[I thought of three other less offensive titles: Generalizing Gendarmes, Caricaturing Cops, Stereotyping Smokey. But I had already made up my mind.]
As you no doubt know, especially if you are a reader in the LA area, there is a crazed ex-cop on the loose by the name of Christopher Dorner. I think it is only a matter of time before Dorner is caught. We don’t know how that will play out. But it probably won’t be as simple as arresting James Holmes (Aurora, Colorado theater shooter). This piece is not intended to be about that, and so it will gradually move away from it. I bring it up at all only because its writing was prompted, in part, by an argument I had with someone about whether a shooter such as Christopher Dorner, that is, a cop is more dangerous than a shooter who isn’t a cop. I stated that, naval and police training aside, I thought that he was because cops tend to have a mentality of being above the law (I think this is not the result of them becoming police, but rather the reason they become police), which makes them psychologically more capable of calculated brutality than just some civilian who goes nuts. This was back when the story first came out although many important details were already known. His manifesto was one of those details so I knew what he was about and that he probably wasn’t going to be shooting people at random. He has targets. So, in that sense he is less dangerous to most people around him than a random shooter would be.
But probably more dangerous in the context of a manhunt. A shooter with a mission and a plan, even if his plans are in the process of being thwarted, is more dangerous than a guy who has already emptied his clip in a crowded theater or a school and then tries to slip away. The guy that just opens fire at random might kill more people than the guy with a few targets in his sights, but he is no longer in control of the situation. And if he is stopped before he can empty his clip, he might never have really been in control in the first place. If there are any cops or armed civilians around, he will be stopped, often before he can cause as much damage as he otherwise could have, given his arsenal.
A man with a plan can avoid that sort of situation. He is therefore in much more control, even if he is being hunted. And the LAPD is certainly not in control. If anecdotes and rumors about how corrupt and inefficient they are aren’t enough to convince you of this, perhaps certain facts pertaining to the case are. They were not prepared for what was festering on their watch. If the manifesto is to be believed they may in fact have pushed this man over the edge (this does not excuse him, of course). They already lost in two shootouts with him, resulting in one death and two injuries. And to top it off, they have already opened fire on two vehicles mistakenly believed to be Dorner’s, innocent people having been endangered and harmed in the process. Maybe the officers responsible will have to make some sort of restitution. Maybe not as they are above the law.
All this talk about being in control! What does that have to do with cops? Wouldn’t anyone who is on a cold-blooded mission rather than a hot-headed rampage tend to be like this? Yes. But I think there is something to be said for why a cop would be predisposed to this sort of thing. I think it is the kind of thing that happens all the time, usually on a smaller scale, and usually under the auspices of enforcing the law. Little vendettas. Not against people who have wronged them or violated other’s rights, but against anyone deemed inferior. A cop who snaps, as Dorner did, is what is seen. We just assume it’s the same thing as when an office worker snaps. I don’t think it is.
There is something unseen as well. There is much more pressure on a cop. This might be why they occasionally snap, but I don’t think that explains everything, either. There is more still that is unseen. I think that even before he is a cop and before he snaps he is predisposed towards acts of calculated brutality. And I think that there is only less of a tendency, relative to an office worker, for him to snap and exercise that brutality outside of the law because the pressure he faces has a release valve that the pressure facing an office worker doesn’t. A cop can have his little vendettas against society. It’s practically a job requirement. But an office worker gets fired if he takes out his frustration on, or lets his bullying personality show through to, the people he works for or the people he works with. But this explanation is nothing new. I’m not the first person to point out that cops are sadistic or arrogant or both. Or that they would make fantastic criminals. Or that in some cases they are a protected class of criminals.
I do think that it is fortunate that they were conditioned to prefer the law over crime. But when the law itself tends to codify and protect crime (legal plunder), either in its text, in its intent, or in its predictable effects; and as the distinction between just law and legalized crime blurs; the degree to which this fortune is beneficial to society goes down. (Incrementally, exponentially, arithmetically, geometrically?) Things that are not crimes are made into crimes, so there arises an attitude among people that sympathizes with criminals (even ones that commit actual crimes). This creates disrespect for not just law enforcement but for the law (even the just ones). The whole process feeds on itself. More “crime” leading to more “law” leading to more disrespect for the “law” leading to more “crime”. And who knows where it will eventually lead?
Are all cops sadistic or arrogant or both? No. Not all. It is a generalization. And like any generalization it is meant in general. There are exceptions to every general rule. If there weren’t then the rules would definitionally be physical constants. But since the study of human behavior is qualitatively different from the physical sciences, most rules about human behavior are very general and very flexible. This is because human thoughts or human actions as units are more variable than atoms as units or galaxies as units. We can predict what atoms will do. And someday when the cosmos is better understood we will be able to better predict what galaxies will do. We can already predict some things about galaxies, but they are not as well understood as they could be. Just the other day a new theory came out about something previously unexplainable in our own solar system. A solar system is just a tiny point relative to the three-dimensional space of a galaxy. But I think that human behavior will forever elude us (but this idea alone is valuable to the social sciences), at least in terms of making predictions based on models. I doubt that a singularity could even change this.
Now, there are some decent cops. Some bad cops that occasionally do good things. Some good cops. We all know that. I even know some personally. Some still working, some retired. Likely even the ones who are complete (and unnecessarily) jerks while doing their jobs are nice (enough) in their personal lives. They should be jerks to gang-bangers, but to regular people while on routine patrol?
Let me explain why these exceptions, which themselves are not absolutes or constants, don’t negate the general rule. I’ve got a list of 6 generalizations that I think apply pretty well to most if not all police. They may not all apply to all of them, but I think that between them, they cover the greater portion of law enforcement officers. I’ll go further still and say that at least one of the generalizations below, different ones in different cases, applies to each and every police force (and possibly each and every cop) in the United States. That’s my secondary contention. If it is wrong it doesn’t mean the general rule (my primary contention), that cops are sadistic and/or arrogant, is false. If any combination of these things (and each police force or individual cop might only have one that pertains to them) apply simply to more cops than they don’t apply to, then I think my generalization is true. Here’s my list of observations about the police:
1. They are unelected and, barring something heinous, obvious, and traceable back to a specific officer’s negligence or abuse, completely unaccountable. This mostly applies to city cops, state troopers (in my opinion, based upon perception, as bad or worse than the Feds in their sadism/arrogance, though at least not overstepping their Constitutional bounds as much; I have certainly encountered some patient and cordial ones, though), and Federal agents. It generally doesn’t apply to the County Sheriff’s office. If the Sheriff messes up, or some portion of his department REALLY messes up, he gets booted out of office. Consequently his attitude tends to be a good mixture of sternness in the application of principle, distrust of outsiders, hostility to genuine crooks, and kindness to constituents. Not a good quality in a police chief, eh?
2. They are tax leeches (I can’t think of a less offensive way to put it, sorry). I would be surprised if there are very many exceptions to this. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that there are. It would be very hard for any cop, even one that was aware of the possibility of this category, and that actively tried to do right by the consumer (the taxpayer within a given jurisdiction), to avoid falling into it. With taxes, you don’t get what you pay for. The market is distorted. That is not to say that cops are necessarily overpaid (though the bigwigs and the pensioners usually are). For all I know, they are way underpaid. If so, it doesn’t mean that the taxpayers aren’t paying too much. They are. Why? Because non-taxpayers are entitled to the same police protection as taxpayers. Heck, even people who aren’t even residents within the specific jurisdiction are entitled to police protection. Whether this tragedy of the commons is best understood as an argument for privatizing the police or in some other way making them more accountable or efficient I will let the reader decide. One thing is for sure: this designation applies most of all to the Feds. DEA, FBI, ATF, DHS, TSA, etc. Tax dollars put to good use!
3. They enforce unjust and impractical laws the same way they enforce just and practical ones. At first one would tend to think that this applies mostly to overzealous rookies looking to make their first bust or underperforming veterans looking to stay on top of their game. But I think it is more pervasive and less motivated than that. Just look and see the size of the United States’ prison population relative to those of other, even totalitarian, nations. Nonviolent “crimes” get more attention than violent crimes, across the board, it seems. According to one estimate, the average person breaks 3 federal criminal laws a day. Who knows how many state laws or county and municipal ordinances? The fact that some of these laws even exist is bad enough. But that a self-respecting cop would even go along with them takes the cake. That’s why I like these guys. Though I wish they would take it a step further and rather than just refuse to obey unlawful orders, also refuse to obey immoral or unjust orders. Police Nullification. I’m big on State Nullification and Jury Nullification too. Which reminds me, I have Jury Duty come Monday. Yay!
4. Their incentives to do their jobs are very often perverse. [T]o “under-produce police protection on occasions, while overproducing brutality when [they] can get away with it…” Think about ticket quotas. I’m not saying it always happens, but there is an incentive to pull as many people over as possible until that quota is filled. Sometimes they pull somebody over for speeding but not fast enough to fine them (depending on which highway or which state I think it is usually 5 mph to 10 mph over) and look for other reasons to give them a ticket. Harmless enough right? Alright, there is still the drug war. I don’t want to go into that right now, but here’s a link. And every once in a while you will also hear about court cases where it comes down to a cop’s word against the suspect’s (innocent until proven guilty!). Those are usually civil cases, but as long as the jury pools its lack of judgement and then (group)thinks its way into some moral obligation to convict, and provided perhaps that the judge and prosecutor play their little game, I don’t see why it couldn’t happen in criminal cases as well. Who needs witnesses and evidence when you have the word of a sworn officer, whose testimony is usually weighted not just as “truth,” but “expert truth,” by the judge? That’s a bland rhetorical question. If you think you detected sarcasm here or anywhere else then you might as well sober up and start over from the top.
5. They are union thugs. Just like the teamsters. Just like the miners. Just like the service employees. Just like the boilermakers. Just like the electricians. Only worse because they are public employees. Little Jimmy Hoffas and Dicky Trumkas in blue uniforms. And their pension-rackets will bankrupt the major cities of the US, which in turn, if the state legislature or the Congress bail them out, will help bankrupt the country. Oh wait! We’re already too far down that road for that to be of much concern anyways. Whew!
6. They are largely unnecessary. Not entirely, mind you. But most of them would be out of a job if people were made — if people were allowed — to act responsibly, instead of always relying on some clean-shaven or mustachioed dandy in slacks and a pretty yellow seal of authority several minutes away from the scene of the situation to do what should or could have been done in seconds. It might apply in other areas as well, but this is most evident on the issue of gun control. The more guns there are and the more people have them, and the less people are conditioned to irrationally fear them, the less need there is for police. Not that when there are way too many cops out there they can do much to prevent gun crime always! In mass shootings, when the cops stop the shooter, an average of 14.29 deaths occur. When private citizens stop them, an average of 2.33 deaths occur. If I was a smart-aleck I would say that is a microcosm of the difference between the public sector and the private sector. But I’m not and we’re trying to be sober here, remember?
Now, how would any of these things make a cop sadistic or arrogant? If a cop doesn’t know these things going into the job he hasn’t practiced due diligence or has ignored it to pursue his career or his other agenda (and don’t get me wrong, he might have a pretty good agenda, like serving justice). But if he does know these things going into the job, or stays with the job once he finds them out, there has got to be something severely wrong with him. Normal, informed people don’t aspire to go work for a “department” and wave their guns and badges in people’s faces. That’s not to say that some normal people don’t like bringing about justice or that they don’t sometimes have to use the less than perfect means they have at their disposal to do so. That’s very mature of them, I suppose. But in a lot of cases there seems to have been arrested development somewhere along the way. In those cases, either they like making others feel inferior or miserable, or they are too proud or selfish to go do something more useful and less sanctimonious with themselves.