Training in Awakening

by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, February 2015

I wanted to take a moment to respond to the incident that happened a couple of weeks ago when a cop was tasked with waking a homeless person up who was sleeping on a bus that had come to the end of its line near Ocean Beach.

The task of waking up homeless people is one that is not relished by the Gubbio Project staff and volunteers, but one in which we have become experts. We wake our unhoused neighbors up from the sidewalk in the morning at 5:45 am, from the front of the church when they fall asleep in those pews reserved for mass and prayer, from out in front of the church during the day, and finally from the pews at 2:45 pm when it is time for us to close. We must wake up 100 people a day that don't necessarily want to be awakened.

It is not an easy task, and probably our least favorite. It takes training, patience, compassion, more patience, time (that we sometimes don't have), and a bit of humor. And so it is with this expertise, and compassion for the 'awaking officer,' that I offer my insights on the incident.

In response to the characterizations from the Public Defender's Office that Police Officer Chu had "lost his temper" and that his actions were a "reckless and unnecessary escalation of force," Police Chief Suhr defended Officer Chu saying that he was acting as he was trained to do. While Suhr is probably speaking truth, it only makes the matter worse. It begs the question of anyone who has seen the video , And
what training is that?

A better response would have been for Chu to admit what the Public Defender's Office said was true - he did escalate the situation. It is understandable. Most people have had to put up with someone who was drunk. And it would be hard not to sympathize if Chu came out saying "I was impatient, and in my effort to accomplish my task - to get Mr. Warren off the bus - probably hurried him along too much. I got triggered when he insulted me, challenged me and offhandedly threatened me."

This self-knowledge and analysis is what I would expect of my staff if we had an incident here at Gubbio. Is it too much to ask this of those who are entrusted with the safety of the whole city?

Mr. Warren played his part in this incident. But he did not deserve to be beaten, pursued, and pepper sprayed, and then to spend two weeks in jail. He owes an apology to be sure for the way he acted, but he certainly deserves an apology as well.

Along with training in CPR/First Aid and working with folks who have mental health issues or suffer from addiction, I offer the staff training in knowing their triggers and in de-escalating situations. We use these skills every day. Wouldn't it be great if, after Chu's (suggested) acknowledgement of getting triggered, Police Chief Suhr could defend his apology saying "he was simply doing as he was trained."