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by Peter Moskos

August 31, 2009

Don't Tase Me, Sis

A nice article in Reason by Radley Balko. This one on police TV shows and use of force.
Of course, there isn't "always a good time to use a Taser," as the multitude of viral web videos depicting taserings of grandmothers, pregnant women, and children will attest. TLC's ad campaign is offensive, though merely the latest iteration of a genre of television that trivializes the state's use of force and makes a mockery of the criminal justice system.
Cop reality shows glamorize all the wrong aspects of police work. Their trailers depict lots of gun pointing, door-busting, perp-chasing, and handcuffing. Forget the baton-twirling Officer Friendly. To the extent that the shows aid in the recruiting of new police officers, they're almost certainly pulling people attracted to the wrong parts of the job.
Read the whole article here.

[thanks to Marc for the tip]


Marc S. said...

The article kinda hit home because, for a brief period of time following graduating with my BA in CJ, I contemplated police work and i found that, as you did in an article several years back, that it's not just the media portrayals that attracts the wrong kind of people to police work, but that many agencies also discourage the right kind of people from joining.

I looked at some state police agencies, which all involved 7mo residential boot camps, many municipal applications were still asking if i had ever been a member of the communist party (is it still the red scare?) or if have ever known anyone who advocates against our system of government (no mention of violent overthrow, but in my time with the LP I've known an anarchist or 6...dozen). Almost none had exceptions for marijuana use in the last 3 years (discouraging college grads maybe?). Almost all still use polygraph testing (like it hasn't been debunked enough) and the fact that i know it's bullshit would be held against me if i were honest. I even read of one agency in MA disqualifying an applicant because his scores were too high on an intelligence test (his IQ equivalent was somewhere around 125, they prefer their officers be around 104, barely above average), which doesn't surprise me given the huge bonuses they give to people with prior military service.

Compound that with the effects Balko was talking about, I'm a bit uneasy about the future supercop who pulls me over.

Frequent Poster said...

I would love to do the polygraph test.

Have you ever driven after drinking alcohol?

Have you ever driven 20MPH over the posted speed limit?

Have you ever not buckled your seatbelt when driving?

Have you ever texted while driving?

Have you ever hit your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse?

Would you report a fellow officer if you thought that s/he used more force than reasonably necessary to make an arrest?

Of course, all they really want to know about is mj and cocaine.

PCM said...

That not hiring somebody because his IQ was too high did happen. But it was one agency. Once. As you can imagine, countless other police departments offered the guy a job (or invited him to apply).

I do think the polygraph is B.S. Liars pass and people telling the truth fail. If you ever have to take it, make sure you read up on it. I guess then it just because an IQ test.

dave h. said...

I too was disgusted by the promotion of "Police Women of Broward County," and I take a dim view of police shows in general. As a potential recruit, I can say for sure that the usual "foot pursuit of black male possibly carrying drugs" scenario bores and annoys me. But I guess some LEO's would just consider me a boring cop. If anything, the promotion of this brand of law enforcement has pushed me away from the field.

Anonymous said...

Professor Moskos,
As a former potential recruit to your former agency, I wanted to get your opinion on some things. First off, what has happened to the friendly neighborhood style of policing? I get the feeling that a lot of cops see everyone as enemies and I'm not sure why. I actually read your book before I was to enter the academy. When I finished it I had no desire to enter LE. Secondly, why is there such a strong para-military presence in most police departments? I have a master's degree and currently teach, but have considered LE very seriously. After going through the selection process and ride alongs, I lost my desire. Officers thinking they are soldiers and the total disrespect for the people they were apparently serving. Am I alone in my observations? I get the feeling that someone with an advanced education would not fit in with the typical LE mold. What is with the militarization of the police? I don't want to be a soldier, I would however like to be an officer who helps and doesn't enforce occupied enemy territory as Bunny Colvin so eloquently said in The Wire. Any thoughts or suggestions for me? I still have the interest, but have trouble with the way I see things going. Thanks for your input.

PCM said...

But if you don't join the police department, who will?

I hate to hear that my book would turn potentially good police away from law-enforcement. But I also think people should go in knowing what to expect.

I didn't fit in with the typical mold. But that was all right by me and most of my coworkers. Mostly police are good people doing a tough job.

I think there is great leeway in policing the way you want to police. I certainly didn't consider myself a soldier. I was a police officer. There's a big difference.

And some of the attitude you saw is bravado. But remember that you are policing a lot of criminals who don't want to be policed. So officer friendly (if he every existed) isn't very practical most of the time where I worked.

If you can't be a bad-ass some of the time (or at least act that way), the streets will eat you up. It really is dangerous out there.

Still, on a day-to-day level, I don't know of any other job where you have the *potential* to help so many so often. I wish more people were interested in law enforcement.