Lately it seems all my conversations eventually gravitate toward police officers’ use of deadly force. One such conversation took place while I was on vacation last month.
While relaxing in the resort spa I started conversing with a gentleman after a day of enjoying paradise. I readily admit I am a social butterfly.
Inevitably, when he found out I was a retired police officer the question came up:
“So what do you think about all these police shootings? Cops seem out of control these days.”
The water got just a bit hotter at that point as my body temperature went up a few degrees. But I pride myself at being a good conversationalist — a dying art, if you ask me.
The gentleman was not some radical screaming obscenities at a protest rally. Rather, he was in the banking industry and seemed willing to listen as I provided some needed information he might have missed in all the mainstream reporting.
As I laid out the statistics and rationale, point and counterpoint, I concluded with the fact that the vast majority of the nationally publicized use-of-force incidents in the country began with something simple:
Someone at some point decided to violate the social contract of submitting to lawful authority. Their refusal to comply with lawful commands at some point dictated a response from the officers involved.
Tragically, sometimes these responses don’t have the happy outcomes we all hope for.
His face turned pensive as he thought it over for a few seconds.
“You’re right!” he exclaimed with an expression of sudden insight.
I basked in my skills as a police apologist and was about ready to take another sip from my adult beverage when he said something that still resonates with me:
“Shouldn’t police departments be doing something to educate people about complying with the police?”
My immediate reaction was to laugh out loud thinking it was a joke, but the dead- serious look on his face told me that would be a mistake.
All those training classes on interview and interrogation techniques have paid dividends over the years.
He then added: “You guys should have classes in high schools and some sort of public awareness campaign. It would save lives, don’t you think?”
I guess I’d missed something over the years or maybe I’m just becoming one of the old dudes we all swore we’d never become.
I could not in my wildest imagination ever recall needing to be educated about obeying the police. I pretty much thought it was a good idea to do whatever the guy with the badge and gun asked me to do.
Doing otherwise would take a special kind of crazy that I couldn’t imagine.
Respect for authority had been drilled into me at a very young age with my parents and then further reinforced by Sister Mary Liam at St. Boniface parochial school. She didn’t have a badge or a gun, but even in the 5th grade I knew you didn’t mess with people who had a direct line to God.
What was it he was looking for?
I imagined big posters with police officers’ guns drawn and pointing and the phrase, “Comply or die!” Heaven knows what the public service announcement might look like.
I recalled seeing a tongue-in-cheek graphic on a police blog site that read, “Hands up Don’t Shoot, We’ll take that!”
Just then my wife called and I had to end the conversation. I politely thanked him for his time and he thanked me for opening his eyes to issues police officers face.
He lifted up his glass and ended with, “You guys should really think about that.”
Lack of compliance is something that needs to be part of any conversation regarding police use of force. It is certainly absent from the national discussion.
I just don’t know if a national campaign asking people to obey the law is the answer. If it is, we’re in a lot worse shape than I thought.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.