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Police Tactics — Why Now?
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Police Tactics

I’ve mentioned before that I was in law enforcement for a decade, so I look at the Cambridge Police vs Harvard Professor with a different point of view than most people. Cutting to the chase, the sergeant was wrong, he knew he was wrong, and his actions told every officer who stayed awake in the academy that he was wrong.

In his column in the Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts made these observations:

Please take a good look at Dr. Henry Louis Gates.

He is 5’7”, weighs 150 pounds, wears glasses and uses a cane. His legs are of unequal length, his mustache and goatee are gray. He is 58 years old and looks it.

The police report says he was “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior in a public place.” That being his own front porch.

In the end, he still winds up standing on his front porch with his wrists shackled, just like any drug dealer or carjacker anywhere.

Mr. Pitts caught one of the points, but missed the most telling point for cops, because cops are aware of the significance.

While it was smoother that breaking someone’s taillight with your flashlight and charging them with an equipment violation to justify and otherwise unjustified stop, the disorderly conduct charge is just bogus. Someone’s front porch doesn’t not pass the laugh test as a public space. This incident took place on private property and everyone knows it.

The point that Mr. Pitts missed is that Dr. Gates was not shackled like a drug dealer or carjacker – he was handcuffed in front, not behind. That is a major violation of police training, an officer safety issue. The only reason for a seasoned officer to do that is because he/she knows there is no threat, and, in fact, no reason to use handcuffs. If you use cuffs like that, you are essentially giving a suspect a weapon that they can readily use against you. Lock-ups have belts that make it look like someone in shackled in front, but they offer less freedom of arm movement and have no chain between wrists than can be used as a garrote. The purpose of putting handcuffs on Dr. Gates was theater and humiliation, not law enforcement.

I would want to hear the 911 call and the dispatch tapes to find out what the sergeant knew before he arrived. Mr. Pitts said that a neighbor called the police, but I’ve seen it reported that a “passer-by” reported it. A neighbor would certainly know that the house was the residence of an older black man. If a neighbor called, I would assume that the Boston area hasn’t progressed much from the bussing riots.

Obama reacted as expected – he has the same level of backbone as the Nancy and Harry show.


1 Jack K., the Grumpy Forester { 07.26.09 at 6:36 pm }

…I’ve watched the post-arrest debate with some bemusement (my pick for winner are comments by Juan Williams on NPR’s Weekend Edition, which I won’t attempt to characterize except to say that he may have mistakenly thought he was commenting at FAUX News). The one thing about the whole episode that puzzled me, however, was why the sergeant and other officers didn’t simply disengage from the situation. Maybe my confusion stems from an adult lifetime of not having handcuffs, Mace, sidearms, or backup when dealing with angry citizens, but just stepping away has always seemed to me to be an excellent way of diffusing a situation that could potentially escalate for no good reason…

2 Bryan { 07.26.09 at 7:34 pm }

Jack, they went into the situation looking for trouble and they found it. Just as soon as the address verification was made, they should have left because there was no legitimate reason for them to be on the man’s property. Even cops need a reason to be on private property.

Dr. Gates was probably not in the most reasonable of moods. I picked my Mother up after she returned from a trip to Hong Kong and she wanted to get home, get in bed, and collapse. If someone had started pounding on her door, even someone wearing a gun and a badge, a tongue lashing was the least they would have gotten.

He arrived home and his front door stuck, no doubt from all the rain they have had in the Northeast lately, and then the police showed up.

The cop couldn’t control himself, so he couldn’t control the situation. I’ve been called a racist almost every time i arrested a person of color, and I ignored it. You do the job and keep the peace, you don’t argue with people. If you are easily offended find another line of work.

3 hipparchia { 07.27.09 at 1:16 am }

If you are easily offended find another line of work.


it’s a shame obama couldn’t stick with his initial reaction, that the officer behaved stupidly.

4 cookie jill { 07.27.09 at 11:57 am }

I think it just got to the point of waring egos on both sides.
The officer should have left after verifying identification.

Shame the neighbor didn’t recognize their own neighbor “breaking” into his own house.
.-= ´s last blog ..Fighting for the Heart of Dairy =-.

5 Bryan { 07.27.09 at 12:53 pm }

They’ve released the tapes and transcripts, and the stupidity shines. If this had gone to court a defense attorney would have a field day with Crowley on the stand. This is every basic mistake there is in procedure. Gates should sue, maybe that would convince Cambridge to clean up their act.

Jill, citizens are allowed to get angry. Oh, it wasn’t a neighbor who called, it was a woman going passed. Another problem with the reporting on this case.

6 Kryten42 { 07.28.09 at 7:14 am }

Agree Bryan, unfortunately.

And what annoys me now (and the LEO’s I’ve spoken to) is that here as in the USA, there are now TV ad’s telling Joe & Mary Public to rat on anyone and every one they see or hear doing anything that person considers *suspicious*! Good lord… Where do Governments get these insane ideas from? Really! The police here have had to increase their admin staff, especially in various call centers, and use valuable policing resources to sift through the tripled number of calls about *stuff that happened, maybe*. And yet, the same stupid public are screaming about the lack of LEO’s out on the streets to protect them, without realizing the irony that it’s their own stupid fault for doing what the equally stupid Gov tells them to do!

Common sense is truly dead.

7 Bryan { 07.28.09 at 12:28 pm }

Ah, yes, the tip lines. In many places in the US they are sponsored, just like TV shows, by businesses, and they pass on all that information to the police, who have to sort through it.

More data does not equal more information.

OTOH, if you don’t have reasonable relations with the public, they won’t talk to you, or tell you things that you need to know when you canvas a neighborhood around a crime scene.

8 Moi { 07.28.09 at 9:43 pm }

Ya know, though, the neighbor thing really gets me. When I lived in the city, my next door neighbors knew EVERYTHING that went on at my house, who came and went, etc. Out here in Aymish country, the neighbors across the street know EVERYTHING about who comes and goes here, too. They saw my side neighbor shooting at the deer from HIS back yard. Old ladies have nothing better to do than to mind everyone else’s business.

So you can’t tell me the “neighbor” didn’t know who was going into his own house. That’s the most bogus thing of all.

And who would expect Obama to react any differently? Of course he’s in the Harry and Nancy Bunch. For some reason the words Namby Pamby come to mind….

9 Bryan { 07.28.09 at 11:49 pm }

The reporting was wrong, it wasn’t a neighbor, it was an individual who just worked in the area, and she didn’t know the people involved were black and said so.

I don’t understand why the cops didn’t have someone check the city directory to get the name of the home owner. We would do that when the directory was an actual book, not an on-line database in most places these days.

I’m still waiting for Obama to take a stand on something, but I’m not holding my breath.

Cambridge is not a big city environment, and neighbors would definitely know each other, even if they weren’t on speaking terms.