You know . . . sometimes you meet another person and realize you have met a great human being.  While speaking in Spokane oationn the need for police reform, retired Seattle Police Chief, Norm Stamper, gave me that much respect.  It was not because of his accomplishments, knowledge, or oratory skills.  While significant, these are not the source of his exceptionalism.

It is his humility and courage behind it.  Norm Stamper has the self-honesty to share his own mistakes and lessons learned, and do so in a way that compels others to examine their own life and strive for self improvement.  In the movement for police reform, Norm Stamper is a leader in the best possible way . . . by example.

In the video to the right, Chief Stamper discusses the time he falsely arrested a citizen out of power lust, and how having to confront what he did changed him into the reformer he is.

Excerpt from Norm Stamper’s Book

Norm Stamper describes this experience in his book, Breaking Rank, published by Nation Books. An excerpt is below.

After twelve weeks at the academy I was out on the streets on my own, at last.  I loved it.  Chasing calls, writing tickets, wrestling drunks, pinching the occasional burglar or stickup man.  And letting the bad guy know who was boss.  Our instructors had drilled it into us: it was us against them, good guys versus bad guys.   I knew which I was, and I set out to prove it.

I did not give a moments thought to how the job might be affecting me. . . .  But, my lord, was it fun!  Screwing people around, laughing and joking about it after my shift with my peers.  My favorite stunt?  Choking people out.  I’d jab my right forearm against there throats, spin them around, hoist them up on my back, and squeeze with all my might.  Then I’d whisper in their ears as they lost consciousness, “You’re gonna die, asshole.”

I’d been on the job for a little over a year when I pinched a nineteen-year-old puke who’d had the nerve to question my authority.  I’d busted him for . . . drunk in a  public place . . . In those days people arrested on that charge pled guilty and paid their twenty-nine bucks.  Not this kid. . . . No problem–I knew exactly what to do.

On the trial date I sauntered into the county courthouse, sidled up to the deputy prosecutor, and suggested with a wink and a poke that he dismiss the case.  Why? he demanded to know.   Because it was a skinny pinch, I told him.  He asked if the kid had actually been drunk.  What kind of question was that?  “No, not really.  But he was a puke.  He called me a pig.”

The attorney peered at me through his tortoiseshell glasses anld said, “Does the Constitution of the United States mean anything to you, Officer Stamper?”

I was furious, as angry as I’d ever been in my life.  But my rage quickly turned to embarrassment.  How could I have come so far from my pre-cop views and values?  By the time I slithered down the stairs of the courthouse and out into the bright sunshine, I was saturated in shame.


The need for Police Oversight

Chief Stamper was asked what police oversight should look like.  He answered that there is not one single model that he recommends.  However, any model should invovle a citizen oversight committee with subpenoa powers.  It needs to be real and it needs to be effective.  Police should not police themselves.  This is what he recommends, but it usually gets rejected.



Moving Forward after an Incident of Police Abuse

Much of the reponsibility lies with the police to show that they are sympathetic with citizens who have suffered and that they will respect the outcome of the legal process and not just protect their own.  As a group of professionals, police must take responsibility for the conduct of their fellow officers and hold bad cops responsible.  That is what helps a community move forward.




If you want to get involved in police accountability, the local coalition group is SPARC, and their information is on the Peace and Justice Action League website.

Update: The Spokane City Council recently voted to place Prop 1 for Independent Investigative Authority for the City of Spokane Police Ombudsman on the February 12, 2013, local City of Spokane ballot. This is the kind of independent oversight that retired Police Chief Stamper has supported through the years.

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