05/26/17 Norm Stamper

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Norm Stamper, former Police Chief of Seattle, LEAP Speaker & author of new book: To Protect And Serve, How to Fix America's Police

Audio file


MAY 26, 2017


DEAN BECKER: Hi folks, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. We've got a great show. We've got an interview with the former police chief of Seattle, Washington. Here we go.

The police in America belong to the people, not the other way around, yet millions of Americans experience their cops as racist, brutal, and trigger happy. An overly aggressive militarized enemy of the people. For their part, today's officers feel they are under seige. Misunderstood. Unfairly criticized, and scapegoated for society's ills. Is there a fix? Former Seatte police chief Norm Stamper believes there is. We have him with us today. He's author of a great new book, To Protect And Serve: How To Fix America's Police. I want to welcome Norm Stamper. Hello, sir.

NORM STAMPER: Hello, Dean, it's always a pleasure to be with you.

DEAN BECKER: Norm, you were the police chief of Seattle. You were a career police officer, were you not?

NORM STAMPER: I was. Thirty four years as a cop, the first 28 in San Diego, the last six, from '94 to 2000, as Seattle's police chief.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Norm, the fact of the matter is, this book is instructive. It's in essence a manual for police departments, for police chiefs, and for citizens, in how we should move forward with policing here in these United States. Is that a fair summation?

NORM STAMPER: You know, it is. I had in mind sort of a straw person, or a group of straw people, Americans, whether they are in law enforcement or not, and essentially writing to them with the idea that, if we're not happy with police policies and practices today, what is it going to take for us to turn things around and particularly reverse the level of violence that we see in altogether too many police interactions.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Norm, the first chapter, From Ferguson To New York, kind of addresses this situation, the glaring examples of what has caught the nation's attention. Do you want to talk about that chapter, would you please?

NORM STAMPER: Yeah, I'd be happy to. As you well know, Dean, as an author yourself, the one thing we're always trying to do is capture the imagination and help arouse action on behalf of reform. And so what I elected to do in writing the story of Ferguson, Ferguson and its aftermath, was the inspiration for this book. And what I tried to do was tell the story of the Michael Brown incident that did not result in Michael Brown's death, or the considerable violence that followed, much of it police provoked violence.

And so what I have done, basically, is created a fictional version of Darren Wilson, and Michael Brown, the two principals involved in that drama back in August of 2014. And I have Darren Wilson treating this young 18 year old as a fellow citizen, and as somebody that, you know, was doing something wrong, he was walking down the middle of the street and that can be dangerous and it can block traffic, and the officer has an obligation to do something, say something. But not what Darren Wilson actually said.

So I pick it up there and tell the story as fiction, with a happy ending. And, as I point out, you know, if that had happened, nobody, very few people outside the midwest, would really even know where Ferguson, Missouri is. And I think we have a duty as American citizens inside and outside of the institution to look at what is getting in the way of a meaningful, trusting relationship between community and police, and then do something to remove those obstacles.

DEAN BECKER: Norm, I speak often of the drug war being a quasi-religion, just handed down from generation to generation. That kind of coincides with what you're saying there, doesn't it?

NORM STAMPER: Well, it does. You know, cutting to the manifesto that I've included in this book, I have eight sort of action items, agenda items that I think we as Americans should consider, and hopefully implement. And I've narrowed those eight, just in my speaking these days, to three.

And the first one, apropos of your remarks, Dean, is end the drug war. It has been a colossal public policy failure, it has resulted in the incarceration of tens of millions of our fellow Americans for nonviolent drug offenses. It has cost over one and a half trillion dollars to prosecute, and as members of the organization to which I belong, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, former Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, argue, what do we have to show for it? Drugs are more readily available at lower prices and higher levels of potency than ever before.

So when Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, he was really declaring war on his own people. And disproportionately young people, poor people, and people of color. So if we end the drug war, we have an opportunity to dramatically reduce the amount of money we're throwing down the rat hole, to improve Americans' public safety and neighborhood health, to help assure protection of all Americans' civil liberties, and generally to improve the relationship between police and community. You don't fight a war without an enemy.


NORM STAMPER: And for police officers, for generations of police officers, who's the enemy? Young people, poor people, and people of color.

DEAN BECKER: And, I would submit, Norm, that that mentality, that quasi-religion I spoke of, has escalated or devolved, or however you want to say it, to where the basic constitutional rights of Americans have been whittled and whittled away, year after year, generation after generation, to where we're all now liable to stop and frisk, we're all now liable to, you know, more draconian methods, because the quote "belief" in this drug war somehow justifies these actions. Your thought there, sir.

NORM STAMPER: Well, number one, you're absolutely right, and you mentioned Ferguson, and the extent to which the entire system was implicated in its local version of the drug war. This was a tragedy of the first order. You had the city manager, the mayor, the city council, you had the court clerk, you even had the judge, as well as the police chief, and of course rank and file police officers, and their supervisors, all engaged in this activity that was for them utterly normal. And for anyone looking through the prism of civil liberties, absolutely abhorrent and abnormal.

But when we, in any city, and we've done this from coast to coast and border to border, normalize constitutional violations, we've basically said the constitution doesn't matter, and we have a new set of rules of the road. Well, I am one who believes, as do you, that that constitution, binding at the moment of its inception, is equally binding today, and we've got a whole lot of unlearning of habits to undergo as a nation and certainly within the police institution.

DEAN BECKER: Absolutely right. Norm, you know, you mention in here the, one of the founding members of LEAP, Jack Cole, and I want to read again from your book. For his part, Cole pulls no punches in talking about the harm he believes he caused during his 14 years as a narc. In fact, his compelling anti-prohibition activism is one of the ways he confronts the quote "emotional residue" end quote of having to perpetuate a war that is steeped in racism, that is needlessly destroying the lives of young people, and that is corrupting our police. And I would submit that that's what leads many of us to join Law Enforcement Action Partnership. Your response there, Norm.

NORM STAMPER: You know, one of the things that would be wonderful for police officers, brand new police officers, is that they would enter the service of policing, they would engage their citizens in a true and authentic partnership, not some public relations version or cosmetic version, and they would in fact work collaboratively to help make our streets and our homes and our schools and our workplaces safe places.

And our neighborhoods healthy places for kids to work and play, and grownups to not have to worry about their children. And that they would be meaningfully and effectively carrying out work that is designed to assure constitutional guarantees. Imagine no drug war. That would make that task, utopian though it may sound to some, infinitely easier.

Then we'd have a police officer, a new candidate, join a police department and start from scratch, and recognize that he or she is there to work with and not against the people, to be a part of the community, not apart from it, and to stop treating our citizens as the enemy. But the drug war is such a formidable barrier to that kind of a philosophy in its implementation before.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Norm, I want to talk about chapter five. A scared cop is a dangerous cop. Now, when I was in the US Air Force, after basic training I went to a four week basically 24 hours a day course on how to be a policeman. And the one thing they didn't teach us was that we should be very afraid, that we should want to come home to our wife and children each night. They taught us how to be good cops. We carried a baton and a .38 revolver. Things have changed since then, have they, sir?

NORM STAMPER: Oh, have they ever. We have now produced two or three generations of police officers who look like, oftentimes sound like and behave like, soldiers, rather than domestic peacekeepers. That's, that's no accident. The federal government, through the 1033 program, has granted surplus, you know, Defense weapons and equipment and vehicles to local jurisdictions, law enforcement jurisdictions. So our cops look more like soldiers than police officers on far too many occasions.

But it's the mentality, Dean, it's the, it's the self-concept of police officers. If they see themselves as soldiers, if they see their communities as the enemy, then what we are going to have is a highly militaristic, highly aggressive police force in a free and democratic society, on the streets of America's cities. That's not a specter of anything that I think any of us should approve, but, it has, fundamentally I think, needs to be understood, that fear is an awesomely powerful emotion.

And if I go out to do my work, whatever that work is, every day under the influence of deep fear, the chances that I will mis-perceive situations, that I will act impulsively, that I will hurt someone, possibly get myself hurt, as a result of that disproportionate fear. Back in the day, and it's very easy for oldtimers like myself to talk about, just as you've done, you know, when I went out on the beat for the first time, it was with a .38 revolver on my right hip and a baton on my left, along the line I had a set of handcuffs, and along the line I picked up some mace, to also attach to my duty belt.

And then, over the years, what we've seen is a proliferation of so-called safety equipment, that oftentimes is used unsafely by police officers. I'm talking now about pepper spray, and tasers, I'm talking about firearms that are much more powerful, that deliver their munitions at a much more rapid rate, and I by the way support police officers being armed with semi-automatic pistols. I don't think we want to send our police officers into dangerous situations with that old .38 that you and I carried.


NORM STAMPER: What about discipline? What about self-confidence? What about maturity? And finally, what about fearlessness? I'm not saying that there aren't moments when a cop, any human being, would be afraid, in this line of work. There are those moments. They're not nearly as -- they don't occur with the kind of frequency that many people believe, based on what they see on TV for example. But, in order to confront frightening situations, competence, self-confidence, and maturity are probably three of the strongest tools that we can give our police officers.

That does mean unlearning some attitudes. Unlearning some behaviors. And unlearning's a very difficult proposition. It's a challenging proposition. We get these blue ribbon committees coming out and saying, from now on we're going to teach de-escalation skills. We're going to teach crisis intervention skills. We're going to de-fuse situations that are tense, which is great. I mean, that's just terrific.

But in providing new training, have we included a segment on unlearning? You see, once I've fully committed myself to the proposition that police work is extremely dangerous and that I need to be hypervigilant, that I need to be militaristic and in command and control of every situation, that kind of mentality has got to get, you know, dismantled. It's got to be unlearned.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. You know, back in the '70s, I got a job working as a choker setter, which is a guy who attaches a cable to one of those giant sequoia trees up there in California, and I can't find it right now, but, your list of dangerous jobs, in the top ten, does not include being a law enforcement officer, and the gentleman I replaced on that logging crew was scraped against the mountainside the week before by a log just shifting, gravity turned it one way that he didn't think it was going to go. And I guess, sir, what I'm saying is, a lot of this is hyperbole, a lot of this is misinformation, being fed to our police officers about the dangerousness of their job. Your thought there, sir.

NORM STAMPER: You're spot on, Dean. We -- policing does not crack the top ten when it comes to occupational mortality rates. In fact, logging and farming, construction, and driving a truck, all of these jobs and many more are more dangerous than policing.

That's needed information. Police officers, and citizens, need to understand that the rates of mortality are very, very low. We have almost a million police officers in this country. On average, forty to sixty officers are slain in the line of duty. Now, what makes those numbers significant, I think, is that they -- when we're talking about an officer who is actually slain on the job, is that we're talking about personal violence, and willfully taking on a job that involves stopping cars that may be driving by somebody who has said I am going to shoot the next cop who stops me, I'm going to kill the next officer who interferes in my life, that sort of thing. That that does add an element of, an aspect of, a psychological aspect I think to the danger that does not exist, for example, in logging.

Nonetheless, a police officer who approaches his or her work with self-confidence, with the maturity that I was talking about earlier, and who learns from every single experience how more effectively to handle the next such experience, is the kind of cop we really want and need out there on the beat.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. You know, one of the first interviews I did, in fact I guess the first interview I did of a LEAP speaker was of Jack Cole, back about 2002. And he mentioned to me some stats that just blew my mind, and it should blow everyone's mind, and that is, per capita, in the United States, we arrest six times more blacks than did South Africa arrest blacks under apartheid. We are the world's leading jailer, and yet it doesn't cause shame for most Americans. Your thought there, sir.

NORM STAMPER: I was speaking two nights ago to a very large audience in San Francisco, the Bar had sponsored this particular program, the audience was filled mostly with attorneys, but there were many community activists and half a dozen police officers there as well. And we got onto the issue of race, and a couple of people said, oh my gosh, the progress we have made.

Any progress in areas of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, any other brand of bigotry, needs to be appreciated, if not celebrated. That kind of progress makes us ultimately more human, and more deserving really of the recognition of our neighbors.

But, to assume that we have entered some post-racial society after having had, you know, an African American president for eight years, or seeing some of the improvements that are taking place in police departments as a result of, you know, the 21st Century Task Force on Policing, and our blue ribbon committees, and this and that, that we're now somehow, that we've entered an era of rejection of racism, rejection of implicit and explicit bias. And all I can say is, hogwash.

I think that's an absolute absurdity. We are seeing, and we saw during the presidential campaign, example after example after example of white privilege, of white entitlement, of angry whites saying that their share of, you know, the American dream, has been co-opted by or stolen by people of color. Or by immigrants. And I think we need to come to grips with the fact that our society, as wonderful, as enlightened as it is in so many ways, is still mired in the dark ages when it comes to thinking about issues of race.

And we just simply cannot afford that. A police officer, sworn to uphold the law, sworn to protect and serve in every neighborhood and in every community, needs to find a way in his or her heart and head, to not just get along with or engage in basic law enforcement services in those communities, but to actually forge that partnership that I was talking about earlier. A partnership by definition means fifty-fifty. It means we work together. Neither of us makes arbitrary or unilateral decisions. We're a partnership, and that's -- there's no way to form a partnership if you've got racism or any other form of bigotry in your heart.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, once again, we're speaking with Mister Norm Stamper. He's author of To Protect And Serve: How To Fix America's Police. He's author of another book we talked about in years past, Breaking Rank. He's the former police chief of Seattle, Washington. We're about to run out of time here, Norm, I'm only about halfway through the book. I want to recommend this.

As I said earlier, it's for law enforcement officers, it's for the police chiefs, it's for the mayor, it's for the district attorneys, it's for the citizens, because there's in here even a list of things you advise folks to be aware of. They can always be calm and cool, cops can lie, don't get tricked, don't agree to a search ever, it goes on. There is information here which can help change this dynamic, this situation. And, if I dare say, Norm, there are signs that at least at the state and local levels, officials, DAs, police chiefs, and others are beginning to buck this system, are beginning to work against the need for an eternal drug war. Your thought there, Norm.

NORM STAMPER: Well, I think that's how it's going to happen. When you have a new federal administration, rattling those sabers, and using the vocabulary of the drug war: mandatory minimums, so on and so forth, three strikes, you know, that tired, failed philosophy of criminal justice and social control. So, I couldn't agree more. I talked to people today who've in effect come out of the closet. I mean, it was not that uncommon, you're familiar with this phenomenon, for certain high ranking officials in police or city government for example to whisper their support for ending the drug war, for replacing prohibition with a regulatory system, that sort of thing.

So, I think it's wonderful to see people speaking out and every time another public official does speak out against the drug war and for a more reasoned and sane public policy on drugs, that licenses others to do the same. And I believe that organizations like LEAP are having an enormous effect on turning around attitudes and encouraging people to speak up.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, I'm going to pat myself on the back here a bit. It was December 2014 I interviewed then-police chief Charles McClelland, and he said, the drug war is a miserable failure. We had a great discussion, it made international news, and then last year I interviewed the gentleman running for sheriff of Houston. He agreed, it's a miserable failure. I interviewed the lady running for district attorney, and she's turned the situation in its head here, she's in essence decriminalized four ounces of marijuana, wants to stop arresting people for minor charges.

I interviewed the police chief. He agreed, it's a miserable failure. I talk to state reps, state senators, behind closed doors, like you were talking about, they would agree, yeah, it's off base, we've got to do something, but not much got done in the Texas legislature this year. But, the impetus is there. The movement is happening. Is it not, sir?

NORM STAMPER: It's definitely there, and even though I like and respect and admire you, I am not going to withhold my own support for what you've done, Dean. This program and our activism and your writing has had an enormous effect on public officials. And certainly there in Texas, but beyond as well, so I applaud you, I salute you, and I just admire you so much.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Norm, right back to you, sir, you know that. I'm proud that we got to be partners on the Caravan For Peace And Justice a few years back, trying to expose the horrors going on south of our border where tens of thousands of people are butchered every year in the name of this drug war.

NORM STAMPER: You bet. You bet. That was a poignant moment for me and it was just wonderful to hear you on the stump and reaching out to public officials, particularly lawmakers. We need to do more and more of it.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. All right, friends, we've been speaking with Mister Norm Stamper, one of my band of brothers in Law Enforcement Action Partnership, out there on the web at LEAP.cc. I highly recommend this book, if you're a citizen of these United States, whether you work in law enforcement or not, please pick up a copy of To Protect And Serve: How To Fix America's Police. Mister Norm Stamper, thank you sir.

NORM STAMPER: My pleasure, Dean. Thank you very much.

DEAN BECKER: The interview ran long. You can hear more from Norm Stamper on next week's 420 reports.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Responsible for countless overdose deaths, uncounted diseases, international graft, greed, and corruption, stilted science, and immense un-Christian moral postulations of fiction as fact. Time's up! And this drug is the United States' immoral, improper, bigoted, unscientific, and plain F-ing evil addiction to drug war.

Join us next week, we'll have more segments from the recent Patients Out of Time cannabis conference in California. Again I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.