Monday, August 13, 2007

Something that really bugs me


I have only been arrested (by "arrested," I mean the full boat -- taken into custody, not just, in the literal meaning of the word, stopped by a police officer) once. While I certainly don't consider that to have been a pleasant event, in retrospect I have some good things to say about the behavior of the police officer who arrested me.

The officer was arresting me on the basis of a felony warrant issued in my name, and on the basis of identification of me by a reliable witness (my ex-wife -- this was a child support matter).

He politely asked me if I was who he had reason to believe I was.

He politely informed me that he was arresting me on the basis described above.

He politely asked me to put my hands behind my back so that I could be cuffed.

When I assured him that cuffs were not necessary and that I had no intention of resisting or fleeing, he politely informed me that his department's procedure required him to cuff anyone he transported in his patrol car as an arrestee -- and he removed the cuffs at a point that seemed to me to be as early as said procedure likely allowed for (at the police station, as soon as another officer was present and was informed that I had been thus far "cooperative").

In other words he did not assume, just because he had a piece of paper saying that he should detain me, that I was a dangerous criminal who was going to whack him and run at the first opportunity. Or if he did, he at least didn't let that assumption express itself in his treatment of me.

Segue to a few years later: My kids like TV, and lately their interests have been floating away from the Cartoon Network and toward channel-surfing for interesting stuff. For whatever reason, this includes a show called "COPS." I hadn't watched "COPS" for some years, because the drug and prostitution busts it covers tend to raise my blood pressure. Now, watching them again, there's something else. Before, it was ideological. Now it's more personal.

In nearly every bust on "COPS," regardless of whether or not any violence is alleged to have occurred or to be likely to occur, the thing seems to go in one of two ways:

SCENARIO ONE

"Exit the vehicle with your hands in the air."

"Turn around. Don't look at me. DON'T LOOK AT ME!"

"Place your hands behind your head, interlaced ... DON'T FRIGGIN' LOOK AT ME!"

"Walk backwar ... ARE YOU DEAF OR SOMETHING? I SAID DON'T LOOK AT ME! Walk backward in the direction of my voice."

"Drop to your left knee! Now your right knee! Put your hands behind your back, palms up! DON'T MOVE! DON'T LOOK AT ME!"

Cuffs on. End scenario.

SCENARIO TWO

"POLICE! GET ON THE GROUND! GET ON THE GROUND NOW! GET ON THE F--KING GROUND!"

Cuffs on, perhaps with a little gratuitous battering. End scenario.

Okay, look ... I'm not unreasonably suspicious of, or hostile to, police officers (okay, maybe I am, but I don't make a habit of going around bitching at them or anything). But this is just ... well ... bullshit, at least in 90% of the cases where I've seen it happen on "COPS."

The one that finally made me say "hey, I should blog about this" was an incident in which some teens in a car were suspected of having cheated the change machines at a car wash. The car they were in was not reported stolen. The owner of record on the plate call-in did not have a prior record or any warrants out for his arrest. When the flashing red lights came on, the driver pulled over immediately and did not do anything to indicate an aggressive intent.

So, how was it handled? Three more police cars came rushing up to surround the kids and officers leaped out, drew their weapons and aimed in on the car. All three of the car's occupants got the "EXIT .... TURN ... DON'T FRIGGIN' LOOK AT ME! ... WALK ... KNEEL" routine, one at a time.

These were some kids -- maybe 18, almost certainly not 21 -- with a bag full of quarters in their trunk.

"The safety of the officers" only goes so far as a reason for this kind of thing. And in my opinion, "only so far" means "not very far at all." I can see some of this behavior as being advisable in a situation where a suspected armed robber who's known to have a PCP habit is being pursued. But, for the love of Pete, did I mention that this was three teens with a bag full of stolen quarters?

C'mon, guys ... this kind of shit doesn't even come under "to protect and serve." It's not about officer safety. It's about "RESPECT MY AUTHORITAH."

I'd like to think (but can't know -- these techniques are calculated to disorient and get a reflexive response) that if I am ever arrested again, I will have the presence of mind to reject any command beyond "exit the vehicle with your hands visible."

After that, my hopeful line is "my hands are visible, and I am displaying no aggressive intent. No, I am not going to walk backwards for you. No, I am not going to kneel for you. I'll cooperate with being handcuffed, but I'm not your toy poodle. Until found guilty of something in a court of law I am entitled to a presumption of innocence, and I choose to comport myself as innocent. If you want me to grovel, tough shit -- you're going to have to commit assault and battery to get me on my knees or on my face. And yes, I'm looking at you. I'm not down with the whole secret police bit. I want to know who's arresting me."

And that's all I have to say about that.

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