Better And Better

If you don't draw yours, I won't draw mine. A police officer, working in the small town that he lives in, focusing on family and shooting and coffee, and occasionally putting some people in jail.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The unions. (Why I don't want to be part of them.)

So, today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) released it's opinion on Harris v. Quinn.

The main question:
May a State, consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, compel personal care providers to accept and financially support a private organization as their exclusive representative to petition the State for greater reimbursements from its Medicaid programs?
The question we thought that it would settle is whether a person could be compelled to pay union dues without joining the union, just because of the job that he or she held?

The pivotal case of precedent was Abood v. Detroit Board Of Education, which had affirmed that they could, saying that it was fine to require share payment of those in the public sector who benefitted from collective bargaining agreements. The thinking was, "Hey, you benefitted from this agreement that gets you better wages and benefits, so you better pay up and not be a freeloader."

It puts in mind that guy who signs the card on the gift that he did not contribute anything to. Well that's not right, is it??!? 

But to continue the analogy, consider the other employee who comes to you and says, "It's Bob's birthday. I bought him a new laptop. Everyone's chipping in $50. Cough it up." Well, that's not fair, either.  First, I like $50. I need my $50. Also, this creates dangerous precedent. What about when it's Maria's birthday? And Gordon's birthday?* Are we going to do this EVERY year? And you get to decide how much I chip in? Can't I just opt out and not sign the card? I'm just trying to work, here.

You'll note that the cases are in Detroit, MI, and Illinois, where unions are a big deal. I myself find it amazing that a person can be compelled to pay union dues, and be told that it's okay, because they don't have to actually join the union; they only have to subsidize it.

As it is, Abood didn't get fully overturned, because the Court didn't find that the petitioners (contract employees receiving state subsidies for home health care) were the best fit. They didn't have good enough standing. But Justice Alito made clear that he is rubbing his palms together to receive a case that fits the issue best. As well he should.

Unions have done some good things in this country. The ability to belong to a union is of course nothing that I dispute. But they have generally gone too far, and the law as it has stood under Abood v. Detroit B.O.E. has been nothing less than a state requirement to join and subsidize a union.

I see current unions as doing crazy things.  I know a local industrial manufacturer which employs union workers to make its trucks. Brand new employees with no more than high school diplomas can start working on the line at around $30 an hour, which sounds great... until they're laid off after a few months. When they get a big order, they recall the workers. There's no job continuity. If their union hadn't bargained so stiffly, these young men and women could keep $18/hour jobs (which is a living wage in Texas, I assure you), and not miss work.  

I am a cop. I regularly hear about how police unions make it next to impossible to fire a dirty cop. And, in some places, that's embarrassingly true. Regular readers here may recall how I pushed for a letter-writing campaign to have Officer Harless with the Canton, OH PD fired after his incident, after which his union actually temporarily won his job back for him

So excuse me if I don't particularly like unions. They make hard-working, honest employees look like lazy money-grabbers. They have hurt the reputation of my own profession, even while I work in a "Right To Work" state. It is jokingly stated that "Right To Work" really means "Right To Terminate," and there's some truth to that. I can be fired from my job pretty much any time. I don't have a union protecting me. Oh, I belong to the Texas Municipal Police Association, which provides me with legal insurance (I pay in monthly dues, and in exchange, I get a policy for up to a million bucks to pay for legit legal fees, in such instance as if I am sued), but that's not a union. I'm not entitled to my job or my badge. And I'm fine with that-- it means that I and my co-workers had best keep our walk on the straight and narrow.

I am embarrassed for public employees who feel otherwise.

*Or Big Bird's? Or Cookie Monster's?  Sorry. The names came at random.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Controlling one's own destiny.

Well-known and well-thought-of firearms trainer Louis Awerbuck passed away this week.

I never met the man, but I’ve friends who knew him (like Tam and Rich). I have of course read his stuff for years.

There is something to be said for placing no dependence upon others, if that is your greatest fear (it is not mine). There is yet more to be said for going out on your own terms.

The freedom to decide how we meet our fate is ultimately what most of us who meet here and at my other haunts are talking about. No sane person wants to get into a gunfight. But nobody wants to have all of their options taken from them, either. Louis Awerbuck, it seems to me, made his career out of helping others to maintain their options. 

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Monday, June 16, 2014


By the way, it was rude of me to hijack Caleb's thread with almost 1500 words in the comments section, and I do apologize. I started out just responding to the post, and the riff just went on and on. I should have reined it in when I started numbering frickin' paragraphs. :rolleyes:

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Police Shooting Dogs.

Caleb posted about police shooting dogs. I responded there, but decided to bring it here as a post, as well.

This is an emotional topic.
I'm going to speak here as a cop, but also as an academic who has put 20 years into Criminal Justice studies. I ask that people not take this personally, and please don't take my words as those of all police.

1. Animals are property.
This one statement is going to get a lot of people riled up that I say it, but it's a fact. They are owned.  If someone takes your dog without your permission, and that person is caught, then they are charged with Theft, not Kidnapping.  Animals including dogs are bought and sold at a brisk rate.  
People know this to be a fact, but they cannot embrace it, when their dog is a family member to them. This is about emotion. Emotion, we know, is neither right nor wrong-- it simply is. But it can play merry hell with an equation built only on facts.

2. Emotions seem to trump logic.
If a cop serves a felony warrant, and uses a sledge hammer to break open a beautiful oaken door, people say, "Well, that's a shame about the door, but if the warrant was in order and the homeowner wasn't opening up, then it was time to open it however." If that same cop is met by a scared and aggressive dog that is doing what arguably is its job (protecting the household), but which is also endangering the cop with bloodshed, and the officer uses his weapon to stop what is the threat of what is, after all, property, from hurting him, the same logic often isn't used. It is short circuited by emotion.

3. Officers should not have to be bitten first.
I have been bitten on the job. I've gone to the ER and been treated and then bought new $70 uniform pants out of my own pocket, and never gotten recompensed for it. I've had dogs nip at me, and come charging into my taser and baton. I will die with clear scars left on my body that I have obtained from dogs attacking me while on the job. On a couple of occasions, I'll be honest with you: I should have shot the dog.

I have heard it said by people upset about a shooting that the dog hadn't bitten the officer yet. Given a large enough dog, a grown man can be permanently injured by a dog attack. Often it is shocking how small a dog can render lifelong injuries to a man. Without getting into breeds, we all know the breeds of dogs that are used the most for dog fighting, which are nowhere near the largest breeds. Sometimes a 40 lb dog is enough to permanently harm a man. Consider also the biological weapons in the dog's bite. Dogs left to roam and attack are often the same kind of dogs not getting their shots.

4. Officers should be trained better about dogs.
Jeff Cooper once said that a properly-trained police officer ought to be able to deal with a single dog attacking him. For the most part, I don't disagree, and that's frankly the main reason that I've never shot a dog that was attacking me while on the job. I have tazed them, and I have used my expandable baton, and I have used my steel-toed boots on them. A lot of the reason that I have not shot dogs when I would have been approved to do so by policy is because of #2, above: Emotions Trump Logic. I had a lieutenant get on to me about tazing my second dog attacking me in 2 months (both were pit bulls, and I promise you, both were in the immediate act of trying to get a mouthful of me. This wasn't a dog trotting up to check me out. One was airborne at me when the barbs hit.), because Taser cartridges are more expensive than pistol cartridges. He may have been speaking tongue in cheek, but I pointed out that I was able to resolve the problem without having our department featured in the news for "Another Cop Shoots Another Dog," and that's a win.  (Also, I was in a vey residential area, and I don't like skipping pistol bullets around if I can help it.)

I will say, though, that modern expandable batons were mostly built more as pain compliance devices than as bone-breaking weapons, and they are surprisingly ineffective at rendering incapacitating injuries. To this end, the old second-growth hickory batons were FAR superior. The main feature of an expandable baton is that it is always on the belt of an officer. Strangely, most cops seem to forget about it. That's a two-pound chunk that they carry on their belt every workday for years, but they literally forget to use it. This is frankly a training issue.

5. There are times to shoot the dog.
When there is more than one dog coming after the officer, all bets are off. It is my professional opinion that packed-up dogs attacking a person need to be met with deadly force, unless we're talking about Chihuahuas or Pekinese or teacup varieties of canines. (In which case, proper footwork is key.) 
During documented high-risk incidents, when the dog comes after an officer engaging in something that needs his undivided attention, shooting a dog may be the best option, keeping in mind #1. If the officer is swinging away with his baton to defend himself against a dog, he is not focusing on the other threats around him, be they a felon to arrest, or traffic. This last paragraph is not going to make me popular, because of #2.

6. We could bear rethinking the dog issue.
Because the dogs are such a hot topic, and so ubiquitous, we might re-think ways of dealing with them? How? I don't really know. Shin and forearm guards for warrant service where dogs are known to be come to mind, but I really question how effective they would be. I will tell you that tasers are of questionable use if you don't have a means of securing the animal while it's down. Catch poles might be a good piece of kit to bring. Dart guns are basically non-starters, because the amount of sedative that will put a dog down immediately is generally the amount of sedative that will kill the dog. Also, these things are time and resource-consuming. When you are going in to extract a felon, things need to move along rickety-tick.

For officers making a routine call upon a house for an administrative or non-emergency purpose, teaching them to survey the area before walking into the yard is worth doing. If a dog moves up aggressively, back off an call animal control.
We need to keep in mind Robert Peel's 2nd, 3rd, and 4th principles.

7. A lot of this problem could be fixed by talking to the dog owners.
I've already said that we need to do away with no-knock warrants except in hostage situations.
Knock on the door. Call them.  Tell them that you need them to put their dog up. Sometimes that's what it takes. It kills the element of surprise, but not the dog. This isn't always possible, but it's possible sometimes:
"Hey, Mr. Smith? Bob Smith of 123 Any Street?"
"Yeah? Who's this?"
"This is the police. We're out front. And out back. We have a warrant for your arrest/ to search the house. We are in uniform, and in marked patrol units. We need you to put the dog away and come on out. If we have to come in, and the dog attacks us, we'll be forced to shoot the dog, and none of us ever wants that. Please comply immediately."
"Okay, I'll put the dog in the kennel/bathroom/closet. Don't shoot. I'm coming out."
This happens. Not all the time. Sometimes it's not feasible. But it does happen. Maybe it could happen a little more.

I know of one incident in which someone whom I know personally was actually held hostage by a family member of hers, who had put their pit bulls in different bedrooms around the house to prevent SWAT from entering. He was drunk, and actually fired random shots during the stand-off. He finally permitted his hostage to leave. After the hostage-taker finally gave himself up, the former hostage convinced the officers --who were going in to clear the house-- to permit her to secure the dogs. The dogs were upset and would have attacked the strangers when they entered the bedrooms unaccompanied by her. My congratulations to the flexibility and professionalism of the North Richland Hills Police Department for handling that situation the way that they did.

8. Finally, I will say that Generalizations Fail.
When we say "There is NEVER a reason to" do thus and so, we are almost always stating an error of fact.  When we say, "An officer should ALWAYS respond to X with Y" we will pretty much always be forgetting about an exception. But guidelines would be a good thing.

It would be really nice if people-- thoughtful people-- didn't have a basis to state that it looks like some cops basically just look like they wanted an excuse to fire their firearm. On the vast, vast majority of the time, it's not true. Let's be sure and make that point by finding ways to limit when we have to do so.

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Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Vocal Minority on No-Knock Warrants.

In comments on my last post, my good friend Old NFO stated that the sad thing was that I was beginning to become the minority in my opinion. I began to respond, and then decided that this needed a post all its own.

I don't think that's necessarily the truth. The problem is that too many cops are hearing a vocal minority who are declaring that our lives are too important NOT to do No-Knock Warrants, without really thinking it out:
1. No Knocks increase the likelihood of our being shot at.
2. The argument is meretricious-- the real hidden goal often is to protect evidence.
3. What about the innocents and those maybe not-innocent-but-not-deserving-of-being-shot? Shouldn't we protect their lives?

If we lay it out that way, I think  that the average cop will agree that No Knock Warrants have by and large had their day.

The vast, vast vast majority of cops do not serve No-Knock Warrants.

I've served a few felony search warrants (not that many, though), and I have never served a No-Knock warrant, in almost a decade and a half. I've never even been asked to do so.

The last felony search warrant that I served came closest, and that wasn't very close. We had a drug raid where one of our officers obtained a felony search warrant, and there was a discussion of obtaining  a No-Knock clause (the guy had a pistol), but in the end, we just beat on the door, and shouted "Police with a search warrant! Open up!" When no one answered after the given time, we opened the door with a sledge hammer, and announced ourselves repeatedly before securing the scene. The guy was gone, but his drug dealing operation (drugs, money, gun, files) wasn't. We taped the warrant to the broken door, and left with the evidence, and got an arrest warrant. Like you do.

In a small department, we do pretty much everything, which means that we act as investigator, entry team member, and bailiff. If a No-Knock Warrant were obtained in our department, I would have known about it. Not once in my career have I been part of such a thing.   This isn't a brag-- I don't think that the next department south or north has done one in that time, either. It's just not that common. So why is it that we small town PDs can get along without them, but the larger ones can't? I think that the answer lies in the mentality of the tactical commanders of SWAT teams.

The premier SWAT unit in the United States has traditionally been the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). They have a very difficult and specialized job, which they are trained to do really well. Everyone wants to be the elite, and thus, tactical teams look toward that team as the standard to emulate. But here's the thing: hostage rescue isn't that common. The vast majority of the uses for tactical teams turns out to be high risk warrant service. But since hostage rescue does occasionally happen, they train for it, as they should. The problem comes when you apply training for this situation to other situations. When SWAT goes in on a hostage rescue, you can bet that the likelihood of someone getting shot at goes way up. We do NOT want that increased percentage of a shooting in an instance where we could prevent it, like a simple warrant service. But when you model yourself after a group whose primary role is hostage rescue, you can get into that mindset.

Bona fide tac commanders are the snake eaters in a department, and tend to be highly regarded. They are used to giving directions and being heard. They are used to looking at a problem and seeing how to overcome it. We need these guys. We also need to keep them in check, and check their influence on standard. Often, the tactical commanders have a good handle on when and when not to use force and surprise, but they will be misunderstood and misquoted by others. A culture develops where the guy who raises his hand and questions why we need to make "Dynamic Entries" is derided by those who don't actually know what the tactical commander actually would do.

So it is that we have a good number of guys who are infected with bad information.

Approximately half of the officers in this nation come from departments of 10 or fewer sworn officers. Those smaller departments do NOT have "SWAT teams," per se (sometimes departments will have task force teams). I think that most of the smaller departments do not have as much of a shift toward no-knocks, because they don't have a tactical team.  I am not against SWAT-- we need them, badly at times. They practice to do a difficult job which is everything about teamwork and very little about personal achievement. I do not think that the answer is to ban them. But part of the tactical training, especially for commanders, needs to be to recognize when to hold off on the "dynamic entries."

The only hostage rescue that I ever took part in, I played a tiny role of. A murderer had a child that he planned to abscond to Mexico with. He had holed up in a motel. I was one of the first ones at the motel, and with my patrol rifle I lay in prone overwatch on the door of that motel for about 90 minutes, waiting for SWAT to deploy. When they relieved me, I was grateful-- without a shooter's mat, I had found every little acorn under that live oak that I had set up under that night. The next morning, the tactical guys set upon the bad guy as he stepped out of the motel, and arrested him peacefully. Like pros.

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Friday, June 06, 2014

Let's just stop this and maybe be the good guys again.

Good guys take responsibility for their own actions. When they hurt someone by accident, they still own up to it.

Good guys weigh the danger of what they're doing against the good that can come from it.

Good guys try not to hurt kids.

So when we throw a flash-bang stun grenade into a baby's crib and critically injure the child, and claim that we've done nothing wrong because OMG drugs!, well, we're not being the Good Guys anymore.

I'm done with people's grandparents dying in a hail of bullets as they respond with a gun in hand to the intruders in their house, who happen to be cops serving a search and arrest warrant on their grandkid.

I'm done with no-knock warrants. 

If there's not a hostage involved, we do it by the numbers, serving a felony warrant. We knock on the door, LOUDLY, and announce, LOUDLY AND CLEARLY, that we are the police. We explain that they have an extremely short time to open the door, or we will open it for them. We make clear that we are the police, serving a lawful order. We then make entry, announcing our identity and intent very clearly (Not just hollered incoherently.). We then go about making the scene safe, and serve the warrant.

Will some evidence be lost? Yes. You bet there will be. And that's a damned shame.

But it's not as big a shame as what has become to be far too commonplace, in the case of the No-Knock Warrant.

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