Police Officers React to the Bad Behavior of Cops in Miami Gardens

Correspondence from readers in blue

After highlighting a scandal in Miami Gardens, Florida, where police officers arrested a man for trespassing dozens of times even though he was at his place of employment, I solicited insights from law-enforcement personnel in my readership. What did they make of the story? How did they explain the fact that the abusive behavior continued for so long? What did they regard as an appropriate punishment? How would they guard against similar abuses elsewhere? How would they react if they encountered colleagues treating a man that way?

Several were generous enough to share their thoughts.

One correspondent has spend roughly a decade at a federal law enforcement agency. He writes:

I came across your article coincidentally after a colleague and I were discussing the This American Life podcast you referenced. We in law enforcement are feeling a little underappreciated these days, but to answer the question you pose at the end of your article regarding how I feel about the behavior of the Miami Gardens police department, in a word, I am sickened.
I feel every bit as outraged as I imagine anyone listening to the account was, as does everyone in law enforcement that I have discussed this with. This behavior undermines the credibility and perceived legitimacy of law enforcement everywhere, and bolsters the narrative that so many in the media and elsewhere are trying to push today: that police are biased and trampling the rights of citizens everywhere. I have no statistics at hand to prove that the Miami Gardens case is an anomaly, I only have my own experiences and observations. Every day when I go to work, I see people in Federal, State and Local law enforcement working together to try to make a difference, trying to treat all people they encounter with respect and dignity, and trying to make the world a better place. Do we get a little cynical at times? Sure. Are we sometimes frustrated by a lack of cooperation we get?  You bet. Are there times when our jobs feel completely futile? Too many, but at the end of the day, can we look ourselves in the mirror and say with conviction that we did something to make things a little better? The answer is yes.
In any profession or large population, there are going to be examples of misconduct. In a country with thousands of arrests, there are going to be some that go wrong, or could have gone better. These should absolutely be investigated. Procedures should be reformed. Personnel should be disciplined (or prosecuted) if called for. But to taint an entire profession, built around the "to serve and protect" ideal, by viewing them only through the lens of the Miami Gardens case or other examples of police misconduct is wrong.
One of the most frustrating things to listen to in the This American Life podcast came in Part 1, Act 2, when the Milwaukee police responded to a shooting, and did by all accounts a thorough, professional and respectful investigation, which resulted in the arrest of the perpetrator. Despite this, the complainant, Trina, stated that she still didn't trust the police. That was tough to hear. I'm not sure what other experiences Trina had to make her feel like that, or what environment she was raised in that may have affected her trust in the police, but from the perspective of law enforcement it is very disheartening. It's somewhat like being a waiter or waitress and really busting your butt to provide great service to a client and getting stiffed on the tip, except that you're not a waiter, you're actually doing something where you're putting yourself in physical danger at times on behalf of the people you serve.
What bothered me most about the This American Life piece was not the Miami Gardens segment itself (I actually thought the piece was well done and informative, a story to be shared and learned from) but the fact that the segment was broadcast under the heading "Cops See it Differently," intimating that all cops see the behavior discussed in the segment as acceptable, appropriate, or defensible. It most certainly is not any of those things. It represents a leadership failure, and if the allegations are true, a failure of personal integrity and violation of public trust for many of the officers involved.  
Cops are entrusted with a lot of responsibility and need to be held accountable. Body cameras could be a potential solution, but with body cameras has to come the recognition that law enforcement is a tough job, often involving the need to make split second decisions, potentially having life or death consequences, based on limited information. Body cameras need to come with the understanding that cops are human and cannot be perfect 100% of the time, although they need to strive to be. Oh and they also need to come with the understanding that someone needs to pay for them.  
Thank you for the opportunity to vent.  I'm glad someone actually asked for an opinion. Understand that all of the above represent my opinion as a private citizen and are not associated with any government or law enforcement agency.

Here's another note that begins with the correspondent giving a brief synopsis of his career:

I'll begin by letting you know that I'm a former Law Enforcement Officer who retired after 27 years of service. My career began in 1980 in the South Bronx as a member of the NYC Transit Police Department before it merged with the NYPD. My career coincided with a very turbulent and violent period in the history of New York City: the crack cocaine epidemic of the 80s and homicide rates that can best be described as astronomical. During these times, New York City was not a very safe place to live, work, or visit. I truly believe that my fellow officers were men and women who cared about the city and its people, who held a deep and sincere sense of caring that transcended the color of a person's skin, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation.
There was a time when I viewed the world in which I lived and worked in as just black and white. There were good guys and bad guys, and no one in between. Fortunately that was a phase in my career that lasted for only a few years (this is attested to by a plaque I received from members of my unit  wishing "the liberal" luck upon his transfer to the narcotics division). What had happened to cause this change in my 'good guy, bad guy' philosophy? It was the realization that I could be a good cop without having to conform to that 'good guy, bad guy' mindset. That was a mantra that was embraced by many back then, and unfortunately, that still is true today, for a number of reasons.
It is hard for me to comprehend why a police officer would not investigate further to substantiate or disprove his claim that he was an employee of the Quickstop. It seems very simple and effortless. 'Excuse me sir, does this individual work here?' When empowered with the authority to take a man's freedom you have a moral obligation to ensure that you do the right thing. It is clear that these police officers were not interested in doing the right thing. We all carry implicit biases with us, police officers included. And to deny that prejudice and racial bigotry may have played a role in Mr. Sampson's sixty or so arrests is to be naive to say the least. Some may argue that neither prejudice nor racial bigotry on the part of the police had anything to do with Mr. Sampson's plight. That this theory of 'implicit bias' is nothing more that liberal mumbo jumbo. To those I say, then why? Why was this man repeatedly arrested for a crime he did not commit? Why didn't any of the police officers involved in his arrest have the common sense to have asked a question or two at the scene? I feel I've already rambled on too long, but I do feel strongly about this as someone who takes a great deal of pride in my profession.
A third correspondent has spent decades in Louisiana law enforcement. Female police officers from that state who read on will be glad to know that he is retired. He writes:
I grew up with many state troopers living nearby as a kid and I guess it's what made me want to be a cop. First let me say this about Florida: It is one weird state as far as law enforcement goes. I know you will say to yourself, what, Louisiana is great? Well, there are problems everywhere these days, for sure. But over there, even different agencies in the same counties are often at each other's throats, arresting each other's officers for various things from misdemeanors to true felonies. That said, I find the story from Miami Gardens heartbreaking and terrible at once. I am the parent of a mentally challenged adult child and I would be destroyed if my son was dealt with in this same manner.

When I became a deputy, the job was pretty much political in that the sheriff faced re-election every four years. We never had any serious challengers in and often were returned to office with no one registering to run against our sheriff.  But it being political, we did not go out of our way to make people's lives a problem or punish them abnormally because we had to deal with them.
Far from it, we gave rides to people who needed one or tried to be neutral arbiters, if possible, in disputes. We tried pretty hard NOT to have to arrest people. We just didn't want to do it. We weren't "badge heavy," throwing our weight around or whatever.  If we had to take care of business, we did so, but there was none of the stuff I see so much in the news these days. We did not have tasers. We had a revolver (and were warned to NEVER pull it unless our life depended on it), cuffs, and a nightstick, which we often just left in the cruiser.
But when someone refused to go we simply had to put hands on them and MAKE them go. This, I think, is where these cops of today are so messed up. It used to be that they were fast to pull that Taser. Now it's the gun. And if the Taser doesn't work they SHOOT the gun! I read one story and saw the video where one cop in Montana, in less than 8 years on the force, had already killed two people for being trigger happy. That is someone who wants the job but is terrified of everything that moves in my book. It's unconscionable!!

Women in law enforcement are a joke as well in my book. They do not have the physical size and power of a male and they just simply lose in any physical confrontation. That and they get their male counterparts hurt for having to lookout for them and do all the work if any physical restraint is called for. A suspect being questioned in the Jacksonville, Mississippi, headquarters by a female officer had her weapon taken from her by the subject who then used it to shoot and kill two male officers in a shootout in the HQ. It's all PC to hire them and everything but they get others and themselves hurt.

A big problem is that the officers they have hired in the last 20 years or so are of the PlayStation or video game generation. They grew up playing these violent games killing digital foes, and then they think current day technology will make a Buford Pusser out of tiny women and men too cowardly to put hands on the people they must arrest. It just DOES NOT work. It's the only reason I can see for the videos that have surfaced where male officers shoot an unarmed or lighly armed (that is to say, a rake, stick, or a stone) subject.  We met the force of resistance to arrest with just what it took to overcome it. No more, no less.
I was fortunate to pull my sidearm out on only three occasions in 18 years. Two were in assisting with surprise arrests of potentially armed subjects and the third was the emergency movement of inmates from a jail facility that we thought was on fire.
That's it. I never pulled it during an average arrest, wrestling with someone or a traffic stop.

I loved being a law enforcement officer, but near the end of my active years, I used to wonder what I might do in the spur of a moment that lawyers and judges and DA's would have years to Monday morning quarterback me on. I could lose my livelihood, my possessions and my LIFE if something went wrong.

That said, the treatment of the subject of the article is inexcusable, the deafness of police administration to the man's employer to cut it out and the fact they did not want to stop it is beyond shameful. Those are not cops. They are bullies using Gestapo tactics and too enamoured of admiring themselves in mirrors. I am no lawyer, but I would say each and every one of those activities are violations of the man's civil rights and he should SUE the dept and the individual officers in question. If Holder wants to put a stop to police BS why isn't he looking into THAT?!?  Something truly real and truly wrong?

But I feel things are not going to get better and I don't know why. One of the best things I ever heard was something to the effect that "common sense is the most un-common thing." That is what seems so sorely lacking in today's police environment. Maybe it's just a few bad places, or bad apples and the 24/7 news cycle finds these things and vomits them up no end. Maybe we were no better back then, it's just that we were more separated from each other pre-internet.
(For a more positive assessment of female police officers, see here.)
That wasn't a selection of the responses emailed to me—it was all of them, very lightly edited for concision. If you're a police officer whose perspective wasn't represented, or who wants to take a crack at any of the questions I posed that remain unanswered, more correspondence to conor@theatlantic.com is encouraged. I'm eager for anything that will help my readership to better understand cops. Once again, I'll publish emails without names unless otherwise requested.