Indulge me for a moment while I set the scene for why police officers should be fired after three complaints, whether internal, criminal or civil suits, are filed against them.
I drop my car off at a body shop to get a busted radiator fixed. I return to pick up my ride, expecting all the radiator-related problems to be resolved, only to find the work was either illy or incompletely finished.
Some time has passed and I now have brake issues. I patronize the same body shop, receive the same mechanic and have the same brake problem I had at the time I dropped my car off. I ask to speak to the supervisor. I file a complaint. Nothing happens.
More time has passed and I’m in need of a routine oil change and tire rotation. I visit the same body shop and I’m assigned the same mechanic, who can’t manage to complete this basic of a task. I express discontent, ask for the manager again and file another complaint. Nothing happens.
But it isn’t just these three occurrences, which for anyone with common sense is enough grounds to tender another repair shop. Instead, I continue to patronize the same body shop and work with the same, incompetent mechanic, which eventually adds up to 18 instances of poor service where only two result in some form of temporary consequence for the mechanic.
I know what you’re thinking: Just buy a new car, or, at the very least, take my business somewhere else with competent mechanics.
As much as this short story elucidates poor service from, ironically, a service-oriented business, its simple theme is often missed when applied elsewhere.
Police officers are given too many chances to carry out work they are technically qualified and trained to do, all at the expense of killing unarmed Black residents of the United States.
George Floyd’s death epitomizes this point. Before Derek Chauvin fatally knelt on the back of Floyd’s neck, the veteran Minneapolis Police Department Officer had racked up 18 complaints filed against him over his nearly twenty year career, two of which managed to elicit letters of reprimand.
Yet, Chauvin remained in uniform with nothing more than a couple of scratches on his shield long enough to kill Floyd, and then lose his job a week later.
How can law enforcement — which insists on infamous mandatory minimums and “three strikes” sentencing — lack a similarly established and enforced policy for when officers reach three complaints?
After three complaints, which is generous, any officer who remains on the force is like me returning to the same auto shop that already wronged me.
This proposed rule is specific enough that it’s realistic to achieve but also general enough that it’s applicable to departments across the country for speedy implementation.
Complaints can be categorized so that minor infractions such as tardiness are not conflated with inexcusable behavior such as murder, harassment, or an inappropriate use of force.
Officers with past complaints often play key roles in executing unarmed Black people. Fellow Minneapolis officer Tou Thao, who did nothing to stop Chauvin’s excessive force, had six complaints filed against him during his 11 year career.
In the fatal Louisville, Kent. shooting of Breonna Taylor, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, Detective Brett Hankison and Detective Myles Cosgrove had pasts riddled with complaints, suspensions, lawsuits and other reprimands before their encounter with Taylor.
By filing a complaint, residents have already flagged an officer as someone who is not living up to the department’s “protect and serve” mantra. Multiple filings clarify that the implicated officer’s behavior was not an anomaly, but rather, a trend of poor judgment worth cause to fire.
Beyond flagging officers, community members have little other choice than to interact with the harmful patrolers of their neighborhoods. Many residents can’t just go to another body shop. They can’t simply pack up and move to another community that has flagged officers of its own.
It’s incumbent upon police departments to establish and enforce a three complaint minimum with hopes that it will significantly decrease the frequency of Black death at the hands of cops.