Dairy Farmers

In the coming weeks, dairy farmers from each county in the continental U.S. will begin the arduous task of reviewing all mystery and thriller books. Yes, these farmers, cow pokes, and manure-movers will put down their pitchforks, switch off their John Deere tractors, and begin turning pages. Yet, and I think it’s safe to say, most have absolutely no experience as editors or writers. In fact, some of them have probably never read an entire mystery book, like I’ve never read books on farming. Not one. Still, county, city, and state governments have decided that the bovine farmers will have the final say as to whether or not your books will make it, or not.

Actually, a single thumbs-down review by “Mort the Morning Milker” will result in the author’s banishment from writing, confiscation of all computers and pens and paper, and the immediate termination of internet service (no more Facebook or Twitter). It’s the law because elected officials say it’s the law, and they know best, right?

Anyway, you, as a writer, if banished by the milkers, will be immediately ejected from all writing organizations and critique groups. In short, your life’s dream and career will soon be in the hands of people who don’t have a flippin’ clue about your vocation.

Is it fair? Certainly not. But I understand that soon to follow will be landscapers critiquing the landing techniques of jet pilots. Daycare employees are on schedule to begin pointing out flaws in the design of all ballistic missile submarines. Me…well, my first order of business is to have someone round out the corners on Picasso’s The Three Musicians (people don’t have square and rectangular legs, you know).

Absurd, huh? Doggone right it’s absurd. Crazy even.

So I ask you, then, what on earth makes officials in the city of Pasadena, Ca. think the average “Joe and Jane Citizen” are qualified to determine whether or not a police officer is justified in his/her decision to use force? Who knows, but that’s exactly what they’re planning to do (have police review boards made up entirely of average citizens).

Honestly, it’s difficult enough for those of us who’ve worked in the field to come to those conclusions. However, as experts using many years of training and experience as a basis for our determinations, we can generally place ourselves in a position similar to what the officer(s) in question faced at the time of the incident.

A civilian, however, who’s most likely never been in a physical confrontation of any kind, especially one where the use of deadly force is necessary, has no experience or training to draw on as a basis for forming a logical and educated conclusion. Mostly what they have to go on is someone’s testimony or written words, and possibly a video or aftermath photos, and that’s it. And that’s not enough. Not even close.

Perception of threat, escape, harm, etc. at the exact time of an incident is a crucial factor when determining when or if to use force. How an officer (or anyone else for that matter) perceives an immediate (imminent) threat is also crucial when determining what level of force is necessary.

Is this guy going to escape and harm someone else? Is this person going to harm me? Is this person who’s holding what appears to be a weapon…well, is he going to kill me if I don’t stop him?

How long does an officer have to make those determinations? Sometimes a fraction of a second—not even a whole second…think about it—, and it is extremely difficult for a police review board to know what an officer experienced at the exact moment the incident occurred. But police officers usually have some idea because they’ve “been there, done that” even if it was only in a training capacity. It is, however, IMPOSSIBLE for an untrained, inexperienced civilian—a “Mort The Milker”—to sit in a meeting room several weeks after a legitimate use of force incident occurred and make any sort of educated determination based solely on photos, videos, statements, etc.

Nope, these decisions cannot be accurately made by an average civilian any more than the average Mort The Milker should be scrutinizing the latest Dean Koontz novel, hunting for dangling modifiers and the correct usage of lay and lie. I do agree, however, that strong checks and balances be in place. And I agree that they should be utilized whenever needed. Err on the side caution. Review all cases, if necessary. But the reviews should be conducted by people with education and/or experience in the field.

One way civilians can educate themselves is to sign up to shoot FATS (firearms training simulator) or a similar system. And when they do, it’ll take approximately two minutes to make a believer out of them. In fact, ask anyone who’s participated in the FATS training at the Writers’ Police Academy. Lots of doubting writers enter the room as skeptics, but they come out believers in having to experience “the moment” to truly understand.

Use of force is a serious matter, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Nor should force be used unnecessarily and/or without justification. Never.

BUT…dairy farmers should stick to what they know best, milking cows. And Joe and Jane Citizen should do the same (stick to what they know), and leave policing to those who know the business. Unless, Joe and Jane want to and are able to take the time to learn about what it is they’re tasked to judge. And they must leave emotions and media opinions at the door, along with their own personal beliefs about police officers. This would not be the time to seek revenge for receiving a traffic ticket. After all, we’re talking about someone’s life, and someone’s dreams, and someone’s career, and someone’s family. And it could all be over with a “thumbs down” verdict by a citizen with a vendetta. But, if the officer was indeed wrong in his actions, then so be it. And the truth will come out without a lot of digging.

I believe the fair way to handle this is to have a panel consisting of both civilians and police officers. But with the mixed panel comes the possibility of a draw, and who gets the job as tie-breaker?

I, for one, know what it’s like to have bullets zinging by your head. I also know what it’s like to use deadly force, and it’s a gut-wrenching experience—both killing someone and then waiting to hear, even though I knew, that the shoot was justified.

Still, I’m comfortable in knowing I did the right thing in that particular situation. No doubt whatsoever.

What I’m not comfortable with, though, is dairy farming, because I know nothing about it, which is why you’ll never hear of me passing judgement on Mort’s milking mannerisms.

Now, Pablo, about that painting…you do know that people don’t have eyes on the side of the head, right? And the nose, it goes between the eyes…geez…

At no time were any cows, writers, or dairy farmers hurt during the writing of this article. Also, any implication that farmers or writers are less than intelligent, well, that’s your conclusion, not mine. Some of my best friends and family members are farmers and they’re far more successful than I could ever hope to be….an theys probly better righters than me too.

  1. Mo Walsh
    Mo Walsh says:

    I think there is a case for an informed civilian presence on a review panel, though the majority should be law enforcement. The civilian adds to the panel’s credibility v. “the blue wall.” I also think a panel, in addition to rendering a verdict on a particular incident, should consider how the incident appeared from the suspect/civilian’s point of view. Police officers may not always realize why a civilian responds in certain ways. Something could come out of such a review to help police handle similar incidents differently in future.

  2. Susan Elizabeth
    Susan Elizabeth says:

    Now, is in only dairy farmers in Pasadena that are in control of the reviews? My father owned one cow for a few years when he was a child – would he then qualify as a reviewer? 🙂

    Great article!

  3. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    By the way, it seems that I’ve offended some people with my farmer/writer comparison. Honestly, I did not mean to imply that any one group of people are less intelligent than any other group. It was simply my attempt at a humorous and outlandish comparison to showcase just how ill-advised it is to have a panel of non-law enforcement citizens judging the actions of police officers. It’s my belief that outsiders have no real understanding of “how things work.”

  4. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Connecticut – That’s hitting the nail on the head, which is why I mentioned that citizens should receive some sort of minimum police education and training before sitting on the panel.

  5. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Dave S. – I agree, but the day of police handling their own affairs internally is soon to be history. So the lesser of all evils, I guess, is to have a mixed review board/panel.

  6. Dave Swords
    Dave Swords says:

    Lee & Dave,

    One problem with civilians on such a board is that far too many agree to serve (or seek to serve) when they have preconceived agendas. They can be either pro-police or anti-police, neither of which serves the purpose well.

  7. Connecticut
    Connecticut says:

    I agree that one civilian would be a good idea, for the same reasons. But the idea of a whole panel of civilians scares me. I was on a focus group to discuss funding of security, about 2 years after 9-11. These were just opinion votes, but everyone else on the group voted to cut local police and fire funding by 2/3 and funnel the money into a federal security agency, without any idea of who would head that agency or to whom it would be accountable. They also voted to raise taxes by several thousand dollars per household for the same agency. I argued that local police and fire were our first responders and their communications networks were absolutely vital. Deaf ears. Do we really want people so scared and malleable that they will ignore logic and throw money at anyone who makes promises of safety? Do we want a panel of people who will vote their whim of the moment? These same people are probably now complaining about taxes.

  8. Janis Patterson
    Janis Patterson says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. My late brother was a peace officer for over 30 years. It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, to sit and look and discuss – to be out on the front line where literally one half of a second stands between you and possible death is a totally different thing. Those people who say the policeman did wrong should be put on the front line – then wait and see what they have to say!

  9. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    As a non-farmer on a town council for Agriculture I do believe that a civilian is a great asset to specific boards; however the majority of board members should be from the field in question. So in example, the 7 member Agriculture Council has 4 farmers and 3 non-farmers. The non-farmers are meant to be mediators in case of a dispute, interested parties but not invested.

    Take the civilains and have them do a FATS training and any course to help them understand the stress, but the board should not be civilians in majority.

  10. Dave
    Dave says:

    I think having at least one civilian on a ‘use of force’ review board is a good idea. While we may never have experienced what a police officer has gone through in such a situation, a civilian would bring a different perspective to the review–whether for good or bad would depend on the civilian and his or her ability to keep an open mind and consider the evidence fairly and without bias.
    And perhaps a civilian, seeing what an officer goes through in such a situation, might just come away with a better appreciation of how tough a job it is and spread that knowledge to other civilians who then might not be so quick to negatively judge an officer who had to make a split-second decision of how much force to use.