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