“Peace Officer” A Movie with a Message for our Commission and Police.
Kris and I hike or bike daily, missing only when it’s pouring rain or too slippery. This happens occasionally in West Michigan, so there came an afternoon recently when we went to Commissioner Arz’s multiplex at Woodland where they have a series of “indie” films for 5 dollars, about our price range. Kris had been keen to see a documentary called “Peace Officer” and I was sold when I saw a picture of Radley Balko, a writer for Reason and one of my Facebook buddies on the promo,
It’s a long movie about the police development and use of SWAT teams. The main character and narrator is a retired Utah sheriff named Dub Lawrence who is currently self employed repairing septic tank pumps, an occupation that he deems superior to politics. He had developed a SWAT team for his county in the 1970s and was proud of his accomplishment until he personally witnessed his team murder his temporarily overwrought son in law. Dub did an extensive years long investigation that showed dysfunctional practices of these units as well as an apparently flawed, self serving investigation by the police force. Law suits have not prodiced any relief for the dead man’s family.
Dub went ont ot investigate at least 2 other botched SWAT team incursions, both done to serve otherwise routine warrants. One, done on Christmas, had armed men invade the home of a reported Army deserter which terrified the family and in which one of the officers told the man that if he had picked up a gun instead of a baseball bat, that he would have been shot. It was served on the wrong individual.
The other SWAT team incursion was to search for marijuana. The man growing some plants in his basement, was awakened from sleep and didn’t hear the police announce themselves. He had a pistol nearby which he used to defend himself. He expended 35 rounds of which 17 hit invading police officers. The police used a ridiculous number of rounds, my recollection was between 500 and 1000, of which 3 hit the man defending his home and 4 killed one of the other police officers. Numerous rounds passed through the home and went through the neighboring home and even into the second house. In the ultimate indictment of the valor of our SWAT team, the miscreant marijuana grower drove a five man SWAT team from his home, and escaped into his garage where he was apprehended by our valiant team. The investigation incorrectly concluded that the miscreant had murdered the police officer.
The film generously allows the involved police, prosecutors and politicians to present their concerns, and many seem to be genuine. One is struck by the clash of what the police investigations had concluded to have happened and easily demonstrated contrary findings. The flawed investigations in connection with police sovereign immunity leads one to near despair; the police can do whatever they want with impunity.
In Kentwood, we apparently use our SWAT team about 4 times per year. I know of at least one (and possibly two officers) who were fired for misconduct in the last few years. Our chief seems to be fairly clear eyed about such transgressions. On the other hand, our officers have been involved in at least two killings in the last year or so, and both were adjudged to be justified.
There were only 4 customers at our viewing of “Peace Officer” so its message is not likely to incite domestic unrest, but it should put our commission on notices to monitor our police and their use of military equipment closely. I’m somewhat comforted by my recollections of being in the army; The use of equipment was desultory at best and we certainly didn’t win my war nor many other wars in the last 70 years using these toys. We who are in a fiduciary position must remember that use of these weapons emboldens police and accidents do happen endangering both police themselves and the citizens that they are sworn to protect.