July 18, 2004
By Jon Caldara
There are two extremes when it comes to the perception of the police. There are those who believe cops can never do right. There are those who believe cops can never do wrong.
Both groups are idiots.
Police shootings, like the very unfortunate killing of Frank Lobato in Denver last Sunday, in which a soda can was tragically mistaken as a gun, ignites fires among certain groups. Predetermined viewpoints on the righteousness or villainy of law enforcement only serve to muddy the investigation and polarize the community.
The shooting of Lobato was followed by the immediate demands for Police Chief Gerry Whitman’s head on a silver palter. But there are always calls for Whitman’s head. And cop-hating groups will call for the head of his successor and his successor.
Organizations like Copwatch are based on the obscene premise that cops are out to victimize minority groups. They exploit tragedies to gain more “citizen” oversight of law enforcement in hopes of weakening the police force.
On Mike Rosen’s program on News Radio 850 KOA, anti-police activist Leroy Lemos was cornered into admitting that the Denver police department is a “domestic terrorist organization.”
A policeman tried in the court of public opinion will never get a fair hearing if these people are taken seriously.
The “cops can do no wrong camp” is equally annoying. Whenever a shooting or arrest tactic is questioned they jump to lines like, “these guys put themselves in the line of fire everyday to protect you,” and “You can complain about the cops, but when someone’s busting down your door you’re gonna expect them to come and put their butts in danger to save you.”
The main point of this group is that since cops have the risk of injury and even death in service to us, they should be afforded a certain latitude if they don’t go by the book or get a little “Dirty Harry” on some punk’s ass. A little bit of vigilantism is just fine to these folks.
Shooting an innocent man has got to be a policeman’s worst nightmare. Every cop has got to be petrified of shooting a kid who’s pointing what turns out to be a cap gun at him. And good cops have made that mistake. The only alternative is to hesitate and wait to be shot.
Police investigations term shootings as either “good” or “bad.” Even if the wrong person is shot, the shooting may be justified given the circumstances at the time.
Shooting a man armed only with a soda can, as strange as it seems, may well be determined to be a good shooting. How we got to that good shooting is a different matter altogether.
The best way to analyze it is to work backwards in time. At the moment when Officer Ranjan Ford pulled the trigger, he wasn’t shooting a 63-year-old invalid in bed holding a soda can. He was shooting a violent man who was about to shoot him.
Ford was searching the Denver house to apprehend Vincent Martinez, who allegedly attacked his wife over a 17-hour period. Martinez is violent and dangerous man who has an 18-page arrest record including several assaults. When Ford entered Lobato’s bedroom, he likely saw the violent Martinez hold a gun. He of course was terribly and tragically wrong.
If this scenario turned out to be true, pulling the trigger is forgivable, and the lifetime of guilt would be punishment enough for Ford.
What is much more troubling from a policy standpoint is the set of events that led up to that potentially good shooting.
The alleged domestic-violence victim was out of the house when the police showed up. We know this because she called the police from outside the home. Police arrived nearly an hour after the call. The wife was safe and out of danger.
The two officers pounded on the front door and apparently didn’t know that Martinez was slipping out the back window. The cops waited 28 minutes before calling the fire department to request a ladder and another 12 minutes for the ladder to arrive. So didn’t they have time to request backup before entering the home?
Which leads to the most bizarre part of this whole event. Why did the police need to enter the home through a second-story window? Why would they do so without other cops surrounding the home? Were they ordered to do so?
The Denver police would do much toward calming tensions if they would answer these questions now, not after a lengthy investigation.
For the Boulder Daily Camera.