Police Brutality: Deal with it!

by on March 10, 2009 · 6 comments

in Civil Rights, San Diego, War and Peace

by Norm Stamper / The Huffington Post / March 10, 2009

Editor: Norm Stamper is the retired police chief of Seattle, a former assistant police chief of San Diego, and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.  He wrote about his life as a police officer and his time in San Diego in his book, “Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing“, which I quote from in my most recent post about police reform in Ocean Beach and San Diego.

Norm Stamper’s Disclosure: During my rookie days back in the sixties as a San Diego police officer I used excessive force, more than once. I remember most of the incidents, though I’m sure I’ve conveniently forgotten some. I’m ashamed, wish to hell I hadn’t done it. But I did, and visceral memories of these incidents help shape an answer to the question of why certain cops engage in brutal behavior, and others don’t.

As police brutality cases go, it may not be one for the annals.

In late February, King County, WA sheriff’s deputy Paul Schene deposited a slender 15-year-old girl into a holding cell and ordered her to remove her shoes. The teen used her right toe to loosen the heel of her left sneaker, which she then cast off, the rubber-soled shoe apparently striking Schene in the shin.

As she began the mirror process with the other shoe, Schene stormed the holding cell, kicked the girl in (what appears to be) the groin, chased her across the cell, grabbed her by her hair, flung her to the concrete floor, burrowed his knees into her back, slugged her twice in (what appears to be) the head, and handcuffed her, all of this on camera. He then yanked her by her hair to her feet and “escorted” her out door, and out of our view.

The girl, who had offered no resistance, reported trouble breathing. Paramedics were called. Schene’s report declared that the teenager had suffered a “panic attack.”

Pretty bad. But does it stand up to the LAPD Rodney King beating? Or the NYPD torture of Abner Louima? Or the countless other videotaped police attacks we’ve seen in recent years?


The Schene attack didn’t last nearly as long the King beating. It wasn’t as sadistic as the broom-handled, sodomizing case of Louima in Brooklyn’s 70th Pct. But it’s just as painful to watch: a six-two, 195-pound man pummeling a frightened child.

Who cares whether the girl was “lippy,” or that she may have referred to the officers as “fat pigs.” Any excessive police force violates agency policy, not to mention state and/or federal laws. Not only does such “official” violence inflict pain, often causing lasting physical and emotional injury, it greatly undermines public confidence in the police (as evidenced by reader reactions to the original post).

Cops are allowed, in the language of Schene’s own agency, to use physical or lethal force only as “necessary to effect an arrest, to defend themselves or others from violence, or to accomplish other police duties according to law.”

Apart from the question of why in the world they’d do it with today’s omnipresent cameras rolling, why do certain cops resort to excessive force?

Schene claims he was assaulted (the girl maintains that she was not aiming for the deputy when she flipped off the shoe). He claims the sneaker caused him “bruising, bleeding, and pain” as well as a “blood filled pocket,” though it’s hard to imagine that statement passing as truth. Schene’s injury appears to have been caused by his self-propelled collision with the cell’s shin-high stainless steel commode–caught clearly on the tape. The deputy will no doubt assert he used only that amount of force necessary to overcome the girl’s physical aggression. It doesn’t take a trained observer to see he’s wrong.

So, how do we prevent this kind of behavior in the future?

Please don’t say through (1) more thorough screening of law enforcement candidates, or (2) better training. They’re both important, of course. Critical, in fact. But law enforcement, for the most part, doesn’t pick bad apples. It makes them, and not through academy training.

Forty-three years ago I was an idealistic, vaguely liberal 21-year-old when the San Diego Police Department hired me. The last thing on my mind was taking to the streets to punish people. And lest there be any doubt about the department’s policy, the police academy, even then, drove it home: excessive force was grounds for termination.

So, why did I abuse the very people I’d been hired to serve?

Not to get too psychological, I did it because the power of my position went straight to my head; because other cops I’d come to admire did it; and because I thought I could get away with it. Which I did–until a principled prosecutor slapped me upside the head and demanded to know whether the U.S. Constitution meant anything to me.

It comes down to this: real cops, those with a conscience, those who honor the law, must step up and take control of the cop culture.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

nunya March 10, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Hilarious. I just commented on this article over at HuffPo :)

I love Stamper’s book. I love his honesty. I think my comment went something like “As a law abiding citizen I try to stay away from cops when they do what they do because they take so much sh*t on the job.


Shawn Conrad March 12, 2009 at 11:03 am

Great article indeed. I need to pick up his book.


OB Joe March 12, 2009 at 10:03 pm

i remember norm here n SD – he really tried to humanize the cops. he wasn’t something enuff to be picked as head of SDPD, so he moved on to seattle. but at seattle he got caught up in the WTO thing where it seems the cops over-reacted.


Patty Jones March 16, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Hey Shawn, pick up his book at Amazon by clicking on the image at the end of the post.


Gary GIlmore March 17, 2009 at 8:50 am

Hey Shawn & Patty, Rather than using Amazon you might consider shopping for the book at a local book store. I use Bookstar on Rosecrans. Even though they are a big chain store I like the idea of having a book store in my neighborhood that employs locals and gives me a place to browse.


OB Joe March 17, 2009 at 9:15 am

Hey Gary – I like local bookstores too, but as you know, OB lost its only book store a few years ago – and it was a used book store at that. When Para’s store on Newport closed – that was the end of any semblance of a book store on Newport – altho- true, it was mainly paperbacks. The Black now is the only place as far as i know that has any books on our main drag. It is a shame that this community, supposedly known for its bohemian and intellectual edginess has not one book store.

Gary – I like Bookstar too, but to call that a “local” store is a stretch. Probably the OB Rag, like other blogs, makes a few cents when anyone buys a book from Amazon via their blog. So, buying a book through the blog is in a sense “buying local”.


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