What’s it to Utz? – Summer in Pyongyang

Posted by Decaturish.com January 30, 2015
Hans Utz

Hans Utz

By Hans Utz, contributor 

It is safe to say that 2014 held many lessons for us all about effective policing.  There is no such thing as ‘perfect’ policing, and we often unfairly expect the police to be better than their community at large when it comes to matters of equity and particularly matters of race.  But let’s take a look at what has transpired this year and explore how local policy sets the stage for what follows.

A few years ago, an interesting post explored the differences in how Newport Beach, CA and Decatur, GA recruit their police officers.

The recruitment video from Newport Beach shows a bunch of all white male ‘roid-rage ‘romper-stompers’ (in the dismissive parlance of an army friend) running through a series of violent takedowns and fetishizing their military surplus gear.

Decatur’s video uses the word ‘community’ multiple times and shows a wide diversity of officers respectfully interacting with citizens.  It is tough to imagine a starker contrast, and I’m incredibly proud of Decatur PD and how they represent the city’s values through the video.

I am a law-abiding white citizen, statistically unlikely to be unfairly harassed by a police officer, but I’d still be terrified to live with the type of officer attracted to the Newport Beach video.  It starts with the values you seek in your police force, and anyone who thinks the Newport Beach video leads to quality community-oriented policing is welcome to live there.  I hear Pyongyang is nice in the summer.

Fast-forward to 2014 and the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.  It is a tall order, but for a moment leave aside your opinions on the shooting itself.  Even in a perfectly trained force there is always a chance of tragedy, and of the many adjectives you could apply to Ferguson PD, ‘perfectly-trained’ is unlikely to top the list.  Let’s instead explore the response of the department in the aftermath of the encounter.

We train our military in escalation of force standards because we know that going in ‘guns blazing’ can, and often will, result in a level of collateral damage that compromises the intent of the mission in the first place.  Ferguson never applied the same sort of sensible standards and utterly failed to use the right amount of force at the right time.

No rational person would argue that an officer should allow looters to burn innocent businesses, but there are multiple tactics that a properly-trained department should deploy prior to firing teargas, drawing high-caliber weapons, and arresting innocents whilst threatening their lives.

In short, the ill-trained overreaction of Ferguson PD after the shooting directly contributed to the chaos that descended afterwards.  It was apparent that they had long lost their credibility as an impartial enforcer of the law and instead behaved like an occupying force, and a grossly incompetent one at that.  In hindsight it is surprising it took until 2014 to break down.

With that context, let’s examine Decatur in 2014.  In late 2013, Don Denard, a former Decatur City School Board member, was stopped by officers in an incident he described as an example of racial profiling.

During a community meeting, the testimony from Mr. Denard and a number of black men describing their encounters with Decatur PD is both compelling and disturbing.  An internal investigation by Decatur PD found no evidence of racial profiling in Denard’s case, though it acknowledged, “we caused you to lose faith in our police department”.

The possibility that a racially charged police encounter occurred in Decatur should surprise no one.  In 2013, Decatur had experienced a sudden uptick in property crimes, in particular burglaries.  The perpetrators were widely reported as young black males. The reasonable advice to the community was to be on the lookout and report anything suspicious.

But here’s the rub: when a majority-white community suspects that a group of young black men are committing crimes nearby, ‘anything suspicious’ tends to be interpreted as ‘any black man walking’. Callers don’t necessarily bother with minutiae like age, or whether the person is carrying a coffee mug rather than a weapon.  And most damagingly, the innocence of the overwhelming majority of young black men is often overlooked.

In other words, our community racially profiles.

We expect our police department to behave better than we do.  We can train officers not to profile and we can hold them accountable if they do.  But make no mistake about it: we are holding our officers to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.  We are asking them to serve as a filter to our own racial biases.  And no one monitors us to ensure we are not racially profiling when we call 911 on the 60-year-old black man walking down his own driveway in the first place.

This is why you recruit quality officers and train (and train, and train) them well.

What is most instructive about the incident in Decatur is how the city leaders responded to it. Rather than shove it under the rug, the city held public hearings that led to changes in policy.  Decatur PD is now reporting statistics on the racial makeup of police-initiated stops, presumably so that we can hold them accountable if they profile.

I’d like to see more detail, and specifically the racial breakdown based on the type of stop. It seems reasonable to suspect that on-foot stops will be disproportionately of black men.  I could be wrong.  I hope I am.  But compared to the manner in which one would expect Newport Beach PD or Ferguson PD to respond, I view this as welcome progress.

I think Mayor Baskett captured the call to action as well as anyone, and so I’ll leave him with the last word:

“Growing up in the South as I did, if you’re my age, you recognize that it takes a great deal of vigilance, self-inspection and checking of yourself and your attitudes and the way you relate to others…  We can’t ever sit back and say ‘Oh, no. We’re good. We’re better than that. We’re a progressive community. We’ve got all that worked out, and all that behind us.’ No, we have to continually make certain that we are engaging our own ideas, engaging other people in dialogue and conversation and making sure that our own biases and our own fears are not making anyone in our community ever, ever feel like a lesser part of the community.”

Hans Utz has lived in and around Atlanta for 25 years and formerly served as the Deputy COO of the City of Atlanta.  He writes about local and national politics. He and his family currently reside in Decatur.

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  • Profiling Matters

    Nicely said. But I don’t understand the title. Pyongyang?

    • Hans

      The current global proxy for an overbearing and unhealthy police state.

      • Bill Jones

        What about a police state that may be created if police are required to stop people based on a racial quota system, such as the one Decatur has set up?

  • MikeB

    Yay Hans! well stated, old friend.
    We are not perfect in Decatur, but we try. i cannot imagine another community that I would rather live in. – mikeb

  • Bill Jones

    The policy initiated by the Decatur city of logging all the stops of people and comparing that to the racial makeup of the community at large is a politically correct policy that will lead to terrible results. The overwhelming majority of street crime, burglaries and robberies are committed by young black men. This is a fact based on victim accounts of their attackers. However, if the police stop a black man now they will have to stop several white people to make the numbers work. It’s horrible and stupid. If the police officer doesn’t stop white people too, then he will be accused of being racist and fired.
    Don Denard was detained briefly outside his home because the police officer who had experience in this area wanted to make sure he wasn’t a burglar. He was not shot. He was not killed. He was not even arrested. He was detained for 5 minutes maybe? He has spend years now calling the police racist. The police chief, who is black, found no profiling. The city’s independent investigation found no profiling. But, now we have a statistical policy that ignores the fact that almost all the police reports from victims for violent crime list their attackers as young black men. Some of these people are walking up to residences, knocking on the door to see if someone is home and then breaking in. What are police supposed to do?
    The city should hire good cops and let them do their job. If they don’t fire them. But don’t create bad policy.

    • Alan Ashe

      What are the police supposed to do? It sounds like you are advocating for the Decatur police to stop every young black man spotted in the city limits of Decatur. Try explaining that to the many completely innocent young black males who have been profiled. Try explaining to their parents how that is ok, just because their kids are black. You are also completely wrong about a “quota”…they are gathering data.

      • Bill Jones

        Nonsense. You are pushing a bs narrative that has no relevance. Are you saying that all police are racists and want to kill black people? See how that works?
        I am simply saying that city officials should not dictate to police the racial demographics of who they can stop. You can’t tell the police that they have to stop people in a way that matches the demographic makeup of the area because the people commiting that crime do not fit neatly into those demographic categories. It is noble to not to want to profile, but the policy will lead to abuse and more racial profiling.

        • Alan Ashe

          There is no policy of which you speak in the city of Decatur. In July of 2014 DPD began recording the perceived race of individuals they stopped (which is common practice among many PDs around the country). No quota, no check and balance system of matching city demographics. If there is such a policy, please cite it. The narrative of many of young, middle-aged, older, black males being racially profiled is not my narrative…they stood in front of the city council and told their stories. What you call bs is reality to them.

  • Hans

    Here is the 2013 UCR crime data from the FBI, which is the best source of aggregated crime data in the United States:


    Net: 69% of all crime arrests are of white people.

    “Wait,” you say. “I said violent crime.”

    I broke that down as well. Net: 66% of all part 1 (violent) crime arrests are of white people.

    “Wait,” you say. “I meant urban street crime.”


    73% of crime arrests in metro areas are of white people.

    “Well,” you say. “Blacks are arrested at a higher rate than their percent of population.”

    A) That is a much different point than your flatulently incorrect assertion that “the overwhelming majority of street crime, burglaries and robberies are committed by young black men”, and B) precisely the reason why we need to be careful about profiling in the first place.

    There is certainly a debate to be had here, but please ensure the assertions you claim are based in fact and not in your own biases, colored by your statistically insignificant experience. I use that term mathematically and not as an insult; look it up if you must before you respond with anger.

    • Bill Jones

      Why are you extrapolating?
      Decatur is the relevant policy, not nationwide. What are the stats in Decatur? That is what Decatur is using. They are looking at the demographics in our area and creating racial quotas for stopping people based on the local demographics, not the reality of who is committing crime . Violent crime in Decatur is being committed almost exclusively by black men. Your statistics don’t change this. You may not like this reality, but it is the truth nonetheless. If you don’t want innocent people being stopped (lest Decatur turn into N. Korea per your hyperbole) then why create quotas that will guarantee that innocent white people are stopped? Why create a terrible policy that creates more of the problem you are saying needs to be fixed?

      • Hans

        You are massively overstating the policy. They are not implementing a quota system or anything of the like. They are publishing the racial makeup of stops. Period. No officer is going to intentionally harass someone not suspect in their judgment, and no officer is going to avoid interceding if they think someone is committing a crime. You have invented whole-cloth this notion of a quota. And, much like I shared with you the concrete data backing my assertion on violent crime being quite a bit more white than you assumed, source your data showing that Decatur’s violent crime is almost exclusively black. You make the claim, now back it. I’m open to engaging on fact, but you have demonstrated a tendency to hyperbole (re: quotas) and do not come across as particularly credible. I find your biases interesting and distressing, which is why we need this conversation in the first place.

        • Bill Jones

          Do a search on this blog on the crime reports. Where suspects have been identified in burglaries, armed robberies, robberies and murders in Decatur, the suspects as identified by the victims have been black in a vast majority of cases. Data is data. Facts aren’t biased or racist. I didn’t make them up. Are the crime victims lying?
          If you can show me that I’m wrong in the data, then fine. I believe in facts. But, if you want to call me biased for stating facts, then you are in denial
          What do you think is going to happen if a police officer stops more than the demographically pro-rata number of African Americans in Decatur now that these statistics are being kept? Do you think if he is fired for stopping too many people of one race he will ever work in law enforcement again? No, he will make his stops match the demographic data.
          The first step in having a “conversation” is to acknowledge reality.

        • Bill Jones

          “No officer is going to intentionally harass someone not a suspect in their judgement” and “no officer is going to avoid interceding if they think someone is committing a crime.”
          What about the Decatur officer who stopped Don Dennard? She was accused of intentionally harassing him for racial reasons by Mr. Dennard for months. The police and city found no wrongdoing. Do you think she will “avoid interceding” next time? Probably.
          You can’t Monday morning qb every judgment they make. They are going to be wrong some of the time, and when they are, they should not have to “make up” for it by stopping someone of a different race to save their career.

  • Hans

    It is illuminating that certain critics have yet to provide a shred of data or evidence supporting their biased opinion. Such behavior is characteristic of myopic trolls, and until said data is produced to support a fact-based conversation I shall stop the feeding.

    • Bill Jones

      Trolls? You compare Decatur, the most liberal city in the south, to Pyongyang, and you are calling other people trolls? You are the one who stereotypes police officers throughout your article, assuming that the Decatur police are racists whose every move needs to be micromanaged, even though Decatur’s own city council, who investigated racial profiling allegations, exonerated the police. The Decatur police department should not be mentioned in the same breath as Ferguson. They are hardworking, dedicated civil servants who are doing their best in a very tough job. Your broad-brush bias against police officers is really disturbing. The Decatur police deserve better. I am sure that if you were ever a victim of crime here, then you would call and they would be there for you. Too bad you see the police in such a negative light.

      As far as evidence. I am basing my assessment that a vast majority of burglaries, assaults, murders and robberies are committed in Decatur by black men on the new reports from this blog. The victims id their attackers as black men. Unless this blog is suppressing accounts where people of other races are committing such crimes, then I will assume they are accurate. In your own article, you write “It seems reasonable to suspect that on-foot stops will be disproportionately of black men.” Why did you write that?
      You can stop the conversation, but you are quitting because you can’t accept the reality. You want to suggest that I am assuming that black people commit crimes, but I am not. I am simply stating that there should not be a policy of stopping suspected criminals based on demographic data because the demographic makeup does not reflect accurately those that are commiting crimes, according to the victims of those crimes.
      To arbitrarily assume that criminal activity will match the demographic makeiup and hold officers to that standard will lead to innocent people getting stopped to make numbers work. That is WRONG! The poiicy does not match rhetoric in the mayor’s quote in the last paragraph of your piece
      If you can’t have an open mind about police or comments about your obvious prejudices, maybe you shouldn’t write. You are too thin-skinned for this.

      • Hans

        Bill, you are worked up about a complete misunderstanding of the intent of the article. We are in complete agreement regarding what you say above about Decatur PD. Read the article again, but this time with this perspective: I am absolutely *proud* of Decatur PD, I think they do an *excellent* job, and my point is that, while folks complain about profiling, let’s not forget that we often ask the police to filter our own racism in a way that it entirely unfair to them. They do *not* need to be micromanaged, but they do need to be held transparently accountable, and the data reporting is a good start. It is, in fact, a sign that they are doing their job so well that they are comfortable with the transparency, which is a major difference with terrible departments like Ferguson. The Pyongyang comment was in reference to Newport Beach (really, please do look at the video, it is terrifying) and Ferguson. We utterly and completely agree that Ferguson and Decatur are night and day, and I use that point to set that entire thesis up: Decatur behaved much better through their entire experience, and that is because we recruit good officers, train them well, and then hold them accountable. As a result they have retained the good will and faith of the community…unlike Ferguson and I would expect Newport Beach.

        You *still* have provided no data to support your claim that the ‘vast amount of crime is committed by blacks’. Your reading of an article or even a few does not constitute statistically significant data. You also claim some abjectly flawed assumptions about quotas, which is why I called you a troll. Let’s stick with the facts, which is an approach you seem to endorse: a) there is no quota system, and if there were I would join you in the fight against it. b) you are correct that there exist news articles that reference young black males committing crime, but that is abjectly *not* the same as ‘overwhelming evidence that virtually all crime is committed by young black men’, and it is unsupported by crime trends across the country as referenced by the data I provided. c) you are correct that Decatur is not the same as the country in aggregate, but I am unconvinced by your arguments that Decatur is so unique that it looks radically different from the countrywide norm. So here is what I propose: instead of arguing your opinion based on a limited data set, and instead of my extrapolation of municipal crime trends to Decatur, let’s just get the actual data, which exists with Decatur PD. Either way it would be an interesting comparison.

        I was dismissive of your initial argument because you expressed unsubstantiated opinion instead of fact, which is a common hallmark of trolls. Your comments above are much more of an attempt to engage on real fact, and while we do not agree I am more than willing to engage with the attempt. If indeed your claims are true, then we should have a broader conversation about what fuels it. If they are not, then your mind should be changed. I am curious to see the outcome.

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