney Reveals How Cops Are Really Trained
Former police trainers say focus on aggressive tactics has created a culture of detachment
STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis. And I’m a reporter for The Real News Network in Baltimore.
It’s another video that has led to the investigation of a police officer misconduct, this time in the Dallas suburb of McKinney, where a white officer is seen on video taking a 14-year-old African-American girl wearing a bikini to the ground and putting his knee into her back.
She described the incident to local news station KDFW and said she wanted justice.
GIRL DETAINED BY POLICE: He told me to keep walking, and I kept walking. And then I’m guessing he thought we were saying rude stuff to [snip] He grabbed me, and he, like, twisted my arm on the back of my back, and he shoved me in the grass, and he started pulling the back of my braids. And I was, like, telling him that he can get off me ’cause my back was hurting. Getting fired isn’t enough.
JANIS: Outrage has prompted Mckinney Police to suspend the officer, Corporal Eric Casebolt. But more important is the question of police behavior in general and how to improve it. It’s a topic that is front and central in Maryland, where a special work group today convenes to consider police reforms that the legislature studiously avoided earlier this year. In this city, where violence has reached record levels, even as police say they’re throwing up their hands and afraid to do their jobs after the indictment of six officers for the death of Freddie Gray in their custody, it’s chaos that continues to engulf policing in this country.
And to help me sort it out are two people who’ve spent their lives in every imaginable facet of it. Neill Franklin is a former Baltimore City police commander and head of the city’s training academy. He currently serves as executive director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), an organization which is trying to end the war on drugs.
Lieutenant Stephen Tabeling is a former homicide investigator and also a trainer at the Academy, where he taught law to officers and how to testify in court. He’s also the co-author of You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond, which, full disclosure, I am also a co-author of.
Thank you, gentlemen, both, for joining us. We appreciate it.
NEILL FRANKLIN, EXEC. DIR., LAW ENFORCEMENT AGAINST PROHIBITION: Glad to be here.
JANIS: So [incompr.] first to the incident in Dallas, we were having a conversation about that before. You know, what did you think about what you saw in the video and some of the behavior of the police officers and their interaction with a group of teens?
FRANKLIN: Well, first of all, I know that when you watch a video, there always tends to be other pieces to the story. So I did my best to consider that, that there could be other circumstances. So I kind of, like, just focused on the action of the officer and his interaction with those kids there at the scene, and the one in particular, of course, is the young lady who had on the bikini, who, as you can see, had been told to leave, along with another group of women. And they were kind of, like, slowly moving down the sidewalk. And apparently it was something that was said that attracted the officer back to that group and back to her.
And as a police officer, I mean, as long as someone is complying with what you said–and from what I could see, they were; they were moving down the sidewalk from where they were standing–you need to be able to ignore that stuff. As long as someone is doing what I told them to do, moving to a location where I told them to move, I’m good with that. And that’s how we should be. But then he went and pulled her out of the group, and then it just got a little crazy from that point on.
And, yeah, it’s very problematic with his behavior, his language during the entire incident. And I understand–believe me I understand how stressful those situations can be. That’s why you train. Okay? That’s why you’re given the training and the responsibility to be able to control yourself under those circumstances and make the right decision and speak to people appropriately. And this is just one of those examples of when we the police officer completely miss it when it comes to appropriately communicating with people.
JANIS: Well, Steve what we were–oh, go ahead.
STEPHEN TABELING, FMR. BALTIMORE CITY HOMICIDE LT.: Well, no, I have to agree with what he said. And we both made observations of one officer on that scene that seemed to have the crowd under control, and all these young people seemed to be listening to him. But for some strange reason, the corporal got upset about something and grabbed that girl by the arm. Instead of letting that one officer that had the crowd under control to leave him go and let him control the crowd, it got all messed up when that corporal grabbed the girl by the arm.
JANIS: Well, that seems to be a common theme in some of these incidents is officers get angry. Right? They become angry. Well, what’s the problem? I mean, aren’t you guys supposed to be sort of above that? You’re supposed to be–.
TABELING: We’re supposed to be above it, and you’re supposed to be able to take abuse, whether you like it or not. And I know about him and I. In the police academy, we used to teach them that you’re going to have to learn to take some abuse. Everything’s not going to be fine for you. You’re in a different kind of a job now. You have to–you have to–you know, I can remember standing in lines with the Catonsville Nine and people yelling in my face, and not only me; other officers. But we just stood there and took it. And it saved a lot of problems.
JANIS: Well, but why can’t you do that anymore? Or why do we see more of these incidents where the officers say, I’m not going to take it or I’m going to act out in some way? Why does that continue to happen?
FRANKLIN: Well, I think there are a couple of reasons why. Number one is, again, training, placing in a training environment, placing police officers in a high-stress situation, and then teaching them how to resist and how to respond or not to respond. I don’t think we do that like we used to. I know we don’t.
And number two is it goes back to even hiring the right people with the right temperament from the get-go. And in the Academy setting, what you find out that people do not have the right temperament, you need to be able, as an instructor, as administration in that Academy, you need to be able to make that hard call and articulate as to why this person, because of temperament, should not be allowed to continue to graduate and to be on the streets in our communities.
TABELING: Just we used to do scenario type based training in the police academy, and we actually used actors when we would do domestic violence or crowds, and we used to use the National Guard range that we actually set up these scenarios and had the officers training in riot control and how to handle people that are disorderly.
I really don’t see that happening. You know, I just left the academy about a year and half or a couple of years ago. And you don’t see any of that kind of scenario-based training to make it as real as you can. And we used actors to do that.
JANIS: And moving along, you know, obviously these issues are important, but the commissioner last week says the violence is a result of the sort of spread of oxycodone which was stolen out of pharmacies and pretty much said the record month of violence is because of this drug. First I want to get your reaction. Was that a good way to–are they making excuses? I mean–?
FRANKLIN: Actually, that’s one of the three things that I said when I was asked that very question. But it’s not just one thing. It’s a multitude of things. You know. And so, when I talked about the three most critical things, it doesn’t mean that those are the only three things that create this perfect storm.
But the three that I mentioned, number one was the week of unrest, was the riot itself initially and the police response, then the curfew after that, which literally shut down, for the most part, most of the open-air drug markets in the city, at least in that part of the city, shut them down for a week, because even if the drug dealers would have been figuring out a way to get out there on the corners, the customers weren’t coming because of the curfew and so on.
And then, after that, then you have the–it was more than 20 pharmacies, from what I understand, more than 175,000 doses to count today that have been identified as missing or looted or stolen. That floods into the market, causing more disruption in the drug selling trade, driving prices down even lower. That means you have to work harder. But a lot of that stuff I guarantee you not even still in the city, because they’re going to get better prices for it outside of the city, in other cities and other markets.
And the third thing was, yes, the standing down of the police not being as proactive. Those were my three major pieces.
JANIS: How can the police justify that, standing out and saying, we’re going to let people kill each other? I mean, how can police officers say [incompr.] police officer or a public servant or a hero if they’re going to stand out and say I’m going to let–.
FRANKLIN: I’m going to give that one to Steve.
JANIS: –I’m going to let people kill each other.
TABELING: I don’t think–no, I don’t think the police are letting people kill one another. I don’t think–.
JANIS: But that’s what they’re saying.
TABELING: I don’t think the police are working as aggressively as they should, because they’re really afraid to put their hands on people. And I maintain that one of the greatest weapons that we ever got in law enforcement was Terry v. Ohio in the eighth-to-one decision by the Supreme Court.
But the problem is police officers are not taught properly how to conduct Terry investigations. They go out, and some of them just pat people down to pat them down. You cannot do that. And the Supreme Court said this: because of all the guns out on the street and all the violence, that if a police officer has articulable, reasonable suspicion to suspect, should we tell him to shrug his shoulders, or should we give him a tool? And they said eight-to-one. Now, look at any decision, see how they came out that, give him a tool. But it’s got to be taught properly. You can’t–you know, you’ve got to go by what the law tells you to do. And I think some of us are going outside the law and that’s what’s causing the problem.
JANIS: Well, in a sense, do you think police officers really can prevent–you’ve talked about this. I mean, aren’t we operating on a fallacy here that somehow officers going out and conducting millions of Terry stops will stop murder?
TABELING: Well, you can get guns off of the street, and when you get guns off of the street, that’s prevention. But like our book says, you can’t stop murder, because it’s a crime of passion. It’s going to happen. I don’t care how many policemen you put on the street. But you can do some policing that’ll help them knock it down. And one of the best things to do is to be aggressive but do it the right way and do it under the law. You can’t blame a lot of the officers a lot of times when they make mistakes, because they’re not properly trained. And I’ll–.
JANIS: Go ahead.
FRANKLIN: So the police going after the guns is effective, number one, if you know how to do it, if you do it appropriately, you do it according to the law. But number two, the other side to this coin is that’s something that’s going to be temporary in nature; that’s going to be something that you have to do day in, day out, day in, day out, day in and day out.
What would be extremely effective in reducing homicides is going after the reason people are killing each other.
JANIS: Which is what?
FRANKLIN: What’s the foundation? And that’s what we don’t deal with in this city and other cities across this country.
JANIS: I agree with you.
FRANKLIN: Again, it’s the drug trade.
JANIS: But what is it? But this fundamental, that fundamental question you raise, what is the answer to it? Why do people kill each other in Baltimore at a rate that is disproportionate to almost any other community in the country? What do you think?
FRANKLIN: Well, again, I think, again, the foundation of it is the conflict between these crews and gangs out there vying for a limited amount of space to sell drugs and a limited amount of customers to sell drugs. And the way that they have been taught to do it generation after generation–see, ’cause we’re going on to five decades of this nonsense–is you manage your corner and your marketplace with guns, violence, and intimidation. We’re not dealing with people who have had four years of college, you know, master’s degrees. We’re dealing with many of these young boys who never even make it out of high school. Okay? And now they’re on a corner, they have a gun in their dip or whatever, and they’re managing a corner. Part of a crew managing a corner. And my goal of the day is to sell dope and to make sure nobody else infringes upon my corner.
I mean, David Simon–I know people hate that show, but the HBO series The Wire, if you don’t understand what I’m talking about here, go watch it.
JANIS: Okay. No one’s going to argue with you at all about that [incompr.] what’s underlies the drug business in general and the need to participate in it in Baltimore? What are the sort of more important factors that drive that? Is it poverty? Is it racism?
FRANKLIN: It’s poverty. Money. People who don’t have who want. It’s people who don’t have something who want something. And it’s not just a want. I got to eat. Okay? I need a place to sleep. I got to pay some rent. I got to pay a heating bill. You know, I got to buy clothes. I got to do whatever. But then you’ve got that scenario operating without the cohesiveness of a family to give moral guidance, to give those other foundational principles of living in a society, living in a community, living in a neighborhood, and getting along and working together with your neighbors.
TABELING: You have to have good cooperation with the state’s attorney’s office. When you make good drug arrests, they should be prosecuted. There is talk out on the street, there was talk out on the street that Baltimore was an easy place, and they were coming in from the West, because on a lot of the drug arrests they were getting slaps on the wrist and were getting probation. And I’ve talked to a lot of drug investigators. I think back in the 1970s we had the best thing for drugs, and it was taken away when we had the narcotics strike force under Milton Allen and we had federal funds. And what we were doing is we were getting information from the districts, we were given the district’s money, and we got the intelligence back, and we created a whole scenario of who the people were.
But what happened? Commissioner Palmerloo [spl?] and the state’s attorney got in an argument and they disbanded the squad.
JANIS: Well, because officers were stealing drugs, right, out of evidence.
TABELING: Oh, yeah. That you–well, it was officers–.
JANIS: Wasn’t that part of it?
TABELING: No, that wasn’t part of disbanding the narcotics strike force.
JANIS: Well, that was part of it. That started the dispute, though.
TABELING: Well, that started it because the narcotics strike force under Steve Montanarelli prosecuted those officers, and somebody was trying to cover it up, and those officers got prosecuted.
JANIS: Well, part of the history you taught me and some of the documents you gave me show that when the city had a million people, you only had 1,600 police officers. Now we have 600,000 people and almost 3000, and we’re not safer than we were back then. So what’s the problem?
TABELING: We have more police officers Baltimore City per capita than any city in the United States.
JANIS: So what’s the problem? Why aren’t we safer?
TABELING: Well, I can tell you what I–this is my opinion. The policemen are not properly deployed. We have too many plainclothes squads. We have too many people riding around, jumping out of cars in plainclothes. What you need to do is to go back and give the districts to the district commanders, give them that supplementary force, have youy downtown detectives, and don’t have people running all over the place trying to create numbers. And that’s what causes a problem. Give the districts back to the district commander. District commander doesn’t have control of his district. You’ve got a flex squad West, you’ve got a flex east, you’ve got a high-impact crime unit, you’ve got this squad, you’ve got that squad. District commanders are held responsible, and everybody’s running through their district trying to make arrests.
You’ve got to get back to a system–and I don’t think the manpower in the city police department is properly deployed. Look, I can tell you, I work private investigations, I’m hunting for an officer in the Eastern District. I’ve got a subpoena for him. I go to the Eastern. They don’t know him. And I’ll say, wait a minute, he’s assigned here. But guess what? The high-impact crime unit downtown assigned that guy to the Eastern District, and the district commander didn’t know he was assigned to the Eastern District.
No. You know, what kind of super–you know, what kind of deployment–.
FRANKLIN: Well, it’s all the above. No, I’m serious. It’s all the above. When you started out that piece that you were talking about corruption back in the 1970s, right, you know what? We had corruption back in the ’70s, in the ’80s, in the ’90s. And most of this corruption, what’s it surrounding among our own ranks?
JANIS: I know what you’re going to say. Well, you say it.
FRANKLIN: Drug prohibition. The war on drugs, right?
FRANKLIN: It’s not just tempting because there’s so much money in this business that can be made quickly, okay, with little effort. It’s not just tempting to the criminals and the crews and the gangs. It’s tempting to law enforcement. It’s tempting to politicians. It’s tempting to anybody that gets close enough to that that wants a little more, that wants a little something. Okay? Back in the–but 1,600 police officers back the 1970s, in the ’60s and coming into the ’70s, you know what? A lot of people had jobs back then.
TABELING: But it was 3,200 back in the 70s. It wasn’t 1,600.
JANIS: Anyway, we’ve got to–this is a fascinating conversation, and I both appreciate it. Lieutenant Tabeling, thank you for joining us.
JANIS: Mr. Franklin, thank you for joining us.
FRANKLIN: Sure. My pleasure.
JANIS: My name is Stephen Janis. I’m a reporter for The Real News Network reporting from Baltimore. Thank you.
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