In a democracy, the public’s responsibility is to challenge the police when they see misconduct (Part 1)
[David Gomez is a retired FBI agent and current Homeland Security Consultant. This is part 1 of a 2 part post.]
In the Andy Griffith Show, the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina served as the setting for small town sheriff Andy Taylor, his hapless but good-hearted deputy Barney Fife, and an array of citizen characters that represented life and policing in early 1960s small-town America. There was Floyd the talkative barber, Howard the county clerk, and Gomer and Goober Pyle. There was also a criminal element represented by Otis Campbell, the town drunk who let himself in and out of his cell when inebriated, and Ernest T. Bass, the local good-hearted troublemaker who like to chuck rocks.
Fast forward 50 years later, and police work is not so simple anymore. There are terrorists, anarchists, drug lords, and violent gang members to worry about. Not to mention the proliferation of legally and illegally armed citizens, some of who present a direct threat to the safety of the modern police officer. Mayberry was a fictional town, but today’s hometown security threats are real and omnipresent.
The question is how much has policing changed from the time of Andy Taylor?
On August 19th, Sunnil Dutta, commenting on police and protestor conduct in Ferguson, Missouri, wrote in the Opinion Section of the Washington Post, “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.” Dutta, an adjunct professor of Homeland Security at Colorado Technical University and a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department went on to write,
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me.
In the piece Dutta argues that the responsibility for not getting hurt by police lies with lawful protestors. The tag line of the article—and it is unknown if headline editors at the Washington Post added this—was: “It’s not the police, but the people they stop, who can prevent a detention from turning into a tragedy.” In effect, Dutta is saying, “Police are the real victims here; you made me do this, so it’s your fault.” Unfortunately, the “you made me do this” line is the same ‘blame the victim’ argument I frequently get from my six-year old twin boys.
As a former LAPD detective, and a fellow homeland security professional, I was saddened to read this. While most of Dutta’s comments about police work rang true, some did not. For example, Dutta writes, “cops are not murderers. No officer goes out in the field wishing to shoot anyone, armed or unarmed,” which is patently untrue. To deny that a rogue element exists among police officers is to deny the hard truth.
One need only look at the history of the LAPD and the Rampart police scandals to know these officers exist. I know because I worked in Rampart with some of those officers and others whose greatest desire was to become involved in a shooting. They were the exception, no doubt, but they exist.
In a similarly themed article, former patrol officer Justin Freeman, writing for PoliceOne.com in an article titled why people see cops as ‘arrogant’ stated:
…think about the workday of a police officer. Her job assignments consist, primarily, of being dispatched to successive 911 calls. When someone calls 911 for police service, there is a tacit admission by the caller that the situation at hand has deteriorated beyond his or her control, and police are needed in order to bring the situation back under control. That is the unstated assumption that the officer has going into each situation — not that a social equilibrium needs to be maintained, but that a situation needs to be quickly and efficiently brought back under control. Freeman’s article goes on to develop the theme that over time, and in response to all the calls for service, police officers develop a well-reasoned mistrust of the citizens they encounter on the job as a matter of officer safety.
To paraphrase Freeman with something I frequently heard on the LAPD, “there are three types of people in this city: Cops, people who love cops, and assholes.” If you are treated badly it’s because the police officer doesn’t know or trust you enough to discern if you are one of the first two types. Which to most cops is pretty much everyone they meet on a day-to-day-basis.
Was police work always like this? Or has 9/11, the threat of terrorism, and concerns over homeland security changed the nature of policing? Some argue that the police response to the public during homeland security incidents is a law enforcement education and training issue that police commanders have failed to pursue since 9/11. The responsibility to educate police on the public’s perception of them, demonstrate that police are a part of the community they serve, and hold police accountable to a higher standard of conduct is a managerial imperative that is not always followed (Comiskey, personal communication, 2014).
As a young police officer I was taught that the most important thing in police work … [to be continued on Tuesday, August 26th]