John Ohl, recently retired police chief of the St. Anthony Police Department, voiced his annoyance with the unfavorable perceptions of law enforcement long before Philando Castile was killed by an officer he had led.
In a mid-May interview with St. Paul blogger William “Bill” Lindeke, Ohl said “nothing’s significantly broken” in the system of policing, according to a transcription Lindeke posted on his site Thursday. Ohl retired June 3 after more than a decade as chief. He had been in law enforcement for 33 years.
The transcript shows Ohl repeatedly slamming the media for what he calls a recent “hyper-vigilance” of police killings that skew impressions of officers as “gun-crazy shooting nutbags that need to be reeled in.”
“We are better trained, better selected, better educated, held to more standards … than ever before in the United States of America history,” Ohl said. “Yet we’re in the toilet right now.”
Lindeke said he went into the interview with no intentions of talking about police killings; the assignment for the Park Bugle community paper was to write about the chief’s retirement.
“To me, it felt like it was going to be a fluffy story and not about anything political,” Lindeke said by phone Friday. He said Ohl was the first to address the topic. He was definitely “adamant and passionate,” Lindeke said. He agreed to have all his commentary on record, saying he’d said similar things many times before.
Attempts to reach Ohl were unsuccessful.
In the 2015 annual report for the St. Anthony Police Department, Ohl also discussed the “scrutiny” of police officers.
“The perception that police officers are out of control is not balanced by reports of the good work that is done every day,” he wrote in a letter included in the report. “People who have never seen cops’ everyday reality up close can easily overlook just how difficult it can be to deal humanely, as cops must, even with the dregs of our society.”
Ohl ends his message by writing of the importance of building “working, trusting relationships” to “combat this national narrative.”
The former police chief told Lindeke that it is getting harder to recruit quality cops because fewer people want to go into a profession where “you’re treated like a piece of crap.”
He went on to say that policing is a tough job and he was looking forward to the relaxation of retirement.
“When you are in Mexico vacationing, you’re thinking about your next margarita,” he told Lindeke. “I’m in Mexico thinking, ‘God I hope somebody doesn’t get hurt here, a cop doesn’t get shot, doesn’t kill somebody,’ because I’d have to leave. I’d have to leave Mexico.”
In the transcript, Ohl repeatedly rattles off statistics that he said prove deadly force is used in what he calls “plucked out minutiae.”
Lindeke said Friday that looking back on the interview, he wishes he would have asked more about the numbers Ohl quoted and more about Ohl’s views on racial profiling and diversity training for officers.
“I think he was wrong about the statistics and about police shootings being so minor and rare,” Lindeke said.
The department’s annual report also includes a statement from Lt. Jeff Scholl regarding police education.
The first paragraph of the statement seems to allude to the use of police force: “There are times that police situations can be rapidly evolving, tense and uncertain. Depending on the situation, a police officer must act and act quickly. Sometimes mistakes can take place.”
In order to minimize those mistakes, St. Anthony police officers go through several training programs, including “Integrity and Diversity Training” and “use-of-force” instruction, he writes.
“Officers sometimes find it a little odd being taught by professionals on diversity, mental health and public relations,” Scholl wrote.
The full transcription of Lindeke’s interview of Ohl can be found here.
Mara Klecker • 612-673-4753