About two years back, I wrote a post about surviving an encounter with police after a movement started intent on discrediting any police organization and claiming that every officer was a racist murderer. This all started because of a media narrative that turned out to be completely false. The damage had been done though, and the movement still exists to this day. It seems not a week goes by that there isn’t some incident of an individual who was rendered free to assume room temperature by an interaction with a member of law enforcement. And again, I find people who are wholly unqualified to make any judgment about whether the officer was justified so often of late, even among my friends that I would consider “educated”, that I felt compelled to write this post as a follow up.
Original article here: Bad Apples – Surviving an encounter with Police.
More after the jump;
I want to go over some things that are standard for every officer (or at least should be) and why they apply, and why most of the people who are claiming that the police are “out of control” are dead wrong. I have a few friends who are officers, and they will likely confirm everything I state here.
Ask, Tell, Compel
At first blush when you encounter an officer and you are doing something you aren’t supposed to, or just for reasons of safety, an officer may give you what is called a “lawful command.” Any of these commands are behaviors that they are telling you to change. “Hands out of your pockets”, “get back”, and so on. The commands could be for your safety, the officer’s safety, or the general public’s safety. We’ll use one example to elaborate on this, the order to “get back.” For whatever the reason this is a lawful command. You are to follow it. At first an officer will be kind and cordial; “Do me a favor, can you step back a bit?” Nothing wrong with that, right? That was a lawful command. For the sake of example, you don’t follow that command. The officer asked, now he’s going to tell you. “GET THE FUCK BACK!!!” He’s not so polite anymore, and he will be using a “commanding and authoritative” voice. Polite went out the window. This was still a lawful command, and in the eyes of the court, was the exact same command. The officer told you to get back. Again for the sake of example, you don’t follow that command. Don’t act surprised when you suddenly find a boot in your chest and you are losing your balance falling over backwards. If you aren’t going to do it when the cop asks you, he’ll tell you. If you aren’t going to do it when the cop tells you, he’ll make you. Don’t want the boot in your chest (or any other laying on of hands by a sworn officer)? Then do what they ask you to do, the first time they ask.
Force = Force + 1
There are a lot of claims of “Why did he have to shoot him? He was unarmed!” that are also going around of late. Officers have something called a “force continuum” that dictates what tools to employ during an encounter with someone. And there is a lot of ill conceived notion of what “unarmed” actually means. The force continuum sounds like something out of a bad knock off science fiction movie mash up between the two titans of the genre. (Trek Wars anyone?) It is actually the pattern of escalation of force implemented by officers in any encounter. The actual equation is to meet force with an equal force +1. Similar to Sean Connery’s line in the movie The Untouchables “If he brings a knife, you bring a gun…” the amount of force employed by an officer will always be one step above the person they are interacting with. An individual on foot, with no obvious weapons might be met with some very forceful hands on. Depending on size, behavior and attitude, he might have a taser used on him (more about tasers later in the post). If he has an object that could conceivably cause great bodily harm, that’s at the level of lethal force, and the police will match it with a gun, whether it is a garden implement, knife, screwdriver or whatever. Holding a screwdriver does not mean “unarmed” as that is an improvised weapon, and it is perfectly capable of causing someone enough physical damage to kill them. Guns will be drawn on this person, regardless of what your delicate sensibilities tell you.
I should also note that “unarmed” does not mean “not dangerous.” Massad Ayoob talks about something called “disparity of force” which goes into great detail about what could reasonably constitute a threat, and a weapon does not have to be part of that equation.
For any of the tools that an officer uses, whether it’s OC spray, Taser, or Gun, the object is to gain compliance of the individual by inflicting pain. We have a natural tendency to stop behavior because of pain. If you put your hand on a hot stove, it hurts. And you stop doing it because it hurts. If an officer fails to gain compliance from an individual with a tool being used, the next tool from the toolbox available to police is then used. Once an individual complies with the officer, the application of tools that cause pain stops.
I can tell you from personal experience that CS gas (similar to OC spray, but more potent) is miserable. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t open my eyes, I felt like I had a million ants under my skin everywhere, my throat felt like I had been suffering from strep for months, my sinuses felt like someone had sprayed Sriracha up my nose, and the urge to vomit was intense, although all I could do was dry heave and wretch. Tasers are at the same time better and worse. I felt intense searing, blinding, excruciating pain from seemingly every muscle in my body, including my eyelids. The difference is that CS gas lingers and takes time to wear off, whereas the taser ride is over just as quickly as it began. I have never been shot, and don’t intend to be, so I honestly can’t say what that feels like, but I have heard stories. The one thing all of these have in common though is that they are wholly unpleasant to experience.
I’ve mentioned tasers a few times in this post so far, and contrary to popular belief, they are not always effective. In order for a taser to work effectively, both electrodes must make contact with the skin. The farther apart the electrodes are, the more effective the taser is. Most of the examples of people you see getting shot by a taser are in a controlled environment, standing perfectly still, with a person on either side for support and the person firing the taser the perfect distance away for the taser to be the most effective. In real life, tasers will completely fail to do anything quite often, either because there is not good separation between the electrodes, or one electrode missed the target, or both hit, but failed to penetrate through some clothing, such as a leather jacket. Tasers are also limited to one shot before having to reload, which is not a quick process. If a taser doesn’t work, then an officer will move to the next level up in their tool box in order to gain compliance, which is usually a gun.
Why you don’t “Shoot to wound”
Naturally in any case where there is an officer involved shooting and there is an unfortunate loss of life, armchair quarterbacks are suddenly there asking why the officer didn’t shoot a gun out of someone’s hand, or why did they have to kill them and why didn’t they shoot to just wound a suspect. There is a reason that anyone with a firearm, whether being used for self defense, or by police to stop a suspect’s behavior, is taught to aim “center mass.” First, to prevent confusion, we will define what “center mass” is. Quite literally it is the center of the largest physical component of a target that is visible. Unlike when hunting, and a hunter can take his time and place his shot carefully in order to quickly and humanely harvest an animal, in a situation like what the police face on a regular basis, there is no time to “line up a shot” and a target must be acquired quickly. Typically in a police involved shooting, both the suspect and the officer are moving. And they are not moving slowly either. There is also the misconception that shooting someone in the leg or arm would not be lethal. It is possible to be shot in the torso and survive. It is also possible to be shot in the foot and bleed out and die within minutes. If a major artery or vein is severed by a bullet, such as the femoral artery in the thigh, it will probably take less than two minutes for the person who was shot to die from blood loss. Many officers of various departments have a hard enough time not hitting innocent bystanders in a shooting. (The NYPD is notorious for this). Adding to the complexity of a situation by instructing officers to only shoot at “non vital” areas will only serve to compound the issues that already exist with officer involved shootings. This also adds difficulty to an already tense situation.
Shooting to wound could be compared to trying to throw a tennis ball into a Solo cup… through the window of a car doing 60 mph… from the window of another car doing 60 mph… traveling at a 90 degree angle. You’re going to be lucky to hit the car, let alone get the ball into the cup. The idea of “shoot to wound” is ridiculous and only exists in the movies.
Compliance is mandatory
If an officer gives you a legal command, they aren’t doing it just to be jackbooted thugs. There is a reason, whether you realize it or not. We’ll use a simple example; “get your hands out of your pockets.” This seems like an unusual command and having your hands in your pockets seems completely harmless. Here’s a breakdown of why you should comply. Firstly, the officer likely doesn’t know you. They don’t know anything about you, or the type of person you are. Certain behaviors are clues to officers what kind of person you are likely to be however, based on their past experience. They also don’t know what you might have in your pockets. It could be a phone, or your wallet. It could also be a knife, or a gun. The officer does not know, but they do know that if it is a knife or a gun, they don’t want your hands anywhere near it. If you don’t listen to their commands to get your hands out of your pockets, they are going to assume the worst, that it’s a gun, and treat you accordingly. This means that they are going to draw their weapons, and aim them squarely at you. This is not a good place to be, but it also entirely simple to avoid being caught in. If an officer tells you to get your hands out of your pockets, guess what you should do? I am friends with several officers, one I see on a semi regular basis at the shooting range that I go to. Even though he knows me, personally, if I stick my hands in my pockets when I’m near him, I can see him tense up slightly. He’s seen too many things come out of pockets that were not keys, or cell phone, or wallet. If an officer tells you to do something, you should do it. Even if it is something as simple as getting your hands out of your pockets. Some commands are for your safety, and some commands are for theirs. If you are filming some arrest or incident and they tell you to get back, it is likely they don’t want you to be caught in potential cross fire if a gun fight happens to break out. So while they may seem like they are being completely rude, they are looking out for your safety.
Why they can’t let you leave
There are several reasons that an officer can’t let you just walk away if you don’t feel like dealing with them. I saw the following comment recently; “why didn’t they just let him go, instead of getting into with him that ended up with him being shot?” The police legally can’t. If they had let that person go (who incidentally it was discovered to be intoxicated with a mind altering substance) and that person then went on and had a car accident that killed a family of four, guess who would be considered responsible for that? Part of the job of an officer is to attempt to prevent someone from harming someone else, either intentionally or accidentally, if at all possible. The police have a responsibility to prevent someone from harming someone else if they are able. So no, you are not free to go, just as much to prevent you from harming someone else as to ensure their own safety. There is a video that is used for training. It shows an officer who was shot and killed by someone who did not follow lawful commands. He re-entered his stopped vehicle, retrieved a weapon from it, and subsequently shot and killed the officer. From what I understand that officer has just been reprimanded the week before for being “too aggressive” during his encounters. So even though you may be completely innocent of anything, you cannot leave until an officer releases you. Deciding you don’t want to deal with it puts you in the category of the person who murdered that officer, and it is very likely that unpleasant things will happen to you.
Don’t argue your case with a cop
If it does happen that an individual is arrested, or going to be arrested by an officer, frequently that person is then motivated to scream, yell, and shout at the officers making the arrest, pleading their case, and attempting to employ various other tactics in order to avoid being arrested. None of it works, and the officers don’t care. The job of an officer is not to determine guilt or innocence. If you are going to be arrested, no amount of fight that you put up, either verbally or physically, is going to change that fact. What it will do is add additional charges to be used against you. You will have your day in court, our legal system provides for that. However if you fail to comply with an officer’s commands, and attempt to fight and argue instead of going peacefully, there is a chance that you will miss your court date because of your funeral.
Paperwork Avalanche Aftermath
In most police departments, if there is an officer involved shooting, the officer involved will be given an administrative suspension while an internal investigation is conducted. That’s one less officer on the streets. There is also a mountain of paperwork that must be filed from the officer, from the department, from other officers on the scene, and statements from witnesses. The few officers I know despise paperwork, and tend to avoid anything that will require them to do it if at all possible. This of course varies from department to department, but the overall thought is the same. While officers do have a job to do, they tend to want to avoid doing anything that will create additional work for themselves.
Why you suddenly hate unions
Even with everything that I have stated above, there are still a few bad apples among police officers. Not many, but there are a few. However it seems those few bad apples are entrenched in the system and can’t be dismissed from the ranks. It may seem that way, because it is that way. The same kind of union that keeps an autoworker working even though they were caught smoking a joint on the job, were responsible for injuries to another co-worker, failed a drug test, and didn’t show up to work at all for three days in a row, is the kind of union that protects officers. The good cops want to get rid of the bad ones as much as any of us who are not cops. However they can’t, because the same union that protects the good cops from frivolous lawsuits, political agendas, and so on, also protects the bad cops from being fired. So like the UAW, SEIU, and the NEA, there are unions for police officers. Most of the time these unions do things for the officers, such as providing them legal counsel for those lawsuits, and getting them decent pensions off of their pittance of a salary. However those unions also keep the douchebag officers employed as officers instead of as security guards at strip malls. Want to get rid of those bad cops? You’ll have to get rid of their unions first. Want to get rid of the police unions? Then you also have to say good bye to those other unions that so many think are such a great idea, for the same reasons.
To Sum It All Up
- If an officer wants you to do something, or stop doing something, they will ask you, then tell you, then make you.
- They don’t play “tit for tat” with their choice of tools.
- Just like when a parent spanks their child, pain is a tool that officers use to force you to do what you’re told.
- Tasers are not a magical solution that always works no matter what. “Shoot to wound” is a Hollywood idea and should stay in Hollywood.
- Not doing what an officer tells you to do could end badly for you.
- You are not free to go because you feel like it.
- Police officer ≠ Judge/Jury.
- Cops hate homework just as much as you do.
- Bad cops are protected just like the good ones, and it is difficult to get rid of the bad ones because of this.
So officers have a job to do, and the best way to ensure that it doesn’t involve you getting sideways with one of them is to just do what they tell you.
(With many thanks to Jason, who was the source of much of the information in this post.)