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‘People Think We're Out to Get Everyone.’

An Ohio cop of 17 years on drug laws, body cameras, and the police’s race problem.

WHY DID YOU BECOME A POLICE OFFICER?

I think most of us, including me, become police officers because we have something to prove. So many police officers seem to have that need to be right — the outward confidence that, inside, really isn't there at all.

HAVE YOU EVER DISCHARGED YOUR FIREARM?

I was involved in a fatal shooting of a man who was stalking his estranged wife. He followed her to work, where he believed she was having an affair with her boss, and shot at them several times before the call came over the radio. I confronted him, and he would not drop the gun; he was enraged. His gun discharged once, and another officer and I fired, twice each, fatally wounding him. I think of it nearly every day.

WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?

Working on implementing programs that might help build relationships with the community and assist in the development of police officers we can be proud of.

WHAT’S THE WORST PART OF YOUR JOB?

How the police affect the general public on a day-to-day basis. For example, the fines and court costs of the least expensive speeding ticket we write are $200. For a person making minimum wage (just under $8/hour in Ohio), that is 25 hours of work, not to mention the likely increase in car insurance costs. People who can't pay will lose their driver license, and usually an arrest warrant will be issued. So while they're driving to get to work, they get stopped, get a driving-under-suspension ticket, get their car towed, and sometimes get arrested. The original $200 ticket will now cost over $1,000, and the driver still won't have a valid license at the end. The icing on the cake is that a person making $100,000 a year gets the same fine and court costs for the same ticket, which is much less an impact on his or her life.

WHEN DO YOU FEEL MOST FEARFUL ON THE JOB?

When there is time to think about it. During a pursuit, there isn't time. I react, respond to training. But when there is time to think about what could go wrong — like on the way to a call or while checking on something that takes time — that is when I'm most frightened.

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE LAW, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Legalizing and regulating marijuana.

WHAT ARE THE MOST DIFFICULT KINDS OF CALLS TO RESPOND TO?

Calls that I’m least familiar with. We have only one or two fatal motor vehicle accidents each year; in my time with the department, I've never investigated one. I wouldn't know where to start.

WHAT ARE SOME MISCONCEPTIONS PEOPLE HAVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?

That we're out to get everyone. We don't sit and think up ways to fuck with people.

DO YOU THINK POLICE OFFICERS SHOULD WEAR BODY CAMERAS?

I was one of the first officers to utilize a dash camera in my car at our agency. At first I resisted it, but I quickly learned that every time I was the subject of a complaint and there was video of the encounter, the issue was resolved — I was exonerated. Never in our agency has video damned one of our officers.

HAVE YOU NOTICED A SHIFT IN PEOPLE'S ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIORS TOWARD POLICE OFFICERS IN RECENT MONTHS?

There seems to be a much more distinctive us-against-them attitude of both the public and the police.

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THERE IS A RACE PROBLEM WHEN IT COMES TO POLICING?

My experience is that racism, individually and institutionally, is alive and well in America in general, and in our police profession and criminal justice system specifically.

BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCES AND TRAINING, DO YOU BELIEVE THAT DARREN WILSON WAS JUSTIFIED IN SHOOTING MICHAEL BROWN?

My training is that if a person is attempting to disarm me, it is reasonable to believe that he or she intends to use my gun against me. Police officers around the country are shot and killed with their own gun frequently. That said, I don’t know that I would have reacted similarly. I would have perhaps attempted to deploy a TASER. Perhaps retreated in hopes of backup arriving.

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THE USE OF THE CHOKEHOLD WAS JUSTIFIED IN THE ERIC GARNER CASE?

What is commonly referred to as a chokehold is usually really a carotid hold. The proper use of the hold would apply pressure to the carotid artery to temporarily reduce blood flow to the brain so the subject loses consciousness. As soon as the pressure is released, the person should regain consciousness and be unharmed. I am opposed to the use of the carotid hold in all cases except those where deadly force is permissible. They are dangerous. The arrest of Eric Garner did not rise to the level of a deadly force encounter.

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO THE TAMIR RICE CASE, THE OHIO BOY WHO WAS SHOT TO DEATH WHILE HOLDING A TOY GUN?

The deaths in Ferguson and Staten Island have really bothered me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, or because I’m a father now, but they have affected me differently than similar events in the past. The death of Tamir Rice has been worse.

I didn’t even want to read the articles about it for the first week after it happened. It seemed at first like every officer’s worst nightmare: killing a child with a toy gun. A child out playing. Who didn’t think it would happen to him. Who probably had no idea of the deadly consequences of his play.

What might be different in this case are the ramifications it has for the Cleveland Police Department. The Rice case, the chase and death of the two unarmed motorists (after Cleveland police fired 137 shots at the car, and which did result in a couple indictments), and the DoJ’s report [that found that the Cleveland police regularly engaged in excessive and deadly force] will put a lot of pressure on the department to make real and — I hope — lasting changes. It also creates a ripe environment for a wrongful death suit against the city, which was filed recently, that I hope will bring more than just a payout for the Rice family.

HOW OFTEN, IF EVER, DO POLICE OFFICERS LIE WHEN TESTIFYING IN COURT?

I have to admit that if an officer from some neighboring agencies told me something, I would be hardly more likely to believe them than the suspect or subject they're talking about.

DID YOU RECEIVE ANY TRAINING ABOUT HOW TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE WHO HAVE MENTAL ILLNESSES?

Not much.

WHAT THREE WORDS DESCRIBE HOW YOU FEEL AT THE BEGINNING OF THE DAY?

Optimistic, confident, anxious

WHAT THREE WORDS DESCRIBE HOW YOU FEEL AT THE END?

Relieved, tired, emotionless

IF YOU WEREN’T A POLICE OFFICER, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING FOR A LIVING?

I'd be an attorney working for people who can least afford one.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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