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Three chases, three deaths, zero accountability
Three dubious police narratives IMO
What’s up everyone it’s another week another Worcester Sucks post hitting your inbox or social media feed or some other part of the internet that’s not those things. This is a post about cars hitting other cars due to the police cars chasing them. It comes courtesy of Chris Robarge, a longtime community organizer and activist and staunch abolitionist here in Worcester who is particularly focused on the charnel house that is the American justice system.
Robarge is a big time Scanner Head. He’s always listening to the radio channels police, firefighters and EMTs use to communicate and coordinate public safety responses in real time. Back in my daily newspaper reporter days, the scanner was a constant newsroom feature. Listening to it is one of the best ways to stay up on possible news events. It also offers a rare and intimate look into the culture of first responders. Within the gruff and utilitarian scanner communiques between officers and dispatchers, there exists a sort of rough first draft of a situation as it’s unfolding. This first draft is particularly interesting when it is starkly at odds with an official narrative that the police department offers the public after the fact, if and when they determine an incident warrants a public narrative.
To address the recent rash of high speed police chases in Worcester which have proven destructive and, unfortunately, deadly, Robarge analyzed the real time scanner audio versus the “official” narrative presented to the public after the fact in three recent police chases. Two of those chases proved deadly and were fodder for some spot news coverage at the time. The third was not deadly, and as such did not receive much attention. But Robarge had the misfortune of being there himself. He was 20 feet away from the crash that inevitably concluded the pursuit. One second he was waiting at a red light in rush hour traffic, the next he was steps away from a public safety disaster in which everyone involved—including Robarge—was a cosmic dice roll away from the proverbial curtains.
Really, this story emerged from a text conversation Robarge and I had after the crash. Obviously shaken, Robarge described the scene and how police seemed to will it into being. At least six cruisers had convened on the scene to box the fleeing vehicle into heavy traffic where a crash was all but inevitable. The conversation turned to why they behaved in that way, whether they should have, and whether there are any rules or guidelines preventing this sort of obviously unsafe policing. Turns out the police have very clear guidelines on this stuff and the trouble is that the cops are simply not following them and they are facing no repercussions at all for failing to do so. When we think about the problem of police violence and brutality, I think most people myself included conjure images of no-knock SWAT raids, officers throwing people to the ground, the jerking spasms of a person at the wrong end of a taser, knees on necks and clips unloaded into people’s backs. Here, with these three chases, we see a different image: the cruiser as a weapon. And we see, just as when cops are caught using other weapons in transparently brutish ways, the way that police departments will bend over backward to twist reality into a narrative that makes their violence palatable to the public.
In Worcester, it works like a charm every time. As Robarge gets into, these sort of events easily slip by the all-too-meager and feckless mechanisms for police accountability available to us. Even after two incidents this year with fatal outcomes, there’s nothing to suggest that the police department has any plans of changing this pattern of behavior. More depressing still, there’s nothing to suggest we have any avenue at all to demand or even request such a change in a way that registers to the police as meaningful or significant.
While reading Robarge’s story, I was reminded of a scene from We Own This City, the 2022 HBO dramatization of Baltimore Police post-Freddie Grey by The Wire creator David Simon (and yeah I know I already referenced the show earlier this month for Welcome to Hell World but it’s a very useful device). In this fictional depiction of the real criminal behavior of Baltimore cops, there’s a scene that revolves around a high speed police chase. The officer who started the chase looks around at the scene and the dead civilian and realizes he fucked up big time, so he plants drugs in the car he was chasing and waits for another officer to find them. In order to get himself out of trouble, he lied. Something to keep in mind as we look into these three Worcester crashes. Another thing to keep in mind is that this dramatization was based on a real crash in 2010, the real officer, Wayne Jenkins, really planted drugs in the car to justify the chase post-facto and really went to jail in part because of the crash and the city is facing a real lawsuit from the family of the man who was killed in the crash. Meanwhile, here in Worcester, it looks like we’re content to call these three chases simple car accidents and move on. Pity. Accidents happen! Not like we could have done anything differently. And when the lawsuits inevitably come in and we inevitably lose, we’ll just take some money from the public schools and shuffle it over to the “settlements” line item in the legal department’s budget.
Anyway, enough from me. Here’s the holiday subscription deal then Chris with the story that I paid him to write with subscriptions!
Three chases, three deaths, zero accountability
By Chris Robarge
A car crash on upper Grafton St. killed two people and seriously injured a third in the early minutes of Sunday, December 4th. Four other people in the car thankfully emerged with less serious injuries. You may have seen the initial reports describing this as a terrible accident. It definitely was that, but that’s not all it was. It might surprise you to find out that WPD was actively following the vehicle. The initial WPD press release on December 4th simply noted the fatal accident, and did not mention any police involvement. It might also surprise you to find out that in the updated narrative released on December 5th, where someone allegedly had a fake firearm brandished at them, it was never mentioned that the alleged victim was an off-duty cop from the suburbs who followed that vehicle for the better part of ten minutes before this crash occurred.
Does this all sound vaguely familiar? If it does, that’s probably because in 2022, we have had at least three major crashes related to police pursuits in Worcester, except in at least two of them, the Worcester Police categorically deny that they were pursuing the vehicle that crashed. Were they? Their answer becomes surprisingly philosophical, as it turns out. We’ll get to that in a minute, but let’s start with an understanding of what the policy and protocol around pursuits is, according to the police department.
Here’s the gist of it, from the department’s own handbook:
“A motor vehicle pursuit is justified when the necessity of the apprehension of a suspect outweighs the risk created by the pursuit. Officers shall continually evaluate all circumstances surrounding a pursuit.
If the degree of danger to the public, the pursuing officer(s), and/or the suspect(s) is greater than the necessity for immediate apprehension, a pursuit should not be initiated, or if in progress, it should be terminated.
Pursuit driving is not justified and is prohibited unless the occupants of the vehicle are known to be wanted for the commission or the attempted commission of a violent felony or the vehicle is being operated in an erratic or dangerous manner which poses a threat of harm to the public if it is not stopped. The pursuit of a motor vehicle, for the commission of a minor motor vehicle violation and /or operating a stolen motor vehicle, is therefore prohibited unless operated in an erratic and dangerous manner.
The City of Worcester is a highly congested urban area which generally precludes pursuit driving in a safe manner. Therefore, every effort shall be made to prevent a suspect vehicle from escalating a situation into one which requires a pursuit. Pursuit driving is only permitted in situations that represent a threat of harm to the public or the officers, if the suspect vehicle and/or occupants are not apprehended. The Department recognizes that it is better to allow a suspect to escape than to engage in a pursuit under conditions that unnecessarily jeopardize the safety of any person”
What exactly constitutes a “pursuit,” you may ask? They’ve covered that too:
An active attempt by an officer in an authorized emergency vehicle, with emergency warning equipment activated, to apprehend one or more occupants of another moving vehicle, when the officer reasonable believes that the driver of the other moving vehicle is resisting apprehension by increasing the vehicle’s speed, intentionally ignoring the officer, or who is actively attempting to elude the police.
OK, now that we have that covered, it seems like we can define a rough sketch of their policy, I think. It’s pretty clear that in Worcester, according to WPD policy, pursuits are not to happen unless there is no other alternative that is less dangerous to the public, including the person being pursued, than letting the vehicle get away. Any pursuit is to be discontinued if the underlying offense is a lesser threat to public safety than the pursuit itself. It’s plainly in the handbook, actually: “…it is better to allow a suspect to escape than to engage in a pursuit under conditions that unnecessarily jeopardize the safety of any person”. If you live or drive here, I think it’s easy to understand why. This is a dense city with bendy winding cowpath roads and weird intersections, and there’s almost always traffic, and thousands of us driving every day are using our own more or less agreed-upon but unwritten rules. We’re not going 30 on every city street. We’re running “orange lights”. We’re passing turning vehicles on the right. We’re taking what late taxi-driving blogger Jeff Barnard termed the “Worcester left,” where you just dare oncoming traffic to hit you as you turn. Pedestrians cross at will where they want to, and bikes sometimes ride through crosswalks as if they are pedestrians. It’s a city where sometimes you have to distinguish between going right straight or actually right. It’s a perilous place to drive under the best of conditions, and we have the semi-dubious stats to prove it.
My background relevant to this is that I have spent about 15 years working on police misconduct and brutality issues in Worcester, both personally and at times professionally. I worked for the ACLU of Massachusetts for close to a decade, with a primary focus of my work on these topics. I currently work for the Massachusetts Bail Fund, where I bail poor people out of jail while also advocating for an end to all cash bail and pretrial detention, so that poor people don’t get locked up for being poor in the first place. In that role, I encounter a lot of examples of the gaps between police narratives and the facts of a case. Through the years I’ve worked in my own time with a number of local movement coalitions looking at these issues as well. You could say it’s a passion of mine. I also happen to spend a frankly silly amount of my waking hours listening to my emergency scanner, following police, fire, and EMS incidents in the city. I additionally have access to online archives of these scanner feeds. For this story, I reviewed the relevant tapes and assembled timelines of these three incidents. When I am speculating, I will let you know that I am, but when I say something happened, it’s because WPD officers and dispatchers said so on the scanner.
Let’s walk through the incidents, and how the scanner chatter compares to the official police narratives eventually presented to the public:
Main Street Crash:
On July 23rd, a WPD unit leaving a call for a reported assault at May and Main Street reports that a car had just passed them with no lights on, and that they “inadvertently” had their blue lights on as they left that incident.
It’s hardly an official study, but just from what I see living downtown and driving in the city, something like 20 percent of cars on a given night don’t have their lights on. Definitely a serious offense requiring swift and immediate corrective action.
Anyway, this cruiser is carrying two officers, one of whom is retrieving a police vehicle in the immediate area. The cruiser had apparently been left behind in a parking lot when an officer jumped in an ambulance to ride with a patient to the hospital. It is not super uncommon that police will ride with or follow behind an ambulance carrying a potentially combative patient. This becomes important. They reported a car driving by them as they turned around as a “failure to stop, car took off on us”, which is a curious way to describe your interaction with a car you weren’t trying to pull over, because after all, you had inadvertently left your lights on and were just turning around. They then reported on the scanner that the vehicle was driving down “Main Street heading towards Kirsch Liquors,” which we could say is just a very lucky guess given that’s exactly where it crashed. I might say the vehicle was headed north on Main Street, or Main Street towards downtown, but they said it quite a bit more accurately for what happened next. They end their transmission to dispatch saying “We're not pursuing”.
WPD initially sold a different narrative, actually. In their first press release, now scrubbed from existence but thankfully preserved in the linked article from the T&G, police said that they saw a speeding car with no lights on, activated their lights, briefly pursued, and then called off the pursuit, and the vehicle crashed 20 minutes later. The problem is, that narrative made no basic sense. The distance involved can be covered in approximately two minutes, not 20 minutes, even at the speed limit. Also it turns out there’s the tricky matter that following a vehicle with lights activated is a pursuit. Per their own policy. So this story naturally had to be changed.
This feels like a good time to note a couple of other department policies, again from their own handbook. The policy defines what officers would do short of a pursuit as “surveillance,” and they define said surveillance like this: “Follow the suspect vehicle at a discreet and safe distance, constantly informing the Dispatcher of the progress of the surveillance. Blue lights and siren shall not be utilized during the surveillance phase.” In other words, if you are not pursuing, you can’t have your lights on, and if you do have your lights on while following, you are pursuing, inadvertently or not.
We do have some objective video from this crash, from a camera at Gala Foods, although the unedited video that had been posted has since been taken down. The footage shows the suspect vehicle speeding, lights fully on, headed north on Main Street. It then shows a cruiser, blue lights flashing, 12 seconds behind the vehicle. Right after the crash happens, and as you can see a number of pedestrians running frantically towards the scene, you can see the cruiser U-turn to head back south on Main Street and, allegedly, return to its original task: getting an officer to a police vehicle that needs to be picked up. We also do have scanner audio from this incident. I’ve clipped the section starting with the WPD cruiser calling out about seeing the car, and ending with the first report of the crash. No time is cut between these transmissions, you are hearing them in real time. It’s 39 seconds from start to finish, and only five seconds from “we’re not pursuing” until an officer working a detail at the Hanover Theatre reports hearing the crash.
“Hey we inadvertently had our lights on over here and uh, we had a failure to stop. Car took off on us, just punch up a set of numbers. Main Street, headed towards Kirsch Liquors, gonna be a white SUV, no lights on…we’re not pursuing, you can clear that out”
“Main and Chandler…I’m gonna walk up there, I’m at the Hanover Theatre, airbags are deployed, it sounded horrible. They might’ve hit in Kirsch Liquor”
I don’t know what this sounds like to you. I’ll tell you what it sounds like to me. It sounds a lot like this WPD cruiser engaged in a little bit of a chase, which they knew they weren’t supposed to do without calling in or seeking permission, and they jumped on the air quite close to when the fleeing vehicle crashed to say that they definitely were not doing that, happening also to note the fleeing vehicle’s direction of travel as precisely the location where it crashed. It’s either several cascading instances of the worst possible timing, or it’s something else. Everyone in the car was under 18, so the end result in any case was that a child died, another child was left seriously injured and in a coma, and two others lucky to walk away without serious injury. That’s one dead and one injured in a police action prompted by the very serious crime of not turning the car lights on. It seems awfully hard to reconcile this incident with the department’s policy of gauging the public safety risk of a chase versus the public safety threat posed by the subject of the chase.
Plantation Street Crash:
This is the one where the police don’t deny they were pursuing, and thankfully the one where no one got killed. This one also hit home for me, as I was very, very nearly involved in it. I witnessed first-hand the public safety risk of chases as defined in the handbook. I was finishing a long rush-hour drive home from Boston and was less than a mile from picking my wife up from her nursing job. As I sat in the left turn lane at the intersection of Plantation and Lincoln, I suddenly saw cruisers coming from every direction. The cops started to push into the intersection from all sides, and an old Jeep Cherokee came by at extremely high speed just a few feet from my car. It was going northbound in a southbound lane, trying to avoid a WPD cruiser that had blocked the other southbound lane. The Jeep lost control and slammed into a car that was in the middle of the intersection. The car was stuck in the intersection because police units behind them pushed them there. The accident happened 20 feet in front of me, if that. No one was killed or seriously hurt, but it was terrifying to witness. I’m still anxious from it. I still flinch if I see any quick movement around me while sitting at a light. It still makes me nervous to drive in that area, or at that time of day. It could have just as easily been my car that police pushed to the middle of the intersection. My car hit by the fleeing Jeep. My safety directly threatened by the people sworn to protect and serve me.
I took photos in the aftermath of the accident. When you see the skid mark in the photo below, note that when I took this photo, I was standing next to the door of my car. That’s how close I was to this Jeep a second before it crashed.
This incident took place on October 25th, and while it ended in a crash on Lincoln Street, it started about four miles away, at the David Clark Company building, where a 68 year-old former employee named Alfred Miron, who was according to the Commonwealth disgruntled and quite possibly mentally-ill, showed up at his former employer’s office. At some point, he began pissing on the building, as one does. It was a simple trespassing call. The police showed up and somehow this guy slipped them and got into his car and made a run for it. They say he was already in his car when police arrived, but the dispatch audio does not support that. As an officer went in his window “to de-escalate the situation at the driver’s side window, Miron allegedly shifted his car into drive, dragging the officer with him.” He then shifted into reverse, striking the cruiser behind his Jeep. I’ll just note here that as someone trained in de-escalation techniques, going into someone’s car through their window isn’t high on the technique list.
So this guy takes off, and becomes the subject of a roughly four-mile pursuit during rush-hour. By my calculations, the pursuit lasted about 19 minutes. Let’s stop for a second here and remember that the underlying charges before the police confrontation are trespass and indecent exposure (fun fact: Public urination itself is not a crime in MA!). Now, police have failed to control or de-escalate a 68 year-old man to the point that he has managed to get his car running, and drive away, hitting a cruiser and briefly bringing the cop who came in his window with him.
At this point, as they say, the chase was on: Multiple police units pursued the vehicle through the immediate area, onto the highway, and to the Plantation Street exit. He took a left, and shortly after that, his story and mine almost collided.
If you look at that WPD handbook I linked, you’ll see a bit about what they call “caravanning”. The policy clearly states that “Only two (2) Worcester Police vehicles may engage in an active pursuit. An Operations Division Supervisor may permit additional officers to assist in a pursuit if circumstances warrant”. I have been back through this audio again and again, and I do not hear any permission for additional units to pursue. Yet by my observation and from scanner audio, there were at least six units chasing the vehicle, and several more coming in from other directions. I also heard an officer call out four counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon as the reason for the chase. The officer did not substantiate the claim, and neither have any subsequent police reports or press releases. The official narrative says that three officers had to go to the hospital. There are no calls for an ambulance in the scanner audio, at least ones that I could find. Most importantly, the incident was one where control was seemingly left entirely to the pursuing officers, with no guidance from superiors on how to handle the incident. Reports of location, speeds, driver behavior, and traffic conditions were almost non-existent. There is a point in the scanner audio where a supervisor has to ask if the chase on the highway is going east or west, because he doesn’t know. Miron lived in West Boylston and was headed exactly that way. Thanks to his former employers, who made the initial call, the police knew who he was and where he lived before they ever encountered him. It seems reasonable to guess that is where he was going, and they probably could’ve just let him get there and picked him up on arrival.
Having been there for this crash, it was awful. It’s really miraculous that no one was badly hurt or killed. It’s actually pretty lucky that I wasn’t hurt or killed. His Jeep missed my car by an arm’s length while sliding out of control. I was in a newer model Subaru, actually close to an identical one to the car he hit. While I may have similarly escaped that crash without injury, the woman behind me in the 20-year-old Toyota Corolla likely wouldn’t have been so lucky.
Grafton Street Crash:
We really don’t know too much about this incident yet, but let’s start with the official police narrative. It was initially reported in a WPD press release the following afternoon as a fatal crash without any mention whatsoever that the police were involved. Later the next day, they updated their release to say that they had been called out for an “assault with a firearm” at 97 Water Street, which is Whiskey on Water for folks who know the area. Police said a car almost hit a pedestrian, the pedestrian “expressed his displeasure” at almost being hit, and as a result a firearm was pointed at him. What the police did not bother to mention is that the caller was an off-duty cop from Leicester, presumably also out doing what people on Water Street at midnight do, which is hitting the bars. Of course, I can’t confirm that. I suppose it’s technically possible he drove in from the ‘burbs for some Fresh Way Pizza. In any case, this off-duty cop decided to follow the suspect vehicle, and did so for roughly 10 minutes, which the police also do not mention in their press release. It is not uncommon for things like a shouting match between pedestrian and driver to happen in the de-facto nightlife district on a weekend night, but what is unusual is the police response: how many units were sent, and especially that they did not actively discourage the caller from following the vehicle, especially given that there was ostensibly a gun involved. Scanner audio reveals they didn’t tell this caller to stand down, they told him to activate his flashers so the cops could find and identify him.
I listen to a lot of calls, and just from that experience I found this response to be quite unusual. But, as it happens, I also have a friend whose neighbor’s car was stolen not too long ago. They saw that stolen car driving around a few days after the theft and called the police about it. Police told them in no uncertain terms not to follow that car. But hey, they weren’t an off-duty cop from Leicester.
The current police narrative would have us believe that the vehicle pulled over near Grafton Street and County Street, but there’s a problem with that tale. Precisely zero of the several involved officers reported that to be so via the scanner. At one point an officer does report the vehicle pulling over, but it was several minutes earlier and at Rice Square School, which is on Grafton Street but nearly a mile from the County Street intersection cited in the release. The press release states that “Officers arrived on Grafton St and observed the Toyota pulled over to the side of the road. They conducted a felony stop, and ordered the driver to turn the vehicle off. The driver complied at first and the officers walked toward the vehicle. When the officers ordered the driver to step out of the vehicle, he turned the vehicle back on and drove Southeast on Grafton St at a high rate of speed. Officers ran back to their cruisers, but had lost sight of the vehicle”
I’m just going to say it plainly: That does not at all line up with what I heard on the scanner. What follows is a direct transcription of scanner audio. While the time stamps are approximate, the distance between the timestamps is pretty accurate.
Dispatch reports an off-duty Leicester officer called in to say a white Toyota 113-H50 “going up Grafton” pointed a gun at the officer.
Vehicle pulled over in front of Rice Square school. Officer: “flashed a gun at him as he was driving by.”
Grafton going past Standish . Officer: “tell the caller to put his four-ways on so we know who he is, or have a description of the car”
Officer mentions caller in a Silver Silverado. “We’re going to have him put his flashers on.”
Dispatch marks location as Grafton and County but does not report a stop.
Officer: “He’s taking off”
Officer: “Grafton Street, going by McDonalds, doing about sixty miles an hour. No traffic”
Officer: “He crashed, he crashed”
I don’t know what that sounds like to you, but it doesn’t sound to me like a vehicle that was pulled over that then took off and left officers scrambling to get to their vehicles. It doesn’t sound like they lost sight of it. It sounds like they saw and knew exactly what it was doing, and that for once they followed some portion of their pursuit procedure and reported the vehicle’s location, direction of travel, speed, and the traffic conditions. That would be pretty difficult to do for a vehicle you lost sight of.
The “gun” was allegedly located within the carnage, by the way. It wasn’t a gun. It was an Airsoft. It shoots plastic pellets.
Krystal Reyes of Haverhill was pronounced dead at the scene. She was a passenger, so she didn’t flee police or brandish a weapon by anyone’s account, but she died a horrible death nonetheless. The driver, Jason Colon of Methuen, was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. A third unidentified passenger was transported “Priority 2” to the hospital, which is how EMS designates serious but not imminently life-threatening injuries. Four other passengers escaped with minor injuries.
“We’re not pursuing”
This statement, uttered in scanner transmissions from the Main Street incident, becomes so important because it seems that for Worcester PD, just saying it makes it true. In the case of the Main Street incident in July, I think it’s fair to say that by their own policy, they were in pursuit even if we grant their claim that it was inadvertent, as they are actively following a car with their lights flashing until more or less the exact moment it’s involved in a terrible crash. Even on city streets, it’s not hard to see that your blue lights are on when driving in the dark. A couple lives ago I was actually a volunteer firefighter, and I drove emergency vehicles with emergency lights activated in the dark sometimes. I simply cannot believe this is true. It’s not my direct experience that it’s true. The timing is also just extremely off, even for their new narrative. Police notice the car with no lights on while they “inadvertently” have their emergency lights on, they note that they “are not pursuing,” but seconds later the vehicle in question crashes, and behind it is a WPD cruiser that turns around as people run towards the scene of the crash. As noted above, there are roughly five seconds between the end of the transmission that begins with inadvertent emergency lights and the beginning of the transmission from a detail officer at the Hanover Theatre reporting the accident, and it’s important to consider the time between when that officer heard or noticed the crash and when he calls it in. Certainly it sounds like he was right on it, but in a gap of five seconds, the more than zero seconds that would naturally take seem important.
In the chase that ended in a crash at Plantation and Lincoln in October, I don’t think there’s a dispute that it was a pursuit, but rather a question of whether such a dangerous pursuit was justified given the context and underlying charges.
In the case of Grafton Street chase, we really don’t know yet, but it does seem clear that they were at least allowing an off-duty officer from another town to surveil the vehicle, which you or I would be told not to do.
The common thread connecting the three incidents is that landing at the conclusion the cops told the truth requires some serious mental gymnastics.
In every case, a very strange set of unfortunate circumstances caused vehicles they were “not pursuing”, or were pursuing in violation of their own policy, to crash horribly, killing three people and maiming several others. On the other hand, you may have some follow-up questions and frankly harbor some suspicions that it might not all be as they say it is, and it might not take the same mental gymnastics to arrive at those questions than at the determination the cops told the truth.
What seems clear to me is that there is a policy and then there’s what WPD actually does, and when what they do is not in line with that policy, they bend things to try and make it fit, but also don’t really care if they actually can get there. Who is complaining about it, a bunch of cop-hating “hug-a-thugs”? What can they do? Who cares about this that can actually hold them accountable?
So what is there to be done?
So, who can actually hold them accountable? That’s become a more interesting question with the Department of Justice in town investigating, but the answer seems to largely be the same: It’s the police chain of command, but that’s not happening. It’s the City Council but not really, because in our extremely dumb system, they are prohibited from commenting or really weighing in at all on the hiring or firing of the Chief of Police. They can hire or fire the City Manager, but the manager holds that authority with department heads. And they just recently shirked their obligation to even search for city manager candidates, so even if they had direct power over the police chief, it’s unclear they’d use it. Within Council, there’s a Standing Committee on Public Safety, which could ostensibly hold police to some level of accountability. That subcommittee is chaired by Kate Toomey, who happens to be the most blatant and unconditional advocate and apologist for Worcester police, which isn’t exactly ideal and is also not an accident on the part of the mayor that appointed her. That standing committee coincidentally also has the distinction of meeting less frequently than almost any other standing committees. In 2022, the public safety subcommittee met four times, as opposed to municipal operations, which met 13 times, or public health, which met 10 times. It’s an accident, I’m sure.
Why would you meet? It’s not like our police department has us coughing up millions in lawsuit settlements and it definitely isn’t under federal investigation. It’s not like actual humans are dying in these incidents and we can’t even be basically clear on why or how. It’s not like we lack basic technologies that even tiny towns throughout the world have to document police activities.
I do not think any of the solutions on offer (body cams/dash cams, better policy, the DOJ, etc.) are a panacea, but I am so frustrated and frankly depressed to keep hearing and seeing and reading about these incidents and many others happening again, and again, and again. I am so tired of hearing tragedies like this as they happen, and to know exactly how the narrative will roll out, and that it will not be challenged by anyone. I do think it would be nice to have anything to go on besides whatever WPD decides to say in a press release, but that’s actually all we have. As it stands, we cannot know what the truth is. We don’t have access to the evidence we would need to make that assessment. I don’t think body cams or dash cams will solve police misconduct, but could we have some so we can at least have something to look at? Perhaps as a point of reference to allow us to identify systemic issues and then mobilize to eradicate them?
I am not a reformist when it comes to these issues, and I am not the person you want to ask about how to make a slightly kinder and gentler police department. I don’t want to have a police department in any way that resembles how we currently understand them, and think this is actually a perfect example as to why: We have a not terrible policy on pursuits, but no one follows it, and no one who can hold anyone to account cares, or holds anyone to account. Our police department is so unbothered by any threat to how it operates that it often can’t be bothered to advance a coherent version of what it wants to say it did, if it advances any at all.
People say that the problem with policing is that there’s “a few bad apples”, as if the lesson of that saying is that in a bunch of apples, there’s just going to be some bad ones and what can you even do? The point of discussing “a few bad apples” is that they ruin the whole bunch, unless you remove them, swiftly and decisively. This is just one of many examples of what happens when you refuse under any circumstances to examine the apples, and when the apple-examining subcommittee takes the year off. This is what happens when you take the entire barrel of apples at their incredibly improbable word, time and time again, for decades.
By the way, if there are any DOJ investigators reading this: Hit me up! I have a lot of stories to tell you!
Hey hey Bill again. I am posting this from a Holiday Inn Express outside Pittsburgh. Please excuse any typos.
Still a little bit of time to catch that holiday deal!
Subscriptions are the only way this thing makes money and as such they are the only way I can pay great contributors like Robarge! If you want to write for me as Chris did here, feel free to send me a line at billshaner91 at gmail and we’ll take it from there.
Where I’d usually have a few odds and ends here, I’m on the last day of this Born Without Bones tour and I’m dead tired. It’s been a blast but I’m ready to be home. At the Somerville show we decided to be a little extra and wear nice suits. Never want to play in normal clothes again!
More from me soon :-)