Fault on All Fronts

After months of finger pointing over the November police chase and shooting, it's time for all parties to accept the blame

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If you ask Jeff Follmer, President of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association (CPPA), every single judgment an officer made on November 29 was sound. In a radical bit of revisionist history, Follmer characterized the pursuit as a "perfect chase." He couldn't identify a single mistake made by officers during the pursuit and its culminating shootout.

In his view, the preservation of innocent civilian life and the safety of officers were paramount. And to their credit, police vehicles sufficiently blocked roadways to prevent the suspects from injuring pedestrians and motorists.

But Follmer's literal interpretation was that because no bystanders were killed, the operation was flawless. Never mind that it was only "by the grace of God" that no officers were shot and killed at the Heritage lot. Never mind that Cleveland cops fired 137 bullets at or toward other Cleveland cops. Never mind that nearly every single one of the "perceptions" made by officers regarding Russell and Williams were incorrect. That's all irrelevant – every officer went home safe, so it was a perfect chase.

And officers love the emotional angle. They seek authority in empathy. What if it was your spouse? Or your father? They ask. What if it was your child? Wouldn't you want as many officers as possible hunting the bad guys down? Short of legally sanctioning it, most of us concede that cops chasing suspects who've attacked our relatives are entitled to a few policy breaches if it helps them out. Likewise, when an officer has been shot at, cops feel they're entitled to anything.

The day after the release of the BCI investigation, the CPPA held a press conference calling for the resignation of Police Chief Mike McGrath. The union's accusation was that McGrath has provided insufficient support for officers over the past two months. They believe that McGrath's threats to suspend, demote and terminate officers have been merely for public appeasement. Once again, they contend that they did nothing wrong.

An arsenal of police officers and their families attended the press conference, theircheers and jeers made of the commentary of a Parisian-mob-style soundtrack, which intensfied when questions zeroed in on the events of November 29.

Follmer and Brian Betley, President of the Fraternal Order of Police, reiterated five or six stock points on repeat: Officers were "just doing their job"; officers were "going to go home that night"; they "weren't going to let each other down"; this was an "unusual circumstance"; officers were forced to make "split-second decisions."

The Plain Dealer's Rachel Dissell saw through some of the rhetoric and asked whether or not an "unusual circumstance" required that every policy and procedure be thrown out the window.

Betley replied with a comment about split-second decisions. He said that if an officer's heart was in the right place, policies were more-or-less secondary considerations.

"Under that theory, isn't the split-second decision always the right one?" asked Dissell.

Betley said he hoped so.

As reporters dug their way deeper into the officers' logical holes – the press conference, in retrospect, was probably an ill-advised PR move – the gathered police in attendance injected their own opinions.

An officer was shot at, shouted several dismayed voices.

Except that's not true.

About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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