“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players…”
- William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Traffic stop, Terry stop, domestic, drunken crowd – name the law enforcement activity and you can find a YouTube video posted online by someone designed to portray you and law enforcement in a bad light.
“Here I am in my car, being traffic stopped for no reason by the police. Officer I don’t have to identify myself to you. You had no legal reason to stop me. I’m not rolling down my window, because you are illegally detaining me!” - Does any of this sound familiar?
The ultimate self-made movie includes police officers using force which is accompanied by suitable screams and grimaces.
Add to the above so called “journalists” (amateurs looking to sell their videos and ‘stories’ to mainstream media) by engineering confrontations with the police. As an example, watch the video of a “reporter” being told to vacate a boarded-up McDonald’s countless times (I literally stopped counting the orders of “Let’s go! Grab your stuff and let’s go!” once it got past 20…). *Sadly I should mention one televised report where a former LEO and law enforcement analyst stated that during these riotous conditions, after law enforcement had given multiple orders to disperse, police officers didn’t have the right to order the reporters to vacate the premises of a closed and vandalized restaurant and violated their rights when they removed them from the property. Guy either never was a street cop in a riot or has sold his soul.
Don’t be the Lead Actor in a Video Against You
It is certainly true that public opinion is being manipulated against law enforcement by journalists and citizens with agendas, “Look as the brutal cops arrest me, can’t you see the anguish in my face?” One PhD went to Ferguson and purposely did things to get arrested. His face twisted and contorted as police were forced to arrest him, proof that advanced degrees don’t come with common sense.
In Graham v. Connor the Supreme Court stated that force, “requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case,” listing five factors that may be considered when using force: Severity of the crime at issue; Whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others; and Whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or Attempting to evade arrest by flight. These guidelines seem appropriate for enforcement operations in the face of citizens or media with agendas attempting to provoke a violent or forceful response by officers for video purposes. In other words we should balance our legal right to take action with the citizen’s rights to be free from unreasonable seizures. Force and enforcement will never look good when captured on video, of that we can be certain. We can also be certain that force will sometimes be required to seize, detain or arrest suspects. But what we want to do is weigh our need to take action with the potential fall-out. If the crime is not serious, the threat to us minimal and the situation not tense, uncertain or rapidly evolving, step back, take a breath and then put the citation under the windshield wiper, say “Have a nice night,” and drive away.
We certainly have the right to complete a field interview or traffic stop and in some states may arrest for no operator’s license on person, failure to get out of the vehicle when ordered, or failure to sign the citation but should we break the window and taser or forcibly remove the driver or occupant for these types of violations? If we do, then we play into the hands of the provocateur and shouldn’t be surprised when we are now the star of a viral video. Just because we can, doesn’t mean, we should.
What to do when a citizen shoves a cell phone in your face attempting to force a response? Turn on the charm, up the professionalism and let it go…
1. Agencies should invest in officer worn video systems. Oftentimes when the use of force is viewed in context, it is seen as reasonable by the public, i.e. the whole tape shows the events and actions of the suspect leading up to the use of force, not just the actual force usage which will be supplied by the subject.
2. Be professional and be polite. Even when using force, be effective in its application, and professional in your communication. Understand that the subject/provocateur wants an emotional response from you. They want to get you angry, frustrated, loud or profane. Just don’t play their game.
3. Scale your actions and response to the nature of the call or stop. If a physical arrest is not necessary, i.e. a traffic stop, then cite them and let them go.
4. “Let attitude float like a boat downstream,” the late George Thompson, creator of Verbal Judo was fond of saying. Don’t let their antagonistic, provocative, snarky or smartass attitude pull you in and tick you off, just let it go.
5. Know the law. The better you know the law, the better decisions you’ll make on everything from search and seizure to traffic law.
6. Don’t take it personal. Don’t invest your ego in the call or stop. Understand that it’s just business.
7. Remember karma is a B-word. If not today, maybe tomorrow, next week or next year but the opportunity will present itself for this same person to cross your path again and this time for an arrest able offense.
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car
We can’t rewind we’ve gone too far
Pictures came and broke your heart
Put the blame on VCR
- Video Killed the Radio Star The Buggles
Law enforcement and videotaping by us, or of us by citizens, is here and will only expand as more agencies outfit their officers with body worn cameras and more citizens whip out their smart phones and hit record. Sadly we have seen victims of violent crimes lay on the street bleeding while folks don’t help but rather stand back and record. Sad indictment of our society isn’t it. So too those members of the media who rather than cover the tough issues in society focus on a safe target, the cops.
I recently had to remind some rookies that the job has indeed changed and we need to modify our approach. Although videotaping has been around since the camcorder and VHS tapes, the trend of making your own anti-cop video which you can record with a phone and download almost immediately to the web has changed the way we do business.
Let’s subvert or skew their anti-police message by being professional and in control.