Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Police work is a full contact sport that ensures freedom.
One of the obstacles that is emerging as a major hurtle for law enforcement is the public’s perception that a negative consequence is a directly equated to malfeasance. I was watching the video of the campus police’s response to the protester that ended in his arrest and Tazer’ing. The university has now launched an investigation into the conduct of the officers on scene. The two underlining public sentiments are; that the police used excessive force and that this “student” has his right of free speech revoked.
The second issue first. The biggest destructive force in the maintenance of our freedoms is the lack of civility and civil discourse. A time limit had been imposed for the question and answer section so that the largest number of people could ask questions. However the “student” went over that time demanding answers that were not forthcoming. His conduct revoked the rights of everyone in that room. He prevented other students from being able to address the assembled staff and Senator Kerry and changed the focus from discerning the Senator Kerry’s political positions to ascertaining the response of police to the student’s action. Civil discourse has turned into shouting down sessions with each side claiming victory by screaming mindless slogans. I can not remember the last public display of freedom of speech that involved a positive exchange of ideas from two competing viewpoints. Properly communicated ideas followed by positive listening to the response, that’s freedom of speech. Screaming at your opponent so that he or she can not deliver their view is an attempt to remove their freedom of speech. Every political position has flaws and the best way to identify those flaws is to listen to your opposition and address their concerns. In that way everyone keeps their beneficial freedoms rather than a competition to see who can remove the most freedoms from the proponents of the opposite view.
Second issue, successful police work can lead to negative outcomes. An officer can conduct themselves within departmental guidelines, within the color of law and with excellent decisions and the conduct of the offender necessitates a use of force. What has happened in modern law enforcement is that once force has been applied, the public sentiment does not side with the heroic efforts of the officers but rather with the negative experience of the offender. Very rarely is excessive force used, rather if anything, the officer thinking of the lawsuit taking his home and car reacts much slower to a violent confrontation then he or she should. The increase of on-duty officer deaths, and as a better indication, on-duty injury is support for the supposition. This can be seen in many aspects of law enforcement from increased restrictions in the vehicle pursuit policies due to the deaths cause by the fleeing offender to the lengthening of the use of force continuum due to the injuries suffered by non-compliant suspects. I tell everyone I meet when they give me the classic question, “My (name of friend of relative) did this tiny thing and the officers then did this crazy thing. Were they right?” I always say if he/she had followed the officer’s orders then the officer’s would not have had to use force. If he/she thought the officer’s were operating illegally then follow their orders and address the issues later. Now they have criminal charges to deal with along with the issue that began the confrontation. The bottom line is that criminals/subjects/offenders can not easily be controlled, but we can. Since we will follow the rules and we are found in the same place everyday, the control can be placed on the officer rather than the criminal. It is a short cut that politicians use to show they had done something to improve a negative event.
Concerning this event, what would have happened if the student had pulled away and the officers stood their and did not use force to detain him again. If this student had jumped onto the stage and punched that Senator Kerry in the face, the officers present would have been criticized for not acting swiftly enough. Again, the emphases would not been on the student’s foolish actions but rather on the police again. The public needs to understand that negative actions bring negative consequences and the ramifications of these actions fall solely on the actor. The only other approach would be to stop the officers from taking any action whatsoever until there is voluntary compliance to verbal orders or unless someone is injured. The reason negative actions are restricted is due to the negative affects they have on all of us. That is why the state brings criminal charges to bear on behalf of the individual because the understanding is that we have all suffered together. Police officers want to be mind readers but we are not. If we knew that the minor actions that the offender is committing, is all that they would do, we would step aside and let them just run out of energy. However we act to stop the current conduct in the fear that it will increase in severity. The only means we have to ensure this process is that once we have reached a threshold level of criminal conduct is force and the negative affects that it has.
If this continues and we are totally restricted in our ability to preemptively take action to control the chance of damage or injury then the mental picture should be of the traffic stop where the driver does not want to exit their vehicle. Just have the officer stand there and ask him nicely to exit his vehicle until he does, if that takes a minute or an hour or a day. If you like this, then please do not complain when you are in need and all the officers are busy telling students their question times is up and they need to move along. Please move along, pretty please, pretty please with sugar on top, put the gun down, please put the gun down…