Wednesday, November 19, 2008

HPD Armchair Quarterbacks its Officers

I caught this story in this morning's edition of the chronicle. Remember the police chase in which a man claiming to be a federal agent was shot and killed after he initiated a pursuit? Well, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt has disciplined two officers involved in the shooting. A major pet peeve of police officers is being second guessed by administrators who weren't even there. Of course there is a video and you can watch the video attached to the link. I'd like to know how Chief Hurtt was watching this video. The internal investigation found that;

"Sgt. Andrew J. Washington and Officer Cecil A.T. Foster did not use sound judgment and did not follow department policy in the incident."

The department policy, they didn't talk to the man at the end of the chase! One officer was given a 1-day suspension and the other officer was given a written reprimand. Both are appealing their punishments.

One could ask if Chief Hurtt and IAD were watching the video through the eyes of an officer in that situation, at that exact moment in time. Or with the eyes of a long time police administrator trying to use the benefit of hindsight, and "what ifs." Because the city is now being sued over this were they watching this video looking for the slightest policy violation so disciplinary action could be handed out to cover the city? Watch the video at the end of the chase. You can hear officers giving verbal commands which are plainly being ignored, so they are talking to him but he isn't listening. I guess that isn't included in the HPD definition of "sound judgment" and "talking to the man." Keep in mind, when an administrator like Hurtt uses the term "sound judgment" it means one of two things. The first is that the officer did something contrary to common sense that it is unfathomable (not this case). The second meaning translates "with the benefit of hindsight and from my cushy armchair this is what I would have done knowing what the outcome is!" What Hurtt has also done is given ACLU-police hating attorney Randall Kallinen an argument to give to a jury of potentially ill-informed people who will believe that C-A-T really spells dog if you tell them right. Kallinen is now saying this policy violation proves his case. No it doesn't. What most people don't understand is that a violation of policy doesn't mean a violation of the law or liability. Department policies are rules and guidelines that are supposed to have all officers act the same way in any situation. Well, policies, like laws are interpreted differently by different people. Also, policies cannot foresee every possible situation and that's when officer discretion has to kick in. Think about this, situations can change in an instant, policies and procedures don't change. For example, let's say a department has a policy that says officers, while involved in a vehicle pursuit, cannot chase the criminal the wrong way on the highway. Okay, that is fine and dandy. Let's say the man running just killed a woman and kidnapped her baby. Knowing this policy he drives east in the west bound lanes and by stroke of luck, there is no west bound traffic. Now, what is this officer supposed to do? Follow department policy and not chase the kidnapper? Or use judgment and go after the kidnapper the wrong way on an empty road? Remember, situations change, polices don't.

At least HPD's internal investigation found the shooting to be justified. At least Hurtt could see that from the video.

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