Regular readers are familiar with the tragic death of retired librarian Mary Knowlton at the hands of the Punta Gorda Police Department due to gross incompetence and negligence by multiple officers before and during a completely unnecessary use-of-force scenario.
Officer Lee Coel, who shot and killed Knowlton with wadcutter bullets that he couldn’t tell from blanks, has been charged with 1st degree felony manslaughter with a firearm for her death. Coel was fired from the department after being charged, but is appealing his termination.
Chief Tom Lewis is being charged with 2nd degree misdemeanor culpable negligence for the incident, and it’s quite arguable, based upon the FDLE report on the incident, that more Punta Gorda officers should have been held accountable for the series of incompetent events that led to Knowlton being shot.
Amazingly, the Florida Police Chiefs Association (FPCA) thinks that holding Chief Lewis responsible at all for the incompetence of multiple officers under his command and his own failure to understand and enforce safety training at his own event is completely unfair.
“The Florida Police Chiefs Association has been closely watching the situation unfolding in Punta Gorda, where a tragedy at a community demonstration in August claimed the life of an elderly resident, Mrs. Mary Knowlton. From the very onset, our hearts have been with that entire community, the family of Mrs. Knowlton and the members of the Punta Gorda Police Department. We understand Mrs. Knowlton was a treasured member of the community and our deepest sympathies remain with those she left behind.
“We are also closely monitoring the charges filed against Chief Tom Lewis in relation to this tragic accident. We are deeply concerned as to the implications this case could have for law enforcement leaders across the nation.
“We encourage all of our members to familiarize themselves with the facts of the case in keeping with our shared goal of protecting our officers and the citizens we serve.”
The apparent “implication” of Lewis’s case that seems to terrify the Florida Police Chiefs Association is that senior officers just might be held accountable for the poor training of their officers, a position that was quickly shredded by noted tactical instructor and active duty police officer Greg Ellifritz.
“Implications?” The implications in this case mean that the police chief is held responsible for the failure to adequately train and supervise his officers. That’s how it should be. The police bosses want to have all the power and glory, but don’t want to be required to answer for their laziness and ineptitude.
Arresting the chief here was a good move. Until the political hacks who run police departments start being held accountable, the status quo will remain. Officers will get poor training and no support from their agencies when things go bad. Innocent people and police officers will continue to die.
I talk with and train cops from all over the world. My overall experience with many police administrators is that the bosses want the pay raise, the prestige, the easy indoor job, and the power to lord over their minions. What they don’t want is to be held responsible when things get screwed up. Seeing how all the department’s training, disciplinary actions, and hiring decisions are made by the police bosses, who else should you blame when officers make poor or uneducated decisions on the street?
There is a difference between a manager and a leader. Police agencies across the country have a whole lot of mangers but not enough competent leaders.
A true leader embraces the “extreme ownership” model developed by Jocko Willink. EVERYTHING is the leader’s fault. Even if the chief himself didn’t directly cause the problem, he still should be held accountable for ensuring that tragedies like this don’t occur. It IS the chief’s fault. He created the culture where negligence like this is commonplace and allowable. He is one of the few people who can actually make productive changes in the training officers receive and how they are supervised.
Unfortunately, too many chiefs don’t like guns or physical training. They recognize that in the training arena, the brass on one’s collar doesn’t guarantee superior performance. Chiefs don’t like it when they get shown up by their peon officers in training classes. Thus, they end up refusing to train personally and they require only the most basic “check the box” style of in-service training for their officers. It’s easier to look competent if you set your standards extremely low.
Most police leaders are decent administrators and politicians, but they simply don’t care how well their officers are trained, or how educated they are on the tools of their profession. They like to be ignorant of how incompetent they and their officers are, and hope for the best. Maybe if they’re held accountable when incompetent training and education leads to serious injuries and deaths, they’ll be a bit more diligent and responsible.
No wonder bad police chiefs feel concerned.