SPLC Report, the newsletter from the Southern Poverty Law Center, was in the mail the other day. One of the items in it was a report on a lawsuit filed against the City of Birmingham Police Department to stop the routine use of pepper spray on high school students. Like a lot of school districts these days, the Birmingham public schools use regular law enforcement officers for security. It turned out those highly trained professional men (and, one assumes, women) were routinely using pepper spray on adolescents who engaged in normal adolescent behavior, i.e., getting a little mouthy ("back talk"). Or worse.
One of the incidents mentioned in the courtroom involved a teenage girl who was having a bad day. The Birmingham PD made it a lot worse. The kid had been harassed by a boy who had made "inappropriate sexual remarks" and had managed to reduce her to tears. She was walking down the hall crying when a cop on duty in the school saw her crying. He told her to stop. She didn't. So he pepper sprayed her and slapped some handcuffs on her. Holy fuck. What type of sociopath pepper sprays a child who's crying?! The normal, human response when you see a young person is upset is to ask what's wrong, do the comforting little speech about how things are going to get better, maybe offer that person a tissue. . . you don't pepper spray the child. When did crying become threatening behavior? (The normal human response is to offer a tissue; the cop response should have been to ask what was wrong, and if she reported harassment or bullying the cop should have gone looking for the boy involved instead of assaulting the girl.)
In any case, it turned out that over a period of several years the police had used pepper spray on students 110 times. None involved an incident so serious it led to criminal charges against the students. In short, the pepper spray was not used to break up fights or to stop students who were threatening faculty or other students. In the incidents where pepper spray was used, 300 students were directly exposed (i.e., targeted) and over 1,000 were indirectly exposed. In no case did the police attempt any decontamination afterwards; the students were left to cope with the after effects of pepper spray on their own.
I read elsewhere recently that the state of Colorado is going to require that all applicants for law enforcement jobs undergo psychological screening before they can be hired. Isn't there a screening process now? Or is it a case of if you manage to pass a 2-year criminal justice course at a local community college you're in? A zillion years ago it was as simple as just passing a basic literacy test and a physical exam; now there's more education required before a LEO can be commissioned, various certification hoops that must be jumped through. But just how are applicants screened? I know the process is fairly rigorous (at least the training part is) for people who want to do law enforcement for federal agencies like the National Park Service. Prospective LEOs get sent to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. But before they get there, just like with any other applicant for a federal job, there's going to be a background check that will (theoretically) eliminate pathological liars. I'm not sure what the training itself involves, but every Park Service or Forest Service LEO I've ever met was a thorough professional as well as a decent human being -- but maybe just wanting to work for agencies like NPS or the Forest Service tends to self select for Not a Sociopath. Local law enforcement, on the other hand . . . sometimes you really have to wonder if some of those guys got their jobs simply because no one else applied.