Mayor Luke Ravenstahl Gets It Right

The video of foul-mouthed Detective Frank Rende showing St. Patrick’s Day reveler Mark Keyser who’s the boss is nasty and offensive, but Rende’s defense is that his taser, put to Keyser’s neck for no discernible legitimate reason, didn’t fire.

When the best thing you can say about an abusive cop, who demonstrates no reluctance to use violence for no better reason than to bully a kid into submission, it’s not quite an endorsement of his having the temperament and qualities one expects of a police officer.

To his enormous credit, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl recognized this.  Via WTAE :

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says police Detective Frank Rende should lose his job over his conduct captured on video during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations Saturday on the South Side — even if the detective did not turn on his Taser, as some initially claimed he did in Internet postings.

“My first glance at the video, it is very disturbing. It is something that in my mind shouldn’t have happened,” Ravenstahl said. “And somebody better give me a real good reason why he shouldn’t be fired. It’s just unacceptable and that’s not the way police should be acting.”

So he didn’t tase Keyser. He didn’t kill Keyser. Keyser wasn’t injured.  Though this may be true, this is not an endorsement of Rende’s qualifications to wear a shield and gun. 

The likelihood of Rende being fired in slim to none, of course. Even if the police chief were to follow the mayor’s lead, Rende’s conduct barely scratches the surface of things a cop can do that can’t be excused.  Not only will he end up back in uniform, but with a backpay award as well. 

But wait, you say?  No police union official can endorse conduct like this, reprehensible despite the fortuitous fact that the taser didn’t fire, you say?  Well, you underestimate the ability of the police union to rationalize the conduct of its members.

The Pittsburgh Police Bureau now says it has determined that Rende’s Taser was not activated. Union attorney Bryan Campbell criticized the mayor’s comments, saying, “I really think he should have withheld his opinion as to whether or not this employee should be terminated until after he knew all the facts.”

This one was a no-brainer, no harm, no foul.  It doesn’t matter what Rende said (which was atrocious), or what he intended to do.  Without blood and guts, he’s just another good cop doing his job.

But then Campbell goes to the trusty fallback argument on the police union talking points:

“I’m not an expert in procedures and policies, but I can tell you that I’m sure they were all violated in that case,” Ravenstahl said. “To have an officer, you know, literally chase down the individual and use force like he did is something that just will not be tolerated.”

Campbell disagrees. “This is a rush to judgment, that all the facts were not established,” he said. “There were a lot of facts and a lot of things that took place before that video that he viewed started.”

A lot of facts. A lot of things. This requires a massive investigation, the sort that never applies to anyone other than a cop accused of doing wrong. Particularly when that wrong is captured on video, which can’t be trusted when it fails to show the justification for the cops outrageous behavior.  It’s great evidence, on the other hand, when it shows the crime committed by anyone else. That’s just how video works.

Before anyone raises the obvious reaction, that in the scheme of abuse and misconduct caught on video by police officers, this one isn’t the worst, the young man wasn’t really harmed and there are far bigger wrongs to right, bear this in mind.  The entire tenor of Rende’s conduct is anathema to what any citizen would expect of a person in whom the public reposes sufficient trust to wear a badge. That no one was killed doesn’t make his attitude toward the public despicable.  It is not necessary to wait until greater harm is done before concluding that this is not what a police officer should do, how a police officer should act, how a police officer should think.

The wrong is in his attitude, his mouth, his cavalier anger and disdain for a young man.  Mayor Ravenstahl is absolutely right in recognizing that, despite the fact that Rende may not have fired his taser, may not have harmed Keyser, this is a person who should never be allowed to walk the streets with the authority to use force on citizens.

The mayor’s call to fire Detective Frank Rende for his conduct in this video would send a message to police officers that abusive conduct, abusive attitude, toward the public is intolerable.  And if Rende walks away unscathed from this conduct, it will send another message, that the Mayor and citizens of Pittsburgh have no say over the abuse a police officer can inflict on the public.  Kudos to the mayor for standing up for the people. It’s a shame that there is almost no chance his message will prevail.



6 comments on “Mayor Luke Ravenstahl Gets It Right

  1. RAFIV

    About 15 years ago – before law school – a college friend of mine became a Boston Police officer. After he was off probation he explained to me that there were only three kinds of people: Cops, civilians, and everyone else. Cops are untouchable, civilians are people it isn’t worth the time or aggravation to f*** with like politicians, affluent suburbanites, lawyers etc., and everyone else who just better do what the police tell them to do. At the time I thought it was funny. After a decade of practicing law, I don’t find it funny anymore. It is frighteningly true.

  2. Aqua Regia

    IANAL, though I had/have a number in the family. But I determined the three classes on my own. I would put a couple of more groups in the top class. Medical examiners, politicians in office, the wealthy, corrections officers and families of cops.

    I was rather surprised when the chief of police, in uniform, of a very exclusive suburban town on LI came into my cardiologists office. I learned that he had brought a new registration sticker to replace one that had been stolen from one of the Doc’s cars during a party one of the Doc’s kids had held. I never found out the connection between the Doc and the cops, but he must have done them a number of favors over the years. The Chief was most differential to the Doc.

  3. SHG

    Always be nice to people who you may need to save your life. Small LI police departments of exclusive villages are a little different than others. There is no better, if you don’t mind crushingly boring, job for a cop anywhere.

  4. jill mcmahon

    In the meantime and intermediate future, take away his gun and taser, stick him behind a desk, and feed him paperwork ’til he chokes. Or, make him a meter maid while he’s waiting. Maybe he’ll voluntarily resign.

  5. Lurker

    I think this argument is almost straight from Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana”. There, the secret service chief explains patiently to the protagonist that there are two kinds of people: those that can be tortured and those who can’t. The dividing lines are essentially those you describe.

    May be that I misremember the novel, but it was definitely one of Greene’s.

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