Yesterday, we began discussing two of a myriad of matters in which civilians and police officers met…violently. In those two matters, as is too often the case, death for somebody was the result.
I said that there was an important reality here which could effect you.
“Sam, I have read many of your past blogs. I know that you have always advised that when investigating officers approach me, I should not try to out-run, out-talk or out-fight them. Let’s assume I don’t. Let’s assume I also do not go out committing crimes. So, how would I be in a position to ‘learn’ from these tragic episodes?”
I have been dwelling inside the criminal justice system for approximately 30 years now. I have been, in the State of New York and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and on both sides of the aisle. Some situations, such as you just mentioned, are obvious.
If the police are investigating you, your best move is to be polite, do what they tell you to do and keep your mouth shut until you consult a lawyer.
More often than not, though, a police encounter is not necessarily because the officers are on the hunt for you.
There is one key that many folks ignore…yet I find is key to survival in these matters.
It can be summed up in one word…perspective.
In many police encounters, there are two competing perspectives of fear. The civilian is wondering if he or she is about to be hassled or arrested. The police officer is wondering if the civilian is a cop-hating crazy who is going to attack and try to kill him or her. Given that many of these encounters take place in stressful situations, a criminal investigation for example, the fears on both sides are at a high level.
There is not a lot of room to guess wrong.
“Yeah, but the police officers are supposed to be the experts who find themselves in that situation. Why should I have to be the one to keep the officers‘ fears in mind?”
That is a legitimate point. Theoretically.
Given reality, though, it comes down to a choice for you to make. You can be right and legitimate and insist that the officer act the way you feel he or she should…and perhaps get beaten up or killed…or take it upon yourself to be the one who controls his own behavior in order to leave the encounter as unscathed as possible.
Its kind of like the “choice” the marital counselor gave me before my divorce…”Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?”,
I will leave it to you to decide which choice I should have taken. But I digress.
However you feel about police officers, I will let you in on three well-known “secrets”. First of all, very few police officers, if any, begin their tour with a blood-thirsty desire pounding in their hearts to beat or kill some citizen. Secondly, you are not likely to pass through this life without contact with law enforcement. Third, if you find yourself, or a loved one, in danger, you are likely to call the police for help.
And they will very likely come.
You called them and their perspectives to the situation. They have come ready to take action…not knowing what disaster you have waiting for them. They only know that they must maintain control of the situation. Related to that fact, they also know that they would prefer not to die.
Now, I agree with you that our courts deem police officers as “experts” in the field of the reality of law enforcement. I also know, though, that most officers’ daily reality is not as clean-cut as yours or mine. Like them or not, they do have a difficult and dangerous job to do.
It would be great if all officers had the ability and the desire to take everyone else’s perspectives into account…and always remain honest and trustworthy.
That is not always going to happen.
Very often, we greet officers with some demonstration that, while we may need them, we neither trust nor like them very much.
Thus, an antagonistic relationship exists from the start.
It really does not matter whether we believe that, along with the badge and gun, officers should always have the professionalism and patience to take our perspective into account. Nor that they should always realize that they often inspire fear regardless of the occasion.
The truth is…they won’t.
So until we someday come up with some better procedures that lend themselves to remember each other’s point of view, the reality is what it is.
And the reality that it is the law enforcement officer who is carrying the gun and the badge.
And you will notice that we are not even talking about situations when, indeed, the police are necessarily investigating you.
The message should be valuable to everyone in modern society…assuming they want to increase their chances of survival.