Yes, We Are Asking Cops To Do Too Much In This Country

by William Skink

When I read the assessment from the Dallas Police Chief that ‘we’re asking cops to do too much in this country’ I nodded my head in vigorous agreement. Here’s the statement in context:

“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown said at a briefing Monday. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

My work at the shelter doing outreach put me on the streets doing direct interventions in order to divert that 911 call and the whole expensive siren show that descends. The more impossible, absurd situations I encountered the more I sympathized with the unrealistic expectations we have of police to solve the inconvenient symptoms of broken systems.

I remember one guy in particular, a terrible alcoholic. His drinking and chronic medical conditions led to both legs being amputated. And he was a tremendous asshole when drunk.

I knew this client for years, but one night in particular stands out. I was delivering food to his motel room after a long day at work. I was delivering food because he had lost services at the shelter due to sneaking in and drinking lots of vodka. He needed the shelter because the nursing home had kicked him out for flagrant disregard of their tobacco policies.

Nursing home, homeless shelter, motel room is not an unusual progression for a client like this. What was unusual was that I showed up just as the police had arrived to remove him from the motel room. Apparently, in his drunken stupor, he had started throwing things against the wall of his room, and the family (yes, family) living in the room next door had called the police.

These are the calls cops hate. They more than likely know the guy by name, and they know how little anyone can do. The glimmer that I could help this guy was enough for them to leave it to me once I had arrived on the scene. And I had no idea what to do.

It was cold outside, so the possibility of wheeling him to the park to sleep it off was off the table. The police, who had already been called to deal with the situation, had left it to me. The shelter wasn’t an option, because there are rules that have to be upheld in even the most terminal of cases. So what could I do?

I started pushing him down Broadway as he swung his skinny arms, punching feebly behind his head at me and shouting profanities. At one point he suggested that I push him into the river. I told him that ethically that would be a problem for me, but if he was suicidal, I could wheel him to St. Pats for an assessment. I was literally excited that he was expressing the intention to harm himself because it meant that maybe he could stay in the ER overnight.

His response was that hospital security had told him he would be trespassed if he wheeled onto hospital property again without a medical reason for needing services. Bingo, I thought. Let’s get him arrested for trespassing.

And that’s ultimately what happened. I wheeled this chronic alcoholic onto St. Pats property, then talked to their security and explained the situation. He called the police, and the responding police officer was courteous and understanding because I was able to lay out the fact that the homeless shelter wouldn’t take him, the motel had kicked him out, and it was cold outside, so eventually there would be a medical need to do something if we just left him outside in his wheelchair exposed to the elements.

So the cop to took this guy to jail for trespassing.

Police and other first responders are dealing with more shit than most people can possibly imagine. That reality needs to be a big part of the conversation about how to pull cops back from the precipice of being a militarized occupying force.

A good place to start the process of pulling back would be to abandon the use of Israeli tactics and implement the Crisis Intervention Model.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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6 Responses to Yes, We Are Asking Cops To Do Too Much In This Country

  1. JC says:

    Yep, societal problems have become a grown-up version of “hot potato”. How civilized we have become.

    And a police state in a dysfunctional economy, backed up by the national guard and dhs is where we are trending. Perfect for the likes of Clinton or Trump and their handlers to solidify the oligarchy.

  2. Ken Nari says:

    The Army used to say the same thing. I guess another example of the militarization of the police, psychologically, at least

    Still, I’m not sure what the chief means with “…schools fail, let’s give it to the cops.” Used to be if you washed out of school you could go in the service and learn a trade. Police departments don’t perform that task.

    In fact, the trend in U.S. education, I believe, is to keep the kids in school as long as possible so the cops don’t have to deal with them.

    Teachers “evaluations” are based on grades. If a public school teacher wants to keep working it’s a good idea to give lots of As and no Fs. It’s nearly impossible to hold students back a grade or expel them, just keep them on track to graduation and then when they can’t graduate and are dumped on the street they are old enough to do hard-time. The cops often only have a cameo appearance in this. Day-in-day-out, for years, the schools and prisons, not the cops, are the ones dealing with social problems.

    I believe in most places — can’t prove it — small, routine tasks like dog-catching and directing traffic are handled by volunteer or auxiliary members who “assist” the police, can hand out parking citations and so forth, but not arrest anyone themselves, are unarmed and have to summon regular officers when they need back up. Do regular Dallas police officers chase dogs, chalk tires and direct traffic at public events?

    If so, the chief is a terrible personnel manager and needs to visit El Paso to see how little real work an officer has to do. I think unpaid volunteers (interns) even answer the phones. If anything, the move is to release cops from tedious chores so they can train for SWAT actions, terrorist events and crowd control.

    I’m not a teacher, but I feel a lot more is being asked of teachers in solving social problems than of cops.

    • thanks for the comment, Ken, but I think you are very wrong. teachers deal with kids–just kids–and they do it during the school day, for the most part. cops deal with kids falling through the cracks, and everything else that falls through the cracks as well, like mentally ill people, old people kicked out nursing homes, addiction, etc. and they do it 24 hours a day.

      I know teachers like to martyr themselves, and they are absolutely on the front lines of systemic break down, but I don’t think most people understand the volume of shit cops are swimming in, even in a liberal utopia like Missoula. I have glimpsed that volume of shit more than most people because of the work I did, and it changed the way I look at police and first responders.

      • Ken Nari says:

        Were that all the world was Missoula.

        Since you read MoA, you probably also hit Zero Hedge. There’s a post today about how more and more no-victim laws burden cops. Something you might like if you haven’t read it.

        Have a close friend, a teacher, at a high school in a first-ring Minneapolis suburb. Not exactly Camden, N.J.. Over half the students are on free or “reduced” meals. (They get the same amount of food on the tray. It’s the price that’s reduced.) This is because their families are below the poverty level. An assistant principal estimated that at one time or another during the academic year about 130 of the kids are homeless. Lots of the students drift from school to school, place to place, and have blank years on their transcripts.

        The gang violence has calmed down recently, but over the years two of her students have been shot, one dead, the other in a wheelchair for life. Another student is serving time for two murders. He was 16, but in the 8th grade. Fights are arranged so they can be videoed and streamed from phones, as are gang-bangs in restrooms, which then of on Snapchat. A handful of students work for cartels, are there without parents and go to school only to deal drugs, mostly meth and grass. They come and go –disappear — regularly to be replaced by new kids, when things get hot. They are given to violence and have no vested interest in the school, community or society. My friend was able to coax one student into peacefully handing over a long knife. It took her several minutes. The student skipped the rest of the day, was afraid to be in school unarmed. Who knows what he did or who was after him.

        Last year it was super cool — a national trend — to arrange a fight in the halls and then be videoed “accidentally” cold-cocking any teacher or administrator, male or female, who tried to break it up. Lot’s of street creds there. iPhones have changed everything.

        When you say teachers deal only with “kids”…well, ask the first responders you know their opinion on what age males are most unpredictable and dangerous. I’m guessing they’ll say at around 15. As you can imagine, there’s a high turn-over of the security force, many of whom are ex-cops. The school has had six principals in eight years.

        Just for fun, maybe spend a few hours visiting a high school in an edgy neighborhood and then see if you can ride around an equal amount of time in a squad car and decide which is closest to the breaking edge of society.

        • I missed that Zerohedge piece, thanks for bringing my attention to it (link)

          I don’t think we are going to convince each other who is closest to the breaking edge of society, and really that distinction doesn’t matter all that much. teachers and cops are both involved in failing systems and the burnout is tremendous.

  3. Big Swede says:

    Does it “take a village” to raise a child or does the family do a better job?

    Destroy the family destroy the nation.

    “The time has come” the walrus said,
    “To talk of many things:
    Of shoes-and ships-and sealing wax
    Of cabbages-and kings-
    And why the sea is boiling hot
    And whether pigs have wings.”

    Lewis Carroll

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