“The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them knows anything about the subject.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Suddenly everyone is an expert, again, about how law enforcement works and how they believe it should be done. The majority of critics don’t understand what we do, and showing up at the Academy for thirty minutes in a simulator isn’t going to quite encapsulate the full experience. In an interesting turn of events, certain elected officials and members of the media have proposed the idea that private security guards should be held to the same standard as police officers, despite the obvious fact that we have no affiliation and private security companies do not complete any of the training that a police officer does. One more idea in a long line of ideas that are misguided, ineffective, and let’s face it, unable to move forward. These “solutions” can’t be executed and those that propose them know this. The grandstanding is unending.
With this proposal in mind, what kind of experience should a Police Commissioner have? What boots on the ground experience do the current Police Commissioners have? None. Not that this cannot change, we are simply pointing out a fact. It must be difficult to interpret behavior and write policy when you have never had to knock on a door when there are unknown conditions on the other side. Playing out scenarios in your mind, usually the worst one you could think of, so you could prepare yourself for the inevitable violence you might witness and then, in an instant, have to respond to. Not knowing if you will have a chance to make the situation safer or inadvertently escalate it because of your mere presence. All of this, while reminding yourself that you are there to do the right thing for people you don’t even know. And now more than ever, it might go through your mind that people who don’t even know you, your intentions or your experience, will sit in judgement of you in the most hostile way.
I will invite them to do a ride-a-long, visit a station, speak with the officers to understand what the job is and, hopefully, gain a better understanding of how a call can go from routine to tragedy in one second. If they continue to have no interest, it makes clear that they have no intention of solving the difficulties that are, as Mayor Breed put it, “destroying our city.” I will not mince words here or pretend that the so-called doom loop is not happening.
This past week, we had a tremendous victory in court. The two cases that have been playing out for a couple of years and have had a profound impact on the lives and careers of two young officers came out in their favor. Chris Samayoa and Chris Flores both came into the profession to do their very best and ended up having their lives changed forever. While any loss of life or serious injury has an unshakeable impact that can be a heavy burden to carry, being brought up on charges is life changing for the officer. Some will only focus on what happened to the perpetrators, but we know that the police officer also deals with trauma. It is a privilege and a victory for any officer if they can say at their retirement that they never had to draw their weapon.
Split-second decisions and unprecedented choices that most others don’t have to deal with in their line of work, are things that police officers learn to deal with over the course of their career. Unfortunately, for these two young men, these challenges were faced at the very beginning of their careers.
Some believe that the academy is the first brick in the foundation that will sustain us through the trials and tribulations of this occupation. In fact, it’s much sooner when these lessons begin. They start in our home, in our faith, and from our personal communities. By the time we step foot in our academy class, the bricks are laid solid, and the training just gives us the tools to continue building something we are proud of, that can weather the storm.
There was never a class taught on what happens if you get indicted for doing your job. No simulations or scenarios teaching how you could be out patrolling when a call for service comes in and transforms your life in an instant. How someone could just go and assault someone or break into someone’s home as if that was somehow permissible. How local newspapers could write slanted stories that not only implied, but blatantly stated you are guilty. The moral dilemma of giving people the benefit of the doubt versus ignoring observed behaviors that could not only get you but your partner, your friend, killed. A decision could be made at a cost that is, at times, too high of a price but nonetheless it is made.
The SFPOA will do whatever it takes to defend our members when they are confronted in the line of duty, it is why we have the best Legal Defense Team, headed by the venerable Paul Chignell and stalwart Kevin Martin. We are fortunate to have Samayoa and Flores defended by the best in the business, Mike Rains, Julia Fox and Nicole Pifari, all from Rains Lucia, Stern, St. Phalle & Silver, PC. I want you all to join me in feeling a little bit of joy because this was the outcome that was righteous and sometimes the universe gets it right.