Police, Power, Politicians and Punks…

Let’s face it; Cops are a necessary evil.  Now, don’t get your knickers twisted but rather consider:  we mandate that politicians hire people to carry guns, walk our streets and give them broad powers over us.  They can deprive us of our freedom, cause us unbelievable amounts of grief and even kill us, often with no repurrcussions. It is for that reason that the standards for selection, the training and the scrutiny must be rigorous. The problem with power is that it will invariably be abused and will tend to corrupt the empowered to a lesser or greater extent.  If you are stopped by a traffic cop and you start acting uppity, argue and get indignant, what happens?  You will likely be cited for more serious offenses than whatever prompted the stop in the first place.  Most police are trained, or have an innate proclivity, to DEMAND respect; to be IN CONTROL.  There is no law against being a pain in the ass, yet, the repercussions are severe.  I would like to see that change. I would, also, like to see students taught in school how to interact with the police. I would, also, like to hit the lottery.

In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and in Viet Nam and many other countries around the world, it takes 5 years of training to be a police officer.  We crank ‘em out in 6 months of Community College or police academies. Most of the candidates have never had positions of authority. Some of my friends, who are combat vets and former Non-Commissioned Officers in the 75th Rangers had stellar careers as police officers. They had experience in, not only, positions of great authority but also positions of great responsibility! I would think that such experience is critical to a good police officer. In lieu of military experience, there should be a requirement of at least a two-year college cirriculum in an “ROTC” like structured program, strong on non-lethal force application, psychology and conflict management and resolution. Even issuing a traffic citation should be done with deference and respect. We are human beings, after all. Police should be no less “Mission Oriented” than the most elite Special Forces and that mission is to serve, not to oversee. I have serious issues with 19 year old cops. Between their hormones in over drive and their brains not completely formed until their mid-twenties, they have no place on the street, armed with a gun and a badge. Only within the structure and close supervision of a military setting can they function and excel in a potentially hostile, armed environment; and make no mistake, that is what every cop must be prepared to face and yet exercise restraint, civility, courtesy, intelligence and respect at all times. Maybe if Emily Post had a kid with Mr Spock…

I have friends in Viet Nam that are police and I can attest to the rigor of their training.  Conflict resolution and unarmed combat are key.  Five years of Kung Fu training beyond what they get in High School!  I asked my friend, Nam, why he doesn’t carry a gun.  He held up his hands and said, “These”.  Remember, also, that the police are very much part of the community.  In my wife’s home village of Tra Nu, the constable, who is her first husband’s brother, wears a sport jacket, collared shirt and jeans while riding around the village on his motorbike. He shows no badge, no clubs, no hand cuffs, no gun but everybody knows him. He is a nice guy and I never observed him to be anything but respectful to me and the whole family. Most of the cops I met in Viet Nam know everybody on their beat.  As one goes from the rural to the large cities one can see more and more formalization of the police presence; uniforms and finally guns and pairs of officers. Cities, by their very nature, are unnatural states and anonimity is inherent. Police and citizen, both, become faceless and with that facelessness comes a dehumanization by both parties.

cop3Then there is the issue of perception.  The police in many other countries wear muted uniforms of beige tones, not the harsh blues, festooned with all manner of intimidating accoutrements, that we see dominating police uniforms here, urban and rural.  A small thing, perhaps, but the less threatening they look, the less hostile the reaction.  I would like to see a more human, less officious, demeanor, also.  There is no need for a traffic cop, pulling someone over for a seat belt infraction to come across like they are a murder suspect or to remind you that he has you in his control. No one likes that, even if it is true. Best to not point it out through mannerisims or tone of voice. Interactions with the police should never by humiliating or degrading in normal circumstances.

Aside from that, there are very few apples in that police barrel that are bad.  I had a run in, years ago, with cop2some little, red-haired punk in uniform in Ft Lee, NJ.  I won’t go into detail but he lied his ass off and his partner swore to it.  Cost me some money.  Oh, well. I have also known a few Newark, NJ cops that were prone to “insensitive” behaviors.  But when one considers the nature of their jobs, one might tend to be more admiring than condemning.  One, in particular, was “Denny”.  Denny was a 6′ 3″ lanky, phosphorescent Irishman.  He was so white that he glowed in the dark.  You could see the blue veins through his skin.  When Denny first joined the Newark Police Force, he was full of the milk of human kindness.  “I really want to help the people” he would say, “All the people.”  That lasted about 6 months.  He was spit on, cursed out, assaulted, had feces and urine dumped out of windows on him and his partner… and the people that he had wanted to help became animals, in his eyes… Then, I was pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper for an illegal lane change on Route 22. I’m one of those guys that tenses up when I see a cop, much less get pulled over. When the flashing lights come on, my heart rate goes through the roof. The Trooper did notice my “DV” plate and approached me with a smile and we actually chatted and he gave me directions to my destination. He was… nice. His smile and manner put me at ease. I do not, normally, deal well with officious, confrontational idiots, in or out of uniform so I was relieved and appreciative at his courtious and open manner.

copsPolice are conditioned by the communities that they “Protect and Serve”. Since the vast majority of police interaction with the citizenry tends to be confrontational to some degree, the attitude of the confronted is as much as, if not a greater, factor in future confrontaions than that of the police officer. We are human. We all play off of each other. Most cops just want to get through their shift and get home in one piece. If a cop gets spit on five times in a row, what do you think his state of mind is on the sixth stop? Should that cop be allowed to continue in that environment? Is he now more dangerous than he is helpful? HOW DO WE KNOW? If you had a pair of Doberman watch dogs that you acquired to protect you home, would you, routinely, abuse them? Would you hit, kick or deny food to them? Or would you, rather, give them affection and CONTINUAL TRAINING?

We need police.  But that very need results in granting certain individuals POWER and we allwarrior-cop know that Power corrupts.  If there is a particular population or a “bad section of town” any person in their right mind would be more wary when approaching someone there.  That wariness is expressed by a need to “control”. That very wariness could well trigger hostile reaction which could escalate the situation to tragic ends.  But is there an alternative to police?  Not really. But do we need a heavily militarized police??? This trend in antithetical to the very concept of a community police and only serves to heighten the divide, mistrust and threat perception by the citizenry. That’s a whole ‘nother topic.

In the end, we do have influence on the events that may or may not unfold during a meeting with a police officer.  This short instructional video pretty much lays it out: How NOT to Get Your Ass Kicked!!!

I know some good cops and I have known some bad cops. When we give a Law Enforcement Officer more power than a good person would want or than a bad person should have, there is bound to be the occasional problem. It is inevetable. But without police, we would have anarchy. Because there is such a disparity between the “Power” that Law Enforcement has and the “Power” of the average citizen, we MUST hold the police to a higher standard. We must have deeper and more comprehensive screening and I would recommend that all LE personnel under go annual psychological reviews by different professional psychologists and Licensed Clinical Social Workers. These psychological professionals should NOT be chosen or paid by the LE agency and should have no vested interest on overlooking or rubber stamping their findings.

The police deserve our respect but we, in turn, deserve theirs. That does not mean saying the polite or approved words when confronting a citizen. It means that the body language and expressions must all convey that respect. It is a lot to ask. Most police are underpaid for what we expect and undertrained for what we demand. Still, there must be accountability. Yes, every police action should be scrutinized by a citizens committee of appointed and elected reviewers that are paid a stipend small enough so as not to incentivize them for the money. Just as public participation is essential to politics, it is essential to policing our communities.

Human beings are flawed. To prevent or, more accurately, inhibit, the flaws of one citizen from adversely affecting the rights, property or physical wellbeing of another citizen, we need police. But like Ceaser’s Wife, we demand that they be beyond reproach. We, also, have reams and reams of laws and statutes on the books that every citizen is expected to honor and obey… which is why we have police.

Being a Law Enforcer is an extraordinary job. Extrordinary jobs require extraordinary people. Six months is not enough training to be not only be effective but to be safe; and by that I mean that they must be safe to the citizens as well as safe from them… I believe that we have to examine the entire process of selection, “Confrontation” training, conflict resolution and, perhaps, find better ways to wield the inherent power that we invest in our police officers. Not everyone is psychologically suited to such a job. Not everyone is psychologically suited to be a citizen. But the more of us that are involved, the better the system will be.

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