Complacency and Public Sentiment: The Death Knell of Police Authority

Here’s what I expect from this post:  Most of my LEO compatriots are going to reply with a lot of “Amen!”s and some of my civilian readers are going to wonder what all the hullabaloo is about.

Time was, when I first started this blog, I’d use this platform as a way to vent my frustrations most vehemently without fear of anyone actually reading the damn thing.  These days, I have to be more careful for fear that my angst-ridden diatribes may run the risk of upsetting the wrong folks.  My once well kept secret of my actual identity is now something I think of as kitschy versus a necessity.

And that is exactly what I want to talk about in this post.  Be forewarned, these thoughts have been on my mind for some time now.  I tend to get a wee bit, let’s say boisterous, when it comes to what I’m going to talk about, so if you’re easily offended, best to be off then…

Let me start by saying, as per usual (if not even more so here), what I write is my opinion.  It is not that of my department.  When I refer to the Powers That Be, I am painting a broad picture with a very broad brush.  If you are concerned that I am talking about you, fire up the only Carly Simon song I can pull from my memory.

On February 28, 2013, I posted this:

Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 6.41.31 PM

2,032 people saw that post.  The impetus behind it was this post:

Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 6.58.44 PM

 

One reader, legitimately enough asked, “I agree cops shouldn’t be killed – but what do you mean by ‘take control’?”

Relax, I’m not advocating a police state or martial law or stricter gun laws.  I’m saying that we, the cops have got to stop being led to our own damn executions.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming any of the deceased officers.  I wasn’t there for any of the situations.  I don’t know how they played out.

What I do know, however, is there are a couple reasons cops are getting killed that are well within our control: 1) Complacency

and

2) Public Sentiment

Let’s talk about complacency first.  Complacency is assuming your (insert detail here) is going to play out just like it has a thousand times before.  This is where the media gets the term “routine“.  We buy into that false sense of security.  Make no mistake, I’m just as guilty of it as everyone else.  If I had a dollar for every false alarm I’ve been to, I’d have my Emergency Fund fully funded.  Conversely, if I had a dollar for every legit alarm I’ve been to, I couldn’t buy gum.

See what I mean?  Easy to be complacent going to alarm calls.  When you exceed 2,000 traffic stops a year, it’s easy to assume they’ll all go just as swimmingly as those before.  The problem is there was that one where you screwed the barrel of your gun into some shitbag’s ear because you saw a gun in the car.  Maybe you weren’t so complacent after that.  Maybe you weren’t to begin with and that’s why you got the drop on him.  Who’s to know?

The point is, as mentally exhausting as our chosen profession is, it only benefits us to remain vigilant and always assuming the worst is going to happen.  Plan for the worst, hope for the best.

Now, let’s talk about the much more prickly second issue: public sentiment.  Let’s make something clear.  I don’t work in South Central LA.  I don’t spend my day running down ‘bangers.  I’m much more likely to stop a Soccer Mom than I am a hardened criminal.  I get it.  Working where I do, I tend to get the “you’re not a real cop” attitude from those I’m sworn to serve and protect.  Granted, they’re the squeaky wheel.  They’re the ones making the most noise.  The silent masses support law enforcement and are more apt to take their comeuppance when interacting with me.

That argument was rendered invalid last September.  A CHP officer was shot and killed doing a traffic stop for a non-moving violation in an upper-middle class part of California.  The premise of “you never know” that was drilled into me since the Academy and countless times since had yet another tic on the tally.

The problem with working in a, shall we say, statistically less violent crime ridden area, is the sense of entitlement is significantly more present.  When I worked in statistically more violent crime areas, it was perfectly understood from the clientele that when you said to do something, there was no two ways about it.

We used to be trained to “ask”, then “tell”, then “take”.  Classic three strikes and you’re out.  These days, it’s more like “ask”, “cajole”, “plead”, “barter”, “offer”, “beg”, “call your supervisor so the routine can start over again”, “apologize”, “wonder when the complaint will come in”, “kiss ass”.

And I’m fucking sick of it.  In my opinion, it’s this kind of approach that has both led to and emboldened the capitulation of and degradation of police authority/safety.  God forbid I yell at someone to get back in their car when they jump out at a traffic stop.

What?  He’s driving a BMW?  He’s got a car seat?  Well shit, MC, obviously, he’s just a taxpayer and not some lunatic looking to end your life.  Oh, I apologize, I didn’t realize the crystal ball you’ve got there can see all these facts.  My bad.

Don’t misread me here.  I’m not paranoid and I don’t yank my gun every time someone jumps out of their car.  I do, however, strongly tell them to get back in the car and I’ll be there momentarily.  This is where you civilians are most likely starting to have issues because you watch to much damn TV and assume your buddy MC is close to the edge and looking for an excuse to drill someone.  Not at all.

What I’m saying is this.  If the Powers That Be in every department were less concerned about having to explain their officer’s actions to a non-LEO boss or the media or the public and more concerned with their officer’s safety, I believe we could take a step back in the direction of cops being able to be cops.  Sometimes, the non-LEO boss and the media and the public need to be told, in no uncertain terms, that they have their heads up their collective asses and it was the professionalism and restraint of the allegedly offending officer that kept them from having a much worse day.

Here’s an example I once heard:

An officer is dealing with a very upset and distraught citizen.  The officer is not gaining compliance.  The officer uses the term “mother fucker” in connection with an order to sit down in order to gain the aforementioned compliance.  The citizen complies.

Again, this is a broad, vague example in which you are welcome to embellish where you will.  Suffice it to say, the next step in the compliance obtaining game is physical contact.  Physical contact always runs the risk of injury to all involved parties.  I get the “unprofessionalism” claim by some.  I get the opinion that we “shouldn’t lower ourselves” and we are “held to a higher standard”.

Guess what?  Sometimes you’re just a better fucking cop than me.

Why should we risk physical injury, lawsuits, time off, workman’s comp, etc.?  I’m not advocating profane interactions here, folks (although in the above example, I’d argue it’s preferable).  I’m talking about simply raising one’s voice and giving a lawful and not-so-subtle order to comply.

What you are about to see is scary.  It is graphic.  Please do not show this or listen to it with little ones within earshot.  (Mom, you are excused from viewing it. Seriously.  No, not I’m being a smartass kid…I don’t want you watching this. For that matter, the Wife can skip it, too.)

Deputy Kyle Dinkheller was murdered off camera in this video.  Why did he wait so long to take action?  How many times should a cop give a command before moving to the next level of force?  The rifle was in the suspect’s truck, but Deputy Dinkheller had no way of knowing if the suspect had a weapon on him.  At what point should he have done something?

I won’t answer those and play Monday Morning Quarterback here.  That is reserved for training and lineup where we see videos like this all too often.  I looked for another video, similar in nature, but I couldn’t find it.  In this video, an officer basically watches a man load a rifle as he gives command after command telling him to stop, but he never engages the threat.  Why?  Because he’d been told that he was too aggressive and if he unnecessarily pulled his gun going forward, he would be terminated.  (If you know the video to which I’m referring, please comment with the link so I can add it to the post.)

Do you think the officer was worried more for his life or what his bosses would say?  What were his bosses worried about?  Were they worried about their officer’s safety or about all the complaints he generated?  Now, again, I don’t know the specifics about the officer’s past, but having seen the video, I would argue that planting the seed in his head made him ineffectual and may very well have cost him his life.

I would hope that his family knew of the order, had a copy in writing, and reacted litigiously.

It’s these kinds of experiences that I try to keep in mind when I’m doing a traffic stop.  Not all of them, mind you…hell, probably not enough of them, I’ll admit.  You know what takes up that space a whole shitload more than it should?  I hope this person doesn’t complain.  And this coming from a guy whose had a few complaints and never had one upheld.

Read that last paragraph again.  Did you see it?

It sure reads like I worry more about receiving a complaint than I do about staying alive.

And that’s fucking backwards.  So, if I stop you and I offend you because you did something you shouldn’t have and I vigorously reminded you, tough shit.  My goal is to go home at the end of my shift.  Consequently, if your tender sensibilities are knocked off-kilter, that is a risk I’m willing to take to make sure we both leave breathing out the same holes with which we started.

If you find yourself occupying the PTB role in LEO, do yourself a favor.  Let your people know you support them.  I don’t care how long it’s been since you’ve pushed a patrol car around.  Cops will follow you to hell if you support them.  Worry less about the politics.  I understand that’s your bailiwick now, but don’t forget from whence you came.  You get paid more than us to deal with the politics.  Let us worry about getting home…something we can pay more attention to if we’re not worried about hearing you tell us all about your meeting with the (insert political appointee here) and how upset he/she was that we were forceful with someone.  Remind that politician that we’re out there keeping their streets safe for them and their voting citizenry.

We’d rather you did that than speak at our funeral.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

27 thoughts on “Complacency and Public Sentiment: The Death Knell of Police Authority

  1. You know, maybe its time to quit pouring millions of borrowed Chinese dollars into the First Leech’s ineffective “Let’s Move” campaign and instead fund a “What to do if you get pulled over” PSA. I’m partial to “How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police” video from Chris Rock. I kid. In all seriousness, though, a PSA showing simple do’s and don’ts might save alot of LEO AND civilian lives. Simple stuff like “stay in your car,” ” don’t reach for anything unless the officer tells you,” and “don’t make the officer tase/beat/shoot you by not listening” would help, ALOT. Remind the sanctimonious and entitled that they have recourse through the courts and the complaint process if they feel they are being mistreated. And cops- record EVERYTHING. Preferably on video. It will keep you squared away because you know you are on (digital) tape, and it will provide hours of endless entertainment when you put some obnoxious jerk’s tirade on Youtube after his failed complaint.

  2. MC,

    Whilst I don’t know you, you are included in my prayers for the LEOs that I do know as Justin is for the FFEMS people I do know. It’s a dangerous job you have and when to engage with your duty weapon is not one to be taken lightly, but the most important thing is that you go home at night. Mrs. MC and the MClets depend on you.

    This weekend, my Brother, both of us phone technicians experienced our version of oh shit now what do we do? He followed all of the instructions we do to the letter, yet still the house caught on fire. Luckily where he lives the FD was only two minutes out. So the house was saved but he told the family to run as he was calling 911 on his Bluetooth and the people lost electricity for the night but that’s better than losing your home. He’s got a wife and son who depend on him, so it’s important someone not knock him out of the bucket truck (2008) or he perish in a fire. Well I just wanted to share. I enjoy the blog, and hope all is right in your world.

  3. Agree wholeheartedly. I’m so sick of these entitled assholes pulling the “I pay your salary” card. As long as I can go home at the end of my shift, screw the rest of them. They’ll get over their hurt feelings.

  4. Prefect post, I think to often the common citizen doesn’t really want to know. It hurts my heart to hear / see things like this. Thank you for bringing LIGHT to a dark place and making more people aware!

  5. Great post. I too understand that sometimes profanity can work, but only as long as you aren’t using it all the time. I would rather come home with a complaint than not come home at all.

  6. (Holy shit) I’m still recovering from the video. Good post- total agreement from me.

  7. Holy shit … that was the must grueling video I have ever watched. No problem with ask/tell/take. Hard to NOT MMQB this type of thing. I won’t forget his screams … not for a long time. What an awful way to die.

  8. Addendum: despite what my MMQB comment might suggest, I am not judging here. How could I?

  9. One more for the road: for MC and any other LEO: I’m sure this video was one of many you all saw in academy. What has it and all related training taught you to do when engaging the public at large? Is it all about contingency plans? Rehearsing in the back of your mind what you might do based on the specific situation/surroundings you’re in? To be more blunt … do you plan how you might kill the party you’re engaged with if things go south fast?

    You don’t have to answer this question if it’s going to subject your feet to the fire of the PTB …

  10. I’m not and never have been a law enforcement officer. More than a decade ago, I was an explorer, for a few months, but I (eventually) went on to obtain a journalism degree (which, of absolutely no relation to your post, led to taking a job in customer service – there’s a joke in there, somewhere).

    This is a post more people need to see than probably will, and that’s very unfortunate. Nobody who’s not a cop really understands what you folks experience (including me, but excluding other emergency services personnel… to some extent). There really is a misapprehension that it’s a bad thing for police officers to be hyper-vigilant and violent in their own defense and that of others. There’s nothing wrong with being proactive, and with the obviously high stakes involved, such takes on an even greater importance. Even a momentary delay has resulted, can, and (unfortunately) will again result in black-banded badges.

    By no means is this comment, nor should your post be taken as, an argument that police officers should not be held to high standards. Indeed, I feel any cop not more focused on coming home each day than on avoiding complaints is putting himself (used not as a gender identifier) at risk. It’s understandable to be worried – cops are easy targets for all sorts of sensationalist stories. The idea of someone who’s sworn to uphold the law being corrupt is alluring and, to the detriment of society at large, ever more common among civilians, particularly our elected officials and the folks who sat in all those news-writing and television production classes with me. This isn’t a problem that will be easily solved and so long as horrific videos like the one featured in this post are primarily the purview of law enforcement training academies, there won’t be enough moral outrage over the unnecessary psychological shackling of our law enforcement officers to keep it from happening. I intend to share this video as necessary, should the topic come up (as it often does).

    I’m sorry for rambling, I’ll shut up in a moment. I’ve read your blog for almost a year, now. Your style is witty and engaging and the content you post here reflects well on you. I’m glad your local “Powers That Be” don’t try to shut you down – despite the miles between Wherever, California and Small-Town Arkansas, and that we’ve never interacted, I feel like I know you better than the men and women who patrol the streets here. Maybe that statement will prove useful, when dealing with the PTB; maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s honest. Thank you both for the job you do and the wonderful (if heavily redacted) insight you provide here.

    • a) I don’t think you were rambling in the least…I appreciated your comment.

      b) Seems only fair to have a lengthy comment after I posted on of the longest posts ever. 😉

      • I should say that I work in Southern CA; a good distance from MC, am a Motor Officer as well. I have the same views he does on most everything he posts. I’m guessing…we’re not that much different than the fathers and mothers who work to protect the community in whatever small town you live in.

  11. I didn’t see any “dissension” in the post above, but one absolute truth: “This is a post more people need to see than probably will, and that’s very unfortunate.” Yeah, that’s true of a great many facets of law enforcement, most notably the number of cops who are being assassinated on a weekly basis in this country. And assassinated is the right word … never before have we seen so many incidents of cops just shot point blank while simply going about their business. But this doesn’t reach Mr. & Mrs. Public, or if it does, it’s in some far off land somewhere. I can still remember the complaints of, “He had his hand on his gun when he walked up to the car!” They just don’t get it, and as long as the administrative types entertain that type of complaint in order to preserve their paycheck, it will only get worse.
    Awesome post, MC.

  12. MC,

    I’m pretty sure this is the other video that you’re referring to: Trp. Randy Vetter, Texas DPS from 2000. Unfortunately, there aren’t any really good quality copies that I could find on line, so here are a couple of links to videos of that incident. I couldn’t watch it again because I don’t want to get pissed off about what happened.

    I re-read your linked post to Kenyon’s murder and it brought me to tears again.

    Please ride/be safe.

    RIP Kenyon, Randy, Kyle and all the rest…

    http://youtu.be/rgqrt67CP7U

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=dbb_1266356082

    http://patterico.com/2006/11/23/more-on-the-video-of-the-texas-state-trooper-killed-by-the-72-year-old-man/

  13. A few years ago I graduated college and pursued a career in law enforcement. I have many LEOs in my family and found what I thought was a good department. in the process I got my EMT for the pay raise. As I worked an our Chiefs changed I saw morale take a dump. Everyone was a snitch, no one backed each other up and the administration basically told us if a citizen complains we would be written up. There was more interest in keeping the citizens happy then keeping us safe ABC showing the patrolmen that they supported us. It got to the point that I was told I was writing too many tickets and they were getting complaints. Not a single ticket was ever overturned. It finally came to a head when I had a good day and wrote over 40 tickets. Because I wrote the wrong people I got written up, with instructions to stop bothering motorists, along with three other officers who also had high numbers

    Shortly after I left and took a ranking job at a top EMS 911 agency. When I interviewed for the job their director stated his philosophy, “did everyone come home? Did you provide the best care? Then nothing else matters.” This was refreshing to see a political figure stand up for his people and he has held that line for three years.
    It is shameful to see what was once viewed as a top department in the state torn apart by infighting and political maneuvering but that has become the nature of law enforcement. In this industry, the customer isn’t always right

  14. From a different standpoint MC… as a prison guard, I get to see first hand the amount of “rights” inmates have (check local listings). They can file complaints on us as easily as the BMW driver can on you. Walking across the yard of a prison where every eye that is upon you wants nothing more than to see some type of harm come to you, sometimes it’s hard to maintain your professionalism, but you do it because that’s just what you do. Complacency has no place in Law Enforcement, but I see it everyday. I just hope that my partners would snap me out of it like I would do for them. We are no help for the cause if dispatch has to send an ambulance for us too… Thanks for all you do MC

  15. My husband a LEO of many years works in an area I would consider safer than most but with his type of job comes way to many politics to much of well you will be sorry because I know this person in a place this small everyone knows the police chief so your not as important as you think you are tards. I want to thank you I posted and forwarded this to many LEO’s I thought would share the same opioion and there have been many hell ya replies! Keep up the good work.

  16. I’m currently a Police Explorer and (soon to be) Criminal Justice student…and aspiring police officer. Just a few weeks ago I went to a joint training session on traffic stops. We were shown the Randy Vetter dash cam video and the one with the sovereign citizens who killed the two officers on the interstate. Now with this one, Dinkheller – (which I pushed myself to watch for reasons I will explain)…seeing and hearing the officers scream and all the other details of the incidents I don’t need to mention, hit me harder than anything ever has in my entire life. After that training, I felt physically ill and was ready to break down. It was a combination of sadness and absolute anger. I came home that night questioning if I would really be able to make it in law enforcement. However, I reached out and talked to some veteran officers who have been there…who gave me an incredible perspective, just as you did again with this post. Number one, these kinds of videos and the officers’ deaths need to be meaningful to our training; they need to have purpose. Number two, they told me that I should take comfort in the fact that they affect me, because if you become numb to it, you’ve lost a part of yourself. But, at the same time, while we can become desensitized to this kind of violence because it is so often shoved in our faces, we keep these ruthless assasinations in the back of our minds so that we can perform when duty calls.

    Watching these videos will never be easy for me, ever. Hearing a brother die in such a manner is haunting. Even as you stated, much of the time the officer didn’t do anything wrong, he was just dealt a crap hand…no traffic stop or interaction with the public is ever “routine”. Seemingly never ending stories of officers getting assaulted and killed is the reason I become bent out of shape when the media, or even people I talk to in person, refer calls “routine”.

    Thanks, MC, for all you do. There is just no way to fully express the gratitude that I, and other LEO supporters, have for you and the rest of the men and women in blue (or black, or brown). 🙂

  17. For the record, I didn’t even get a complaint when I “motherfucked” the guy.

    Wait, what? That wasn’t about me?

    Mrs. Smith will be the first to tell you, I do my job aggressively, with the ultimate goal of going home every day in roughly the same condition as when I came to work. If it requires the occasional “shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down”, then so be it.

    My life and my partner’s life are more important than your fragile sensibilities.

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