MPD Q&A: A cop reflects
More on the CP cover story
This week's City Pages cover feature about the city of Minneapolis payouts regarding allegations of MPD misconduct was one of those where some good bits get left on the cutting room floor.
This happened mostly with the many case summaries. There were many others that offered a glimpse into policing--good and bad--that never made the paper.
This is also true in the case of Officer William Palmer. Though all cops mentioned in the two pieces (nearly 30 in all) were given the chance to comment on the federal suits that involved them, only Palmer responded.
With more than simply a good faith effort, Palmer replied to series of questions in an e-mail with candor and nuance. Only a few quotes made it into the paper.
Maybe it needs to be said again: Policing can be a pretty complicated and dangerous gig. Palmer indicates this, and more, in the full Q&A.
City Pages: What goes through your mind when you first respond to a call?
William Palmer: At first I'm trying to remember if I've been to the address before and have I dealt with the people before and how did they react. I'm also thinking about the building itself and if I've been there before what hazards exist there for responding personnel. Sometimes my partner and I will discuss contingency plans for the call.
CP: What happens on arrival?
Palmer: When I first get to a call I'm sizing up what the situation is and how does the scene of the call look. Does what I'm seeing fit with the remarks in the call? When I first make contact with a citizen on a call I'm reading that person. Are they intoxicated, hostile, sad, angry, depressed, etc. and how do they react to my (our) presence there. I'm building the base from which the call will be handled.
CP: What's your view of how the depleted numbers affect street cops?
Palmer: Frankly, we are running ourselves ragged, especially at bar close. However, the citizens are the ones who suffer the most from the low numbers. Poor response time on even a very minor call can really affect a citizen's view of the Police and the Police Department. Not to mention it could affect their well being on a more serious call.
As street Officers we bear the brunt of the citizen's reaction to the slow service. They are often angry and they take it out on us. Far greater a concern to the Officers is the lack of available back up when calls do go bad. It's no secret that all of government is being asked to do more with fewer resources and Public Safety is no exception.
CP: What happened in the John Hagen incident? We have the narrative of the complaint, but perhaps you could tell us your perspective.
Palmer: I responded to a call in my district of a Burglary of Business in Progress. When I arrived I saw Mr. Hagen coming out of a church building. Mr. Hagen was briefly detained while we talked with the caller, who lived on-site, and we learned that the Church employed Mr. Hagen. He was released within just a few minutes. I believe that we cleared the call as being unfounded. We knew nothing about Mr. Hagen's reported injury until about 18 months later when we were informed that he was suing the City.
CP: Why did you use force in that instance?
Palmer: I was told that Mr. Hagen's lawsuit was somewhat unique in that there was very little dispute of fact in the case. The use of force continuum is clear that the mere presence of an Officer's presence is a level of force, as are verbal commands and escort and handcuffing holds. The only force to which Mr. Hagen was my subjected was the presence of [two other officers] and myself, verbal commands used to control Mr. Hagen's actions and then a "frisking" technique.
The frisking technique is what Mr. Hagen's attorney alleged to have caused the reported injury to Mr. Hagen. I have used that technique throughout 11 1/2 years on the street and Mr. Hagen is the first person to complain of injury as a result. Mr. Hagen was cordial and completely compliant with us during our contact with him and made no mention of injury.
CP: Do you agree with the city's decision to settle?
Palmer: For me personally, I have two opinions on the matter and fortunately my opinion is just that. On the one hand I think that the City opens itself up to more litigation by not fighting some of the claims with which it is faced. On a personal level however, I don't really want to sit through a trial in the "hot seat" whether I'm right or wrong.
Plaintiff's attorneys are good at what they do and they are not out to make life pleasant for any civil defendant, myself included. The City makes its decision based upon a lot of factors and the economics of defending a case is among them.
Being trained to be inquisitive, I did not agree with that decision. However, I am not privy to the full scope of the information that the City's attorneys have available.
CP: You were disciplined 20 hours for use of force in 2002, according to personnel records. What happened?
Palmer: I did receive a "B" violation for violation of the City's use of non-deadly force policy as the result of an incident, which occurred in July 2002. The punishment of 20 hours suspension was held in abeyance for one year provided I did not have another incident. I have not had an [internal affairs] complaint or precinct-level discipline lodged against me since that incident, and I did not have to serve the 20-hour suspension. I was notified of a CRA complaint about a year ago, but I do not believe it is a "use of force" complaint. I was also required to complete anger management counseling as a result of the incident as well and I did so.
What happened in that incident? A prisoner in my care was injured during transport to Hennepin County Jail. I immediately contacted a supervisor and reported the injury and the complaint went forward from there. You guys have the file and I'll let you read it.
CP: What do you think generally of internal affairs investigations, and what do you think of complaints that get filed in court?
Palmer: I think that the Department's internal review process is important to the functioning of the Department. Clearly the Internal Affairs Unit is better trained and more experienced with investigations than other City agencies with similar mandates.
I have been asked in depositions whether or not I had been disciplined as a result of a case at hand. Well, I would hazard a guess that IAU would have at least looked at the case if the plaintiff had actually made contact with them instead of an attorney to start with. I also think that the vigorous criminal prosecution of cases, which have the potential to result in litigation, would strengthen the City's position at trial.
CP: There seems to be a pattern, according to personnel files, of you losing your temper. Do you think so?
Palmer: I have taken thousands of calls in the past 3 1/2 years. Given that number of calls, I don't call two incidents over three years ago a "pattern." I completed a course of anger management counseling in early 2003 and there have not been any more "incidents" since. I voluntarily began the classes immediately after the July 2002 incident and had completed a number of sessions before the Department required the counseling. I think that I have learned to handle disruptive and uncooperative people in a more positive and efficient manner and that I handle life's less-pleasant moments better.
CP: Why the short spurt of problems?
Palmer: I'll not bore you with the details, but I think the name Barbara Schneider will ring a bell or two. The Department has come a long way with its Critical Incident Policy and I think it is to the benefit of Officers.
CP: Do you believe that you have you been fairly reprimanded? Has there been sufficient training in cases where you've been reprimanded? Do officers take training like that seriously?
Palmer: My personal experience with discipline has been fair. I cannot, however, speak for the experiences of other Officers within the Department.
Only once in my career was I told that I would be sent to remedial training (re: dumb-dumb driver school) as a result of discipline. If you count my stint in the counselor's office as remedial training then I can say that I took it very seriously and that it has improved the way I do my job.