Thursday, November 5, 2009

Police policing police

The community where I live is reeling from a fatal police shooting of an unarmed 15 year old black child on Oct. 9. The young man and his friend (who now faces charges of felony "resisting arrest") had often stayed at the house they were allegedly "burglarizing." The homeowner says they were both welcome any time. According to the police, the boys saw two cops appear with weapons drawn and tried to run. But what is that, a capital offense now?

Perhaps. At recent City Council meetings, area residents revealed startling changes in local police policies that appear to allow just that. That's right. Whereas the old policy on "Use of Deadly Force" allowed police to shoot to kill only when a suspect appears about to use "deadly force" himself, or herself, the new policy adds: "... or, ..." if the suspect is about to "defeat the arrest" by resisting or escaping.

But the police say that's out of context. Another section later on says: "... and ..." the suspect may use deadly force. But if this is out of context, who took it out of context? The new language matches the state statute, except that it's broken up in such a way that a reasonable person could read it either way: A or (B and C, D, or E) - maybe, or - A or (B and C) or D or E.

Convenient, perhaps, if you're an officer who has just killed your second suspect in ten years -- this one an unarmed 15 year old kid who was doing nothing wrong until you drew on him -- and might be thinking of how to defend yourself?

But of course policies don't kill unarmed teenagers, cops do.

Now consider this extra added bonus. The Chief of Police, RT Finney, was also there and also drew on the two boys. He isn't on leave, although the shooter is.

Hm. Finney. He arrived in town in 2004, the new and more understanding chief, in the midst of an earlier crisis. The police wanted Tasers. A terrified (terrorized?) community didn't want that. They had years, at least back to 1998, of police behavior on their minds -- including suspicious deaths in police custody. So Finney said, OK, we'll work on that trust thing. Five years later the community has still has a host of grievances against the police, including some new ones against Finney himself.

Now the Champaign PD is up for accreditation for the first time, ironically enough, by a group that claims be all about trust and community policing. And, we now learn, Chief Finney is a vice president of that very accrediting group. But I'm sure their report will be entirely objective.

Just like the State Police report on the shooting. Naw, we don't need a civilian police review board. Why would we want that?

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