The Policing Conundrum

In the late 1970’s, I served three years as Indianapolis’ Corporation Counsel–the city’s chief lawyer. Defending police against charges of wrongdoing was one of the tasks of the legal department, and one of the lasting lessons I took away was the need to hire officers carefully.

As a police chief I worked with at the time was fond of saying, “We give these guys guns to carry and authority to use them–we have an obligation to select and train them so they won’t abuse that authority.” During my tenure, the City instituted psychological tests in an effort to weed out applicants who were attracted to policing for authoritarian or other dubious reasons, and made several efforts to improve training.

During last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, I often thought back to those City experiences. I knew many truly admirable officers–but City Legal also had to defend some indefensible ones. And the police union didn’t help–for them, it was all “us versus them,” and “our guys right or wrong.”

Because I knew there was truth to both “the policeman is your friend” and accusations of brutality and worse, I may have been less shocked by a headline in the Guardian after January 6th: “US Capitol riot: police have long history of aiding neo-Nazis and extremists.”

For years, domestic terrorism researchers have warned that there are police departments in every region of America counting white supremacist extremists and neo-Nazi sympathizers among their ranks.

To these experts, and the activists who have been targeted by law enforcement officers in past years, it came as no surprise that police officers were part of the mob that stormed the US Capitol on 6 January. In fact, the acceptance of far-right beliefs among law enforcement, they say, helped lay the groundwork for the extraordinary attacks in the American capital.

Criminal justice news sites have identified at least 30 sworn members of police agencies from some 12 different states who participated in the insurrection, and several on-duty Capitol police officers have been suspended for allegedly supporting, rather than resisting, the rioters. Scholars who study extremist movements and survivors of far-right violence have warned for years that there are close ties between some police and white supremacist groups. 

As news of the participation of police in the insurrection has emerged, some officers have abandoned the traditional “wall of silence..”According to the president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the behavior of those participants was so egregious, it prompted fellow officers to alert police chiefs and others to their colleagues’ participation in the mob attack on the Capitol.

Actively helping an effort to overthrow the government might have been a step too far, but the linked article recounts several exceedingly troubling events in which police actively protected Neo-Nazis rather than those they were attacking. One example:

In June 2016 in Sacramento at least ten people were stabbed and injured at a rally of the Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP), a group that extremism experts have classified as neo-Nazis.

The subsequent investigation, led by the California Highway Patrol (CHP), focused on the anti-fascist counter-protesters injured in the stabbings, with records showing that police worked with white supremacists to identify leftist activists and pursue criminal charges against the stabbing victims.

The lead CHP investigator, Donovan Ayres, repeatedly stated in police records that he viewed the neo-Nazis as victims and the anti-fascists as suspects.

Research continues to confirm that protestors on the Left  are far more likely to be arrested than those on the Right.

York University sociologist Lesley Wood analyzed 64 U.S. protests from 2017 and 2018 where counter-protesters were present and arrests were made. She found that right-leaning protesters accounted for 8% of total arrests, while left-leaning protesters accounted for 81%. (The ideology of the remaining arrestees — 38 of them at 14 events — couldn’t be identified from news reports.) Although Wood cautioned against drawing conclusions solely from the raw numbers–more people have attended protests by the Left than the Right–there is nevertheless consistent evidence that police will move far more aggressively against those on the Left.

And it will surprise absolutely no one that–as authors of a 2012 analysis found, “events initiated by African Americans remain a positive and robust predictor of the use of force…”

Part of the problem is that we currently  call on the police to address problems that should be shifted to other forms of public safety, such as social services, youth services, housing, education, healthcare and other community resources. “Defund the police” was one of the stupidest and most counter-productive slogans produced by Democrats (and that is saying something!), but the actual shifts of responsibility being proposed under that banner were mostly sensible.

It is long past time to improve the way we recruit, train and discipline officers, and modify what we ask them to do. 


  1. In my youth we had a great example in the Chicago Police Riots in 1968. Much of it was on national TV. With Mayor Daley in charge, the right wing cops went crazy beating peaceful demonstrators and journalists. The cops are hard to control at times. We should expect and demand much better. I had a DWB stop on 38th street one time. The cop saw a large old car in his mirror (mine) and he came out expecting to terrorize a black driver. He came up to my car screaming and swearing at me. I supposedly stopped too close to his truck (???) (he was not on duty yet). When he saw me (a 60 year old white guy with my 80 year old white mother) he almost seemed disappointed. He kept screaming for a bit but the joy was not there for him. I was not shot or arrested.
    I had a similar DWB (assumed) stop on my own street. No screaming. When I rolled down the window, he said “Oh…Your not the guy I am looking for”. I wonder what THAT guy looked like. Sad stuff.

  2. Well,

    From personal family experience, I suppose, we’ve run the gamut from one end to the other! There were 2 Chicago police officers named Lyle and Warner Wachtler! They were my 4th cousins! These were kids of my father’s mother’s (my grandmother) brother! There was no doubt that both of them were Nazis! On top of that, they were based out of the South side, (Gresham District) police headquarters. I was still pretty young when I was around them, but my father hated both of them, and actually got into a fight with both of them at a family reunion. They insulted my mother, and, had a lot of other derogatory racial opinions that I became aware of. And, their idea of fun during their shift was to harass the local population. Which of course happened to be mostly African-American and some Hispanics at the time.

    So, I bring that up, to say, it doesn’t matter what you believe in, if it’s permeated your family, it more than likely has permeated society, and, it needs to be rooted out and disinfected by the light, one way or the other! They were familiar with John Burge, the disgraced Chicago cop who used torture to get people of color to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. And, I could see them going right along with the program, as a matter fact my father was one who admitted that to be the case.
    As my father, being the product of his upbringing, took a far left turn when he joined the military. And broke with the ideas of his father and some of his other family members. And even though I love my cousins, (on my father’s side) many of them are more Trumpian than Trump.

    This also brings to light the movement of the Oath Keepers! This movement became juiced during the time of Barack Obama’s 1st term. They claimed to be keeping their oath, but, oath to what? They weren’t actually keeping their oath to defend the Constitution, thereby protecting all citizens, there was another oath, a Nazi oath, a white nationalist oath! A lot of times you’ll see the skull and cross bones rings, with the Freemason insignia, others embrace the illuminati which was originated in Bavaria and Germany!

    After all, what’s a movement without a secret society? And, even though the Freemasons seemed to have began in ancient Egypt, it really was co-opted by the white race during the beginnings of American government! The illuminati were much more steeped in what would be a Nazi-esque type of belief system that originated in the American colonies and spread to Germany around the time of the American Revolution!. The Masons were much older, and they really were joined at the hip with the illuminati in Germany. Even though they were supposed to have been disbanded, their beliefs were resurrected by the Nazis! (You heard of the 7 sages of Memphis and the occult movement of Kabbalah)

    The oath’s to these organizations take precedent over any oath to a Constitution or government! The oath carries much more power than any other oath a person could take, it supersedes all oath’s! It’s interesting when you really delve into the situation, and learn about the practices of the illuminati and their origins, along with the Freemasons, and compare that to the Nazis and white nationalists, the similarity is striking! And, the outcome for those individuals divulging information is the death penalty! These movements have been ramped up around the time of Barack Obama but even before then. The civil rights movement really activated large blocks of these oath keepers.

    If, you want to prevent a surefire rollover of government, these oath keepers along with their religious cohorts, need to be rooted out, root and branch! Otherwise everyone’s going to be wondering how this all happened, and, how these oath keepers have permeated themselves throughout government, throughout the upper echelons of corporate America, so, it’s not really a conspiratorial secret! It’s a secret that’s really the worst kept secret we have, because is done out in the open! Donald Trump practiced this, and, he figured that if he did it in the open for the most part, he wouldn’t get in trouble! And for the most part and worked.

    So, when you hear someone talking about an oath keeper, and those individuals holding oath keeping up as a symbol of their strength, it’s not an oath to a Constitution, it’s an oath to an ideology and is antithetical to the Constitution of the United States and most free countries!

  3. I heard a retired Capitol Hill police officer say on NPR this week that that police agency is often referred to as “the last plantation “. Kind of says it all.

  4. I totally agree that it is long past the time to improve the way we hire, train, and supervise the police. But in order to really improve the criminal justice system we need to weed out the corruption in the courts and law offices and the prison and jails. In too many communities the justice system has been turned into a money making free for all. Does anyone think for a moment that the street smart criminals don’t know how to work that corrupt system? Is there anyone out there who believes that one political party or the other has a handle on this?

  5. Yes. We’ve been subverted by the police. Add to that, the RIGHT-WING seditionists have insisted for years that everyone should be allowed to carry firearms, concealed or openly. So, who can blame any police for being twitchy. Add to that the Republican messaging and right-wing media pounding the weakest minds among us with lies and deceit, and we have what we have.

    The question(s) remain: Who or what will stand up and reverse the disinformation and lies? Who will create and sell a narrative that removes the specter of Republican non-governance? How does any entity educate – some for the first time – the tortured, ignorant minds that have no idea about our Constitution, how our government works or what civility means?

  6. A Houston Judge said this about the police: 1/3 are conscientious, hard working, reliable and honest policemen and women. 1/3 don’t really care. 1/3 use the job for corrupt purposes.

  7. “Scholars who study extremist movements and survivors of far-right violence have warned for years that there are close ties between some police and white supremacist groups.”

    When anyone commits a crime, they become a criminal, that includes police and military, and those who witness the crimes and stay quiet are aiding and abetting the criminal which is also a crime. Consider the number who would require being charged with crimes if this became the reality of policing.

    The white-on-white crimes are often as vicious as white-on-black, or brown crimes with victims further victimized and often the ones who are arrested. I typed out a lengthy situation regarding three generations of my white family, and their white German Shepherd which police entered the house to mace for barking inside the house, it was two white cops who who found the injured, hysterical victim and the situation to be a laughing matter and the criminal turned loose. They arrested the victim, called CPS to take custody of her 4 year old daughter with her grandmother holding her, and after a night in jail my savagely beaten granddaughter was released because no charges were filed. I simply deleted it because it is the norm, has been for decades and will remain the norm when the current publicity moves on to other issues. I expect to see the same happen with those police and military actively involved in the January 6th insurrection at our Capitol building.

    We have no way to recognize those police “who are your friend” from those who are your enemy until you need their help and are further victimized rather than protected.

  8. Nice comment JoAnn!

    Let’s face it, when it comes to abuse, if there is no others available at the time, they eat their own so to speak. Look how fast certain Republicans lashed out at Trump after January 6. And then, look how quickly they felt back in line! It’s not a political ideology, more ingrained, even deeper than the Constitution! And, if they ever get the upper hand in government, everyone’s going to find out what fascism really is!

  9. We also need to change our oversight of police departments. If the local prosecutor is expected to charge the people he relies on every day to do his job, how many police officers will be prosecuted? Grand juries are tools prosecutors use to set officers free without charge or with only misdemeanor charges for the deaths of black and brown people. Remember grand juries only see what the prosecutor wants them to see. That’s how you end up with no criminal charges in the Breonna Taylor case. We need to have state level special prosecutors with their own investigative teams for cases like that.

    Accountability goes a long way toward weeding out the bad apples.

  10. From watch the live police feeds available on YouTube, cops seem to have near infinite patience. I would have shot the bad guys after 1 warning, so I could never be a cop. I’m too old anyway, but generally, I think the majority of cops are ok. Today’s enemy #1 is the lying mainstream media.

  11. A friend who is a former police captain says there are a number of cops in the ranks who are neo-Nazis and more Trumpian than Trump. Yes recruits are screened for hiring, but they know what the right answers are supposed to be and can easily slide through such screening without detection.

    Prosecutors and city attorneys often know who the trouble-makers and abusers within police ranks are, but feel their hands are tied. Prosecutors DEPEND on the police to make prosecutions. It would help if all police brutality and excessive force cases were handled by special prosecutors with a real priority given to weeding out the authoritarians and those with a chip on their shoulder. Mayors and police chiefs must also set the tone that excessive force and racism will not be tolerated and enforce those obligations. It endangers the police and the rest of the community when excessive force and racism cause residents not to cooperate with police, to withhold evidence, and to get even.

    The arrests and terminations of Capitol police who assisted rioters is an important beginning. It sends a signal. Local police departments must send and enforce the same signal.

  12. The state of Indiana has several reform laws in the legislature right now, and they are good steps in the right direction, but they all seem to have backing of the police unions. To me that is a red flag that none of these steps is going to the root of the problems.

    Weeding out bad officers seems to be vary hard, and a recent NY Times story illustrated this. With union backing in many departments it is almost impossible to fire an officer. Instead they are paid off and “asked to leave” the department. They move on a get hired somewhere else. When asked for references, the old department says “yes, they worked here” and so the bad guys are almost never weeded out. I did not read the details, but it sounded like the new disclosure rules in the proposed state law only covered officers transferring within the state.

    Somebody else had suggested that the police need to fund and liability claims from their own budget. In most cases the municipality funds any liability claims, therefor hiding and shielding the police department from the real cost of employing bad officers.

    And last of all the narrow definition of qualifies immunity imposed by a supreme court pushing back against the 1967 civil rights act has all but gutting the ability of the average citizens to use the courts to curb bad police officers.

    You don’t have to be a neo-nazi to be a racist bigot but being a racist is a good first step, and until we can start to weed out the bad actors, we will never get to the point where everyone can say the police are the good guys.

  13. Did anyone else notice that in the brief but momentous War for the Capitol the attackers were almost universally white and the defenders significantly black? It was also asymmetrical to an extreme. Not a shot was fired. From what they said the terrorists believed that they represented the US while their leader was out to conquer the Constitution.

    Historians will be working on analyzing all of that for generations.

    It seems that the Republican decision would be easy. How can they survive as a relevant party when defined by that event?

  14. Anyone who wants to be a policeman should receive an MMPI II and also should have the same FBI criminal background check that graduate nurses are required to have before taking the NCLEX.

    They should also do this for prison guards. I have heard from activists that often the guards are Neo-Nazi’s.

    I had 2 white police men in 2 separate incidents yell and scream at me. The first one screamed at me because I tapped my horn at him. I did that because the stop light turned green and he was just sitting there, not paying attention. The 2nd one was hyped because I buzzed through a yellow light on my way home. At that time I lived in Haughville and had a small pick up truck. I used my psych nurse skills and responded to him just as I would to an agitated psych pt. When he asked me what I did, and I told him I’m a nurse, he calmed down.

    The African-American police officer who stopped me for having a missing head light was totally polite to me as was the police officer who was behind my truck late at night. The oil light had come on and I had to walk about 2 blocks to get some oil.

    I would also say that many police officers and many nurses suffer with PTSD or acute stress disorder and don’t address it because after all heroes are supposed to be invincible. We are not invincible. We are struggling human beings like everyone else.

  15. My riff on bad cops…
    How do all those guns suddenly appear in the victim’s hands in cop-cam videos? My novel, “Who Is Johnny Pistolseed”, offers explanation that may be more truth than any “factual” evidence can ever produce. It explains why so often Police Chiefs give us that long delay before making videos available to the media.

    Here’s a link to one of the reviews of Who Is Johnny Pistolseed:

    And to its Amazon page:

  16. Sheila: “Scholars who study extremist movements and survivors of far-right violence have warned for years that there are close ties between some police and white supremacist groups.”

    Anyone who doubts the truth of this assertion need only look at the videos of Kyle Rittenhouse, waving to passing police, in late August while walking the streets holding a rifle after allegedly killing two people in Kenosha.

    My argument is with how we recruit and pay police. This is one of the most difficult jobs in the country, yet we seem to think we can get by by hiring high school grads with relatively little screening and training to perform it. Some have the capacity to meet the demands, but many are bewildered by the complex situations they encounter and often, given very limited reaction times, act in ways that few police chiefs would approve.

    Reallocating funds can solve some of the problems, including incident response by police schooled in dealing with mental health problems, but upgrading skills and salaries would offer better outcomes. Perhaps, with better pay, we could require police force applicants to be graduates of something like a two-year college which taught primarily law-enforcement and civic awareness subjects.

    Bear in mind that since America decided to eliminate mental health programs and institutions in the 1970s, handling that segment of he population often falls to untrained high school graduates or a holders of a GED.

  17. Terry Munson; I am one of those holders of a GED and very proud of the fact that, after having 5 children I studied to obtain that degree. I had been in awe of college graduates till working for them throughout 20 years in Indianapolis City Government; they could give orders to me to do a job but they had no idea how to do the job themselves. When another college graduate was hired in Department of Metropolitan Development but her office not yet ready; she had to sit at a desk near the door and people coming in would ask her for directions. She complained to the Chief Financial Officer of Circle Centre Mall that she was tired of people thinking she was a secretary; the CFO said she would be flattered, she wasn’t smart enough to do the jobs we did.

    What college degrees do you hold?

  18. Some police officers are good guys who serve the public and some are not good guys and do not serve the public. Once while I was a deputy prosecutor in Indianapolis in the late 50s a traffic cop tried to bribe me to neglect to ask the venue question (which calls for dismissal) upon his signal, promising $115 in an envelope in my mailbox for each such neglect. I told him where to go, went directly to the judge’s chambers and told him what happened and he told me not to worry about it, that “We know who these guys are.” That response did not address the issue and I wonder to this day if that judge (a Republican, by the way) didn’t have envelopes galore with enclosed bribes.

    I especially wonder if he wasn’t on the take by a subsequent exchange I had with him. He called me into his office one day, told me he had been looking at my record, that I had a 92% DUI conviction record, that that was too high, and that from now on I would only gain convictions on 66 2/3% of the cases tried. I started losing cases on identical evidence I had gained convictions on before!

    Fortunately, I was shortly afterwards the first of deputies in misdemeanor court to be promoted to Criminal Court, where heavy stuff such as murder, rape, robbery etc. was tried.
    I resigned after some six months to run as a Democrat for State Representative in Marion County, was slated by the Central Committee for one of the 11 seats up for grabs with 82 candidates, won in the primary, but it was a Republican year – all of our 11 lost in the general. I came in third among the eleven but was 14th among all candidates.

    After talking with detectives and how they handled investigations of criminal defendants even in that then new age of Miranda, I can testify that that holding didn’t come a minute too soon.

  19. Greetings JoAnn. I graduated from high school in 1947 and went to work at the local Seagram plant in Lawerenceburg, In the fall of 1950 I was drafted and served for nearly 4 years, one year in Korea. I could get an early discharge to attend college so that is what I did. I went to Ball State and I was not a sterling student that first year but I liked college. I graduated and got a teaching job and taught school for nearly 30 years. The point being that one small thing can change one’s life completely . In this case a note on the bulletin board stating that an early discharge was available to attend college. HELL back then I couldn’t even spell college

  20. irvin; you are slightly ahead of me so you would know that during the 1950s, girls weren’t encouraged to get an education and we could get jobs without a high school diploma. We learned on the job by doing the job. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I was sorry I didn’t get more education and not until my 79’s did I “know what I want to be when I grow up”. Had I known, I would have chosen the law; would have become a paralegal.

    From your additions to this blog, I believe you would have been a good teacher; the ability to talk to students to instill the desire to learn and to provide information in a way they understood. I remember three teachers in all my years of school; Mrs. Goodus who taught us about the earth’s slight change on it’s axis would change our weather here many years in the future. Mr. Barr, the biology teacher at Tech High School who talked to all of us as if we were intelligent people, not children. And Jean Welles, the English grammar teacher who responded to my question for clarity by saying, “That is a stupid question, you are the dumbest student I have ever tried to teach.”

    College educations would not improve the treatment by police officers who are abusive; it took no degree to press a knee on George Floyd’s neck as he pleaded to breathe and called for his mother. Or to be shot dead while sleeping in your own bed. Can humanity actually be taught at any level of education?

  21. Greetings JoAnn. Thank you for your comments. I do remember that no girl in my
    senior class was ever encouraged to go to college and only one boy. The rest of use were common labor. My military time brought me in contact men who had some college experience which did bring about some interest Ball State taught future teachers to try to be positive with all their students and this I tried. Sometimes very hard 🙂 🙂
    Evolution is not kind nor selective and add that to the environment and the end results can be very positive or very negative. irvin

  22. Great post, Sheila – I have a half a quibble with you about “defunding” – The idea did not come from the Democrats, nor was it adopted as policy, although the Republicans tried to spread that impression – however (here you are correct) coming from “community” groups, it was adopted by the “progressive” wing of the party – They are immensely stupid when it comes to messaging. Somehow they think that stupid, provocative messages prove their “purity”.

    “Relieving the police of duties best performed by others” doesn’t have that ring, but is a more proper statement of the goal – of course, money follows those duties (or should) – We can also stop giving war surplus to the police so that they can no longer pretend that they are all Rambo, or whoever.

    I will go back a way – after the Detroit riots, where my father’s warehouse was “torched” (concrete doesn’t burn), several police officers came by to express their sympathy. Some told him that they wish they could have just shot the “ni**ers” – my father was appalled. He had always viewed police as underpaid, hard working people who put their lives on the line to protect us.

    Afterwards, a study was done by a researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit – results – police were undertrained and ill-equipped along with a lot of bigotry.

    Some things haven’t changed.

    Besides checking the recruits, one has to ask, how many people would volunteer to join a career that is demonstrably full of bigots, where you might get harassed for doing the right thing? Both screening and recruiting may need help.

    We need to defang the police unions, which aren’t like labor unions, but more like the Cosa Nostra protecting their own (OK – that was hyperbole) – still, they need to be defanged – then we can weed out and prosecute the “bad apples”

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