Officers on the beat see changes as tension rises on patrol

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Posted: Dec 11, 2015 10:44 AM
Officers on the beat see changes as tension rises on patrol

LEXINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Police feel their job has changed after more than a year of high-profile deadly confrontations between police and unarmed black men in cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore.

Officers on the beat said there is more tension on the streets. Their supervisors worry officers, concerned about public perception, might overthink what should be split-second decisions in dangerous situations, putting themselves or others at risk.

Police shootings that have led to charges against officers like the one in Chicago where a black teen with a knife was shot by a white officer 16 times or in South Carolina this past April where an unarmed black motorist running from a traffic stop was shot several times in the back by a white North Charleston police officer strengthen calls for body cameras.

But beat cops around the country worry that the greater use of cameras — as well as the easy spread of clips filmed by bystanders over social media — leaves them vulnerable to being judged by an out of context moment.

Here are ways some front-line officers across the United States view the way their jobs have changed:

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UNDER THREAT

Sgt. Jeff Weed used to do paperwork on his 12-hour shift while parked in an empty lot in his Lexington County Sheriff's Department patrol car. But, with the current tensions, that common practice just seems too dangerous as police officers fear an ambush, he said. Weed has been a beat cop in this South Carolina county that ranges from the Columbia suburbs to rolling fields and peach orchards for his entire 26-year law enforcement career.

"I've got to be more vigilant," Weed said, not long after authorities said an officer near Houston was killed as he pumped gas.

He has been a police officer long enough that he said he doesn't obsess over each specific incident and whether it will put police in danger. But he said his wife and three kids do.

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GETTING OUT OF THE CAR

Minneapolis is getting officers out of cars to do more foot and bicycle patrols, officer Tim Gorman said.

Gorman walks his beat in downtown, and said he is more aware of his surroundings.

The bike and foot patrols started a few years ago, after complaints that officers were out of touch. It's much easier to talk to people and be a friendly presence while walking or pedaling around instead of inside a car, he said.

"If someone wanted to get to you, you're more vulnerable. But there's no way you can have both. You can't be not vulnerable and be out among the people," Gorman said.

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EXTRA SCRUTINY

In the past few years, Greenville County deputy Shane Reece moved from an undercover job back out on the road patrolling.

The first thing the South Carolina deputy noticed is the instant attention he draws when he goes somewhere like a nightclub to investigate a problem or arrest someone. Some people yell insults and question everything he does. Others praise him. But he knows he is being watched, and likely filmed.

"Both sides are more vocal. You don't get to go in quietly many places anymore," Reece said.

Reece said the attention just seems to build and build after each high-profile incident involving police.

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THE FACES BEHIND THE BADGES

In Richmond, Virginia, Brian Sheridan is making an extra effort to be friendly in the area he patrols, talking to people in the neighborhood on every shift.

"I really do believe that the best thing we can do now is show that we are people and not just a uniform," said Sheridan, who was an officer in Detroit before moving to Richmond.

Sheridan is doing such a good job making connections with people that Richmond sends him into specific neighborhoods where they want more community involvement.

He is embracing body cameras because he said they are an unflinching witness to an incident. He just hopes when people view the videos they remember there is a person trying to make split -second decisions potentially about life or death behind the badge.

"We're not robots or machines. We're humans just like everyone else," Sheridan said.

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SECOND GUESSING

Los Angeles Police Department Detective Jamie McBride thinks body cameras will hurt police work. He is a director for the department's union.

Officers will be hesitant to talk to or engage people unless they are questioning or arresting them because they will be on tape every moment, he said.

When a police shooting or brutality video is put on the Internet, people can review it over and over, frame by frame, scrutinizing a decision that an officer made in perhaps fractions of a second, McBride said.

"I've been in six shootings. I know how fast things turn," McBride said. "When your life is on the line you make a split second decision to act upon it for your life, then they have all the time in the world to look frame by frame at what you did wrong."

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OFFERING THANKS

Lexington County Sheriff's Sgt. Terry Govan said he is taking the positive out of the extra attention paid to police officers.

Govan rarely goes more than a week without someone paying for coffee or a meal to thank him for his work. But the 17-year patrol veteran said it felt strange at first.

"The other day, they told me, 'Hey, somebody paid for your food.' At first, I was like OK,'" Govan said. "But it's nice to have people appreciate what you do."

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Amy Forliti in Minneapolis; Alanna Durkin in Richmond, Virginia; and Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins.