He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long enough into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine about police officers and their attitude toward citizens and community members. It was a generic discussion because, unfortunately in today’s society, one rude officer represents the attitudes of all police officers. My friend was upset because during a community-sponsored walk against violence, an officer approached the group she was walking with and rudely told one of the participants (who was on crutches) not to walk in the street.
“Tell him to get out of the street,” the officer commanded to my friend before driving off. She was upset at the abruptness and coldness of this officer’s attitude and told me she wished he was a bit more polite.
As a former police officer, I immediately began to explain to her the reasons why cops may seem rude. I went into great detail in my book, Service, to explain the training we go through and the encounters we have daily. Just about everyone we meet usually lies to us or threatens us, and over time a cop learns it is safer to assume everyone is a potential threat than it is to walk around with your guard down. But what affect does this have on the officer, the community, and the citizens?
A Growing Dislike for Cops
One only has to look as far as the local media or at any number of websites and social-media feeds to find there is a growing number of citizens who don’t like police officers. There are pages and pages dedicated to showcasing the mistakes and misconduct actions of police officers that spread virally throughout the Internet. Does this mean that all cops are corrupted, sadistic jerks who take pride in tormenting innocent citizens? Absolutely not. But that may be the perception in the minds of millions of Americans.
In today’s society, American citizens are unhappy as they face more and more hardships each day. Unemployment, a failing economy, and higher demands at work are just a few stressors that challenge citizens each day. Now add to the mix a police officer who pulls over a tired, frustrated, barely-paying-the-bills parent on his way home from work. A $100 traffic ticket is issued for speeding, and to top things off, the officer is rude and treats the citizen as if he just committed mass murder (from the citizens perspective). The officer may have done his job that day, and prevented an accident by slowing down a speeder, but what impact did this officer’s actions have on future citizen and officer encounters? Can that officer count on that citizen to provide information if needed in the future? If that officer was being assaulted, can he count on the citizen to help or at least call 911?
As I stated above, people are frustrated with cops, and the numbers are growing. Within minutes of the Boston PDs search for the Boston Bombers, propaganda videos and articles were posted “proving” that we live in a “police state,” a country where our freedoms are being dismantled and the police officers are the enforcement arm of that dismantling. People continue to read this propaganda, and with the new “prepper” movement, many have immediate access to weapons. In response to the gun control debate, I have watched dozens of videos of citizens challenging open carry policies to “test” police officers’ knowledge of laws and rights, and to gauge their reactions. These videos are posted on YouTube and made viral almost instantly, especially when a cop makes a mistake. This furthers these citizens’ belief that the government is taking away their rights, and as a result some are now organizing themselves into groups. Furthermore, these videos serve as a probing activity and would serve as a valuable piece of intelligence for any organization intent on waging an assault against police.
This is not a conspiracy theory or a work of fiction. One only has to look at the Bundy Ranch standoff that took place recently. In response to the Federal Government’s attempt to remove cattle for grazing on government land, federal officers were met by a multitude of armed citizens in a peaceful show of force against their movements. The federal officers withdrew, and the citizens rejoiced in victory. In addition, we have had a few lone gunman who have waged war against police. In February 2013, former Los Angeles police officer Chris Dorner killed 1 police officer and two citizens as he led cops on a long manhunt in his war against the police and their alleged corruption. As recently as yesterday, a man armed with 2 rifles killed 3 officers in Canada. What message do these incidents send to citizens who dislike police? Could they be inspiring and motivating factors to escalate violent tactics? Let us not forget the LA riots after the police beating of Rodney King.
It is possible that the incident at the Bundy ranch and all of the other “test a cop’s reaction” videos relating to gun control on the internet are probing activities. Citizens are learning how a cop will react to certain situations. A well-led organization could utilize this information to plan an extensive assault against officers. What is even more alarming is the reporting of massive urban-combat equipment purchases and training by various police departments. As a former cop, I know this is simply a response to the changing world; a necessity to keep our officers safe since we can’t have them outgunned by the criminals on the street. But is this our best option? Do we really want to squash these opposition groups with brute force and violence? I can guarantee if this tactic is employed, lives will be lost on both sides, which will further the divide between police and citizens, and strengthen the battle.
Making a Difference
Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
So what do we do? As cops we are trained to address and neutralize a threat. In the case of a potential armed assault against our officers, we are trained to engage that threat with force. But is this the best way? Would it not be better to find a way to prevent such an engagement altogether before violence is even presented? I am not suggesting we gather more intelligence and conduct raids before an incident occurs. What I am suggesting is that we work to prevent these problems completely. But how? By improving the relationships between citizens and police officers. By being courteous to every single citizen you encounter, regardless of what they may have done. Never compromise officer safety, but once you have secured an incident, deescalate and work on building rapport with the citizens you have sworn to protect. Show the people you are there to help them and change the power behind your authority from one based on fear to one based on trust and respect. Get back in the schools to engage young children. Get out of your cars and speak with the community you are a part of. Most importantly, when you encounter one of the officers who gives all cops a bad name, and we know who they are, do something about it! If not, their actions may put in jeopardy the lives and safety of every single cop in the country. As I mentioned in my book, if I was fighting with a suspect and a crowd formed behind me, I would rather be surrounded by a group of people who trusted and respected me than by a group of people who were afraid of me. The latter, I assume, would be more likely to do me harm. Again, officer safety is your top priority, but once that is established, I believe you can have a greater impact with your kindness than with your guns. Thank you for all that you do, officers, and please, my brother and sisters, stay safe and please continue to build a future that is safe for tomorrow.