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by Peter Moskos

December 21, 2013

“Why are cops such assholes?”

This is a question I’ve been asked a surprising number of times (Once by a national TV host during a commercial break). Usually the tone is joking (ie: completely serious). A certain lazy and rude cop in Chicago got me thinking about it.

My answer: “Because they can.”

As a non-asshole (in my humble opinion) former police officer, this is a question I take quite seriously. I think rude policing is actually a bigger problem corrupt and/or brutal policing. The latter categories, quite honestly, are rare. Rude cops are more common and are probably more damaging to policing as a whole.

First let me say that most cops are not assholes. If you think all cops are assholes, there’s a good chance you are one.

But when you ask, “Why are some cops such assholes?” are you really asking, “why was this cop rude to me?” If it’s just the latter, consider A) you refused a lawful order, B) you incorrectly asserted “rights” you don't, in fact, have (often related to A) or C) you asked a really stupid question

But what if the answer is D) None of the above. Then read on.

But certainly we’ve all seen some cops act like dicks. But think about it: if you had to deal with the public at your job, and you could be rude, would you be? Maybe not all of the time... but some of the time?

Have you never been rude to another motorist? Your partner? Your kids? The TV? A minimum wage employee? Well if that’s your personality and you’re a cop, you’re going to be a rude cop. This is not unique to policing (I’ve also heard some rumors about DMV employees). Public servants can be rude because 1) they don’t like their job, 2) they have job security and 3) they have to deal with the public at the public’s discretion.

But it gets more complicated because there are cops being rude and there are rude cops.

Think of three situations of rudeness: sometimes cops should be rude; sometimes cops can be rude; and sometimes cops are just plain rude.

Yes, there are times when police should be rude. Sometimes a stern talking-down-to is needed. It can be an alternative to arrest. Other times something needs to be done quickly and yelling and cursing can sometimes quickly achieve a desired goal. Sometimes.

There are other times when police don’t have to be rude, but I’ll still cut them some slack. Sometimes people do, in fact, ask for it. If you treat police (or anybody) horribly, insert Golden Rule here. I’m not saying these instances represent the apex of police professionalism, but asking a cop “why?” or asserting your “rights” (especially incorrectly, which is usually the case) is not going to endear yourself to an officer of the law. This is John Van Maanen’s (1978) concept of “The Asshole.” Police have a "moral mandate" and need to “maintain their edge” against those who are “culpable and blameworthy for their affronting action.” And if you are not an “asshole” or a “suspicious person, then you are, in Van Maanen’s trichotomy, a “know nothing.” That's the best case scenario. So try and put yourself in the officer’s shoes. Or maybe they’re just having a bad day. Try not to make it worse.

But there’s still the third category of rudeness, the one people ask me about, when police are assholes “for no reason.” “Yes!” they say, “Why was the cop rude to me. For I am not an idiot!” Well, actually...

But let’s assume the officer was just a dick. Yes, even I have seen such instances. There were times when even I couldn’t help but say, why is Enser being such a dick? (just to pick a random but rhyming name)

Because he was a bitter man. Because he was not a better man.

Because he can.

How to prevent assholes who are cops from acting like the assholes they are is not an easy task. Pity the sergeant, but this is where both supervision and peer pressure come into play. And bad officers do not get promoted out of patrol. (And of course, unfortunately, nobody is ever promoted into patrol.)

Here’s my problem with asshole cops: it’s not so much that they’re being an asshole. I can often rationalize that away (see above). No, my problem is that the rude cop is a bad cops. I’m not saying this in a moral sense (“who am I to judge?”) but in a tactical sense.

Rude police are bad police because they don’t do their job efficiently. The witness was going to say something until the cop yelled at him for sticking around.

Rude police are bad police because they don’t do their job safely. The rude cop shows up at a scene, recently calmed, and immediately gets into a pissing contest with some drunkard idiot. The rude cop turns a routine arrest into full-on brawl.

I often half-jokingly (ie: completely seriously) propose that four of the six months of the police academy would be better spend waiting tables at a good restaurant. Restaurants are the perfect training ground: stressful, real world, but rarely life and death. I learned a lot working for tips: multitasking, prioritizing situations (triage), staying calm under pressure, dealing with idiots, communicating efficiently, standing up for a long hours, eating quickly, holding one’s pee, and washing hands as often as possible.

But the most important thing is dealing with obnoxious customers and maintain a professional cool. A lot of customers are assholes. A lot of customers are having bad days. So good waiters learn to achieve their goal while being polite to people they hate. A professional gets the job done and goes you home in one piece. And that’s police rule number one.

(I wrote a similar post 5 years ago)

10 comments:

Gotti Rules said...

Hey Pete,
I know you hate to name names, but let's suppose I know a name that rhymes with Enser who might have been an asshole cop. However, karma is a bitch and sometimes you get what you deserve. He is now terminated from the force. Now your other example of an officer who stirs the pot after you get suspects calmed down, let's call him Vatts. I remember on more than one occasion, getting into the "full-on brawl" after the situation had been calmed down and I had the problem resolved. These two officers were really the minority. Most officers were not assholes. Wouldn't you agree?
Have a Merry Christmas!

PCM said...

...Says the man who politely informed a carjack victim to "call 911!"

But I do agree with you (even though I wasn't actually thinking of that other officer you didn't mention).

I think part of the problem in public perception is that the police officers most accessible to the public -- the guys sitting in car on the Chicago corner doing nothing because of some "safe streets" program (or guarding a camera) -- are the most punished most pissed officers on the force. And these are the cops by which all police are judged.

What do you do to punish officers? You make them walk foot and/or deal with the public. God save the poor pedestrian who happens to be walking over the Edison Hwy Bride at 3am and comes across an officer walking that post!

Lenard Neal said...

Cop work in Chicago is unusually political, racial, and socio-economic in its' scope and, in my personal opinion and experience, can't be compared to other cities at all. Not even St. Louis or Kansas City or Cleveland. It has it's own history and culture. Chicago cannot be compared to other cities. Period.

PCM said...

You're not much on comparisons, are you?

DB said...

I agree with most everything you said here and I got a good chuckle out of some of it. The biggest problem I see in policing is there is too much emphasis on stats or this program and that program. There simply is not enough emphasis or training placed upon good old fashion customer service. If cops were rated more on the positive reviews they received from customers (victims who actually call the police) rather than how many tickets they right - well, then you might solve part of this problem right there.

PCM said...

They kind of do that in England. And I think it basically works.

But keep in mind, and I simplify a bit, most victims are criminals, too! So it's not quite so clear whom the police are supposed to be satisfying...

shane roddrick said...

Dude the reason most people think cops are assholes is VERY simple... the profession attracts assholes, cut and dry. As a cop you must know the statistics on domestic violence within cop families as opposed to the national norm right? 40% to 25%. Damn near double. There is an easily explainable reason for this... give a HS grad a job they can barely even comprehend the complexity of (the majority of cops cant tell you all the laws they're even supposed to enforce), give them a fraternity which enforces a code of silence (much like the "snitches get stitches" code of street gangs), a job when they shoot an unarmed civillian they get PAID leave (you won't get that as a 20 PG&E employee who got caught smokin a doob), and authority over any situation they deem fit (random traffic stops, checkpoints, stopping people for merely WALKING at night [has happened to me multiple times going to work]) and you have a recipe for the assholes to come in and take all the jobs. Cop accountability is notoriously bad, there general treatment of people (apparently even their own families) is notoriously bad and they don't get even get fired for such actions... often times they are still promoted and never reprimanded for such outrageous actions. Really though... this is why we the general public do NOT feel safer when a cop is around. Detroit cops play cops and robbers, bay area police routinely shoot at unarmed individuals, NYPD has admitted to racial profiling and LAPD is FAMOUS for abuses of power. This is why many of us will NEVER call you for ANYTHING.

Not all cops are assholes... this is true, but the problem is just like muslims; you are complicit in letting the actions of bad cops go unreprimanded in a systematic code of silence and therefor facilitate the assholes to keep abusing and harassing us. I have not called you out of name, nor have I declared all cops assholes; I have merely stated EASILY researchable facts, considering we all have google here. I would be surprised if this comment doesn't get thrown away though as the majority in your profession are not known for their appreciation of open discussion or the first amendmant. Please be willing to prove me wrong.

PCM said...

Please do give me a cite on the D.V. figures. I am not only not familiar with them, I don't believe it, for cop and for non-cops. (I also suspect any cop figure isn't adjusted for age.) I don't think one-in-four wives are getting beat up their husband (or vice-versa or any combination thereof).

shane roddrick said...

http://womenandpolicing.com/violenceFS.asp

Here's the link man. Apparently the numbers are worse than I thought. Its 10% compared to 40%, although this is simply the headline it is backed by quite a few studies and all foot notes are sourced as well.

http://www.tearsofacop.com/police/articles/lewis.html

Apparently a lot of cops also suffer from major depressive disorder or bi-polar disorder as well... this would be all fine and dandy if it weren't for the fact that you all are regularly THEE heaviest armed citizens of the nation with the law upholding your judgments and unlike the general military population your work isn't done against foreign people (still distasteful to say the least) it is done against the people that live here.

http://www.cracked.com/article_18620_6-completely-legal-ways-cops-can-screw-you_p2.html

Or how about these ridiculous new laws protecting you all from THE LAW you all are supposed to be upholding.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KMKVCNsmSJY

Or how bout this video of a paying customer of a store whom was never asked by the owner of the premises to leave, whom was racially profiled and then arrested for drinking an Arizona iced tea (which was later changed to trespassing at a store of which he had peaceably just bought the beverage from)

This comment literally took 5 minutes to do research for and not only were the three articles sourced, the tearsofacop article was written BY A COP and the last was video.

There is a REASON you as a profession are seen as a paramilitary force of government oppression by minorities, gays, women, a significant part of the returning vets and any freedom minded individual... it's because you generally are.

Lets get to the crux of it... does anyone EVER feel at ease when a cop patrol car is behind them? Even if they've done nothing wrong, the answer is still no. Do you as a profession stop even a quarter of attempted murders? How about rapes? What about strong arm burglary? No, no and no. You show up after, write a report and hope at best you find the perpetrator, and at worst steal the victims stuff and harass them some more.

Your profession is paid for by MY and my families taxes and if any teacher, fireman or state-trans worker acted in such a fashion they would be fired and most likely sued into financial oblivion. Your profession however, is unique in the fact that you all have a very real and consequential code of silence, on top of already much improved legal standing in the courts and legal jurisdiction to steal and ticket someone's rightful property.

You as cops and us as citizens let it get this way. You as a profession do not deserve all the heat, but, but ,but... You are (as a profession, I don't know you personally) the ones who more often than not are stealing, ticketing and laying trumped up charges at the feet of people often times financially less stable than you to pay for your salary. These are the most BASIC procedures for any department to make quota. This is profoundly disturbing... you literally rob those who make your livelihood a viable job with good benefits. Not all of you once again... but the majority. The mere fact that you have a QUOTA is profoundly disgusting. I have seen personally a decent person who was a cop apologize for giving a ticket once, even though the crime was a MINOR traffic incident, he had too he said... they had a quota to fill.

I hope you understand I do not hate you personally, I don't have the time nor is it productive. I simply call it as I see it... if it legally can steal your property, ticket you simply because they feel like it, shoot someone and get paid leave it's most likely the person was a cop right?

Anonymous said...

Far too many cops act as if they are above the law when they don their uniforms. About a year ago, a drunk driver wrecked in front of my house. He wasn't injured, but his vehicle was blocking traffic. Finally, after over an hour, a cop arrived. A month later, the 7 year-old daughter of a cop who lives down the street disappeared, and within 5 minutes, 21 police cars, (I counted them), were in his driveway. Interestingly, she had received a bad report card and was afraid of how her father would respond. Go figure. The main reason I despise all cops is because one raped me several years ago and dared me to report him, claiming no one would believe me. I knew he was correct and kept silent. May he rot in hell.