Friday, May 9, 2008

Musings: Cop Shop Talk

I love living in a place where the pile-ups involve not cars on the freeway, but pink and gray clouds atop Waialeale, and madly singing birds, not sirens, capture your attention and the air smells not of exhaust, but flowers, if you’re mauka, or salt, if you’re makai.

Those were my thought when Koko and I went walking on this lovely spring morning that's all golden, warm and breezy. I’m not sure what she was thinking, but it likely had something to do with chickens, smells and the likelihood of my neighbor Andy kicking down a dog biscuit, which he did.

Both Andy and farmer Jerry stopped to talk about the article I wrote on Chief Perry for this week’s Kauai People, and then the conversation expanded into a broader discussion of the police force — a topic that Katy Rose and Jimmy Trujillo also broached in their very interesting KKCR program yesterday.

The Chief’s request for tasers and riot (aka “protective”) gear has attracted much of the attention, with folks debating whether such equipment serves to increase or decrease violent behavior among cops, or if it's even needed on little Kauai.

My own feeling is that a cop’s humanity diminishes when the protective armor goes on and the face shield goes down. Such gear is also intimidating as hell to citizens, and tends to change the tenor of a protest or demonstration into something way more radical. When confronted by a face-off with heavy armored cops, citizens might react by doing stuff they otherwise wouldn’t, like throwing bottles or rocks.

As a friend who was listening to the KKCR broadcast with me observed: “You play nuts, you get nuts. You play big city, you get big city.”

Still, I can understand the point that both Jerry and Andy made, which is that Kauai is not the sleepy little place it used to be, and cops might feel more secure if they have protective gear.

And as Chief Perry already acknowledged in budget hearings before the Council, “operational plans are now in place to partner with other agencies to effectively respond” to incidents like last summer’s Superferry protests.

So would we rather it be our own cops in riot gear, or guys brought in from somewhere else, like Honolulu, who might not be inclined to cut us any slack?

I’ve also heard the argument that when cops have tasers, they’re less likely to pull their guns. But as Jonathan Jay noted on the radio, how often do Kauai cops use their guns right now? It’s not a very common occurrence. Would they be more likely to zap someone with a taser?

I don’t think any of us know the answer to that question. It seems like a lot of it comes down to what kind of training they get, and what kind of cops are on the force — two areas where the Chief is trying to make major changes.

It also seems the Council, which holds the purse strings, is inclined to defer to Chief Perry and give him whatever he thinks is needed to pull our very troubled police department together and achieve national accreditation.

In its coverage today of the public hearing on the county budget, The Garden Island included comments from two Councilmen:

Some of the items in the police budget are not a reflection of things stemming from the August protests of Hawaii Superferry at Nawiliwili Harbor, [Jay] Furfaro said.

It is about helping the department under the leadership of new Kaua‘i Police Chief Darryl Perry reach its goal of earning national accreditation, he said. This includes specific training, certification and retention requirements.

“The chief is not there to militarize, he’s there to professionalize and bring accountability,” Councilman Tim Bynum said yesterday.

After talking with Chief Perry, I feel that Tim's assessment is true. While I personally don’t think KPD needs riot gear and tasers, it’s just one tiny part of the much bigger, and more sordid, picture at KPD. I’m way more concerned about the stuff that’s playing out behind the scenes, which is all about who really controls the department, and I hope the community doesn’t turn against the Chief over this issue.

That said, I also hope the Chief makes a statement soon about last week's take-down of Kingdom of Atooi leader Dayne Aipoalani. As my neighbor Andy observed, even if Juan Wilson’s account was exaggerated, it does seem like excessive force was used.

And as Andy Parx noted on the radio yesterday, if the cops could have accomplished the same thing simply by calling Dayne on the phone, it raises the question of whether the county really needed to make a $50,000 appropriation to Councilman Mel Rapozo — the former KPD sergeant who left the force following the Monica Alves scandal and now has his own PI biz — to bring in some of the guys with outstanding warrants.

Finally, someone left a very clever comment on yesterday’s post that seems to accurately sum up Kauai’s attitude toward the big boat. Who needs bogus newspaper and blog polls when you’ve got akamai observers like that?

Mahalo for the laugh.


Anonymous said...

Riot gear causes riots, not stops riots.

Mauibrad said...

That's right, Koohan.

WTF would RIOT GEAR BE DOING ON supposedly one of the TOP TWO VISITOR DESTINATION ISLANDS in the WORLD??? This is a HUGH TOURISM PR MISTAKE in the MAKING. RIOT GEAR is NOT the FEEL GOOD IMAGE people from afar would be willing to PAY AN ARM AND A LEG IN AIRFARE AND ROOM for. WTF is thinking up this stuff?

Aloha, Brad

Anonymous said...

"Civil unrest" - the purported justification for the acquisition of riot gear - is caused by social injustice.

Where there is more equitable distribution of wealth and power in a community, more people feel inclined to adhere to "social norms." As people begin to feel that an elite is increasingly taking more than their share and making it more difficult for average people to make a comfortable living, exercise self-determination and have their voices heard and respected in the public sphere, unrest grows.

Sometimes this unrest is completely unorganized and politically ineffective - such as when people engage in random hooliganism and misplaced rebellion stemming from a loss of hope for the future. Other times, unrest is quite organized and takes the form of effective social movement. In either case, it is in the interest of the dominant elements in society to "restore" social equilibrium.

The question is: how is that done? If it is done by increased police aggression, that means that the political and economic elite are reinforcing the growing inequalities. If it is done by addressing the root causes of unrest, that means that we are willing to shift power and resources in a more equitable way.

That seems to be the question here now. Chief Perry and others can use the excuse that a shifting demographic involving more ex-urban folk is driving this decision, but look who has just received the brunt of these new tactics. A sovereignty leader! So in my view, the "new urban population" excuse doesn't cut it.

But maybe he was referring to the influx of developers, corporatists and real estate agents pushing their continental agenda of profit no matter what, timeshares, resorts, GMOs, land-grabs and all the rest of it onto a resistant population. Maybe the riot gear is for THEM. We can only hope the police are planning to protect Kaua'i from more assaults!

Andy Parx said...

I think Katy, the Chief was talking about the fact that plantation mentality is getting to be less of a factor so the oppression of thought and speech by the populace is libel to decrease- so they’d better get out the riot gear.

It’s this type of mindset that is unacceptable. I didn’t see the words “community policing” in Joan’s article and I’m pretty sure if he used the word, Joan would have reported it. If Perry’s idea of “professionalization” means creating an “us and them” attitude on the force it indicate he is moving in wrong direction.

His refusal to comment on the Apioalian incident show this very tendency.

When tasers were first introduced to policing it was said- and still is to some extent” that they are an alternative to using deadly force- i.e. shooting someone. But that’s not how it’s shaken out because they are now being used as an alternative to coercive force. so it’s not a matter of pulling a gun vs a taser but using the taser in situations were apprehension may be more difficult but where there is never a question of using a gun to subdue a suspect.

If this is the direction of “professionalism” of the police forces leave Kaua`i out.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, Kauai politics. The anatomy of County of Kauai Corruption!