Columnist Henry Schulte is concerned about the need for a civilian board in Santa Barbara and who will be on it
It’s 2 a.m. Dispatch is directing police officers, including you, to shots being fired in not-the-best part of town.
The streets are empty so you and your partner in the patrol car race to the location in silent mode and no lights. As you slow your approach to the location dispatch provided, you spot two shadowy figures running down the sidewalk.
You speed up, turn on the lights and give a whoop of the siren, slam the cruiser into park and jump out. You shout for the figures to freeze as they continue to run. You shout again.
Then one of the figures stops, turns and raises an arm in your direction.
In a millisecond you think of your wife of five years, your 3-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son. You are given no choice. Your training and survival instincts kick in, and your weapon is in your hand. You fire. The figure drops to the sidewalk.
Your partner is on the other side of the police cruiser shouting for the second individual to get down. Showing signs of resignation, the individual stops, raises his arms. Your partner demands he lie on the ground with his arms outstretched.
Both officers now approach very slowly and carefully just as backup arrives, lights flashing, headlights blazing. Officer No. 1, with gun still pointed, gets down on a knee to check on the condition of the fallen body. He realizes he’s looking at a teenage boy, blood seeping out from under his belly. Next to him is a cell phone. The officer shakes his head and holds back tears. Why didn’t the kid just stop?
How many of you would be out at 2 a.m., risking your life to serve and protect the rest of us who are comfortably sleeping? How many of you would react differently under those stressful conditions? In limited light, already on high alert knowing shots had been fired, two running figures, not knowing if there were other dead or injured bodies nearby, would you have just ducked down, hid and allow whoever they were to just run away?
Had you done that, you would be negligent in your duties as a trained law enforcement officer. Why bother being a cop if you turn tail?
But in this new age of the cops being considered guilty first, I’m guessing that reality would play a rapid-fire hell in your mind of what else could come of this. With crime soaring and criminals getting free passes, cops have to question what impact a shooting encounter could have on their lives, even when they were given no choice.
It’s easy for the public or some appointed committee to Monday morning quarterback from their couches.
I don’t usually interject myself in city politics, and I may be way off base on this one, but something about Santa Barbara’s proposed Civilian Oversight Board doesn’t sit right with me. Using the above scenario, which plays out thousands of times a year day and night, the Santa Barbara City Council seem to be joining the rest of the genuflection crowd to consider forming this police oversight committee — made up of civilians!
On the face of it, the idea of reviewing and recommending policing policies and allowing the public to offer input sounds nice. But these civilians, who are supposed to offer a “fair review of Santa Barbara Police Department probes into allegations of misconduct,” will have a lot of power.
Unto itself, not many would be against something like that, maybe two years ago before the defund the police era. But times have changed — a lot.
The committee idea was inspired by Healing Justice Santa Barbara, which I’m sure is a very fine organization, but Santa Barbara isn’t Chicago, Baltimore or Oakland, so I question the need and the motivation.
It was also recommended some of the board members be made up with “young adults who have experienced homelessness or arrests” to serve. I find that distressing. There wouldn’t be any bias there. Kids who don’t’ have their own act together and no clue how to deal or understand the pressures involved with the above scenario could decide the future of a police officer? A board with preconceived notions fed with the endless brainwashing from a media barrage against law enforcement may not exactly be an unbiased group of decision makers.
The lives and futures of someone who committed themselves to keep our streets safe so you can walk them without fear, could have his or her life destroyed by seven people who have no concept of what it takes to be in uniform.
Have mistakes been made in law enforcement? Certainly. Show me someone who hasn’t done something he or she would like to take back or change. Will mistakes continue to happen? You bet. But maybe as a criteria to qualify for this new board, members should undergo a few weeks of rigorous police training and ride along. And I’m not talking about going down State Street at noon, but in the dark alleys at 2 a.m. when you’re exhausted and where you can’t see if someone is hiding in the shadows ready to put a bullet in you.
If you’re going to be placed in a position with power to make life-changing findings, then you need to learn and understand what it’s like in the real world of law enforcement.
Finally, why does the city need to fork out another $200,000 or $300,000 a year on a position “responsible for tasks such as building relationships between law enforcement and the community?” I swear, you never hear governments trying to cut back on expenses. They always complain when they don’t have enough to spend.
Henry Schulte welcomes questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.