Epic Police Brutality

I'm retired now and the statute of limitations has expired, so let me give you some of the more prominent examples of outrageous police conduct that I witnessed in my career. Some of these stories are graphic, so if you are sensitive to scenes that depict the reality of what the police deal with on a daily basis do not read any further.


An officer on patrol in the vicinity of Booker T. Washington Elementary School early one morning saw a boy walking to school in subfreezing temperature wearing only a T-Shirt, jeans, and sneakers. The officer stopped and chitchatted with the boy. He asked him why he wasn't wearing a jacket, and through chattering teeth the boy explained that he didn't have one. The officer asked what kind of work his dad was engaged in, and the boy replied that his father wasn't around. What about your mom, the cop asked. His mom worked, but they didn't have the money to buy him a jacket because they barely had enough to buy food for him and his siblings. The cop asked him what he had eaten for breakfast and the boy looked at the ground and shrugged. How old are you, the cop asked. Eight, he replied. The cop gave him an energy bar that he had in his patrol car, got the boy's name and went back on patrol.


Later that morning a new winter coat from the Popular Dry Goods store that used to be downtown was delivered to the principal at Washington Elementary by a uniformed police officer.


Here's another example of a completely insensitive over-the-top reaction by a bully in blue: two brothers of Mexican descent, nine years of age, were caught stealing pecans from a tree in the neighborhood behind the Circle K on West Picacho and Melendres. The owner of the residence where the tree was located had detained the boys and called dispatch. When the officer arrived, the owner explained that both boys had climbed on to his fence, folded their T-shirts at the waist into a makeshift basket, and filled up the material with pecans from his tree. He took his pecans back from the boys and insisted on having them placed into custody because they needed to learn a lesson about stealing from others.


The officer nodded at that, put the boys in the police car, and drove them home. On the way he asked them why they had picked the pecans. The boys explained that they were hungry. They told the officer that they had eaten a bean burrito for breakfast but that was all the food they'd had that day. They said that they lived with their mom but their dad had gone back to Mexico.


They lived in a run down apartment close to Klein Park. The officer parked in the street and approached the front door with the two boys next to him. When he knocked, the door was opened by a Mexican woman in her late twenties or early thirties who spoke no English. The officer explained what had happened. As he spoke, one of the boys interrupted him in an effort to explain something to his mother in defense of his actions. His mom slapped him across the face and yelled at him to be quiet.


The cop went into the tiny apartment. It had a dirt floor with a piece of plywood on it. There was no concrete foundation. Resting on top of the plywood was an ironing board and iron. Next to that was a basket of clothes. The woman explained that she did ironing for income. Surveying the room, the cop noticed plaster missing on the adobe walls in several spots. There was a refrigerator that looked like it was from the 1950's plugged into a wall and next to it was a small table with no chairs. There was no other furniture. There was an attached room about the size of a walk-in closet. It had an old military-style spring bed with a thin mattress on it. There was a toilet in the corner of that room but no bath or shower. The officer told the mother that there would be no further police intervention, bid her a good afternoon and went back on patrol.


Sometime during the early morning hours, after the officer had gotten off shift, three sacks full of groceries were put on the doorstep of that apartment.


Then there was the cop who really abused his power while on the graveyard shift. He received a radio call at three A.M. on a bitterly cold winter morning that a homeless man was sleeping in an alcove of the old city building at Lohman and Alameda. The security guard who had found him wanted the man moved because he might break in. The officer checked on the guy, found him to be warm inside a sleeping bag, and let him rest. At six-thirty that morning, before he went end-of-watch, the cop stopped by again and brought the homeless man a hot cup of coffee and doughnuts.


Every Christmas in every police department in this country cops solicit donations from businesses for the purpose of buying presents for children who otherwise would have none. Currently, the officers go shopping with the children and their parent, almost always a single mom, and that gets some well-deserved publicity. In the olden golden days we would chip in some bucks to whoever was collecting and officers, usually females, would buy gifts for poor children, wrap them, and deliver them. Old bicycles were collected and fixed up and repainted so that kids whose families would never be able to afford one had the opportunity to feel what it was like to ride a bike. Often the father was in prison and sometimes the officers buying the gifts had worked the cases that put them there, but there were no grudges. At Christmastime it was only about the kids.


It was not at all uncommon at any time of the year for a cop to buy a kid a new pair of shoes, even if that meant that his own kids might not get new ones for awhile. There was something about seeing a kid wearing shoes with holes in them...


Long before there was anything called community policing cops driving through a neighborhood between calls would get out of their patrol cars and shoot hoops with kids, play hopscotch, throw a football, or pitch a baseball to kids playing in the street. We might be back in that neighborhood later that night on a domestic or an affray, a shooting or stabbing, and maybe have to put handcuffs on the dad, or even the mom, but that didn't take away our humanity.


I could go on and on with examples of what police officers have done and still do today in every neighborhood in every community of this country, but you get the point. With respect to public relations we, as cops, are sometimes our own worst enemy. We don't tell people about the good we do because we don't possess the personalities that "toot their own horns." We don't like to bring attention to ourselves, so we quietly go about doing the right thing knowing full well that the people who appreciate it the most are those benefitting from it, and that is enough for us.


There is a movement afoot in this country that wants to paint cops as some sort of evil occupying force. Nothing is further from reality. Law enforcement officers are part of the community they police. Our spouses live and work here, and our children and grandchildren attend the same schools as yours. We have a vested interest in the quality of life in our communities.


We understand that sometimes incidents occur that require investigative scrutiny, and we don't shy from that because we know as well as anyone the transparency needed to gain and keep public trust. We believe in the rule of law, due process, and equality for all. If we didn't, we would not serve.

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J.R. LONSWAY

AUTHOR | RETIRED DEPUTY CHIEF OF POLICE

J.R. Lonsway served 22 years with the Las Cruces, New Mexico, police department and retired as a Deputy Chief of Police. After retirement he served with the U.S. Department of State as a police advisor in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, Lebanon, and South Sudan. He is a former U.S. Marine.

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