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By January 5, 2015 Read More →

What’s Going On? One Cop’s Perspective


Ed. Note: Sgt. Ernest Celaya retired  last year after 30 years of service with the San Antonio Police Department. In 1988, he was shot in the line of duty and received the police department’s Purple Heart. Here, he gives us his perspective on the law enforcement community’s current state of affairs. 

Career politicians, students, and members of academia have certainly been vocal lately, offering up their opinions regarding the deaths of individuals at the hands of police officers. I would like to offer a police officer’s perspective.

Recently, there have been some custodial deaths that have caught the attention of the American public. As is often the case, these unfortunate deaths seem to be lumped together and made to look like an epidemic. Extensive publicity has led restless individuals to violently protest, vandalize their communities, and—worst of all—murder police officers.

Individual deaths at the hands of police officers have been made to appear as a common occurrence. Add to that the element of race, and now the epidemic becomes “police killing black citizens.”

If we examine each police incident that resulted in deaths of individuals, we will find that each police encounter was preceded by a criminal act being committed that had nothing to do with the suspect’s race. As expected, police officers responded to each incident. The suspects subject to arrest made a conscious decision not to comply with the police and go peacefully. The end results were, to say the least, tragic.

While performing their duties, police officers do not get to choose the race of individuals confronted, nor do they make a conscious decision to kill an individual. American police officers are trained to follow a use of force continuum. Depending on the situation, a police officer may use verbal persuasion, physical force, and, as a last resort, deadly force. A police officer’s level of training can also affect the outcome of a situation.

Having a police force of poorly trained officers is inviting disaster. Police officers using deadly force in response to verbal provocation or a raised fist is indicative of poor police training. It would behoove governments to not only insist on but mandate extensive training for their officers.

During my three decades with the San Antonio Police Department, I watched as our department went from being mediocre to one that is nationally accredited. In the 1980s, when I joined the police department, the only required training was fulfilling 22 weeks at the police academy. Later, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standard and Education (TCLEOSE) began requiring 20 hours of annual in-service law enforcement training for active police officers. For years, the SAPD has surpassed the TCLEOSE requirement by providing 40 hours of annual in-service training to all its police officers.

Also during the 1980s, the SAPD underwent a comprehensive management study. The Arthur Young management study resulted in several recommendations being made and implemented. One of those changes was additional training for San Antonio police officers. Cadet training has now evolved into a 30-week basic police academy.

By attracting highly qualified applicants and training them, the San Antonio Police Department has enjoyed a harmonious relationship with its community.

For years, the SAPD has provided intermediate and less lethal weapons for its members. Although the use of intermediate weapons has contributed to the reduction of fatal police encounters, some encounters will still require officers to use deadly force. SAPD will soon provide body cameras to its street officers. In addition to training and equipment, transparency and a solid relationship between the police and the news media also play an integral role in keeping the peace.

Government relies on the news media to disperse information. Maintaining an open dialogue with the news media and avoiding an adversarial relationship is critical to policing. Media outlets, however, may sometimes become swayed to report on sensational stories. This in turn will influence the public to follow a certain sentiment, which will then snowball into a national movement, as we have witnessed recently.

Although the incidents being protested nationwide occurred in other parts of the country, we have seen a few local protests in San Antonio. Rather than peaceably assemble, some individuals have become intent on disrupting local traffic and commerce.

Although I have since retired, I remain a proud member of the SAPD family. Recently, as the San Antonio community observed the one-year anniversary of Officer Robert Deckard’s murder, two New York police officers and a Florida police officer were cowardly murdered by individuals caught up in the anti-police frenzy. As people get swept up in this anti-police mentality, group thinking has become “black lives matter.” Perhaps we should rethink that and say “all lives matter.”

Posted in: The Job

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