Arrested for Stealing His Own Car
Editor’s Note: We are honored that Chelsea has permitted us to post her thoughts on various issues. Her thoughts come from a #perspective that is vital that we, in law enforcement, read, understand and discuss. Law Officer is committed to not just publishing what everyone may agree with but what can create debate, discussion and reflection. I can’t think of a better writer to do that than Detective Whitaker. TY
I am glad that this arrest was captured on video. There are lessons to be learned from the 911 caller, Mr. Crosby and the officers who arrested him. This is a great example of how everyone can be right and wrong at the same time. Here is my opinion based on the video and information provided.
The 911 caller saw a guy with something metal in his hand and it appeared that he was “jimmying” a car door open. She believed that someone was attempting to break into a car. She decided to get inside of her vehicle and follow the person so that the police could locate the vehicle. If you have ever had your car stolen, you would appreciate someone doing this to help apprehend the person who stole your vehicle. I don’t recommend this, but she chose to do it. As she follows him and continues to talk to the police, she begins to wonder if she could be wrong about the guy. She stated that “I hope I am not racial profiling.” Believe it or not, this is common. I have had people watch crimes occur and they didn’t call the police just in case they were wrong. They felt terrible when they realized that there was an actual crime being committed and they didn’t call. I’ve had people call 911 over an hour after they believed that someone was breaking into a car so that they could give me the license plate number of the vehicle just in case it was stolen. I asked this black woman in particular why she did not call right away and she stated that she didn’t want to profile the young man if he wasn’t a “real” criminal. The woman called to give a description of the potential suspect and the license plate because she couldn’t sleep not knowing if a crime had been committed or not. None of us know if the 911 caller was profiling Mr. Crosby or not. Mr. Crosby stated that he had an object in his hands because he was trying to repair the molding around his door. If any of us saw a person using a metal object on a vehicle at night, we could rationally come to the conclusion that this person might be stealing the vehicle. There is nothing wrong with repairing a vehicle at night, but it is not ridiculous for someone to think in the manner that she was thinking at the time. This situation is a far cry from some black guy getting the police called on him because he walked by vehicles that he probably couldn’t afford, therefore, he must be a criminal. Being a black person who gets the police called to “check on me,” I understand the frustration. Being a police officer who gets called to “check on possible suspects,” only to be berated by the person who isn’t a legitimate suspect, I understand the frustration.
Mr. Crosby was being followed by the 911 caller who thought that he was stealing a vehicle. He later stated that he was going to drive to the police station as a result of the 911 caller following him. This guy is smart in that he was thinking in that manner. Men typically don’t like to overact and call 911 when they probably should do so. You can’t fault him for not calling 911, but there is nothing wrong with him calling 911 in response to being followed. Give the dispatcher the license plate of the vehicle that is following you. The dispatcher would realize the confusion that resulted from the circumstances. She would relay the confusion to the pursuing officers that the alleged suspect is also calling 911 and that there is potentially a mix up. That would not cause the officer to completely disregard the event, but it would make an officer a little less apprehensive about the situation. Mr. Crosby could have given the dispatcher his license plate number, name and date of birth and she could have determined that he was in fact driving his own vehicle. After providing that information, the dispatcher probably would have told Mr. Crosby that he was observed outside of the vehicle with a metal object and it appeared suspicious. He may have laughed and told her that he was simply being black while trying to fix the molding of his vehicle. All of this could have been established before the officers even pulled him over. I am not blaming him for not calling 911. I am trying to get the public to understand how they can contribute to de-escalation. 911 is your friend, use it.
The officers had no reason to think that Mr. Crosby was the owner of the vehicle. The officers received information that someone was attempting to steal a vehicle and they pursued it as such. It is rare that officers catch offenders inside of the vehicle. When they are caught driving the vehicle, they generally find somewhere to stop so that they can run. Sometimes they stay inside of the vehicle and surrender. Sometimes they wait on the officers to approach so that they can fight them or shoot them. Attempting to stop a stolen vehicle is very dangerous and I would likely instruct the person to exit the vehicle and lay on the ground. When a person does so, there is little room for confusion as to what the person may or not be trying to do. There is a major adrenaline dump while in pursuit of a potential stolen vehicle. An officer is trying to anticipate what the person may do next. They are wondering if there is a school close by that could be affected by what may transpire. The officer wants to know if the police helicopter is available. Is there a canine available in case this guy decides to run? How do I stop my vehicle to protect myself if this person starts shooting? What is the guy doing with his hands while driving the vehicle? There are endless things running through an officer’s head while in pursuit under these circumstances.
Mr. Crosby is a good guy who has been profiled numerous times in his life. I know that because he is a black man in America and he mentioned it while on the phone trying to determine why he was being stopped in the first place. This is the part where white people roll their eyes and say “here we go with this again!” I say this frequently. Just because you may not be a racist doesn’t mean you get to minimize the experience of blacks in this country. It also doesn’t give Mr. Crosby the right to assume that the officers are racist because he has had bad experiences in the past. I am sure we can all see how things get out of control quickly. We are all products of our experiences. Being the intelligent man that Mr. Crosby is, he stops his vehicle immediately and exits his vehicle with his hands up. He did this because he believed that this was the best thing for him to do. He was probably thinking that there is no way that the officers can shoot me or hurt me if I put my hands straight in the air.
The officers are processing a million different things. The only person who knows Mr. Crosby is not a threat is Mr. Crosby. The officers have no clue and the 911 caller called regarding a reasonable suspicion that the car he was driving was stolen. The worst thing that Mr. Crosby could do in this situation is to exit the vehicle and that is exactly what he did. At night, all small black things in a person’s hand can be misconstrued as a gun. It doesn’t matter if you agree with that or not. If you have never been shot at or arrested people who simply chose not to kill you, you can’t understand that concept under the circumstances. Most officers have been in numerous foot chases. We would all collectively agree that when a person opens the car door without being told to do so, the person is likely to run. This causes the adrenaline to rise further. Suspects have exited their vehicles and they have been fully compliant. Suspects have exited their vehicles, realized that they were going to jail, then suddenly decide to run. Suspects have exited with their hands in the air, then dropped their hands, retrieved a gun and then shot at the officers before running. Suspects have exited with their hands in the air, gotten on the ground and started fighting the officers after the officers assumed that the suspect would not fight. I could go on and on about what suspects do that don’t make any sense. The point is that you should never exit your vehicle until you are told to do so. If you decide to exit your vehicle without being told to do so, it might behoove you to slowly get on the ground with your hands behind your back. When citizens stop their vehicles under these circumstances, officers let the situation “breathe.” Officers observe the citizen’s demeanor and they ensure that their cover elements are close by or ready to engage. They also take time to refocus and ensure that they handle the situation safely. They typically remain in their vehicle and give the driver instructions through the PA system. The officers didn’t have this “breathing period” because Mr. Crosby exited the vehicle on his own terms instead of their terms. This innocent gesture by him resembles every negative situation that officers have experienced and the officers are mentally preparing for the situation to escalate. As a result of him exiting the vehicle, the officers exited their vehicles sooner than they probably wanted and they were full of adrenaline, ready for Mr. Crosby to run, fight or shoot.
I don’t believe that Mr. Crosby had any intention to harm the officers. He was simply trying to make it clear that he was not a threat. In doing so, he exited his vehicle with something small and black in his hand. He is not an officer and doesn’t know what that looks like to officers. He exited his vehicle quickly thinking that his actions would ensure that the officers would not consider him a threat. He was wrong. He escalated the situation without having any intent to do so. Mr. Crosby also knows how some law enforcement officers have treated minorities so he installed a dash camera in his own vehicle. He did everything he could to hold the police accountable for their actions.
Since Mr. Crosby unintentionally escalated the situation. The officers were more aggressive than they probably would have been otherwise. It sounded like every officer on scene began to bark commands at Mr. Crosby. The officers probably had some degree of tunnel vision and were probably unaware that everyone was screaming at him simultaneously. All they knew was that he wasn’t getting on the ground fast enough. Officers don’t always execute things perfectly. One officer should have been giving instructions to Mr. Crosby, not 5 or 6. No one can reasonably respond to commands under those circumstances. It happens all the time at various arrest scenes. The officers have every intention of ending the situation safely, but everyone becomes unaware of themselves and start screaming at the target simultaneously. Meanwhile the target just stands there because he doesn’t know what the officers want him to do. Sometimes every officer on scene leaves their sirens on when they exit their vehicles. Not only are 5 sirens blaring, there would also be 5 officers screaming at the target. It is totally chaotic, but unintentional. Meanwhile, the poor guy doesn’t know what to do next. Again, if there is ever any confusion about what you should do, get on the ground with your hands behind your back. There is no opportunity for the officers to say that you resisted at that point.
Mr. Crosby was standing there holding his phone, with his hands in the air, totally unable to determine what the officers were screaming at him. He saw pistols pointed in his direction and all he could wonder was, will I be the next black man unjustifiably killed by officers (insert eye roll by white people who weren’t taught the truth about our country’s history, aren’t negatively affected by this portion of our history and don’t understand why that assumption is made)? He is a smart guy so he rationalizes that he needs to be arrested in front of his vehicle, so that his camera would capture the footage of his arrest. After all, he knows he’s innocent and that he will probably need footage to prove so later. He is incapable of thinking about this incident from the officer’s perspective because he is not an officer.
The officers have no interest in understanding why Mr. Crosby was not following instructions or why he exited the vehicle without being told to do so. No officer should ever sacrifice officer safety (Insert eye roll by black people who believe that officers always unjustly hide under the umbrella of officer safety). No officer has to explain what they are doing and why they are doing it prior to compliance. This statement seems so simple, but it isn’t. Why is it that the citizens have to think about things from the officer’s perspective, but officers don’t have to think about things from the citizen’s perspective? The courts have ruled that officers can act in a manner that is reasonable to a REASONABLE OFFICER in various circumstances. If officers had to respond in ways that were reasonable to citizens, criminals would not be caught and more officers would be killed as a result of not protecting themselves sufficiently. Officers still have to justify their actions, but they do not have to do so PRIOR TO COMPLIANCE!!! That is what is so difficult for citizens to understand because they know that they have done nothing wrong, or at least that is what they believe to be true. Officers can’t distinguish between criminals and civilians. Just because you told me that you didn’t do anything wrong, that doesn’t matter to an officer until he can prove it after a reasonable detention.
After all of the officers screamed at Mr. Crosby, he decided to try and get towards the front of his vehicle for his own protection. This was a logical decision from a civilian’s standpoint, but it was a horrible decision from an officer’s standpoint. The officer’s began to take Mr. Crosby down to the ground because he did not get on the ground fast enough. Even if Mr. Crosby was unable to determine what the officer’s wanted him to do, anyone would be safer to assume that the officers with guns probably want him on the ground. Under the circumstances, Mr. Crosby DID NOT move fast enough, nor did it seem that he had any intention of getting on the ground. He made statements saying that he was simply trying to get in front of his camera, not on the ground. The officers were justified in forcefully getting him on the ground. One officer applied a knee strike to his leg in an effort to get him on the ground. Another officer gave Mr. Crosby body strikes to get him to put his hands behind his back. How do you expect citizens to follow instructions that quickly? Some people move quickly, some don’t. When officers stand there giving commands over and over again and the individual isn’t compliant, it gives the individual time to process his next course of action. Sometimes the person is innocent and has no intent to do anything else. Sometimes the person is a criminal who is trying to plan his next move. Sometimes it is a criminal waiting for the officers to assume that he is harmless before pulling a weapon from his person. This is why you don’t exit your vehicle until told to do so. He probably would have been given more time to get on the ground had he not jumped out of his vehicle without being told to do so. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the officers had every right to believe that he was a suspect who stole a car. Mr. Crosby had not been searched and they had no clue if he was a criminal or not. Although having his hands in the air provided a little assurance, officers know that people drop their hands, reach into their pockets and etc. within seconds. If you make the mistake and get out of your car without being asked to do so, get on the ground and place your hands on the small of your back.
Many officers are so hell bent on getting a guy into custody, they don’t realize that 4 or 5 different officers each grab a limb and all of them have their own agenda as to what they are trying to get the suspect to do. One officer may be screaming “put your hands behind your back.” Another may be screaming “don’t move.” Another officer might not be saying anything, but he might be trying to force the person’s hands behind their back, while another officer might be trying to keep his hands on the ground. The officer holding a leg may be trying to force the person’s leg into a bent position so that he doesn’t get kicked. That officer may not know that the person has an injured knee. That motion may cause the person to jump in pain, which would cause all the other officers to get a firmer grip on the individual and lead them to believe that he is resisting. There’s no doubt that Mr. Crosby was scared as all of the officers grabbed him from all angles. This shock to the system doesn’t give suspects the opportunity to reach for a weapon or escape. This same maneuver causes innocent citizens to be scared and naturally “tense up” while officers are attempting to place the person in handcuffs. As soon as a person tenses up, technically, the person can be charged with resisting arrest. This is complicated stuff. Everyone in this situation had good intentions yet everyone failed miserably at reading each other.
Dear White Officers:
You may not believe me when I say that I get stopped by the police on duty all the time and that my badge is generally questioned. You may not believe that other officers refused to turn on the gas pumps for me because I don’t look like an officer. You may not desire to research how slave patrolmen turned into some of our nation’s first officers. You may not believe that slavery continued even though it became illegal. You may not want to believe that the head of the FBI instructed officers to violate the rights of black people and for them to engage in illegal wiretaps and unjustified surveillance. You may not believe that the officer who murdered Walter Scott should be convicted of murder. You may be tired of blacks assuming that you are a bad cop every time you approach a black person. It isn’t your fault that we all went to schools that don’t properly teach the truth to us all. You don’t have a reason to learn the truth because these things don’t affect you. I will never ask any of you to not handle a situation in a safe manner as a result of fear that some black person may think that you are a racist. Trust your training and do your job. I will never ask you to apologize for years of racism in which you did not contribute. You can be part of the solution to rid our world of infection so that we can all heal. DO NOT CHARGE PEOPLE WITH FRIVOLOUS CHARGES JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN AND PROVIDE A LITTLE CUSTOMER SERVICE!!!!
All of us probably had some trainer who told us that you need to arrest someone if you have to put your hands on them. Your trainer may have taught you that if you put your hands on someone and let them go, you set yourself up for failure if they complain and internal affairs ask you why you didn’t arrest the person. Our trainers didn’t tell us this because they were crooked officers. They said this because it is easier to justify the use of force if it is connected to an actual charge. Technically, that is true, but it isn’t necessary. You can use force on someone that is detained and release them. Trust your training. Everything that everyone did in this situation makes sense. How would you feel if someone was inaccurate in calling 911 on you while you were on your way to class? It makes sense for him to be apprehensive. Once you are safe and realize that the 911 caller was wrong, LET HIM GO!!! Don’t forget to be human because of the potential for danger that you face every day. The 911 caller had a legitimate reason to call 911. Mr. Crosby had a legitimate reason to be baffled by the actions of the officers. Mr. Crosby also understood why the lady called 911 on him because he explained to his friend on the phone how he was using an object to fix the molding on his car. The officers were justified in their actions. Why would these officers charge him with resisting arrest and failure to follow orders from an officer? We have no proof of them being racist, but it is likely that they charged him with these frivolous charges because they had to use force on him, the charges were available, so they arrested him to support the fact that they had a reason to engage him in the first place. You catch more bees with honey. Arresting this man after all that he had been through was a slap in his face and it wasn’t necessary. These officers probably towed his vehicle and he would have to pay for an attorney to dismiss the charges brought against him, if the city did not drop them. You know how to be officers. Articulate why you did what you did and show Mr. Crosby some compassion. Help him out of the police vehicle, take the handcuffs off of him, look him in his eyes and explain to him why you took the actions that you took. Ask him if he has any questions. At that point, he would probably explain why he made the choices that he made. That is when you explain to him how it appears to an officer and why he shouldn’t do it again. Tell him to put his hands out of the window if he wanted to do so. Tell him why getting out of the car was a bad move. Tell him you understand the history between police and civilians and how you aren’t like that and work each day to improve the relationship. Ask him if your explanation was sufficient. Ask him if he wants to speak with a supervisor. Give him your card or the phone number to the police station. Tell him that you will notify a supervisor and document everything that you just told him in a report. Tell him that you will make sure that his vehicle is remove from the database as a potential stolen vehicle. To ensure that he doesn’t have any more problems that night, give him an escort to his school to show him that you care that he arrives safely. When he begins to vent and tell you that he has been stopped 10 times in a month, tell him that you can’t imagine what that feels like and just listen. Don’t tell him to shut up with all the racist BS, throw a “back the blue” t-shirt at his face and drive off. Ask him what he is studying in school and shake his hand like a man before you leave. Obviously you don’t have to do all of this, but people just want to know that you care and they want you to make the effort to explain things to them in a situation like this one. Real officers rarely give tickets to citizens who pull over to a safe location, roll their windows down, turn their dome light on and present their license without being asked. It shows that the citizen understands the dangers that present themselves to officers daily. It shows that although they are upset and don’t want a ticket, they can put the needs of someone else before their own. Just as officers appreciate those gestures, citizens appreciate it when we give them that same respect. Relationships are two-way streets. This job is absolutely impossible, but we all have a role to play in making things better for everyone. Racism doesn’t have to be your fault, but you can be part of the solution.