Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Official Response.

This is the letter I sent to Chief of Police, Bobby Southard regarding the teen skateboarders arrested for breaking the City of Hot Springs ordinance prohibiting skateboarding on sidewalks.

To: Bobby Southard
From: David R. Marlborough
Re: Stunned and Concerned!

Mr. Robert Southard:

I just finished watching the video embedded below regarding the group of teenagers who were caught breaking the ordinance by skateboarding in a pedestrian zone (i.e. the sidewalk on what looks to be a busy city street). To be honest, I am quite stunned on many levels both by the teens and by the main arresting officer (Officer Williams) on scene. I am a former school teacher and have had my experiences with teens both negative and positive in and out of the classroom. I saw many things in the video that concerned me greatly.

First, an obvious point to be made regarding the situation is that ignorance of a law doesn't make a person immune to the consequences of breaking that law. So in this case, I would conclude that indeed the teens should have been warned of the law they were breaking as they all seemed to be at the same level of ignorance regarding the ordinance. This is evident in the video as they were all asking as well as stating the fact, albeit in a rather derogatory manner, that they were "just skateboarding." In the video, I didn't see footage of the officer giving the teens a formal warning but then again, he might have given them a warning and it might not have been recorded. I think this may be fair to assume in this case. The video does start with a disturbing image of Officer Williams seemingly twice the size of the teen he has grasped by the throat, pinning him to the ground. In my mind this raised many questions regarding the situation not only as a concerned person but from the point of view as a parent.

Second, it was obvious that one of the teens fled the scene. I watched the video a few times to try and "hear" whether or not Officer Williams told the teen that he too was under arrest before the foot pursuit took place. It would not be a far reach to conclude that the teen who fled was probably frightened by the way the officer was treating the first teen (the one being cuffed, choked and verbally reprimanded). If the teen who fled had any common sense at all he probably should have stayed put and simply endured the wrath of Officer Williams as the whole event was being recorded. Instead, he probably headed home to tell a parent or guardian what was taking place. After all, Officer Williams was extremely aggressive and threatening, but the reasons for this are important points I will address together shortly. But above all, the skateboarders are more than likely minors Williams' is dealing with and NOT adults. Believe it or not, it is a different ball game dealing with adults versus minors. I have members of law enforcement in my family in the NYPD and one thing they all mention from their days in the academy was the training in "verbal judo" they received.

Verbal judo is a way of speaking clearly, succinctly and authoritatively without being threatening in order to foster voluntary compliance. The idea is to approach a situation with the least amount of aggression as possible for the sake of not negatively escalating the situation and to facilitate proper communication of directives and imperatives. (Note: I am assuming you are familiar with such training, but a good web source can be found at "" in particular, look for the article entitled "Police Officers Learn to Talk the Talk.") After reading some of the literature and being taught some of the techniques first hand, I found this to be equally useful in the classroom seeing that my students fell into the age group of 15-18 years of age. I also found it to be effective working as a member of security personnel and as a bouncer on weekends. Coming back to this case with the teen skateboarders, in the realm of general practice, I believe the officer fell quite a bit short in effectively communicating and dealing with the teens.

This brings me to my last point regarding the over-aggressive Officer Williams. It is evident in the video that the officer was, to state it mildly, highly annoyed at the group of teen skateboarders even before the foot pursuit. When the officer returned from the failed pursuit matters turned for the worst. True, the officer is a human being and therefore it is not a far stretch to realize that he would be angered by the fact that one of the teens fled the scene. However, this just made matters worse as he attempted ineffectively to gain compliance from the remaining teens. What worries me most was his attempts to subdue two teens at once when he had another officer standing right next to him. I saw Officer Williams clearly wrestling with the girl and attempting to grab hold of her throat. When Officer Williams lost his grip on her she panicked and ran down the street with another teen. Again, this is fleeing the scene and an adult would realize this but here it is clear that the girl was frightened. I still do not know why the assisting officer did not take her from Officer Williams (?) instead of standing there and watching Officer Williams trying to subdue two teens at once. I personally think that the assisting officer was probably in a clearer state of mind (he may or may not have realized the incident was being recorded) and chose to try to communicate with more officers approaching the scene in hopes of handling the situation more appropriately. This is assuming that fellow officers conduct themselves differently from Officer Williams in these particular situations.

Eventually, Officer Williams focuses his attention to the teen who was recording the video. During the video it does not show that this teen had a skateboard nor that he physically tried to interfere with Officer Williams wrestling the other teens down, spewing off charges, verbally threatening them and cuffing them. If indeed, the teen was on a skateboard as well then he too was guilty of breaking the city ordinance. Also, while all of the arresting was taking place, not once did I hear the Miranda Warning recited by Officer Williams. I heard quite clearly what the teens were being arrested for and that they would be "sprayed" if they moved or spoke. It's not a far stretch to conclude that William's would have read all the teens their rights as a group once all were undoubtedly roughed up and cuffed. But then again, it can be argued that their rights were already violated way before those rights were properly explained to them!

I can only hope that the aptitude and performance of Officer Williams be examined through the appropriate lens and placed under the appropriate scrutiny by yourself and other officials within the department. Above all, a Police Officer's job is stressful enough. Without the confidence and support of the local community, any law enforcement agency's job is that much more difficult.

I write merely as a concerned person.


David R. Marlborough

Hopefully my thoughts and insight do some good. I needed to get them out right away while they were fresh in my mind.


1 talkin' trash:

Anonymous said... - this will make you feel a lil better. i was pissed too.