Tag Archives: police

When Should ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the American Criminal Justice System?

It is unfortunate that death on our streets has become the catalyst for our “angry” national conversation about the value of life in American communities. For any future policy changes addressing street violence, there’s always the tired and out-of-touch political non-leadership resigned to the misinformed position that by “fixing the police” the problem will be fixed.


Photo Credit: Gerry Lauzon/Flickr Creative Commons
Photo Credit: Gerry Lauzon/Flickr Creative Commons


No other shallow posturing could be less accurate, carelessly shortsighted, or a more harmful to the desperate need for a meaningful overhaul of the criminal justice system. Political pandering about ‘reform’  is nothing more than dangerous inaction. This inaction continues to threaten the safety of everyday-life in American communities in the short term, and erodes public trust in the long term.

The criminal justice “system” that impacts equity and fairness is a system, less dependent on the actions of ethical cops on the street, than on outdated public safety policies and ‘broken-record’ political practices.

Think of it as a pyramidal maze where the marble gets dropped into the top and then through a series of twist and turns comes to the end and drops out of the bottom. The sound of the police making an lawful arrest places a person at the top of the pyramid. From there the roll through to bottom is the remainder of the criminal system.

Photo Credit: YouTube
Photo Credit: YouTube


The undeniable truth, however, is that the perception is cops control the system. As if the entire system falls to the police who have little control of the maze.  The police unquestionably are the most visible part of the system. Yet, they often lose all influence after that life is subject to individual state and federal bail requirements, criminal charging practices, and court determined release decisions.
Sworn to protect and serve goes only so far.
Yes, policing in many communities in this country is in crisis of confidence. The most dangerous part for all, however, is when police lack community confidence and fear the loss of public trust. Without both there is a great risk to act not fairly and ethically at all.

Improvement is needed:

Yes, there needs to be a clear and renewed focus on accountability on a number of levels within police agencies and is an urgent priority.

Yes, policing leadership and the quality of many police administrations desperately require a complete overhaul

Yes, the failure of police agencies should be understood to be a clear failure of the unintelligent political leadership.  The real failure to Black Lives Matter and all lives begins long before a police contact drops that life into the maze of the criminal justice system.  

Sadly and unfairly, any resulting anger gets targeted directly at the police.

Really, the fix is in often before the police come into the picture. They’re the first decision-maker by virtue of the arrest, but have so little effect on the final disposition of a case. They’re left out on a the limb by themselves to absorb the anger of a system (that works better when you have money than when you don’t).


Photo Credit: Wiki Commons
Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

We need to completely overhaul the bail system in this country. States need to legislate new bail laws that focus equal access to justice. The net effect now is that a poor person is in jail longer than a rich one because they can’t make bail.

Here’s what that might look like. Crimes-against-persons wouldn’t qualify for no-bail, but property crimes without a criminal history might. Drug crimes for possession and low level sales would be a ‘yes’ for no bail.

We should also do away with certain charging enhancements, such as higher penalties for most drug sales within 1000 ft of a school as the sole reason for enhanced bail. 

We might agree crimes need to be referred to the criminal justice system. But the system doesn’t guarantee justice will be better served when those arrested remain in jail only because they don’t have a bank account that matches.

Yes, our poor excuse for political leaders need to shoulder their share of the responsibility for not only Black Lives but for all economically underprivileged lives.  

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons
Photo Credit: Wiki Commons


Yes, we need to recognize that there will be no end to the guaranteed downward spiral of ‘stay in jail, lose my job, lose my car, lose my family and lose my hope for justice’ in a system that is perceived to be stacked against them.

Anger boils over at police because access to equal justice and a return to a productive life depends on the size of a law breaker’s bank account. Does that excuse the individual responsibility to respect the rule of law? Of course not. However, that is not the argument here. The point is, that the rule of law is not only about being arrested, it is about equal access to it.


Photo Credit: Wiki Commons
Photo Credit: Wiki Commons


If we have devolved to a discussion of “Cops” versus “Color”, don’t blame the cops  and dont’t blame our communities of color. The fault, and there is fault, falls squarely on those who should be smart enough and committed enough to demonstrate Black Lives Matter long before the two find themselves again with deadly irreconcilable differences –differences not always of their own making.


When Police Resort to These Tactics They’ve Lost the Argument

Cops dress as panhandlers to spy if drivers are wearing seat belts or using cell phones.

On a warm July day, police officers dressed in civvies and stationed themselves at two intersections. One, according to a press account, at the intersection of Highway 210 and Arden and this one, Highway 210 at Waterman Avenue in the City of San Bernardino.

Google Street View captured a panhandler when it took this photo in 2014. Photo: Google Street View
Google Street View captured a panhandler when it took this photo in 2014.
Photo: Google Street View

As you can see from the photo above, this is a typical spot for panhandlers. Even Google Street View captured one as it buzzed by to take this photo in 2014. So it was no big surprise when drivers may have spotted this guy when they got off the highway:

Photo: PE
Photo: PE

Wait, what did that sign say again? 

Photo: Press Enterprise
Photo: Press Enterprise






I’ll bet a steak dinner that unsuspecting drivers, who usually ignore the signs of panhandlers who occupy off ramps and intersections because they’re mostly scam artists, didn’t even bother to look at the sign. Even if they had, it would have been difficult to read the scribbled eye chart, ‘if-you-can-read-the-last-line-you-have-20/20-vision’-style sign.

The officers’ objective was to pretend to notify people of their sting without actually doing it, in order to catch people driving without seat belts or using their cell phones.

According to the Press Enterprise (which, by the way, changed its first headline and story from the sting op to touting the story as one about a ‘study’), the officers would observe the cockpits of the cars and trucks as they exited the highway to determine if drivers were wearing seat belts or using cellphones and radio ahead to other cops with a description of the scofflaw.

Photo: Press Enterprise
Photo: Press Enterprise

According to the PE:

At the end of the day, 50 vehicles were stopped, and 33 people were cited for cellphone violations.

In a recent study of traffic of Waterman Avenue, there were 10, 371 daily trips in one section alone and that did not include ingress and egress of a state highway. This is another way of saying that 33 people cited for cellphone violations is a statistical nothing-burger. 

However, it wasn’t nothing for the drivers and passengers of 50 vehicles to be stopped and hassled by police who apparently had nothing better to do that day than dress up as homeless people and harass otherwise law abiding citizens.

There will be people outraged, I’m sure, by the tone of this piece. The ‘how dare you, Victoria’ crowd who have heard of the horrible accidents caused by drivers using cell phones or heard about severe injuries suffered by those who didn’t use their seat belts.  I’ll stipulate some of the horrible stories and stupid people using cell phones while driving. I’ve heard it all before after talking and writing about cell phone laws for years now.

Yes, it’s illegal to use your cell phone and drive, but it shouldn’t be.  

Since I’ve done this all before I’ll just quote myself from this story about the bogus statistics about cell phones and accidents:

Early on statisticians used the fact that cell phones were present in cars as ‘proof’ they were complicit in a crash. 

Then came the evidence that hands free cell phone use was no safer than holding a cell phone. Studies showed it was the act of talking that was the distracting aspect. What to do? Like the folks who morphed “man made global warming” into “climate change,” safety poohbahs conflated the parade of horribles from cell phones and driving under an umbrella label called, “Distracted Driving.” 

The demonization of cell phones persists, of course. I mean, hundreds of lawmakers can’t be proven wrong, can they? A recent study purported to claim that cell phone use is worse than drunk driving. 

Now there’s another study showing that talking to your kids in the back seat is a distraction.

And then there’s this study:

Carnegie Mellon/London School of Economics study confirms cell phone chatting and driving don’t increase chances of car accidents, unless you’re a moron, that is.

Researchers say they’re surprised by the results of their own study of U.S. data which shows there’s no correlation between chatting away on cell phones and driving.

You want to see distracted driving? Cell phone use while driving? Not wearing seat belts while driving? Check out a cop sometime. 

A 2013 study found half the cops don’t wear seat belts. Many cities install computers for cops to use while talking on their cell phones or two-ways while driving. Watch sometime.

I don’t blame them. They probably think these are stupid laws, too. 

But when you have to resort to tactics like these to punish people for disobeying a law whose usefulness is at best suspect, you’ve lost the moral high ground. In short, you’ve lost the argument in favor of such laws. 


IJR: Cuffed, Shackled & Masked and Then Tased

Here’s my piece on this case from Virginia getting a lot of attention to across the country:

A mentally ill woman, who was to be taken to get treatment, instead ended up dead in a Fairfax, Virginia, hospital.

NBC News 4 reports that Natasha McKenna’s death has spurred a discussion by Fairfax County officials about where obviously mentally ill people should be sent, instead of a jail cell.

Deputies say McKenna, who was in jail for assaulting a police officer, was going to a mental facility for treatment, but grew violent when they attempted to remove her from her cell.

But as The Washington Post reports, Natasha McKenna’s hands were cuffed behind her…

Read the rest here: http://www.ijreview.com/2015/04/295595-cuffed-shackled-6-jailers-shocked-turned-deadly-nightmare/



What I saw in Ferguson, Missouri

Ferguson Memorial www.VictoriaTaft.com
A memorial occupies the middle of Canfield Drive in Ferguson where Michael Brown’s body lay while police investigated the cop shooting.

Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson on August 9th. Since then, the town has been depicted in the media as more caricature than place. Since the shooting and subsequent protests and riots, it’s become short hand for a slum where ‘disaffected black youth’ run the streets, jack up unsuspecting store owners and are incessantly hassled by the cops.

In fact, Ferguson is a pleasant burg on the outskirts of St. Louis. It’s not a ghetto. Neither is it a fancy gated community. It’s a leafy suburb marked by simple, boxy, unadorned, working class homes. Gutters are full of leaves, not garbage. There’s pride of ownership in these homes. Lawns are mowed, bushes are trimmed.

On a Monday afternoon, the neighborhood was quiet where Michael Brown was killed. Considering the media stories of unrest, you’d think an angry mob would be seen at the ready, spoiling for a fight. But no. Ferguson was quiet because people were out of their houses at work or school. There were no mobs. No menacing looking thugs. There were a few friendly looking younger adults seen going in and out of the mini mart where the Michael Brown saga started.

This is the Mini Mart where Michael Brown and his friend stole Swisher Sweets and then threatened and man handled the owner when he protested. Photo: VictoriaTaft.com Victoria Taft
This is the Mini Mart where Michael Brown and his friend stole Swisher Sweets cigars and then threatened and man handled the owner when he protested. Photo: VictoriaTaft.com Victoria Taft

And here’s what it looked like when Michael Brown was last in this store. Michael is wearing the ball cap.

Michael Brown roughs up convenience store owner after ripping off Swisher Sweets cigars. Photo: Paul Martin Foreign Correspondent

Just a few short minutes later he would be dead.

Baseball caps, like the one Michael Brown was wearing the night of his death, line the memorial at the spot where he died August 9th.  Photo: Victoria Taft, VictoriaTaft.com
Baseball caps, like the one Michael Brown was wearing the night of his death, line the memorial at the spot where he died August 9th. Photo: Victoria Taft, VictoriaTaft.com

People were understandably shocked at the death in their midst. The many witnesses–including a rapper who used Twitter to tell of the horror–saw something happen at the cop car and then the shots rang out. But that shock quickly devolved into an official narrative, a meme. To wit: Promising young black man cut down by white racist cop in a cold blooded killing.

The body of Michael Brown lay bleeding for hours in the middle of the Canfield Drive.


A spontaneous memorial where Michael Brown lay after being shot by a police officer is still there two months later. Photo: VictoriaTaft.com
A spontaneous memorial where Michael Brown lay after being shot by a police officer is still there two months later. Photo: Victoria Taft  VictoriaTaft.com

There are places scarred by the unrest you’ve seen in the news, yet they look starkly out of place during the day in this well kept town. Down the street from a chic bakery along West Florrisant Avenue sits the demolished gas station, attacked and burned out by a mob.

A Ferguson gas station is shut down after an angry mob attacked it. The roof is caved in from the damage. Photo: VictoriaTaft.com
A Ferguson gas station is shut down after an angry mob attacked it. The roof is caved in from the damage. Photo: VictoriaTaft.com

It was torched to prove…to prove…well we don’t know what the angry mobs who moved in after the police shooting were trying to prove, but they sure were destructive.

Photo: Nicholas Stix Uncensored
Photo: Nicholas Stix Uncensored

The angry mob vows to come back, however–when, if–Officer Darren Wilson is found innocent of discharging his gun as a thug began an assault on him while he still sat in his police cruiser. According to grand jury released by hackers, eyewitnesses say they saw Brown initiate the attack. What happened after that was not leaked and is unclear except that Brown was killed in a hail of bullets. 

The local prosecuting attorney has vowed to release immediately all transcripts from the grand jury when the conclusion is made public.

But what about the other victims? Businesses are on the ropes because of the threats of the mobs and customers’ fear of going to pick up Chinese food after dark. Not all, but some. As I reported in the Independent Journal Review,

Business owners in Ferguson, Missouri, are complaining the riots and protests have made people ‘too scared’ to buy stuff at night and they’re struggling to make it.

CBS affiliate KTVI in St. Louis reports restaurant owner Tammy Cao, who owns the Hunan Chop Suey restaurant, has lost thousands of dollars since the August shooting and its aftermath:

We’ve lost $200 to $300 in business nightly, people are afraid to pick up in the night, after dark. People are too scared at night … I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

The losses in revenue are already on top of the money Cao’s and other businesses will have to spend to replace broken windows and other damage insurance won’t cover.

The mobs’ anger has also taken they toll on black owned businesses–looting hard-earned inventory– of one and pushing another business owner to the brink of bankruptcy,

Rokyaya Biteye, the owner of Daba African Hair Braiding, told Reuters she’s on the ropes:

I feel scared about my business. I don’t think it will work anymore.

She has no insurance.

 The mob who cries for justice for Michael Brown doesn’t want any for the businesses, the City of Ferguson, or Officer Wilson. 

Photo: KTVI
Photo: KTVI

Others are looking for divine justice. This church sits next to the Ferguson Market and Liquor where this horrible story started:

Photo: Victoria Taft
Photo: Victoria Taft


Photo: Victoria Taft
Photo: Victoria Taft
Photo: Victoria Taft
Photo: Victoria Taft

They’ll need all the prayer they can get. Especially if the mobs are shipped back to Ferguson.

Guisto: Clackamas Town Center Shooting, one year later.

The never ending gunfire that may not warm the heart

Clack Town Center memorial blogFor those who were at Clackamas Town Center on the afternoon of December 11, 2012, the sounds of gunfire still rings clearly this holiday. They will tell you that on that day each shot fired by 19 year old Jacob Roberts had a meaning all of its own. They wondered, not in awe but in fear, that each round of ammunition carried name of a potential victim ,theirs, at the end of its travel. They know exactly where they were when the shooting started, but will be hard pressed to tell you when it stopped. Because it never seemed to stop that afternoon. For some it still has not stopped. For others and their families it will never stop.

Lost in the gunfire that day was one simple fact: The cops were on the way with an energy and commitment to duty you can only understand if you have been there. There was no illusion for those deputies and police officers that they were riding to the rescue of those in trouble. They knew that the report of gunfire meant that they were on the way not to save every life but, if they were lucky and skilled, the next one. That the gunfire was happening in a place where violence can multiply its affect quickly only meant that once on scene they would not have time try to find “a safe way” to stop the shooting. It didn’t matter who or what awaited them either outside or inside. The only mission regardless of the danger of the unknown was to stop the shooting and stop it in the soonest moment possible.

In the background, invisible to all except Operations, was the command brain center that guided the operations through the eyes and ears of cops about to be deployed around and then into Clackamas Town Center. Tactical Command is the place where the command to act is guided through the careful assessment of the situation as relayed by the sights and sounds being soaked in by the cops on scene. Tactical command is the place where fear and the strong sense of duty takes a deep breath, and, in this case, where rational and unemotional decisions were made and then implemented.

Clack Town Report mapIt is the place where a commander’s career experience brings life to a life and death plan where there are significantly more unknowns than certainties. The clear separation of Tactical Command and Operational Command both in location and mind set was beyond essential, it is in fact critical to the life and death decisions and action that followed. The separation of Tactical and Operational Command signaled a well trained and disciplined police response. Clearly the decisions made were based on well tested police policy and implemented by a calm deployment of operations resources.

When Operations Command and Tactical Command were joined in purpose at Town Center, tactical Command asking the right question in the right order was more important than any singular answer to follow by Operational Command. Soon that would flip over and the observations of Operational Command would be driving the plan now being formulated, deployed and revised in the minds of the Tactical Commander. That is correct commander singular. A heavy burden to shoulder. Orders given from Tactical Command will be responsible for the lives yet to enter the mall and those waiting to be rescued. Calculating a tactical plan does not mean delaying operational action. It only means that tactical guidance must be an unemotional decision making process and the resulting guidance implemented rationally by operations command.

So as the cops began to arrive they prepared a mental checklist of what they would be facing. When two, three, four uniforms arrived from whatever agency, they knew that waiting for a Special Weapons Team was not an option. They gathered and deployed into the mall with the unknowns far out weighing any certainties. They may or may not have comparable firepower as a group or as individuals. They used their “Active Shooter” training which sent them in to hunt down the bad guys and neutralizing them. They knew there was much more danger to those waiting for their help. The safety of the Active Shooter team they knew would have to wait. But they did not engage this shooter. Roberts shot himself when his delusion meets reality. 

For Cindy Yuille and Steven Forsythe the best tactical plan backed up by the courage to actively hunting the shooter would come too late. For Kristina Shevechenko the presence of well trained operational deputies and police officers could no doubt only provide emergency attention to her critical wounds and does very little to give her emotional comfort going forward. For their families all that tactical and operational mumbo jumbo matter little. They will find whatever peace comes to them in the memory of Cindy and Steven and grateful for the recovery of Kristina. 

A year later we are still arguing over whether the actions of an armed, licensed security guard, Nick Meli, who said he drew his weapon to engage Roberts himself really made any difference. We are still trying to assess the possibility that Roberts seeing Meli’s gun caused him to end the shooting. In the moment it may have, we will never know, but in the longer threat assessment to our community, I’m not sure it does. 

Clack Town Report Meli 1
From the official after action report into the shooting.

In all the recounting of the tragedy at Town Center, the evil of guns in the wrong hands remains front and center. The problem is we can’t define the “wrong hands” let alone the wrong gun. If it is not all guns that are evil then certainly we are still in a free fire zone conversation regarding the killing power of high capacity weapons and ammunition magazines. But we are still no closer to placing responsibility with those who harbor guns legally but carelessly.

In all the review of the Clackamas Town Center shootings this month you will find no mention of how the AR-15 used in the shooting got into the hands of this violence prone individual. To refresh memory, Roberts took the weapon from a friend’s house in the hours prior to his delusional rampage. I use the word “took” because it must not have been stolen. He must have allowed Roberts to possess the gun otherwise a responsible gun owner would have reported the weapon stolen maybe even naming Roberts as a suspect. The only other possibility is that he had no idea the AR-15 was missing and even where it might have been at any one moment, even that moment when it was blazing terror into Clackamas Town Center. We can be absolutely sure that it was not locked away in a place not available to any other person including Jacob Roberts.


From the official after action report.
From the official after action report.

Our law makers must place the responsibility squarely on the owner to secure this gun. There is a legitimate state interest of the state to control firearms through forcing individual responsibility of ownership even of just high capacity firearms and magazines with appropriate penalty assigned when the statutory test is failed to be met. if they need further proof just ask the parents and families of 20 children and 6 teachers and staff of Newtown Connecticut who were shot to death by Adam Lanza who was armed firearms legally purchased by his mother and left available to him even with known mental health issues. Again: no unsecured guns, very likely no shooter.

If we quit quibbling over tired gun purchase issues and– just for this holiday season– remember the shots fired at Clackamas Town Center and that preventing this shooting before it happened may have been within control of our well intended political leaders. Certainly the next time they can’t say they didn’t know.

And the best news is that it will take very little political courage.

Now there is a heartwarming thought

Bernie Giusto is the retired Multnomah County Sheriff, former Gresham Police Chief,  former Gresham city council member, and member of the Multnomah County ESD.  He’s also a member of the Victoria Taft Blogforce.