Editor Note: This opinion contribution is a response to an op-ed on CNN by Deputy Mayor Cedric Alexander. Before we dive into that, it’s worth a little backstory.
Deputy Mayor Cedric Alexander stepped down in 2018, but not before a number of allegations were made against him.
One was from a former journalist, who filed a complaint with the city of Rochester’s Board of Ethics over the democrat’s outside business activities.
In a statement, she accused him of doing outside work on city time and questioned whether his business interests create a conflict of interest with his official duties for the city.
Public records show he was out of the office for 28 business days over his first 25 weeks on the job, only seen of which spent on official city business.
“It defies common sense that he could have accrued this much time off,” Barnhart said.
There was also an investigation into him after he was accused of sexual harassment by a subordinate in his previous job as Public Safety Director in Dekalb County, Georgia.
The investigation concluded in February 2016, and concluded that the sexual harassment allegations amount to a “he said, she said” and were not provable.
“It was a one sided investigation. It was never meant for me to do anything except just write it up,” said Lt. Consuela Howard.
Yet the complaint was found credible by Rochester for All Deputy Director Annmarie Van Son, who is a retired Rochester Police Department official. She said the internal investigation was problematic.
“This is a female officer’s nightmare – to have to turn down a superior’s advances. This wasn’t just any superior. This was the man in charge of the department,” said Van Son. “Women struggle to be believed, especially when there’s no ‘proof.’ I urge everyone to read Lt. Consuela Howard’s words. People backed up much of what she said, including Alexander himself. What’s more, she didn’t come forward on her own.”
Just a little background on the man who CNN proudly boasts as being one of their incredible analysts.
There are currently between 750,000 and 850,000 sworn peace officers in the US. Based on the most recent Bureau of Justice statistics, 21.1% of Americans age 16 or older will have an encounter with police each year.
That equates to roughly 5.5 million police/public contacts annually. There is no way a reasonable person could believe that every single one of those contacts are going to be picture perfect. People do stupid things, even cops. People have bad days, even cops. People sometimes act on false assumptions, even cops. People make mistakes, even cops.
CNN recently ran an op-ed written by Cedric Alexander. He was a former officer, chief, director of public safety, deputy mayor of Rochester, NY and past president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. Mr. Alexander was writing about an incident that occurred in Phoenix on May 27, 2019.
A 4-year old girl took a doll form a Dollar General. The police were called, and they contacted the vehicle driven by the family of the 4-year old. The video taken with bystander cell phones show officers, with weapons drawn, shouting commands to the vehicle occupants.
The family of the 4-year old have one version of the story and are suing the Phoenix PD for $10M. Phoenix police have another version. Most of the events of that day are for another conversation.
Two things from Alexander’s op-ed stood out. First, police need to have legitimacy for the public to trust them and comply with verbal commands. Two, police need to maintain a level of professionalism in all circumstances.
According to Alexander, legislation provides the legal authority to officers. However necessary, it is not enough to enable them to do their jobs effectively and safely. They also need legitimacy.
A 2014 report written by the Police Executive Research Forum states:
“Unlike police lawfulness, which is defined by the text of laws and by administrative and regulatory standards, legitimacy lies within the perceptions of the public and reflect the belief that the police ought to be allowed to exercise their authority to maintain social order, manage conflicts and solve problems in their communities.”
The author then defines police legitimacy as being “built on the judgement of the people in the community that the police can be trusted, that they deserve to hold authority and that their actions are morally justified and appropriate to the circumstances.”
Alexander apparently believes that the public has the moral high ground over law enforcement. The same general public that many believe have lost their compass. What does society look like if the general public can delegitimize sworn officers of the law?
But I do have a question. Should officers maintain a level of decorum and professionalism when contacting the public? Using the circumstances that Alexander was referencing, the Phoenix officer allegedly said:
“I’m going to (expletive) put a cap in your (expletive) head”, “when I tell you to do something, you (expletive) do it” and “you’re going to (expletive) get shot.”
It is understood that when an officer has his gun drawn, they have a reason to believe that they need it. This is always going to be a stressful situation, but does it justify officers saying virtually anything they want? Does that type of language and verbiage intensify the situation? Does it do anything to calm people down?
If called out for a “lack of professionalism” based on their choice of words, should an officer apologize?
Independent of my thoughts on the second point, I can assure you that no matter what language an officer uses with me, I will recognize their authority as legitimate, no questions asked.