10 Jan Learning to See Police in a Different Light
Commentary, Sean Shavers
Editor’s Note: On Nov. 22, after 23 years with the Richmond Police Department, Capt. Mark Gagan was fired in connection with an internal affairs investigation involving Richmond City Councilmember Eduardo Martinez. Both popular and well-liked, Capt. Gagan has denied the allegations and is appealing the decision.
In light of these events, Richmond Pulse is visiting this commentary from 2011, written by a young man who’s longheld, distrustful view on police was changed after an afternoon with Capt. Gagan.
All my life I’ve been taught to despise the police, and for that matter, any other law enforcement official. I even had a saying: “From the Pigs to the Feds, may they all drop dead.”
Now, you could say that was scandalous, wrong and just plain trifling. But I’ve seen the police abuse their authority and violate people’s civil rights, and when you come from a background where the police are considered terrorists, you don’t respect them or trust them. That’s how it’s been ever since I can remember.
I recently had a brush in with the law – I received a citation for marijuana – that ended with me being slammed against a fence and thrown into a police car. At that moment, all the rage and anger I felt toward the police hit the fan. I hated them with a passion.
Not long afterward, I recorded a vlog (a video blog) about the Oakland Police Department. I said that they were incapable of catching criminals and were getting paid just to wear a badge. At the time, I was speaking from a position of hurt and anger. I didn’t realize that my statements weren’t based on fact. I mean, how could I prove that all officers are lazy and not doing their job?
About a week later, I saw a headline in the newspaper: “Four Shot and One Critically Injured in Richmond.” I immediately wanted to cover the story and put my spin on it. So, later that day, I started making some calls and ultimately got in touch with Capt. Mark Gagan of the Richmond Police Department. We set up an interview for the next day and it was on.
The next day, Cpt. Gagan picked me up in his patrol car and we drove down to Central Richmond. We spoke briefly about politics, family and real life situations. Then the conversation, and my story, took a dramatic turn when Capt. Gagan began revealing his street tactics and discussing his emotional ties to the community.
He showed me one of his tactics that was totally on the money. As he drove through the neighborhood, he would give a head nod (acknowledgment) to certain people on the street and they would respond in a friendly manner.
Then he would mug (cold stare) others and you could see what they were feeling by their facial expressions: fear, anger and annoyance.
Capt. Gagan said it’s a simple tactic that reveals how just a little bit of positive acknowledgment can change folk’s views and opinions about the police. He also said that when officers acknowledge people like that – in a non-threatening manner — they are more cooperative and willing to help. But when you act like an asshole, then people seem to shy away. Knowing and understanding these things about the community have made Capt. Gagan a persuasive force in Richmond.
Later that day, we headed down to the Richmond Police Department and Capt. Gagan took me to a small room where there are video monitors showing live footage from 80 cameras located throughout the city. I saw several illegal but minor activities that were going on from each section of the city, like kids smoking weed, people urinating in public and jaywalking. Though these are minor offenses, they are still offenses and violators could’ve been disciplined. At that moment, I realized just how much power and authority the police really have.
After watching the video monitors, we jumped straight into the interview: It was time for me to see who this guy really was. From the very first question, his answers were intelligent, smooth and compelling. Each time I asked a question, he not only answered that one question but several others I hadn’t even asked yet. By the third question he had answered all ten questions I had written down, and you could tell each answer was real.
Capt. Gagan was the first police officer that I’d ever felt comfortable with. I didn’t get a bad feeling in my gut when I saw him, and I actually felt safe with him around. I felt like he was a real person, someone I could talk to and be open with.
He had a different opinion than most officers. He felt that he had to prove to the streets that he was real and that he was only there to help. He wanted to bridge the gap between the community and the police force.
By the end of that day, my opinion about the police had changed. I realized there are officers out there who actually care and want a relationship with the community.