July 12, 2020
Why do ‘good cops’ just stand there when a ‘bad’ cop goes rogue? Lack of leadership from top. (Letter to the Editor)
By Delrish Moss

Like many, I have watched and re-watched the video torture of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. What I saw broke my heart, as a man and law-enforcement professional. It was painful to watch a human being struggle to breathe under the crushing weight of a knee on his neck, and it was reminiscent of challenges that Ferguson, Missouri, faced when I was sworn in as police chief. It also reminded me of Miami’s challenges in the early 1980s and the all of the work that has been done — and still needs to be done — in policing.

Like Minneapolis, Ferguson erupted in protest after now-former police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown Jr. Like Minneapolis, and other cities across the nation, such incidents sparked conversations and debates about race, policing and the justice system. Unlike Ferguson however, Minneapolis has sparked protests across the nation. The horrors of watching Floyd’s death struggle has affected the nation in ways I never imagined. In fact, I struggled to sleep after watching the video; its images still play in my head. 

Friends and colleagues have asked me about the incident, most focusing on the actions, and inactions, of other officers on the scene. In fact, a social-media post has been circulating for years in which comedian Chris Rock is said to have asked why “good cops” never seem to be around when their comrades are killing innocent people. Over and over, we have seen videos of police violence leaving us to wonder why other officers stood by watching and did not intervene.

In Ferguson, we implemented policies called, “The Duty to Intervene,” “The Duty to Report,” and “The Duty of Candor.” 

Simply put, police officers had clear direction making it their responsibility to stop fellow officers from acting badly. If they could not do so safely, they had to report it as soon as possible. They knew clearly that they would be fired for not telling the truth. In fact, I fired two officers for that very reason. It sent shock waves through the department. 

While these policies, with the exception of the Duty of Candor, were new to Ferguson, they were not new to policing. In fact, many agencies in South Florida and across the country have similar policies that have proven effective.

While good policies are important, clear direction and leadership are equally critical. In Miami, Chief John Timoney, through leadership and clear direction, reduced the number of police-involved shootings to zero in more than two years by strengthening the department’s shooting policy, but also by making his direction unambiguous. After he left, the same policies were still in place, but the number of fatal police-involved shootings went up. The only thing that changed was the messaging from the top. The consequences were dire. Clearly, leadership matters.

While there always will be unforeseen circumstances, police leaders play a critical role in reducing poor outcomes. Currently, I am a police captain with the Florida International University Police Department where Alexander Casas is chief. I joined this department after my retirement from the city of Miami police and my stint as chief of police in Missouri. 

Chief Casas and I share a philosophy: We believe in working hard to focus on the importance of respect for people and the sanctity of life. We train and hold ourselves accountable for treating people with dignity. We work to instill the practice of de-escalation and communication. We work tirelessly to improve messaging to department members. We do all this to ensure that we provide first rate service.

I applaud Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo for terminating the police officers involved in the Floyd case. He is a fairly new police chief with a difficult task ahead. The actions in that video are wrong and indefensible. No human being should have to suffer having his airway cut off for almost eight minutes. It was appalling to me as a black man and as a cop.

Like Chief Arradonda, Chief Casas and many other South Florida chiefs, we have to understand that leadership is critical to saving our profession and ensuring our communities’ safety. We have the right to take away a person’s freedom, and a person’s life in some circumstances. It’s imperative that leaders work hard to select the right people, train them appropriately and hold them accountable, and remind them that every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. 

That is our charge. It is what every community expects, and demands, of us.

Delrish Moss is a police captain with the Florida International University Police Department. He is a retired Miami Police major and former Ferguson, Missouri, police chief.