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Cop-out in copland

In cop-land, cops make a huge deal about “having” someone’s back. “I’ve got your back” means “I’m with you; I’m not going anywhere; you can count on me,” and cops use it everywhere – whether it’s on a sweat-drenched basketball court on their day off or in a busted-up alley chasing down a jacked-up and possibly armed suspect in the middle of the night.

Having the back of a cheater or a buddy who’s robbing a convenience store, um, not so impressive. But having the back of your best friend who’s going through a divorce, or having the back of a fellow cop who’s busting through the front door of a crack house, yeah, that’s giving good back.

Sometimes people do things that make you realize, “Hey, I shouldn’t have this guy’s back.” Like if your coworker is stealing or your husband knocks the crap out of you – those are no-brainers; you don’t stay loyal to people who aren’t loyal to you or the company you work for.

Sometimes, with a Police Chief, for example, you’ve got to have the backs of a lot of people. So many people, in fact, that it must be a tough job sometimes to tell whose back you should be protecting when. But that’s precisely the job of a chief of police – to know how, when, and who to protect for the greater good of all.

Photo from City website.

Photo from City website.

Sarasota Police Chief Abbott has admitted he made a “moronic decision,” a “poor decision,” and has asked the community for “forgiveness, understanding, and support.”

But, smart, capable, ethical people don’t just wake up one day and make moronic decisions – particularly when they’re not under direct fire. Police chiefs, in particular, are supposed to be the ones who don’t make any moronic decisions at all – and certainly not ones that compound the already egregious actions of their underlings.

Abbott is adding insult to injury by asking Sarasota to believe that he was simply guilty of making a poor decision. Does he really think we’re that stupid as well? – stupid enough to believe he turned into a substandard police chief – a moron – just for the one day it took to condone what amounts to a bribe and potentially a cover-up of police wrong-doing, and then went right back to being his smart, capable, ethical, true-leader self?

Look, we’re all adults here. We know precisely what it means when you ask someone to be silent about something in exchange for a few dirty bucks

Abbott asked for our understanding, forgiveness, and support. In short, he’s asking us to have his back. But sometimes, the most important back you’ve got to have isn’t a person’s – it’s a principle’s.

I don’t think Abbott is all that stupid, though I don’t imagine he’s all that bright, either. And I don’t think he’s some bad chief who spends most of his time covering up nefarious activities; he’s probably an okay guy. But he’s shown us clearly that he does not, in any sense of the phrase, have the back of anybody except himself.

He didn’t have suspect Perez’s back enough to protect him from out-of-line cops. By okaying a pay-off, he didn’t have the back of the ideals and principles of his own profession. Even worse, he sullied the reputation of his entire force and department by trying to protect the jobs – the backs– of just one or two men.

A Chief of Police is supposed to watch and have, really have, the backs of all his men. Not in a short-term way that saves them from a temporary mess, but in a long-term way that preserves careers and good reputations. Abbott wasn’t watching out for the backs of the men beneath him and he certainly wasn’t watching out for the backs of city officials above and beside him.

If Abbott really had his men’s backs, he would have said: “Let’s see this thing through right. Let’s be transparent about what’s happened and let’s deal with it. Straightforward, like the good cops we are.”

If he really had this city’s back, he wouldn’t have compromised its integrity by keeping the City Manager and the City Attorney in the dark. And if he had the backs of the public he pledged to serve and protect, he wouldn’t have carelessly undermined the confidence we deserve to have in our men and women in blue.

Abbott didn’t make a “mistake” – he made a decision, probably a series of decisions drawn out in a string of moments and days when he could have protected his department and his community by acting wisely and well. But he didn’t, and the price tag is his job.

No matter how I slice this story, it comes down to this: Abbott didn’t have Sarasota’s back. And we shouldn’t have his, either.

I ask the City Manager and the City Commissioners to request Abbott’s resignation or to fire him. Show us you’ve got our backs by getting rid of his.

This column will appear in print in my Face Reality column in Creative Loafing newspaper — on stands 8/12/09.

Posted on August 7th, 2009Comments RSS Feed
5 Responses to Cop-out in copland
  1. John W. Perkins
    August 7, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    I hope to never get on your bad side, Tiger..

  2. you are brave. I think are probably right about this. I tend to be forgiving and think that people are basically competent and trying to do the right thing. but your clear argument has me just about agreeing with you.

  3. Gary, thanks for reading and commenting. I too try to be pretty understanding and give people the benefit of the doubt, but I’m also learning the value and maybe the critical need for asking more of myself, my community, and the people who lead us. I’m worried that our society’s insouciance toward ethical breaches is creating a nation of people who no longer know what ethical behavior looks or feels or sounds like. I’m not sure how brave I am but I do know I’ve decided, at long last in my life, to speak out when I see injustice and indifference. Not sure it will have any effect, but I guess we all do what we can.

  4. I have met with the chief about 6wks ago re the human trafficing issue .. an interesting mtg . when I asked him about under age girls as pros on the street,his response was ,,well you know they are all drugees, we treat them accordingly………..My concern was that johns were effectively commiting statutory rape, and should be treated accordingly……………………oh well whats new?????………………….augi

  5. John & Patrick Dowd
    August 8, 2009 at 12:43 am

    What on earth are city leaders waiting for? Abbott’s got to go, either by resignation or termination. This was clearly no momentary lapse in judgement, but a calculated attempt to cover up a violation of civil rights with a bribe sanctioned by Sarasota’s chief law enforcement officer. Forgiveness, understanding and support can only come after a pink slip!


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