Archive for the ‘Police life’ Category
This is from an answer I posted on Quora in May 2016.
In no particular order:
- Use of force isn’t pretty. People have been conditioned by TV to believe that a properly trained police officer of any size can take down a person of superior size and strength, quickly, almost effortlessly, without the use of weapons, and without any injury to either party. This is not true. Few cops are expert martial artists. The defensive tactics training they receive is fairly perfunctory. Struggles often result in injured joints, lacerations, concussions, and other injuries to both parties. There is lots of cursing and screaming involved. The cops usually win, but only because they can get enough cops on the scene to overwhelm the adversary.
- Most cops never shoot anyone. I don’t know of any research on this, but my casual estimate is that maybe 20% of cops (EDIT: alert Quoran @ says it’s 12%–see his comment below) will fire their sidearms outside of the pistol range at some time in their career (more if the cop works in a rural area where having to “dispatch” wounded animals is common). Some might go months without taking the gun out of the holster.
- Cops will go to extremes to avoid shooting people. My personal experience is that, about once a month, I would encounter a situation where I would have been legally justified in shooting someone. I did that only once, so all the other times, I found some other way of resolving the situation. Casual research tells me my experience is not unique. Most cops have ample opportunities to shoot people, but they choose not to do so.
- The people at the top often don’t have a lot of practical experience. There are exceptions, but most cops who become chiefs, sheriffs, or other high-ranking officers spend most of their career paving the path to promotion. They spend a brief time as working cops, then transfer to a non-enforcement job, where they stay until they get their first promotion. They never truly understand the job, and the cops they oversee don’t identify with the brass, or the brass with the cops.
- PTSD is real and commonplace. A cop may have a bad time after he’s involved in a shooting, but the traumatic incident could just as well be a nasty car crash, a fight, or a rescue that didn’t end well. Anyone who can say truthfully that they are never bothered by such things is probably a sociopath (and, to be sure, there are some of these in law enforcement). Cops who seek mental health treatment are often viewed suspiciously by their superiors. Those guys didn’t spend enough time on the street to experience anything that bothered them, and they believe that anyone who is bothered is probably unstable.
- There is lots of stress, but not the kind you might think. Most of the stress comes from the police station, not the street. Law enforcement agencies are extremely political. Who likes you or who you’re friends or relatives with has a lot more to do with the progress of your career than how good you are at your job. “Management by intimidation” is a common technique. From a human resources perspective, law enforcement agencies are horrible places to work.
- There aren’t all that many bigots. There are some, of course–in a cohort of close to a million people, some of them will be biased. You can get fired for expressing those feelings, so they tend not to last long. Most cops don’t especially care what color you are, what religion you practice, what country your ancestors came from, how much money you have, or what your sexual orientation is. Cops see every kind of person, often at the worst moments of their lives. They know there are good and bad people in every category. They do have a strong bias against jerks, so don’t be one of those.
- Some of our brother (and sister) officers embarrass us. With the possible exception of field training officers, cops don’t have a lot of input to who gets hired and who is retained on their agency. Everyone knows somebody (probably several somebodys) who is reckless, immature, racist, dishonest, or just dumb. When these people are allowed to keep being cops, it’s usually because they are politically connected, and reporting them for a transgression will almost always backfire on you.
- Your “my favorite police encounter” story is not unique. On learning someone is a police officer, most people will immediately relate their most memorable contact with the police. It’s usually a traffic stop, as that’s how most people encounter the police. Your new friend will smile and nod politely, but he’s silently waiting for it to be over. It’s nothing he hasn’t heard before.
- There are few universal rules or policies. I have lost count of how many questions I have seen on Quora along the lines of “how much over the speed limit can I go before I’ll get stopped” and “what do I say to get out of getting a ticket.” People want to believe there is some industry-wide practice they can exploit to aid them in violating the law. There are over 800,000 law enforcement officers in the United States, and each one of them is a unique person. Their employers seldom impose a formal policy of allowing drivers to exceed the limit by X miles per hour. This is most often left up to the individual.
- It’s seldom personal. Few cops start their day looking for a particular person, or even a particular class of people to stop. Cops see violations of the law and suspicious circumstances, and they are encouraged by their employers to intervene. If you got a ticket or got arrested, it’s probably because you broke the law, not because the cop didn’t like you or you are a member of some targeted group. If this happens to you a lot, you might want to stop blaming the variables and consider the constant instead.
- Becoming a cop is harder than you think. Some agencies have to collect over 100 applications to get one viable hire. Some of those hires won’t make it through the police academy. Some who do won’t complete field training. About half of new hires leave law enforcement within five years. Mainly because of anti-police sentiment, it’s more difficult to recruit new cops than ever before. You might want to think that people become cops because they’re too stupid or lazy for real jobs, but you’re fooling yourself. Chances are, you couldn’t make the grade.
- Television does not represent law enforcement accurately. Most of what most people know about cops is from watching television. This is why people believe that every arrest must be immediately followed by a Miranda warning, that there is a team of FBI agents who fly to crime scenes in an executive jet and solve the case within days, that detectives in one major PD can move to another, distant major PD and instantly resume being detectives, that crime scene investigators collect evidence, identify the suspects, interrogate the suspects, and make the arrests (no one seems to care what the detectives are doing), and that cops who are involved in shootings are back at work the next day.
- We wish you would stop telling your children we will arrest them if they aren’t good. The day may come, God forbid, that your child is separated from you and doesn’t know where to turn. You’ll probably call the police if this happens. Do you want your child to look for a police officer to help him, or hide from the police because he is afraid he will go to jail?
- You don’t understand police work. This applies even if your father, mother, sibling, or next-door-neighbor was a cop. Until you have actually done the job for a few years, you will never understand what it’s actually like.
I am very intelligent and will like to become a detective but I fear being harmed by someone. What should I do? no comments
Answer by Tim Dees:
If you want to be a detective, you have to first be a police officer, and spend a substantial amount of time working in uniformed patrol. This is where you learn the basic job. There are risks that go with this job, and if you do it long enough, it is a near-certainty that you will be injured at some point. Most injured cops return to unrestricted duty, but there are some who do not, and some who die from their injuries. In addition, you will deal regularly with people who are aggressive and pugnacious, and who will take advantage of you if you display fear or weakness. These are all things you have to get past before you can be a successful police officer, and ultimately a detective.
Assuggested, martial arts training can aid you in gaining self-confidence, and these are mostly excellent physical conditioning programs, combing strength, endurance, and flexibility.
Incidentally, if what you know about being a detective comes from movies and TV shows, you need to do some more research. Most of these portrayals are anything but realistic.
What do police officers feel about the growing adversarial relationship with the public at large? no comments
Answer by Tim Dees:
I have said this before: there are over 800,000 law enforcement officers in the United States, and I don’t pretend to be able to explain the behavior of every one of them.
I have no difficulty believing the account described by the OP, as I have witnessed similar displays myself. Like teenage punks, these guys feed off of one another’s energy. Alone, they may be well-behaved, but when there to reinforce each other, they can behave very badly.
I occasionally saw officers in my own agency act in the boorish and threatening way the (NYPD?) officers in this scenario did. If I tried to get them to straighten up, they would turn on me, call me a pussy, and suggest I file an Internal Affairs complaint on them. They weren’t being serious, of course. If I had done something like that, the retaliation would have been savage. More often than not, these were politically favored cops who could get away with almost anything and emerge unscathed.
Now that I’m out of the industry, I’m less tolerant of this sort of thing. I’ll ask an officer if he’s aware of how he’s coming off to other people, and whether he would act this way if his supervisor or chief was standing there. I haven’t done this a lot–I don’t see all that many episodes of police misconduct. In the couple of instances where I have spoken up, the response is usually something like, “Who the fuck are you?” I show them my retired police credentials, and at the time, my business card identifying me as the editor-in-chief of a police website that most cops know. From there, we had a meaningful conversation.
Cops who are shouting “He cried like a bitch!” are probably not going to be receptive to a citizen tuning them up on their behavior. If you see cops acting badly, call their employer and ask to speak to a supervisor. No well-run law enforcement agency wants their cops representing them this way. It is unlikely you will be destroying anyone’s career. If that is the case, the officer has already done the necessary groundwork himself.
Law enforcement is a service industry. Like any other service industry–say, a restaurant–management can’t fix problems they don’t know about. If you order food in a restaurant and it arrives cold, or burned, or otherwise prepared incorrectly, you’re perfectly justified in asking your server to take it back and make it right. The proprietor might even thank you for making them aware of the problem.
Most law enforcement agencies work the same way. Police officers are directly supervised maybe 5% of the time. The rest of the time, they operate autonomously, and most of them perform honorably and admirably. Supervisors don’t know about most of what their cops are doing unless someone tells them. If a cop does something that was exemplary, it’s appreciated if you let his supervisor know. If the conduct is not so exemplary, it’s your duty as a citizen to let the police know about that, too.
I resent bad police conduct more than most citizens. I am passionate about law enforcement as a profession, and know that every act of misconduct colors the opinion of every citizen who knows about it. I think most cops feel the same way. No one wants to see disgrace brought onto a line of work that is noble and honorable when done right.