October 29, 2022

Defending Lives and Democracy


PERF members,

Please indulge me this morning as I think about times when police not only help keep people safe but also help preserve our democratic form of government. First, here in Washington D.C., the Washington Post ran a story this week by Tom Jackman about the trial of one of the January 6 rioters:

As rioters fought fiercely against police in the Lower West Terrace tunnel of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, one of the rioters said to D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, “Hey, I’m going to try to help you out here, you hear me?”

“Thank you,” Fanone replied before his body camera captured what happened next.

Albuquerque C. Head, a recovering drug addict and father of two from Kingsport, Tenn., then slung his arm around Fanone’s neck and dragged him into the roiling crowd just outside the tunnel.

“Hey! I got one!” Head yelled.

The mob descended, beating and kicking Fanone, snatching his Taser and repeatedly shocking him with it, Fanone’s body camera shows. The officer suffered a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury.

“These were some of the darkest acts committed on one of our nation’s darkest days,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said after watching the video from Fanone’s camera. Then she sentenced Head to 7 ½ years in prison, just short of the eight-year maximum for assault on a police officer. It is the second-longest sentence imposed on a Jan. 6 rioter, and the longest for one who pleaded guilty. Jackson also ordered Head to make restitution to the District police for medical expenses they may have covered for Fanone, in an amount to be determined later. . . .

A lot has been written about the January 6 riot, but reading this account reminds me of just how perilous policing can be. It also reminds me of the importance of the good cop who steps up and does their job. Cops were fighting rioters that day, but the bigger picture is that they were protecting our very form of government.

I have written about how the good cop often blends into the background. So reading about what happened to Michael Fanone and other cops that day reinforces for me how essential their role is and the physical and emotional price that officers paid for stepping up that day.

And then I think about what was at stake. What would it say about this nation, the leader of the free world, if the Capitol been overrun, members of Congress and the Vice President assaulted, and the election results put on hold? Those officers were heroes because, even though they were heavily outnumbered, they stepped up and sacrificed for something larger than themselves.

I’m also thinking about Ukraine and how everyday citizens and the police there are defending their democratic form of government. Rather than surrender to an overwhelming Russian invasion, they have stepped up to defend their country.

As we mentioned in last week week’s Trending, a high point of the Dallas Town Hall was a presentation by Sergiy Panteleyev, the first deputy chief of the Ukrainian police main investigative department. Ukrainian police investigators are documenting evidence of war crimes in areas that Russian troops occupied earlier in the war. So far they have opened almost 37,000 cases, and over a thousand bodies have been exhumed in recently liberated areas of the country.

Several Russian soldiers have already been tried and convicted of war crimes in Ukrainian courts.

But with a war raging around them and parts of their country still under occupation, Ukrainian police face a huge challenge in identifying suspects and bringing them to justice. “We shall not rest” until that job is complete, First Deputy Chief Panteleyev told the Town Hall. 

Think about this from a police perspective and the task of managing 37,000 cases. How do you preserve evidence? How do you document each case?  How do you photograph and manage all of these cases? It’s an overwhelming responsibility.

We asked Dan Cohen, an award-winning producer and documentarian who is well known to many of us in Washington (among other things, he has helped the Metropolitan Police with their recruitment efforts), to put together this video, which includes parts of First Deputy Chief Panteleyev’s presentation and other images captured by the media. It’s only a few minutes long and I encourage you to watch it. PERF is in contact with Ukrainian and U.S. officials to explore ways that PERF can support the efforts of the Ukrainian police.   

Click here to view the video.

From the steps of the U.S. Capitol to the villages of Ukraine, democracy is being challenged. The good cop — whether in Washington or Kiev — has never been more important.

At a PERF conference next week in Washington, a standing-room-only group of police leaders from across the country will put our heads together and discuss ways to address the biggest staffing crisis policing in this country has faced in many years. Departments both small and large are having serious difficulties in hiring even as resignations and retirements are rising.

When you think about policing from a national perspective, as defenders of both their local communities and our form of government, you can appreciate just how important it is to find and support the good cop.