Interview with Otis Pitts

Tell me about the attitude of the police to the Black community around 1979 or so.


I think generally, the Police Department, ah, historically had viewed the Black community as, you know, kind of a combat zone and, ah, you know, it wasn't the matter of fighting crime. They often said they were fighting the people in that community. You know, ah, beyond that, I mean that was sort of reinforced within the Police Department itself. Ah, you would find for an example, when Chief Garmire came in and talked about not shooting people, ah, fleeing felons unless they were, you know, posing some imminent danger to someone or whatever else. There was a lot of, ah, you know resistance to that in the Police Department because prior to that, the old Chief Headley, you know, had an order out during the 1967 riot to shoot to kill kind of thing. So there was a lot of built in resistance to that. And so when we'd get a memo from the chief that would be read in the roll-call room, I mean the, it would be preceded by the sergeant saying, "All right fellows, we got to listen up". And you could hear in the voice of the sergeant that there was no enthusiasm for supporting what had come down from the chief as such. He was talking about integrating the Police Department. He was talking about a community relations section which he started. And those were all like little, little sissy sections. You didn't want to be involved in that. Beyond that, I mean, you wanted to get the coveted award which the Officer of the Month Award. You know, that was the cowboy award. That was the one that, that you bring some cat in bleeding in the handcuff and dragged him in the station, kind of thing. That was the award that you really went after and the one that led to you becoming Officer of the Year really. But the Courteous Officer of the Month Award which is one you got for helping somebody, for assisting somebody in trouble, for, that kind of thing, I mean that was an award that was really, the one that really coveted it. You got that one, ah, if nice old ladies wrote in and said something about you, whatever. So, you found the behavior in the Police Department being skewed toward the tough guy, macho kind of whatever else, as opposed to, someone out there helping, you know. And you found that when, ah, where helping occurred in effect, it occurred in, ah, the White community. Ah, and there was less that attitude in the Black community. I mean the Black community was, you know, let's go in and, ah, whip some heads and take some people to jail kind of thing.


OK. Stop.