Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Fighting fair vs. fighting to win

Post by Brian O'Neill on Oct. 10, 2011 at 10:35 pm with 33 Comments »
February 8, 2012 9:57 am

Since I began writing this column a few months ago I have received an inordinate number of comments on the topic of force.

The discussion on the use of force by police, or as it is called in cop circles, “Response to Resistance”, should be an ongoing dialogue. Police agencies and the public should be able to openly discuss the issue from a common level of understanding. However, since most of the comments could be summed up by asking, “Why do police officers always need to use so much force?” it could be assumed that law enforcement should be trying harder to find common ground on this topic.

A San Francisco officer wounded during a riot (Michelle Malkin archives)

The picture at left depicts a San Francisco police officer moments after being assaulted during a riot. While this may be a shocking picture to some, it is included here as an example of why police approach every contact with their guard up.

Statistics on assaults against officers have long suggested that there is a much greater risk of injury in failing to meet and overcome the threat from an unknown subject(s). This is especially true with explosive incidents, such as suicidal subjects, domestic disputes and large protests because these can switch from peaceful to violent in the blink of an eye.

As I was told more than twenty years ago, there is no such thing as a routine call.

In practice this means that if a subject commits an arrestable offense then the outcome is a foregone conclusion. It only awaits the decision by the arrestee whether or not to comply. If a subject follows verbal commands then the expected outcome is a simple and nonviolent arrest. Resistance is the game-changer.

Again, police officers are not trained to fight fairly. We prefer lop-sided odds, say 5:1 in our favor. We will pull hair or trip people, use Tasers and impact weapons, or deploy any reasonable tool or tactic available to us to make the arrest. The operative word is “reasonable,” a term which is ubiquitous in police policy manuals as well as legal statutes.

The crux of many arguments, however, is the level of force used. It should be no surprise that violent encounters, especially for individuals unused to such an occurrence, can raise questions, concerns and even anger. In the relative calm following violent police encounters I have always made it a point to answer any questions of family, friends and bystanders. I have learned by experience that this small gesture can do much to squelch further violence or mistrust.

One of the issues that should be acknowledged is that most citizens have little experience with forceful police encounters. Because of this, and the lack of background information on the topic, people caught up in these situations can have very skewed recall. On numerous occasions I have listened to excessive force complaints only to view a video that told a completely different story. It’s not necessarily the fault of the citizen, it’s just that these encounters can be so spontaneous, traumatic and confusing that their brain has failed to process the situation correctly.

Because many forceful encounters are fluid and brief, it can be an easy thing to miss seeing the single action that led to a forceful police resonse (the picture above shows the result of a subject throwing an object and hiting a cop, an action that will launch a immediate police response). To be fair, the same could be said about a police officer stepping into a picket line and giving a protester a cheap shot. In short, if you weren’t in a position to dispassionately view the entire event, then you will likely be missing relevant facts.

It is true that not every police officer, on every occasion, employs force correctly. However, most police officers use force as a direct response to aggression and DO use the minimal amount necessary to get the job done. That job is not to fight fair – it’s to win the fight.

Leave a comment Comments → 33
  1. LibertyBell says:

    But ONeill,

    You forget to mention that shooting back is also perfectly legal, when the police have no right at all to barge into your home, a Washington State Classic, shown best in a Federal Courtroom with two criminals on a Sheriff’s Department lying in the face of a Federal Judge, and still driving around lost in the fog.

    Fighting to win? But if the fights a looser, your deputies in many counties are promoted under the criminal syndicate of the Washington State Training Academy.

    These two officers and the whole department, are involved in the same old story of the Klan, protecting the criminals in violation of those death penality statutes 18 USC 241, and 242?

    Quite the Training Academy here in the State of Confusion!

  2. Brian: To me it sounds like you are readying the public for the use of force against those of the Occupy Tacoma movement with this and your previous article. Or is it just fortuitous timing LOL

  3. BlaineCGarver says:

    I worry about LEOs in mufti doing a forced entry into my house by mistake….It would get ugly, and I would get dead. I very much disagree with forced entry raids…only bad can come from them.

  4. BlaineCGarver says:

    Actually, anyone can go online and get look-alike cop vests and stuff….That’s what I’d do if I was a home invasion robber. And I live in an Auld Phart park….a good target for the unknowing scum.

  5. LibertyBell says:

    Well Blaine,

    Ever been to Blaine Washington, they have a cop look alike uniform there too?

    It’s that officially sponsered model, of local, state and federal officers, who are actually given a gun, a badge, and a crown victoria too?

    Just get on up to Blaine, where hiring the Criminal is a local, state, and Federal requirement of police employment, from the prisons of Washington States Criminal Justice Training Commission Training Academy

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    Libertybell- Given your continual references to the KKK and other fascist regimes, It is plain that you truly revile police officers. I believe you’ve waved that vile and offensive flag long enough that everyone knows where you stand. The only reason you have not been barred from participating thus far is my unwillingness to stem free speech. What I object to, however, is your incoherent speech.

    If you would like to continue participating in this forum I am going to make two recommendations. First, pick one point of contention or (however unlikely in your case) agreement on a topic and use rhetoric that is at least understandable. Second, tone down the hate.

    Can you do that?

  7. notSpicoli says:

    “In reality most police officers use force as a direct response to aggression and use the minimal amount necessary to get the job done.”

    In reality, “most” is not good enough.

  8. Earth_watch says:

    Brian, you are making me very afraid of cops.

    The job is not to “fight to win” it’s to “protect and serve”.

    Your title is a perfect example for the many recent questions (you say you’ve been getting) about “police force” (overuse of it), as your columns and recent police actions have made it clear police intend to use whatever force they want, whether it’s justified in the end, or not. Citizens are just as much a target as police, but police are trained and equipped so should be able to use the LEAST amount of force in response to a situation. The law enforcement motto is not “license to respond with greater force” just because of “resistance”. The punishment for resisting is not to be beaten. Force should only be used for extreme situations where innocent people are being put in danger.

    Despite your selected photo example, I would bet (in a public protest settings) there are far more civilians injured by police, than police injured by civilians. Your comments are beginning to seem almost criminal in the way you are pre-conceiving every public gathering (legally permitted demonstration and peaceful protest, or not) as a potential “riot”. Police coming in with this approach are leading with emotion, then, not level-headedness, which could lead to them to inciting the first move. If police are so truly so paranoid about being attacked, as you’ve mentioned, then they are no longer fit to hold that job. All the fancy “storm trooper” gear and latest weaponry seem to make some cops itching for a fight to try it out, use it up and get the newest stuff… and there have been proven instances of police planting instigators in crowds.

    If people are complaining about the extra cost of the Seattle PD overtime at Westlake Park, then send the police home. People are outside in public places every night and don’t get the constant watchful eye of cops. Why should protesters (we know why they are there, after all) need police standing over them, expecting a “riot”?

    If the gist of your last two submissions are truly believed by other cops, then we have some serious retraining to do within our state.

    This article seems to suggest that police officers are judge and jury, able to immediately know if a crime was, indeed, committed and able to use any excessive force… but even if police could, somehow, know a crime was, indeed, committed, no punishment I know of is instant physical assault. Police don’t get to determine guilt, they are to apprehend and deliver someone for determination of guilt. Punishment will be whatever the judge determines (and I’ve never heard a judge decree use of ‘hair pulling, tripping people; tasers, impact weapons or any item and tactic available’, as you say. I don’t know what led up to or caused the injury to the San Francisco policeman in the photo, but why not refer to something closer-to-home, like the video of the deaf Seattle woodcarver, calming crossing a street and getting shot in the back when he didn’t immediately respond just for having a three-inch pen knife?

    In your last column you seem trying to convince us to accept that police will use more force on us than displayed by us. You indicated (in your later comments) that documentation of that is likely unavailable since police training may be done via discussion after a mock demonstration by “offering suggestions and recommendations”. Really? Police training is that vague and loose with no specific standards from one class to another? At your recommendation, though, I will, certainly, contact the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission to ask that they provide proof that officers are expected to respond with greater force. If that’s true, it (and your last two submissions) help confirm that Tacoma PD are, indeed, liable for lawsuits from the 2007 Port Protests:

    Trial Looms for Response by City to War Protest

    …the city may still be liable for a number of responses, including a zero-tolerance policy, increased parking restrictions, failure to give notice about changing designated protest zones, the no-bag rule, positioning snipers on city rooftops, shining floodlights in the protest zone, filming protestors, and using tear gas and pepper spray. Regarding the no-bag rule, Leighton found “a reasonable jury could conclude that TPD intended for the rule to deter individuals from participating in the protests.”The judge cited a police dispatch that said “We only have a handful of protestors here. … The no-bag rule is stopping them.”

    Good grief, I would hope our police (for all the training and equipment they receive) would be able to use LESS force then what may come at them. Your last two articles are offering great evidence, though, to those who do plan to pursue lawsuits, or your articles are chilling foreshadowing of events to come similar to what we see in Egypt.

  9. serendipity says:

    Pulling hair is not personal? This entire article does nothing but build further distrust with the police. I am shocked it was even published. Shame on this author really.

  10. Objective says:

    Myself and a neighbor lady were approached by a deputy, while we were waiting at a school bus stop to pick up our kids. He just stopped to check us out and see what we were up to. We told him we were waiting for the school bus and kids. I do have to say, I was kind of alarmed by his defensive posture initially.

    Now a few months later, that deputy was killed in a shootout during a domestic disturbance call, did he let his guard down, get careless or maybe that situation in particular just got him. Now with that being said, I want to say I have no intention of disrespecting him or his family. I have been to a number of domestic dirsturbances and they are one of the most dangerous situations LEO’s deal with on a regular basis.

    I do wonder if he practiced the same level of alertness or defensive posture as he did with me and the neighbor lady at the bus stop waiting for our kids.

    Unfortunately there is the occasional incident involving LEO’s such as the deputy who killed his in-laws before killing himself in Gig Harbor.

    I personally do not agree with the “No Knock Warrants/Raids” (maybe a bit off topic) out where I live it is too easy get the wrong address or house. Guy who was shot for holding a golf club at O’ dark thirty when the police kicked in his door. Needless to say he is not going to be able to play another 18. Or the Iraq vet killed by a SWAT team in Arizona, shot at least 22 times and laid there for over an hour before medical personnel were allowed in. No drugs found only a widow and young child.

    Now Mr. Obrien I would like to ask. IF (yes I said IF) one of those situations came up and an officer was using unnecessary force in a situation it does not call for it. Is a citizen authorized to defend themselves from a LEO?

  11. Objective says:

    Sorry meant to say Mr. O’Neil not O’Brien in last statement.

  12. Brian O'Neill says:

    Earthwatch- While I appreciate your comment I will admit it lacks credibility because you are taking my phrasing out of context.

    When I refer to “fighting to win” I am talking about responding to an assault. Consider a scenario: a man is interrupted by police while attempting to rape a woman and takes a swing at the officers. The officer responds by using his night stick to strike the subject’s raised arm (one level above unarmed defensive tactics). I suggest that as an appropriate use of force and one that also falls under the category of “Protect and Serve.”

    You’re making a lot out of a simple issue.

  13. Brian O'Neill says:

    Serendipity- I meant “personal” in the context of the emotional involvement of law enforcement officers. I would hope you would agree that cops need to be objective in how they carry out their duties.

    If you still have a problem with this issue then ask yourself this question: if you were being assaulted by someone would you object to a police officer yanking your attacker off you using a hair hold?

  14. Brian O'Neill says:

    Objective- Your comments are appreciated. In regards to the deputy, I won’t obscure the memory of a fallen officer by second-guessing his final actions on this earth (especially when I was not there as a witness). What I will say is that when you were approached at the bus stop by this officer it was possible he was specifically looking for someone and needed to see you up close to match up. This happens more than the public realizes.

    Your question regarding defending yourself against an officer is a valid one, however. The short answer is that it is unlawful to resist an arrest whether that arrest is ultimately deemed valid or not. If you are thinking of a specific situation then could you be more specific?

  15. Chippert says:

    I am a law-abiding citizen with generally the utmost respect for law enforcement. Recently, however, I have begun to be concerned by what it seems may be a “shoot first, ask questions later” or a “take them down and disable not matter what the force” attitude that could be developing among police officers. Unfortunately your article has just reinforced that growing fear in me. I know that officers are in more danger than they ever have been and I know that it is a difficult and dangerous job. I have many friends who are in law enforcement (and am a friend of Officer Bill Lowry’s family). However I think that the trend I see developing can only widen an “us versus them” gap that I fear is growing. Law enforcement should not be a war. If I want a war, I want to call in the military. Law enforcement should be to protect and serve.

  16. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thank you for your comments, Chippert. Despite my best efforts trying to “bridge the gap” it seems some of my comments have created an unintended stir. I worked with Bill Lowry and I would have to say that if there is any difference, or new trend, in law enforcement since the day Bill was killed would be this: Aggressive and unprovoked assaults against officers is on the rise. You can imagine that this statistic is tracked and watched by every single one of a half million American cops, and it is very disturbing.

    I am not just talking about the horrible run of six deaths a couple years back (one Seattle officer, four Lakewood officers and one Sheriff’s deputy), but nationally we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of incidents where individuals will make the decision to attack a police officer. Clearly this is on our minds as we do our job.

    However, and I’ll say this again, my column was meant to address the issue of force used against people being taken into custody – not members of the general public who are otherwise law-abiding individuals. I’m not sure why several commenters have chosen to look on this as a justification for excessive force, but I perhaps I should take the blame for not explaining the issue more clearly.

  17. Objective says:

    Mr. O’Neill,

    I was using the incident with the teenage girl in the king county jail. Now if you were in a situation as such, and a deputy is slamming you around like that, would you be justified and hitting that deputy to defend yourself?

    I believe a lot of us share the same mentality if it comes down to it, you fight to win anything less is not worth the effort or it will get you seriously hurt.

  18. Earth_watch says:

    Thank you, Chippert and Serendipity.

    Yes, Brian, your comments in this column appeared to be Part II coming on the heels of your last column about police response to public demonstrations.

    Even if you were instead referring to assaults toward police, my comments still apply. Today’s headline story is perfect example of this: every incident doesn’t have to result in police using maximum force.

  19. scott0962 says:


    Those who have a problem with authority will always refuse to get your point but most people understand it quite well. It’s an unfortunate part of the job that not everyone cops encounter is calm, rational and as desiring to avoid a confrontation as the majority of cops are. And it’s equally unfortunate that people who would be horrified at the idea of judging an entire group by the actions of a few bad examples have no qualms about doing the very same thing when that group is the police.

    Thanks for being out there holding the line between civilization and chaos.

  20. Earth_watch says:

    Brian, it would be very welcomed if this blog could be place for you to present explanations of police policy and procedure for open discussion with the public; however your comments of late appear to be about pounding a consistent one-sided opinion which does not “bridge the gap” when you seem always supportive of everything cops do. Police do make mistakes, the training you’ve described seems in serious need of revamping and there have been many examples recently (of possible over-use of force) which justify public concern.

    Scott0962, it is, indeed, “unfortunate” if a few bad apples ruin the batch within both police and the public, but the difference is that we pay and train police to perform a duty, and we have a right to expect it from all of them, not just the “majority”.

  21. In reading through these (mostly) negative comments towards Mr. O’Neill’s column/perspective, one point keeps coming to mind: I wonder just how much better of a job these commenters could do themselves. It’s so easy to play the role of armchair quarterback in a hypothetical situation, in retrospect or from a distance. I would challenge those who have not walked in the shoes of a LEO to do so and then see if they truly can maintain their same position. No one is perfect and whether trained and paid or not, we are all human. That is not to excuse the blatant wrongdoing of some, but I believe LEO’s in general do the very best they can with the knowledge that have and what they have to work with. The tarnishing of a few should not outweigh the shine of the many.

  22. TacomaJeepJeff says:


    I think there are 2 salient points missed by all.

    First is that violence is shocking and ugly. While there is a time and place where it is needful, it is never ever pleasant or pretty to any sane person.

    Second is the need to have trust in the judgement and discretion of those who will be apply force in the name of society.

    I think the second point is the sticking point in these discussions. I simply do not trust the current leadership in Tacoma PD to follow the rules of law or of reason-ability. I base this primarily upon first hand observation of the criminal acts committed by Chiefs Ramsdell and Sheehan, Captains Langford, Howatson, and McCrea, and a variety of lessors before , during, and after the Brame homicide.

    WSP came in to investigate, the investigation consisted of softbase questions to the suspects, no follow up questions, and NO INTERVIEWS whatsoever of any witnesses.

    And yes, I knew Bill too.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  23. Chippert says:

    I think we are actually getting to a good discussion of a very important issue. Law enforcement is necessary in any civilized society, but due to its very nature, severe curbs must be in place to insure that the power inherent in its very function does not harm the society it is constituted to serve. We want and need a strong cadre of dedicated and highly trained police on our streets to protect the innocent and enforce the laws of the land. We cannot survive without them. We need to insure that these very people we entrust to protect us have the tools and training necessary to do their jobs and to also ensure their own survival in this risky business. However, along with that, we need to make sure that safeguards are in place that protect society itself from the very people we have set to do this job. Therefore, even ONE bad cop is too many. One excessive use of force is too many. Yes, it is going to happen but when it does, that MUST be corrected and MUST be prevented in the future. Just as we must admire and respect all the thousands of good cops out there, we need to revile those others. Cops, by the very nature of who they are, must be held to a much higher standard than just about anyone else in society and they must be watched much more closely, because a “bad apple” there is a serious problem! And the bad cop, when weeded out, should face a much more severe punishment for betraying the trust of society than the usual ones.

  24. Earth_watch says:

    Today’s headline story plays well into this discussion. A number of recent situations involve a person who seems more in need of intervention than is presenting a serious danger… and yet they are shot instead of subdued by the many other methods available to police.

    A number of comments on that story suggest people are becoming more afraid of police than of criminals… police seem quicker to kill because they actually seem to believe they’re justified in doing so.

    We need to start reporting on and congratulating cops who come up with creative ways to dissolve tense situations, instead of the far-too-many situations needlessly escalating into gunfire.

  25. Brian O'Neill says:

    At the risk of intruding on a very intellectual discussion I would add just a couple of points which, hopefully, are not redundant. I wholeheartedly agree with Chippert’s comment that “one bad cop is too many.” I would also agree with Earthwatch when he suggests that “people are becoming more afraid of police than of criminals.” So where do we go with all of this agreement?

    The point of any discussion, at least as I see it, is to arrive at some balance.

    Thus, to balance out the notion of bad police officers we should consider the fact that not every news article depicting police use of force represents bad tactics or excessive force. In the case Earthwatch referenced, a cop shot at a car that was effectively coming straight at him. Did he have other alternatives or did he literally save his own life by electing to use deadly force? The answer, as it will unfortunately be for so many incidents, is that we simply will not know. There are hundreds of elements to even such a simple scenario, and lacking the the ability to be present, we will be unable to render true judgment. I say that not only in defense of police officers whom I believe are often wrongly accused of bad behavior in the press, but also on behalf of subjects arrested and charged with crimes that are literally tried in the media (Amanda Knox anyone?).

    On the flip side of citizens’ fear of police are the statistics that demonstrate the increasingly level of violence directed towards police officers. When you see your colleagues attacked or even killed (and thousands of us attended several funerals in the last two years) it certainly makes you vigilant.

    Somewhere between these two rival viewpoints may exist a balancing point. I am not, however, arrogant enough to label these thoughts as definitive answers to questions. – just more fodder for your consideration. I thank you all for your input.

  26. Brian O'Neill says:

    And Tacomajeepjeff- Did we work together at TPD back in the day?

  27. TacomaJeepJeff says:

    Not on your squad, but you would know my face.

  28. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thought so, Jeff.

  29. smokey984 says:

    Police violence is on the rise folks. Read these short tidbits and enjoy.

  30. smokey984 says:

    This is a distinct national trend and very alarming and it’s not just about OWS. It is not however, a surprise. It is a sign of the times.

  31. smokey984 says:

    and last but not least, apparently the TSA is unleashed in Tennessee because thats where all the terrorists hang out…Enjoy!

  32. leehallfae says:

    Dear Mr. O’Neill and others who put your lives at risk:

    Kill me for saying this, but there is ONE way, and only one way to respond to a officer of the state when he is arresting your silly self:

    You say, “Yes, sir,”, keep your hands in sight, and if arrested, go quietly to the station. It can all be sorted out later: And anyone who believes that he or she can win in a confrontation with guys who are trained as well as having the power to put you under arrest: You should not be allowed outside without your leash firmly in place.

    Gimme a break.

  33. Brian O'Neill says:

    Leehallfae- Thanks for your comments. I’m obviously biased, but I believe your suggestion on the best way to avoid violence and confrontation during an arrest is sound. It would definitely be my planned method should I find myself in that situation.

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