Vargas: Man jumps on police car while officers watch – commendable restraint or failure to act

By Joe Vargas

It’s no secret police officers sometimes feel they are walking a tightrope when it comes to making decisions on how much force to use or ending up in a nationwide viral video. Then there is the added pressure of departmental expectations.

Some officers in Newark, NJ found themselves in exactly that predicament on Saturday. An encounter with a disturbed man was captured on Facebook Live and has raised questions about the officer’s response.

A rookie officer was seated in his car when an 18-year-old man walked up to the car window and engaged in conversation. The next thing we see is the guy jumping up and down on the hood of the car.

Posted by Habib Beyah on Saturday, August 4, 2018

Of course, dozens of bystanders have their cell phones out and are capturing every moment. The crowd egged on the young man. The officer remained in his vehicle, apparently calling for backup. A second and third unit arrived before officers finally got out of their cars and tried to corral the subject.

Eventually, the guy took off running from the area. According to news reports, the man was arrested, but not before damaging two police units.

The video and the officer’s lack of response have raised questions about why the officer failed to act.

“Let’s not mix restraint with not doing their jobs. I’m getting calls from people saying, ‘Why didn’t they arrest him? Instead, they just let him walk away. There’s $5,000 of damage to the cars. It’s not the money, it’s the fact they didn’t do their jobs,” Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said in an interview with New Jersey Real News.

Newark FOP President James Stewart Jr. said during a media interview: “I think today’s climate had something to do with the way it played out… The officers indicated they were aware there was a large group of people. They were aware everyone was filming it. They were aware he was being egged on. Nobody wants to be the next guy caught on videotape doing something wrong.”

There have been numerous comments on social media, with some commending the officers for their restraint and others criticizing the officers for not being more proactive. I understand their predicament. With dozens of people recording and broadcasting, I’m sure they understood putting handcuffs on someone who doesn’t want handcuffs put on them is not going to be very pretty.

It could also get ugly. Very ugly. It leaves one to wonder how the already antagonistic crowd would have reacted. I can only imagine the bedlam that would have ensued if the officers’ use of force was seen as excessive by the crowd.

According to news reports, the officers have been suspended for failing to act. The 18-year-old is facing charges of felony malicious mischief.

Joe is a retired police captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.