Jun 2, 2020
Palestinian-American artist Shirien Damra’s illustration paying tribute to George Floyd. Shirien.Creates / Instagram
The death of George Floyd, which by all accounts is a clear case of murder at the hands of four rogue police officers, was a senseless tragedy. The officers involved in the incident, particularly Derek Chauvin, who kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for a reported eight minutes and 46 seconds, are a disgrace to the badge and the oath of office they were sworn to uphold. As a former LAPD detective, I can say with certainty that the vast majority of police officers consider such brutality abhorrent and intolerable.
As we are currently witnessing, the repercussions of such brutality by the very individuals tasked with upholding the law and protecting citizens have been devastating. Trust between police departments and the communities they serve deteriorates after such incidents, often irrevocably. Rather than viewed as first responders, lifelines that can assist those in need, police officers are instead viewed as the enemy after a tragedy like the killing of George Floyd. As such, when community members do need assistance — particularly people of color and marginalized groups — they are often hesitant to reach out to the police given the everlasting memories of victims of police brutality such as George Floyd, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and countless others.
The result is a vicious cycle that pushes everyone to the edge and, as we’re seeing now throughout the nation, the tipping point often begins with peaceful protests that then escalate to looting and even riots. Just as one nefarious individual who uses a protest as an opportunity to loot and deface public property defiles a peaceful movement, so does a nefarious police officer who uses excessive force and defiles the image of an entire police department. It only takes one bad actor to turn the tide against a majority of people with truly good intentions.
I was a young officer, just starting my career, during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. To think that after 30 years we continue to face the same cycle of brutality, distrust, and unrest is truly disheartening. Recently I’ve received a number of questions via social media regarding whether or not a solution will ever end this cycle. Given the deep-seated emotions resulting from years of struggle, there is certainly no easy or quick solution to an issue of this magnitude. However, in my 30 years of experience in law enforcement, I truly believe there are multiple steps that can be taken to help effect progress and healing.
Firstly, police departments need to be more selective in hiring officers. A greater effort needs to be made to hire the best candidates available to serve our communities. For years I oversaw the hiring and screening process of LAPD applicants as well as their psychological profiles.
I can honestly say that the majority of the candidates demonstrated excellent potential during the screening process, many of which went on to have distinguished careers in the Los Angeles Police Department. However, there were some individuals that, in my opinion, should not have been cleared for service. In many cases their psychological profiles raised red flags for potential aggression and abuse of authority.
A major problem facing our nation’s police departments is a lack of individuals willing to pursue police work as a career. The job doesn’t provide a generous beginning salary, and the workload can be very arduous (not to mention dangerous, as each day that you put on the uniform you are essentially putting your life at risk). Given the lack of interest in law enforcement, combined with the low starting salary and demanding workload, police departments are often, unfortunately, forced to hire candidates that may not be ideal or meet all the preferred requirements. Sadly, not hiring such candidates would result in a shortage of officers available to protect our communities. It’s an issue that plagues many of our nation’s largest police departments, and in order to alleviate the problem we need to attract the best and brightest talent available to choose a career in law enforcement. This is easier said than done, however.
Budget cuts are a constant issue, and in order to attract such top candidates, departments need to offer incentives such as signing bonuses, greater starting salaries, guaranteed overtime, and special consideration for college graduates. Allocating funds to help attract such candidates should be a priority — in the long term it will absolutely be worth any financial strain on city, state, and federal budgets.
Additionally, the demographics of neighborhoods within our major cities should mirror the demographics of the police officers who serve those communities. As an example, neighborhoods that are predominantly Black, or Asian, or Hispanic, should have a police force comprised primarily of officers of similar ethnicities. The headlines with which we’re constantly inundated depict an almost universal narrative of white officers brutalizing and even killing people of color. Having more officers with demographics that resemble the communities they serve could help to quell the inherent hostility we see on the streets every day.
Moreover, officer training needs to be reevaluated and improved throughout departments. Police officers need to be trained to diffuse volatile and intense situations while only using force as a last resort. If training shifts from a mentality of initially demonstrating force, to one of viewing force as an option only to be used after all others are exhausted, the number of police-involved shootings could decline dramatically.
Finally, police officers need to make a concerted effort to engage with the communities they serve, rather than merely responding to reports of criminal activity. When I first started out as a beat cop over 30 years ago, I knew most of the people who lived in the community I patrolled. The community members knew my name, and I knew their names. There was a bond, a genuine trust between the police department and the residents of our great city. We need to place a much greater emphasis on this type of police work, in addition to our duty to respond to emergencies.
By establishing trust with the communities we serve, those individuals are much more likely to call on us when trouble occurs, and are more forthright when providing witness statements and leading us to evidence that could potentially solve cases.
By no means do I believe that the above suggestions are a panacea for the systemic racial tensions and frequent brutality that is widespread in our country. However, I do believe that they are small steps that could lead to positive change — change that we so desperately need at this critical time.
With that said, if you are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, I encourage you to step up and consider a career in law enforcement. We need people like you, those with a passion to right the wrongs that have festered for so long in major cities across the country. A frequent quote supposedly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi states, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I challenge you to do just that, for the sake of our communities, for our justice system, and for your own personal benefit.
Moses Castillo serves as Chief Investigator for Dordulian Law Group following a career spanning nearly 30 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. Castillo was a decorated detective, and during his tenure he was a highly regarded member of the LAPD’s Sexually Exploited Child Unit, noted for his excellent closure rate for sexual abuse cases, some of which — such as The Stuart House — received national attention.
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