Every once in a while, we give a call to a veteran San Francisco police officer with 20 years of patrol experience. Naturally we phoned him up to get his take on the weekend incident in which a BART officer removing a disorderly man from a train resulted in a YouTube video titled "Officer Breaks Window With Drunks Face."
The San Francisco officer noted to us that, yes, it looked like there was "a little bit of intent" form the BART cop, and, no, the BART cop certainly couldn't have expected the window to shatter. And, yes again, this shouldn't happen in San Francisco where policy ostensibly instructs officers not to push people into the wall (they're more dangerous that way, believe it or not). But that wasn't the point.
"Look, all this stuff is just hair-splitting focusing on tiny things and missing the larger issue," he said. "People want the police to come in and make dramatic changes in drunken, violent people's uncooperative behavior in the short-term. In an ideal world, we'd clear out the train, bring in extra cops and a counselor and turn everything into a hostage situation where we minimize potential injury to everyone, including the cops. Unfortunately, the world doesn't work that way. People want a perfect, hermetically sealed resolution to all these things. But when you get violent and drunk people, this is what happens."
The veteran officer was also a bit peeved that "the cop has eliminated a physical threat to five, 10, 50 people on the train -- and there's just no mention of that. Everyone wants the problem to get solved, but if it gets messy everyone wants to point and cry foul."
That's along the lines of what Gary Delagnes thought, too. The 30-year veteran cop and president of San Francisco's police union watched the video of the Saturday incident over and over -- he spotted a beer can in a paper baggie in suspect/victim Michael Gibson's left hand -- and said he couldn't find fault in any of the actions undertaken by the unnamed BART officer.
"I don't see him doing anything wrong at all; I think he was as surprised as anybody that the window smashed," said Delagnes. "People don't do what you tell them to do. Most law-abiding citizens do what they're told, so they can't understand people like this. But when a guy doesn't do what he's told by a cop, then it becomes a contact sport. People hate the fact that police work is a contact sport. But if people don't do what they're told, you've got to take them down. And there's no way to do that but physically. In San Francisco, they don't want you to taser anybody. You don't want to shoot anybody. It looks bad when anyone does it with a stick -- i.e. Rodney King.
"So if you've gotta get somebody down on the ground you have to fight and get them down on the ground."