What People Don’t Get: Policing Is All About Control
Nov. 10, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — It is a matter of faith among police officers that if they can control a scene, or the individuals at a call, or whatever variable may be present, that they have a better chance of surviving. It is tied to the First Rule of Policing, but not dependent on it.
For example, at one point in my police career, I was training a new officer, a rookie. We had just handled a fairly routine call, and like most rookies, some of what he did was good, some, well, not so much. That’s normal. Rookies learn book knowledge and some basic techniques at the academy, but they don’t learn how to really work when they are on the street, and to learn, they have to make mistakes. So we were talking about the call, on what he did well and what he could improve on.
That’s when the idiots appeared. They always show up at some point, and it is not just police who have to deal with them.
If you want to get an idea about what they are like, ask any lawyer who has had to deal with a pro se litigant, the guy who is so smart (or cheap) so that he doesn’t need a lawyer. It’s the same principle.
So this little compact car drives by, with room for five people but holding eight by stuffing additional people in on top of the others. It was sort of like the old drunk college deal of seeing how many people you could stuff in a Volkswagen bug.
And several of them decided that yelling “f*** the police” at the top of their drunken lungs was a good idea.
Well, they wanted our attention, so the rookie initiated a traffic stop for two violations: 1) several passengers did not have seat belts on; and 2) the extra passengers in the front obstructed the driver’s vision.
We get them stopped and have them exit the vehicle, two girls (including the driver), a normal sized guy, a runt, and four football-jock types. And just me and a rookie, as most of the other officers are tied up, either on an arrest at the jail, reports, or calls for service. So there is not going to be any backup, at least not anytime soon. I’m determined to control the situation.
First, the rookie starts to administer field sobriety tests to the female driver. While he’s doing that, I glance in the car from the outside, to see if there is any contraband or weapons that are visible. And the normal sized guy decided that he was an amateur street lawyer, stepped in between me and the car, and ordered me to stop looking into the car from the outside.
So I told him to go back and sit down with the others or he would go to jail (he was clearly drunk, and that’s not based merely on him confronting me). Surprising me not at all, he said no. So I arrested him and put him in the back of the squad car.
This goes directly to the control issue. I still have four jocks, all of whom would be able to kick my butt, and I can’t afford to show weakness or lose control of the situation. You see this all the time now on YouTube—someone confronts an officer and the officer arrests them. It’s all based on control.
By then, the rookie had determined the driver was intoxicated (which was later confirmed by a breath test) and arrested her, prompting the second female to try and jump in between the rookie making the arrest and her friend. All that did is cause me to arrest her for interfering, which prompted the runt to jump up and protest.
Which is when the whole point of the control part of the event proved valuable. We had a car full of arrestees, with no more room, and no more squad cars coming anytime soon. We were out of handcuffs, and at that time, no one ever carried the plastic flex-cuffs.
So instead of telling the runt I would arrest him, I looked at the jocks and said, “you know I’ll put him in jail,” and suggested that they convince him to sit down on the curb. So two of the jocks grabbed him, sat him down on the curb, and threatened to kick his ass if he did anything that might get them arrested.
At the time, I thought I handled it perfectly. I convinced them that I was a bigger a-hole than they were, and I avoided a physical confrontation. All of it fit with the training and mindset of police, and most officers today will approach a confrontation in the same way.
It’s why you see officers do such idiotic things on YouTube. It’s why PIOs give such idiotic advice for people to always cooperate with the police. It’s why a cellphone may be a gun (even though there has never been a cellphone gun found in the U.S., not even once), and why, in 20 degree weather, the officer will tell you not to put your hands in your pockets.
There are better ways to handle things on the street. For one thing, if we had left everyone but the driver in the car, we wouldn’t have had a control issue. Or if we had not made the traffic stop in the first place, there wouldn’t have been an issue. The girl wasn’t driving erratically, and would have likely made it to her destination safely.
But all of that was learned with hindsight, after I left the police department.
You wouldn’t have been able to convince me of that while I was still an officer. I had faith, I was a true-believer, and people who weren’t cops just don’t understand. It’s like a religion, and an unbeliever is not going to be able to convert a believer.
You’re going to have to force change. It will have to come from the outside, and there is going to be resistance, because you’re trying to change their religion. But it has to be done, or officers will continue to handle situations like I did. And that’s not the best way to do business.