Police Officer Explains How Not to Get Abused By Him


This column in the Washington Post by Sunil Dutta, a Los Angeles police officer, will likely make your blood boil. It certainly did mine. It’s not all bad. He does agree that all cops should wear uniform cameras and seems to understand that some cops do engage in misconduct and brutality. But then there’s this:

Regardless of what happened with Mike Brown, in the overwhelming majority of cases it is not the cops, but the people they stop, who can prevent detentions from turning into tragedies…

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?

Okay, let’s turn this around into a positive statement in the first person:

If you argue with me, call me names, tell me that I can’t stop you, say I’m a racist pig, threaten to sue me or tell me that you pay my salary, I will shoot you, tase you, pepper spray you, hit you with a baton or throw you to the ground.

Sounds a lot different, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what he’s saying. He’s saying that police officers are justified in violently attacking someone who argues with them, calls them names or threatens to sue them. This is precisely the kind of person who should not be allowed to be a police officer. It’s this “I am the emperor, don’t you dare challenge me or I’ll beat you or kill you” attitude that must be stamped out.

I know it is scary for people to be stopped by cops. I also understand the anger and frustration if people believe they have been stopped unjustly or without a reason. I am aware that corrupt and bully cops exist. When it comes to police misconduct, I side with the ACLU: Having worked as an internal affairs investigator, I know that some officers engage in unprofessional and arrogant behavior; sometimes they behave like criminals themselves. I also believe every cop should use a body camera to record interactions with the community at all times. Every police car should have a video recorder. (This will prevent a situation like Mike Brown’s shooting, about which conflicting and self-serving statements allow people to believe what they want.) And you don’t have to submit to an illegal stop or search. You can refuse consent to search your car or home if there’s no warrant (though a pat-down is still allowed if there is cause for suspicion). Always ask the officer whether you are under detention or are free to leave. Unless the officer has a legal basis to stop and search you, he or she must let you go. Finally, cops are legally prohibited from using excessive force: The moment a suspect submits and stops resisting, the officers must cease use of force.

But if you believe (or know) that the cop stopping you is violating your rights or is acting like a bully, I guarantee that the situation will not become easier if you show your anger and resentment. Worse, initiating a physical confrontation is a sure recipe for getting hurt. Police are legally permitted to use deadly force when they assess a serious threat to their or someone else’s life. Save your anger for later, and channel it appropriately. Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. We have a justice system in which you are presumed innocent; if a cop can do his or her job unmolested, that system can run its course. Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated. Feel free to sue the police! Just don’t challenge a cop during a stop.

Funny how the only ones he expects to channel their anger appropriately are the ones not holding the guns, the tasers or the pepper spray. If someone initiates a physical confrontation with the police, the officer can do what it takes to subdue them. But how many times have we seen video of cops doing far more than is necessary to subdue someone? How many examples would you like? A hundred? A thousand? There are that many examples out there.

When we give someone the authority we give the police, we expect them to exercise that authority appropriately. It is never, ever appropriate for an officer to respond with physical violence to purely verbal behavior. And it is never appropriate for them to use deadly force when far less force would defuse the situation. And no, it is not the fault of the victim of that brutality, it is the fault of the one engaging in it.

Comments

  1. anubisprime says

    Chilling really…the police as the 3rd estate of government in the USA…beyond media and scrutiny and subservient only to the current political will of their masters…but most of all their own!

    A law unto themselves indeed!

  2. Doug Little says

    Police are legally permitted to use deadly force when they assess a serious threat to their or someone else’s life.

    And when they get it wrong they should have to suffer some consequences like a manslaughter trial followed by a long stint in prison. Not sure that stiff penalties will deter some of them from going all Action Jackson on someones ass but at least we can eliminate them from society.

  3. D. C. Sessions says

    Translation:

    “Initiating a physical confrontation with police” == “Officer, do you have a warrant?”

  4. erichoug says

    Years and years ago I worked as a bike messenger. Being on the street all day, every day for almost 9 years, I got to have a lot of interactions with the cops. Houston Cops aren’t notorious for being either gentle or kind.

    The statement by Mr. Dutta is almost exactly the advice we would give to new couriers. Not because bike messengers are Pro cop or because we were such law and order kind of people. But simply out of hard won experience. We would tell them just say “Yes, sir” and “No,sir” as appropriate until they place you under arrest and then the only thing you say is “I want to speak to my attorney.”

    Don’t argue with cops in the street. You’re never going to win that argument. If at all possible, record the encounter and then argue about it in court.

    There’s the way things ought to be and the way things are. It really, really, really isn’t worth getting shot arguing about it on the street.

  5. gshelley says

    @6
    Though to me, there seems to be a difference between a company saying to its employees “Just be careful, a lot of cops out there think they are above the law and will ignore the constitution if you annoy them, so you are generally best letting them ride roughshod over your rights and hoping they then don’t use “but he didn’t argue or object” for presumed consent, and an actual officer saying it about himself.

  6. Cuttlefish says

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2014/08/19/dont-challenge-me-advice-for-a-police-state/

    It is wonderful advice, for living in a police state. Perhaps good advice on a moment-by-moment basis. But it is constitutionally wrong, and it is a very bad status quo, and it is something that stands opposed to a culture of individual liberty. The courts have maintained that citizens have a right to treat police with disrespect, even (in a 2012 decision, most recently) to flip them the bird. The above link points you to three court decisions (one SCOTUS, two circuit) that were reported on in the January 2013 edition of Police Magazine; Dutta should know better.

  7. says

    Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated.

    If you’re still alive

  8. erichoug says

    @#7

    I wasn’t telling my employees, I was telling other couriers. Fun fact, Cops think all couriers are the same person. So, someone would mouth off and I would be getting shit from them for a month. YAY, he stood up for his civil rights

    And, I didn’t say you couldn’t object.

    “You mind if I search your bag?”
    “Yes, officer my apologies but if I’m not under arrest and you don’t have a warrant I won’t be consenting to any searches.”

  9. Childermass says

    “…don’t call me names…” is bit that to me is most revealing.

    While I do recommend not calling cops (or anyone else) names, I damn well expect a cop to be able to take it. If they can’t find themselves a different line of work. Though that might be difficult as there are not to many jobs which employees the right to return fire (either literally or verbally) at a member of the public no matter how badly they are verbally abused. A good manager will probably expel the offender if it clear to her that is what happened, but the employee does not have to right to respond in kind (not even a little bit). I think we can hold cops to a higher standard than a store holds its minimum-wage clerks.

  10. anubisprime says

    Give a wannabe cowboy a gun and sooner rather then later they will want to shoot someone…it goes with the mentality.
    Maybe the candidate mental profiling and assessment requires a little re-vamp with regard to intake into the academies.

    That said cops must see some horrendous things, not that it could be used as mitigation but still it must corrode judgement at times, if they have such issues and certain attitudes to begin with it will never end well!

  11. D. C. Sessions says

    The courts have maintained that citizens have a right to treat police with disrespect, even (in a 2012 decision, most recently) to flip them the bird.

    Those decisions were overturned by Judges Colt, Smith, and Wesson.

  12. JustaTech says

    So basically, everyone should respond to a cop like women are taught to respond to large, agressive men. Be meek, accept all blame, cower, grovel, and hope you make it out of the encounter in one piece.

    Maybe feudal peasant is a better analogy. The whole point is that the cop wants you to know that, in that moment at least, and probably all the time, you are less than the cop. You have no status, no power, no recourse, no value.

    (i don’t think all cops are like this, because I cling to the idea that there are good people in the world, but since you never know what kind of cop you’re going to get, you have to start from the position of the menial.)

  13. says

    Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you.

    Once a statement has been proven false a sufficient number of times, it should be literally painful to make it. Not anywhere nearly as painful as it has been for people who were doing their absolute best to comply with police orders have been made to feel, but painful nonetheless.

  14. smrnda says

    The problem with ‘do what the officer says’ is that we’ve seen enough cases where that is clearly not enough. On top of that, cops have often responded to medical emergencies, people who are deaf or blind or unable to move for physical reasons, with violence.

    And cops should be expected to take some verbal abuse. Low wage workers are stuck with that all the time, and they don’t have guns, bullet proof vests, a union or any authority. Cops deserve no more respect than anyone else.

  15. Jordan Genso says

    How does this individual not realize that his statement:

    Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you.

    is an obvious contradiction of his statement from one paragraph earlier:

    And you don’t have to submit to an illegal stop or search. You can refuse consent to search your car or home if there’s no warrant…

    Or do those two sentences align as:
    “You can refuse consent to search your car or home, but you shouldn’t do so if you want the situation to end safely.”

  16. jnorris says

    I don’t believe Officer Dutta has ever been stopped for no reason what so ever by a cop.

  17. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    The way I see it, his words are pretty much common sense.

    Don’t attack, provoke or argue with cops.

    They have a shit, very tough job, (Just you imagine doing it yourself – the bad parts with the good?) they are there to help you assuming you are doing the right thing & following the law. Don’t make their lives harder and put yourself in a bad light and position. Don’t be a fool! (To quote Mr T.) That really so hard?

  18. says

    Okay, let’s turn this around into a positive statement in the first person:

    If you argue with me, call me names, tell me that I can’t stop you, say I’m a racist pig, threaten to sue me or tell me that you pay my salary, I will shoot you, tase you, pepper spray you, hit you with a baton or throw you to the ground.
    Sounds a lot different, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what he’s saying. He’s saying that police officers are justified in violently attacking someone who argues with them, calls them names or threatens to sue them.

    Except that isn’t what he’s saying at all.

    The inverse of a conditional statement does not necessarily share the truth value of the original statement.

    You’re factually wrong here, Ed. I usually keep my mouth shut here because I know my opinions and ideas aren’t exactly *valued* round these here parts, but this isn’t an opinion. You’re factually wrong on this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contraposition

  19. says

    The inverse of a conditional statement does not necessarily share the truth value of the original statement.

    Not necessarily, though in this case I think that’s exactly what Officer Dutta meant.

    “I love you so much, baby… Why do you make me beat you?”

  20. says

    Not necessarily, though in this case I think that’s exactly what Officer Dutta meant.

    Of course you do. As do all members of your tribe.

    But I’m pointing out that the assertion Ed made – that it is *exactly what he is saying* is factually incorrect. He is NOT saying that.

    As a military officer, I can honestly say to subordinates that if they don’t want to get charged with a violation of Article 90 of the UCMJ, they’d better not walk into my office raising their voice at me.

    But does that mean that all who raise their voice at me with be charged with article 90? Well, in over 16 years of service, I’ve never once charged anyone with disrespect. Yes, I’ve had to (regrettably) had to set some good folks straight, but I’ve never once charged anyone with anything. I’ve never filled out a charge sheet in my career.

    I found other ways to deal with the situation.

    But the original conditional statement is still true! If you don’t want to get charged, then don’t commit disrespect.

    And as I’ve demonstrated, and as I’ve referenced… the inverse is not necessarily true. What Ed said is FACTUALLY INCORRECT. And whatever differences I have with him (he’d be surprised how few they are), I’ve come to appreciate that Ed has a respect for facts.

    I wonder why no one here, including the real “smart” guys like Heath, have been silent on this glaring mistake?

    Anyone going to speak up for Sunil Dutta… a guy who probably does more to keep you safe every day than Ed Brayton ever has in his entire life?

  21. dan4 says

    @23: “As a military officer, I can honestly say to subordinates…” Bullshit analogy. Yes, police officers have some authority (within reason) over civilians, but the latter aren’t “subordinates” to the former.

  22. dan4 says

    @23″…”Anyone going to speak up for Sunii Dutta…a guy who probably does more to keep you safe every day than Ed Brayton ever has in his entire life”

    Uh, except that Mr. Brayton is not criticizing Dutta for “keeping us safe”, he’s criticizing him for a column he wrote.

  23. says

    I didn’t say Mr. Brayton was criticizing Dutta for that, did I?

    I said that Mr. Brayton’s specific charge – that Dutta was making a specific claim – was factually incorrect. You won’t capitulate that, will you?

    Nah… no one will.

    In fact, this statement is false too:

    Funny how the only ones he expects to channel their anger appropriately are the ones not holding the guns, the tasers or the pepper spray.

    Dutta never said or implied such a thing.

    This entire blog post was dishonest (or misguided) and demonstrates a deep-seated resentment toward law-enforcement. I have no doubt Mr. Brayton appreciates the value of law enforcement, but the resentment is evident.

  24. says

    @24 – By the way… the analogous elements of my previous comment were the my conditional statement (and its inverse) and Dutta’s statement (and Ed’s misguided inversion)… not the relationship between me/subordinates and police/citizenry.

    You committed what I call the Switched Analogy Fallacy. It’s a local favorite that I’ve come to expect.

  25. dan4 says

    @26: “I didn’t say Mr. Brayton was criticizing Dutta for that, did I?”

    Uh, that was sort of my point. The fact that Duttta “keeps us safe” is irrelevant to the charge Mr. Brayton was making against him that you have a contention with…but you decided to add it on anyway as an irrelevant last paragraph to your @23 comment. You had already addressed why you had problems with Mr. Brayton’s original post, and then you had to add on a gratuitous tack-on in your last ‘graph.

    @27: Alright, I’ll concede your point here.

  26. says

    I said that Mr. Brayton’s specific charge – that Dutta was making a specific claim – was factually incorrect. You won’t capitulate that, will you?

    No, I won’t, because I think that was exactly the claim he was making. The inverse isn’t always true, but in this case it was, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

  27. says

    @29 – “The inverse isn’t always true, but in this case it was, in my opinion. ”

    But we aren’t discussing your opinion. We are discussing Ed’s proposition that Dutta was making a specific statement. But as I’ve shown, Dutta was not saying that. Whatever your opinion of Dutta is, he was not making the statement Ed said he was making.

    And you have zero justification for your opinion, but hey, who needs justification, right? I’m mean, we’re all one big happy tribe here.

    @28: I don’t think my tacking on was gratuitous. I wasn’t tacking on the “keep us safe” clause as part of my argument. I was tacking it on in order to maintain perspective.

    Ed’s interpretation of Dutta’s editorial was the least charitable interpretation possible, and I think that people whose job it is to keep us safe deserve better than that. Ed is professional writer. Dutta is not. The least Ed can do is interpret Dutta’s editorial with the same degree of charitability that he might afford any other layman writer.

    No one here acknowledged that Ed was factually wrong in his inversion of the conditional statement. No one here took issue with the lack of charitable interpretation.

    Ed himself has acknowledged the often tribal nature of the commentariate here. Apparently that fell on deaf eyeballs.

  28. dan4 says

    @30: For someone who’s striking the “anti-tribal” pose, I think it’s funny that your plear for charity for Dutta’s words is based on a tribal argument (“people who keep us safe” being the “tribe” in question).

  29. dingojack says

    My dear kacyray –
    What you are talking about is called a converse error.
    If A is B then B is A. Logically this is not correct. If A is B then Not B is Not A. For example ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is not the same as ‘I sleep when I breathe’*. More correctly one should say ‘When I don’t breathe I don’t sleep’**.
    However this doesn’t apply to switching a sentence from the passive to the active voice (as here).***
    Dingo
    ———
    * the Dormouse notwithstanding.
    ** Thus demonstrating death and sleep aren’t the same.
    *** if it were a converse error then ‘If you don’t want X to occur then don’t do Y’ would become ‘If you want Y to occur then do X’.

  30. Jordan Genso says

    I’ll agree with kacyray that Ed was wrong to use the word “will” when he should have used “may”.

    But the revised statement would then be:

    If you argue with me, call me names, tell me that I can’t stop you, say I’m a racist pig, threaten to sue me or tell me that you pay my salary, I may shoot you, tase you, pepper spray you, hit you with a baton or throw you to the ground.

    And Ed’s conclusion would still therefore be correct:

    He’s saying that police officers are justified in violently attacking someone who argues with them, calls them names or threatens to sue them.

    kacyray is arguing about the use of one word, when it doesn’t change the larger picture.

  31. dingojack says

    Nope — ‘will’ works better than ‘may’. Re-read more carefully.what Officer Roscoe Rules actually wrote.
    Dingo

  32. says

    Dingo: Dutta said

    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?

    While I believe we can all agree that none of these provocations justify a shooting, a tasing, a spraying, a baton strike, or a body-slam… what is the suggestion here? Are you suggesting that citizens should respond to routine stops from police (whose job it is to conduct field stops for a variety of reasons) this way with impunity?

    Do you really see such behavior as non-threatening?

    In other words… while these behaviors themselves clearly do not constitute violence against a policeman or even (strictly speaking) acts of non-compliance… if you were a policeman and you encountered such unprovoked belligerence, would your intuition not begin telling you that the belligerence will probably not end there? Might not end there? Possibly? Probably?

    What I’m saying is that these behaviors are aggressive. They are indirect threats. This is the human equivalent of a dog baring its teeth. Sure, baring its teeth doesn’t actually hurt anyone… but you’d be a damn fool if you didn’t know what that gesture was leading up to.

    I’m not sure what you (and Ed) expect from policemen who encounter such belligerence and hostility. “Professionalism” is a convenience but generic and vague rejoinder.

    I despise police misconduct as much as anyone. But Dutta did NOT say what Ed is claiming he said, no matter how much you want to believe he did. Dutta was saying, in essence, “If you do not want me to act in a defensive manner, do not get aggressive or threatening.” This is not only the most charitable, but also the most accurate way to interpret his comments.

    Ed’s interpretation was the least charitable interpretation possible, to the point of complete misrepresentation.

  33. dingojack says

    Are you suggesting that being a police officer makes you above the law, particularly the law concerning making threats?!?
    Dingo

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