July 26, 2009
How to deal with copsBy Wesley Clark, MD
Over the years, I have avoided many traffic tickets. My kids were astounded and baffled, over the years, at how frequently I talked my way out of speeding tickets, by using basic psychology. One night, I was pulled over for 90 mph in a 60 mph zone, and got a warning, after 10 minutes of enjoyable conversation with a CHP officer. On another occasion, I was pursued for 12 miles by a CHP officer, who let his dinner get cold to catch me, and I had a delightful and respectful conversation with him, but no ticket. This is applied psychology, and genuine respect, not racialism. I have also befriended many police officers, and I have the highest respect for their professionalism and dedication, while simultaneously allowing for, understanding and respecting their exquisite humanity.
Black or white, a citizen can greatly reduce his grief in a police encounter, by understanding the psychodynamics of the confrontation, and the rules that govern authoritarian interactions. As a supplement to the advice offered by Chris Rock, I present the following suggestions.
The first principle is to get the chip off your shoulder, and respect the officer. After all, he is ultimately in charge, like it or not.
Every police officer is human. He reasonably fears for his life and well-being, and every interaction is a potential threat to him, until he decides otherwise. The astute citizen ensures that the officer feels safe and unthreatened, at his earliest opportunity, so that he can make the right decision, and carry on an equitable conversation. That citizen gets to sleep in his own bed at night, and then soberly consider the possible unfairness of life, in the light of day.
Police officers are vested with considerable authority, by virtue of their commissioned status. They carry deadly weapons, and are empowered to make arrests when their judgment indicates that public order is threatened, or that a crime may have been committed. They are responsible for protecting the community against those who would threaten public safety and order.
Police officers are likely to respond to any challenge to their authority by acting to re-assert their status. Many police officers are military-trained -- and understand the concept of chain-of-command. They were usually in the enlisted ranks and subject to the arrogance of commissioned officers. They are therefore subconsciously responsive to any disrespect of their status, particularly when a citizen attempts to assert his rank (as if he were a commissioned officer).
Police officers know that the early application of measured force can prevent escalation of a confrontation into greater violence.
Current Scenario (note that race is not even mentioned as a boundary condition):
A policeman has received a dispatcher call indicating that there is a burglary in progress at a given address. He arrives at the scene and interviews the caller, who describes two men attempting to force entry into a residence. The officer approaches the residence, and finds two men, inside the residence. He does not know whether they are burglars, possibly armed and dangerous, and a potential threat to his life, or whether they may be lawfully present. He must be concerned that a confrontation may result in a violent response, that may be dangerous to him, and to others, if the persons are present illegally. He reasonably requests that they show identification, and demonstrate that they are rightfully present. The lawfully present citizen would be expected to comply peacefully and with understanding, possibly even gratitude for the protection of his property.
What should the officer do? What should the citizen do?
The citizen should:
Should the resident fail to comply with officer requests, and become obstreperous and demonstrative, the officer must now consider the consequences of strategic withdrawl, versus arrest and suppression of the illicit violent behavior. If the officer withdraws, and the citizen subsequently becomes violent (against the original reporter of the break-in, for example) the officer will be held responsible for the escalation of violence. Given his responsibility to the community at large, the officer must act to suppress aggressive and potentially violent behavior, by arresting the demonstrative and possibly violent offender.
General Principles for Law-Abiding Citizens of any Color:
When confronted by a peace officer:
The smart citizen programs these responses in his mind, in advance. He is respectful and friendly to police officers, and they return his attitude in kind., professionally and humanly. The dummies wind up in jail.
Take your pick.
*Having a couple drinks on a long flight is entirely reasonable, and deserving of our empathy and understanding. However, mild intoxication may influence judgment and memory, and may adversely alter one's response to confrontation, even eliciting responses that would be rejected in a sober state.
The author is a surgeon, and not related to the retired general of the same name.