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Dealing with the Police

The recent police shooting of an unarmed 18 year-old African-American in Ferguson, Mo. has the press thundering about the crypto-fascist, and as-ever racist, outlook policemen supposedly wear as the universal chip on the shoulder.

I don't know all the facts of that case, and neither does anyone else, including those in the press, and in libertarian circles, who are calling for the police to be "demilitarized" (which is their word for "disarmed," although they're not about to admit it).

It could be that the teenager, who was huge, attacked the cop without provocation, in which case the cop's response is almost certainly not a crime or any other kind of misconduct.  It could also be that the cop was not in significant danger, knew it, and shot the teenager out of spite or because he was feeling a heavy badge, in which case this episode is murder, and the cop is deserving of stern and unflinching punishment.  Anyone who at this point claims to know it's one or the other is just blowin' smoke.

The case has raised many of the same shopworn issues about the relationship between the police and black teenage boys that we saw in the Trayvon Martin case (even though the shooter there was a would-be, and not an actual, policeman).

It seems to me that there are easy ways to avoid this sort of thing in the future, none of which involves the appearance of Al Sharpton or the eight millionth lecture from Eric Holder.  They involve entirely normal manners on both sides.
Here are my suggested, non-exhaustive rules for a police-citizen encounter.  

For the citizen:

1.  Be respectful and polite, but not obsequious, as (I hope) you would be to anyone else.

2.  Don't be looking for a fight.

3.  Don't be on drugs.  They impair your judgment, and you need to be using your judgment.  Lots of them are illegal, too, and the cop will be able to tell.

4.  Look the cop in the eye and tell the truth, unless there is something wrong with truth-telling.

5.  Don't make the cop think he's in danger.  That is the fast route to trouble.  The cop has no obligation to be put in danger, and he doesn't know who he's dealing with.  He is well aware, however, that hundreds of cops get killed each year.

For the cop:

1.  Be respectful and polite, not a tough guy.  You are not being paid to be a tough guy when you just pull someone over for a traffic stop or question him on the street.  

2.  Remember that you're dealing with your employer.  You are a public servant.

3.  Remember too that how you behave will likely be remembered by the person as how all your colleagues behave, and thus will leave an indelible impression of who the police really are.

4.  When you have to use force, use the least you can.  Don't be eager and don't get caught up in it.  The unnecessary use of force does more than anything else to antagonize the citizenry.

5.  Remember, in the case of a younger person, that this is someone's kid. Another cop just like you could be pulling over your kid.  How would you want him treated?


Bill, I agree with all of your common sense rules. What do you think of requiring every cop to be equipped with a mini camera? Pros? Cons?

I'm no expert in police practice, but, from a layman's point of view, I find minicams attractive.

The reason is simple: A tremendous amount of lying gets done about suspects' interaction with the cops, and the more of it that gets recorded, the better I like it.

(I think you can guess which side does the overwhelming majority of the lying).

Doug Wyllie, Editor in Chief of www.policeone.com, has an interesting take on this issue: "Following Ferguson, a body camera on every officer?"

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