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Monday, July 15, 2013

A Voice of Experience: Patrick Crabtree on the Zimmerman Case

I believe my Facebook friend, Patrick Crabtree offers an interesting, pertinent perspective on the George Zimmerman case. In his recent Facebook post, Crabtree gives his view based on personal experience and straight talk. I sincerely believe Patrick's understanding of the complications of the death of Treyvon Martin will spark concern for bettering the role of law enforcement.

In the aftermath of the not guilty verdict, unrest and distrust in the justice system is peaking. This post is not meant to feed the flames of protesters upset with the outcome of the trial or to justify the outrage of those who are upset and calling for the “head” of George Zimmerman. The post is meant to expose flaws in the system – possibly fatal loopholes in the popular para-police philosophy.

I want to thank Patrick Crabtree for sharing his views. I believe he does so to prevent future tragedies.

The Words of Patrick Crabtree: 
THE ZIMMERMAN CASE... a New Perspective

"My take on the George Zimmerman-Treyvon Martin case is completely different than anything I’ve heard so far and I haven’t heard the media breath a word about this. Which begs the question, 'Who "murdered" Treyvon Martin?' To that, I have no answer. As to who 'killed' Treyvon Martin, my answer is *The Government*. Now how can that be? I will tell you.

"Back in the mid-1970s, I was about four years into my career as a professional law enforcement officer. By 1976, I had already worked as a state park ranger and had moved on to employment as a state game protector and I had also been commissioned by the Tuscarawas County [Ohio] Sheriff as one of his auxiliary deputies. I had achieved my college degree earlier and had already subsequently graduated from two residential police academies by that time, the latter being the Ohio Highway Patrol Academy. I point all this out to illustrate that things were changing in law enforcement. Individual officers had to be more responsible for their own actions. To prepare us for that, The Ohio Attorney General’s Office set up certain mandatory guidelines for training. In other words, the days of appointing just anyone to wear a badge were over.

"At the same time, in that era, cities and counties were beginning to feel the crunch of infrastructure maintenance costs. Also, labor unions (including the Fraternal Order of Police) were demanding higher pay for their clients: the city, county, and state employees. With budgets becoming ever tighter, some genius came up with this idea of what I have termed 'volunteer vigilantes.' In other words, 'Let’s get civilians to do cop work, the little stuff, and our paid personnel can do the important work.' The problem is, there is no such thing as 'little cop work.' These government agencies all saw such programs as great public relations boons, listing all the free man-hours that they were logging, ostensibly making the city a better place. These programs became manifest under various names: 'neighborhood watch,' 'para-police,' and so on.

"Do you think that the cops worked with these people? Hell no they didn’t, and in fact, it would have been irresponsible to do so. The law is a very complicated thing. Privacy laws are immutable, as are sunshine laws, missing children laws, domestic violence laws, and so on. You can’t drop this stuff into the hands of an untrained person and not expect disaster; however, city, county, and state bureaucrats did it anyway, pooh-poohing the consequences. I will spare you much more of this tiresome lecture by saying that it wasn’t long before the local program backfired. A 'para-policeman' in Urichsville (a very young man) killed somebody. My peers and I were not surprised in the least. At the time, he was carrying a police walkie-talkie, was wearing his uniform, and was acting upon information that he heard over the radio that was none of his official business, but it affected him personally. I have witnessed this same sort of fiasco play out elsewhere over and over as the years have gone by. George Zimmerman is a poster example.

"Jump to the next point: Who do you get when you send out a call for volunteer semi-police? 1. People who have personality disorders who want to tell other people what to do, and, 2. Those who are ineligible to become police (perhaps they have a DUI, domestic violence, or a drug abuse record) but still “wanna-be” a cop. There are some exceptions but this is mostly what you get. Most police agencies have rules telling them what NOT to do, but all these volunteers routinely go well beyond their official mandates and are rarely reprimanded for doing so… until tragedy strikes. That’s when the government drags out the old rule book and attempts to deny (usually successfully) their own responsibility in supervising such programs and shady participants.

"The government should go back to square one: staff police departments adequately and perhaps stop spending time on some of the things that eat up cop hours, such as investigating fender-benders. Who are the beneficiaries of that? Insurance companies! In any case, no one should be involved in any official street patrol at all unless they are a cop, properly trained, background investigation passed, and so on. If this were so in the instance of the Treyvon Martin death, Treyvon Martin would not *be* dead because George Zimmerman would not have been there!"

(Patrick Crabtree, "The Zimmerman Case: A New Perspective," 
July 15 2013)


Neighborhood Watch As It Applies To Zimmerman

The neighborhood watch system gained intense media attention after the February, 2012, fatal shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman, a self-described "neighborhood watch captain." Zimmerman claimed self defense and was charged with second-degree murder in the case.

His actions on the night of the shooting generated controversy as he left his vehicle to pursue Martin and was carrying a gun, both of which go against neighborhood watch recommendations. He was also accused by prosecutors of profiling Martin. Martin was black and Zimmerman is a mixed-race Hispanic.

In response to the Trayvon Martin case, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) began drafting a bill that would require neighborhood watch groups to be certified and limit their duties. Currently, with local police agencies setting guidelines for their neighborhood watches, groups across the U.S. vary greatly in their scope, function, the level of activity by their members, and training.

Robert McCrie, professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, disagrees with Lee's initiative. He believes that standards for neighborhood watches “are best left to the state or local community,” although he would support background checks for volunteers.

Here Is a “Background Check” of George Zimmerman

In 2004, Zimmerman partnered with an African-American friend and opened up an Allstate insurance satellite office. Then came 2005, and a series of troubles. Zimmerman's business failed, he was arrested, and he broke off an engagement with a woman who filed a restraining order against him.
According to police records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel and other media, Zimmerman had been twice accused of either criminal misconduct or violence.
(1) July 2005, Zimmerman was charged with resisting arrest, violence, and battery of an officer after shoving an undercover alcohol-control agent who was arresting an under-age friend of Zimmerman's at a bar. He avoided conviction by agreeing to participate in a pre-trial diversion program that included anger-management classes.
(2) Zimmerman had also been involved in a domestic dispute with his ex-fiancee, hair salon employee Veronica Zauzo.

Zauzo claimed Zimmerman was trolling her neighborhood to check on her. At her apartment, they spoke for about an hour when she asked him to leave. He asked for some photos and paperwork and she refused. A pushing match ensued and her dog jumped up and bit him on the cheek, Zauzo claimed. Zimmerman, in a petition filed the next day, painted her as the aggressor, wanting him to stay the night.

"She accused me of going to another woman's house or going to party," wrote Zimmerman, who said Zauzo slapped, clawed and choked him.

In their petitions, both included previous allegations of violence. In the end, an Orange County circuit judge ordered them to stay away from each other for more than a year, according to court records. No charges were filed.

His domestic troubles continued in October 2007, when Zimmerman called police to report that the tires of his Dodge Durango were slashed and he suspected his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend. The man denied the claim and told officers he was so annoyed by text-message exchanges with Zimmerman that he was mulling a restraining order. None was filed, according to Seminole County records.

 Zimmerman and a "Dream"

In Sanford, Zimmerman also began entertaining hopes of becoming a law enforcement officer. Whether Zimmerman ever actually applied to a police agency is unclear. But according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, he never applied to take the Basic Abilities Test needed to enter recruit training.

However, in December 2008, he applied for a citizens' police academy with the Seminole Sheriff's Office. In his application, Zimmerman stressed his background with the law: He wrote that his father was a retired Virginia Supreme Court magistrate judge and his mother worked as a deputy clerk of courts.

NPR reported he was accepted and completed the one-night-a-week, 14-hour program.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Heather Smith stressed that the program is simply an educational tool designed to engage citizens and teach them about policing.

"It's not a training academy. Participants are not issued any type of sheriff's equipment or deputization," Smith said.

(David Ovalle, “Zimmerman a 'Caring Person' Who Had Run-ins With the Law,”  
Miami Herald, March 25 2012)

In time, Zimmerman became the self-appointed protector of the streets around his home. He patrolled the Retreat at Twin Lakes development in his own car although his neighborhood watch organization was not officially registered. He had a concealed-weapon permit and had a black Kel-Tec semi-automatic handgun and a holster the night Martin died.

("In Trayvon Martin Shooting, Background of George Zimmerman Can Confound, Confuse,” Washington Post, March 23 2012)

(“Background Check! New Info Emerges On George Zimmerman, The Decider, April 26 2012)

George Zimmerman had actually been accused of aggressive in earlier complaints to the local police and the homeowner's association, according to a homeowner who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

At an emergency homeowner’s association meeting on March 1, 2012, “one man was escorted out because he openly expressed his frustration because he had previously contacted the Sanford Police Department about Zimmerman approaching him and even coming to his home,” the resident wrote in an email to the Huffington Post. “It was also made known that there had been several complaints about George Zimmerman and his tactics" in his neighborhood watch captain role.

The meeting was attended by Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, the detective assigned to the investigation and an unnamed member of the city council, according to the homeowner’s association newsletter. A member of the homeowner’s association board, who asked not to be quoted by name, said she “hadn’t heard about any complaints” about Zimmerman.

In eight years, Zimmerman had called the Police Department at least 46 times with reports of various sightings on 911 and non-emergency calls to the police department in Sanford, culminating in the two fateful calls he made February 26, shortly before he confronted and then fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Over the years, Zimmerman's scores of calls to police showed he had pursued shoplifters and errant drivers with zeal, reporting pit bulls, potholes, children playing in the street, open garage doors and "suspicious" youths loitering in the street.

He had peppered his calls with jargon familiar to police. In one case, he chased a reckless driver while calling 911 -- the driver later told police he was terrified that Zimmerman was going to attack him. In another case, Zimmerman tailed a supermarket shoplifter until a police officer successfully arrested the thief.

Zimmerman Increases His Activity

Starting in 2011, Zimmerman’s calls increasingly focused on what he considered “suspicious” characters walking around the neighborhood—almost all of whom were young black males. For example, on April 22, 2011, Zimmerman called to report a black male about “7-9” years old, four feet tall, with a “skinny build” and short black hair. There is no indication in the police report of the reason for Zimmerman’s suspicion of the boy.

On August 3, 2011, Zimmerman reported a black male who he believed was “involved in recent” burglaries in the neighborhood. And, on October 1, he reported two black male suspects “20-30” years old, in a white Chevrolet Impala. He told police he did “not recognize” the men or their vehicle and that he was concerned because of the recent burglaries.

("Who Is George Zimmerman and What About the Police?"

The Encounter With Treyvon Martin

In court testimony, a medical examiner said Zimmerman suffered “insignificant” injuries in the fight in which he shot and killed Martin.

Zimmerman, 29, has said Martin, 17, punched him in the face and repeatedly slammed his head into a concrete walkway. Despite those claims, a DNA expert with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement testified that none of Zimmerman’s DNA was found in scrapings of Martin’s fingernails or on the cuffs or other parts of the hooded sweatshirt he wore on the night he died.

There was also no trace of Martin’s DNA on Zimmerman’s gun, the expert, Anthony Gorgone, told the court. Zimmerman had said Martin tried to grab the 9mm Kel-Tec semi-automatic before he shot him at point-blank range.

Dr. Laurence Miller, a Palm Beach County clinical psychologist who works with local police agencies, said he believes Zimmerman likely was acting out the "whole TV cop role in his head" when he confronted Trayvon.

"A lot of people like the power and control that law enforcement officers have but with that comes a tremendous amount of responsibility," Miller said, pointing out that a police officer is the only profession that can use "coercive physical force" or lethal force to subdue a suspected criminal.
"People act like cowboys and like the power, but not the responsibility."

My Take

I believe law enforcement agencies minimally support or encourage neighborhood watch efforts because they fear wanna-be cops, vigilantes, and possible bigots and racists. This, to me, is justifiable considering the Wild West self-defense mentality of so many Americans. Couple this deadly force belief with “stand your ground” laws and untrained, so-called protectors with guns and the potential for danger dramatically increases.

What happens in a worst case scenario? As Patrick Crabtree says, “when tragedy strikes the government drags out the old rule book and attempts to deny (usually successfully) their own responsibility in supervising such programs and shady participants.” I agree.

Perhaps, enforcement is in somewhat of a “lose-lose” situation in promoting neighborhood watch as an important part of fighting crime. We know the importance of citizen vigilance, responsibility, and limited action. But, we also know some do fall on the “trigger happy” side of justice, take this idea too far and become over-offensive in their behaviors.

Who can really deny the logic in Crabtree's view? From his experience, he cautions: “In any case, no one should be involved in any official street patrol at all unless they are a cop, properly trained, background investigation passed, and so on.” If we do not follow this timely advice, we will surely witness many more senseless tragedies.

Untrained guardians patrolling neighborhoods backed by guns and laws that OK their right to wave these weapons and pursue minimally invasive suspects = trouble for the public and trouble for the police who are meticulously trained to handle criminal activity.

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