“[Windsor Police Department] Officers remain humbled and honored by the opportunity to continue to serve the citizens of Windsor,” is how Riddle concludes each of the reports he submits to justify why a quiet Tidewater town of 2,600 should spend a whopping 33 percent of its budget on policing.
It’s the missing word at the root of America’s police brutality problem.
Racism is a certainty in many instances of police abuse of power. That’s the point that the Black Lives Matter movement has been making.
But the comorbidity in this ongoing and disturbing American pattern is a culture of arrogance, entitlement and impunity that taints too many police departments and eclipses the good and brave officers who do put their lives on the line every day. Regardless of race.
This week, the Windsor Police Department became America’s Exhibit A.
The department runs toy drives and officer-friendly school programs. Officers do cultural diversity training and help Cub Scouts earn merit badges for finger printing. They present themselves as the good guys.
But in a gas station, alone with a Black and Latino man in a new car, these same officers enrobed themselves in an authoritarian superiority that made them demand total obedience, submission and blind compliance from an innocent man — a military officer in uniform — as if they were wartime checkpoint guards.
“You received an order! Obey it!” an increasingly hysterical Officer Joe Gutierrez barked when Nazario asked him what was going on that night.
“What’s going on is you’re fixing to ride the lightning, son,” Gutierrez yelled at him, a foreboding reference to capital punishment and the electric chair.
The only things the police officers were guarding? Their own egos.
The nation became familiar with the town of Windsor and their allegedly humbled officers after Nazario filed a $1 million lawsuit on April 2 over the shameful way officers Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker treated the 27-year-old lieutenant the night of Dec. 5.
Videos — both from police body cameras and Nazario’s personal mobile phone — show a respectful, calm driver in his military fatigues, raising his hands so the officers can see them as he repeatedly asks a question that every American has the right to ask: “What’s going on?”
The officers had their guns pointed at Nazario. And they escalated, threatened and bullied rather than simply answering his question.
The incident began when Crocker spotted Nazario’s new Chevy Tahoe but didn’t see a license plate. He switched on his emergency lights to pull the vehicle over.
Nazario slowed down and flipped his blinker on, indicating he would pull over. He drove less than a mile until he found a gas station — a safe place to get out of traffic and into some light.
By then, Crocker had escalated the traffic stop to a police chase by telling his fellow officers that he was on the tail of someone trying to elude him. Gutierrez — the hothead in the video, who has since been terminated — joined in.
When the slow-motion “chase” reached the gas station, both police officers were agitated and excited, yelling at Nazario, refusing to answer his questions.
Nazario told police that he was “honestly afraid to get out” of the car after he slowed down, signaled and pulled over.
“Yeah, you should be!” one of the officers responded.
This should chill every American.
All the more so because it happened in a quiet town in a nation where violent crime is radically, sharply down, falling 71 percent in the between 1993 and 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. Yet even as our country becomes safer, bored officers looking for action in small towns are getting more funding, equipment, latitude and entitlement.
That’s what the Defund Police movement is about. Not taking away all the money and letting anarchy reign. Rather, critics of American policing suggest prohibiting the purchase of surplus military equipment and moving some funding to social programs that can take the burden off police departments.
So instead of small towns buying military assault vehicles to confront the local hermit when he freaks out, social workers will be able to offer the hermit mental health counseling and solutions before he holes up with 100 guns and calls in a bomb threat.
The Windsor Police Department seems small, averaging seven full-time officers, including the police chief, and some part-time help. It’s about the right size when you look at the FBI’s average numbers for police departments in towns with fewer than 10,000 residents — 3.4 officers for every 1,000 citizens. (Windsor has about 2,600 people.)
But the Windsor police budget is enormous compared with other Virginia cities.
The department routinely gets 33 to 34 percent of the town’s money, according to city budget documents. Departments in other Virginia cities rarely make it to 20 percent. Alexandria’s department is 13 percent of the budget, Hampton’s officers get only 5 percent of city funds, Newport News police take up 10 percent, and the police in the capital city of Richmond operate with 18 percent of the budget, according to the Action Center on Race and the Economy’s city budget calculation tool.
So, is it because Windsor is a hotbed of crime?
Hardly. Even the police chief described it as a “quiet” town in one of his reports. A drug bust officials bragged about in their annual report looked more like a raid on a high school senior trip — involving about a pound of weed and “over half an ounce” of cocaine.
Nope. This is about entitlement and arrogance, perfectly embodied by Windsor’s disgraced former police chief, Arlis “Vic” Reynolds.
“I became complacent and arrogant in my duties,” Reynolds said in court in 2015, when pleading guilty to petit larceny. “I made bad choices.”
Reynolds was fired in 2013 after he was charged with embezzlement. Virginia prosecutors said he racked up hours in false overtime and traded one of the police department’s $400 optic sights for an AR-15 rifle in exchange for rent one month.
After the guilty plea, he was defiant outside the courtroom, insisting it was all a misunderstanding, according to the Capital Gazette.
That’s entitlement. That’s arrogance. That’s what you call a cultural problem woven into an institution.
It leads to the kind of exchange that unfolded in the bright lights of a gas station in Windsor last year. And it’s what needs to be eradicated.
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