Monday, November 30, 2015

Colorado Shooting: Trying to Make Sense of Senseless Act

As most Americans continued their holiday on Friday, spending time with family, eating Thanksgiving leftovers or trying to find bargains at Black Friday sales, a lone gunman in Colorado had other ideas.

As was widely reported, the suspect opened fire on civilians and responding law enforcement officers as he barricaded himself inside the building.

In the end, after a shootout and the rescue of several hostages inside the building, nine people were shot including five cops. Two of the civilians and a police officer were killed. The gunman eventually surrendered.

Certainly, there are political overtones intertwined throughout this incident. The location of the crime stirs strong political feelings depending on what side of the spectrum one is on.

A community, families and loved ones of injured officers and civilians are still dealing with the impact of the events and their own losses.

Firefighters, medics, dispatchers are all dealing with this tragedy and will likely continue to for perhaps a lifetime.

This story can easily be spun as a pro-choice, pro-life, second amendment , anti-gun, Republican or Democratic issue. We all have our biases.

In Criminal Justice we are taught to put aside those personal and/or political biases when enforcing the law, but as humans we ask ourselves “why?”

As students and practitioners of Criminal Justice, we want answers, we want to know the criminal mind. In our quest to find motives, we may just have to accept that sometimes we can’t make sense out of senseless acts.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"You're Studying What?" : Higher Education and Policing

"You have a degree? Good! YOU can do all the paperwork Nerd!" These exact words were directed at me when my fellow officers learned I had a college degree. It was my first introduction into how cops saw the value of higher education in traditional policing. 

  • Have attitudes about higher education and policing changed? 
  • Is there a role for higher education in policing?
  • If so, what is this role?

There are long standing disparities in the value of education in policing.  Often the debate is condensed to the immediate return on the lessons learned in the field versus the classroom. Which location provides the more practicable, usable information?

Experienced field trained officers, sans degrees, are proud of the knowledge they have acquired through real life experience, often learning hard lessons through the risk of paying for the knowledge in scars and blood.

Classroom education provides opportunity to hone, practice, develop communication skills, often challenging in our modern environment in which technological assistance is often a critical tool in everyday communication, which is not always accessible, or available in the field.

Daily, I implore my students that a diploma guarantees no greater chance of success; it is what they do with the opportunity provided within the learning framework of the classroom.  In other words, anyone can be a warm body in a seat. What are you doing to get your body out of that seat and learn?

The classroom can provide a forum for the lessons learned from years of field experience, provided for new officers to be aware, on the lookout, vigilant, better prepared to seize advantage from those lessons in their own experience.

Critical thinking practiced today will be the policing decisions of tomorrow. Classroom, classically trained officers have a strong theoretical basis in the traditions and philosophical underpinning of the history and policies of the profession.

Research on the benefits on education offer numerous findings on effective problem solving, communication, and overall aptitude skill sets.  A diploma may not synonymous with earning an education, but the debate about formal higher education’s role in policing is not going away.




 This debate has been going on for decades and the push for officers to have degrees seems to come up again when there is a perceived crisis in the profession as there is now. The implication suggests that if cops were "smarter" (book smarter I assume), there would be less use of force issues.

This has not been the case in my personal  experience. I have never referred back to my undergraduate and graduate degrees before deciding if I should use force to defend others and myself.  Instead, I used my hundreds of hours of training and experience as the basis for these split-second decisions. 

As any cop will tell you, they have met the best of the best police officers who didn’t have a shred of formal education. As in all walks of life, there are highly educated individuals who have limited "street smarts."

However, today's policing is not all about chasing people around and arresting them. There is a tremendous amount of critical thinking involved and tons of administrative duties. An officer’s detailed reports may be read by thousands of people, from lawyers, judges, media etc. Also, it takes communication skills to interview witnesses, victims and suspects.  These writing and communication skills are a vital part of the job.  Years of writing research papers and giving college presentations could help the police officer be prepared for this aspect of the job.

Can’t these skills be taught through academy and field training and through time on the job? The honest answer is “Yes.” So, is someone who spent two or more years studying something in a classroom automatically a better cop? The short answer: No, not necessarily. On the other hand, the fresh, innovative, ideas from a young officer who may have studied various non-policing subjects as part of their degree can keep the profession fertile and offer non-traditional law enforcement viewpoints.  

Also, there is a benefit to going outside your comfort zone and learning about subjects unrelated to the field you will be working in and meeting others with different viewpoints. A formal education, allows one to see a different perspective on life than just a police officer perspective. This can be valuable in the profession, because the community you will be interacting with during your duties comes from all walks of life and backgrounds. 

Like it or not, in this competitive job market, the college degree is becoming the new high school diploma.  It has become the baseline for even entry-level jobs. Additionally, more and more police agencies are requiring at least a two-year degree as an employment requirement. In today's world, I would advise any young person interested in the profession to get their degree if possible. 

To summarize, I don't believe a college degree automatically translates to a better cop. I do believe it can add balance to the officer's view of the world, help policing as far as its professional image, and may be required to even be hired much less advance within an agency. 

Despite what the future of policing will call for education-wise, I hope we remember, right now, there are tremendous cops without the "piece of paper" that do incredible, professional, work every day.


We look forward to the exchange of ideas on this popular topic.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

R.I.P. Trooper Jaimie Jursevics

Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jaimie Jursevics and child

As I sat in my police cruiser on the side of the highway with my emergency lights on and filing out paperwork,  I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the semi truck coming right at me. I braced for the impact.

The side of the large tractor trailer slammed into my police SUV, and I was violently pushed forward. My cruiser was no longer in my control as it became a runaway bumper car. I had no idea where or when I would eventually stop. I saw the tow truck driver in front of me as he stood in between me and his tow truck. 

Was I going to crush him? Auto glass and my report papers were flying all around me. My laptop (MDC) had come detached and hit me in the face. All I could do was to wait for the out-of-control ride to stop.

In slow motion, the tow driver jumped over the guard rail barely avoiding being crushed. Then, with a sudden, tremendous, bang, I struck the rear of the tow truck, pushing it into the guardrail and stopping my slide. I woke up in the hospital. 

This scene played out on a major US highway as I investigated an accident scene as a police officer. I had some back and facial injuries and the tow truck driver had a broken leg. All things considered, it could have been much worse.

I share this incident because I read recently about a trooper in Colorado being killed on the interstate by a drunk driver and another officer in Florida ( 22-year-old Officer Nicole Mood) who was in critical condition after another driver struck her patrol vehicle. 

   Officer Nicole Mood North Miami Beach Police

Reportedly, all 50 states now have "move over" laws for emergency vehicles which has been an improvement, but police vehicle-related deaths continue. 

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (FLEOMF), as of this date, fatal police traffic accidents are up 30% from last year. 

Courtesy: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (

My minor incident only left me with a few scars and a good "war story" but I know many officers have had on-duty accidents-many much more serious than mine. Many officers also know colleagues who were seriously injured or killed in vehicle accidents. 

As we mourn the death of Trooper Jaimie Jursevics and all the officers seriously injured or killed in vehicle accidents, let's remember to move over or slow down for all emergency workers (civilian or uniformed) on the side of the road.

 For emergency workers who make their living in the breakdown lanes, please be safe out there, you do important work to keep our roads clear and our communities safe. Thank you.


A Go Fund Me Support Fund for Trooper Jersevics' Survivors Has Been Set Up At

Coming Next: 
The Police and Higher Education Debate 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Full Wall Street Journal Body Cam Article

U.S. Urges Bodycams for Local Police, but Nixes Them on Federal Teams

A police officer in Oakland, Calif., putting on a body camera, designed to record both audio and video in the field.

A police officer in Oakland, Calif., putting on a body camera, designed to record both audio and video in the field. Photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Devlin Barrett
Nov. 11, 2015 4:10 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Justice Department is publicly urging local police departments to adopt body cameras, saying they are an important tool to improve transparency and trust between officers and citizens.

But privately, the department is telling some of its agents they cannot work with officers using such cameras as part of joint task forces, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The reason: The federal government hasn’t yet adopted guidelines on how and when to use body cameras, rules that would be important to determining how any footage could be used in court, released publicly, or stored by law-enforcement agencies.

The contradiction reveals the potential challenges for federal agencies that work closely with local police, such as the U.S. Marshals. And it underscores how slow the Obama administration has been to craft its own rules on cameras, even as it pushes local authorities to quickly adopt them in the wake of high-profile police shootings. 

At a meeting of Marshals supervisors several weeks ago in Colorado, Assistant Director Derrick Driscoll announced that the agency wouldn’t allow any local law-enforcement officers wearing body cameras to serve on Marshals task forces, according to several people who attended the meeting.

The Marshals Service, an agency within the Justice Department, runs scores of task forces around the country, teaming up with local police primarily to hunt fugitives and violent criminals.

Mr. Driscoll said at the meeting that because the Justice Department hadn’t given his agency rules on body cameras, the Marshals couldn’t allow local police with recording equipment to work alongside them on task forces, the people who attended the meeting said. That’s because when local officers join task forces, they must follow federal rules of operation, and for now that means no body cameras.

Some at the gathering voiced concerns about the new policy, saying they didn’t want to lose local partners they had come to know well and trust with their lives, according to people familiar with the matter.

A U.S. Marshals spokesman said state and local officers serving on their task forces “are sworn in as special deputy U.S. marshals, and operate in the same capacity as deputy U.S. marshals.” 

Some experts said policy contradictions aren’t surprising as the nation’s law-enforcement officers move toward widespread use of bodycams.

“We’re going to have some growing pains as we move in the direction of more body cameras,” said Ron Hosko, a former senior official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who now serves as president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit. He added that a no-cameras policy can lead to a perception “that you have something to hide when you don’t record.’’

Chad Marlow, advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Marshals’ directive puts the agency in an increasingly untenable position. He faulted the Justice Department for not having a body-camera policy more than a year after the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white officer. 

“We are well past the date where it’s acceptable for major law-enforcement entities to not have a policy,” Mr. Marlow said.

A Justice Department spokesman said the agency “is looking into this issue and has been consulting with the law enforcement components” within the department.

Nearly a year ago, in response to the Ferguson crisis, President Barack Obamaannounced a multiyear, $75 million effort to fund body cameras for police officers. The administration plans to help local departments acquire 50,000 body cameras in coming years.

In May, when the Justice Department announced the first piece of that effort, $20 million in funding to support body cameras, Attorney General Loretta Lynchsaid the cameras “hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”

The challenge for the Justice Department is that federal law enforcement can be substantially different from local police work. Federal agents tend to undertake long-term investigations, as opposed to patrolling streets where disputed confrontations with citizens are more likely to occur.

The Justice Department’s other law-enforcement arms, including the FBI, said they don’t expect body cameras to be used on any of their task forces because their work is primarily investigative, and when they do work with local police, they tend to be detectives who are unlikely to wear body cameras.

But the Marshals are tasked with hunting fugitives, work that often involves knocking down doors or stopping vehicles. Such work can receive critical aid from teaming up with local police.

Jon Adler, president of the nonprofit Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said there are good reasons to keep parts of the Marshals’ work out of the public eye. Witnesses and informants could be inadvertently exposed, he said, and fugitives could learn the Marshals’ tactics and how to evade them.

“The Marshals hunt down and apprehend the most despicable and violent people. When you engage in that type of mission, it wasn’t intended to be pretty and it won’t be pretty,” Mr. Adler said. “We don’t want the great work the Marshals Service does to devolve into bad reality TV or a sequence of bad YouTube videos.’’

Still, Mr. Adler agreed that losing a valuable task-force member because that officer must wear a body camera is a bad outcome.

This issue, he said, “is a tough one, but there has to be a way to work it out.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Police Body Camera Issues and Concerns

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, while the federal government is pushing local and state law enforcement agencies to use body cameras for their law enforcement officers, federal law enforcement officers are not using such cameras when performing their own LE duties. According to the article, this is because the federal government hasn't adapted policies for the use of body cams and the storage of the video.

This is causing another issue because federal law enforcement relies heavily on state and local law enforcement officers (LEO's) in their task forces. So for example, local or state LEO's assigned to a U.S. Marshal's Fugitive Task Force would not be allowed to have on body cams even if doing so was the policy of their own agency. 

Is this a double standard that LEO's who fall under the U.S. Justice Department are not using body cameras themselves? Even though the Justice Department urges (through millions in grants and political pressure) that state and local police agencies must use these body cameras? The article also makes one think about some of the issues related to the widespread use of police body cams that agencies are dealing with:

  • How long will agencies have to retain the video?
  • Is every recording made by the police public record?  For example, what happens if an officer is called to a house for a domestic disturbance and there is no probable cause to make an arrest?  Is the video footage from the officer's body camera public record?  Can any citizen view the video recording taken inside the person's home even if no arrest was made? Is there a fourth amendment issue?
  • How will innocent/non-related citizens captured in the officer's video recording be handled? If they are not directly involved in the officer's investigation but are captured in the video will their faces be blurred out? 
  • Is it fair to say that patrol officers have to wear body cams but not SWAT or special units? How do agencies balance the need to protect tactics from becoming public versus the intent of the cameras in the first place -to provide transparency and accountability?

As police body cameras become the norm, for police agencies, there will certainly be legal and policy challenges ahead.


Having worked as a local cop and a Fed, I can understand how this issue could impact law enforcement.  What isn't widely known outside of the cop world is how heavily federal law enforcement relies on their state and local partners. Afterall, there just are not enough federal officers to do it alone and it benefits the Feds to have local buy-in and access to state and local knowledge and resources.

 If the lack of a federal policy on body cams prevents state and local cops from being on federal task forces, there essentially will be no task force.  I also realize these decisions are made above the pay grade of the LEO's themselves and politics play a huge role in this issue.

Federal task forces are in every major city. I can see the challenges for the local or state police agency with their own officers on these task forces. What is likely to happen is the local police agencies will exempt their officers assigned to the task force from any body camera policies. This will allow their department members to be in step with their federal partners and remain a part of the task force. 

Forfeiting local agency policy on body cams in order to remain part of the federal task forces could prove problematic.

What if during a task force operation the local officer is involved in a shooting? It isn't Federal Agent Smith who was involved in the shooting it is Officer Smith of the city police department. 

Even if the officer is assigned to the federal task force, he or she is still a member of that community's police agency. Just because the activity was conducted by a federal task force, the community will still expect accountability from the local agency that employs that individual police officer. 

If that officer's agency has body cams in use by its patrol officers, questions will be raised why there was no video just because the shooting took place by a member assigned to a special detail. Additionally, as an officer on that task force, I would want the video for my personal protection from false accusations. 

I understand the Feds argument that most of their officers are doing investigative work so they don't need to wear body cameras. Many federal law enforcement jobs are non-uniformed jobs, but many are uniformed positions with a high degree of public contact.

For example, The Veterans Administration , the US Mint, Border Patrol, Wildlife, Secret Service, US Capitol Police all have uniformed officers. The Federal Protective Service (FPS) that guards thousands of federal buildings are uniformed officers as well. According to their web site ( the FPS responds to over 500,000 calls a year. 

Yes, it is the state and local uniformed patrol officer who has the most contact with citizens, but in my opinion, the federal government should be practicing what they preach. Afterall, it is the federal government that is pushing this issue the hardest. It has become part of political promises and a very hot topic. 

If our federal government is spending millions of dollars on body camera grants to persuade local police agencies to use body cameras, shouldn't they be leading the way? 

It would send a strong message that body cams are a priority if the Feds could create their own policies and begin issuing body cams to their own LEO's, beginning with federal uniformed police officers.


ACLU Mobile Justice App Screenshots

As discussed in the previous post, here are screen shots of the ACLU's Mobile Justice App.


For Cops, All the World's Indeed a Stage

If you can remember a time before personal computers and cell phones, or are a fan of classic rock, or you are Canadian, you may have heard of the iconic rock band Rush. 

What does any of this have to do with Criminal Justice? Or for those who have never even heard of Rush, WTF does this have to do with Criminal Justice? I promise I'll try to make the connection. 

One of the band's most famous songs is called Limelight. Known for their deep lyrics, the song refers to the challenges of being famous and always being in the "limelight" borrowing a little from Shakespeare along the way:

Cast in this unlikely role,
Ill-equipped to act
With insufficient tact
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact

Living in a fish eye lens
Caught in the camera eye
I have no heart to lie
I can't pretend a stranger
Is a long-awaited friend

In more than one way, this song reminds us of the challenges the modern police officer faces as they find themselves more and more in the "limelight." 

In a world of body cams, smart phones, dash cams, CCTV etc., doing the right thing even when no one is watching, is becoming somewhat of an outdated principle. Because for the police officer,  EVERYONE  is watching! 

Whether you wanted it or not, when you decided to put on that uniform, you are now on stage, with the likelihood of being captured by the camera eye. 

What may start out as a simple traffic stop, could go viral in minutes. In fact, the ACLU has launched a cell phone App for the sole purpose of easily recording police interactions. The videos are uploaded to a storage location so even if the recording is interrupted or the cell phone destroyed, the encounter is saved.

There is no use in even debating whether the increased video documentation of a police officer's interactions is a good thing. Whether you are for it, or against it, the toothpaste is out of the tube and you can't put it back in. 

The question is how do agencies and officers deal with the likely possibility  they may instantly become viral #heroes or #fails ? Their split-second reaction to an unexpected incident being played over and over with every second of footage being analyzed days and months later. 

Technology has made every citizen a videographer and via social media, a reporter also. News is now made by average citizens with phones. It is their posts and tweets that becomes "the news". It is the law enforcement officer who is the lead character in this reality show.

How do we teach officers to not let the fear of going viral make them abandon the necessary officer safety tactics? Or ensure they take necessary enforcement action even if it may look bad later on YouTube?

These are just a few of the increased challenges that our LEO's face while "living on the lighted stage."


Monday, November 9, 2015


This is the first of many more posts discussing criminal justice issues and challenges.  Even if you barely follow the news, you are sure to be aware of the issues facing law enforcement and the communities they serve.  Hopefully, through this format we can increase the dialogue about these issues that impact all of us.

To Serve and Protect is a popular motto associated with policing. Along with serving and protecting, law enforcement officers must think. Now more than ever, their decision making abilities are being scrutinized. These critical thinking skills can be sharpened through education, training and experience. 

The goal of this blog is to discuss some of these topics while creating constructive dialogue. 

Thanks and Welcome!