Constantly, when I log into Facebook or YouTube, I see videos of uniformed police officers doing the unthinkable. Oaths may differ from state to state, but we tend to think along with that oath is a promise to serve the public and preserve the peace, and ultimately, defend the Constitution. However, when I watch these videos, I see officers performing cavity searches on the side of busy freeways for the suspicion of marijuana use, I see officers arresting a veteran who is legally, openly carrying, I see officers confiscating skateboards just because they don’t like the kids riding them, I see a report of an officer murdering a Sunday school teacher because she wouldn’t roll down her window, and dozens of reports of SWAT teams running raids on the wrong homes and shooting innocent people and pets.
Coupled with our regime tearing down our Constitutional rights in Washington D.C., many are left with the impression that we live in a police state. People peacefully demonstrating against the Obama administration are being arrested—which violates the First Amendment—people legally carrying weapons are being detained and arrested in violation of the Second Amendment, and people are being pulled out of their cars and having their vehicles searched without their consent, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. People certainly have just cause to be a bit apprehensive when it comes to having a police officer contact them.
But, it’s time for a reality check. There are nearly 800,000 police officers in the United States. Anytime you deal with any large group of people, regardless of their profession, you are going to see a few bad apples. It’s easy to get caught up in the sensationalism of bad press. Certainly those videos are worth seeing, but what we don’t see are many of the videos about the good cops, like L.A. Sherriff’s Deputy Elton Simmons who has written over 20,000 tickets and never received a single complaint. There are also stories of an officer saving a dog from a car accident, rescuing people from house fires, and stopping a deranged maniac who wanted to kill a two year-old girl.
So, when we deal with police, we need to be fair. Using a bit of caution is not a bad idea and I don’t think any honest officer would mind if you video recorded your encounter for your own safety, but at the same time we should not take actions that would escalate the emotions of the encounter. We have our rights, and we should be aware of how the courts have interpreted those rights under our circumstances when we have an encounter with police. If you don’t want to roll down your window all the way when the police stop you, then you should know the court decision that supports you. If you want to walk down the street openly carrying a pistol, you best know the court decisions that prevent an officer from taking your gun or detaining you. It doesn’t take long to look up these cases.
Yes, it is possible to educate a police officer on the law. Even though they have been trained, it’s easy to forget things, or have misinterpreted laws in their head, but you have to know what you are talking about and be able to state your sources or else the officer cannot verify your information. Be knowledgeable and be courteous. Just because you know an officer is wrong, does not mean you should be rude and arrogant. I see videos where people harass police officers doing their jobs and when the police finally react, they act like they are the innocent victims of police harassment.
Also, I think it’s important we address the issue of police departments across the nation overusing High Risk Entry Teams, like SWAT, to execute simple warrants. This needs to be addressed with the city councils that use these teams. Furthermore, I believe that this area is one for which law suits are very effective. If police department have to pay large settlements due to misuse of force, then they will eventually have to address the policies in which their officers use force to ensure that they are constitutionally sound. I also believe people should force their cities and counties to hold officers responsible who clearly break the law and not accept the line “within department policy”. Putting pressure on the right people, especially around elections, can get results.
We need to remember, police officers are people too. There may have been issues with the call that preceded your contact with them or even issues arising from the officer’s home life which could cause him or her to act in a manner that is inconsistent with their normal behavior. We all have bad days and police officers are no exception. I recommend everyone read the book ‘Verbal Judo’ by Dr. George Thompson. He teaches his readers how to deescalate tense situations to prevent violence. Even if everything fails, be cooperative. Resisting and being argumentative can lead to legitimate charges where there may not have been one before. After all, the officer is not the one who actually enforces the law, that’s the judge and they are not going to be happy with an officer that arrests a citizen who did not break any laws. Which then makes your complaint against the officer that much stronger.
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