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Crime & Justice

Black cop: 'Common to hear racial slurs, often from my own race'




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Officer Darren Sims is a rookie police officer with the city of San Bernardino, just east of Los Angeles.

As a black man, he's a minority on the force he serves on, and in the community he serves in. The city is about 60 percent Hispanic, 19 percent white, and about 15 percent black. On the force, 60 percent of the officers are white, about 28 percent are Hispanic and nine percent are black.

The department does not reflect the community it patrols. And that includes Officer Sims.

It's a challenge for the San Bernardino Police Department, and an issue that weighs on law enforcement across the country following several high-profile incidents that led to the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

But in San Bernardino, the issue of diversity is secondary to the rise in crime the city is facing since it declared bankruptcy in August of 2012. Since then, under immense financial pressure, the police department has had to make some drastic cuts.

The force has shrunk from more than 350 officers to 230. That means fewer officers on patrol; and criminals in San Bernardino know it. Gang violence is up. Homicides surged to 46 in 2013 from 32 in 2009.

To get a sense of what Officer Sims faces in a community so violent and underserved, Bloomberg reporter Esme Deprez went out on patrol with him recently. 

During her interview with him, Sims told her about a night when the officer had to make a snap, life or death decision to subdue a suspect. Both reporter and officer joined Take Two to discuss his experiences.

Interview Highlights with officer darren sims

On what patrolling the streets of San Bernardino is like now

I've only been a police officer for a short period of time, so it's all I know. But at times, things can be stressful. There's a lot of tension - a lot of racial tension.

There's a lot of tension between law enforcement and citizens. The perception that civilians have towards law enforcement does affect us in a sense.

On his perception of police as a kid in Riverside, CA

Initially starting out, I'm not going to lie, I didn't have a good view of law enforcement. I listened to a lot of gangsta rap - a lot of the cop-killing and glorifying hating the police. A lot of my friends had that same kind of mind set.

But, as I matured, as I grew up and became more educated, my perception kind of changed.

On how the black community responds to him on his patrols

It's quite common to hear racial slurs or whatever the case is, and a lot of times, it's from my own (laughs), my own race. I get called all kinds of names - Oreo, Uncle Tom. It gets frustrating. 

On the racial disparity between San Bernardino cops and the community they serve

I can't say that I really focus on racial issues. In my opinion, when it comes to law enforcement, there's individuals who are qualified and there's individuals who aren't qualified. I know what the statistics say...but at the same time, when we're entrusted with the ability to take someone's rights and, ultimately, up to taking someone's life, that's a big responsibility, that's a big burden to carry. 

When it comes to the application process, I think the most qualified applicants should be the ones that get hired.

On the tension between law enforcement and civilians following high-profile, police-related cases like the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown

I see what's going on in the media and I take it in. It's important to know what's going on and what the state of the relationship is between law enforcement and the community. I take it for what it's worth; use it as a learning [and] training experience. However, I don't think it changes how I deal with people.

[But], there's times when I respond to a call...or come in contact with people and they'll put their hands up and say, 'Don't shoot.' For me, the first couple of times, it kind of catches me off guard...but then I remember, 'Okay, that's related to some of the incidences that happened recently.'

Before they even talk to me, before they can even interact with me, I'm being judged. That's one of the barriers that we in law enforcement have to get past. We have to work to bridge that gap.

On the night when the he had to make a snap, life or death decision to subdue a suspect

We got a call for service. There was a man down on the street, potentially shot. I respond. I'm the first one on scene. I exited my patrol car, walked up to the subject, and he had a 9 mm pistol next to his leg. I was scared. 

We go through training and you think that you know how you're going to feel or what you're going to do, but in that situation, after exiting my patrol car, there's no cover. I have nothing to get behind if this man picks up the gun and starts shooting at me.

Now I'm facing a situation where it could potentially escalate to a deadly force situation, which is something that I hope I never have to live through.

I secure the weapon, and after it's secured, I try to help him. As soon as I go to contact him to try to search him and everything, he starts coming to. He starts waking up and he wants to fight.

Since I wasn't able to do a proper search, I don't know what he's armed with. I don't know if he has knives, guns, you know; I don't now what the situation is; I don't know if I'm going to get ambushed - a million things are running through your mind in a situation like that.

The situation escalates, he wants to fight, and I'm trying to determine how I'm going to respond. Instead of switching to any of my tools, I utilize a lateral vascular neck restraint so I can render him non-combative.

Luckily, I was able to overpower him and I was able to bring him into custody without having to transition to my fire arm. Because I don't know any law enforcement officer, I've never met one, that says at the beginning of shift that he wants to go out and use deadly force. That doesn't happen. 

Me personally, and a lot of my peers and a lot of my supervisors, we got into this job to help people. And, unfortunately, we're placed in situations where we have to contact subjects and suspects where their actions sometimes dictate how we respond. And sometimes, it is deadly force. It's unfortunate, but we don't go out looking to hurt people or to harm people.