This week, I read an article online about how Garden Grove Police Department officers searched a house, turning its contents upside down to retrieve what they considered to be stolen property. And what was the item that was missing? A flashlight valued at $100 that belonged to one of their officers.
Apparently, during the protest between the activists and vigilantes, the flashlight had fallen out of the officer's pocket and officers believed that it had been stolen by a women named Theresa Dang. So, they searched her house, finding nothing.
Only two days before officers showed up at her family's house, Dang and other activists had spoken at a city council meeting, criticizing the department's tactics at the demonstration and an appalling double standard where one of the Minutemen present was allowed to hit four demonstrators with his vehicle without facing charges, yet the activists protesting the minutemen could not even breathe without facing arrest. All this for a flashlight?
The tale of the missing flash light has a lot of people in even one of the state's most repressed counties in stitches, and yet another O.C. agency has become the laughing stock of the state.
One doesn't want to make minor or belittle the relationship an officer has with this important piece of equipment he or she carries on their belts. While it certainly can not compete with the bond between an officer and their firearm, it still is an important issue.
As the following case shows....
After the LAPD beating of Stanley Miller with a flashlight as the weapon of choice, there was much discussion about whether or not flashlights should be used by officers as weapons to strike at 'suspects' as if they were batons, and not equipment used to illuminate the dark.
In the Press Enterprise, recently, there was an article about flashlights as weapons. It was interesting timing as I had recently witnessed a plain-clothed officer use his flashlight as a weapon against a 'suspect'. I witnessed the incident from inside a bus, stuck in traffic on University Avenue around 6:30 p.m. one evening last month. There was a tall, lanky Black man walking quickly down the street and a short, white plain-clothed officer, who looked a lot like Gang sergeant, Frank Assuma, with long brown hair in a ponytail and wearing glasses. He had jeans, shirt and a vest which said 'POLICE' on the back. He was jogging, then stopping, his radio to his mouth the entire time, but he wasn't in a hurry. Nor was the guy he was pursuing, who was walking fast, occasionally looking over his shoulder. Initially, 100 yards separated the duo. Then the cop caught up to the 'suspect' b/c that guy slowed down and stopped. As he turned, with his hands out in a ---don't shoot me my hands aren't holding anything---posture, the officer pulled his flashlight out and struck him once, hard on the back of his thighs, just beneath his butt. The guy went down on his stomach, the officer jumped on top of him and cuffed him w/o resistance.
From the article: Use-of-force policies for Banning, Beaumont, San Bernardino and Riverside police and Riverside County sheriff's department all state that officers will not use more force than is reasonably necessary to gain control or resist attack.
The man was surrendering, not resisting and certainly not attacking the officer, it was simply more expedient to hit him into submission than do the arrest with the guy standing up. Black men, being the dangerous people that they are, especially tall ones can't be talked to, but physical force must be used against them, is the mantra for most officers. They are never allowed to stand up like white men can. They are lying on the ground, on their stomachs, or they are sitting on the curb, their heads below those of the officers detaining them. Or they are in the back seat of the police car, even for a broken tail light. Always in handcuffs. And the officers never turn their backs on them, ever, like they do with white motorists. The officers' shoulders are never relaxed, they never smile, they never lean casually against their motorcycles or cars unless the motorist is white.
Did you think a state-mandated consent decree was going to change the minds of all these officers about the 'black menace'? Ten million spent on reforms, and where has it gone? Has anything changed, since 1999? Oh, you'll have the white liberals who sit at the negotiating tables with police management claim that it's a much better, much different, much more humane department but face it, the only time they see a police officer drive his squad car in their neighborhood is if there is reports of a person lurking there, who looks like they live in mine. And if they get pulled over by a traffic cop, the cop isn't mentally calculating how many seconds it will take to have his gun out and ready.
Although in Late january 2004, the 'black menace' was a flashlight used by an officer to crack across the face of a Black man, who had the misfortune of trying to steal hubcaps from an undercover police car, in the intersection of Fifth and Market, downtown, according to a man who said he witnessed the incident. He also said that three other apartment residents, witnessed two officers, white, dark-haired, one standing a foot taller than the other pull this man, put him in a chokehold so that his feet were off the ground, and then one of them grabbing his hands while the other whacked him across the temple with a flashlight half a dozen times, yelling 'you messed with my car. you messed with my car." The guy was arrested unconscious, his bicycle left at the edge of the apartment complex for several weeks. Never made the newspapers, but then the witnesses were too frightened to go public. When cops get mad at the actions of adults, they often harassed their children, said more than one local resident.
Probably a graduate from the Aaron Perkins Street Justice training program. You know, the guy who's been busted for a violent offduty crime and still has a job, and the department's blessing.
Inland police focus on reasonable force
FLASHLIGHTS: Agencies say they don't plan to switch to rubberized, smaller ones like LAPD.
02:15 AM PDT on Saturday, August 7, 2004
By TAMMY McCOY / The Press-Enterprise
A police officer searches a dark alley and shines a bright light looking for a burglary suspect. The flashlight serves the purpose of allowing the officer to illuminate the darkness and see if any danger exists.
For some police departments in the Inland area, the luminary device can also serve as a backup weapon.
The Los Angeles Police Department recently announced it will start using smaller, rubberized models after receiving criticism and public outrage of a scene caught on videotape of a LAPD officer striking a burglary suspect several times to the body and head.
Although LAPD decided to change the types of flashlights they issue officers, several Inland area departments are not switching and some officials say their policies focus more on an officer's actions rather than the devices they use.
"We have shootings and we don't ban the use of weapons," Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said. "But, we are not making any moves to remove any of their equipment. That does not demean what they (LAPD) are doing."
The Riverside Police Department does list the flashlight as a secondary impact or improvised weapon in its use-of-force policy.
Riverside police Sgt. Larry Gonzalez, with the department's training division, said a flashlight is considered a secondary weapon, to be used when a baton is not available or readily accessible.
When officers use flashlights as weapons, he said, they must explain their actions in a written report.
"Because it is designed to illuminate," Gonzalez said, "it's an improvised weapon."
Other Inland agencies consider flashlights a weapon of last resort, officials said.
Riverside County Sheriff's Department use-of-force policy does not list flashlights or many other items as weapons. The department policy does focus on the weapons being used defensively and only "when necessary and justified," according to its use-of-force policy.
The Redlands police department's use-of-force policy focuses on the reasonableness of an officer's application of force, regardless of what weapon is used, said Capt. Tom Fitzmaurice.
In use-of-force instances, he said, the officer has to articulate why the level of force used was appropriate.
"It could be a fist, a foot, a flashlight, a Taser or a gun," Fitzmaurice said. "The officer is trained to use the minimum amount of force necessary to overcome the resistance."
Use-of-force policies for Banning, Beaumont, San Bernardino and Riverside police and Riverside County sheriff's department all state that officers will not use more force than is reasonably necessary to gain control or resist attack.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department allows flashlights to be used as weapons, said Chip Patterson, public information officer.
He said there are no plans to change departmental policy with regard to flashlight abuse or composition.
"It's not an issue for our department," Patterson said.
The Riverside police department has had some experience with flashlights used as a weapon.
An arbitrator ruled in 1996 that a Riverside police officer was wrongly suspended for hitting a man in the head three times with a flashlight.
The officer struck the suspect, believing he had a gun in his waistband, during a struggle that followed a vehicle pursuit and foot chase, according to transcripts of the arbitration ruling. The arbitrator ruled the officer's fear that the suspect had a gun in his waistband was real. Riverside's current policy states that the flashlight can be used as a secondary weapon but they also need to explain the situation in a written report.
Gonzalez, with Riverside police, said they recently conducted a routine training focused on the appropriate way to use the flashlight without causing serious injury to a person. Officers will avoid striking a person in the head, neck, throat, spine and groin areas to prevent serious injury, according to the policy.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department does not teach its personnel to use flashlights.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Earl Quinata said that instructors at the Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, which trains sheriff's recruits, do not use flashlights in their weapons training curriculum."We don't train with it," Quinata said. "It's an luminary device."
(However, a 'luminary device' such as a flashlight or a lamp in the hand of a suspect can be deemed enough of a threat by a RSD sheriff deputy to shoot that person dead as happened inside a convent in Redlands in 1999)
Type of lights
The most commonly used flashlights are the rechargeable models or ones that use four to six size D batteries.
A Maglite flashlight using four D batteries weighs 38.8 ounces (two pounds and 6.8 ounces) with batteries and is about 15 inches long. A Maglite using six batteries weighs 50 ounces (three pounds and two ounces) and is 19 inches long, according to the Maglite Web site.
Some Inland law enforcement agencies issue specific types of flashlights to officers while other departments allow officers to chose for themselves.
Riverside County does not issue flashlights to deputies, sheriff's spokesman Quinata said; deputies select and purchase their own flashlights.
Redlands and San Bernardino police officials said their officers use rechargeable flashlights.
Redlands police are issued a rechargeable commercial-grade heavy metal flashlight that provides enough light and stays charged for an entire shift, Fitzmaurice said.
"It needs to be this large to keep a charge for the whole shift and give off a light that's powerful enough for when you're out in a field searching," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Staff writers Paul DeCarlo, Richard Brooks, Rocky Salmon, Stefanie Frith and Elena Arnold contributed to this report.
Reach Tammy McCoy at (951) 368-9642 or firstname.lastname@example.org