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Posted on July 12, 2017 at 1:55 PM by Kelly King
About 15 years ago, I took my middle daughter to a concert of a pretty famous band for her 16th birthday at an outdoor venue in the Upper Midwest. After spreading out our large blanket on the grassy hillside, and diving into our KFC meal, she pointed out that the smell of marijuana was wafting around us, and then pretty soon, she pointed out that some folks near us were smoking it. I was a good 100 miles or more outside of my jurisdiction. My daughter, who is now an attorney, has always had a very strong “right and wrong” gene, and was wondering what I was going to do about this obvious violation of the law. I replied, “nothing.” She was incredulous. I explained further, “what do you think I SHOULD do? I’m one guy, amidst hundreds of folks who are here to have a good time and who are probably more tolerant of this activity than you or I, and I’m here as a concert-goer, not a police officer. Do you SEE a police officer nearby? No. Clearly this isn’t troubling to the locals, they’re focused more on a bigger mission. And what do you think would happen to your dad if I just marched over there and identified myself as an officer and demanded they put out their joints? We don’t own this. Until or unless it interferes with our ability to enjoy the concert, ignore it.” It was a good lesson for her that the reason police officers have discretion in enforcing laws is that sometimes one has to stay focused on the overall mission, and that can mean limiting the reaction to a minor skirmish at hand.
This week’s “Unity March” by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) group of the Hampton Roads provides another example where we chose to stay focused on the mission overall. We’ve heard from some who want to know, “how can you just let folks take to the streets without just arresting all of them, or blocking their ability to enter the roadway?” It’s a fair question. Under local ordinance, a parade permit is required for anything that is going to interfere with the normal flow of traffic, and BLM certainly didn’t get a parade permit. The instant the first marcher entered the roadway with the intention of marching up the street, it was technically a violation. However, we had a traffic and safety plan in place, implemented the plan, and in under an hour, were able to peacefully manage a small group of impassioned marchers who brought children, babies, and the elderly and marched from Mercury Blvd. up to Police Headquarters and back to Mercury on Jefferson Ave. Our mission is to preserve and protect the public peace, protect life, property, and ensure the safety of all persons. All of that was accomplished. I would add that we have sufficient video and photos that we could, if we chose, always try to identify anyone who violated the law and pursue charges, and we will always review such situations with our legal advisors to determine if it is the best reaction to the matter. We believe that our planning and response was the right thing to do; it minimized risk to all involved, no one was hurt, no one acted in a violent manner, there was no direct conflict or battles between the police and the marchers.
We train our officers to follow a powerful decision making model: What’s Important Now (WIN). It puts our contemplated reactions and responses to the test, to measure up if the action is worth the consequences. In policing, we all too often have to take steps that result in quite adverse consequences, for others and even for ourselves, and we’re prepared and trained to do that when necessary. What’s Important Now? In our estimation, drawing a line in the pavement for about 30 marchers, 1/3 of whom were children, who were peacefully assembling for a limited period of time, didn’t seem to be as important as ensuring that all persons whether on foot or in cars were safe.
Some confuse “doing the right thing” with “political correctness”. I don’t really like the term “political correctness” because I believe policing is an apolitical activity, if we are truly to be fair and impartial in our defense of justice, we can’t pick sides nor be political about anything. Last week, the Charlottesville Police Department demonstrated that when they kept a hate-group safe just as they did those who came to counter their hate. They simply didn’t take sides.
We apologize to anyone who may have been mildly inconvenienced on Monday night due to road closures. Our mission was to keep everyone safe, and to reopen the roadway with expedience once it was safe to do. I’m proud of the work of the planning team and the officers and police aides and cadets who carried out the plan. We certainly reserve the right to respond differently under different circumstances when someone tries to disrupt normal traffic flow. While our mission is steady, our tactics are fluid, and just as we practiced Monday night, our response can be varied and adaptable. We always want to work with organizers of events like the BLM march, and while they ignored our efforts to better coordinate with them this time, we won’t stop trying…..let’s hope they submit for the parade permit if there’s a next time!