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Having the Mr. Rogers Syndrome
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 04/12/2010

Mrrogers Dear sir; I am almost never moved to respond to comments made about articles that I write but yours gave me that much needed movement.
“Dear Mr. Barnhart, First of all let me thank you for your service to our country and now to the public. I have read all of your posting and though I don’t disagree with most of your opinions it seems that you leaning on the side of what I like to call “The Mister Rogers Syndrome”. I have worked the streets and behind glass (because bars are inhumane) for over 23 years and it’s always a changing environment. I am proudly an A**Hole, my mother says I get it naturally and I use it daily, but for me it doesn’t matter if its an inmate or staff the key is being fair, firm and consistent. Just to clarify I have also never been assaulted and have the respect of over 600 inmates as a regular officer but as a tactical officer I have had to use the minimal amount of force necessary to complete the mission and still have that respect. One of the issues that I have seen over and over is “weakness” “back pedaling.” Most of the assaults I have seen are on “Mr. Rogers” types, they want to give, give and help these poor mis-understood humans until its time to kick butt and all the inmate sees is a liar and a hypocrite."
Now that I have returned from the restroom I will respond to your comment. On February 19th, 1968 Mr. Rogers Neighborhood made its first broadcast and since that date has become the longest running PBS program in history. I can only hope that my corrections career goes for 30 years without any discipline, criminal prosecution and ultimately termination. I say that because in the eight years that I have been a corrections officer I have seen countless officers investigated, terminated as well as prosecuted from force related issues.

My training related articles are geared toward officer survival issues and providing the knowledge that officers usually find out about only after the pre-disciplinary hearing. I in no way want you to be soft and timid on your post. I want you to be confident and knowledgeable in how, when and why you utilize force. I am a firm believer that officers are under trained in force related issues and administrations have the philosophy that, “If we don’t say the ‘FORCE’ word, they won’t use it.”

“Say it ain’t so!” You know I am right when I say that in corrections your use of force training relentlessly instructs you what you should not and will not do, but falls short in informing you when you can, and must use force to ensure order. This decisional issue is often left up to supervisors called to the incident to de-escalate and moderate problems. However, most correctional supervisors are just as in the dark as the officers they are directing as it pertains to the use of force. The correctional society is 20 years behind the law enforcement society as it pertains to the education and allowances in the use of force, and America is ten years behind Canada as it relates to law enforcement use of force knowledge and tactics.

The fact of this article that I hope to bring home is that we can’t do it like we did it ten years ago and I can only imagine how we will do it ten years from now. Our agency is currently under a use of force related lawsuit, Department of Justice investigations and my institution in particular is constantly in the news because we apparently are too quick to go hands on with the inmates. So for you to make the comment that I have a Mr. Rogers Syndrome makes me laugh and the phrase has now been coined at our institution. Do you remember your first internal investigation for a use of force? You can’t tell me that it didn’t take some of the wind out of your motivational sails. When I was a police lieutenant I gave Grand Jury testimony which resulted in the indictment of four of my police officers for a use of force related incident in which I was the shift watch commander.

There are thousands of uses of force related complaints and lawsuits lodged against law enforcement and correctional officers each year. A surprising report given by the National Center for Women and Policing was given that women currently comprise 12.7% of sworn personnel in big city police agencies, we would expect that female officers in these agencies should be involved in approximately 12.7% of the citizen complaints, sustained allegations, or payouts for excessive force. Yet the data indicate that only 5% of the citizen complaints for excessive force and 2% of the sustained allegations of excessive force in large agencies involve female officers. No, I am not saying that all correctional officers should be women but you have to stop and wonder what they are doing right.
  • Civil Liability Payouts: The average male officer costs somewhere between two and a half and five and a half times more than the average female officer in excessive force liability lawsuit payouts.
  • Sustained Allegations: The average male officer is over eight and a half times more likely than his female counterpart to have an allegation of excessive force sustained against him.
  • Citizen Complaints: The average male officer is two to three times more likely than the average female officer to have a citizen name him in a complaint of excessive force.

With every article that I write I am attempting to educate the correctional officers across the country on the When, How and Why to use force and give you the necessary pre requisites, requirements, justifications and indicators. Your report must justify the “need” to use force to control or restrain a person who is breaking the law or resisting your lawful command. Simply, you should use progressively stronger techniques to bring about compliance and stop when you have gained and can maintain control over the person. This gives a person ample opportunity to comply before being subjected to stronger control techniques or the possibility of being injured. Can your use of force report answer these questions?
  • The need for application of force: Was there sufficient reason to use force?
  • The relationship between the amount of force used and what type of force was actually required.
  • The extent of the injury inflicted by you, the arresting officer, on the person being arrested.
  • The behavior of the person at the time of the force related incident.
  • The actions of third parties present during the incident.
  • The physical odds against you, the officer. This includes size differences as well as the number of individuals involved.

Physical confrontations often happen very quickly, as you know, but this does not justify using force in an excessive, unnecessary or malicious manner. Whenever harm is caused by negligence or the use of excessive force, you may be held liable or your liability may be shared by your department and other officers. Such liability has far reaching consequences that may include criminal and/or tort (civil) action against you. Therefore, you should use force only when warranted and solely as a means to control or restrain a person who is breaking the law or resisting a lawful arrest. This however, should not detract from using force when necessary.

Just the other day while I was video taping a violent incident an aggravated inmate who would not comply punched an officer who was using his verbal strategies in an attempt to de-escalate. Yet after the assault the officers continued their relentless verbalization in an attempt to de-escalate the inmate as he ranted and raved throughout the pod. The inmate was never restrained. I look back and the officers were clearly justified in restraining the inmate in order to bring about compliance after the assault but chose not too. Why? Were they fearful of being investigated? Did they not understand the use of force continuum? Or was it the political climate of the institution that prevented them from going hands on? I honestly believe it was a combination of all the factors.

In the federal civil action Madrid v. Gomez, which successfully challenged the use of force at Pelican Bay State Prison, on grounds of violation of the eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. District Court also noted the necessity for the use of force:

Perhaps the paramount responsibility of prison administrators is to maintain the safety and security of both staff and inmates…. Prison officials have the ‘unenviable task of keeping dangerous men in safe custody under humane conditions.’ There is no question that this demanding and often thankless undertaking will require prison staff to use force against inmates. Indeed, responsible deployment of force is not only justifiable on many occasions, but absolutely necessary to maintain the security of the institution. As one expert at trial succinctly stated, when it comes to force it is “as dangerous to use too little as it is to use too much.”

I am in agreement with you brother when it pertains to the current “Hands off policies” resulting from lawsuits and court settlements and the “Cover Their Ass Administrators” that has made our jobs harder. Correctional and law enforcement officers today are sometimes confused and apprehensive about when to initiate the use of force and often need a red light / green light indicator to start. Just realize that I am on your side and I want you to stay on the right side of the bars, that being the outside.

Visit the Tracy Barnhart page


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  3. charst46 on 05/11/2010:

    Tracy, I agree with your statements. I have returned to Corrections after leaving it for a short bit. I work with new staff constantly now as I am on graves, the traditional place for new folks in our system. The use of force is almost always there, in the background usually, but still there. You can sense with staff if there is a fear of inmates or not. There are discussions regarding if we think someone will have 'your back'. These discussions are attempts by new and old staff to make sense of a new situation. The framework in which these discussions occur is created by administration and how administration approaches use of force incidents. There is and never will be justification for excessive use of force. There have been several instances where staff were justified in using force in our institution, but staff did not use it. The end result of the situations turned out appropriately for staff and offender. No violence resulted. Conversely, there have been several uses of force in other situations and it has been quite justified. 'Pulling the trigger' will always be a judgement call in the mind of the staff member. The line between appropriate use and inappropriate use can be quite gray. I think, in the end, what saves an officer is this: did the officer try to de-escalate and make sincere efforts to de-escalate a situation. It helps to build a reputation of working with to maintain standards as opposed to forcing compliance. But make no mistake, when force is necessary, it must be used. Being male and ex-military, I can feel at times that I personally am being challenged. My rep is being called into question by an inmate. But in the long run, my ability to walk away, his or her ability to walk away to scream and argue with me about a rule violation is better enhanced when I can check my ego at the door and focus on the bigger picture: having a good job and a rewarding career.

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