Don't trust the police

These days it is pretty rare for me to find something over at Return of Kings that I genuinely think is worth reading. (There are a few very notable exceptions, such as frequent RoK contributor Quintus Curtius, who always has something interesting to say.) That said, one recent article caught my eye and presented the case, from a real-life cop's point of view, that the police in this country really aren't that bad:
When I began writing this article, I changed topics so many times because I have so much to say.  It is simply impossible to get every point across that I would like so this has been narrowed down to an introductory defense of law enforcement.  Since I cannot cover everything, I would like to offer a couple disclaimers.  First, I am not a boy scout cop that is blinded by the pageantry of law enforcement.  In fact, my favorite piece of literature is, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau. Second, I can be very critical of the police. I get in many arguments with fellow officers over our enforcement of stupid laws, our inability to control crime, and especially the police unions. 
A fellow officer and I often discuss how we can foster change from within the system.  We have come to the conclusion that mass change is unlikely, but we can step in occasionally on a case by case basis to interfere with the system when necessary.  As supporters of gun rights, together we have saved quite a few men from being charged with gun crimes or violent crimes when they are acting in self-defense. 
For example, I recall an incident when a large group of inner city black youth attacked a white man who was just walking down the street.  During the attack, the white man pulled out a knife and cut one of the attackers pretty bad, sending him to the hospital.  A sergeant at the time felt compelled to charge the white guy because of the nature of the injuries to the assailant and the use of a weapon.  To make a long story short, I persuaded him not to charge him and he was released. 
This may seem like common sense to most, but in the police world, liability and politics often force officers to make the simplest decisions that will require no defense on their part, often at the peril of innocent people’s freedom.  For example, the sergeant most likely felt it would be hard to explain to the attackers angry family why the victim was not charged since their child suffered the most severe injury, and especially since the victim was white. I have never minded explaining why I did the right thing. 
On training 
One point in the article that I’d like to address is the claim that law enforcement is trained to be antagonistic toward the public.  Although I will never defend the bully cops or deny that they exist, you’ll never get rid of them.  There are almost one million officers in America.  That means one million unique human beings with personalities from every spectrum.  But I assure you, no officer is directly trained to be a bully.  In fact, we spend hundreds of hours of training over our careers in customer service, diversity, community policing, problem solving, etc.  They directly train us to be soft and accommodating.  I’ve had to take classes in dealing with every type of human from a deaf person to a transgender.  But there is one piece of training that indirectly trains us to be a bit more antagonistic and “trigger happy”: watching video of police officers killed on duty. 
Although this training is essential and its intentions are to improve officer safety, it certainly indirectly affects an officer’s disposition toward citizens during various encounters.  Training videos showing real footage of officers being murdered are often used to help officers learn from the mistakes of the fallen officer.  As the proliferation of cameras continue, there is not much an officer does on his shift that is not recorded on video.  Many departments even have lapel cameras now that are always recording. As a result, the more cameras there are, the more police murders are recorded, which causes officers to be inundated in training with video after video of officers being violently killed. 
Some of these training videos are obtained through a network of classified footage used exclusively for training purposes and shared by law enforcement only.  They are uncut, unedited, and brutal.  I remember one cruiser cam video showing an officer who was gunned down by a guy with a rifle during a traffic stop.  As the bad guy drove off, all that could be heard on the officer’s microphone was his morbid gurgling and agonal breathing as he laid dying in the street all alone. At the time, all I could think was that somewhere his children were playing on a playground or reading in school while he died on the pavement.  It was incredibly sad. 
But then I replayed the video in my head and I heard the officer warn the guy six or seven times to put down the rifle before firing his first shot.  I thought, “Why did he even warn him at all? That crazy bastard was loading his rifle right in front of you, what did you think he was going to do with it?!  If he just would have shot him the moment he saw the gun, he would still be alive and his children would be with their father.”  My instructors agreed.  That was the lesson we learned.  Some will say that we learned to be a little more “trigger happy” and others will say that we learned to survive.  Who is right? 
I kiss my daughter and my son every night before I go to work.  I’m terrified of being that officer.  When I make a traffic stop and the guy gets out of his car against my wishes and reaches back into his car, it scares the living shit out of me.  I think of that officer and I pull out my gun and yell at the guy to get back in his car.  He looks back at me like I’m crazy and says he was only looking for his phone. 
But what if I knew that guy had a warrant for armed robbery, and he was jumping out of his car to get away, but decided to grab his phone suddenly before running?  As he climbs back out of the car, I see something silver in his hand and shoot him.  I just shot an unarmed man.  Some people think I should go to prison or at least be fired.  Anton McDowell requested an explanation of why officers are not held accountable for their actions and felt like cops just protect each other.
It's a rather long article which does do its best to be as level-headed and as fair as possible about the police in this country. I applaud the author for presenting his side of the story in a cogent and thoughtful manner, and I absolutely defend his right, earned through putting himself potentially in harm's way every single day, to do so.

That doesn't mean I agree with him. And this is despite the fact that my interactions with the police have never, ever been anything other than courteous and polite.

The police in this country appear to be turning into a law unto themselves. In most states it is now illegal to film a police officer during an arrest- if you do so, you can be arrested for "obstruction of justice"- whatever the hell that means- and your property, such as your phone and any video on it- can be confiscated. This is all perfectly legal, yet directly violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure.

The major problem with the writer's argument that "most" policemen aren't trigger-happy sociopaths is that it is rapidly being directly contradicted by the evidence around us. We have numerous examples where a police officer shoots a man even though he presents no apparent threat, or tases someone who is clearly attempting to obey the law, or guns down a teenager who responds sarcastically during a traffic stop, or shoots the family dog just because the dog is doing its job and protecting the home against intruders, or... well, you get the idea, just run a Google search for these and other examples. The reality is that America's police are increasingly turning into paramilitary organisations- but without the military's exposure to danger and hazardous conditions.

And what happens most of the time to these jerks? They get reprimanded by the department, put on temporary suspension- and are back on the job within 3 months. Meanwhile the families of the victims are left to ask for justice from a system that hesitates to prosecute the men in blue.

Whenever I hear about the latest incident where some trigger-happy asshole in a uniform, I am reminded of perhaps the most powerful scene in Starship Troopers, in which a deserter named Dillinger kills a baby girl and is caught by the authorities. The commandant of the training camp to which he was attached immediately asks that he be turned over to military authorities for trial and conviction; Dillinger is tried, found guilty of murder, and hanged forthwith.

As the narrator, Johnnie Rico, points out in the book, the commandant did not do this to nauseate the boots; he would have spared the troopers the sight if there was any reasonable way that he could. No, he hanged Dillinger because, despite the fact that the man had deserted, he was still on the rolls of the camp, he was still under the jurisdiction of the military.

As Rico says, "The M.I. takes care of its own- no matter what."

That simple but profound moral standard appears to be fundamentally lacking with the police. When one of their own does something so stupid as to kill a man who posed no threat whatsoever, he is not punished for it- he gets to go on leave for a while and then come back, while the family of the dead man is left to ask why their loved one had to die for no apparent reason.

The real nail in the coffin of Anonymous Cop's argument comes from a couple of videos that Crazy Uncle Mitch- Lord love him- posted a long while back. The videos concern a lecture given at a law school a couple of years ago in which the law professor told his students- quite frenetically, I admit- that it was absolutely crazy to ask their clients to talk to the cops. He proceeded to paint the police in a very bad light indeed, pointing out that talking to the police was an absolute no-win situation, and suggesting that innocent people could easily have been convicted of crimes that they did not commit simply because they were naive enough to think that the police were on their side.

In the interests of fairness, that same professor also handed roughly equal time to a recently retired police officer to present the police's side of the argument. And what did the policeman do?

The f***er AGREED with virtually everything the professor said.

He not only tried to justify the parasitic nature of the modern police force, he openly gloated about the fact that police at his pay grade make $56/hr in overtime, and therefore have every incentive to keep a potential suspect talking and in custody.

We are now at the point where nothing that a policeman does or says can erase the fear that people feel when they see him coming up to talk to them. This is a sad state of affairs indeed- there was a time when we could trust these men to protect us against criminals and barbarian invaders. But now, we are forced to kowtow to them, with their absurd privileges, their gold-plated perk packages that far outstrip anything that is available to members of the military who have seen actual combat, simply because they have a legal (though not practical) monopoly on force.

For now, that's the way it will have to be. Stand up to the police and your life is over. But it won't stay that way. I have seen a country fall rapidly from order to anarchy in the space of just 6 months in my lifetime, and I strongly suspect that I will see it again here in the US before my time is done. The police will stay in charge as long as the people stay afraid of them- but the moment that stops, and the people discover that they are many and the police are few, the tables will turn, and quite likely in very bloody fashion.

Comments

Popular Posts