Bob Franken: Policing the police

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014 1:22pm
  • Opinion

This is a true story (as opposed to my usual falsehoods): A few years back, when the World Bank and International Monetary Fund would hold meetings of the planet’s finance ministers or other economic leaders, there would be angry demonstrations that sometimes turned violent. The different police agencies, local and federal, would plan well ahead and set up a heavily armed security presence.

It was tailor made for TV, of course, because we all knew what great video we’d get, and I’d usually end up going live from the middle of things, from some approved camera position nearby. In newsbiz, it’s a common experience, but it still can prove treacherous for those of us covering the melee.

At one of them, contrary to their public denials, the security forces fired tear gas at the advancing demonstrators, and we got video. One of the cops decided that he didn’t like the fact that we were taping, and first demanded we stop and then got pushy about it when we didn’t. He was on shaky ground; luckily, a supervisor intervened, and that was the end of it.

Actually, not quite the end of it. A few minutes later, that same policeman came over and asked when it would be on TV. When I told him I was about to go live, he asked whether he and his uniformed buddies could stand off to the side and see it. Some of them quickly called their families, and then they stood just out of the shot to watch the video on our monitor while I did my report.

That kind of rough encounter is common for journalists, although the happy ending is not always the way things work out. I’m among those who believe that most cops and other first responders are heroes who do a brutal and thankless job. But there are too many who are anything but. They can be bullies. They viscerally hate reporters for showing them doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing. They know that when they prevent us from doing our jobs, sometimes by forceful means and arrest, they may have to back off later, but they have prevented coverage that will inform citizens about what’s happening in a newsworthy situation. That way, they won’t be held accountable.

In a place like D.C., the authorities have extensive experience with large-scale confrontations. While there are abuses, they are conscious of what they should be doing and not doing.

That is obviously not the case in Ferguson, Missouri. Investigators will have to sort out what caused white officer Darren Wilson to fatally shoot black 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed. What we already know is that the Ferguson police were way over their heads in dealing with angry protesters. They responded in ways that could be charitably called insensitive. Bringing out the dogs was terrible symbolism — any fool should know that. Apparently some don’t.

Another problem is that these law-enforcement officials also mobilized massive military equipment. Their heavily armored forces looked like the robotic troopers in “Star Wars.” They used their arsenal to throw tear gas and shoot rubber bullets at the crowds, while arresting participants and reporters.

Their thuggery was so blatant, it caused official Washington to notice and to question whether police departments should even get the surplus battleground equipment that the Pentagon has been more than happy to provide them.

As we are constantly reminded, bad-apple cops nationwide sometimes violently exceed their authority. In any case, they are not supposed to be a militia. They’re not trained for that. They’re supposed to “serve and protect” face to face, not inside tanks. Our Posse Comitatus law prevents the armed forces from doing police work. In the Capitol, an unusually bipartisan collection of leaders is promising legislation that would limit access to battlefield equipment. Speaking of limits, apparently, some police officers need better training on what theirs are.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

More in Opinion

Former Gov. Bill Walker, right, and his running mate former commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Heidi Drygas, speak to Juneauites gathered for a fundraiser at a private home in Juneau on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Why I’m voting for Walker

Walker is the only candidate with the potential to govern effectively for all Alaskans.

Nick Begich III campaign materials sit on tables ahead of a May 16 GOP debate held in Juneau. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Nick Begich is who Alaska and America need now

It is in Alaska’s best interest to elect a member of the Republican party

State Sen. Josh Revak (Photo provided)
The time has come to end Big Tech’s rule

The hope is that the bipartisan American Innovation and Choice Online Act (S. 2992) will come to the Senate floor for a vote

Michael Heimbuch attends a memorial service for the late Drew Scalzi on Aug. 5, 2005, at the Seafarers Memorial on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Point of View: King salmon: The clash of culture and science

People do some pretty awful things to king salmon stocks

Lieutenant governor candidate Edie Grunwald speaks at a Charlie Pierce campaign event at Paradisos restaurant in Kenai on Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Election Integrity: An Alaskan question with an Alaskan answer

A needless round of feel-good meetings and what-if conversations will be a thing of the past

This photo shows the University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: I’m a longtime educator, and I’m supporting Walker/Drygas

The issues our state faces are significant with regard to education.

The offical ballot for the Aug. 16, 2022, Special General Election features ranked choice voting. (State of Alaska Divison of Elections)
Opinion: Alaskans deserve an election system that represents our differences

The new system’s goal is to make this election cycle transparent, secure and easy for all Alaskans to vote

Larry Persily (Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: Congress could keep health insurance costs from rising, but it has to act fast

The cost of health insurance will rise substantially next year for about 13 million Americans

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell (Courtesy)
Opinion: UAA’s career certificates are helping to fill Alaska’s workforce pipeline

At UAA, we are announcing a new suite of certificate programs responding to some of the state’s most critical needs

Most Read