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by Peter Moskos

March 13, 2016

Things cops watch

I don't post a lot of these videos, but this one is revealing. I honestly didn't know which way this was going to go. Indian River Country, Florida, December, 2015. 3AM. A man has just gone to the convenience store to buy cigarettes. He's riding a scooter without tags (that's southern for "license plate").

Stop the video right at 00:15. Don't go a second further.

The video:

Ask yourself what you would do or do differently as the police officer. As a non-police officer, what would your reaction be if the cop aggressively brought this guy to the ground right there and then? Police brutality? White cop attacking unarmed black man? It's easy to imagine the officer being criticized for excessive use of force.

Most non-police will probably see a seemingly compliant black suspect asking a white officer, "What's the problem, sir?... No, no, no, no, I don't want no problem." Just a minor traffic violation.

Of course nobody knows if the suspect is armed or what he is thinking. And that's the problem.

The man's son said:
It’s crazy how it happened.... I don’t understand how it happened, from you going to the store on a scooter. What was the point of stopping him?... When I left him, he didn’t have no gun.... He doesn’t carry weapons at all. He doesn’t have any enemies. He doesn’t feel threatened by anyone.
Who do you believe?

Now watch the rest of the video.

After being shot in the leg, the cop manages to shoot and hit the suspect twice. Impressive. The suspect was later found by a dog. Both men lived.

Here are the warning signs (AKA things you should watch for as cop and not do if you're not a cop):

0:04: "Don't go reaching into anything," says the cop. Fair enough.

0:05: Why does the suspect hold his hand up like he can tell the cop to stop? That's not allowed. But as a cop I would probably let that slide. What can you do? But it's a sign.

0:09: The suspect gets off the hood, like he was a choice to disobey an officer's order. I don't know what I would have done, but I'll tell what the cop should have done: take the guy down without hesitation. Or create space. But that's easy to say in hindsight.

It happened so fast. It often does. I'd like to think otherwise, but I probably would have been shot.

My sergeant's words come to mind: "Never arrest alone." Words to live by.


Peter Moskos said...

I'm glad everybody thinks the criminal is a bad guy. That's obvious. But I didn't post this to have that base discussion.
But I do find your link quite interesting: www.getoutthehood.net

aNanyMouse said...

Typo alerts, 1) "As a non-police officer, what would your reaction be (IF) the cop aggressively brought this guy to the ground...."

2) "Of course nobody knows is (IF) the suspect is armed...."

If the cop should've created space, he also should've called for backup.

Peter Moskos said...


I would think backup was already on the way regardless, it being a 3am solo car stop.

aNanyMouse said...

Indeed, he should've created space first, in order to call it in that he was gonna have his hands full, before the taking the subject down.

LV Taylor said...

He was being verbally compliant, but physically he was testing the Officer's resolve. I thank God for my FTO's and the fact that I worked where I did. On thing to remember :Everyone is armed until they've been searched by me. Period. Yes, I have my share of complaints...but I'm alive.

Peter Moskos said...

Hard to imagine anybody would ever complain against you, LV.

Andy D said...

This whole video demonstrates a number of disconnects. First and fundamentally, the point of your post: the disconnect between police and non-police. The reason that body cameras are not the panacea that the reformers say they are is that this disconnect will still be very real: cops and non-cops see these incidents through very different frames of reference, and without education about the way each sees it, having more things on video won't calm things at all.

The second disconnect is between city cops and non city cops. Having worked in a rural area for years, you do LOTS of things alone. I would never have had backup en route for this call. My backup takes 10-15 minutes to arrive and they have other things to do. Solo stop at 3am? I've done thousands. There was a time when I was the only cop in my jurisdiction at that time of night. I don't know how rural this area is (the lack of traffic tells me it's not exactly hoppin' with people) Rural cops do things different because they have to, and I hear a lot of comments on things like this about "where is his backup?" or "why was he doing this alone?" INSIDE police culture the rural/urban disconnect is very real.

Peter Moskos said...

Good points. A camera up to 0:15 would have only sown division if the cop did something right there and then.

And the urban/rural disconnect is real. Rural police are all but forgotten by urban police, TV and movies, academics, and me. Thanks for bringing that up.

Indian River County has 142,000 people and a county seat of Vero Beach. Most of it looks like farmland. Between Miami and Daytona Beach. I95 goes through it.

Andy D said...

The disconnect between urban and rural goes both ways--I lean on your analysis about urban policing because I've never done it. It is one of the reasons I loved Cop In The Hood so much. Rural cops have so many other things they deal with (and a whole different set of problems) that urban cops never see. We also get less training, handle a wider variety of calls that urban cops never have time for, and deal with things differently. I'm not sure which one is harder. I know I don't want to be a city cop, but I've stopped city cops who come out my way to unwind who tell me that they could never do my job. They aren't comfortable handling calls totally alone.

Then again they don't herd loose cows very often in Baltimore. Or respond to a "man with a gun" call or physical domestic at 3am solo or with one other cop as backup. So often we know the people we deal with. Sometimes we "literally) live next door to them and our kids go to school with them.

aNanyMouse said...

@ Andy
Body cams may not be panaceas, but this vid is super food for thought for all sides, and should be shown in Academies all across the nation, if not the world.

Indeed, cops and non-cops may, at start, see these incidents through very different frames of reference, but a dialogue between them has to start somewhere, and this vid is as good a place to start as any. If PBS’ Frontline had an hour comparing the lessons of this vid with those of the Encinia/Bland clash, the gap between these frames of reference might narrow some. As it is, this vid would stop/flatly discredit any rioting about this Indian River clash: no one who sees the vid can beef about this cop’s “racist conduct” toward this subject.

Hats off to you rural cops, but huge riots are much less likely to emerge from any of your faux pas, than may emerge from those of city cops.

Andy D said...

Absolutely. The results of our screw ups are rarely front page news or the cause of riots. I'm certainly not trying to say that we are front and center in the debates about reforms--not at all. Just illustrating the disconnect.

As for the videos, sure they CAN start a dialog. But people with good communication skills who can explain WHY things happen, and chiefs who are willing to admit that use of force is ALWAYS ugly but who are willing to defend lawful uses of force, are few. The media and the public are not terribly interested in education and dialog. Just look at the Trump campaign for evidence of that. Or even look at the way President Obama has dealt with various law enforcement incidents over the last few years. Dialog is a rare thing. Many people seem to lack the attention span for reasonable dialog.

Andrew Laurence said...

Once the suspect punched the cop in the face, I lost what little sympathy I had for him. The cop hadn't mistreated him at all.

aNanyMouse said...

@ Andy D
It’s not just the chiefs, it’s almost all defenders of cops, esp. the brass of FoP, who so often are their own worst enemies. Their arguments all too often (try to) prove too much, or otherwise insult the public’s intelligence. I urge you to very carefully read my comments on Peter’s posts “Former LA Sheriff Baca Pleads Guilty’ (11 Feb.), and “Cops on Comey” (30 Oct.).

Andy D said...

I hear you loud and clear. I'm not afraid to say we are our own worst enemy. Defenders of cops usually defend even the crap that is indefensible. Articulate and thoughtful discussion is impossible. That goes whether it is a discussion between cops or among non-cops or between the groups.

Some people (especially some cops) will defend almost anything a cop does because he's got a badge. Some people (especially self-styled reformers) will condemn any use of force no matter how justified, because the cop has a badge. This site contains a lot of people attempting to be articulate and evaluate things on the merits. But in general society I see nothing of the sort. I see knee-jerk reactions on both sides, demands for reforms that will accomplish little or make things worse, and a lot of empty rhetoric and rabble-rousing on both sides. SMH.

aNanyMouse said...

Moreover, Andy D, it’s not just on the issue of cops, it’s all over hell and creation, and it’s been getting worse, for decades, see W. Pfaff in ’94, at http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1994-01-20/news/1994020037_1_killer-spirit-argument-television-and-press .

aNanyMouse said...

I just recalled that I'd extensively referred to Pfaff etc. on Peter's post of 29 Nov., "Does rhetoric incite violence?".

Andy D said...

"To obtain second-order agreement, I -- for example -- have to be able to explain to a third party what my opponent's position is on the subject of our disagreement. He has to agree that I have more or less accurately set out where he stands and must then explain to that third party where I stand, in terms I find acceptable." --from the referenced article by Pfaff

THIS is certainly where the problem stands in almost every discussion that I have had. The lack of this "Second-Order Agreement" is why neither political debate nor discussions of police-society relationships or anything else seem to go anywhere, including academic discussions. I guess I was raised in a strange home, but growing up, we had very vocal and critical discussions all the time. I was taught to state my position clearly, to back up my opinion with supporting facts, and I was confronted typically with opposing views and facts.

When I try to discuss "controversial" topics with most anyone anymore I find that we can't even agree on what we are discussing. The second-order agreement cannot be reached. Even if *I* am interested in knowing and understanding the other person's point of view and position, often they don't want to, or are unwilling to, understand mine. I guess that is why I seek out the rare places in cyberspace where some remnant of that second order agreement remains, like this blog and the few others that I read very deliberately.

I had a history teacher in high school who kept an empty picture frame on his desk. he called it his "frame of reference." Every time we discussed a topic in history he asked us to think about whose "frame of reference" we were viewing the topic through. He stressed that our own frame of reference includes our background, our social status, our life experience, our philosophical beliefs, etc. He stressed also that we cannot truly understand any topic unless we strive to understand the frame of reference through which others viewed it. Hence a study of, for example, early European settlement of the Americas can be seen very differently depending on the frame used. Do we see it from the perspective of the native population? from that of the Europeans? From our own experience as descendants of these groups 400-plus years after? from a more "global" perspective?

I think this is why social media has become the bane of discussion; we construct our own echo-chambers that agree with our own frame of reference and shut out other equally valid perspectives. We can never reach first-order conclusions because we never start from second-order agreement. It is like standing in quicksand. Every time you make a gain the 'ground' on which our gain rests simply shifts and we are left having gained nothing.

I don't care if you are a #BLM activist or an FOP rep, without some intellectual honesty we are screwed.

aNanyMouse said...

Andy D, out-f*ckin’ standing! Esp. about echo-chambers.

Two of the more readable philosophers who wrote about stuff like this were (a refugee from Hitler, to Princeton) Walter Kaufmann, and (UC’s) Allan Bloom, esp. his famous book The Closing of the American Mind.

One blogger who really gets it is Charles Hugh Smith, who writes about many things, incl. the Remnant (since you used that word!) of those aiming to carry the Socratic tradition through these current trying circumstances.

Andy D said...

Hey I'm just a hick cop trying to get to retirement. Too much pressure to be part of the remnant carrying on the Socratic tradition! Unless the Remnant will have a cool post-intellectual-apocalypse compound in the mountains of Idaho and they need a peace officer. In that case I'm packing my bags. I'll probably get more backpacking in out there to go along with the better quality of conversation.

aNanyMouse said...

Andy D, I hear ya. But hopefully you’ll somewhere make friends who APPRECIATE the attitude you bring to such discussions, as I was able to do over the years, owing partly to dumb luck. Some of these friends helped bail my ass out of some real jams, many having nothing to do with my life as a cop.

One of these guys had a unique role within a certain niche in int’l business, and swears that Americans are notorious around the world for, as you put it, lacking the attention span for reasonable dialog. The French, of all people, have the rep for having the best attn. span for this, followed (at much distance) by, say, Germans and Russians (when not tanked).

aNanyMouse said...

Andy, seeing as you referred to other blogs where second order agreement is pursued, I’d appreciate if you could name some of them!

Andy D said...

Mouse, I have seen the most interesting and civil discussions on the Volokh Conspiracy and at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. I myself have never felt qualified to contribute to discussions there but they tend to be civil, intelligent and interesting

aNanyMouse said...

Andy, thanx much. I'd heard of Volokh, but not of the Bleeding Hearts.

Pragmatic Liberaltarian said...

"As a non-police officer, what would your reaction be if the cop aggressively brought this guy to the ground right there and then?"

I'd think the cop used excessive force. Of course with 20-20 hindsight, we can see that taking him to the ground would've been the better result for all concerned in this particular case. However, I don't think we should make generalized rules assuming the worst case. The worst case should be considered, but it should also be considered that the worst case is also the extremely rare case. There must be a balance between officer safety and the safety and dignity of everyone else.

Andy D said...

Well part of the problem is that Law Enforcement always HAS to consider the worst case. Two considerations, both from my own training. First is that the statistics from the FBI LEOKA data have been expressed to me as demonstrating that officers who use slightly MORE Force earlier in a confrontation are LESS likely to use MORE force later (i.e. going hands on with this guy as soon as he was demonstrably not compliant with instructions that were given specifically for safety reasons [hands on the car so that the hands, which would employ a weapon are in a controlled and observable place] instead of having to then shoot him) This is part of the disconnect we are talking about here.

Second deals more specifically with what you are talking about "assuming the worst case" and was the best explanation i have seen of why law enforcement is so hard. Dr. Kevin Gilmartin taught a seminar that i recently attended where he pointed out that while Firefighting is a MORE dangerous job than Policing, firefighters deal with a high probability of known risk: i.e. at a fire there are inherent dangers. They have protocols to deal with that, and after they clear the scene they know that those dangers are over and can relax. Police deal with constant low probability of high risk: while the risk of life-threatening danger is low on any specific contact, the risk can and does come without much warning, requiring police to be always on edge and prepared for it. This means never truly relaxing. The high probability of risk at a known time is easy to deal with through training and procedure. The low probability of high risk at an unknown time is much harder and is why "generalized rules" and generalized procedures that assume the worst (controlling the hands, using less force earlier to control a situation) are used. It is just like driving: even though the danger of a serious accident on any given drive to the store is low doesn't mean you don't prepare for it by buying insurance, driving defensively, wearing your seatbelt, having a car equipped with airbags, etc.

aNanyMouse said...

@ Pragmatic:
The wise considerations described above by Andy D were almost certainly part of the analyses which gave us the Use of Force Model, which clearly authorizes P.O.s to react as suggested here, without being haggled about excessive force.

The subject here was, at minimum, a Moving Resister, and was thereby liable to be justly confronted with Weaponless Control Techniques, if not Chemical Agents. Once the subject at all became an Assailant, the P.O. could justly deploy Impact Weapons.

Peter Moskos said...

[Side note: I don't think firefighting is more dangerous. If memory serves me correct, there are about twice as many cops shot and killed as paid firefighters who die in a fire. Firefighter deaths look high at first... but most of those are volunteer firefighters keeling over from over-exertion and heart attacks. Not quite the same thing. Better to look at paid firefighters who die in a fire just as one would exclude security guards and bouncers when counting cops' deaths. Even cop car crashes -- while tragic and a huge cause of death in policing -- it's usually not quite the same thing as getting shot and killed.]

Andy D said...

Looking at the numbers you are correct Peter; there are MANY less deaths in firefighting. But in terms of duty, on a daily basis fighting a fire is more hazardous than making a traffic stop. My point was more that the risks are high but known and can be managed, and end when the call ends. You don't see firefighters getting killed like the Lakewood Four, sitting down to have a meal.

Peter Moskos said...

Yes. And it's a very good point.

The way I phrase it is that people *do* die in other jobs. Sometimes much more often than in policing. But when people die in those jobs, it means something went wrong. You press a big red button and stop the assembly line. Or you figure out why the fishing crate broke free.

In other jobs you *can* Monday morning quarterback and figure out the problem and work to correct it.

Even firefighting... in theory firefighters shouldn't die in a fire. (Of course reality doesn't always match with theory.)

But in policing you can do everything *right* and still get killed.

Danger is so intrinsically linked to policing. Sometimes you were just doing your job and doing it well and still die. That is a different kind of danger. That's a tough pill to swallow. (So often I heard some variation of the fatalistic mantra: "If a bullet has your name on it, it's your time to go.")

Also, unlike other civilian jobs, when a cop is killed, there's no red button to push to stop everything, take stock, and close up for the night. The calls don't stop, even for death. It puts things in perspective, and not necessarily in a good way.

Dustin Lafe said...

I was taught to never arrest alone. It is the only way to make this kind of situation safer. Everything else just mitigates.

tmurphy11 said...

In response to Peter's comments, what is the "right" thing to do in this situation? In my eyes, I would have forcefully detained this individual right after he began to get squirmy. The officer directly gave him an order and he did not comply, so at this point I believe I have the authority to do what I need to do in order to regain control. I would much rather deal with an excessive force case after this incident then to go home in a body bag. This officer is lucky, and I am happy he survived, because during that whole incident I bet he was concerned about the amount of force that is acceptable given today's recent issues. This is the problem these days, Officers are always at a crossroads about what will come after due to their actions.

Peter Moskos said...

And clearly in this case you have done the right thing.
But still, from my experience, you can't or don't need to go hands-on that quickly with everybody at the slightly squirminess. You'd start too many fights. But it is very tough to say that knowing that in this case I'm dead wrong and also would have been shot.

In this case the officer had two choice: forcefully detain the guy and be accused of brutality or get shot. Certainly the former is better than the latter. (Of course in this case they guy had a gun, so it absolutely would have been justified. But what about a similar case where the guy wasn't armed?)