by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

When an unemployed black man was stopped by police Thursday night and beaten to death for no apparent reason, many of us pointed angrily towards the police department.

Why, we wondered, were two of these officers — with a history of brutality charges — still out on the streets? Where was the preventative action a police department is supposed to take?

For answers, we can look at Brian Yinger.

Yinger is a cop in Dearborn. Has been for 15 years. This week he was suspended, without pay, and ordered to undergo psychiatric tests.

Yinger did not kill anyone. Did not beat anyone senseless. He did not ride roughshod through the neighborhood, or kick in someone’s door.

He never slapped handcuffs on a little old lady, never poked his nightstick into some little kid’s stomach.

He did not curse at his suspects. He did not so much as flash his siren just to sneak through a red light.

But what Yinger did was so upsetting to his police chief that suspension seemed the only course of action.

What Yinger did was write his 7s funny.

Clearly, he needed to be taken care of. Numbers game in reverse

Yinger writes his 7s the European way, which is to put a little line through the stem. He has been doing this, he says, since the seventh — or 7th
— grade. Why he started, I don’t know, but I’m sure the psychiatrists will get to the bottom of it.

Anyhow, this so upset his police chief, Ronald Deziel, that he ordered Yinger to stop it six months ago.

(That’s 6. With the little circle at the bottom and the curved stem, no line.)

When Yinger failed to break his nasty habit — after all, he is 42, so he’s been doing it for a while — Deziel put his foot down.

He suspended Yinger for three days.

(That’s 3. Two half-circles on top of one another, no stem, and no line.)

Now. You may say, with so much crime in our area, we should be adding police officers, not subtracting them. You may also wonder why these 7s so bothered Chief Deziel, who should have better things to do.

Deziel told a reporter, “The way he (Yinger) was writing them was confusing to the typist. . . . He was told he would face disciplinary action.”

And even though this action, by the time you are done with the paperwork, testing, arbitration fees and who knows what, could cost the city maybe $4,000
— enough to learn a new language at Berlitz, maybe one where they don’t even have 7s — nonetheless, Deziel said, “It’s worth it.”

So we have this interesting picture: On the same day the family of that slain black motorist wept and mourned and demanded to know why the police department wasn’t more responsible, officer Yinger was being sent to a psychiatrist to get those funny-looking 7s out of his system.

I am not making this up.

I wish I were. Let’s be careful out there

Now, true, Yinger works for the Dearborn police, and the officers involved in the beating death Thursday where from Detroit. But the problem is the same. It exists in police departments everywhere, from guys walking the beat to commissioners in charge. It is the abuse of power, the swelling of some part of the brain that says, “I have the gun. I have the cuffs. We’re gonna do it my way.”

It is why we have those shameless cops in LA, who beat Rodney King to a pulp. And why the former police chief of this city is in jail.

Abuse of power.

Most police officers, to their credit, learn to control this. They handle it well. But some don’t. And that’s intolerable. This is not a driver’s test, where 80 or 90 percent correct is good enough. These are people’s lives at stake; one bad apple is one too many.

But even less tolerable than an abusive policeman is a superior who overlooks him. How is it that the long list of complaints against the accused officers in Thursday’s beatings — one source said more than 25 of them — were not enough to keep those cops off the streets, but Yinger’s handwriting was enough to get him suspended?

Here’s how: People see what they want to see. So charges of brutality somehow get lost in paperwork, or winked at in the tight police fraternity. Meanwhile, a police chief gets hot and bothered over an underling who seems like a wiseacre. And he lets him know who’s boss — by wasting our money on court costs and psychiatrists.

I have a confession to make: I write my 7s the same way Yinger does. I picked it up when I lived in Europe many years ago, and I never broke the habit.

So I guess I better be careful when dealing with certain police.

Then again, shouldn’t we all?


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!