© Josh Sager – April 2015
No, this title is not hyperbolic—it is EXACTLY as bad as it sounds.
Last week, a Tulsa Police Department Reserve Deputy named Robert Bates accidentally shot and killed a suspect—Eric Harris, 44—when he confused his gun and his Taser. At the time, this shooting was tragic but it was largely overshadowed by the other police shootings that have enflamed the nation over recent weeks (primarily the Walter Scott murder).
However, yesterday, Raw Story published an article on this shooting that exposed an extremely serious concern with the shooting which should begin immediate calls for reform.
Robert Bates, the “officer” who shot Eric Harris, is in fact, not a real police officer. He is a 73-year old insurance executive who was made a deputy in exchange for his history of donating money and equipment to the local police department. He was, in effect, given a badge and a gun through the police-equivalent to a Kickstarter donation gift.
Awarding deputy positions to rich donors who give money to a police department is not only morally repugnant, but is also a recipe for disaster. Clearly, this plutocrat-deputy either received only minimal training (officially, they should get hundreds of hours of training, but this hasn’t been confirmed in his case, nor do we have specifics about the training program) or was shoehorned through tests of minimal competency in order to ensure his continued donations—after all, donors might get unhappy if they donate enough to become deputies but are rejected for being incompetent.
While this is simple speculation, I believe that Bates got caught up in the situation and simply lacked the training to choose the proper weapon. He reached for the nearest gun-like object, pulled it, and fired without taking the time to establish whether it was a lethal gun or a non-lethal Taser. He is a 73 years old weekend warrior who shouldn’t have been given a can of pepper spray, never mind a lethal weapon.
If this were an isolated case of donor favoritism, it would be a simple scandal—the idiots who though that handing out a badge as a donation gift would have been fired, Bates and the police would settle the massive lawsuit that is likely on the horizon, and we could all focus on other issues of police abuse. Unfortunately, Bates isn’t alone and the Tulsa Police Department employs many “deputies” who have gotten their position through donating to the police.
Apparently, anybody who is willing to donate a significant amount of money to the Tulsa police and (maybe) sit through hours of instruction, may be able to buy an authentic police officer experience, complete with real weapons and authority to arrest people. While it would be presumptuous to claim knowledge about the motivations of any specific individual who buys their spot as a deputy, I would be confident arguing that this type of program would attract people who want to exercise power over their fellow citizens and have a chance at walking around with a gun, “like a tough guy” (in the same way that Wall Street and the legal profession tend to attract psychopaths who crave power).
These plutocrats masquerading as police officers could be one altercation away from another accident that robs an innocent American of his life…and let’s face it, the people who are most likely to be killed by a panicking, old, white, millionaire playing real-life cops and robbers, are going to be young, black, males (as Harris was).
At the end of the day, I hope that Bates and the Tulsa police department are sued into oblivion by Harris’s family and these losses force police departments to stop this disturbing practice. Police officers should be well-trained professionals, dedicated to preserving public safety, not rich weekend warriors in the midst of a mid-life crisis and an itchy trigger finger.