By Stephen Magagnini | Observer Editor-in-Chief

Throughout his 40-year law enforcement career, Calvin Handy has never witnessed the disregard for human life – Black life – that’s transpired in the last year.

The former UC Davis Police Chief, who coordinated police services at all 10 UC campuses, was still processing evidence in the Derek Chauvin trial Monday when his wife Catherine told him, “another unarmed Black man, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, got shot and killed in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota … the officer who shot him said she confused her taser with her handgun.”

Handy, 73, replied, “‘That’s unbelievable.’ I was sullen, I was sad, I was angry. An unarmed man, another unarmed man. You can only take so much of these things – when I was a cop in the ’70s and ’80s it was rare for an officer to kill an unarmed person. We are all human beings, we have children, grandchildren, siblings, parents and grandparents, friends and neighbors. We’ve got to address this as a country and a profession.”

The OBSERVER spoke with the military veteran, who has become an authority at addressing police-community relations. He discusses the need for better recruiting, a national model for police conduct and purging law enforcement of white supremacy. 

Q: What has changed since you first became a police officer in Berkeley?

A: “I call it ‘The Missing Link in American Public Safety,’ the glaring inability of political and law enforcement leaders to instill in every peace officer the highest regard for the principles of law enforcement and the law enforcement code of ethics, an oath officers take to uphold in all instances:

‘As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception…and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality and justice…I will never permit personal feelings, prejudices, political beliefs, aspirations, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions…I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force….’”

The code of ethics dates back to 1829 England when Sir Robert “Bobby” Peel created Peel’s Principles of Law Enforcement, focusing on transparency, integrity and accountability. But unfortunately, these basic academy introductions to ethics and principles are most likely the last time they will be instilled with these essential and crucial elements of the public safety profession.”

Q: What has triggered the increase in police use of deadly force?

A: “In 1985 and 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings: Tennessee v. Garner, which ruled police pursuing an unarmed suspect “may use deadly force to prevent escape only if the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others” and Graham v. Connor, the so-called “reasonableness test” later used to justify the police shooting of Michael Brown and the lynching of George Floyd.

In those cases, the court ruled if a police officer is afraid for their lives and feel threatened they can use any amount of force they deemed necessary — ‘I was afraid for my life.’ It’s kind of hard to use that in the George Floyd case. I cannot adequately describe the intensity of my feelings of outrage, sadness and revulsion at seeing George Floyd being choked to death for 9 minutes and 29 seconds by a uniformed police officer whose life and wellbeing was in no discernable way threatened by Mr. Floyd.

Secondly, there are 400 million guns out there, more guns than we have people, more assault weapons, and that’s had an effect on police officers who feel it’s more dangerous out there, anybody can be walking around with an AR-15, every mass shooting we’ve had involved assault weapons.  Police chiefs used to be actively against giving people permits for assault weapons.”

Q:There were at least 22 complaints against Derek Chauvin before George Floyd — are the wrong people becoming cops?

A:  “We never tell police officers to go out and kill anybody — we trained them on the sanctity of human life before they ever went to the shooting range.  The University of California at Berkeley Police Department, where I served as a patrol officer, lieutenant and deputy chief, has only had one deadly shooting in 40 years, a remarkable record.  There are going to be people who shouldn’t be police officers. The numbers I’ve heard, without validation, are between 13 and 25 percent. 

The emphasis should always be on de-escalation. In my day when we found there was an outstanding misdemeanor warrant (as in the case of Daunte Wright), we didn’t even handcuff the suspect. 

During the tail end of the Iraq War, which ended in 2011, the military was having a difficult time recruiting people because many Americans thought it was a bad war, so the military let a lot of people in they shouldn’t have. When they came back, people thought they’ve been in the military, they can be police officers. But many came back from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD and now they’re out on the streets. 

Many of them have a warrior mentality rather than a guardian mentality. Anybody I hired genuinely wanted to help people. But after cops were taken off the beat and put in cars, that could make them more reactive than proactive. And some departments seem to be teaching cops to shoot first and ask questions later. 

Now the FBI and the Department of Justice have become far more vigilant and Lloyd Austin, Biden’s new Secretary of Defense, has launched a military-wide campaign to purge white supremacists. Many military bases around the country have their TVs tuned to Fox News. The ability to manipulate people through social media is greater than ever before. Our politicians are the main force responsible for this divide.”

Q: How can America fix this?

 A:  “We need to create a national model for police conduct, where an officer’s first allegiance is to the community you serve. We need to make sure our officers aren’t suffering from PTSD. Cops should have to undergo an internship just like doctors do. 

I would create an intervention process, so when the officers saw George Floyd being killed, they would immediately tell Chauvin, ‘Wait a minute, you’re killing him,’ and follow up with hands-on intervention and get him physically out of there. 

The other thing I would do is not allow the police unions to make donations to politicians at any level — a professional police force is apolitical. Our democracy is flawed but it’s worth preserving.”