Transcript

548:

Cops See It Differently, Part Two
Transcript

Originally aired 02.13.2015

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/548

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Hey there, everybody. If you're listening on our podcast or at the internet, there are words in this episode that we have unbeeped. If you prefer a beeped version of the show, you could find that at our website, Thisamericanlife.org. One of our producers here at This American Life, Robyn Semien, wanted to find a New York police officer to talk to for today's program.

And she spent two weeks calling police union offices in different boroughs. She reached out to crime reporters, you know, a lot of cops. Robyn used to work in a corrections facility in the Bronx, so she knows lots of cops. And finally she managed to convince one of them. She convinced a friend on the NYPD to sit down with her. And the climate for cops in New York right now is so embattled that this officer asked that we not use her name or her voice or say what neighborhood she works in.

We can say that she works in a high crime area with not many white people in it. And she and Robyn sat down to watch the Eric Garner video together. Robyn is black and not a cop. Her police officer friend is white and a cop. Eric Garner, of course, was an unarmed black man who died when a group of NYPD tried to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on the street in July. And Robyn wanted to understand what a police officer sees when they watch the video.

Robyn Semien

Is this good policing, bad policing? Where does this go wrong? What does Eric Garner do right? What does he do wrong? Like, these kinds of questions, basic stuff--

Ira Glass

That's Robyn. She says that she and her friend sat down in front of a computer, and they basically just walked through the video, stopping and starting and talking. And her friend told her that at every step, right from the start, Eric Garner seems to be resisting arrest. He is not compliant. He does not produce an ID. He keeps talking and stalling.

Even once he's on the ground, there's this five or six seconds where he's laying on his right side. Police go to cuff his left hand. Meanwhile, his right arm is extended on the concrete, his right palm facing up. His fingers are apart. Robyn showed this to me on the video.

Robyn Semien

Just watch his right hand. It's face up.

Man

Put your hand behind your back.

Robyn Semien

Put your hand behind your back, they say. OK, and it's right at this moment where there's five police officers on him. His hands are spread. She's saying, why isn't he put-- she says to me over and over, why isn't he putting his hand behind his back? See, he's resisting. At that moment, five officers on him, he's on the ground-- yeah, like, I don't see how he could put his hand behind his back if he wanted to.

Ira Glass

OK, play it again.

Robyn Semien

Yeah, he's down on the ground. He's crawling. His arm is pinned. His right arm is pinned, and then they all pull his arm around and handcuff him.

Ira Glass

So it's just that fast, OK.

Robyn Semien

It's that fast. We watched it over and over. She only saw it as him not complying, basically, wrestling and refusing to be arrested. And I can only ever see it, I mean, as the opposite. I can only ever see it as, like, a person who seems thoroughly detained. Like, I'm thinking at this point, it's under control.

Ira Glass

Why keep applying force?

Robyn Semien

And she's like, it's clearly not under control and there is more force to be applied.

Ira Glass

When Eric Garner says over and over, I can't breathe, Robyn sees a man who's dying. Her friend does not. She tells Robyn people say that all the time when they're being arrested. They can't breathe. You're hurting them. It happens all the time. The officer totally understood why the police on the scene did not pay any attention to it.

Ira Glass

And does she understand why you see it the way you do?

Robyn Semien

No.

Ira Glass

She thinks that when you look at it, you should see it the way she sees it.

Robyn Semien

Yeah.

Ira Glass

And did it make her mad that you couldn't see it?

Robyn Semien

Yeah. Yeah, it did.

Ira Glass

Because to her it's obvious.

Robyn Semien

Yeah, and that's a very weird feeling to be sitting next to someone-- anyone, let alone a friend-- and to be watching a video and saying, like, don't you see this person is in pain, struggling to communicate? What's odd to me is that now, even after the fact, we know that he really couldn't breathe. And she kind of wouldn't even totally cop to the fact that he was probably telling the truth as we watched the video.

Ira Glass

Robyn went into this conversation figuring they would have at least some common ground. But they talked for four hours, and the longer they talked, the more they both realized there was just nothing, just none. Robyn's friend said she did understand why people saw this as a racial incident, but she definitely did not.

When Robyn asked her what should be done now, she didn't think anything should be done. We're doing a good job, she said. Other police have said this, too, and pointed out that New York in particular-- a city of 8.4 million people, 35 thousand officers, guns everywhere, everywhere in our country-- in the last year that's been tallied, 2013, New York officers fired their weapons just 40 times in adversarial conflict-- 40 times.

This is the second week in a row that we're doing a program about how cops see things differently, doing stories about policing and race. And we have two stories for you today. One of them is about a city where things went just terribly between police and black residents. And the other story is about a place that is the opposite, where they seem to be going kind of great, or anyway, things have improved dramatically.

And we chose these stories because in both of them, we learned things that we had not heard before anywhere about how much can go wrong, and how it goes wrong when it goes wrong, and about just how rigorous and aggressive and smart police have to be if they want things to go well. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Inconvenience Store.

Ira Glass

Act One, Inconvenience Store. So the community where policing went so badly is called Miami Gardens. It's a city of about 110,000 people with a lot of crime, a higher murder rate than Chicago or New York or Miami. In fact, it used to be part of Miami-Dade County and broke off in 2003. It became a separate city, started their own police force after that, partly because the Miami-Dade cops hadn't been so responsive to the community.

And at first, apparently, people loved the new cops. Miami Gardens is an overwhelmingly black community. Its leaders are black. They had a black police chief. Residents called the new cops the bumblebees because they seemed to be swarming everywhere and people liked that.

And, really, it just took a couple years for it to become a total mess, as you'll hear. And the best illustration of how bad it got happened to two men-- the owner of a convenience store called the Quickstop and one of his employees. Miki Meek tells the story.

Miki Meek

The Quickstop in Miami Gardens is a hangout spot in the poorer part of the city. There's a big parking lot, where groups of men sit on their cars listening to music and smoking cigarettes. A constant stream of customers keeps the front door swinging back and forth. They're stopping in to pick up a bag of chips, some candy, a few beers.

When I first showed up, it seemed pretty rough. Some of the regulars clearly had mental health problems. There's been a lot of drug arrests in the parking lot. And back in 2008, right after the city launched its new police department, officers stopped by and they talked to the owner of the Quickstop, a guy named Alex Saleh. They asked him if he wanted to partner with the police in a new initiative called The Zero-Tolerance Zone Trespassing Program.

Alex Saleh

You know what, why not? I'm pro-police. I'm pro-cop.

Miki Meek

Alex says he never had any problems inside his store. But under the program, the police would keep an extra eye on the Quickstop and on the parking lot, and if they thought something was up, they wouldn't have to wait for Alex to phone in a complaint. They could stop and question or apprehend someone if they felt they had cause. So Alex thought--

Alex Saleh

We're going to work together, fight crime together. He said, you see the new police department. You're going to be able to build, you know, a great relation with the officers. You know, this sounds great.

Miki Meek

Alex screwed a metal sign onto the front of his store, declaring it a zero-tolerance zone. He liked how official it looked with the city seal. He felt proud, but then after just a couple weeks, something odd started happening.

Alex Saleh

Cops start coming to the parking lot almost every other day. They used to go inside the store and tell the customer while they're paying in the line, excuse me. You, you, and you, come outside. I was like, outside?

Miki Meek

Alex says he'd be standing right there in the store, right behind the counter, and officers would ignore him and tell his customers to put down their things. Then they'd take the customers outside and line them up against the wall. The customers were always black. The officers were almost always white.

Alex Saleh

Sometimes you'd see, like, 10 people against the wall, searching everyone. But I'm confused. Did those guys commit a crime? Did those guys really do something?

Miki Meek

And what would you do in that point? You would see them pull customers out of line, and what would you say?

Alex Saleh

I told the officers, excuse me. What is this situation? Where's the problem? Can somebody explain to me what is? They said, don't worry about it. That's our job.

Miki Meek

Before long, it wasn't just the customers being questioned. The police started including a guy named Earl. Alex paid him to do odd jobs around the store. One night, right before closing, Alex sent Earl out to the parking lot with a broom and a dustpan. When he didn't come back, Alex want out to check on him.

Alex Saleh

I see only the dustpan and the broom. And I don't see Earl.

Miki Meek

It wasn't like Earl to walk off the job. The next day when he arrived at the store, Alex asked him about it.

Alex Saleh

Earl said, I was in jail last night. I said, why? He said, for trespassing.

Miki Meek

Trespassing at the store-- Earl says he was charged with trespassing where he works.

Alex Saleh

I was upset. I was burning myself inside. I was, like, this is impossible.

Miki Meek

Alex is more than just a boss to Earl, more like a father figure to him. Earl has some mental health issues, and in general, he has a kid-like quality. He first started coming to the Quickstop years before, when he was 14. He had just moved around the corner, but his family life was rough. And his mom couldn't really take care of him. So Alex started keeping an eye on him. Here's Earl.

Earl

That's why I started hanging around the store, you know, it's because Alex treat me like a son, though. Sometimes he let me credit stuff, like milk or something, bread or something. I'd go to the store and get it. I'd holler at him. And then he gave me a job, and I started working. I love my job. I love working at it. We're like a family, though.

Miki Meek

That incident with the police, where Alex walked outside to check on Earl at the end of the night and found only a dustpan and broom, that happened two more times that month.

Earl

They'll like, come and grab me from, like, outside. Like, they won't go in the store and ask Alex or nothing, though. They would just grab me, put me in a police car, take me down to jail, you know? I'm like, well, I work here, though. You feel me?

Miki Meek

So you would say, I work here. And what would they say?

Earl

Come on. You ain't supposed to be here. You trespassing here. I'd be like, ask my boss. I would be telling, ask my boss. They're still, oh, we don't care. They'll take me down.

Miki Meek

Each time the police picked up Earl, they'd book him into the county jail. He'd spend the night there, go to court the next day, and there he'd be given a choice. Plead guilty to trespassing and get out of jail right away, or he could fight the trespassing charge, but it would be a hassle. And it would be expensive. He'd have to hire a lawyer and post bond and wait for a trial date. So Earl always pleaded guilty.

Some of the officers coming into Alex's store were from a specialized unit that was one of the pillars of the new police department. Their job was to fight serious crime in the city. So Alex wanted to know, why were they even bothering with his store? Why were they bothering with Earl? He says he went and talked to their boss, the commander of investigations, Major Anthony Chapman.

Alex Saleh

I explained to Major Chapman the situation was going on in the store with the different specialized unit that was coming and threatening my guy, my clerks, threatening my customers. You know, he told me, don't worry about it. Everything is going to be fine. I'm trained to handle this. I'm going to talk to my guys. And he told me, this is my phone number. You can call me anytime. Obviously, it was a big mistake.

Miki Meek

A mistake because officers started showing up more and more, he says.

Alex Saleh

Actually, one day one of the officers from the specialized unit, a female, drove to the parking lot, put the window down and said, great complaint. She stick the finger on me, the middle finger, like [BLEEP] you. And at that time, I was kind of scared. I don't know what to do. It was, like, you feel like you can't do anything about it.

Miki Meek

Alex had never felt this way about the police, that they were not on his side. He thought maybe he could make them go away by quitting the zero tolerance program. So he took down the sign from his store. When he showed up one morning, someone had screwed another one back into its place.

Meanwhile, Earl was now getting picked up everywhere, all over town. Three years into the program, he had been arrested 63 times and stopped another 99 times. On the police reports, the reason was almost always the same. Earl seemed, quote, "suspicious." Suspicious while waiting at the bus stop or playing basketball for buying food or walking to a public restroom-- only once did Earl run.

In the arrest report, the officer wrote, quote, "Earl stated that he was running because he was tired of the police arresting him for no reason." After that, Earl says it was just easier to give himself up.

Earl

Sometimes, when they'd pull up, I'd just walk to them and pull out my ID, put my ID on the car, put my hands on the car, because I already know what they're going to do. Put my hands behind my back. I accept what they got for me, though.

Miki Meek

Why?

Earl

Because I'd be too scared. I'd be scared they're going to shoot me. Man, it was like I was a target, though. Like, everywhere they see me, they'll stop me. I was getting trespassing from the park, the library. Sometimes they used to come around my door at 5 o'clock in the morning looking, like I'm really like a fugitive or something.

Miki Meek

Why were they after him?

Alex Saleh

Every time he got arrested, he never fought back. He'd just follow whatever they tell him to do. Earl, honestly, is a quiet kid.

Miki Meek

In other words, easy pickings for the police. That's the only explanation Alex could think of. It's not like Earl had some serious criminal record. He was so shy that Alex gave him jobs like cleaning and stocking so he didn't have to interact with customers much. It almost seemed like officers were saying to each, other flat out--

Jeff Mason

Let's go over to the Quickstop. We'll stop Earl-- low-hanging fruit.

Miki Meek

This is Jeff Mason. He was a sergeant with the Miami Gardens police. Alex knew him. His store was in his district, and Alex flagged him down a couple times to complain about what was happening at his store.

Jeff told him it was no accident that some officers were targeting Earl. Orders had been coming down. They needed to bring in numbers.

Jeff Mason

We would have roll calls, not only with the sergeants but with the captains. And, yeah, the message would be we need to see evidence that you guys are making an impact. And you need to justify your existence through numbers. You stop enough people, you'll find something.

Miki Meek

These were new officers in a new police department that was trying to prove itself. Their zero tolerance program was a version of the broken windows policing theory that seemed so successful in other cities. If you stamp out small offenses, the theory goes, it deters bigger ones. They were sending a message to residents in Miami Gardens that no crime would go unchecked. So officers had to prove they were catching the small stuff, Jeff says, like trespassing.

Jeff Mason

As supervisors, we were expected to do our monthly stats sheet, to tally up pretty much everything that the officers did on a daily basis, turn it in. And at one time it was posted. You know, you had competition between platoons and squads. So the culture was established to where if you wanted to get anywhere in that department or if you wanted to get promoted, then you would bring in numbers.

Miki Meek

It seemed like this was what residents wanted. Minutes from city council meetings for those first few years show hardly any complaints about police harassment. If anything, when people did complain, it was because they felt like officers weren't responding fast enough. They wanted more police.

By 2012, four years into the zero tolerance program, the violent crimes that people were most concerned about had not dropped. In fact, murders had increased, and so had assaults. Though burglaries were down, and vehicle thefts fell by half.

Meanwhile, after four years of Earl getting stopped constantly, everywhere he went, Earl and Alex had tried all the normal things you do when you're having problems with the police. So Alex came up with a plan-- a pretty extreme one.

Alex Saleh

I explained to Earl. I said, Earl, I think the better place for you to live is inside the store. You know, we bring mattress, stuff like that, and I told him, you live here. You sleep here. Anything you need to eat and drink at night when you're here, you can, you know, you can get it.

Miki Meek

Way in the back corner of the store, at the end of an aisle, there's an 11 by 11 foot room built out of plywood and sheet rock. And inside that room is a mattress and a sink for Earl to wash up in. If you were picking up laundry detergent or toilet paper, you'd be standing right next to where he sleeps.

But even that didn't prevent the police from coming in and getting Earl. Not long after his room was built, he got arrested again for trespassing at the store. Earl didn't immediately take a plea this time. Alex doesn't know why, but Earl spent 20 days in jail. And the judge issued a stay away warning from the store.

Alex's next move-- he bought a surveillance camera. In fact, he bought four. He decided that that was the only way anyone would believe that he wasn't making this stuff up.

Alex Saleh

It's like, I don't know how to fight back. But I said, you know what, I have it on video. Let them keep doing it on video.

Miki Meek

Soon he was up to 16 cameras, covering his store inside and out.

Alex Saleh

Now, on camera five, you're going to see Officer William Dunaske taking Earl out of the store.

Miki Meek

Alex showed me some of the videos. There's no sound on them. His cameras don't have microphones, but it's incredible to watch police just come in and grab Earl while he's stocking coolers or taking out the trash. In one video, two police officers are walking up and down the aisles, glancing at customers. And then they head straight for Earl's room in the back of the store. And they take their guns out.

Earl

I'm laying in my room, and the door just opened. And I see the police. I'm like, dang. I'm like, what I done did? They like, oh, you ain't supposed to be here. Get out of the room.

Miki Meek

So, what, you're putting your shoes on in the aisle?

Earl

Mm-hm. In the aisle, though. I'm putting on my shoes in the aisle, though.

Miki Meek

In the videos, the cops pretty much leave Alex's other employees alone. His other employees aren't black. His customers are. And one of the overwhelming things about watching these videos is the pleasure some officers seem to take in harassing them.

In one video, a woman in a skirt sits on top of a newspaper box outside the store. A police officer grabs her purse and starts rummaging through it. He turns it upside down and dumps the contents onto the ground. And then he just kicks her stuff around. The officer in this instance is Michael Malone. Of all the police officers Alex captured on tape, he stands out as the biggest bully. In another scene, Malone takes a guy's bag of Red Bulls and hurls the cans all over the sidewalk.

Alex Saleh

And I went to the officer and said, you know what, why you throw all those Red Bull all over the place, man? You think that was right? He said, fuck him. Why do you care?

Miki Meek

Alex continued complaining to the police department and continued to get nowhere. And then, he says, one day, not long after one of these complaints, a group of officers showed up at the store with their Sergeant-- Sergeant Martin Santiago.

They stood in a line, shoulder to shoulder, blocking the aisles. Another time, Alex says, they confronted him outside the store. He started to feel like they weren't just going after Earl anymore. They were going after him, too.

Alex Saleh

Officers followed me from the store, four blocks away. And they stopped me. And that traffic stop was six police cars. And that's when Sergeant Santiago walked to my window. He said my tailgate light was out. Tires-- he said, your tire is bald. So I'm like, OK. My tire's not bald.

Miki Meek

And so what happened after that?

Alex Saleh

The sergeant, Santiago, came to the passenger side and told me, I'm gonna get you, motherfucker. I was kind of getting scared. And I was home. I was thinking, you know, the only way that those officers and the department feel pressure is to show the whole world what's going on-- just to have it on record to protect myself.

Miki Meek

So he walked into a building he'd never been in before, the offices of the Miami Herald, and asked to speak to a reporter. Two months later, the Herald published Alex's story on the front page and put some of the surveillance videos online. One of the Herald's reporters, Julie Brown, pulled records that showed police had arrested Earl at least 62 times for trespassing.

Most of the citations were issued at the Quickstop. And overall, Earl had been stopped and questioned more than 250 times. His criminal record was 38 pages long.

News outlets all over the country picked up the story.

Reporter

Right now at 5:30, Miami Gardens police are being questioned about officers stopping and harassing customers at a particular convenience store.

Alex Saleh

My biggest surprise that we have at least about 30, 40 reporters in the parking lot, of every TV station, every radio station, newspaper. I got people drove from Tampa-- a family. The whole family just came. They want to shake my hand. I feel happy. That day was, honestly, was like a party, actually, yes.

Miki Meek

The press attention worked. Police now completely avoided the Quickstop. To Alex, it was a huge relief. But the story of police harassment was about to go way beyond just Earl. Two investigative journalists, Alice Brennan and Dan Lieberman, they're from a new startup called Fusion. And they decided to compile stats for all the stops the Miami Gardens Police Department had made since it first started in 2008.

Alice Brennan

It was stunning.

Miki Meek

This is Alice.

Alice Brennan

The results were stunning. Because in a city of 110,000 people-- Miami Gardens only has 110,000 people. And the number of stops that had occurred over a five-year period was 99,980. And so then to compare that to the city of Miami-- it has a population four times as large as Miami Gardens-- over the same period of time, they had only made 3,753 stops.

Miki Meek

3,700 stops for the city of Miami, compared to 99,000 for Miami Gardens.

Alice Brennan

It's like, I'm going to have to look at that again because what?

Miki Meek

When you first saw that, did you think that number was wrong?

Alice Brennan

I did. I'm like, this can't be real. This can't be real. This cannot be happening. I thought all of the data was wrong.

Miki Meek

It wasn't wrong. What shocked Alice the most, though, was more than 11,000 of the stops were for kids. Kids who, in the field contact reports, were labeled suspicious while doing things like playing freeze tag, riding bikes, swimming at pools, or hanging out a public park. To give me a better sense of just how strange all these police stops looked, Alice ran me through her spreadsheet.

Alice Brennan

I'll just sort this really quickly for you. Here we go. So what I'm going to do now is I'm going to sort for age, right? So we've got ages one, two, we've got seven year olds.

This is a particularly alarming one. Five years old this kid is, and it says, the listed subject was fitting the description of the suspect in the area of a burglary.

Miki Meek

I mean, what is that?

Alice Brennan

Who knows? OK, so here's another one. This kid was seven years old, stopped for being a suspicious person. Officer says in the remarks, "I was dispatched to the above location. Several subjects, possibly selling narcotics. This subject was observed in front of this location. And pat searched was conducted after consent. No wants nor warrants."

Miki Meek

So they say they ran a seven-year-old's name.

Alice Brennan

Yeah, they ran the name. And what do you know? No wants or warrants were found. It says here in the physical characteristics that this seven-year-old had a slight beard.

Miki Meek

Right now, Miami Gardens has at least five lawsuits filed against it, all alleging that the police engaged in serious misconduct, racial profiling, and were operating according to a quota system. One of those is a civil rights lawsuit brought by Alex. Two other cases were brought by whistleblowers, former police employees who say that when they spoke out against the department's pressure to rack up numbers, their positions were terminated.

Miami Gardens officials, through their lawyers, denied all of these allegations and didn't respond to multiple requests for interviews about the cases and about Alice's numbers. Wanda Gilbert is one of the whistle blowers suing Miami Gardens. She was a crime analyst at Miami Garden's PD from 2007 to 2011. It was her job to compile all the field contact numbers and present them at regular staff meetings.

What she realized looking at all those numbers, Wanda says, was that they had no meaningful connection to fighting real crime or making the city safer. No one was saying--

Wanda Gilbert

OK, we did 556 field contacts. So therefore, by them doing this, we only had one burglary-- never. It was just gathering stats.

Miki Meek

In her old job, Wanda says, officers would look at their field contacts database for suspects when they were trying to solve a crime. But Miami Gardens had collected so many people in its database that it wasn't helpful at all. Jeff Mason filed the other whistleblower lawsuit against the city.

He's the former patrol sergeant you heard earlier. They were making so many stops, Jeff says, that supervisors like him couldn't keep up. That five-year-old who was written up as a burglary suspect? Jeff signed off on that one.

Miki Meek

I mean, how many supervisors do you think were actually reading the remarks on these?

Jeff Mason

Um, as a supervisor, because there were so many coming through, to be specifically reading the remarks, it was next to impossible.

Miki Meek

If the numbers weren't being used in the service of smart policing, than what purpose did they serve? When I first started reporting this story, I heard speculation that the Miami Gardens Police Department needed these numbers in order to get federal grants.

There have been reports about other police departments been fixated on quotas and numbers for this purpose. Miami Gardens police received 21 grants, with millions of dollars from the Department of Justice Community Policing Program. But I read through a lot of those applications. Field contact numbers were not a requirement to qualify. They rarely came up at all.

I also looked through city council minutes. I thought maybe the police chief was presenting field contact numbers to the city to show that his department was making an impact. But no, nothing there either. In five years, the chief mentioned field contacts only once. So where did this policy come from? Well, I started with the person who was running the city at the time-- Mayor Shirley Gibson. She says she didn't know anything about it or the 99,000 stops that happened in the city.

Shirley Gibson

I'm not saying, you know, it's true or untrue. I just don't know, so I'm not going to have a comment. OK, they did this, or they didn't do that. I'm just telling you I had no knowledge of that. And I'm not trying to not say I have some responsibility, but I didn't know about it.

Miki Meek

So many people have denied responsibility for these numbers. No one will say, this policy started with me. No one could point to a piece of paper or a meeting where it was adopted. No one could say where it came from or why.

And as much as it may be satisfying to find one culprit who's responsible for a department run amok, or one idea that spread and infected so many of its officers, the reality is it failed in the way that so many systems fail-- a whole bunch of mistakes that compounded over time. No one had a clear vision for what they were doing and why. And in the absence of a plan, things went bad in big ways and small ways.

One thing that's clear is there was a weird lack of accountability in Miami Gardens. Officially, the police were supposed to be overseen by an entity called the City Manager's Office, which many people told me was asleep on the job. There was a city council that appears to have been totally in the dark. The mayor, like you heard, says she had no idea. And there was a police chief, Matthew Boyd, who didn't really seem like he was around much.

Stephen Kolackovsky

He was a great guy in the beginning. He was everywhere. He was out there in his car, running around, you know, doing stuff.

Miki Meek

This is Stephen Kolackovsky He was a sergeant in Miami Gardens from 2007 to 2010.

Stephen Kolackovsky

By year three, I never saw him, and then, you know, the rumor starts that that city controller busted him in the butt about golfing too much and stuff. I don't know.

Miki Meek

A former vice mayor from Miami Gardens told me he doesn't know if the city ever officially reprimanded Boyd for playing too much golf. But he does remember that it was a problem. Boyd's golf game also came up with every former police employee I talked to. Boyd has denied misusing company time. As Stephen remembers it, there just seemed to be an absence at the top that was confusing.

Stephen Kolackovsky

Maybe he started the department, got it going, felt he was done. And maybe he just didn't want to be there anymore. I'd like to ask him that, though. I'd like to know why. It almost felt like it was a ship without a captain, and that's kind of the way everybody-- well, I felt and a lot of the people I knew felt, like, you know, there's no chief here. You know what I mean? Like, everybody knew he wasn't around, and they had the first mate running the boat.

Miki Meek

The first mate, in this case, was the former deputy chief. Like the chief, he's denied being the person who brought this policy to Miami Gardens. Their attorney declined my request for interviews.

While no one will take responsibility for initiating the policy, former department employees say the message that officers needed to stop and question large numbers of residents was being conveyed loud and clear. And the officers on the receiving end of that message were mostly white and Hispanic and they weren't from Miami Gardens or anywhere nearby. And generally speaking, they had little experience dealing with a black population. Wanda Gilbert, the former crime analyst, did some of the background checks during hiring.

Wanda Gilbert

And one of the things that I had even spoke to the chief about, because I'm doing the background work on these people, I'm going, like, what's going on here? What's going on here because, you know, it was a vast amount of white officers.

Miki Meek

And second, what was the demographic then, mostly, of the officers, if you were to break it down?

Wanda Gilbert

If I break it down, I think at the time the department was like 200 and maybe 26. And out of that, it was probably maybe 40-- and that's guesstimating high-- but that includes all the black officers. And one of the things that was a challenge to us, because a lot of the officers were new-- meaning they were from various areas around the United States.

Miki Meek

Like where?

Wanda Gilbert

Oh, from Alaska, Kansas, Missouri-- you name it. They were from around the country. And some of them, this was all new to them-- not only just being Miami Gardens, but also, too, here they are, some of them, now they're working with a black community. And that was a problem. You didn't know the nuances. In fact, I've even heard officers say that, oh, everybody in this community is, you know, is a criminal.

Miki Meek

Former city council members and police employees who were involved in hiring all say that they did try hard to recruit from local police departments, but many in the area thought that the newly formed Miami Gardens Police wouldn't last longer than a year. And so local officers didn't want to risk taking jobs there. Stephen Kolackovsky, he was a sergeant in Miami gardens from 2007 to 2010.

He came down from the Baltimore Police Department, and he says that in Miami Gardens, they ended up with a lot of officers who just seemed out of place.

Stephen Kolackovsky

You know, you could see it on their face. They were in culture shock. Like, it was almost overwhelming to them. Just, you could almost see they were nervous. And sometimes I wondered to myself, you know, what are you doing here? You know, just what are you doing here? Go back home.

Miki Meek

Because Alex spoke up, some serious changes have taken place in Miami Gardens. The police chief, Matthew Boyd, and his deputy-- they're both gone now. The new police chief is a guy named Stephen Johnson, and he reports every week to a new city manager.

Johnson keeps him in the loop about how many times police are stopping residents. In the last year, those numbers have dropped about 70%. Alex has talked to the new police chief, and he likes him. He likes that Johnson gives out his personal cell phone number to residents. But Alex is still on edge.

Alex Saleh

I really still don't feel comfortable. I don't. Honestly, I don't feel comfortable right now if they're going to come or if they're not going to come back. Because there's still some of the officers in the city.

Miki Meek

The officers that came to your store are still on the force.

Alex Saleh

Yeah, there's still the same officers still in the street.

Miki Meek

Anthony Chapman, the police commander whose officers repeatedly harassed Alex's customers and Earl, he's still at the police department. He denies all allegations against him and declined to be interviewed. Martin Santiago, the sergeant who Alex says threatened him at a traffic stop, he also still works there, as does William Dunaske, the officer who pulled Earl out of the store in that very first surveillance video.

The city declined to make Santiago and Dunaske available for comment. Michael Malone, the officer who threw and kicked customers' personal things, he did leave the force, but it was voluntary. An internal affairs report concedes misconduct, but Malone was never disciplined for his actions. He could not be reached for comment.

It's been more than a year and a half since Earl was last stopped, but he doesn't feel safe. His world is still a paranoid one. He still lives at the store and rarely goes out. And when he does, he gets scared.

Alex Saleh

Sometimes he goes to the park to play basketball. And if the officer drives by, he calls me.

Earl

I be like, Alex, the police trying to get me. Police-- police coming. I feel like they going to try to harm me, though.

Alex Saleh

So I come out of the store, so I can see across the street in the park. But you can see him watching back and forth, like, do you think they're going to stop me, or they're not going to stop me? I said, just walk.

Earl

Alex will be like, Earl, they ain't going to mess with you no more. I got you, though. I got you, Earl.

Miki Meek

Right before I said goodbye to Earl, I asked him this one, last question.

Miki Meek

Is there anything I haven't asked you that you want to tell me? Did I miss anything?

Earl

You ain't working for the police, right? You ain't working for the police.

Miki Meek

He asked, are you going to try to do something to me? I told him, no.

Ira Glass

Miki Meek is one of the producers of our program.

Coming up, wouldn't it be lovely for a change to hear a story about police and black residents that could give any small sense of hope at all? We get to that. We absolutely get to that in the second half of our show. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two. Comey Don't Play That.

Ira Glass

This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Today's program-- Police See Things Differently, Part Two. It is our second episode with stories about policing and race. We've arrived at Act Two of our program-- Act Two, Comey Don't Play That.

You may have heard in the news already that FBI director James Comey gave a speech this week that was about the subject of today's program, about policing and race-- a speech that was amazing for its directness and its sweep. He said law enforcement needs to redouble its efforts to resist bias and to do a better job serving black Americans. Attorney General Holder, of course, has said similar things in the past.

Our producer, Robyn Semien-- Robyn is the one who talked to her police officer friend about the Eric Garner video earlier in the show. Robyn has noticed that local heads of police departments in cities around the country do not talk this way in the moment when people are thinking about this the most. And that's after incidents where unarmed black man are killed by white officers.

Robyn Semien

Big city police chiefs don't like to talk about race. When they do, they like to say it doesn't matter. New York Police Commissioner, William Bratton, in response to Eric Garner, said, quote, "I personally don't think race was a factor."

After Oscar Grant was shot in the back, famously, lying face down on a crowded train platform at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, BART Police Chief Gary Gee said there was no, quote, "nexus to race that provoked this to happen." It's what Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said about race in last week's show.

Man

At the level of cop working in the neighborhood, race is irrelevant.

Robyn Semien

That's what Saratoga Springs Police Department in Utah said, just last week, about 22-year-old Darrien Hunt, also black.

Woman

The attorney for the Saratoga Springs Police Department says race did not play a factor in the shooting death of Darrien Hunt. She says that--

Robyn Semien

Every time I hear this, race is not a factor, my gut reaction is the same. Why say that? How would you know? What are you basing that on? Because there's science on this-- in fact, years of research. And that research shows the opposite. FBI Director James Comey talked about this in his speech this week.

James Comey

Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias. Many people in our white majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than to a black face. In fact, we all-- white and black-- carry various biases around with us.

Josh Correll

Most of our participants associate young black men with the idea of threat.

Robyn Semien

Psychologist Josh Correll did some of the key research the FBI director was talking about. Josh studies implicit racial biases, basically feelings that we all have about race that we may or may not be aware of. He's tested hundreds of cops. He flashes pictures of white and black men up on a computer screen. Some are holding weapons, and some are holding a wallet or a can of Coke.

And you have to decide instantaneously, shoot or don't shoot. And Josh sees evidence, by how fast you do it and how many mistakes you make, of what your underlying assumptions are about black and white people-- your implicit biases.

Josh Correll

For most of us, we would say things like, oh, you know, I like black people. I like black men. I don't have anything against them. I don't have any negativity toward them. That's an explicit report of an attitude.

But it goes through an editing process. When I flash a picture up on a screen and ask you to respond in 630 milliseconds, you don't have time to edit. It's like everybody has this gut response that is, oh, black means threat.

Robyn Semien

By everybody he means everybody-- black and white, including police. Josh's findings show that police officers are more likely to see the images of black men as threatening, even though police officers usually make the correct decision to shoot or not shoot. In fact, the rest of us-- untrained people like you and me-- do far worse than cops. We're more likely to shoot a black man with a wallet, and we're less likely to shoot a white man with a gun.

But not all cops outperform us. Josh has also given his video game test to police who work on gang units. What he's found is that the nature of policing gangs, which often means rounding up and arresting groups of young black men, does something to those officers and their decisions to shoot.

Josh Correll

When we test them, they are worse than other police. So we see bias in their response times, and we see bias in the mistakes that they make. So unlike regular cops, those special unit cops seem to be more likely to shoot an unarmed black target than an unarmed white target.

Robyn Semien

Josh says that gang units, unlike regular police, are like us. They do badly on these tests, even with all their training.

After talking to Josh, I wondered, if this research is out there, if we know this, why do we always hear race is not a problem? Are there police officers anywhere who are having a conversation about race, about how their biases might be making them worse at their jobs?

Looking around, I learned there is training for police based on this science. Implicit bias training, it's called. There's a popular two-day seminar that dozens of departments have used. So I phoned the Department of Justice, and an official told me they recommend it all the time. They've paid for 90 police departments nationwide to use it, not for all their officers, but for some. Another 150 departments have paid for it themselves.

And I asked several people at the Department of Justice, could they point me to a police force that's aggressively confronting racial bias and that's seeing results? Maybe a department that had been on the DOJ's radar for being reckless with deadly force, particularly with black men, and they'd changed for the better. A tall order, I know, but the DOJ had an answer-- Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

Robyn Semien

So nice to meet you.

Sean Cole

I'm Sean.

Robyn Semien

Hi, Sean.

Sean Cole

Great to meet you.

Robyn Semien

Um, we're going to go upstairs and talk--

My fellow producer, Sean Cole, and I visited Las Vegas Police Department together. Things were bad here for a while. Between 2007 and 2011, police shot 104 people, and 11 of those were not justified, according to the Justice Department and the police department itself.

Sean Cole

And 8 of the 11 problematic shootings were of unarmed black men. That's the number that got a lot of attention. The peak of this trend was in 2010.

Kirk Primas

Then we had a couple things happen.

Sean Cole

This is Assistant Sheriff Kirk Primas. He sat down with us in his office.

Kirk Primas

One is we had a couple high-profile shootings. They just sparked the interest of the community.

Sean Cole

And the outrage of the community-- in one case, an officer shot and killed Trevon Cole, a small-time pot dealer, during a raid. Cole was 21, black, and unarmed. The cop who shot him said Cole made a threatening move toward him, but the evidence showed otherwise. Cole's family received a $1.7 million settlement. The officer involved was suspended for 40 hours.

As an aside, this Trevon Cole was not the Trevon Cole they were after. Then, Assistant Sheriff Primas says, a local newspaper did a five-part expose.

Kirk Primas

On the number of officer-involved shootings in Last Vegas, a 20 year history of them. And so it was like a storm of incidents that really told us we need to do something, which we knew already.

Robyn Semien

So the Las Vegas Police reached out to the Department of Justice. Or it was the other way around, depending on who you ask. The DOJ did a nearly year long assessment of the department. And in 2012, they came back with their results.

Kirk Primas

They said, we're great. No.

[LAUGHTER]

Well, if you've read the report, I believe there was initially 75 recommendations.

Robyn Semien

75 things the department needed to do to help fix the problem of officers using deadly force inappropriately, shooting unarmed suspects, and particularly unarmed, black men. 75 things-- it's interesting to compare this with Miami Gardens, where as you heard, a lot of different things conspired to create a big problem. Here in Las Vegas, it was going to take a lot of different things to fix a big problem.

Sean Cole

And here's what strikes you when you look at this list of 75 suggestions. For one, a lot of them seem obvious. Recommendation 22, the department should implement restrictions on when officers may shoot at moving vehicles. Recommendation number 36, supervisors should be trained on the new use of force policy before they go ahead and train other people on the new use of force policy. I'm paraphrasing.

Speaking of, more than one third of these recommendations include some form of the word training or training-- de-escalation training, advanced training in procedural justice. Plus, the DOJ recommends organizational changes and changes in the way that use of force cases are investigated. And this would all seem pretty standard if it weren't for how the Las Vegas Police responded to these suggestions-- which is to say, stunningly well.

They're like the over-achieving star pupil in the class. The recommendations were voluntary. They didn't have to act on any of them, but Assistant Sheriff Primas told us that the department had already implemented 47 of the 75 recommendations before the DOJ even got around to suggesting them officially.

These days in Las Vegas, each and every officer involved shooting is investigated by no fewer than five committees. Assistant Sheriff Primas told us that on one of the committees the civilian members-- that is, people like you and me-- can actually outvote four to three the police members on what direction an investigation should go in. And as a result of all of this, officers who are involved in unjustified shootings are punished more than they were before. And by more than before, I mean they weren't before.

Kirk Primas

I'm Deputy Chief Kirk Primas. This morning at 12:08 hours--

Sean Cole

Also, every time there's an officer-involved shooting in Las Vegas now, an official, sometimes Primas himself, shows up at the scene and explains on video what happened. And then they put the video up on YouTube just to be as transparent as possible.

Kirk Primas

One officer discharged their firearm. A suspect was hit several times and ran into the bathroom, where she locked the door.

Sean Cole

And all of these solutions, they worked. Last year, there were zero unjustified shootings by police in Las Vegas. And all of these solutions, they worked. Last year, there were zero unjustified shootings by police in Las Vegas.

But the key reform that Assistant Sheriff Primas has focused on, the one he says is the leading reason that the department has been able to cut down on officer-involved shootings, is number 28 on the DOJ recommendation list.

Kirk Primas

We started a reality-based training program.

Sean Cole

A reality-based based training program.

Kirk Primas

And really what that simply is is we took scenarios, our own department scenarios--

Sean Cole

So actual events that Las Vegas cops have actually been through.

Kirk Primas

--and recreated them--

Sean Cole

In a vacant lot with fellow police officers pretending to be criminals.

Kirk Primas

And we made them as realistic as possible, to expose them to the situations where they had to make deadly-force decisions, or force decisions.

Sean Cole

So real cop cars, real police radios. The bullets are fake, though.

Officer

let me see your hands and get out of the vehicle!

Sean Cole

Robyn and I watched a couple of these drills. In this one, six officers respond to a pretend carjacking. None of them have been told what's going to happen, so they have to just respond like they would in real life. Now, again, the point of this training is to figure out alternative solutions instead of using force, instead of firing your weapon.

Officer

Sir!

Sean Cole

You may have heard this buzzword recently, de-escalation-- basically, calming a situation down before it hits a boiling point. This is what de-escalation sounds like.

Officer

gonna shoot. Step out. You haven't done very much wrong right now. You're making it work for yourself.

Suspect

I come out, you ain't gonna shoot me, man?

Officer

gonna shoot. Put your hands up when you come out the door, straight up in the air.

Sean Cole

The fake suspect gets out and walks backwards toward the police, who fake arrest him. No guns were fired. This was policing through persuasion. Their trainer said they did really well.

Officer

keep stepping back now. Come back. Stop right there. Walk back--

Robyn Semien

But the DOJ recommendation I was most interested in was number 4.2.1. "Las Vegas Police should provide its commanders, supervisors, and officers with advanced, specialized training in fair and impartial policing." In other words, implicit bias training.

I was surprised to learn it was one of the last reforms, of the many reforms, the Vegas police tackled. I'd assumed bias training would be one of the first things any department would do. But classes just began in October. Which means they made huge progress --they bought the number of unjust police shootings to zero --months before they asked individual officers to sit down and think about their own biases.

There were no classes scheduled when we visited. But we got to talk to a few of the instructors about what they teach, the most candid of whom was Training Officer Marla Stevens. She's third-generation police, been with the force for 15 years. She says cops can be a rough crowd, a really rough crowd, especially if they're at a class that's required and that has the word bias in it. So she's strategic about how she kicks things off. She says she starts her class by saying, I understand some of you don't want to be here, and I get that.

Marla Stevens

I talk about how we got to this place. And I tell them, you know, this started with the officer-involved shootings that we had in 2011. The fact is, did we shoot more unarmed black men than we did white? Absolutely, we did. And we put those numbers up there and show them to our officers and say, these are the stats. You can't argue with those numbers.

Robyn Semien

From there, she eases them to the concept of bias, baby steps, first acknowledging biases nobody finds shameful or controversial. She says her class is filled with truck-loving men, so they talk about the thing that divides them-- Chevy or Ford.

Marla Stevens

And start the whole fight in the audience of which truck is better.

Robyn Semien

Next step, she nudges them toward more personal biases, talks about her own. And then she gets to race.

Marla Stevens

And if you can't be honest enough with yourself to say, why am I really stopping this guy? Am I stopping this guy because I just watched him jaywalk and there's something not right here? Or are you stopping him because he's a black guy in a white neighborhood? Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself those questions. And if you have that bias, you need to recognize it. That's the first thing, is recognizing that you have it.

Robyn Semien

I had been wondering how forceful these trainings were. These were hard questions she was forcing the cops in her classes to face.

Marla Stevens

And if you can't fix it, then maybe you're not in the right line of work. You know, maybe this isn't for you. I'm not afraid to say that to somebody, either.

Robyn Semien

Really?

Marla Stevens

Look, I'm at an age now, I just don't care. I mean, what's right is right, and what's wrong is wrong. And if you want to sit around and say, oh, this is all [BLEEP], well, maybe this isn't the place for you.

Brett Brosnahan

The takeaway from the class, what I liked most about when they were teaching us about biases, is having a bias isn't being racist.

Robyn Semien

This is officer Brett Brosnahan. He's been on the force for six years and took the implicit bias class. He talked with Sean.

Brett Brosnahan

Having a bias isn't being sexist. It's none of those things. Biased is, you know, maybe I've stopped three or four guys that look exactly like this man. And every time I've stopped them, I found guns or dope on them. So you just put the trait from the person that was guilty onto the person that's innocent.

Sean Cole

And does that, I mean, does that make you feel bad when you realize that you think that? Do you know what I mean, like about yourself?

Brett Brosnahan

It is. It's scary because it's not fair. It's not fair for me to assume that this guy's going to have the same background. I mean, he might be the CEO of a company, just out for a walk, and didn't want to walk to the crosswalk. I don't know.

Sean Cole

These days, whenever Brett rolls up on a situation-- a traffic stop or questioning a suspect, whatever it is-- he says he tries to keep his mind totally open, thinking, this could be anyone. The class also made him reassess something that happened to him that's now legend at the department. It actually happened a month before he took the training, and it was horrible.

Last June on a Sunday morning, two of Brett's fellow officers were shot to death in a pizza place on the north side of the city. Brett responded to the scene not long after. The other customers, of course, were freaking out, yelling, he went that way. He went that way, meaning the shooter. Brett figured it might be a revenge killing of some sort, either against cops in general or these two officers in specific.

Brett Brosnahan

In that area, I mean, it's a high gang environment. There's a lot of gang members there. And--

Sean Cole

Did you think, male, female, black, white, anything like that?

Brett Brosnahan

Male, probably black or Hispanic. I mean, northeast area part of Las Vegas, it's a large black and Hispanic population. So, you know, you go with the odds.

Sean Cole

Brett takes off on foot in the direction everyone's pointing and eventually ends up at a Walmart. Customers, employees, everyone is flooding out of the store screaming. So, now, this isn't just an isolated shooting of two cops. This is an active shooter in a crowded, public place. And at this point, the color of the suspect in Brett's mind changes from black or Hispanic to white.

Brett knows about active-shooter situations. He trains other officers in how to deal with these cases. Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook-- when Brett thinks active shooter, he thinks young white male. The whole story is too long to tell here, but in short, Brett ultimately finds himself in an empty Walmart getting ready to ambush the gunman in the automotive section.

It's a young white male, semi-automatic pistol in his hand. He doesn't see Brett.

Brett Brosnahan

And I start to make my final turn to get a good angle on him. And I come almost face to face with a female, probably four or five feet away. And, keep in mind, all this now is happening in fractions of a second. But my first thought is, why is she in here? And then I look more at her and I'm like, she's not a victim. She's not a customer. She wants to be exactly where she is right now.

Sean Cole

In all the commotion, people yelling and pointing and telling Brett where the shooter was, no one ever mentioned there were two of them. Brett and the woman exchanged gunfire from four or five feet away. Miraculously, she missed him. Brett hit her in the shoulder.

He ran out of the store and let another team of officers take over. After a firefight, the male shooter was dead. His wife shot herself in the head. So this was what was on Brett's mind when he went into the implicit bias training class a month later.

Brett Brosnahan

When they started to explain that these biases aren't based on being racist, they're not based on being sexist, they're just based on our experience, I was like, oh my gosh. I've been teaching this for years. Active shooters are white guys. Active shooters, when we role play, are white officers that act as the suspect.

We never throw a female in the mix. So I had that aha moment. Wow, that's what happened to me. I thought that this woman wasn't going to be a threat to me and let her remain as she was a little bit longer than I probably should have.

Sean Cole

It was like a real-life version of the computer test that researchers do in the lab. White female, armed-- shoot or don't shoot? And Brett paused for just a second.

Robyn Semien

I asked my police officer friend in New York, the one I watched the Eric Garner video with, if she thought some sort of bias training would be valuable for the NYPD. And she literally rolled her eyes and said it was insulting to tell her she didn't know how to talk to black people. Roughly half of her coworkers at the NYPD aren't white.

The thing she felt way more urgently was how hard the past months have been, ever since Eric Garner's death, the hardest for her in all of her years at the NYPD. She says crowds form when she makes arrests more than ever. It feels more dangerous. She feels like she's risking her life every day for a city of people who hate her. She feels alone and threatened.

Marla Stevens

And you know, I have to point out to our classes, too, is the public biased towards us? Sure they are.

Robyn Semien

Again, Marla Stevens, one of the implicit bias instructors. She says lots of cops have this feeling my friend has, and it's actually useful in her class, something to talk about.

Marla Stevens

Do they have stereotypes about us? They most certainly do. Which, you know, it's aggravating, too, so turn that around. You know, if you don't like that being thrown on you by people that don't know you, how do you think that people on the street feel when you prejudge them and you don't them either? It's the same thing. And it's like beating your head against the wall, trying to get both sides to understand this concept. You know? It really is.

Robyn Semien

This week, the FBI director, James Comey, talked about this exact problem of not being able to see each other. Everything I've been hoping a police chief would say after one of these incidents, he said to police. He told them, basically, I'm one of you. My grandfather was a cop. I have great affection and respect for police officers. And, he said, there's nothing more American than the conversation we need to have now about race.

James Comey

I am descended from Irish immigrants. A century ago, the Irish knew well how American society and law enforcement viewed them-- as drunks, ruffians, and criminals. The Irish had some tough times, but little compares to the experience on our soil of black Americans.

That experience should be part of every American's consciousness. And we, especially those of us who enjoy the privilege that comes with being the majority, must confront the biases that are an inescapable part of the human condition. We must speak the truth about our shortcomings as law enforcement and fight to get better. We simply must speak to each other honestly about all these hard truths.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Sean Cole with Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Brian Reed, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Editing by Joel Lovell.

Production help from Simon Adler. Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon is our production manager. Elise Bergerson is our office manager. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website. Elna Baker scouts stories for our show. Research help from Michelle Harris and Christopher Swetala. Music help from Damien Graef and Rob Geddis.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks as always to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. He wants you to know, he's down.

Man

Oh, you know, I like black people. I like black men. I don't have anything against them.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.