Not helpful to second guess police decisions

Tuesday, November 4, 2008 | 8:49 a.m. CST; updated 2:36 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

There is an advantage accruing to those employing the fine art of second guessing the decisions of others. They are not responsible for the possible lack of success incurred for unwise hindsight, and the person dishing out the advice need not have been present for, nor be familiar with, the action censured. It is always far easier to criticize than to create.

During the past six weeks or so, there have been two such incidents involving Columbia police officers that have come under attack from various sources in the community. There are a couple of similarities I share with the critics — I was not on the scene and, at least in one of the incidents, a more reasoned approach may have yielded better results. Nevertheless, once a decision to take corrective action is made, it is not in the best interests of anyone for outsiders to interfere, the purity of their intentions notwithstanding.

The first of these objects of criticism took place during the Sept. 17 Summerfest finale when a handful of The Blue Note concert attendees departed the designated drinking area and were ticketed for the offense. Apparently, when the event's promoter came to the defense of the partygoers, the on-scene law enforcement personnel deemed it unwarranted interference and placed owner Richard King in handcuffs.

One of our local columnists took uninformed umbrage at the officer's actions, sharply criticizing not only those on scene but also the Columbia Police Department in general, likening them to "Keystone Cops" and Ness and Spitzer wannabes. I do have two things in common with the columnist, the first being that neither of us was present, and second, I do agree that the officers should have tried to to convince the offenders to return to the alcohol-legal area.

However, after setting aside the "woulda, shoulda, coulda" aspects, once the decision to ticket the offenders was rendered, anyone interfering with officers in performance of their duty became a party to the problem — a foolish act by any measure. The decision to ticket may have been an error in judgment by an officer lacking experience or patience, but, as anyone who has ever been involved in crowd control knows, interfering with the constituted authority, particularly when alcohol is involved, is potentially explosive.

The more sensible approach to resolving these real or imagined adverse reactions is to acquire the names of the officers and the offenders and provide them, along with a synopsis of the incident to include opinions, facts and recommendations, to the Police Department for appropriate action. Admittedly, this course of action will not make page one nor grace the opinion page, but it will prove to be far more conducive to encouraging courteous relations between the community and law enforcement.


The second and similarly overplayed incident occurred on Oct. 15. The occasion was a fight at Hickman High School, requiring action by Columbia Police Department resource officers to separate the female combatants. This gained an increased notoriety due to a third female student, allegedly acting as a peacemaker, being thrown to the ground and cuffed.

Videotaped and aired on YouTube by another student, the fight and the actions of the officers fast became a fertile arena for unsupported opinion, rumor, recriminations and recommendations — all made by people with one commonality: They were not there. At least one petition was circulated almost immediately requesting signatures supporting the officer's removal from the high school.

In my capacity as a "dinosaur," having completed 16 years of school during the 1940s and '50s, I have difficulty reconciling the requirement for a police presence in schools. Certainly, I am not alone in recalling that any misbehavior punished at school would be more than repeated at home —  double jeopardy was non-existent. Such is the price of progress.


But, to return to the story at hand, for every action, there is usually an over-reaction. When the incident involves the behavior of minors along with unwanted and ill-informed interaction by parents and other perhaps well-meaning but meddling adults, one can expect the momentum to snowball. Parents need to ask themselves: "Why is there a need for uniformed police presence in my child's school?"


And, until the good order and discipline of yore is restored to our schools, we need to allow the officers assigned the benefit of the doubt in performance of their duties — altercations not quickly stopped grow to brawls very rapidly. The school board, the superintendent and the police are amenable to advice — however, that is where the buck stops.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel from the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at


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