Friday, August 22, 2014

Talking is hard

I just found a really disturbing article explaining that the secret to not getting shot by the police is to always do anything they say without question.  It is dressed up in concern for the cops - after all, their job is hard, dangerous, and they have to make difficult judgement calls in tense situations.  Of course preschool teachers have to make difficult judgement calls in tense situations, and fishermen have higher mortality rates than cops, and call centre employees have a rougher job but any fisherman / phone salesperson / teacher who wrote a piece explaining that everyone should do anything they say or get savagely assaulted wouldn't get published in the Washington Post.

The fundamental thing that the cop in question seems to be confused about is his job description.  His job is not to make people do what he wants, it is to protect the populace.  If a situation is not violent and he initiates violence *he has failed*.  His duty, his calling, his job is to protect people.  All people, no matter their colour, dress, attitude, employment status, criminal status, or anything else, deserve that protection.  When a cop's job description gets misinterpreted from protecting people to protecting the cop's pride and authority disaster looms.

Many people seem to think that cops deserve respect, obedience, and deference simply on the basis of wearing a badge.  They don't.  Nobody deserves special treatment simply on the basis of passing an exam and collecting a paycheque from a particular source.  If people want respect, they earn it.  If cops want people to trust and respect them they need to do things that will create that.  When a cop commits a crime, they need to go after that cop the same way they would anyone else.  Every time the cops close ranks and treat their own as more important than everyone else public faith and respect fades away, as it should.  If cops want to be treated as paragons of virtue they have to first act like it.

There is also a desperate confusion about the way in which violence starts.  Heavily armed police officers do not encourage people to be obedient pacifists - rather they give people the correct impression that the police view them as the enemy and that they need to be armed and ready for violence themselves.  The response to people being angry at cops is not an arms race!  Does anyone really believe that humans respond to more violent, aggressive, militaristic opponents by thinking "Wow, I sure do trust and respect those folks!"  If you want to avoid being involved in violence, don't bring violence to the table.  There is a reason that police who are not armed both kill and are killed drastically less.

I will give the article one bit of credit - the author is in favour of constant recording of police activities by body cams.  We know that they reduce police violence by large amounts (this article claims 60%) and complaints by even more.  Cameras are no perfect solution but they will be a huge step forward and they will definitely improve accountability.  Even if the tape is never used an observer creates a huge incentive for good behaviour as anyone who has ever screwed around when the boss is away knows.

1 comment:

  1. Call center employees have a rougher job than cops? Really? Preschool teachers are in 'tense situations' that even remotely mirror what a cop can run into?

    I am all for a reduction in police armaments. And for more monitoring. And I hate closing ranks around someone who made a mistake. And I agree with what you're saying about a cop's job description.

    I do, however, think they are signing up to be put into situations that are way above and beyond what most other jobs are signing up for. I do think the badge in and of itself deserves respect. I also think they need to be held to a higher standard as a result.