The death of Michael Brown, 18, by officer Darren Wilson left Ferguson, roughly the same size as Cartersville, torn apart. Riots in the days following the shooting left businesses torn apart, protestors jailed and public trust in police dented. Backlash followed on the “militarized” response from law enforcement and the demographic makeup of the police department.
As the community of 21,000 in Ferguson begins putting the pieces back together, local agencies now look to focus on training for just such situations as those arising to the west.
“I would like to hope one of the lessons learned out this would be that maybe law enforcement across the nation will step back and re-examine the importance of training,” Cartersville Police Chief Tommy Culpepper said. “We invest in all these programs and special units and I don’t want to diminish anything, all that’s important, ... but if training fails, if training is not paramount in every task that you have, that you want people fully and professionally training, then nothing matters — what kind of uniform you wear, what kind of patch you have on your shoulder, what kind of accoutrements you have to go along with it. You have to train because that’s there where you indoctrinate people in the professional aspects of law enforcement.”
Use-of-force and deadly force training are required criteria for officers around the county. Although Georgia mandates officers undergo a total 20 hours of training each year, both Cartersville Police Department and the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office maintain a 40-hour standard.
Before police can use deadly force, what is known as AOJ — ability, opportunity and jeopardy — must be present.
“Well, you have to have, first of all the ability. So if you’re dealing with a suspect, do they have the ability, do they have a weapon or are they of such physical stature that they would be overdominating to the officer? That’s the ability,” explained CPD Capt. Mark Camp. “Do they have the knife? Do they have a gun? Do they have a big rock, whatever? Do they have a weapon? The opportunity would be are they close enough in proximity that they could execute the use of that weapon or physical force? So, if you’ve got a knife and we’re this distance [4 feet] away, yeah, you have the opportunity because you could get me before I could even clear my holster. If they’re standing over there across the street threatening, ‘I’m going to kill the police! I’m going to kill the police!,’ well, unless they’re an expert knife thrower, they really don’t have the opportunity at that point.
“The third thing is the jeopardy. Let’s say you do have the knife, you are 4 feet from me — we know from our training that a person with a knife from 21 feet away can cover that in about a second and a half. Typically officers will take anywhere from a half a second to a second and a half to draw their weapon. So, at that point, do I feel that I am in jeopardy of being killed or suffering grave bodily harm or is a third party that way? It might not be necessarily against me. If you’re across the street and you’ve got a gun and you’re holding somebody hostage with a gun to their head, the jeopardy is not on me, the jeopardy is with them. So they would have the opportunity, they’ve got the ability and that person is in jeopardy, and that’s when you start having to make those decisions. Do I use force or not? If I use force, I might hit the suspect and all that. That’s when you start really analyzing whether or not you can use deadly force. So ability, opportunity and jeopardy — AOJ.”
According to a training calendar from the BCSO, a use of deadly force training session was scheduled for each shift during August.
“For years, and back in ’84 when I went to mandate school, ’85, ability, opportunity and jeopardy, those three things had to be present before you could use deadly force. Then there’s been things added over the years. Not only is [it] those three things still, but there’s also any reasonable person would feel that their life is in danger or the life of their family or the life of another has the ability to use deadly force,” Sheriff Clark Millsap said. “... I am a firm believer in training and my officers go through — state requires 20 [hours], I require 40 a year. That’s in firearms, that’s in use of force, that’s shoot, don’t shoot.
“… This is what people don’t understand. We, as law enforcement officers, we never, ever, ever want to take a life. It must be an absolute necessity … If we’re being attacked, if we’re being shot at …, we’ve done everything [else] on the force continuum, which we don’t really use the force continuum anymore because things have progressed to where the bad guys have got better equipment than we’ve got. So you can go from hands-on to a weapon in the blink of an eye.”
With use of force, the devil is in the details.
“I ran into a situation [Thursday] night where someone was very educated, but they’re just not educated in this realm. There’s an ill-defined legal term that they refer to as someone makes a furtive movement. If he’s 4 feet away from me and says I have a knife in my pocket and I’m going to kill the police, he removes one of those ability, opportunity and jeopardy factors. One of those is gone at least … because it’s in his pocket and he’s told me that,” Culpepper said. “But, if he goes to reaching for a knife before I could reasonably get to him to physically take him down, then perhaps I would be justified in using deadly force because, there again, I still have to articulate why I felt like he was going to be … If I said I knew him to be a person who carries a knife quite often and is good with it, well that gives him a skill level … So if he makes a move to do something or if I have a knife in my hand and I say, ‘I’m going to kill the police’ and I’m 15, 20 feet away but all I do is stand there and I make no movements, I have yet to make a movement that indicates an assaultive nature on my part. This [a knife held up] becomes more aggressive than just standing there, if that makes any sense.
“Sometimes that’s how fine the line is. That person can make the move and the person quite honestly the person standing over there [videoing on a cellphone] may only get after the fact. They may not get that narrow moment of time that made that officer react. So there is a disparity between the action on the suspect’s part and the action and the reaction on the officer’s part. There is a delay. That’s the minutia of a use of force incident.”
For the most part, agencies across the country train to a similar set of standards based on case law from the U.S. Supreme Court.
“... I can say that they have to train to the standards that the law sets, and the law says ability, opportunity and jeopardy. There is also case law from the Supreme Court that uses what we call the objective reasonableness standard. When they start looking at this, they say, ‘Would a reasonable officer in the same situation have done the same thing?’ And so that’s going to be uniform across the country,” Camp said. “Now how they specifically train to it I can’t say. Also, how can they qualify with firearms? Different states have different laws that you only have to qualify once or, for example, in Georgia you have to qualify every year.
“There was a case that came out many years ago, it’s called POPOW vs. the city of Margate, and what they found is the officers when they went to the range, they always shot in the daytime. Well, somebody shot a suspect at night, so the lawsuit and the criminal case went up that you never trained at night, your officers weren’t trained to shoot at night. So what the Supreme Court came down with and said, ‘Yes, there may be minimum standards that a state sets for training or that some agency sets for training, but really you have to train above the minimum standards.’ Just meeting the minimum standards isn’t good enough training.”
Training, like Culpepper said, is what Camp believes will affect departments in the long run.
“I think, No. 1, is training. Make sure you train for these type of situations. If you never train for this situation, you don’t have a plan for this situation,” he said. “... The other thing, I think, officers need to realize they need to do their job without the fear that when they do their job correctly, they’re going to be persecuted for it. At the same time, ... they have to get a mindset that their job is to save, to protect and not have that combat mindset.”
The “militarized” approach of Missouri agencies became a debated topic in the media.
Known as the 1033 program, the Department of Defense Excess Property Program transfers surplus military supplies and equipment to state or local law enforcement agencies. In Bartow County, Adairsville Police Department, BCSO, CPD, Euharlee PD and Emerson were listed as participating agencies as of December 2013. A breakdown of what those agencies received through the 1033 program was not available.
Culpepper points out the program offers valuable — usable — equipment at no cost to agencies, but there is a “too far.”
“There is a place where we run parallel with the military, but there comes a juncture where you separate because the military’s job is to kill people and break things ... Our job is to protect people and save lives, which are really polar opposites,” he said. “Sometimes we have to use the same tactics and sometimes we do use the same equipment because in a great many senses we are operating the same. We are an organization that has to go accomplish an event that may be a tactical-type event, and that may be when you roll out that type equipment. The problem I see is when it goes too far, when you want to look too much like the military, when you want to respond like a military unit would in a combat zone, and that’s not us. That’s not what we do. We want everyone to go home alive, not just us.”
The culture created within an agency, a little-known factor, may determine how officers respond to situations involving force and what weapon they may reach for first.
“I have to step outside the role of having all the facts up in Ferguson and St. Louis and say that one could say on the surface that there is a tendency for officers to predisposed to use a firearm. Now, I don’t know if that’s a fact or not. I’m just saying what little I have seen indicates to me that there is a predisposition in the culture to use a firearm. Now, were they justified irrespective of that? I don’t know because I don’t have all the facts,” Culpepper said. “But that can happen if an agency develops a culture of, ‘Look, you either go from talking to shooting and nothing in between.’ If that’s the culture, then that’s what you should expect. But if the culture in an agency is, ‘Look, there are intermediary solutions to problems. You can go here, you go there, you can back up, you can go forward. You can even go so far as to get out of the area if that’s the best solution. Unless someone has to die, let’s not make it happen today.’ That’s really the mindset you have to come to work with every day is, ‘How can I avoid that?’ I’d rather take a beating than a killing, if it’s going to happen to me. I’d rather get punched than have to kill somebody because I can recover from that. It’s hard to recover from the other.”
Responding with the appropriate level of force, Camp said, is reiterated to CPD officers.
“... We try to instill in our folks this thing: you can carry on your belt an ASP baton, pepper spray or a taser. When it’s appropriate you need to use them; you just don’t go right to deadly force. There’s a force continuum and you have to move in and out of the situation and how the situation’s developing and make a choice as to which lethal or non-lethal weapons are used,” he said. “The problem can be though that the officer starts relying on those tools so much that they make them a substitute for using deadly force, so when there really is that time to use deadly force, they may be trying to spray somebody while they’re getting beat. So they’ve got to understand, you use the weapon and the level of force that’s appropriate for the situation.”
Weapons aside, one of the most-talked about pieces of equipment to come out of Ferguson is the use of cameras, whether on the officer’s person or inside a vehicle.
“The greatest technology that we have today as far as false accusations and officers doing things that they’ve shouldn’t be doing ..., we have as many cameras as we can get, not only clipped to the lapel but also in the patrol cars,” Millsap said. “... Cameras are a great tool for law enforcement, and it keeps us accountable because the recordings are public record. So any time we are in a chase, any time we’re in a foot chase, any time we’re taking an incident report, any time we make a traffic stop, that officer’s conduct is being recorded, so ... [if] the citizen says he did something he didn’t do, we’ve got it on video.”
CPD does not utilize body cameras — Culpepper sees a downside to the quality and cost effectiveness — but employs video inside vehicles.
“As long as I have [the camera] properly positioned on my clothing and I stand directly in front of you and I’m always cognizant of the video frame that I’m getting, it’s great. If I’m having to run or jump or scrapple with somebody, then that video quality is going to be fairly useless,” the chief said. “The thing that we found to be extremely useful is the videos in the cars. ... The videos in the cars are immensely important because it is what it is. You see what’s going on. We don’t alter it; it has imbedded security devices in it that prevent us from being able to alter it. ... Those have both justified, exonerated officers, and they’ve also given us evidence to act on officers when they’ve acted improperly.”
Media exposure in the wake of Brown’s death turned the lens on the demographics of the Ferguson Police Department — three officers of the 53 are black in a community where 67 percent of the population is African-American. Law enforcement agencies can not ask for several demographic markers, including race, on employment applications. Within the past year, BCSO officials have addressed in the press the difficulties the department has in finding candidates who can pass each portion of the application process, which involves a background check, written and physical tests, history of drug use and polygraph.
Taking into consideration demographics of the two largest law enforcement agencies — BCSO and CPD, the agencies are roughly on par with the community.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 10.8 percent of the 2013 population in Bartow County is black and 7.8 percent is Hispanic. BCSO employs 255 persons total — 21 are minorities, or 8.2 percent. For Cartersville, 18.5 percent of the population is black and 12.7 percent Hispanic. CPD lists 60 employees total with 12 being minorities, or 20 percent.
Riots rocked Ferguson in the aftermath of the shooting, painting perhaps an inaccurate picture of Ferguson and those who live there.
“I’ve lived in St. Louis. I’m familiar with Ferguson and the whole area there. For the most part, I think the people in Ferguson, even though they’re angry and they’re very vocal about their anger, they’re really good citizens,” Camp said. “... They just released some numbers of the arrests that they made how many were actually from that area and several were actually from out of state and out of the community. So your opportunists see what should be a peaceful protest, they see it as an opportunity to come in and help themselves. You treat that like you would any other theft, disorderly conduct, the welfare of the public safety and so forth.”
And how to recover from the “bashing” police are taking creates an uphill battle for the boots on the ground.
“We’re taking a bashing right now. It’s not the first one and it won’t be the last,” Millsap said. “What I’ve tried to do is the citizens’ police academy and being out there and doing things in the community. The DARE program where the kids see us and the parents see us and they realize, ‘Hey, they’re really trying to help us.’ I’ve got an open-door policy. You don’t have to make an appointment; this ain’t a doctor’s office.
“... There’s always going to be and there’s always been from day one that stereotypical mistrust about the man. … It used to be that there might not have been trust, but respect. And I’m not throwing any rocks at any generation, but the younger generation does not respect the badge. They do not respect the badge, they do not respect the uniform. When I was growing up this [badge] was ‘Yes, sir. No, sir. Thank you, sir,’ and now they don’t respect the badge, they don’t fear the gun, they don’t fear the officer, they don’t fear going to jail. They don’t think about any consequences of what they just did.”