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COLUMN: Taking Control to Counter Ripple Effects of Politics on Policing

A great deal of gaining control post-incident must be done long before the pot comes to a boil.

More than 30 years ago while attending the Maryland State Police Academy as a very young Trooper Candidate we were taught to always, and without exception, take control of every situation. It did not matter if it was a routine traffic stop, a domestic violence case, the scene of a violent crime, or a bar fight – take control. We were also taught it did not matter if we were unsure due to inexperience, scared to death because of the situation, or frankly in over our heads – take control. We were taught that one thing was a guarantee: If we did not take control the situation would get worse every time.

During my career as a road Trooper, Criminal Investigator, and later a Commander I found that training to be true. As you mature through the years and gain experience on the street and in command you learn there are many ways to gain control. There are direct ways and there are subtle ways to take control of every situation, but that is a topic better served in a police training session and not spilled out in a short column.

The concept of taking control and maintaining control is surely still taught in every police academy across the country. It is pertinent in the world in which we police today. With the rise in line-of-duty deaths and the rise in assaults against police and the authority their uniforms and badges represent, the concept is much more critical than in my day, 30 years ago.

Always taking control sounds like a very simple concept, and it is, until we bring politics, media perception, and the potential of abuse of police powers into the equation. The abuse of police powers whether real or perceived no longer matters. Incidents bring heavy media attention, which jumpstarts the human fallacy of jumping to conclusions before the facts are known or a complete investigation has been done. The result is that incidents are quickly pigeonholed and made into a preconceived notion, idea, or movement. When that happens, politics become involved and now it is a political agenda item. That transformation can take place over weeks, days, or hours post-incident. There currently is nothing those in police command can do when that happens.

The police may not be able to stop the building from collapsing. However, it is that much more important that control is maintained, and order is restored once that has happened. A great deal of gaining control post-incident must be done long before the pot comes to a boil. Community leaders, business leaders, religious leaders, political leaders, and sometimes gang leaders must be brought together with police leadership to talk about issues. They need to understand that community means community. Nobody wants to see a community or a city burned to the ground. Nobody wants to see rampant violence in the streets or citizens who feel threatened to the point of arming themselves and patrolling the streets. All must understand that no matter what happens, the police will maintain control or regain control as quickly as possible to protect all.

The leaders, especially the political leaders, must understand that if peaceful events and protests suddenly become violent the police have the authority to quickly respond and cull the herd of the wolves whether local or from the outside who have mingled into the crowd and are bent on causing chaos and violence. If there is that understanding, often local community leaders will point out to the police who is part of a peaceful event and who is not.

When an incident happens that builds and can escalate quickly into a riot, from the police perspective it does not matter the reason – the police must take control. A riot is a riot is a riot. When political leadership steps in and prevents the police from doing what they have been trained and should have prepared to do, just like basic police training taught us the situation will get worse every time.

If we look at what has happened over the last couple of years across our country, when police are prevented from taking control the situation deteriorated every time. Portland and Baltimore are prime examples of what happens when police are not permitted to police and take control.

Kenosha, Wisconsin, is a case in point. It started with the police shooting of Jacob Blake. The initial peaceful and constitutionally protected protests over the shooting began to turn violent. The peaceful and lawful protests of the day turned into arson, violence, and destruction of property at night. Police did not take control. Based on news reports, it became apparent that political leadership made the decision to hold police back from taking control.

With a city not under control and very little attempt to gain control the situation became worse. The ripple effect happened. It culminated with over $2 million damage done to city property, $50 million damage done to private property and businesses, 40 buildings burned to the ground, and over 100 other buildings damaged. As police stood by not taking control, openly armed citizens were permitted to take to the streets, resulting in two killed and another wounded. A 17-year-old found himself charged with murder, resulting in the three-week jury trial we all watched unfold on TV. The media frenzy over all the events including the trial has done nothing but stoke the fire for ratings, and further divided a fragile citizenry and relations between law enforcement and the citizens we are sworn to serve and protect.

All these ripples could have, and should have, been prevented had police been permitted to take control at the onset. Damage to property could have been minimized. People participating who had violent intent, hiding behind the banner of peaceful and lawful protest, could have been quickly culled from the herd. Armed citizens whether rightfully or wrongfully involved would have been prevented by police from roaming the streets. When the street is full of running gasoline and you permit somebody to walk down the street with a lit lighter everybody knows what is going to happen.

Even though none of the three people who were shot would have passed a background check to work in a daycare they would have been unharmed that night, having already been removed or strongly discouraged from being there in the first place. The nation and the good citizens of Kenosha would have been spared the three-week trial and the feared fallout from the result.

Politicians must stay in their lane, and police must fairly and justly take control using the various tools in the tool bag. The safety of our citizens and country that we love depends on it.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email Editor@Hstoday.us.

David Reichenbaugh
David Reichenbaugh's passion for law enforcement started at a very early age which led him to seek a degree in criminal justice. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is a graduate of North Western University Traffic Institute School of Police Staff and Command. David retired after 23 years service with the Maryland State Police as a Lieutenant and Barrack Commander in Cumberland Maryland. David's career started as a road Trooper and continued on as a criminal investigator, undercover narcotics investigator, major violators supervisor, homicide and high profile case investigator, and assisted in the development of the intelligence unit of the MSP post 9/11. He is the author of "In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers."

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