Wednesday, June 24, 2020

BULLSHIT POLICE TESTIMONY AND OTHER CITY COUNCIL PROBLEMS

For philosophy professor Harry G. Frankfurt, author of the tiny book On Bullshit, a “lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are— ... [is] the essence of bullshit.”  As he reminds us, bullshit is widespread, and everyone spreads it.  I take exception; except for occasional dollops necessary in social situations, I avoid BS like the plague which it is.  For most people, truth-telling on serious topics like racism is a no-no: impolite, inconvenient, irritating, or offensive—something to avoid as much as possible.

Thus City Council avoided the bullshit offered by Deputy Police Chief Michael Dominguez at its 15 June work session to discuss “8 Can’t Wait” proposals in response to police violence in Las Cruces.  Dominguez delivered this rambling, anodyne statement:

“Our officers are professionals. ... We will respond to your calls without fail. We know that there’s a lot of mistrust out there. We want you to know you can count on us. We are all professionals doing a tough job. We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We will own up to our mistakes. We love Las Cruces. We are a tight community. We are Las Cruces. We are here to back you up. Please reach out to us and know we are a professional organization. We really do care about our community.”  (Las Cruces Sun-News, 17 June)

Dominguez did not and likely cannot bridge the chasm between his acknowledgment of mistrust of the police and his assurance that people can depend on them.  His statement, one of “indifference to how things really are,” is bullshit.  Councilors likely detected it but, like most elected officials accustomed to flatulent nonsense, declined to expose it as such and embarrass a ranking police officer.

I wrote Dominguez about this gap and copied all Councilors.  I asked him to address a discrepancy between his testimony—“We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We will own up to our mistakes”—and the brief narrative of my experience with the LCPD (copied from my blog for 17 June).

It was very wicked of me to do so.  To reply, Dominguez has five choices, none good.  He can admit and detail the case as a botch-up, invoke the principle of mistakes made, claim to see no discrepancy, plead busyness, or keep quiet.  The particular wickedness of my request is less putting him in a tough spot than pointing to Councilors who failed to ask him to explain the gap.  If they had breached the custom of accepting police bullshit, they might have asked him for examples of LCPD mistakes made and admitted.  They would have demonstrated that they were taking police reform seriously.  Instead, their talk about hard questions and frank discussions appeared soft and false.

Rumors are that the LCPD is in turmoil.  IA Chief Rebecca Kinney is retiring soon; her performance in my case deserves a prompt discharge.  Police Chief Patrick Gallagher, having proved himself professionally, ethically, and temperamentally unfit, should be fired.  No one in or out of the department trusts his deputies.  Personnel morale is low.  Indifference to competent and honest performance is prevalent (proof: LCPD’s response to my complaint).  Standards are either unclear or unenforced.  Apart from on-the-job difficulties, some self-imposed, and dangers, some self-inflicted, the LCPD is not an attractive organization in which to work,

Although all Councilors are Democrats, most Progressives, happy days are not here again.  Indeed, LCPD’s deplorable conditions reflect those which the late Councilor Miguel Silva tried to remedy ten years ago.  His efforts got some results, which, though not comprehensive, were a start.  But Council did not honor him by carrying on his good work or even sustain his accomplishments.  So here we are.

Are we going anywhere?  If forward, Council has two challenges.  The lesser one is its decisions on reformed police policies and practices before it searches for, selects, and employs the new City Manager.  Without decisions making its expectations explicit, it is less likely to make a good and stabilizing choice.  It cannot give the Manager clear instructions for employing and clear standards for evaluating the new Police Chief.  Without guidance, the Manager himself or the chief whom he hires might come to resist or undermine later reforms in police policies and practices.  The result would perpetuate departmental turbulence, failed leadership, unprofessional performance, and low morale in the LCPD, and poor service to the citizens of Las Cruces. 

The greater one is its search for a City Manager.  The second search (and counting?) cannot be less of an embarrassment than the first one.  The diversity of nine candidates suggests a lack of criteria or criteria lacking focus on and defining what Council wants.

Too many candidates have no executive experience as city managers; staff experience is no equivalent to and only modest education for an executive position.  Too many come from significantly smaller cities or towns; they would be inexperienced in the size and complexity of the problems of a larger city still growing and encountering new problems.  Too many come from demographically more homogenous and predominantly white (and wealthier) communities.  Two candidates have experience with police and likely have either sympathy with or antipathy toward police.

Were I one of the nine candidates and had I read the Sun-News recaps of them, I would withdraw my application.  I would know from this diversity of candidates that Council did not know or was divided on what it wanted in and from a City Manager, with a heightened risk of confusion and conflict after his or her selection.

Suggested search criteria: executive experience as city manager in a city of similar or larger size, with a Hispanic plurality or majority; effective agency management measured by quality of work, adherence to schedule, and compliance with budget; success as a pro-active problem-solver and change agent.

Suggested questions: (1) how do you interpret the diversity of the candidates in this penultimate round (BS quotient); (2) have you fired anyone; if yes, explain; if no, explain whether you think that you can, and why (character); and (3) what major problems face Las Cruces in the next 10 years, and how would you help Council address them (grasp and ranking of issues, knowledge of resources, and understanding of role).

The time is now for Council to get its shit together.

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