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April 4, 2013

Do you like this?

I was recently asked what I thought about a truce called by local gang leaders a few weeks ago (as of press time). My response was both quick and heartfelt: “Great.”

This solicited a look of caution from my host, but I understood. I’m a cop, and people tend to expect an all-or-nothing response, and with the topic being criminals, how could it be anything but negative?

I meant it, though, and went on to explain that in crisis situations any communication is “good,” even when it’s negative. Does that mean this is a crisis? Not necessarily. And does that mean the call for a cease-fire was in any way negative? Of course not. But I don’t disagree with their sentiment despite my disagreement with their lifestyle choices.

Emboldened by this, my host proceeded to ask that if this proves successful, would city police be willing to meet with gang leaders to negotiate further truces? “Of course not,” I replied. Then my host went from cautious to optimistic to ... confused. “Why not?” he asked, one eyebrow slightly raised.

“Because they are criminals. Period.” The petitioner wordlessly cocked his head to the side, clearly indicating the needed further explanation.

“Cops can have relationships with them on a business level, sure,” I offered. “What do you think a confidential informant is in most cases? But to sit down with them and give them credibility on, what, a corporate level? No. That’s not the way it works. And before you ask, no—this isn’t about ego, it’s about right and wrong. Cops don’t accommodate criminals. They arrest them.”

The host’s expression shifted from confusion to the quickened pulse of intrigue when he went on to say, “But why wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to broker peace? This is about saving lives! How could you not take this opportunity under such circumstances?”

“Because you may have misunderstood what I said a few moments ago. These are criminals. They have been referred to as ‘former’ gang members and ‘former’ gang leaders, sure, but that just makes them former criminals; that’s not to say they may not be better people now, but there is not a lot of credibility here, which one could go so far as to say is inherent in their business as a whole.” My host considered this for a moment, and I continued.

“Criminals are simply not reliable people. You want them to be, sure. You may even be desperate for them to be, but all the wanting in the world isn’t going to keep them in compliance with a contract or even a memorandum of understanding. Contracts don’t mean much to these types of people. In fact, they don’t even comply with state and federal laws, much less other civilized agreements, which is what makes them criminals in the first place. See the pattern?”

I could tell he saw the pattern, but the “wanting” of something was overriding the logic of this.

“OK,” I said, “How about credit scores. Do those make sense? Who gets the million-dollar loan … the 400 or the 800 score? Low credit doesn’t make someone a bad person, but it does mean they’re a lot less likely to get the million-dollar loan.”

I was pretty sure I was getting nowhere, but I could also tell it didn’t make any difference at this point; the story would already be written based on the refusal to negotiate with criminals.

Policing is all about relationships: With residents who have information (and coffee), with businesses who serve as conduits of information (and coffee), with each other, and yes, even with criminals. But to make them business partners or CEOs of a sort? No. It’s like asking Snoop Dogg to hold your joint for just a minute and not to hit it. It’s just a dumb idea no matter how much you like the guy.

I’m grateful for their summit; even more grateful for the week of peace, and the acknowledgement that self-destruction is in none of their best interests, but that’s where the gratitude stops. Those in the crime business don’t get to negotiate with those in the law business. The place for that is called criminal court.

There is being open minded, and there is being close minded, but in the end there is also just not doing something stupid. And if you still think the cops are stupid for not treating criminals like CEOs, have your dog guard a pile of bacon while you go check the mailbox next time. You can be disappointed at the result, but you shouldn’t be shocked.

Alex Teach is a police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.

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