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By August 19, 2015 Read More →

When Did We Become the Enemy?


“We as a police department also need to reach out to the community and better educate them as to why we react the way we do to certain situations— specifically how we use force, up to and including deadly force, to control situations and sometimes the very people they call us about.” – Frank Marino, Phoenix Law Enforcement Association

by Franklin R. Marino

One only has to look at the news headlines to see that, all of a sudden, the police have become the enemy of the public. In the age of instant information via the Internet and social media, police officers are instantly tried and convicted in the court of public opinion long before all the facts of a particular police incident are known—and many times before the investigation has even started.

Chiming in and adding fuel to the fire are a host of “experts” who have probably never been pepper-sprayed, taken a hit from a Taser, been laid out on the mat of a defensive tactics training room during a RedMan drill, or been inside the room of a firearms training simulator (and most certainly have never been through the most rudimentary of law enforcement training—that is, unless you consider watching television shows like C.O.P.S., CSI, and Law & Order training).

To add insult to injury, elected leaders—from the mayors of New York City and Baltimore to the president of the United States—and appointed officials—like the U.S. attorney general and certain state attorneys—instead of backing the police, paint us all with a broad brush and say that the way society acts toward us is our fault because of how we’ve been treating people for years.

To compound things, those who are against organized labor want to lump police unions into the same class as labor unions with a history of corruption and other unethical behavior, and say that all we do is protect bad police officers and continue to get fat while eating from the public trough.

I’m sorry, but I’m going to call B.S. on both of these viewpoints! While I may be a police officer, I am not responsible for how those who were cops long before I ever took my oath of office treated people. I am, however, responsible for the way officers in my own agency, who I work with every day, treat people, as both a peer and an elected Board member of PLEA.

If I’m on a scene and a fellow officer gets out of line with a citizen, I’m going to intervene and tell them I’ll handle it, and then when the dust settles, we’ll talk about it. If it’s a simple misunderstanding, we should be able to chalk it up to someone having a bad day, but if it is bona fide misconduct, I’m going to have to ratchet it up a notch and notify a supervisor.

Yes, I, just like every other sworn officer on the Phoenix Police Department, have a duty to report misconduct. The same goes for when I have my PLEA hat on during an investigation. If I’m dealing with a situation that involves blatant misconduct and criminal acts, it is my obligation to see that the individual is walked out the door and their AZ POST Peace Officer Certification is surrendered, so they will never work as a cop again.

Unrealistic Expectations

While police work has changed over the years, the basic concept of providing safety and security to citizens and maintaining law and order is still there. However, as society has evolved, the needs of the community have changed. I believe that many citizens have unrealistic expectations of what they believe we should do for them, as opposed to what we actually can do for them, and part of the disconnect has to do with how we currently do our jobs.

Community-based policing is something hammered into our heads during the Academy. However, when our city is close to 530 square miles in size with a population of more than 1.5 million people, and our police department is down over 650 sworn positions, it’s tough to do.

Unlike in days of old, the reason most patrol officers don’t interact with the citizens in the areas they work is simply because they don’t have the time and are too busy running call to call, in many instances out of their designated beat areas. While beat accountability was another thing pounded into our heads when we were rookies, in today’s environment, it’s more of a theory.

Despite the fact that we have designated beats within our squad areas in the precincts, the reality is that 722A, or whatever your call sign is, is just that—a call sign—volume and continually changing geographical boundaries, compounded by rebids and manpower allocations, don’t allow us the luxury we once had to get to know the people in our areas.

As long as this trend continues, I suggest we transition from conventional call signs and use our serial numbers instead. Although we routinely joke about our shoulder patches and vehicle decals saying “Phoenix Police” and not the “(insert appropriate squad area or precinct) Police,” until we get some significant manpower to beef up patrol, I can realistically envision designated precinct and squad area boundaries going away in the very near future.

The writing is already on the wall, as dispatchers are routinely going out across precinct boundaries to get units to respond on emergency calls because “we ran out of police officers” to take them.

How can we expect to keep crime in check when responding to calls for service like these?

• A neighbor’s pool pump running at night (which people do because it’s considered “off-peak” for their power plan)

• Noise from City-sanctioned construction projects/repairs, like light rail construction and water main breaks

• 8-year-old Johnnie or Janie won’t eat breakfast and go to school

• Someone lost their cellphone, wallet, tablet, laptop, etc., but has no idea when, where or how

• Grandma wants the police out to take an assault report because the trainer at the boxing gym where her 16-year-old grandson trains hit her grandson eight times

• Someone is getting unwanted text messages on their smartphone from people who they don’t know

• Someone has a near-miss in a parking lot and the other driver, who is upset, reaches down inside the vehicle, but no weapon or anything else is displayed; then the complainant drives home, three miles from the scene, and demands that an officer respond.

• Someone is concerned about something they read on Facebook, but hasn’t reached out to the person posting to verify whether it’s even a valid concern or if it has been resolved.

• Traffic complaints, despite barricades having been placed in the road or off-duty officers working the location.

• Mom is driving with her six children in the car, and the 7-year-old is hitting the other children.

• A boyfriend and girlfriend have an argument and the boyfriend wants us to stand by while he tries to talk to her.

• A person is dancing on the corner of an intersection.

Something that causes me to chuckle is the comment “no Internet available” on calls where an online report can be filed. Really? The library offers free Internet access, many places have free Wi-Fi and most of us have a friend or relative with a computer. The kicker? We show up on the call and our complainant is either texting away or checking their Facebook page. SMH! Maybe it’s time to bring back the Callback section!

Pardon me, but I’m not being crass or unsympathetic to the community’s needs. There comes a time when the community has to understand what the core function of a police department is, and they also need to understand why we can’t respond every time they dial 9-1-1 or call Crime Stop.

We as a police department also need to reach out to the community and better educate them as to why we react the way we do to certain situations—and specifically how we use force, up to and including deadly force, to control situations and, sometimes, the very people they call us about.

As for police officers who abuse their power and authority, while they do exist, I believe that they are few and far between, and the vast majority of police officers truly want to help others and give back to their communities. Considering that we draw from the pool of humanity when we recruit and hire, people do manage to slip through the cracks, as even the best background investigators aren’t infallible and the rule of statistics always factors in.

The Importance of Unions

As for the “evil police unions” and the “union bosses” who run them and call the shots, which is what many politicians, including some here in Arizona, would like you to believe, police unions — or more accurately, police labor organizations—serve a legitimate purpose in the convoluted world of law enforcement. First and foremost, they represent their members when it comes to wages, benefits and working conditions. In any job, be it in the private or public sector, employees should have an expectation of reasonable compensation for the work they do.

They should also have some type of defined-benefits plan, including vacation and sick leave, insurance and a reward for dedicating what amounts to at least one-third of their life to the company or government agency. Since law enforcement doesn’t have a direct civilian counterpart, we should be fairly compensated for doing a dangerous and, now more than ever, difficult job that many are quick to judge, yet few are willing to step up and take on.

The union’s other purpose is to represent members accused of misconduct and involved in use-of-force incidents. Like it or not, we are citizens first, with due process rights and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. With regard to misconduct, which is simply a violation of workplace rules, PLEA’s mantra has always been “If you did it, own up to it and accept your punishment.” Being human, we all make mistakes, and discipline should reflect the level of the rule violation committed.

Many minor rule violations can be corrected with coachings and supervisory counselings. More serious ones should be corrected with written reprimands and suspensions. Only the worst violations should result in termination. Keep in mind that all PLEA has ever advocated for is that discipline be fair.

Our checks and balances system known as the Civil Service Board, which is made up of citizens from the community, recognizes this and has repeatedly overturned discipline—including termination, which it believed was too harsh for the level of the violation—but on the same note, has also upheld these decisions in the most egregious cases of misconduct.

As far as criminal behavior, we have walked many officers out the door and surrendered their AZ POST Certifications when we became aware of criminal acts. This is not to be confused with officers involved in shootings or use-of-force incidents, as use of force and use of deadly force are specifically outlined in Arizona Revised Statutes 13-409 and 13-410.

Keep in mind that even in these situations, police officers still have due process rights, are entitled to legal representation during the subsequent investigation conducted by criminal investigators under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and also have Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Yes, police have a right to collectively bargain to determine their wages, benefits and working conditions. By virtue of having a contract, police have to abide by a set of workplace rules set forth by the respective agencies that employ them. They also have the right to use force, up to and including deadly force, to effect arrests and control situations, as long as the force used is reasonable based on the totality of circumstances.

The vehicles that allow them to collectively bargain, represent them in administrative investigations related to work rule violations, and represent them against criminal charges in use-of-force incidents are called labor associations or unions. Like them or not, they are institutions that also seek input and participation from the community to make the world a better and safer place for all of us.

We are not the enemy. We are the people who run to the gunfight while others run away, and we stand in the thin fold between good and evil to maintain law and order in a world that has increasingly become more intolerant and violent. We are also the people who protect those who protect the people in our community.

Franklin R. Marino is a police officer with the Phoenix PD and the Secretary of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association is a member of PubSecAlliance.

2 Comments on "When Did We Become the Enemy?"

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  1. disappointed retired cop says:

    When some police chose to make the very citizens that they are supposed to serve and protect into “the enemy”, and good cops didn’t rise up in outrage over what criminals in uniform have been doing.

    When a couple of terrorist scumbags mag-dumped into the truck of two ladies delivering newspapers in Los Angeles – and they were not immediately taken away in cuffs and placed in jail awaiting a real trial – not a cover-up “investigation” conducted by their own organization, the police of California declared war on the citizens of California. Add in the fact that their union stood behind them every step of the way, and you will understand why the people see police unions as “evil”.

  2. mark shields says:

    Its funny how you quote ARS 13-410 to justify an officer’s use of force, but when a non-police officer uses justified deadly force to protect themselves or someone else, you’re the first to want to disarm them and put them in jail. No 13-410 allowed unless you’re a cop. This double standard and the anti-gun attitude displayed by many cops is why you lose support of many formerly pro-cop law-abiding citizens. And quit bitching about manpower. Tell it to a teacher who has 54 students in a classroom with 30 desks. Things are tough all over.