July 25, 2019 | View as webpage
Leaders,

When six Arizona police officers were asked to leave a Starbucks earlier this month due to a customer claiming their presence made her uncomfortable, the online reaction to the incident was rapid and heartfelt, with many cops calling for a boycott of the coffee behemoth. But is boycotting Starbucks the right response?

In today's Leadership Briefing, we present two views on this incident. Park Forest Police Department Chief Christopher Mannino argues that protesting against Starbucks squanders a valuable teaching moment for both cops and communities, while writer Chris Chung makes a case for why it is hard to ignore an increasing trend of exclusionary behavior toward police at the hands of businesses.

If your officers were asked to leave an eating establishment, how would you respond as chief? Email nancy.perry@policeone.com.

P.S. You are welcome to share the PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. Forward this email to your command staff, supervisors and patrol officers; print and post in the roll call room; add a link to your department's website; or reprint in your organization or regional police association newsletter.


Nancy Perry, PoliceOne Editor-in-Chief
 
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Why the Starbucks incident demands a rational response from cops
 

By Christopher Mannino

Taking a cue from my social media news feeds, as a police officer I should be outraged that a Starbucks barista in Arizona asked six police officers to leave after a customer reported feeling "unsafe" due to their presence. #DumpStarbucks was even trending on social media.

When I heard of the incident, I felt disappointment that, in the best light, a citizen felt unsafe due to the presence of law enforcement. I felt disappointment that a barista made a decision that resulted in six of my fellow police officers leaving feeling unwanted, disrespected, or whatever someone who has dedicated their life to serving others might feel in such an unusual situation.

But I'm not outraged at Starbucks exactly because I'm a police officer. As someone with over two decades in law enforcement, I've seen this irrational story play out far too often to law enforcement's detriment. Somewhere, a police officer makes a wrong decision. Somewhere else a police officer makes a decision that’s simply perceived to be wrong. In both cases, people are outraged and brand all of law enforcement with whatever negative descriptor fits the incident du jour. We all suffer.

Misinformation abounds

Starbucks has nearly 300,000 employees all over the world – a behemoth of a corporation – and yet the incident that has instigated so much recent anger was caused by one employee. It was caused by one employee that Starbucks leadership has admitted erred and apologies have been offered – the same steps law enforcement leadership takes when one of our own strays.

I’ve heard the cries that Starbucks has a history of disrespecting law enforcement and veterans, yet when I look into those accusations, I find that Starbucks has committed to hiring 25,000 veterans by 2025 and has opened over 50 Starbucks Military Family Stores across our country. I see Starbucks stores partnering with police departments to host coffee-themed community events.

This makes me wonder if the same misinformation that abounds about law enforcement is just as prevalent concerning other organizations. Of course, organizational culture matters – with corporations and law enforcement alike. But at the end of the day, neither coffee corporations nor law enforcement agencies are monolithic, rational actors. We know that the poor decisions made by those in our profession that are played out in the media don’t represent the whole – we’d do well to remember that for the other guys. It's not rational to make future purchasing decisions based on an employee's improper handling of a situation. And for law enforcement and all we’ve endured as a profession, it's a bit hypocritical.

Let's build bridges

This isn’t the defense of a coffee company; I’d encourage you to drink the coffee you’ve always preferred, or whatever else keeps you caffeinated on third shift. It’s the defense of responding rationally to current events, rather than emotionally. It’s the defense of law enforcement working to build bridges wherever we can, rather than contributing to a society that pushes us apart.

There is a great teaching moment that is at risk of being squandered by law enforcement right now. Instead of dumping Starbucks, we should be highlighting our understanding that one moment by one employee doesn't represent the whole, for who knows that better than us? Instead, I fear we're painting with the same overused broad brush that prompted this incident. Let's be better.


About the author

In his 23rd year in law enforcement, Christopher Mannino serves as chief of police of the Park Forest Police Department in suburban Chicago. He has served in a variety of law enforcement roles throughout his career, including assignments in the patrol division, investigations division, administration division, special operations, as the field training coordinator and as a team leader with a regional Mobile Field Force.

Chief Mannino holds a master’s degree in political and justice studies from Governors State University and is a graduate of the 237th session of the FBI National Academy, an international executive police leadership course where he was chosen by his classmates as a section representative. He is also a Certified Police Chief through the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

Additional resources:
Opinion: Why the Senate should consider class protection for officers under public accommodation laws
 

By Chris Chung

The Protect and Serve Act of 2018, which passed the House of Representatives on May 16, 2018, by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 382 to 35, and is expected to pass the Senate, will extend protected class status to law enforcement officers in the context of federal hate crimes once it is signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The Act imposes, nearly verbatim, the same penalties for violence perpetuated against law enforcement officers that Section 7 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 did for crimes committed against people based on actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. [1]

The passage of the Protect and Serve Act would be the first instance of law enforcement being afforded class protection at a national level in American history. While this is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of protecting the safety of the men and women serving, an uptick in recent instances of discriminatory behavior against officers at the hands of restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses raises another important legislative question: Should state and national legislatures consider granting some form of class protection to law enforcement officers in the context of public accommodation?

Public accommodation laws

The first federal public accommodation law was passed under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provides that “[a]ll persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation … without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion or national origin”. [2]

Private businesses are within the scope of places where people are afforded class protection under federal law, and include businesses that provide lodging, food, exhibition, entertainment, and other goods for public consumption and use. [3]

While law enforcement officers have not been historically discriminated against in the same ways as other classes currently protected under these laws, recent news stories have shown an increasing trend of exclusionary behavior at the hands of businesses that is hard to ignore.

Publicized stories like a Missouri Olive Garden asking a uniformed officer and his family to leave on his birthday, a Washington state restaurant requesting that law enforcement no longer dine at their establishment, and the recent Starbucks incident in Arizona that made national headlines, are not reflective of the true number of discriminatory instances that either fly below the radar or else go unreported.

Should the fact that these businesses and the same people who complain about feeling uncomfortable inevitably turn to law enforcement for help in their times of greatest need simply be cast aside and forgotten?

A general lack of appreciation is one thing, but asking law enforcement officers to leave public places for wearing their uniform, carrying a firearm, and otherwise upholding their duty to serve and protect is unacceptable. Lacking appreciation does not give businesses, employees, or customers the right to compel officers to leave places they have every right to be in. Members of law enforcement have the right to publicly celebrate birthdays, enjoy a meal, have a cup of coffee, and otherwise have full access to public and private services free from harassment due to their profession. Such is especially true given the fact that the work they do and the dangers they face are what allow society to enjoy, with peace of mind, the goods and services offered by these businesses in the first place.

There are some bad actors in every profession, and law enforcement is no exception. But with no profession outside of law enforcement do people generally seem to be as quick to conclusively impute the wrongs of the few onto the majority, despite the fact that the majority works hard and puts their lives on the line every day to keep society safe and maintain the honor of their profession.

The strong bipartisan support for the Protect and Serve Act of 2018 is indicative of national support for protecting the safety and rights of law enforcement officers. It does not seem unreasonable to ask that the Senate consider the possibility of including, in this Act, a provision calling for a uniform national public accommodation protection for officers, in order to prevent the actors responsible for recent instances of law enforcement discrimination, both reported and unreported, from continuing to deny officers the right to access public services based solely on their line of work.

There ought to be a minimal legal standard allowing law enforcement to universally enjoy the same public accommodations that their protection allows society to have safe access to every day.

References

1. 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2).

2. 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(a).

3. 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(b).


About the author

Chris Chung is a former law clerk for the Government and Financial Crimes Unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago. He writes on a number of topics including politics, current events, history, tax law and general legal issues. E-mail him at cechung1@gmail.com.

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