Archive for the ‘Quora’ 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.
What do police officers think about how the police department in Ferguson, MO is handling the aftermath of the Brown shooting? no comments
Answer by Tim Dees:
I think this is a classic example of what happens when a law enforcement agency isn’t trained or prepared for an unexpected or exceptionally large event.
Ferguson is a city of 21,000 people. It’s police department has 52 sworn officers. Only three are black, when about 68% of the city’s population are black. This imbalance affects the current situation tangentially, but I doubt that it’s a problem that the City of Ferguson is unaware of or that they haven’t tried to fix it. Anytime a white police officer kills or seriously injures a minority citizen in a predominately minority community, there will be an outcry. Accusations of racism follow immediately and certainly, and the precipitating conduct that led to the incident is lost in the conversation.
There is something of a litmus test one can do to evaluate whether the motive behind an action is motivated by racism: change the ethnicities of the players. So, instead of Michael Brown, we have Michael White, a 6-5, 265 lb. Caucasian, 18 years of age. He enters a convenience store in his small community and takes a package of cigars. When the clerk tries to stop him, White grabs him and tosses him around in order to leave unencumbered. A few minutes later, White and at least one companion of the same ethnicity are walking down the middle of a public street, eschewing the sidewalk provided for pedestrians.
A uniformed police officer (he can be whatever race you want him to be–I don’t think it matters) who is of inferior physical size to White sees him and asks him and his friend to move to the sidewalk. The pair refuse. The police officer may or may not know about the strongarm robbery at the convenience store; if he knows, he is unaware that White or his companion are the perpetrators. The officer stops his car and starts to get out to confront the pair. White attacks him as he tries to exit the vehicle, and attempts to disarm the officer. The officer retains control of his firearm and shoots White, who is unarmed. Would the white citizens–or, for that matter, the black, brown, or green citizens–demonstrate, hold rallies and vigils, and ultimately burn and loot the town in protest? I’m unaware of this ever happening.
Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown, is described as “tall and slender” in the stories I’ve read. He looks to be about six feet tall and around 180 lbs., although this is only a gross estimate based on a few photos of him I have seen on the web. I’m a fairly big guy. When I was working the street, I was 6-2 and around 210 lbs. Had I been attacked by an 18-year-old of Brown’s size who tried to get control of my sidearm, I would probably have shot him, or tried, too.
When you’re fighting with someone who outmatches you physically and has moved in too close for a TASER or impact weapon, you don’t have many options left if you want to go home that day. Race is irrelevant, at least from the perspective of the officer. I’ve heard the argument that walking down the middle of the street, or even doing a robbery of a store, doesn’t justify the use of deadly force. No, it doesn’t. But attacking a police officer and trying to disarm him does quite possibly justify the use of deadly force. The decision to do that was solely Michael Brown’s. Had he paid for his cigars and walked on the sidewalk (not especially arduous requirements, IMHO), he would likely still be going to technical school next month, and most of us would still have never heard of Ferguson.
The Ferguson PD now has to contend with civil unrest, the likes of which they have never seen before. If they are like most PDs of that size, they have little training in public order incidents. Still, they don’t have the option of boarding up the police station and hiding inside while people are gathering in a hostile way. They responded the only way they knew how, in tactical gear that offered the best protection for their officers. The basic police uniform doesn’t provide all that much protection from threats to the wearer. Most cops wear body armor that will stop a handgun bullet, but it doesn’t help if you get hit in the roughly 70% of the body that is not protected by the armor. It will offer some very limited protection against thrown missiles like rocks and bottles, but none against Molotov cocktails. If you get hit with a rock in your head, knee, or elbow, you’re likely going down.
Tactical gear often includes knee and elbow pads, more coverage with body armor, a helmet, and possibly goggles. If I had been going out to police a hostile crowd, I’d have every piece of gear like that I could carry. Some officers–most of the ones I saw were from the county police department–were armed with rifles. One photo I’ve seen run repeatedly shows a helmeted officer with a sniper rifle on a bipod, and the officer appears to be perched on top of a tactical vehicle. People may find this offensive, but there is sound tactical doctrine for this. If someone fires a gun from inside or around a crowd, they are very difficult to identify. Pursuit, if you know who to pursue, is even more difficult, as the members of the crowd will likely be panicking and stampeding.
The sniper, with his high observation point, the protection of the tactical vehicle, a magnifying scope, and a rifle capable of placing a bullet far away with precision, can spot and eliminate such a shooter far more effectively than an officer on the ground can.
The tactical vehicles may also be off-putting, but they offer the occupants protection from bullets, thrown objects, and improvised fire bombs, all of which were a factor in this situation. If the tires are shot out or flattened by nails, they often have run-flat tires that will allow the vehicle to keep moving. A patrol car offers far less protection, and anti-police crowds seem to delight in setting fire to and overturning police cars that are vacant or abandoned. A 52-man police department isn’t going to have a lot of spare cars.
The PD stepped up their posture when there was arson and looting of city businesses the night after the shooting. Burning down and stealing from the businesses that serve your community does absolutely nothing to advance whatever cause of justice you’re allegedly seeking to achieve. The people who do this are thieves and hoodlums, plain and simple. They take advantage of overwhelmed law enforcement services to commit their crimes unimpeded. Some people seem to like to describe the actions of these criminals as a morally justified response to the racist genocide of their own by the ruling class. Bullshit. These are just cowardly criminals who are going to steal or destroy anything they can get their hands on because they like to steal and destroy things. If they could get away with it at any other time, they would do it, then, too.
When the Missouri governor ordered the Ferguson PD to stand down and turned over handling of the incident to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, critics of the FPD noted that the more relaxed approach was reducing the level of violence and confrontation in the wake of the more fascist tactics of the FPD. This lovefest lasted less than 24 hours, until the sun went down and the looting and arson resumed. There would have been a lot more of this, but by then many business owners were standing guard with personally-owned firearms. I don’t blame them a bit for doing this (in their situation, I would be doing the same thing), but do you think a looter or arsonist is going to get a better shake from a personally-invested businessman whose expertise is with selling hardware or cutting meat, or a trained police officer?
The arrests of journalists and people who were doing no more than recording what they saw on a public street were wrong, plain and simple. The cops should and probably do know better. I don’t excuse their behavior, but I do understand it in part. When you’re seeing the town you’re supposed to police coming down around you, you feel like you need to do something, even if the “something” is ill-advised. It’s a siege mentality brought about by stress and frustration. Better and more intensive supervision would have deterred this sort of behavior, but my guess is that FPD had every cop they could find deployed on the street, and there weren’t enough effective supervisors to keep track of them all. My friend, risk management expert and retired CHP captain Gordon Graham, likes to say that most police misconduct cases can be traced to ineffective supervision.
Once again, the FPD was overwhelmed. So, if this situation was so out of their depth, why didn’t the FPD just call for help from the start? Because tradition and standard practice say you try and handle what comes to you before you call for help. This got out of control faster than the FPD could recognize and react to it. They did have the assistance of the St. Louis County Police Department and some state troopers drawn from local stations, but wasn’t able to coordinate and control those bodies sufficiently to keep this situation from growing more serious. I don’t know if they had ever trained or planned for this kind of coordinated operation before. If they’re like most police agencies in the United States, they haven’t. There is a limited amount of time and money for training, and you tend to address the problems you already have, not the ones you might have someday.
Would this situation have taken place if the racial makeup of the FPD more closely reflected that of the community? Maybe, but that’s a difficult goal. Police departments around the country are having difficulty recruiting new officers of any race. Only about 20% of Americans ages 18-25 are eligible for military service. The rest are rejected for reasons of obesity or just poor physical conditioning, criminal records, driving history, recent drug use, or poor credit. Police service is more restrictive than the military, but someone who can’t qualify for the military isn’t likely to qualify to be a police officer, either. By age 30-34, 3.2% of white men have been in prison, where 22.4% of black men have (). In Missouri, 56% of black men graduate from high school, where 81% of white men do ( ). 27% of white Americans have poor credit records, where 48% of blacks do ( ). The reasons for this are an entirely separate debate, but it boils down to there being substantially fewer black men than white men who are qualified to be police officers. Of the black applicants who are qualified for police service, they usually have many better and more lucrative options. Many businesses and colleges actively recruit high-achieving minorities, enticing them with management training programs and full-ride scholarships. If I was a young man offered a choice of a professional career in engineering, medicine, or business or being a police officer, both with all training and education costs paid, it would be pretty tough to take the cop route.
Now and then, law enforcement agencies decide their need for minority officers or supervisors is so great that they lower the bar for minority applicants. This has had disastrous consequences in every instance of which I am aware. You need the best person you can get, not just the best [race or ethnicity] you can get, to be your cops and supervisors. To summarize: I think the Ferguson PD just got slammed with an event that was beyond their capacity to handle. The people of Ferguson could have responded to the shooting with peaceful protests and demonstrations, and I suspect most of them intended to do exactly that. But a relatively small number decided to respond with violence, and the FPD wasn’t trained or equipped to deal with it.
Answer by Tim Dees:
There are several answers to your question, mostly governed by where you are and what law enforcement agency you want to work for.
Large police agencies–1,000 officers or more–nearly always have their own training academies. If you want to work for one of these, you will have to go through the department’s hiring process, complete the academy and a field training program successfully, and then finish a probationary work period before being considered a permanent employee. The advantages of this system are (1) you will likely be on the payroll from your first day of the academy, and (2) the academy training will all be according to your agency’s methods and policies.
Medium-size agencies–100 to 1000 officers–sometimes have their own academies, but more commonly use a regional or a state-run academy. Regional academies are frequently associated with a community college or technical school. The students attending them will be going to any number of agencies to work, so the curriculum will be more generic. There will invariably be differences in policy and practice between what is taught in the academy and what you will do at work.
Smaller agencies–less than 100 officers–almost never have their own training academies. About 80% of the over 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States have fewer than 25 officers.
Some medium-size agencies hire their recruits, then send them to the academy at full pay. Some states (Oregon and Washington are examples) require this. In other states, students can enroll in the academy course and complete it at their own expense. Once you have completed the academy, you can then market yourself to local law enforcement agencies as a trained recruit, ready to enter field training. You generally have a set period of time–commonly two years–to get hired before your academy certification expires. If it expires, you’ll have to complete another academy session before you can be hired.
A few states have a glut of academy-trained recruits who will never work in law enforcement because there are far more academy graduates than there are jobs. It’s a good idea to investigate the police labor market before you make a commitment to an academy course.
The academy courses typically run from 12 to 26 weeks.There is quite a lot of variation here. Some academies are residential, where you live at the academy site, and may or may not get to go home on weekends. There are often room inspections, and life is not unlike military basic training. Other academies, especially those attached to community colleges, are often non-residential, so when class is dismissed for the day, you go home.
Pre-employment testing usually includes a written test with a writing component, one or more oral interviews, a physical fitness/agility test, and the background investigation. The order of these varies. You must generally pass one phase to be eligible to go on to the next. The process is highly selective. Some agencies hire only 1-2% of applicants, but that often says as much about the applicant pool as about the agency.
In nearly all cases, applicants have to have a high school diploma or GED. Some require up to four years of college. A few will accept a completed term of military service with an honorable discharge in lieu of the college credits. Each agency decides what their minimum requirements will be. When college is required, there is seldom a required area of study. Most aspiring cops major in criminal justice, but there is an argument that psychology, a foreign language, and English literature is a better choice. I have known cops with degrees in any of these fields and more. Mine was in molecular biology.
Most agencies place a high value on communication skills: writing, speaking, interpretive reading. Regardless of your academic credentials, you should be able to read and write at the level of a college graduate to be a police officer. Inadequate writing skills are one of the more common reasons that new hires fail to complete their probationary periods.
The hiring process includes an in-depth background investigation. In a pre-hiring background investigation, everything counts. Some people have the idea that an episode of bad judgment, an arrest, a ticket, being fired from a job, etc. will disappear after a period of time and will not count against them. More recent episodes count more than old ones, but nothing is dismissed entirely. Even if an arrest or conviction is expunged or sealed, you are required to divulge it for the purpose of a background investigation. Deliberately concealing information, even if it’s discovered after years of credible service, is grounds for termination for making a false application. Good background investigators have a way of digging up stuff you thought everyone had forgotten about.
Common reasons for failing a background investigation include:
- arrests and/or convictions for domestic violence, sex offenses, any felony, or any pattern of behavior that indicates a lack of respect for the law. A felony or domestic violence conviction makes you permanently ineligible to be a law enforcement officer, as these people cannot lawfully possess firearms.
- excessive moving violations/traffic offenses or DUI. In some states, you cannot be hired as a police officer within X years of a DUI conviction.
- an itinerant work history, or a record of being terminated from employment for cause.
- a bad credit history, or a record of not being able to manage your income and expenses effectively.
- use or abuse of illegal drugs. This is an area where more recent behavior counts more than past behavior. Few agencies will refuse you because you smoked a joint in high school, but if you used marijuana regularly for several years, combined it with other drugs, or injected illegal drugs, it’s likely you will be declined.