Getting Past The Cult Of Compliance
January 23, 2017 (Fault Lines) – Ed. Note: This is part two of Lou Hayes’ post on the “Just-Comply-With-Police Fallacy.”
Chicago area disabilities activist and author David Perry refers to a “cult of compliance” – a state where those with authority expect and demand immediate compliance from subjects. He argues that many of the cases of alleged excessive police force, specifically against those with disabilities, are caused by cops’ cultural mindset that subject non-compliance in itself constitutes a threat that needs to be eliminated swiftly.
At least one cop mantra supports Perry’s claim. The Ask-Tell-Make teaching suggests police officers move through three legally-defensible phases: first ask someone to do something, then tell them to do it, then make them do it. This three-step “behavior modification” process ignores what I’ve long believed to be other critical tactics in getting people to do things I want them to that they don’t: persuading, begging, pleading, giving options, negotiating.
The obstacle to getting some cops to buy into pleading and begging with a citizen on the street is that some cops see it as showing weakness. Being perceived as a weak cop runs counter to a culture instilled in police academy of being strong and mighty, and staying in command and control of chaos. (Which are admirable traits too!)
I fear, that if law enforcement stays on the current path of how it views non-compliance, we will continue to see unnecessary police force used against those who have good reasons why they didn’t immediately submit to cops. (Don’t worry cops. I recognize that necessary is a term that can only be used in hindsight & restrict my use of necessary for only the most egregious cases! I also still refute the term’s placement in legal and policy standards.)
Our cops need training that teaches them how to break from the human “normalcy bias” – where all humans tend to expect things to be normal and fit into established patterns and schema – and hunt for information on why someone might not be complying. There are tactical aspects too on being in the most advantageous positions to make those perceptions on behavior and non-compliance without being too at-risk.
We should also reconsider the practice of charging and prosecuting each and every person that has police force used against him/her. In some cases, the force will be entirely necessary, as might be the case with Pearl Pearson and the OHP. But when we look at the full context with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, maybe throwing salt on the wound isn’t the best option for trying to CYA.
There is collateral damage when cops buy into theories like Ask-Tell-Make. Or when they default to demanding immediate compliance from subjects on the street. Or when they fail to pick up (or ignore) the subtleties of disability or some other variable. Or when they rush into danger without taking the time to observe and process information.
We, in law enforcement, can do a better job at limiting these instances of collateral damage. I know it. Sounds like the Oklahoma County DA knows it too.