[As printed in the San Gabriel Valley Examiner, Sept. 3, 2003]

It happened again.  A well-meaning neighbor or relative called the police 
to check on someone acting erratically.  In the end, the someone was killed 
by the police, who, according to press reports, intended to take the woman 
to a hospital but ending up shooting her when she acted in a threatening 
manner.  This time it was in San Ramon.  All too frequently it happens in 
Southern California.

Back in the 'sixties the law and order crowd mocked police critics with the 
slogan: "Don't call a cop, call a hippie."  Now, in light of the alarming 
number of people killed by questionable police actions throughout Southern 
California, an alternative conflict resolution agency is needed, one that 
doesn't approach a domestic disturbance in the cavalier manner demonstrated 
by law enforcement in recent years.  In essence, it's time to call a 

The old standby - "The officer, in fear of his life, opened fire" - doesn't 
cut it anymore.  On the one hand, police apologists constantly laud the 
heroism of the force.  After all, we are told, at the World Trade Center 
while many civilians lost their lives, police and firemen gave their lives 
by entering the buildings without thought for their personal safety.  Yet a 
handful of Riverside officers standing outside a parked car with a sleeping 
woman inside were so fearful that they killed the startled victim when she 
awakened and allegedly reached for a gun to protect herself.

This scenario is repeated at least monthly, perhaps more frequently, 
somewhere in Southern California.  All that's necessary to document it is 
to read the daily papers and keep score.  The usual routine is exoneration 
of all involved.  If fired, the courts can often be counted on to rule for 
the police and order rehiring and back pay.

Since the police mentality begins with a reliance on weapons and the use of 
deadly force (and not just guns), let's turn the handling of domestic 
disturbances over to an entirely different agency with a fresh mindset.  
Not a group of hippies, but a professionally trained contingent of persons 
with advanced degrees skilled in conflict resolution.

Sending a uniformed, armed cop to the home of a raging, ranting spouse only 
invites trouble.  NYPD's Sipowicz isn't about to rationally resolve a 
dispute that has reached the boiling point.  Trained professionals, on the 
other hand, would have a far better chance of bringing the matter to a 
peaceful conclusion.

The place to start is in Los Angeles.  Already on the table is the mayor's 
proposal to hire several hundred additional cops.  The chief strongly 
endorses that plan.  The council doesn't.  

Strike a compromise.  Give the chief a large part of what he asks, but 
divert some of the money to creation of a conflict resolution department 
outside the police force, with enough money and personnel to properly 
handle domestic cases that call for immediate action.  Seek out individuals 
with the sensitivity required to deal with such cases.  Staff the agency 
with a rainbow of personnel, knowledgeable about the various racial, ethnic 
and otherwise identifiable communities within the city.  

The "police can do no wrong" crowd will launch their usual bitter attack on 
such a plan.  Let them rave.  Southern Californians have reached the point 
where they know that if they call the police in a domestic disturbance 
there is a good chance a loved one - still a loved one even though in the 
midst of a drunken rage - will be killed or injured, or that the responding 
police officer will suffer that fate.

Until this new agency is created, you may actually be better off during a 
domestic disturbance if you call a hippie.

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[Ralph E. Shaffer, member of the criminal justice committee of the 1993-94 
Los Angeles County Grand Jury, can be reached at]