How to Stop the Senseless Killings in Chicago – An open letter to the President of the United States
(This letter was mailed to the White house on 01/03/2017)
Dear President Obama,
In all my years I never thought I would ever have to start a letter off with those words, yet here I find myself feeling compelled to do so. Who am I, you might ask? While I may have grown up poor in a crime and poverty stricken city; I am a father of two amazing children in college. I am a retired lieutenant from the Oklahoma City police department who was responsible for coordinating and instructing officers in self-defense training for over 15 years. I taught police officers in the areas of use of force, tactics, shooting drills, arrest & control, cultural diversity and de-escalation techniques. I am a former supervisor of a street crimes unit and the SWAT team for ten years. I am now a businessman who has co-founded a national criminal defense legal service. I am also the creator of the program, De-escalating Officer Patrol Encounters (D.O.P.E.). I am a proud American who, like many, is disgusted at what I see each day in regards to the plague of violence and police related shootings that are increasing in our nation. Mr. President, with all due respect sir, I am a black man, just like you.
You are in the final days of your second term and my agenda is not to blame you for the problems in this country. I am speaking of the history of violence, racial conflict and economic divide that you adopted as an elected official. These topics we have to admit are a few things that lay in the shadow of a great country. We have to realize that we cannot point to one person, even the most powerful man in the free world, and say “It’s your fault”. The problems I’m going to address in this letter should be seen as issues on both sides of the aisle, and I hope the solutions I present receive considerable bipartisan approval; because this is not necessarily about politics. I am not writing as an affiliate of any political party, organization or group. I believe this country, with all its challenges, is still the greatest one in the world. The craziness of the election is over as two candidates fought for your job. We now have a new president elect with his own 100-day agenda and this is the reason I’m reaching out to you in the final hours of your presidency.
The country is more divided now than ever before. And one of the issues we hear about each day is the topic of racism. The gap between police and community has widened. We have allowed the internet to direct us like sheep and our new leaders are Youtube, Facebook and Google. We are controlled by 24-hour news channels who provide daily reminders of our ugly, and push one color as a victim to keep the tension and their ratings high. Both party leaders during the campaign expressed displeasure with the news sources causing the American people to be that much more confused as to where we find the truth. I long for the day we return to a time these organizations simply report the news instead of “making” the news to control our emotions. Although I must admit there are times someone gets it right and presents the facts (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings/).
As you took office the American people began to believe that race relations were getting better. The truth is, we have not had much movement or healing in regards to race relations in the past few decades. Just fifty years ago we could not eat at the same counters. Now, we all assumed we were further along, but we moved into a time where the country wears the mask of political correctness, covering the festering cancer we all possess that I associate with implicit bias. What are we doing? We are tricking ourselves, and people of all colors got caught up in the fact that a black man won the presidency and stopped paying attention to this country’s dark past. I am not trying to take away from any of your successes or chip away at your legacy. I believe you served us well and your intentions were good. I personally understand there are checks and balances in place that don’t allow you to follow through with the promises made in your campaign; just like every other president.
Some of us have paid attention, but most don’t know what you have done in regards to the issues that are the “Top Stories” of the day (police shootings and community policing). In 2014, you directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to create the 21st Century Policing Task Force. The task force was able to present over fifty (50) suggested changes, best police practices and police use of force reform as a guideline for the agencies across the nation (http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/taskforce_finalreport.pdf). And it had some success as several police departments adopted a few of these practices. You directed the DOJ through the Community Oriented Police Services (C.O.P.S.) office to continue their efforts in presenting grants to police departments who would accept the terms in pushing the community policing and hiring initiative; this adds approximately eight hundred (800) officers across the nation each year. You directed Attorney General Holder to launch more investigations on police department practices and possible civil rights violations than any sitting president in history. This included direct agreements with police departments to make their own changes so not to be under consent decree. You have pushed for reform in the broken criminal justice system and admittedly reported it is stalled in the political process by the congress and other bureaucratic hurdles. You have attended funerals of high profile cases involving police shootings and publicly denounced the attacks on police officers which looked to be retaliatory.
You wrote an “Open Letter to Law Enforcement Officers” letting officers know they are doing a good job. You wrote in that letter, “Some are trying to use this momentum to divide police and the communities you serve. I reject those efforts, for they do not reflect the reality of our nation.” The kinds words are appreciated yet the letter failed to acknowledge those who wore the badge and made the ultimate sacrifice in 2015 (there were 50). These officers from across the nation gave their lives while protecting our citizens. There were thirty nine (39) taken by gunfire, eight (8) vehicle assaults and three (3) other assaults. That doesn’t take into account the thousands that were seriously injured and did not die; returning to work just to do it again. I know it’s a balancing act to show you care about all. You addressed the nation from a podium in Warsaw, Poland making reference to the shooting deaths of Mr. Castile and Mr. Sterling. You followed up with the comment, “All of us as Americans should be troubled by these shootings… These are not isolated incidents… They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.” In the way most responded on social media it seems your statements painted a picture and planted seeds in the minds of Americans that these incidents only have to do with race. When the President of the Unites States points at the elephant in the room “Racism” and attaches it to even one police shooting, that is all we hear. Any additional words, even if they come from your heart, are lost. You told everyone to wait for the evidence to surface, yet it seemed at times that you also got pulled into one component (initial video evidence). This led to getting pulled into the demands of the American people for an immediate comment.
I believe the majority of the shootings are based on fear, poor training, lack of less-lethal options, failure to submit to arrest and the actions by both the officers and citizen in the last 60 seconds before the first shot. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve observed a few shooting incidents in the past four years (caught on camera) that I can honestly say looks as if the officer had bad intentions. In your speech you provided statistics which I’m sure are accurate, but by using the total population and failing to add the stats associated with crimes being committed by the same groups; it is not fairly presented. I find myself embarrassed by the reality of the raw numbers and I’m sure they are concerning to you as well. While I was in patrol it disturbed me at times riding the side of town predominantly populated by African American residents. It was saddening to see bars on the windows and doors of houses owned by hard working people that looked like me. And just knowing it wasn’t to keep the police out. Then at times I embraced my position so I could remind the officers that worked that area, they were only dealing with 10% of the community 90% of the time. And that they shouldn’t look at all African Americans as criminals. It seemed to help the officers to have an understanding. I do realize you have to choose your words carefully when a portion of the country is hurting. And showing cause could cast a heavy shadow upon our accomplishments as a people despite the known uphill battle and a deck purposely stacked against the same group by some in powerful positions.
In the Warsaw, Poland address you continued…
“According to various studies, not just one but a wide range of studies carried out over a number of years… African Americans are 30% more likely than whites to be pulled over… After being pulled over African Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites. African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites. African Americans defendants are 75% more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10% longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime. So when you add it all up, African Americans and Hispanic population who make up only 30% of the general population make up almost half of the incarcerated population.”
In your breakdown of stats, not mentioned is the fact that on average only .1% of all police officers are involved in deadly force encounters. In the entire year of 2015 there were 990 fatal shootings and that is out of approximately 850,000 law enforcement officers across the nation (a full 1% would be 8,500 shootings). The media has a lot to do with the drama presented as they push their agenda. There were 94 unarmed people shot and killed by police officers in 2015 with 33 being black, yet we only see black faces plastered across the television screens. Why is that? I think it is to keep the narrative about racial tension to sell newspapers, ad spots and keep all of us glued to the 24-hour news channels. Sir, you’ve stood before the nation and stated, “We can do better.” I too believe we can but we will need your help in your last days to start the conversation and support new solutions so we can do better.
The most important thing I need to accomplish in this letter is to share some solutions to save lives and decrease the gun violence across the nation. It is the real reason I’m writing you today. The problem facing the nation and challenges in policing are getting progressively worse. It’s so huge it can’t be remedied by conventional solutions. It is going to take more than the “business as usual” governmental approach of handling a crisis. We are in a state of emergency and hundreds of citizens under your watch sir have lost their lives at an alarming rate; those with uniforms and those without. We can still have the “change” you promised and presented during your campaign. We need one last meeting between you and President Elect Trump to save American lives on our own soil.
I think there should be a new initiative in support of expanding the power and resources to the DOJ under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement act of 1994. As previously stated you admitted the reform of the criminal justice system is stalled so that only leaves the government forced to concentrate on the part it can influence and has limited control over; police departments. What is being done by these departments at this time will just NEVER work under the current conditions of law enforcement staffing and manpower. Research has shown that most major agencies show 20-25% vacancies in personnel due to retirements. They are overwhelmed by the needs of the public, through increased population in all major cities across the US and added 911 calls due to cell phone access. This only means more calls for service and the need for additional officers to cover the workload. On the opposite side of the coin less officers on the street will mean a rise in crime, violence and death (even if the agencies fudge on the numbers presented through uniformed crime reporting statistics). I truly believe all police departments really want to spend more time training their officers but they just can’t afford to take them off the streets. So where does that leave them? Most police agencies are trying to get ahead of the negative press and are scrambling to find de-escalation and/or diversity training to attach to their academy programs and in-service training. What does that really mean at the end of the day? Well, it has been done before so it means they are only going to add an addition 1-2 hours of training a year per officer. So is that really enough? I can honestly say no, or not enough to make a difference. It is going to take the government to step in and help fill these personnel voids so the other plans of best police practices can have a chance to work. It will also take a complete saturation of training methods, techniques, community oriented policing philosophy and hiring reform to be effective.
When thinking about how to accomplish this task, I immediately thought about the 900 officers the Department of Justice helped to put on the street through their grant programs in 2014. They were split over 243 agencies which works out to four (4) officers each. I remembered when I was an active duty officer we stayed in need of 200 officers and did not get caught up in the 20 years I was there. I thought, how in the world would four officers help the situation? IT DOES NOT! So the efforts of the DOJ and C.O.P.S. office are unfortunately wasted. More government spending and tax payers contributions blowing away in the wind. I researched the grant program and noticed there was a 25 officer cap and only 75% of the cost of salary and benefits were funded for a 3 year period. Then I thought the only way to deal with this issue is to isolate resources and push them towards the most significant problem first. And then it was simple to me; help one city at a time. I know we can no longer spread resources out for this problem to be resolved. It is the only way to decrease violence and police shootings simultaneously. I thought to myself, which is the one city that has remained in the news over the past 2-3 years as topping the headlines? It is one of the cities that you call home sir, and is arguably one of the most troubled and violent cities in nation. It is Chicago. You had your farewell speech there but no mention of the record numbers of homicides were mentioned. I know recently President Elect Trump told the mayor (Rahm Emanuel) to get ahold of the violence there and request governmental support; that is not a solution.
Their chief of police recently shared that the department is 657 officers down (vacancies due to retirements) and they can’t keep up through hiring. This is in a department that normally has a little over 7,000 officers for beat patrol and 911 calls collectively. This is to service twenty-two (22) patrol districts. Chicago is also 350 detectives down. There are normally 1200 detectives yet it is unknown how many of those are assigned to the homicide unit. Then you have an additional 3800 officers that work gangs, narcotics, specialized units and saturation teams. The detectives retiring has left a load for those left to investigate homicide cases and others so heavy that there is no way they can keep up. In the above link you will find one even stated, “You get so many cases you could not do an honest investigation on three-quarters of them,” he said in an interview. “The guys … are trying to investigate one homicide and they are sent out the next day on a brand new homicide or a double.” This is another reason why there were 488 homicides last year (2015); by the way there were only 8 deadly force incidents involving law enforcement in the entire state of Illinois in that time period. This doesn’t match the “War on Black Boys by Police” pushed by the media. People are literally getting away with murder and the war “on us by us” continues with there being over 700 homicides and 4,300 shooting incidents this year (2016) . To add insult to injury, shootings have increased by 57% and Chicago has the worse homicide case clearance rate in the nation at 43% with a national average of 63%. Chicago had more homicides in 2016 than New York City and Los Angeles combined and that is with NYC having a population and police force twice the size of Chicago. This should be a priority and could be your final contribution to the awesome position you held over the past eight years. If you and President Elect Trump could make this a pressing issue and move forward an emergency plan to deal with the same, it would give the country hope for a better future.
I read that Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently approved funds to go towards a plan to provide more officers with tasers and noted that 750 officers will receive them this year allowing all patrol officers to be equipped (making it 1,800 officers out of 12,000). It is a start but they need them now to provide less-lethal options to help prevent any more tragic incidents like the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. I understand many advocates would like to see that money go towards new jobs, schools and housing opportunities. The problem is the homicide rate exceeded 700 this year. We don’t need to see dead bodies in front of new houses, schools and people don’t need to get murdered walking to a new job.
What I’m Proposing
The plan I propose will call for an expansion of three Department of Justice (DOJ) programs which are the Universal Hiring program (UHP), Making Officer Redeployment Effective (M.O.R.E.) program, and an expanded version of the Police Corps program to pre-train officers in areas of concern (de-escalation, 40-hour crisis intervention team training, cultural diversity, Shoot/No Shoot Scenarios, Best Character building practices). It should also include the Hicks Arrest & Control program used previously under Police Corps (http://hickspolicetraining.com/?page_id=202). This should be prior to the cadets proceeding to the expanded Chicago Police academy and in all add an additional six (6) months of training between the two academy programs. There will be Cultural Diversity, Use of Force and Hiring Reform built into the agreement between the DOJ and the Chicago Police Department. It should expand the current C.A.P.S. program Chicago Police has in place to further encourage bridging the gap between citizens and police. The grant will provide for dedicated positions and should include a plan to put in place 200 detectives (with 100 detectives for homicide), 350 patrol officers, 50 in-service trainers for de-escalation, less-lethal and cultural diversity, 100 for C.A.P.S, and 100 for the program associated with the new “Crime Gun intelligence” center. It should be noted this is not a request for a total government take over, just as needed to assist troubled agencies in crisis.
There should be an additional 50 supervisors positions funded for the purpose of coordinating two new sections. A section responsible for a “Random Psychological Evaluation” program (similar to the random drug testing policy) and mandatory psychological reviews for any officer with ten (10) documented use of forces in a one year period and following an officer involved shooting. This is to assist with identifying officers suffering from PTSD or any other mental challenges. An “Early Intervention Program” will be initiated for use of forces to look at investigations done on officers. The purpose is to locate patterns of inappropriate behavior, identify officers in need of remedial training, and to handle “Bad Apples”. The Department shall create a “Cultural Diversity & Education Unit” comprised of one command staff member (covering all sections), 3 supervisors with 10 officers under each section. This unit should create a diversity/community policing test. The test shall be a requirement of hire. Additionally, the sections will handle ongoing in-service classes, and inclusion of citizen leaders advice. I know many (CPD) officers will read this letter and think I’ve lost my mind. I believe that law enforcement agency leaders are to blame. They’ve turned policing into BIG BUSINESS. We started the job with heart first and they use us to fill their pockets. It has become all about the amount of tickets you can write versus the good you can do. Most of you do amazing work!
I have to make one last point about gun control. New gun control laws will NOT slow violence in Chicago or any other place in the nation. You are attaching more legislation to good citizens that have the right to bear arms and carry concealed firearms. My position does not have anything to do with me being an advocate of the 2nd Amendment, or a NRA member. I just understand that those involved in criminal activity will get guns and have never had a problem doing so. The issue is we are distracted by the object of cause (the gun) and not the person (the suspect). You already have a program (through the ATF) in place that has not received the support needed to have departments fully accept and adopt it. That is the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (http://johnsgunblog.com) and it actually works to prevent homicides using science as a factor. Most departments do not investigate shootings without injury thoroughly. This has a lot to do with manpower and solvability. The problem is “The Serial Shooter” has practiced in multiple shootings prior to committing his first homicide. We do not look for him until a life has been taken. The new team will actively control evidence to be entered into the system and shall coordinate with detectives from the assaults unit to locate and arrest those associated with the shooting incidents. This is another way to stop the senseless deaths and save black lives. I understand the Chicago police department has made some improvements in the past year but there is still the manpower issue. The “Chicago Crime Gun Intelligence” center should be expanded and modeled after the successful programs that Denver PD and New Jersey State Police run at this time. New Jersey State police process identifies a shooter within twenty-four hours of the incident.
In closing sir, I do want to thank you for the eight years you served and taking the time to read this letter. I know there will be critics on both sides of the argument that may believe this strategy is not the direction to go. All I can say is we have to find solutions that can address violence in America, shooting incidents, and police training all at the same time. We are truly in a state of emergency and we have to do something different to win. We need to push politics aside as our citizens are being killed; because Toe Tags Matter. I am just a man who loves America, good police officers, good citizens and one that holds people to their promises. Please continue to follow through and push this conversation to President Elect Trump to help us change as a nation.
God bless you sir and God bless America!
Cc: President Elect Donald Trump