Blue Byline

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

Cops could use a little help with public relations

Post by Brian O'Neill on Jan. 10, 2014 at 8:17 am with 5 Comments »
January 10, 2014 8:17 am

Police work can be an exciting and rewarding career field, but it definitely has its drawbacks. One of the most frustrating aspects is the negative response cops receive from simply doing their job.

courtesy campussafetymagazine.com
courtesy campussafetymagazine.com

I refer you to a recent incident that occurred at the transit center in downtown Tacoma on Monday involving an off-duty officer and a combative subject (TNT 1/8).

The details that led to the altercation are exceptional only in the fact that they are so mundane – the subject, a 34-year-old man, was detained on a misdemeanor charge of smoking a cigarette at the transit center and failing to provide identification.

Of course, this is where the “routine” detention goes sideways. Rather than provide his identification, the man responded by allegedly punching the cop in the face. During the ensuing fight, the man attempted to reach into his pocket where police later found a 3-inch folding knife.

That story is a consummate teaching moment for anyone interested in the dynamics of law enforcement. It illustrates how, in the space of a single breath, a simple contact can devolve into a fight with potentially deadly repercussions. Fortunately in this case, the officer was able to subdue and arrest the subject with only minor injuries to both.

Kudos to the cop.

But set that aside for the moment and consider the alleged statement from one of the bystanders. This nameless individual told police that the officer had no reason to grab the man.

Aaaargh!

Sorry, but it’s this type of ignorance that makes my blue blood boil. The fact that any person would naturally assume (without bothering to learn more) that a police officer has no legitimate reason to detain an individual points, if nothing else, to a disconnect between police and the citizens whom they serve.

Certainly there are those who simply do not like or trust police. Yet, in my experience, that does not account for the high percentage who, for some reason, need to see the evidence of a crime themselves before they would condone a police officer laying hands on someone.

Any cop with a few service stripes can cite instances where citizens angrily protested an arrest, never mind that the arrestee (unbeknownst to the public) was wanted for homicide, robbery or even unpaid traffic tickets.

If this sounds like venting, it probably is. Sure, there are police officers who have abused their authority and, thus, added fuel to this insidious fire. But in any line of work there will always be a handful of losers whose screwups will be forever remembered. In truth, the vast majority of officers who work the streets do so with integrity and diligence, albeit in quiet anonymity.

The details of Monday’s altercation are yet another reminder that people need to know more about the way police conduct business. For example, did you know that a) at any given time there are thousands of individuals with active arrest warrants? b) that officers are responsible to enforce laws, regardless of whether citizens agree with (or even know about) a specific statute? c) officers are constantly bombarded by radio updates with a 24/7 stream of criminal activity, and that the individual who committed a crime in a different part of the area may be the person standing next to you at a bus stop?

To carry out these and other duties, cops will often stop people on the street or pull over drivers on the road. In doing so, they will sometimes find themselves in situations that instantly escalate into a violent encounter.

While it is not essential that the public understands how and why police officers do what they do, it sure would make things a lot easier.

Leave a comment Comments → 5
  1. My first reaction was “what a stupid response.” But then I realized that no one else felt that the one comment left was worthy of a response.

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    That would be an accurate assessment, mrhddh.

  3. The new proposed law to allow lying, convicted officers to be decertified versus continually reinstated with their union/arbitrators (Gig Harbor, Washougal, etc. etc. etc.) will go a long way in trying to correct the image….cannot believe what just happened the other weekend with a uniformed Washington State Patrol Commander(yes he was moon-lighting but was in uniform). He breaks the law and gets his son and girlfriend into the Seahawks game abusing his uniform; his “punishment”…he loses his command position, and is now a Lt. vs a captain…..why this guy wasn’t fired or forced to retire is beyond me!

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    That particular incident caught my attention as well. In my experience it seems as though police supervisors and commanders often receive demotions for actions that would result in termination for a rank-and-file officers.

    However…there is a great deal of subtext in the WASPC measure providing for decertification of police officers. While the public is often aware of the missteps of street cops, police administrators are also prone to making mistakes with respect to discipline. These errors, intentional (i.e. vindictive) or not, cause great hardship for officers who deserve better, and almost never make it to the light of day.

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