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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Are Cops Just Grown-Up Bullies?


I wasn't originally going to post this editorial, but I heard something recently that made me revisit it (and I'll get to that later). I hate to disparage anyone in the corps that protects our country. Events like Hurricane Sandy and multiple psycho shootings (Aurora, Empire State Building, the Wisconsin Sikh temple) show how necessary a police force is. I guess the problem isn't the big things, it's the little things.

But what is the deal with the police's public image? Do you watch PSAs? They're more about intimidation and scare tactics than protecting people. I know drunk driving is illegal and dangerous. But the message isn't "please protect yourself", it's "we are watching you, and we are going to get you".

We have ALL been a victim of cops following the letter of the law instead of the spirit. Jaywalking, seat belts, busted tail lights, turning right on red, incomplete stops, speeding where you can't possibly hit anyone. It's so easy to screw over innocents because they forgot to carry ID that day.


Point the first: Occupy Oakland. The whole Occupy Movement has been notorious for showcasing both the ignorance and brutality of police, especially in an event that is completely legal.  Then there's that one lieutenant who pepper sprayed 12 students just sitting there, not posing a threat. And that's no picnic. Then the authorities try to cover it up.


I hope I don't need to point out that this is just one of many cases of excessive force during the Occupy Movement. Heck, just search for police brutality on YouTube. The legitimate videos alone are enough to scare me.

Look at this guy who does a backflip off a police car. Now this takes place in Canada, so laws are different there, but this kind of thing has happens in America. It's not the backflip that's the ridiculous part (first they swear at him and call him names -- really noble there, guys), or the fact that they arrest him for "mischief". But the guy filming -- they command him to turn it off, threaten him with a taser, and tell him he can be arrested too. For what?  I don't want to say anything incorrect so someone, please let me know if A) it's legal to do that in Canada and B) there's an American instance I can use. Even if it's within their jurisdiction, it's still an example of asshole behavior.


Point the second: these ridiculous PSAs. You know in elementary school where you had Officer Friendly or D.A.R.E.? Yeah, forget that. According to PSAs, cops consider you the enemy. You are targeted for termination.


First of all, PSAs are utterly useless. They're a waste of tax money. Has anyone EVER changed their behavior because of a PSA? Has anyone ever thought "Well, gee, I was going to go drinking this weekend, but I saw that PSA that the cops were going to get me. Just to be safe, I'll stay home and catch up on The 700 Club." Once in a while, you get a memorable one, like the UK one (warning - 4 minutes).



But those mostly get their impact from cinematic and shock value. Most of the time, they're created by third string ad execs who are clearly out of touch with reality. Characters act over-the-top, in situations totally distant real life.  Mostly, they end up becoming jokes.



And who can forget the time Pee-Wee Herman showed us a vial of crack.



I could post a hundred more like these. Just google "80's PSA". But the here and now is just as ridiculous. Look at some of these. First we got cops with painted like a chameleon, hiding in alleyways, watching you like it's martial law.



What is this? A police state? This kind of thing only happens in comic books. Then we've got this series.



There's others like it like "Tequila Slammer/In the Slammer" and a "Screwdriver/Screwed Driver". They're not even implying you have to drive. The warning is skewed that if you drink, you will be arrested. No driving necessary.

Then there's this one where all the cars are filled with liquor, even the motorcycle guy's helmet (how didn't he drown during filming?).



I love the lead sergeant angrily circling all the spots in the city they're supposed to patrol. Plus every cop starts the pullover with a haughty "SIR! Have you been drinking tonight?" And the narration begins "There's no way to hide it. If you're driving drunk, we'll find you." and "Make no mistake. You will be arrested." Isn't this the sort of thing corrupt government officials say in Arnold Schwarzenegger movies? It makes it sound like cops will do anything to incarcerate you (and according to the first video, that might be true).

And the message is always the same: cops are stepping up DWI enforcement, cops are cracking down on drunk drivers, cops are reinforcing DUI patrols and checkpoints. Nearly every weekend, the road sign above the freeway reads "EXTRA DUI ENFORCEMENT THIS WEEKEND". First of all, thanks for slowing down my ride -- anytime this sign says something other than arrival times, everyone slows down to read it, expecting a crash.


Second, what does that even mean? Extra DUI patrols this weekend? Where did you get the extra manpower? Are you shipping in scabs? Is there a convention in town? Does this mean there's less enforcement around gangland areas? There's a finite number of police in the state. Bad time for drunk driving, but great time to visit your crack dealer and stock up.

Third, if you are increasing DUI patrols this weekend, WHY ARE YOU TELLING US? Don't you think that's something you'd want to keep secret so you can arrest more people? Do you not look for DUIs the other times of the year? Don't you want to catch the criminals? Keep them off the streets?

If you really want to make a decent PSA, use facts. Use content. Not propaganda. Like this one.  It demonstrates effectively and truthfully (I assume) the real effects of not wearing a seat belt.


This one ad alone is worth more than however millions have been spent on "Click it or Ticket" campaigns, which, again, are simply threats and fear mongering. If you don't have your seat belt on, we're going to pull you over and kick your ass.


Point the third: my own personal experience and anecdotal evidence. Okay, this is not empirical research, granted. But I have never had a positive personal experience with a cop. Every time I've been pulled over, I've gotten a ticket. Not even admitting I was speeding got me out of it.

I got pulled over by a cop who thought I was tailgating him, in my own development at about eight at night. It was dark, and I just wanted to get home, see my kids, and eat dinner after a late night at work. Yeah, you could make an argument that I was doing something wrong.  But he didn't HAVE to pull me over.  He could have tolerated it, like everyone else does.  Or gone a little faster, like everyone else does.  I wasn't exceeding the speed limit.  I wasn't bumper-to-bumper with him.  And how much longer did he think I would have kept driving before I turned into my street. But instead, he used his power, ran my plates & license to see if he could get me on anything else. Not because I was endangering someone, but because I was bothering him.


I skidded on an icy road curve past a school bus as it was extending a stop sign, lest I risk crashing into it.  The kids were on the other side of the bus, in no danger, and the road was otherwise empty.  I got charged with a gross misdemeanor (not just a misdemeanor, but a gross misdemeanor), which can be punished by a year in jail or a $3,000 fine. That was a happy day in my household, let me tell you. With the thought of possibly going to jail.  I spent more on the lawyer than I would have on the fine.

But that's doing bad things, you say. Haven't the cops ever protected you? Haven't you ever called them when you needed something? Sure. My wife called them when someone's dog was running all around our yard, barking at us. We've never seen this dog, and we have two toddlers.  And everyone in our neighborhood has big black labs with useless invisible fences. Someone's large mutt is terrorizing us in our own yard while our kids are trying to play. Of course, the cops will be called. What did they do? 

Nothing. They couldn't do anything without knowing whose dog it is.


But it's not just me. At least once a week, I hear some story about how cops denied someone's basic rights or detained/arrested them for something farcical, just because they could. And they can. The law is so pliable, cops can arrest you for any reason. It gives them too much power.

I heard on the radio this morning that in Minnesota, they can arrest you for DUI if you are in the car with your keys. You could be sleeping it off in the back seat, not anywhere near the steering wheel, and they can arrest you for DUI. You could be tossing back a few beers, working on the car in your driveway. But if you have the keys, you are considered to be in control of the car. Hey guys, you know what the D stands for in DUI and DWI? DRIVING! DRIV-ING. That means the act or process of moving/controlling the car. Present progressive tense. Not past or future.

You can be put in jail for forgetting to take your ID (which is not illegal). You can be arrested for imaginary laws. You might be arrested for taking pictures/video of police (that's protected by the first amendment). But even if you're not, they can bust you for "loitering". Even if the charges are unstickable, you still got to spend time in scary jail, hire a lawyer, spend lots of money, and waste a year of your life stressing over what's going to happen. And cops will lie to get what they want. I'm not saying all cops lie, but the bad apples are ruining it for the whole bunch. They're making us distrust our own protectors.

 

Which brings me to the story I mentioned in the first paragraph. A few weeks ago, I went to "The Moth".  It's hard to explain what it is.  People get up on stage and tell true stories from their life. Andrew Zimmern, the Bizarre Foods guy, told about living on a mattress, signaling his crack dealer. A pathologist talked about treating Mother Teresa in Calcutta in 1989. And a woman from Eden Prairie told her experience of losing her ten-month-old baby.

That was the heartbreaking-est one. I learned what four hundred people silently crying sounds like. She got the call from her husband, saying she needed to get to the emergency room right now, their ten-month-old was not breathing. The nurses were waiting for her. Waiting because they knew what had happened. She held her dead baby, and said it looked like she was just sleeping. No one knows what happened. The mother's immediate reaction was "Was it something I did? Was it the babysitter? Did my husband have something to do with it? Why did this happen? Are the cops going to call me and arrest me for negligence?  Are they going to find something?"

And they did. The cops called her and her husband in to talk. They told her they found a bruise on the back of the child's neck. The woman looks at her husband and says "You didn't tell me that." They spend the next week being paranoid of each other. Always suspecting, always second-guessing themselves, their marriage, the people they used to trust. I can't imagine the emotional torture they must have went through, waiting for the autopsy to come in.

Then, they get it. They come in that day to see. And the report says that the baby died of SIDS. There was no bruise. The cops lied. They lied to smoke out a criminal situation. They pitted them against each other and manipulated facts to get information.

How atrocious. How sick. What a betrayal of trust. I would sue the cops if they did that to me. I can't even begin to imagine what I would feel in that situation. I would never trust anyone again.


Cops need to change their image. Cause right now, all I can think of them as are grown-up bullies, using their power in unlawful ways.
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