Cooperate with the Police—Or Else
Nov. 14, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Police officials always talk about the need for the public to cooperate with the police, how it avoids physical confrontation and injury, and how cooperation solves all problems. Last year Sunil Dutta, Ph.D. and a Los Angeles police officer for over 17 years summed it up:
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?
Dr. Dutta doesn’t say that police lives and well-being are more important than yours, but that is what he means, even if he doesn’t say it.
In Houston a few days ago, a police officer showed up at an individual’s home with the resident’s ex-girlfriend and demanded entry. The man’s attorney, Lema Barazi, told him to get a search warrant, that he was being denied entry unless he had such a warrant. The officer, L.R. Velasquez, then left and soon returned with his sergeant. They advised Barazi that she could either cooperate with them, or, with the blessings of local Assistant District Attorney Carter, she would be arrested for interfering with the officers. That’s a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.
She refused to allow the officers entry, so they handcuffed her and put her in the back of a squad car while they violated her client’s right to be free from unreasonable search. The ex-girlfriend removed some property, which may or may not have been hers. My personal view is that the officers committed a criminal offense of official oppression, a class A misdemeanor (up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine) when they handcuffed Barazi and again when they entered the house and helped the purported ex-girlfriend to remove property.
Of course, no one is going to hold the officers accountable for this, a spokesman has already claimed that the officers acted within the law.
Similarly, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, police officers made entry into a home of several college students based on a noise complaint, drug several students outside, used their tasers and batons on them, and arrested them on top of it. The first officer was refused entry and told the student that he did not need a warrant. John Gross, a law professor and the director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at the University of Alabama School of Law, wrote that the police need better training, so as not to violate people’s rights when those people decide not to cooperate with the police.
Gross has the right general idea, but it doesn’t go far enough. Police officers who violate a citizen’s rights need to be criminally charged with that violation. Period.
I understand what the officers are doing, I wrote about it earlier this week. They are maintaining control at all costs. The problem is that officers are nowadays crossing the line into criminal behavior, but without any accountability for their actions.
Look, I understand what they are doing. When I was an officer, I had stopped cars for traffic violations and asked for consent to search. If I was refused consent, normally that was it, I went on without searching, but there were a few cases where I really wanted to search the car. In some of those cases, I would accept the refusal, then arrest the driver on the traffic violation. That allowed me to search the car incident to arrest and to inventory the vehicle prior to towing it and impounding it. All perfectly legal and acceptable police procedure.
That does not apply in the above cases.
Those officers broke the law and should be charged, but they won’t be. Police apologists are going to claim that if the individuals had just cooperated, everything would be fine.
No, that’s how you lose your rights. Gradually. By not standing up for your rights and for not insisting that officers honor your rights.
Apologists will claim that officers should not have to fear arrest for doing their job.
If the officer is breaking the law, he is not doing his job. If he is breaking the law, he is a criminal, and should be called to account.
Because we really don’t want to live in a world where we have to cooperate with the police—or face punishment. Police officers are the people who enforce the law. We should require that they both know the law and follow it.