Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Conversation With a Fullerton Police Officer

As a writer, I have a pretty good memory of conversations I have.  The following is the best I could do to reproduce a real interaction I had with a Fullerton police officer yesterday.  It was really weird.

I'm walking to my friend Landon's house for dinner.  On the way, I see this gnome sticker and I stop to take a picture, because I like to take pictures of street art.  

As I'm taking the picture, a motorcycle cop rolls up next to me on the sidewalk and asks, "What are you doing?"

"I'm taking a picture of this street art."

"What did you call it?  Street art?  It's vandalism."

"I would call it street art."

"It's vandalism."

"Are you familiar with Shepard Fairey or Banksy?  They had an exhibit last summer at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles called Art in the Streets.  Street art is a legitimate art form."

"If I came to your house and scratched your windows, would you be okay with that?"

"That would be territorial gang-related tagging, not street art."

"It would be vandalism."

"I agree.  But if someone came to my house and stuck a well-designed sticker, like this gnome, on my window, I wouldn't necessarily call it vandalism."

"Yeah right."

"Also, this gnome sticker is on public, not private property, another thing that distinguishes street art from vandalism."

"It's vandalism."

"I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree.  Hey, what do you think about the Kelly Thomas issue?"

"I wasn't there.  I can't make a judgement."

"But did you see the recently-released surveillance video of the beating?"

"As I said, I wasn't there, so I can't make a judgement.  It's with the DA now."

"But did you see the video?"

"I just answered your question."

"Um, okay.  Well, I have seen the video, and it is horrifying."

"It's up to the DA and the courts now."

"Well, it's up to the jury, really.  How do you feel about the fact that Fullerton has gone through three police chiefs in less than a year, ever since the incident went public?"

"They have a normal rotation for police chiefs."

"Is a normal term for a police chief 3-4 months?"

"It's not my call."

"I realize that, but how do you feel about it?  How do you feel about the fact that it took chief Sellers 30 days to put the involved officers on leave, despite having seen the surveillance video?  Doesn't that disturb you?"

"It's not my call."

"I understand that.  But, as a Fulleton police officer, how does it make you feel?  As a citizen, it makes me feel afraid.  It makes me lose faith in this department."

"I would say 95 percent of the people in this town think we are doing a good job."

"Then how do you explain the months of protests, the thousands of protestors, the 17,000 people who signed the recall petition?"

(Obviously, I am getting a little agitated because I feel like I am talking to a robot and not a human being.)

"The vibe you are giving me right now," I say, "is that you don't care about this."

"How would you like me to feel about it?" he asks.

"I can't tell you how to feel, but it seems a natural human response to feel something."

"Like I said, I wasn't there, so I can't make a judgement."

"But the surveillance video, the images of Kelly's face, the transcript of the altercation, these things are all a matter of public record now and they elicit emotion, if not some kind of judgement."

"Everything's a matter of public record," he says.

"Wow, man.  From one human to another, you seem really callous about this."

"Why are you judging me?" he says, "I'm not judging you."

"I don't mean to judge you.  I'm just observing your apparent lack of feeling or concern."

"I hope you don't judge other people like you are judging me," he says, with an odd smirk.

At this point, I give up.  I realize that this man is either unwilling or unable to express emotion and/or vulnerability.  I suppose that is probably a normal thing for a police officer, to appear emotionless and robotic, as a way to deal with with conflict and crime.  But I am not a criminal.  I am a teacher, a business owner, a resident of Fullerton.  

Right now, with so much unrest and distrust of the Fullerton police department, I feel it might be time for the police in this city to show their humanity a bit more, so we don't feel like we are being policed by robots.  This whole episode reminded me of a short story I read a long time ago by Ray Bradbury called "The Pedestrian."  It felt like George Orwell's 1984, some dystopic police state.  I don't have the answer to this disconnect between the police and the public, but something must be done.

Maybe this blog post will spark some conversations.  I hope so.  


  1. Good questions Jesse. I heard someone recently talking about governments and privacy. He said something like that the government is supposed to protect our privacy. We are the private citizens. The government is not supposed to be the secret clan. We've got it the 'wrong way round' as the Brits say. He was saying something like that things have gotten really wrong when the government spends all it's energy protecting it's own secrets and invading our privacy.

    It is time now that we ask, if the cops have seen this video, why has only one broken the code of silence? Imagine the strict us-vs-them mentality that must be imposed within the force. What secret society can keep so quiet about a bloody beating murder in the heart of our train station?

  2. Not to condone any of the acts by the Fullerton 6, but maybe the officer you talked to was doing the right thing by not commenting on a case that's before the courts. Maybe something he might say can be used against the police dept. he could lose his job.

    1. He couldn't lose his job for his comments. as a former copper my self, it's about saving face with the people he works with. You would be amazed that if he did comment and he was identified, he wouldn't be able to get O.T. Shifts and he probably would be dealing with slow responses to assistance calls. He would be seen as a traitor to his peers. He lies when he says that the majority support the department, but I guess that's what FPD cops do well....