Brown: I wouldn’t want to be a cop

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This frame grab from a body cam provided by the Independent Police Review Authority, police officers fire into a stolen car driven by Paul O’Neal on July 28. | Chicago Police Department / IPRA

Follow @MarkBrownCSTI made a bad mistake in a column the other day.

Misspelled the name of Judith Gethner, executive director of Illinois Partners for Human Service. I spelled it Geithner.

Very embarrassing. Put me in a funk the whole day.

I figured out later it was misspelled in her organization’s press release, but that’s no excuse. My job is to doublecheck such facts.

When I misspell a name, it undermines my credibility. People think: If he can’t even spell the name right, what else did he get wrong? Small mistakes can undermine the credibility of the whole newspaper.

I mention this not to convince you I take my job seriously, although I do.

I mention it because it reminded me again that I wouldn’t want to be a police officer.

I make mistakes. People make mistakes. Police officers make mistakes.

But as we have been reminded so often lately, when a police officer screws up, the stakes can be so much higher — sometimes even a matter of life and death.


Follow @MarkBrownCSTHave you ever really considered what an awesome responsibility we are entrusting to people when we put a gun in their hands and tell them to use it to enforce the law?

I have. Not everybody could do it. I couldn’t do it.

That was my first thought after reviewing the video recordings of last month’s shooting of Paul O’Neal, the 18-year-old who tried to flee Chicago police in an allegedly stolen Jaguar and ended up dead with a bullet in the back.

No matter what angle you watch, it all happens so fast.

Two cops see the Jaguar and try to block it. O’Neal tries to drive past as the officers jump out of their car and start firing their weapons. The Jaguar crashes into another police car. O’Neal tries to run away.

This takes mere seconds. And in the seconds that follow, more shots ring out from the backyard of one of the homes, and the unarmed O’Neal loses his life, the actual shooting by another police officer not captured on video.

My own conclusion is that the police officers involved made some terrible decisions, starting with those who opened fire on the street.

I don’t know what happened in the backyard, but if the police officer who killed O’Neal did so in the mistaken belief he had shot at police, then he obviously screwed up, too. One mistake cascaded into the next.

What bothers me, though, are all the people who now jump to the conclusion that every such split-second bad decision by a police officer in such situations is a crime and start throwing around accusations of murder.

I realize this is partly in reaction to the fact that for too long such shootings by police have been papered over with no repercussions whatsoever.

That doesn’t change the fact that each must be considered individually.

Officer Jason Van Dyke, accused of the murder of Laquan McDonald, might indeed have committed a crime. That will be determined at trial.

The police officers involved in the O’Neal shooting probably shouldn’t be police officers any more, but I don’t see their conduct as criminal.

The bigger problem remains the practice of police officers covering up for each other in the aftermath of such shootings.

When they do that, it makes it that much harder for the public to differentiate one incident from another.

Supt. Eddie Johnson’s decision to fire seven officers for allegedly lying in the McDonald case will help. Firing some of the brass in the McDonald chain of command, instead of letting them leave on their own, might have done more.

I wouldn’t want to be a police officer. But if I was, I’d want people to know I don’t cover up the mistakes.

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