Last week, while protesters convened for daily Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Des Moines, critics of the city’s police force drew attention to posts on a website associated with the department written by two retired officers that criticized the “black community” and portrayed protesters as spoiled youths who “have no concept of how life really works.”
The posts were published on a website titled “Des Moines Public Safety Officer 911″ that is jointly operated by the Des Moines Police Burial Association and Des Moines Police Bargaining Unit Association — a nonprofit and labor union, respectively, neither of which is officially part of the DMPD itself — in a section called “What Do You Think?” The section contains ten posts, including seven by retired Sergeant David F. Brown and another — the “black community” critique — by retired officer Jim Trotter. They were published as early as November 30, 2017, when the section was apparently added to the site along with several of the posts, according to their page source code, and as recently as six days ago.
“for those who can’t read between the lines, I’m speaking of the black community”
On Thursday night, The Des Moines Register reported that Trotter resigned from his volunteer position on the Urbandale Civil Service Commission, which advocates for city employees in the Des Moines suburb, over his post. Trotter, who is 77 and retired from the department in 1998 after 31 years, told a Register reporter that he chose to step down so that he wouldn’t bring “disfavor” to the commission. The article also quoted Urbandale Mayor Bob Andeweg, who said his city “endeavors at all times to promote and model the principles of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.”
Trotter’s post is an eight-paragraph complaint about problems between the criminal justice system and “the minority community” — “(for those who can’t read between the lines, I’m speaking of the black community),” he adds. Efforts to address these issues, he argues, will continue to fail as long they are “always aimed at the police and never a syllable is spoken about correcting any problems in the minority community.”
After joking that the amount of thought he gave to the post “is a scary thought,” Trotter acknowledges that he will be branded a “hate monger and racist” for writing it. Mocking efforts to retrain police officers so they avoid racial profiling, he explains to “the brain dead out there” why it’s a problem to do this without addressing crime in the black community. He describes a hypothetical scenario that he says could apply to any city, in which a cop responds to a report of an African American wearing a Black Lives Matter hoodie who is “carrying a large paper sack with the loot from the robbery” and running down the street with “a large silver gun in hand.” Arriving on the scene, the cop spots the paper bag but not the gun and is placed in danger by hesitating to consider whether they will be accused of racially profiling the suspect by pulling their gun on him.
According to a 2018 US Census Bureau estimate, 11.3 percent of Des Moines’ residents are black, a proportion nearly three times greater than the 4 percent of black residents in Iowa as a whole. Across the state, 90.7 percent are white, compared with 75.4 percent in Des Moines.
A welcome statement on the website says it is “aimed at bringing the residents we serve closer to their police and fire departments.” The site prominently displays the police department’s official logo and includes a separate welcome message from Police Chief Dana Wingert. “The Des Moines Police Department has a strong community policing program, recognizing that our citizens are full partners in addressing issues that affect quality of life,” it reads. “We work jointly with our citizens to set priorities for police and local government response and then collaborate on problem resolution.” The two posts in the site’s “What Do You Think?” section that aren’t written by Trotter or Brown show photos of Wingert presenting Des Moines Rotary Club officer of the year awards to other cops on the force.
Sergeant Paul Parizek, the department’s public information officer, told the Informer that the DMPD itself is not involved in operating the website. “I am addressing the branding of their website,” he added. “The official insignia of the Des Moines Police Department should not be used by either organization, and the opinions of those organizations are not the opinions of the Des Moines Police Department.
“Both retirees you mention are well-respected people,” Parizek continued, referring to Trotter and Brown, who joined the force in 1974 and retired nearly 30 years later, according to descriptions he’s written about his time with the department. “They served the Des Moines community honorably, and continued with a variety of selfless, often volunteer, endeavors in metro area communities well into their retirements.”
Brown’s posts on the website also include controversial opinions about race and Black Lives Matter protesters — the focus of his most recent post, “Riots,” which was published on the site June 1. “The events that have taken place the past few nights in cities all across our nation only emphasize the mentality and rationale of ‘today’s generation,’” he writes. “They are screaming “WE WANT JUSTICE AND WE WANT IT NOW!” Just like they want a new I-phone or a brand new car, they want everything, right now. They have no concept of how life really works.”
“Sorry snowflakes, but it does not work that way”
Admitting he “can be a little dense,” Brown goes on to criticize the vandalism of businesses that just reopened after they were ordered to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic and “whose employees have suffered unparalled [sic] economic hardship.” He says that he believes Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, whose killing of a black man named George Floyd sparked the recent protests across the country and internationally, was appropriately charged with manslaughter and third-degree murder (the latter charge was later upgraded to second-degree murder). Brown warns that protesters calling for first-degree murder charges instead are mistaken, relating what may happen in that case to a colleague’s death he recalls from his early days on the force in which a man was acquitted of first-degree murder for fatally shooting officer Brian Melton after a scuffle. (The suspect walked free after “the defense portrayed him as being the victim of police brutality,” according to a memorial website for fallen officers.) Brown’s post also accuses protesters of wanting Chauvin locked away without due process. “Sorry snowflakes,” he adds, using a slang term popular among conservatives to criticize liberals for being too easily offended, “but it does not work that way.”
A post published in September 2018 about the nature of police work, which touches on similar themes, criticizes the ACLU and people who have “become an expert in law enforcement from watching marathon episodes of either COPS or Live PD.” Brown also singles out the progressive advocacy organization Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which had recently accused Des Moines cop Kyle Thies of racially profiling two young black men after pulling them over, handcuffing them, and accusing them of possessing guns and marijuana while searching their car without a warrant. The DMPD settled a lawsuit over the incident last year for $75,000 as others stepped forward to accuse Thies of racial bias.
Two other posts on the website written by Brown argue that people have increasingly adopted the attitude that the law does not apply to them. In one, he complains that as demands for “a kinder, gentler cop” have grown, so has society’s violent nature. “Look what goes on in Chicago week after week,” he writes. “Dozens of people being shot, quite a few of them killed. We deal with the same problems here in Des Moines just not to the same magnitude.” He then argues that a “select group,” which he emphasizes is not limited to a single racial demographic, acts as if they can flout the law without consequence. “And if confronted by the police,” he writes, “they will just fight their way out of it and if the police so much as raise an eyebrow to defend themselves they will bring down a media firestorm on the officer(s) involved.”
The other post criticizes an “illegal alien” teenager named Fernando Fernel Lopez Aguilar who killed a 12-year-old girl three years ago in Des Moines after running a stop sign and was later sentenced to 20 years in prison. “They treat our laws as suggestions,” Brown writes of people like Aguilar, without clarifying who “they” are, before expanding his critique to “so many people today” who “view our laws as antiquated legislation that was created by antiquated people who are merely trying force a life style on them that they feel is oppressive to their style of life.”
The Informer asked Paul Parizek, the Des Moines police spokesperson, if he thought Trotter’s and Brown’s posts criticizing the “black community” and recent Black Lives Matter protests might lead to additional concerns about racial bias within the department or further complicate their policing of ongoing protests. We also asked about a post Brown wrote about COVID-19 and the risks faced by first responders — specifically, his description of “some of the lovely residences” he entered during his time on the force where there “wasn’t enough Lysol being manufactured back then to remove the stench that many of these places often put out,” and if the DMPD was concerned about whether such an opinion from a former officer might dissuade residents from seeking police assistance in the future.
Parizek said the questions were very legitimate and provided a statement in support of the expression of both the retired officers’ views and those recently voiced by protesters critical of the department, without directly addressing any of their specific statements. “Our retirees are family,” he said. “They are part of our history. And, much like the protesters we have worked with this past week, they have the right to express their opinions. Those opinions may not always be in line with the culture and the values of the Des Moines Police Department, but it is their individual right to express them.”
“much like the protesters we have worked with this past week, they have the right to express their opinions”
He added, “We feel that the culture and the values, as well as the policies and practices, of the Des Moines Police Department are in line with the community’s expectations of us, and that our partnership is going to drive the opportunities right in front of us to build a stronger and better Des Moines for all of our residents.”
Brown’s other two posts on the website are not particularly controversial. One of them is a personal reflection about his late wife that he wrote in August 2018 in response to the deaths of the wives of two retired officers. An abbreviated version was posted on the DMPD’s Facebook page. The other, about the failures of state agencies to adequately investigate concerns about the home lives of children at risk of abuse, was also published by the Register in December 2017 as an op-ed for its Iowa View column.
It wasn’t the first time Brown was published in the Register. In March 1990, when he was still a sergeant on the force, he wrote a letter to the editor responding to an article about the use of deadly force. The letter accused the media of “always sensationalizing the news accounts of when a police officer is forced to use a firearm and take someone’s life,” adding, “Some of the media coverage is just downright slanted to inflame the community.” In a September 2010 letter, Brown argued that city officials were unable to accurately describe recent assaults near the State Fairgrounds that allegedly involved “groups of blacks targeting groups of whites” as being racially motivated, because “they have to wear a politically correct muzzle of censure.”
He also wrote two letters that were published in 2005 and 2010, both of which pushed back on the idea that college degrees help police officers do better work. He wrote in one, “The trouble with too many police officers today is they want to be social workers and psychologists — it does not work.”