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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Henry Louis Gates Moment at UC Irvine?

Hat tip New University


It looks like President Obama may have to prepare another one of those beer summits. Last September there was an incident in the University Hills neighborhood adjoining UC Irvine, a neighborhood inhabited by UCI faculty and staff. It was reported in this week's edition of the New University, UCI's campus paper. Campus police responded to a call reporting a possible burglary in progress. Here is what happened next:

 http://www.newuniversity.org/2016/02/news/university-hills-community-and-ucipd-seek-to-reconcile-after-black-male-mistaken-for-burglar-in-own-home/

So what are we to make of this? Let me add my own perspective as a retired DEA agent. During my career, I often participated in drug raids on houses. In the case of a search warrant, we would make it a practice to alert the local police and if possible have a uniformed officer present. That is because if a neighbor sees a bunch of people in plain clothes rushing a house with guns drawn, they will immediately call the cops.

Sometimes during the course of an operation, we would raid a home based on the events of the case-in other words without the benefit of a warrant or pre-raid planning. It was called exigent circumstances. There was no time to get a warrant. There have been cases where police would respond to neighbors' calls and arrive with guns drawn. The potential for a tragedy is obvious, and we tried to take every precaution to eliminate that possibility.

On another occasion, in 1973, I was with a group of fellow agents in Los Angeles, and we were getting into our G-cars to go back to  our office. For some reason I have long since forgotten, I was asked to drive another agent's car. Just before we got back to the DEA office, I was stopped by two LAPD squad cars. I had no idea why, but I was quite alarmed when they got out of their cars with their hands on their holsters. Turns out I was driving an official DEA car with expired 1969 Nevada plates. Those cops didn't casually walk up to the car window and casually ask, "Do you know why we stopped you, Sir?" because of my white skin.

Back to UCI: Were the antenna of the campus police raised because there was a young black guy in the house? I have no idea.  A couple of months ago, my neighbors' alarm went off when they were not home. The police responded, and as they walked around the house, their hands were on their holsters. There was nobody in the house and no guns were drawn.

Thankfully, nobody got hurt last year at UCI. Let us not forget that in this day and age, cops do get killed responding to these calls. They base their actions on the information they are acting on and what they observe from one moment to the next. Based on what I read here, they handled it properly.

1 comment:

Siarlys Jenkins said...

It is certainly true that police have been fired upon when approaching an unknown situation, and understandably they take precautions accordingly. On the other hand, police need to understand that if they treat innocent citizens like vicious armed criminals, said innocent citizens will be a bit disconcerted, which is an understatement. And if they shoot an innocent citizen because he might have been an armed burglar, well, innocent citizens might clamor for a different approach to police work.

Speaking of DEA, there are multiple cases on record of drug task forces who acted on the word of jailhouse snitches and ended up killing, or being killed by, innocent citizens, because:

a) The snitch made it all up, but a mob of disreputable looking characters was trespassing on an elderly retired couple's property, and the husband ran out with a rifle to defend his wife and home (they didn't have a uniformed officer -- perhaps hoping to surprise the "drug dealers)."

b) They had the wrong apartment, and an elderly retired minister died of a heart attack handcuffed on his living room floor.

c) They were running a no-knock on the apartment of an elderly retired widow who thought she was the victim of a home invasion robbery and fired her pistol through the door, killing an officer.

There must be better routines, and one of them is to check out the situation a little more carefully. A good protocol for police dispatchers might be "Do you know personally all members of the family? Did they speak to you about their plans?"

In this report, the mystery is, if the police called the home phone number for the apartment, and the phone was answered, why wasn't a good deal explained over the phone before anything else happened? IF I got a call from someone saying "This is the police," I would ask "And to what do I owe the honor of this call?" Or, more likely, "Oh, why did you call me?" That is, if the police didn't say in the first place "This is the police, what are you doing inside --ADDRESS--?"

And IF the resident said anything in response to "This is the police," how did the police respond to that?

A friend of mine (who has been a man of African descent all his life) and I kicked around the Gates thing when it happened, and agreed that in the best of all possible worlds, the officer should acknowledge that to be asked to show photo ID in your own living room is a humiliation, and the homeowner should acknowledge that if the office took his word for it and left, only to find later that he had been talking to a clever burglar and the real homeowner wants to know why all his valuables are missing when the cop was right there intercepting the burglar, the cop would be in a lot of trouble.

What really strikes me about this is how little neighbors know about each other. In both cases, a neighbor called police, because they THOUGHT a home was being burglarized, which would never have happened if (a) the lady across the street had known and recognized Professor Gates, or, (b) the neighbor at UCI had known the family of the residence where the parents were away on a trip and their son was still home. When I was eighteen, my parents and younger siblings left town for the summer, and I remained behind because I had a summer job. But all the neighbors on our block had known me for ten years or more, so nobody called the police to say that a man of around 18 years old was burglarizing the house while the family was away on vacation.