The general public doesn’t always understand use of force dynamics in police work. Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect them to. Police departments do what they can to explain them, either through media channels or during periodic citizen police academies. But deep misunderstandings continue to drive a wedge between the cops and the public.
Now, the public and media provide police oversight. That’s fine, because cops carry guns, drive large cars very fast down busy streets, and take away people’s liberty; you should have oversight. You also understand how people can criticize cops and their tactics without fully comprehending them much in the way you might heap verbal abuse on your favorite NFL team’s offense without ever having played a down of organized football. But it would be nice if the public and media sometimes gave you the benefit of the doubt. While media coverage of police brutality is commonplace, you rarely watch a news story about how officers took a violent suspect into custody using the minimum amount of force necessary even though it happens every day because, after all, what’s interesting about that?
That being said, you will see cops who have a knack for escalating even the most benign encounter into a fist fight. Maybe they got cut from the high school football team twenty years ago and they’re still looking for payback. Or maybe they’re young and unproven and think that if they are quick to shove some people around, they won’t be perceived as weak. Whatever the case, they seem to want not just to arrest suspects but to teach them a lesson, failing to realize that there isn’t much honor in kicking a guy when he’s already under control. But these officers are in the minority, which is good, because roughing up suspects unnecessarily isn’t just wrong, it’s bad business. You can lose your job, be charged criminally, and become embroiled in a federal civil rights lawsuit. As police, you have to be better than that. And most of the time you are, respecting the law even if the criminals don’t. In the words of one Milwaukee police deputy inspector, “You have to guarantee someone his constitutional rights no matter how much of a puke he is.”
December 4, 2014
Use of Force
I'm out of the country for a week. So here's another bit of insight (the 11th) from Adam Plantinga's most excellent 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman.