What the former St. Anthony police chief had to say about police reform, racial profiling and BLM before he retired in May

Editor’s note: A version of this story, by MinnPost Cityscape columnist Bill Lindeke, originally appeared on Lindeke’s personal blog on Thursday, July 7, the day after St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed 32-year-old Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. It has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity and formatting purposes.

Two months ago, on May 15, while working on a story for a community newspaper, I interviewed John Ohl, the police chief of St. Anthony, who was about to retire after 30 years of working at the St. Anthony Police Department.

Entering into the interview, I hadn’t intended to discuss police reform debates, racial profiling, or #blacklivesmatter, and I was surprised when Chief Ohl brought it up. During our interview Ohl shared his frank opinions about these issues, and seemed eager to defend the St. Anthony Police Department’s record on issues like community policing, video evidence, and the use of force.

Here is a transcript of our conversation:

Bill Lindeke: How many cops do you have here anyway?

Recently retired Chief John Ohl: Twenty-three. We have 23 sworn, 14 reserve officers, a [Community Service Officer] full-time and three support staff.

BL: What are you planning on doing after [you retire]? How many days do you have left? Is it a clock thing, you get your pension and then you’re done? 

JO: Well it’s partially that. It’s partially timing with the police department right now; it’s set up well to take the next transition. We’ve done a good job with succession planning. And it feels right. I’m not angry, I’m not burned up. I’m not bitter. I don’t have any union people taking votes of no confidence on me. I have great relationships with all three councils. I feel good.

This job is tough on people. It’s tough on the Patrol Officer and tough on the upper administration. Everything’s my fault, and I’m on call 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week. I have been for 25 years.

BL: Well you’re responsible for a lot of people’s well-being and livelihoods.

JO: When I’m in Mexico… When you’re in Mexico vacationing, you’re thinking about your next margarita. I’m in Mexico thinking, “God I hope somebody doesn’t get hurt here, a cop doesn’t get shot, doesn’t kill somebody.” Because I’d have to leave. I’d have to leave Mexico.

And that’s the way my life has been run for… Well, I was a street cop for six years. I went into investigations. And then I was promoted to lieutenant, and then captain, and then chief.

BL: What does investigations mean?

JO: I was a detective. When I got put into investigations, as a detective, after six years on the street, I became a 24-hour, 365-call. I started my 24-hours-a-day, no matter where I was, no matter what I was doing.

And that’s been 25 years. And that’s long enough. Thirty-three years, and my family doesn’t deserve it any more. I’m not angry and not bitter. I’ve had a great career and I’m very, very fortunate, but I’m tired of the constant on-call, the constant vigilance. 

BL: Understandable.

Former St. Anthony Chief of Police John Ohl
Former St. Anthony Chief of Police John Ohl

JO: And all my friends own small businesses. All the high school guys run small businesses, and there’s a lot of opportunity to help them out. I’m interested in doing some volunteer work, where I’m just in charge. If I do a good job it’s because I did a good job. Not because someone works for me, but because of something I did. So I’m interested in that too.

BL: But nothing specific?

JO: No. No. Not right now. I’m kind of in the infancy of this whole thing.   

[Here our conversation went briefly off the record. It resumes below.]

BL: Well, it’s hard to recruit cops, too.

JO:  Now it is. It used to be that it was a profession that people saw as highly sought after. And thanks to some extremely negative and biased news media reporting — not to throw you under the bus — but, the news media wants to report the minutiae, and society will pay the price.

BL: There’s always been a tendency to report on crime and make it seem out of control…

JO: Yup. But here’s the problem with that. On years when crime went down … Of course, “If it bleeds, it leads”… that whole thing. So when you report on crime, and people’s idea in their heads is that that crime is out of control, even in years where we can show that crime is down significantly, people when they’re polled, they think that crime is up.

BL: Yeah, like the dropping murder rates in US cities across the country, well except Chicago, for some reason. If you look at the difference between media reporting on murders and actual numbers of murders, you think, “Why is that happening?”

JO: Exactly. The point is that because the news media has a platform. And it puts it in your face. You have a bias, and your bias is that you think murder is out of control, even on years that it goes down significantly.

So now what has the news media done? So what’s the end result of me thinking that crime is out of control? What’s the societal cost of that? Now you’ve taken hyper-vigilance and white-hot light and shined it on guys that are trying to do their job as best they can, and plucked out the minutiae. And focused on it, like they could for news reporters, or lawyers, or politicians, or anybody else. They chose to dig deep and find the worst possible scenario, and shine it like a light, and report on it every day.

So what do you think people’s bias is now? Cops are gun crazy shooting nut-bags that need to be reeled in. It’s not the case. Not even close to the case. Yet… 

What’s the societal price we’re going to pay? I’m already hearing that schools that are teaching law enforcement are having declining enrollment rates. Bright young people who should be cops, who we want as a society to be cops, are choosing different professions. Why wouldn’t they?

Why would you be a cop today? You’re treated like a piece of crap. And I’m not saying by society in general. Our city loves us, our Council supports us, and we are greatly appreciative of that citizen and council support. But geez! National news media and local media are making it tough on us. And it’s tough to recruit new cops, good high quality cops! And you’re seeing declining rates right now, but societal costs are coming, Bill. It’s coming, when bright young people no longer choose this career because of biased, unfair, and undeserved reporting…

BL: That’s kind of why we’re doing this story. Because it’s not about anything negative recently. 

JO: And that’s great. I think if I’m going to leave a legacy, I take every opportunity with every person, especially people in your position, to try to get you to see… What a great deal to write a story on biased reporting and law enforcement.

You want to hear some statistics? We arrest about 12 million people every year. In the United States of America we arrested about 12 million people every year. A half of… 500,000 of those … the FBI has got the stats very easily. About 500,000 arrests are for violent criminal offense. We use deadly force in effecting arrests about 400 times a year. We kill about 400 people a year in effecting arrests. In the same time period, 100 to 200 cops are killed, and 100,000 are assaulted.

What’s the story line? Do the math: 400 into 12 million. We use deadly force about .00028 percent of the time. But that’s the story? What do people believe presently today? It’s just an amazing… The news media is an amazing tool…

BL: So why do think it’s gotten so intense lately?

JO: Because news media makes money on the pain of others. That’s what happens. “If it bleeds, it leads”… There’s a reason for that. Because people want to see that. So the news media shows it. And what sells better than a bad cop?

BL: It’s a different story for a different paper and I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s about challenges in St. Paul and Minneapolis police departments in recruiting diverse candidates. [Note: the article was published last week.] So that’s one of the things people complain about a lot. I was trying to think about how can I write a story about police and trying to reform police departments without focusing on a lot of what you’re talking about. I want to see what are solutions we can come up with.

JO: You mean for diversifying law enforcement?

BL: Yeah.

JO: Well we’re talking about one right now. So if you think it’s distasteful for your white suburban high school kid to choose law enforcement as a career, based on what we’re doing to them in the news media today, what does it do to your urban city minority? They are twice as affected by it.

BL: The two officers I spoke with — one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul — were really frustrated, I could tell, about what’s happened in the last year or two. 

JO: Bill, I … I don’t know. You can tell I’m getting a little animated about it.

BL: I appreciate your honesty.

JO: It’s just so unfair, and we have no platform. We have no platform to tell the truth.

Hey, let me tell you the truth about these statistics? What do we hear about cops on any single day? What we hear about cops every single day… You want to shine the white hot light on anybody? Contractors… mechanics… Priests…

BL: Journalists.

JO: Journalists! Anybody you want to put on the list. But it’s not this whole, this “21st century policing” from the President, and all the executive research forums. When that came out…

BL: Can you tell me what “21st century policing” is…

JO: Yeah, President Obama. Just google “President Obama’s 21st century policing,” Here’s what we should be doing in law enforcement to solve the problems that we think we have. And I go down that list and well, 90 percent of what’s on that list, we’re already doing.

I just read it and go, yeah, doing, doing… You mean some people don’t do that? Doing, doing, doing.

Because nothing’s significantly broken in law enforcement now. We are better trained, better selected, better educated, held to more standards, higher accountable, and with better policies than ever before in the United States of America’s history. Yet we’re in the toilet right now. Why? 

Why are we in the toilet? There’s only one reason.

And it just drives me crazy, and it’s unfair. And like I said, it’s too bad, because you’re going to pay the price, I’m going to pay the price.

BL: As a society, you mean.

JO: Society is going to pay the price. Because there’ll be people to fill those positions, but “Are they going to be who you want?” is the good question.

BL: Well that’s probably not the angle my editor was looking for. But I will try to mention some of this stuff because it’s important to you and it’s interesting to me. And like you said, it’s crucial to get other narratives out there besides “everything’s down the toilet and the cops hate the community and vice versa,” because that’s not always the case.

JO: Never has been the case. It’s not; this system is not broken. It’s not perfect, but it’s not broken.

BL: Well, what would you do to fix anything? The media is one thing, right… 

JO: What would I do? We take care of our house. All I would say is, “What would I do?” Look at what we’ve done. You can read about it in our annual reports.

[Ohl takes down a binder from the shelf behind him of annual reports and reads from it.]

“A clear mission improves the quality of our service. Most would agree that the way law enforcement conducts business has never been under more scrutiny. This despite the fact that we have become more technologically sound, are more restrained in the use of force, are more integrated, are more carefully trained, and are more selectively chosen than ever before.”

Now that’s not my opinion. You and I cannot argue about that. That is a fact. That is an absolute fact.

So what more do you want me to do? We are moving forward constantly. What more is it that I’m supposed to do?

I said that, “The perception that police officers are out of control is not supported with the good work that’s done every day. People who have never seen cops’ everyday reality can easily overlook how difficult it can be to act humanely, as cops must, even with the dregs of our society, the schemers, the violent people, and those who prey on the weak.”

BL: That’s actually pretty well written, John.

JO: Well, you’re welcome to [get] it off the website. It just continues.

In our business, perception is reality. And the most effective weapon we have is cooperation. So how do I… my Council knows what kind of cop I am, what kind of cop shop I run.

So how do we get Channel 11 news to write good stories? To write about the fact that we are more selectively employing? Nobody cares. They don’t care. 

They say to themselves, “Can I make money by reporting the good things that are happening in the city of St. Anthony or around our metropolitan area? Or can I make more money by finding that one cop and putting it on the news for seven days in a row? Which one makes me more money?”

The muckrakers of the ’20s are gone. They provided a service to the population. Your peers, your counterparts in that day and age helped shape America to being a better place. What we’re doing now in the news media is making money. And that’s it.

We don’t report the news with a non-biased slant. If they did, we would say: “Oh, so there’s a cop that shot an unarmed guy in the back, and it’s on video. And holy shit, that’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.”

We can report on that, and we’re gonna report on that, and we should report on that. But when we report on that, let’s balance that. Is that happening all across America? And to what degree?

Oh, let’s do the quick math, and we just did: .0028 percent of the time. Do we want to report on that? Will that make us money?

And now you’re asking me what am I going to do? We’re more selectively trained, we’re better educated…

BL: Well what do you think about, for example, there’s a debate at the legislature right now about the body camera thing.

CJO: Full of issues. Full of problems, I’m sure you’ve read all about them. There are pros and cons behind everything. I can show you a videotape that clearly shows in one view of a guy a police officer executing a guy.

BL: And you look at another angle…

JO: One other angle and you see a gun in his hand. In the bad guy’s hand. That the cop didn’t shoot him, he must not have seen the gun. You see two cops go up to a crazy guy and from the one video camera, the guy, you see the cop get out of the car and start to engage with this guy. And I’m thinking, he can’t see the gun in his hand. And his partner comes out of the car and shoots him four times in the back.

And you just go, “Oh. Oh my god.” From one view, his partner just executed him. From another view, he just probably saved his partners’ life. And, by the way, a bunch of bystanders that were standing by this store.

So video isn’t going to be a solve all, do all. We think it is because we’re having this knee-jerk reaction. I haven’t had a sustained I.A. [internal affairs investigation] in five years because of video cameras in squad cars. In five years, because of what I think is very likely video cameras in squad cars, that’s where 90 percent of it happens.

BL: So that was a good change, then?

JO: It was. It’s the public view. Cops resisted it at first. It’s not perfect, because like I just told you it definitely is not forward but it was a step in the right direction  for some clarity. But if we’re doing the body cam thing, so that this tape is going to be the only thing that’s, you know, discussed, I think people have too high of an expectation, just a little too high of an expectation for what that’s gonna solve.

And let’s not forget. Is it solving a systemic problem in law enforcement in our society today? I don’t think that there is a systemic problem around law enforcement in our society today.

I think the statistics, anybody who wants to be rational, not emotional, You don’t need to take my word for it, go do the math. See the good that’s going around. Walk around to Joe Blow Citizen, and ask him if the cops are doing a shitty job? And that they’re gun happy…

BL: In Saint Paul, I think people that I talk to, most people are pretty happy with the police force there. And I know the politicians are… the chief’s retiring over there too, I don’t know if you know him. It’s really context dependent, and it depends on the person.

JO: It does. If you just got a speeding ticket, you maybe think the cops …

BL: So it just depends. Hopefully it makes a difference, the personal relationships that you’re building. 

JO: It does. And it’s happening all across this country, what I’m talking about. This isn’t specific to St. Anthony. It’s happening all across the country. And it has been happening, nothing changed. We’ve been working that direction for twenty years. Twenty years, we’ve been working that community oriented policing direction.

BL: How many days do you have left? From what you’ve been saying it’s not like you’re going to sit around knitting…

JO: Well, everything that you and I have been talking about I would be held accountable for in the public forum. I’ve said it a million times that what we have here isn’t broken. That what we have here is a lack of a platform. So none of this is something I, because I think you’re a nice guy and you seem to care about writing and your work… 

BL: I don’t write about police stuff very much. And I’m glad I don’t. I do mostly urban policy things like transportation and development and so… There are contentious issues there too, but it’s not so much life and death as you guys have to deal with.

JO: From thirty-three years now, I’ve been reflecting on things, and this is the topic of the day.

BL: Yeah, it sure is.

JO: This is the topic of the day. And so I’m animated about it, because this is the end of my career. And I’ve seen a turn that is simply sad to me. And its sad because it’s not being balanced. At so at the end of my career, that is disappointing. Very disappointing.

Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 07/08/2016 - 04:22 pm.

    Out of touch

    This guy is everything that is wrong with policing today. No good cop should have any fear of cameras.

    I wished he’d been asked about their role as a revenue generator for Falcon Heights. Maybe if the mission had actually been “protect and serve” instead of give out as many nuisance tickets as possible, this could have been avoided.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 07/08/2016 - 05:42 pm.

    Thank You, Bill

    It clearly helps to have a guy who writes “mostly urban policy things like transportation and development and so…” to get to the foundations of social issues.

    And, thank you, MinnPost, for posting this interview piece of personal/professional reflection.
    I sincerely hope all members read this and reflect, as well.

    Let’s all breathe a little more deeply this weekend, while walking wherever we may be, truly looking at those we meet, perhaps offering greetings and friendly smiles. Each of us can do some small thing to chip away at the psychological isolation of our cyber society.

    People Matter…yes, we all do!

  3. Submitted by John Appelen on 07/08/2016 - 09:34 pm.

    Excellent Piece

    Now that was a rational and fact based review of the issues.

    Hopefully the BLM supporters and the Journalists take it to heart.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 07/09/2016 - 01:46 pm.

      “Fact based?” Chief Ohl screwed up the statistics, big time. The number of arrests has nothing to do with the number that cops killed in a year, i.e., these dead folks were never arrested nor is it apparent that they needed to die “by the numbers.” He also omits those who were shot and survived their police encounters or whether they were ever found guilty of a crime or not.

      Even if you did take his numbers at face value, there is no accounting for racial profiling anywhere in the figures cited.

      I certainly won’t blame him for Philando Castile’s gruesome death, but it is a part of Chief Ohl’s legacy even a few months after his departure.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/11/2016 - 01:25 pm.

        Numbers Matter

        Each and every interaction between an officer and a suspect is an opportunity for an error to occur. Be it the suspect dies, officers dies, bad guy escapes or other.

        I am certain some officers racial profile, however I think it is much less prevalent than you likely do. Now do officers look at the car, dress, behavior, etc and make decisions based on this… Yes that is what we pay them to do. If we have them wait until the crime is over all the time, people will get hurt.

        I wish someone had noted that the drive by shooting vehicle was suspicious before the toddler was killed.

  4. Submitted by Pat Terry on 07/09/2016 - 07:18 am.

    Arrogance

    Chief Ohl was warned by a law professor and gun rights activist that his poorly trained officers were going to have issues because of the way they handled traffic stops. He blew off that warning, and from the interview, comes across as a guy who thinks he’s got it all figured out and think that critics just have knee jerk reactions. That arrogance finally proved deadly.

    http://m.startribune.com/professor-st-anthony-police-chief-dismissed-plea-to-improve-traffic-stop-training/386079641/

    • Submitted by Carrie Anderson on 07/15/2016 - 08:41 pm.

      Thank You

      Thanks for providing that link. The reporting, even from so-called liberal MinnPost, seems so one-sided when it comes to the deaths of black people at the hands of white officers.

  5. Submitted by Rodgers Adams on 07/09/2016 - 11:14 am.

    Yes, but. . . .

    Chief Ohi is to be commended for his service, and especially for the service of speaking out honestly about what he has observed. I think frank and open communication is essential for dealing with complex problems like police/community relations. And I recognize the social danger from disparaging police work.

    Since Chief Ohi has obviously been reflective about what he has observed, I hope he will be reflective about two additional issues:

    First, the impact of media. It is true that decades ago some competing newspapers resorted to sensationalism to sell their product. And, unfortunately, some news outlets (and politicians) continue to do so today. While, without money, there would be no newspapers or cable news, today’s bias toward exceptional cases is not driven by media greed, but by the public appetite. I doubt that Chief Ohi would think that the general public believes that flying in an airline is dangerous because plane crashes receive extended and prominent coverage, while each plane that lands safely does not. The Constitutional concept of a free press is not based on the need for folks to be told that their neighbors are good people, but to be told that a particular neighbor shot a judge who was hearing his case. The media has an important role in exposing and exploring social problems. But the media also make a point of finding out “good” stories and telling them. I hope Chief Oi will search his memory for the many pieces extolling good police work or heroic cops that have been relayed by the Twin Cities media. If he or most folks skipped past them or forgot them, it isn’t the fault of the media.

    Second, I hope Chief Ohi will think deeper about the nature of the current conflict. It is not that some individual cops do bad things. His statistics seem to focus on the issue of how rarely that happens. The issue is to what extent the actions of a single “bad cop” draw attention to a much broader problem, a possible attitude among many cops. This is a complicated issue, hard to measure, but the discussion should move beyond a single case and focus on the broader patterns in statistics about criminal justice, that show disparities in stops, searches, arrests, convictions, and shootings by police based on who the categories the suspects fall in, not what they have done. Media coverage of that issue will benefit both the public and the police.

  6. Submitted by Sue Halligan on 07/09/2016 - 11:58 am.

    Poor John Ohl

    This is a story that would lift one’s heart about the future of policing, if it weren’t for the recent heartbreaking story of Philando Castile. Heartbreaking for not only his family and the community, but also for the policeman who killed him, who, from all I can read, was exactly the kind of person we should be recruiting for police work.

  7. Submitted by Mikki Morrissette on 07/09/2016 - 03:38 pm.

    nice perspective

    It’s an understandable (though unfortunate) aspect of human nature that we use categories to “make sense” of things. John Ohl categorizes media in the same simplistic way he is rightly concerned that police are categorized. Media, such as MinnPost, is not simply about big business exploiting sensationalistic stories and ignoring the good.

    The shooter in Dallas categorized police and white people. Trump supporters categorize immigrants. Isis categorizes. Racism is about categorizing. Business is categorized. Government.

    We’ll have a safer society not so much when media only tells good stories and all police have body cams that don’t fall off — but when our future generations have learned not to lump people/institutions into categories so instinctively.

    I agree with John Ohl — who has done his job in a difficult profession — that there is much about certain aspects of media that needs adjusting, certain “news professionals” that do a disservice to their colleagues. As a member of the media, and a writer working on a book about our perceptions as society, I think we all do better when we can see and admit that there are individuals — not categories — that need to be called out. Law enforcement is an important, dangerous profession and shouldn’t be categorized solely by the individuals in its ranks who make life-ending mistakes of judgment, sometimes caused by biased fear and anger and adrenaline. But for that to happen, those individuals need to be held accountable when they do — as does anyone who makes horrible mistakes in judgment, with our money, our public health, our trust.

    • Submitted by Tim Higgins on 07/09/2016 - 06:59 pm.

      accountability

      John Ohl speaks with passion in defense of his profession, a calling which he feels is being unfairly handled, if not indeed targeted, in the media. His view of the rationale for this is that bad news sells. It would be hard to argue against such a view, however, as noted above, this is a somewhat simplistic take on a complicated issue.

      I wish the author and Chief Ohl had discussed what some in society perceive to be an accountability gap concerning law enforcement. Reasonable people will generally conclude that the vast majority of men and women in law enforcement are honest, hard working individuals serving the community in an incredibly difficult profession. As in any profession, however, there are always a very bad apples, and there is a growing perception, especially in the African American community, that these individuals are not held to the same level of accountability as the rest of society. This perception, true or not, fosters distrust and disrespect for law enforcement within the community they are sworn to serve.

      Accountability is critical when one examines the reputation law enforcement enjoys – or enables – with society. Not being a policeman myself, i would value what insights John Ohl has on the subject.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/09/2016 - 11:13 pm.

        Public Employees

        Police like Teachers are often protected by very strong Unions that many commenters here support as critical to protecting the Public Employees from being treated unfairly. Unless one is willing to wrestle with the concept of Public Union Power it is unlikely an “accountability” discussion will go very far.

        Now I am willing to bet that the officer who shot Philando is one of those “honest, hard working individuals serving the community in an incredibly difficult profession”. Unfortunately that does not help anyone when he sees the suspect in the car make an unexpected motion and responds by shooting them. Did you ever see the movie “Crash”? Excellent show by the way…

        Even the best most sincere dedicated employee makes mistakes occasionally. The problem with police mistakes is that either the officer or the suspect may end up dead.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/10/2016 - 01:28 pm.

          Except that in this case

          videos show that Philando was NOT making an ‘unexpected motion’; rather he was following the officer’s instructions.
          And the reason why “either the officer or the suspect may end up dead” is that in this country we have as many guns as people, so that police officers must assume that any person they confront is armed until demonstrated otherwise. Until we correct this, there will be shootings.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/10/2016 - 08:27 pm.

            Apparently

            Though I have not watched it,apparently the video starts after the shooting.

            “”The police officer stopped us for a busted taillight that wasn’t busted,” she said, adding they were calmly following the officer’s instructions. “We had our hands in the air.”

            Castile told the officer he had a permit to carry a weapon, according to Reynolds’ account. The officer asked for Castile’s license and registration and “as he was reaching for his ID in his back pocket” shot him multiple times, she said.

            She then pulled out her phone and started the live stream video, viewed more than 3 million times on Facebook.”

            We apparently have another he said, she said…

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/11/2016 - 10:19 am.

              Of course

              if the police camera had been properly mounted we would have a much better idea of the whole sequence.

  8. Submitted by Peggy Reinhardt on 07/10/2016 - 08:22 am.

    About the media

    There’s is a kernel here about main stream media reporting what will keep their advertisers happy via more “eye balls.” Indeed, media is a business and sensationalism sells. Even more so, media looks at the demographics of its audience and targets the “news” to those who’ve got the bucks to buy their advertisers’ products. Hence, we end up with minimal coverage of the lives of people with less money. They become “other,” “those people” etc, and “ain’t it awful.”

    And MinnPost is no angel. I looked around at the attendees at it’s recent fundraising at the State Theatre. Mostly white and middle-aged and beyond. Very few minority faces while outside there were many young black faces milling about on Hennepin Avenue. Any stories here about what it’s like to be young, gifted and black?

    So thanks for writing what’s on the minds of this retired police chief. That’s his perspective of a small minority who chose to protect and serve the majority. He does have a point that news is shaped by advertising. Cars, home remodeling, appliances – all items out of the reach of people with less money – so why produce stories about them?

    Our community is left with a big hole in information and therefore about big bias about the lives of non-whites – people struggling for jobs and dignity.

  9. Submitted by Jim Million on 07/10/2016 - 08:28 am.

    Dateline

    Lindeke: “…on May 15, while working on a story for a community newspaper, I interviewed John Ohl, the police chief of St. Anthony, who was about to retire after 30 years of working at the St. Anthony Police Department.”

    Just want to remind everyone this was retrospection prior to pending retirement. We might ask Bill how much, if at all, he shaped his piece toward events coincident with his posting. Seems pretty clean to me.

    • Submitted by William Lindeke on 07/10/2016 - 12:37 pm.

      That’s why it’s interesting to me

      I think the Chief’s perspective here reflects more wide-spread Departmental culture in policing. If you were to talk to an officer from the department today, of course, the answers would be completely different. I used my audio recording and copied down the conversation verbatim, editing out an exchange about family members that was “off the record” and not relevant. After the interview, we continued to talk, and there was a police call about a person on a rooftop in neighboring Minneapolis who may have exhibited what police call “excited delirium.” All of a sudden things became quite serious, which is the everyday life of a police officer. (See article: http://www.parkbugle.org/after-30-years-lauderdale-and-falcon-heights-police-chief-retires/)

      But to me this interview is so telling because it clarifies how Police Departments deal with receiving criticism. They view it as a problem of distorted media, or that problems exist mostly somewhere else (urban neighborhoods) and not in quiet suburbs. In retrospect, both these ideas seem to me to be tragically misguided.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/11/2016 - 12:20 pm.

        Thanks for Clarification, Bill

        Thanks for your explanation of “off the record” edits so we all may know the benign nature of same.
        I agree with your view of suburban vs. urban perception; however, I believe we may be witnessing some sort of transference of perception that may not be realistic, valid or positive.

        We speak daily of what we used to call “group think,” the isolation of perception based on like-minded members. Today we fault social media for generalizing conditions and viewpoints rather than localizing them.
        Certainly our police department members are subject to this constant stimulus that tends to raise levels of caution, indeed, anxiety where “facts on the ground” do not warrant. It is far too easy for our local officers to develop some kind of unwarranted bunker mentality, a pressure on perception that may manipulate their responses and actions. Certainly our cities need to be aware that 24/7 media coverage of events, such as Friday night’s Dallas assassinations, prompts transference of emotion, perhaps fear where not warranted. We need to be aware of this peripheral effect on all of us, especially on our first responders.

        Maybe everyone concerned should again watch Fort Apache the Bronx (1981), where “South Bronx’s main police precinct is nicknamed Fort Apache by its employees who feel like troopers surrounded by hostiles in a wild west isolated outpost.” [IMDb] We must recognize correlations but also properly separate facts from fiction in our local precincts. We must address unwarranted siege mentality where it exists here.

  10. Submitted by Mike Hicks on 07/10/2016 - 09:13 am.

    Blinders on with regard to police violence

    Something that strikes me about Ohl’s comments is that he said, “We use deadly force in effecting arrests about 400 times a year.” That’s a rough number that had been claimed to be true by police for many years, but it’s based on incomplete data. We now have multiple groups tracking the use of deadly force, and they’ve all found a rate that’s more than twice as high:

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-police-are-killing-people-as-often-as-they-were-before-ferguson/

    Also, while there were 130 recorded police officer deaths in 2015, 27 occurred in non-pursuit car accidents, 17 were heart attacks, and there were a smattering of deaths in other categories unrelated to typical criminal activity:

    https://www.odmp.org/search/year/2015

    Policing is not an easy job, but officers do have a somewhat inflated sense of risk. Working as part of a police force is less risky than being a construction worker:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/blake-fleetwood/how-dangerous-is-police-w_b_6373798.html

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/10/2016 - 08:40 pm.

      Interesting Stats

      Though interesting, the stats seem somewhat pointless. The only stat that really matters is how many of these deaths were errors? Officers will always kill people before being killed themselves. And based on the number of officers that are found guilty there are very few unjustified shootings.

      So now the question becomes which type of error do we want?

      – good people accidentally killed?
      – bad people escaping to commit more offenses / officers killed?

      Errors will occur since humans are involved…

  11. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 07/10/2016 - 08:08 pm.

    Perhaps Our Law Enforcement Officers

    will now come to realize that they have something in common,…

    with their community’s teachers.

    Since everyone knows of at least one “bad” teacher in the the schools they attended,…

    though their definition of “bad” is often nothing more than that they they didn’t LIKE that teacher,…

    our conservative friends decided more than three decades ago that a way to save a big part of their tax money,…

    money that was rightfully and needfully going to public education,…

    was to paint the entire teaching profession with a “bad teacher” brush.

    Most of the media, of course, was only too happy to jump on the bandwagon of a meme that became very popular,…

    (without EVER examining the accuracy of it which would have spoiled the fun and profits).

    I now suspect that our “conservative” friends have already started a behind-the-scenes campaign,…

    again with the unquestioning complicity of the media,…

    (weasel news will catch up, by and by),…

    to paint ALL cops with the “bad cop” brush,…

    in order to excuse saving even MORE taxes by underfunding police forces across the country,…

    (who are, after all, mostly members of “public employee UNIONS”)…

    thus damaging, even more, the ability of police forces to do adequate work,…

    and giving those “conservatives” more “bad cops” to point toward,…

    in order to convince the public that it has now become necessary to privatize local police forces (the equivalent of charter schools),…

    with the overall effect of wiping out all those “expensive police union contracts” with decent salaries and benefits,…

    those “privatized” police forces then to be made completely unaccountable to the public,…

    and honest reporting of statistics regarding their performance becoming absolutely impossible to find,…

    while the media trumpets a random success here or there to try to make it look as if the new privatized police forces are truly excellent and have NO “bad cops,” whatsoever…

    Perhaps if our friends in the police force are wise,…

    they’ll realize that they’ve seen this movie before,…

    and act to change the way it’s about to unfold.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/10/2016 - 10:50 pm.

      Perspective

      Of course I have a different perspective. If the police employment contracts are like the Teacher contracts, then officers are paid more and their jobs become more secure whether they perform well or not so well.

      I am pretty certain that police management would love to be able to fire police officers if they perform questionably. However if the unions are similar, the process is to do so is far too difficult.

      If one truly wants only the best Officers in the force and Teachers in the classroom, it may be time to weaken the powers of those who protect the questionable performers.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/11/2016 - 10:23 am.

        School systems have

        ‘rubber rooms’ where they put teachers who can’t perform in the classroom.
        Policemen could at least be put behind desks.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/11/2016 - 11:29 am.

          Typical Issue Though

          If we are paying questionable Public Employees to ride a desk instead of perform a valuable primary function, that means less money for the good Public Employees performing that valuable function. Or less money for valuable training.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/14/2016 - 02:19 pm.

            There Are

            real desk jobs in police departments.
            Someone may be able to do them competently while lacking the specific abilities necessary to walk a beat.

      • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 07/12/2016 - 07:50 am.

        Read the Community Voices piece

        It seems our system does a reasonable job of screening peace officers even before they get hired. And I personally know of officers who’ve been let go, so I think this problem is somewhat imagined.

        I’m always amused by anti-Union folks wanting to get rid of the system because it may have a perceived weakness. Yes, let’s turn it over to the beloved private sector. Because there would be no employee issues in the police department led by Chief Roger Ailes!

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/12/2016 - 01:24 pm.

          Public Private

          Personally I have no desire to turn Policing or Public Education over to Private business. I just want to eliminate the aspects that harm the customers/kids and drive excessively high costs where they are unnecessary.

          Compensation, position, school and job security should be based on capability, performance, level of responsibility, difficulty of position, etc… Not on number of degrees and years employed.

          I always dream of Public Unions who are harder on their employees than the employers. Like some kind of Professional Guild where only the best are allowed in, and allowed to stay in. Where the members must prove their capabilities to gain a certain rank, and continue a level of performance in order to maintain the rank.

          Instead we have Public Unions who believe that a persons value is based on 2 things… degrees and time… And that every almost every employee deserves to keep their position.

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