I CAN NO LONGER HOLD MY BREATH

The words you are about to read, the very ones that are just now marking my thoughts upon this paper, will most probably end our relationship. I have been overly hesitant to write them, they are not what you want to hear but, and I hate to use the word but, but I do not hear anyone else saying them. I know many fine people in this town of ours. Women and men whom I respect more and more with each passing conversation. People who give of themselves to, and care more about, this town than many I have ever known. Our town. Many of you will unfriend me, as a number have done in the past when my writings unsettled their quiet state of single-mindedness.  Many nights I sit in quiet contemplation of the knowledge that I will lose people, many whom I wish to keep close, when I share the following which I know to be true.

Many years ago, when my business started to take off and passed the point when I needed a payroll service to help with managing my books, I met a man who represented the payroll company, a Republican, one whom I liked, yet we shared a passionate disagreement on almost all things political. He and I would agree to meet upon occasion, share a beer and discuss the ways we each viewed the world differently. On this one particular occasion, when “W” was the President and the wars in Iran and Afghanistan were still escalating, we met for a drink and ended up speaking about . . . The Surge. The Surge was the common moniker which described increasing the number of soldiers in the battlefield. The argument was that there were simply just not enough bodies in place to keep the peace.

I, not approving of W’s war, argued that it made no sense to send more troops to war. The basic objective was already achieved and that we should leave the area as quickly as possible and stop telling people around the world what to do. My bar side companion argued, what did it matter?  Let’s give him the troops and see what happens.  It turns out that my argument that day was wrong, but moreover, his was right.  The surge made a difference.  Within a matter of weeks the entire region was stabilized and the process of a quiet, orderly state building could take place.  In other words:

  1. Iraq was a violent and unsafe country.
  2. There were not enough soldiers to maintain peace.
  3. Violence was significantly reduced when more soldiers were deployed in Iraq.

For the record there are a couple of facts that I would like to state.  Understanding theses fact, reading them and truly knowing them is all of our responsibility. I imagine that they will unsettle you as they unsettle me:

  1. Vallejo has violent crime. Please let me repeat that. Vallejo has violent crime. 
  2. Vallejo does not have enough patrol officers.
  3. Violence in Vallejo will be significantly reduced with more patrol officers.

This next part will cause me to lose even more friends and followers. It speaks to the way that our police department chooses to respond to these violent crimes.  I will openly admit that I have not studied police science nor am I an expert on law enforcement. I need be neither to know that 2 bullets will stop a person and 64 are way too many. I am of course referring to the shooting of Willie McCoy.  The facts:

  1. Willie McCoy had a gun.
  2. He was asleep in his car.
  3. One or two officers could have easily covered him while the others set up the perimeter.

These facts are bare bones. They have been neither washed nor sanitized.  I do not need to be a law enforcement expert to know these 3 statements to be true.

The reason that multiple police officers stood pointing their guns at a sleeping Willie McCoy is because that was what they were trained to do.  If you see a weapon, draw yours. If the suspect moves toward the weapon, fire. Actually, as I write this, it seems a reasonable but, far too simplistic, response.  In my heart I know, it cannot just be this.  I have written the following before, and I still stand by the statement: We, the citizens of America, have asked our police departments to protect us and WE have given them the authority, and mission, to do so with this level of violence. It all began with the Patriot Act and every Use of Force decision handed down by the courts, both Superior and Supreme alike since then.  If the suspect refuses a police officer’s command, the police officer may put his hands on the suspect.  If the police officer is fearful for their life, they may use lethal force.  While I understand and admit that this is legal, it cannot be the end of the discussion.

When I attended a Use of Force seminar put on by the Vallejo Police Department, I came away with one vary clear thought: When confronted with a volatile situation, draw your weapon.  This is not the only way, but this is the way that our group was shown how the VPD is trained. Command and Control. Order the suspect to comply, if they don’t, restrain them or shoot them if necessary.  All the simulations I was shown that day focused on using our weapons to deal with the situation.  99% of police interactions with the public do not involve weapons. The challenge that we have in Vallejo is that the 1% that do involve weapons tend to end very badly here.  The two part solution to this is:

  1. Hire more patrol officers.
  2. Replace VPD’s existing training officer and their approach.

More officers in the field will allow more bodies to respond to a situation and provide the overwhelming force needed to control the situation and most likely not require weapons fire to be exchanged. It allows our police department to be more places in the City at the same time. An amended, and improved, approach to training will provide all of our officers with greater Tactical Negotiation skills that rely more on understanding human nature and less on lethal force as the final arbiter.

I will miss you when you unfriend me but I must repeat to you before you go that Vallejo needs BOTH of these things. We need more armed patrol officers. We need to replace our existing training officer and methodology.

Until next time, I hope,

Tommy Judt

2 Replies to “I CAN NO LONGER HOLD MY BREATH”

  1. Having a few cousins who are or have been in the NY Police Dept, I am always very careful to learn as much as I can before posting opinions that concern law enforcement. Every dept. has its own problems & challenges as well, so there are no blanket statements that fit every bill.

    Right now there is the movement to Defund the Police (a name I absolutely hate), & my city of Oakland is very much on the bandwagon. While I like the idea of putting more money into long-term social programs, thus theoretically lightening the Police’s duties, I am hesitant. To begin with, there is no watchdog committee to safeguard & intelligently apply those funds, & without that being done right, it is just money down the drain, as far as I’m concerned.

    I can’t agree more with the idea of defunding the more militaristic equipment that many police departments now enjoy. I would like to use those funds, though, in more personnel & training in de-escalation, as well as working to decrease racial bias.That last one is hard; statistics show that more crime is perpetuated by poor people, & society”s poor are more likely to be people of color, due in part to that long-established racial bias.

    You and I are both aware that institutions like the Lindsey Wildlife Center have a process that puts animals in rotation with the public; 6 mos in the Center, then 6 mos on the farm to de-stress. I would like to see a rotation with front-line police personnel, with equal time off patrol & perhaps in a community-based service capacity.

    In any case, I am glad you have the cojones to write this post!

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