THE MAGAZINE

Homeowner Arrest A Sorry Sight

By Sherry Harowitz
In the movie Love Story, Ryan O’Neal famously says that love means never having to say you’re sorry. That should not be the attitude of an authority figure, such as a doctor or a police officer. Yet institutions and individuals in those roles remain reluctant to apologize when their actions, however justified, have adverse outcomes.
 
It is partly fear of litigation that causes many individuals and institutions to avoid expressions of regret in such situations. To address that concern, Virginia passed a law in 2007 allowing doctors and hospitals to apologize to patients injured by medical errors without having the statements used against them in court.
 
But far from providing fodder for lawsuits, apologies tend to dissuade aggrieved parties from pursuing civil action. For example, Medical News Today reported in March that some New Jersey hospitals had seen lawsuits drop after they switched from a “deny and defend” policy to providing patients formal apologies, with monetary compensation only offered as deemed justified.
 
Fear of litigation isn’t the only factor, however. Emotions make us all hate to apologize, especially when we believe we acted correctly. That’s perhaps why Sergeant James Crowley said that he would not apologize to Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. for the July incident that resulted in Gates’ arrest for disorderly conduct. (The charges were dismissed by the Cambridge Police Department, which did apologize.)
 
“Gates had just arrived home to his Cambridge house from a trip abroad to find his front door stuck shut,” reported the Boston Globe. A passerby saw him and his driver forcing the door and called 911. But the audio of the 911 call, which was made public, reveals that the caller also said she saw suitcases, and she cautioned that it might just be the homeowner. Crowley arrived to find Gates in his home already and asked him for identification. At that point, according to Crowley, Gates was uncooperative and verbally confrontational, for which Crowley arrested him.
 
Gates disputed the charge of belligerence, but whether he was verbally abusive isn’t really the point. Consider an incident in 2007, when, according to a Star Tribune report, the Minneapolis police wrongly entered the home of a man named Vang Khang. Khang responded by shooting two of the officers. He did not yell at them, he shot them. Rather than arrest the homeowner, the police apologized. They recognized that the homeowner’s behavior was an understandable response under pressure.
 
Crowley was doing his job when he responded to the 911 call. Unfortunately, once it became clear that no crime was in progress, he chose to arrest an innocent homeowner for losing his cool rather than apologizing for the distress that the mistaken report had caused him.
 
It’s not just minorities who should be troubled by that type of arrest. The powers police hold should be wielded far more gingerly than that in a democracy.

 

Comments

Responses

Many readers have e-mailed responses to the Editor's Note. We have published two here with a response and reader follow up for one. Others are welcome to post additional comments

Mr. Sonne responds to the Editor’s Note:
I'm not sure how the rest of you read your issues of Security Management. I quickly scan through the first few pages and make note of the "Contents" for stories that may interest me, I take note of the great full page ads that present themselves in fine fashion, and then I read the Editor's Note, which happens to be on page 14 of the September 2009 issue. My first reaction was to think that I had picked up a copy of the ACLU's monthly, or perhaps something from the American Trial Lawyer's Association. I knew from the glossy pages that it could not have been an editorial in the NY Times or Boston Globe, but there it was; a condemnation of Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department for his arrest of the "Harvard Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr."

In Florida, ASIS Chapter 254 website proudly proclaims that, "We are Law Enforcement professionals (Local, State, and Federal) and Security professionals; including corporate, hospitality, and education professionals, investigative services, and industry product representatives." Yes, this is what we are, not just in Florida but in every ASIS Chapter, everywhere. Since Sherry L. Harowitz is the Editor-In-Chief of Security Management, she gets to write what is on her mind, no matter how far from reality, or the mind-set of the ASIS membership at large her idea happens to be.

To Ms. Harowitz: I can only tell you that a police officer who responds to a possible burglary in progress must first act to protect himself, and then others who may be present. Not having a crystal ball, or being clairvoyant (not generally taught in many Police Academies), the officer in question was provided with dispatched-radio information from HQ about a possible "Burglary In Progress" involving more the one individual (Sgt. Crowley did not receive the 911 call, or speak with the caller to discern the finer details regarding luggage, etc. That luxury was left for the media to research after the 911 tape was released). When Sgt. Crowley did arrive he was met by a belligerent, and obviously uncooperative person, now known to be a "Harvard Scholar," who's station in life apparently relieved him of the obligation to comply with the lawful orders of a police officer. It was not the obligation of Sgt. Crowley to accept the hostile refusal to identify himself, or the antagonistic replies of Professor Gates, Jr., rather Crowley's obligation was to determine the identity of the erratic person who stood before him, and to determine if there were any wrong-doers inside of the house. The 911 tape did indicate that there were at least two people forcing their way into the house. Since you are a writer, and not a police officer this fact probably has little effect upon you. So, how about Sgt. Crowley choosing to keep his "cool," and leaving without ever identifying them. Great headline in the Boston Globe the next morning, "Cops leave Harvard Professor to be stabbed to death by intruder standing behind the door, while they failed to assist him." Yeah, Monday Morning Quarterbacking is a luxury that YOU may have in writing such nonsense, and telling you and everyone else what I think about your Editor's Note is a luxury reserved for me, and others who may feel that you are editing the wrong Magazine. Some may wish to forward this around, or write you themselves. Either way, I will probably be skipping by the Editor's Note in future editions.

Warren J Sonne, CPP, CLI
Sun State Investigative Services, Inc.

The Editor responds:

I knew that the topic of the September Editor’s Note was contentious. It is the issues on which there is strong disagreement that merit attention and offer the opportunity for discussion from which both sides can, I hope, learn something. Personally, throughout my life, I have benefited far more from lively debates—even arguments—with friends than from discussions where I am in total agreement with them.

Whenever I present an opinion, I look forward to opposing viewpoints. I am always open to the possibility that I have gotten it wrong. That said, I find the facts in the incident involving Officer Crowley to, at the very least, give one pause about the use of arrest powers in this case. You can, obviously, disagree, as you do, but it is a valid issue and an important one for security professionals to debate, because they often face similar situations.

Now, I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the specific points about the case that you raise in your letter.

You write: “Not having a crystal ball, or being clairvoyant (not generally taught in many Police Academies), the officer in question was provided with dispatched-radio information from HQ about a possible "Burglary In Progress" involving more the one individual (Sgt. Crowley did not receive the 911 call, or speak with the caller to discern the finer details regarding luggage, etc.”

Your statement is incorrect. According to Officer Crowley’s own police report, number 9005127, dated July 16, 2009, he did speak with the caller: “As I reached the front door, a female voice called out to me. I turned and looked in the direction of the voice and observed a white female, later identified as Lucia Whalen. Whalen, who was standing on the sidewalk in front of the residence, held a wireless telephone in her hand and told me that it was she who called.”

It is what Crowley writes next that raises questions and that makes the 911 call recording very relevant. Crowley is very specific in his account of what Whalen tells him. He writes: “She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of Ware Street. She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.”

The problem with this very specific account from Crowley is that Whalen held a press conference to deny that she said this. That’s why the 911 call is relevant. It backs her recollection, not Crowley’s report.

It is not unreasonable to be troubled by that discrepancy. It is just such discrepancies that would cause a jury, a security officer, or a police investigator trying to reconstruct the facts of a case to question other aspects of a person’s account. I see no reason why Crowley should not be held to the same standard as everyone else.

That’s not the only aspect of the incident that raises concern and differs, according to Crowley’s own report, from the way supporters have portrayed the event. For example, you write in your letter that Gates' “station in life apparently relieved him of the obligation to comply with the lawful orders of a police officer.” And you write “how about Sgt. Crowley choosing to keep his 'cool,' and leaving without ever identifying them.”

In fact, again, according to Crowley’s own words in his police report, Gates did comply nearly immediately with the request to show ID, so there was no question of Gates being absolved of the duty to comply with a police request nor was there any question of Crowley leaving before identifying Gates.

You are correct to say that it would be wrong for Crowley to have left the scene without doing what his job required, and I would never want a police officer to do that. But that was not the issue in this case. Here’s what Crowley writes: “I asked Gates to provide me with photo identificatioin so that I could verify that he resided at Ware Street and so that I could radio my findings to ECC. Gates initially refused, demanding that I show him identification but then did supply me with a Harvard University identification card.”

Crowley, who now has obtained Gates' ID, notes that as he was radioing his findings to the ECC, “Gates again asked for my name.”

This is a telling detail in my opinion. It suggests that Crowley has to this point refused to provide his own ID to the homeowner. I have always been told that for my own safety if someone approaches my door and claims to be a police officer or any other official, I should not even open the door until I see proof in the form of an official ID. Would I be refusing to comply with an officer’s orders if I first asked for ID? I don’t think that should be the case. There have been numerous instances of criminals impersonating police. Police are not the only ones who need to fear for their lives in these encounters, and while I don’t think Gates feared for his life, I would hate to think that the precedent set here is that a homeowner has no right to ask for a show of ID before letting the person claiming to be an officer enter the home.

Another point that is clear from Crowley’s report is that Crowley had ascertained that no robbery was in progress, that no other persons could have been holding Gates hostage, and he knew this long before the issue of disorderly conduct was raised. That means that there was a clear point in this incident where Crowley could have chosen to deescalate by simply thanking Gates for his time (even if he didn’t quite deserve thanks), apologizing for disturbing him (even if he didn’t quite deserve an apology), and leaving. Deescalation as a skill and a tactic has been recommended as an important tool for security professionals and law enforcement officers in articles in Security Management, and in my view, this is a shining example of when it would have been a wonderful tool.

And what did Gates’ “disorderly conduct” consist of? According to Crowley’s own report, Gates called Crowley racist and repeatedly warned that he was going to go to Crowley’s superiors. In fact, the very first thing Gates did, according to Crowley’s report, was try to get the Cambridge police chief on the telephone. That may make Gates a pompous idiot, but it really should not be illegal to say to a policeman, even in an obnoxious tone, that you are going to report him to higher ups—even assuming that Gates actually did say, as Crowley writes, “ya, I’ll speak with your mama outside,” …. but you’ll forgive me if I’m not quite sure I find this particular quote a credible part of Crowley’s report.

Gates was, indeed, being a pompous fool, no question. He was immediately irate, which was uncalled for. But that is not necessarily a reason for an arrest. He was in his own home, the officer did ascertain that he was the homeowner and that no crime was in progress, so the officer did complete his mission and the homeowner did comply with the officer’s orders. At that point, the officer could have made the judgment call to end it. Given that law enforcement resources are insufficient to deal with real crimes, this particular arrest seems at best a waste of limited resources. That alone would seem reason enough for Officer Crowley to have let this one go.

One final point: I do recognize that police officers have an incredibly difficult job in which they must often make snap judgments, and it is often unfair to second guess those judgments. I just don’t happen to think that this case falls into that category. Moreover, I don’t believe that being in a tough job—whether it’s law enforcement or the military or the medical profession—means that you get absolved from ever being questioned about your judgment calls.

Dr. George Kirkham, a criminology professor who has also worked as a sworn police officer and authored many law enforcement training resources used by police and the FBI, was quoted as saying that the Gates incident was “not the finest hour” for the Cambridge police. That’s a collegial way of saying what I have said at greater length. I quote him only as a way of noting that it’s possible to question Crowley’s action and be a member of the law enforcement community. And while I am not a security professional, as one who has been steeped in it for 17 years, I’d say I count myself among the community, but that will never stop me from wanting to help it better itself by being the perennial gadfly.

I respect that you have a different view on this case. I hope that we can disagree and still have mutual respect. And I hope that you won’t stop criticizing my views, just as I won’t stop criticizing security and law enforcement practices when I think it’s appropriate.

Sincerely,
Sherry Harowitz
Editor-in-Chief
Security Management

Mr. Sonne's follow up response:

Thank you for taking the time to research this issue, and for providing me (us) with your opinion of what occurred in Cambridge.

As to your reply you indicated that you have "benefited from lively debates-," that you "look forward to opposing viewpoints" and are "always open to the possibility that I have gotten it wrong." Unfortunately, the issues that I have raised will not be the subject of an "open debate," nor will they likely see the light of day in the ASIS publication.

Your Editor's Note, is in this case your "Bully Pulpit," from which you have indicted the lawful actions of a working police officer responding to the report of a crime in progress. You even felt it necessary to play the "Race Card" in your last paragraph, by saying "It's not just minorities who should be troubled by that type of arrest." Was that really necessary to make your point? Are Caucasians not arrested for disorderly conduct every day? Do black police officers not make arrests for disorderly conduct every day? Most of the people involved in this event were color-blind. Most meaning the 911 caller Whalen, Crowley, and the rest police who responded (yes there were more than Crowley, including a black police officer). Certainly not Gates, or his many supporters. You write of the Press Conference held by Ms. Whalen, yet you do not mention that her purpose was not to discredit Crowley, rather it was to dispel the public allegations leveled against her in the media that she was a racist. Who made those allegations? Not the Cambridge Police!

The "Spin" that you have placed on the entire issue is quite remarkable. The minor discrepancies, i.e.; the press conference about what Whalen said in the 911 call, and what Crowley said she told him when he arrived (two different things), may have the smell of a smoking gun to you, but in reality it is an expected outcome when two or more people recall events (in this case different events, a 911 call, and an in-person interview at the scene). You however claim some relevance, and intimate that Crowley is lying. Conspiracy theory?

Your lack of protocol in police work is quite apparent by your belief that a police officer, responding to an emergency call in uniform, is required to stop and show his identification card when asked. Your parents also probably told you to obey the commands of a police officer, because they are your friends. This was not a 911 call about J-Walking, this was a Burglary-in-Progress. Cops don't show their ID Cards to a potential burglar. Gates, being a well educated man of the world, could probably have figured out that the several men in police uniforms, coming out of police vehicles, were in all likelihood...the police. His demands to see Crowley's ID, was Gate's way of intentionally escalating this incident. I guess they don't practice de-escalation at Harvard.

Need I point out the difference between your original assertion that Crowley knew that the persons forcing their way into the home had "luggage," and your new information that Whalen indicated that the men were wearing backpacks? Perhaps they were breaking in to go camping, or perhaps to carry away their loot? On "Monday Morning," we all knew the answer. At that precise moment, Crowley did not.

Your assertion that Crowley's report " raises questions" is obviously your way of implying that he lied in his report. This is not a difference of opinion between us, this is an insult to every current and former law enforcement officer. If he lied on his report, he should be fired, and prosecuted. If you say that he lied on his report, you should have facts to back it up rather than using poetic license or the 1st Amendment.

So, Crowley wanted to positively identify Gates and asked for ID with his address. After initially refusing (what did Gates say when he refused?), Gates eventually provided "a Harvard University identification card.” Great, that an $1.50 (or is it $3 now) will get you on a NYC Subway. Are you kidding? A Harvard ID Card may be good at Harvard, but try using it a Yale or Princeton, or even at the executive offices of ASIS. Somehow, I think that Security may ask you for your driver's license as a form of ID. If they do not, there are many Security Companies who would like to take their place.

You say: " De-escalation as a skill and a tactic has been recommended as an important tool for security professionals and law enforcement officers in articles in Security Management." Would you consider your response to my email as an example of "De-escalation?" You are obviously an intelligent person, yet you have chosen in elaborate fashion to try and convince me (and others) that Crowley is a incompetent, a wrong-doer, and a liar.

You say: "According to Crowley’s own report, Gates called Crowley racist and repeatedly warned that he was going to go to Crowley’s superiors. In fact, the very first thing Gates did, according to Crowley’s report, was try to get the Cambridge police chief on the telephone." Actually, Gates' did even better than that. He managed to get all the way to the President of the United States! I will not bother to comment on the ignorance of that statement, made during a national news conference. National News? Yeah, right.

You say: "Gates was, indeed, being a pompous fool, no question. He was immediately irate, which was uncalled for." Yes, at last some common ground, upon which we can agree. See, I too can de-escalate.

When you say: "I see no reason why Crowley should not be held to the same standard as everyone else," what I hear you saying is that Crowley should be held to a higher standard than anyone else. Actually, I agree with what I hear you saying. Police Officers are held to a higher standard, and I believe that Crowley met that standard in this case, with one exception. The pictures showing Gates being led away (gee, I wonder who made the phone call to get the Press there), hands "cuffed" in front of him was a mistake. A disorderly person should always be handcuffed behind the back. There are plenty of dead, and wounded police officers who have made this same mistake. Perhaps Dr. George Kirkham would offer an opinion on that.

This was not a case of police brutality, with Gates being taken to the hospital on a stretcher after being battered by 7 or 8 rampaging cops. You have written about a non-story in your Editor's Note, turned it into an anti-cop, and racially charged incident, and spun it in incredible ways in your response to me. You have taken a side in a matter that did not merit any recognition. Not by the press, not by ASIS, and not by the President of the U.S. You should consider who your audience is, and have a beer.

Best Regards,
Warren J Sonne, CPP, CLI

Trust Police Judgment

Ms. Harowitz,

I was a little disturbed to see the topic of your September Editor’s Note (“Homeowner Arrest a Sorry Sight”).

First, you and I were not present when Officer Crowley arrested Professor Gates. Being a police officer is a difficult job and decisions are constantly being made under difficult circumstances. Officer Crowley obviously felt he needed to place Professor Gates under arrest. That was his judgment call to make. Professor Gates was obviously distressed and upset by the situation. He chose to be belligerent. In those emotional situations, some people could take disorderly conduct and escalate it to violent actions. We place trust in our officers to make the necessary judgment calls needed to keep the peace. Officer Crowley did what he thought was necessary, and his decisions were based on the actions of Professor Gates. Therefore, Professor Gates being verbally abusive IS really the point. I don’t think Officer Crowley should apologize for doing his job. I think it would be offensive for Officer Crowley to apologize for doing his job.

Second, I find it equally offensive that you would compare Officer Crowley with the incident in Minneapolis. Officer Crowley did not wrongly enter the home of Professor Gates. Officer Crowley was called to the scene of a potential burglary and was following through to ensure that Professor Gates was who he said he was. Think of the implications of Officer Crowley not doing his job. Say the man at the door claiming to be the homeowner was really a criminal. What if this criminal had forced Professor Gates inside as he arrived home and was intending on causing harm to Professor Gates. The newspaper the next morning would berate Officer Crowley and the police department for not doing their jobs in following through with a serious report of a potential burglary.

Third, your Editor’s Note had a hint of the political about it. I suppose that is okay; however, I have to wonder why you felt this note was necessary in this professional magazine. You failed, as far as I could tell, to tie in any lessons specific to the security field. In fact, as stated above, I believe that security officers and others in the field can learn from Officer Crowley’s example of follow-through. As security professionals, we have an obligation to delve deeper and make sure that a situation is really as it presents itself to be. We cannot apologize for doing our job correctly and thoroughly.

I agree with you that when lines are crossed, apologies should be provided.
In the example you quoted, I believe Professor Gates needs to apologize to Officer Crowley and his local police department for refusing to comply with a valid request.

Thank you,

Allison Mogus, CRT
TAC Investigations and Security Consulting

 

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