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Police Interactions are Chemistry, Not Mechanics:

As much as we might suspect the presence of magic or even some sort of curse, the workings of your automobile engine and the performance of your car are related to mechanical explanations. Compression, leaky gaskets, dirty points or plugs, a starter that’s now toast… these are things that can be observed to be wrong, then fixed or changed as needed to make the situation right. You can say, “This car has always hated me…” but the chance that the car has those emotions is remote.

Maybe in an era of push-button device performance, we’re losing some portion of our recognition of the nature of things. The download comes, the cell phone call goes through…and now maybe everything else should function with that same level of reliable, uncomplicated efficiency. But people aren’t devices from China with microchips, and human interactions are not pushed by processors or run on programs.

It’s true that computers become a bigger part of police and law enforcement work with each passing day. But interactions and exchanges between citizens and their law enforcement personnel are the currency of law enforcement, and those moments are human and greater in variety of character and nature than anything happening on our smart phones.

All this is to say that except for the very people that were there that day… the rest of us may never have a full appreciation of either what occurred when Oscar de la Torre intervened in a fight between two youths, or later when Santa Monica Police showed up to investigate the incident. Details and review of details are available in related articles in this issue of the Mirror. What I find interesting is whether or not there exists some sense that police/citizen interactions must somehow strive to be free of the vagaries of human interaction.

I think you want police officers to bring a dimension of emotion to their jobs. How they choose to compartmentalize their emotion may be both the stuff of training and of personal individual choices. But their service involves assessing situations of human malfunction if you will, and then integrating at a level of protector and enforcer. If, citing reporting from the L.A. Times on Feb. 12th, all that jelled resulting in a moment where an officer somewhat circuitously wondered aloud to a father of one of the boys involved in the fight whether choices made during the fight were correct or fast enough… then that might be one father talking to another. Human interaction. Humans talking.

Of course the perspective of a “review” may cause these interactions to have a hindsight appearance that might make some of them seem inappropriate. And there could be a level or amount of exchanges that provokes review, a second look. In the same LA Times piece on Feb. 12th, a Sheriff’s Department watchdog unit also found that the SMPD’s report of the incident in question was not a “dispassionate rendering of the facts” and was even an “unusual mixture of facts and advocacy…”.

The official record of an incident should be just that, and not something else. If something is less than it could be, or other than it could be, then that needs correcting. But I’m going to argue that words are even less complete than photographs and video in relating the totality of a moment or incident, and further that there is a point at which reaching for complete truth may cross over into something else. And if an element of emotion could be pushing that crossover, I just hope no one is out to repress that. There may be many things that motivate men and women to become peace officers. I would hope that some level of emotion about the work is in play in those decisions.

The concern in this particular incident seems to be whether there existed some kind of pattern of thinking or consensus about Mr. de la Torre’s decision-making in the specific incident involved, and perhaps in some larger context regarding operation of the Pico Youth and Family Center. I wasn’t present at the incident; I haven’t interviewed each and every person on scene… I can’t weigh in on any of that.

But I do believe one can sense a protective emotion or instinct in play involving the specific event. And I would hope that we can all recognize that while procedures and techniques are capable of modification and resulting improvement, humans are a different set of variables. There is the chemistry present in any scene before police arrive, and then the change in chemistry once they have arrived. All present bring something of an emotional or instinctual nature to the a sorting out that occurs after an event of violent human contact. That’s more chemistry. And then, there’s the simple human desire for things to be better or to get better. Both sides here clearly aspire to that, and all of Santa Monica supports them in getting the formula for that worked out.

in Opinion
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