I was recently having a discussion with a friend from high school who did not know I had gone into law enforcement. He commented that he was glad to hear it did not seem like I had a “Power Trip” the way many cops do. This got me thinking. As a law enforcement officer, do I feel there are many cops who are on a power trip? After thinking about it, I realized the answer is…No. Of course there is the rare, “You will respect my authority” type people…every department has that one guy who makes everyone else roll their eyes. No…Cops, do not have a power trip, but it is very easy to understand why people would feel that way. Let me explain…
Most cops are NOT on any sort of power trip whatsoever. Instead what you have are people who are in a hurry, observing officer safety training, overworked, frustrated or impatient. I will detail some of the top reasons it appears the cop you are interacting with is on a power trip…and what is REALLY going on.
Are you a serial killer?
Are you America’s most wanted? Perhaps you just robbed a bank and killed your spouse and now you are stopped by a cop on your flight to Mexico? No??? Well YOU know what type of person you are, but the cop you are talking to does not. Cops have been assaulted or killed by perfectly ordinary people like college professors, kindly little old ladies, clean cut guys in polo shirts, housewives, business men and even children and teens.
Because of this, cops and corrections personnel have to be aware of Officer Safety. This is the term used to describe the tactics used by police when dealing with the public. As recent events throughout the country has proven, it is DANGEROUS to be in uniform. As such the police have developed a series of tactics when dealing with people. Things like watching where the hands are. Or standing just out of view almost behind you on a traffic stop. Or asking you to place your hands on the wheel as they approach or turn off the vehicle. These things are NOT PERSONAL they are TACTICAL.
The officer has no idea who you are. He HAS to treat you like anybody else under those same circumstances. It isn’t that he truly expects the mom in the minivan to turn and shoot him, but it is important for him to perform his duties the same way every single time. That way when the officer is tired after working overtime or feeling sick from a cold or distracted by his personal life, he will continue to automatically perform his duties the same way each and every time. It is about his safety and going home at the end of the day. There is a direct correlation between poor officer safety skills and being assaulted or killed by that rare bad guy who maybe DID just rob that bank or kill his wife.
So remember…if an officer asks you to take your hands out of your pockets or please stand over there where he can see you better, it is NOT personal. It is not influenced by your age, sex, race, religion or whatever…it is just a standard response due to training and is NOT a Power Trip.
Bandaid on a Battleaxe wound…
I believe most of the time when people feel a cop is being rude or is on a power trip, it is because of the “Battleaxe wound” problem. That problem is also known as TIME. Being in law enforcement is the ultimate act of juggling impossible situations that took others decades to create, in an impossible timeframe, with little to no resources and laws that rigidly restrict what you can and cannot do. It means showing up to work everyday with your hair on fire, responding to a situation that has been festering for years between people who are all convinced they are right…and being asked to somehow miraculously solve all their problems…you know…like on CSI. Then repeat.
Cops are nearly always in a hurry. You don’t know what is going on behind the scenes in the rest of the city or county…you are calling about that suspicious car you saw slow rolling your neighborhood. It seems perfectly reasonable that the police should send a bunch of cops to find out what that dastardly villain is up to.
What you don’t realize is that at the exact same time there is an interrupted burglary that just occurred and the suspect is running. There is a K9 track trying to find him. On the other side of town there is an officer responding to “That house” for a 911 welfare check. The cop knows several stolen cars have been taken from there recently and there are always at least 3-4 subjects with felony warrants for their arrest loitering about with their meth and stolen property (and weapons). There are also a half dozen other “priority” calls pending (things that are either in progress or about to be in progress or highly dangerous or important calls), along with another dozen lower priority calls pending…including yours. It isn’t that YOUR call isn’t important. It is instead that you are not actively being hurt or killed like several of the others higher priority calls.
What ends up happening is cops triage. Cops see the gaping battleaxe wound (the situation) and the response is usually to slap a bandaid on the proverbial wound and hope it doesn’t fall off again before the end of his or her shift. They then move on to the next call in the que of twenty pending calls and hope the next shift has to deal with the idiots over at 123 Jerry Springer Ave. People who are in the middle of their own maelstrom of multi-generational dysfunction, do not care that cops don’t have the ability or authority to solve their complicated family dynamic problem or teleport their stolen goods back to them.
Cops above all else tend to be problem solvers. Believe it or not there is NOTHING that cop would like better than to be able to instantly resolve your problem. That would mean not having to ever come back to your house again and being able to always arrest the bad guy and get your stuff back. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work that way. This is frustrating for both parties and will often result in an officer being curt with you when he seems to quickly explain the situation and leaves.
Personally, I try to take a minute and just let the person feel HEARD. It is part of my “Don’t be a Dick” mentality. Of course most people realize what the cop is saying to them is true, but they feel frustrated and are venting. I personally find it is better to let people vent for a few minutes and try to actually explain why I am not going to kick down their neighbor’s door and drag them out into the street and beat them over their property line dispute…It always amazes me what people feel the police should be able to do to OTHER people, but are the first to believe THEIR rights somehow supercede those of everyone else.
So remember the next time you are talking to a cop and he appears to be barely listening to you, stops frequently with his head cocked like a dog (listening to his radio in his earpiece), or just generally seems to be in a hurry…he probably is! Most cops TRY to give each situation the time it deserves, but unfortunately with staffing levels being what they are in most places, it is impossible. Instead you will often be left feeling unsatisfied when the cop shows up to your “prowler” complaint, shines his flashlight around a bit, announces everything is fine and speeds off. Chances are he just stopped in to clear your call while enroute to another. Though if your call DOES end up being something, don’t be surprised to see cops come out of the woodwork to help you. Then it is the other guy on the other side of the city or county left wondering why nobody is showing up.
You called me for this…?
Closely related to the above, but slightly different is the “You called me for this” syndrome. Does that cop seem like he is on a power trip or is just plain rude when he shows up to your incident? What is he there for exactly? Sometimes the absolute WORST calls (as in people being the most angry / feral) are for things like civil problems. I personally feel it comes down to evolution. We are programmed through tens of thousands of years of evolution to club threats over the head and drag them away from our cave. That’s why people who are normally perfectly reasonable, professional, functional members of society will sometimes lose their freaking minds over things like a neighbor blowing his leaves onto the other person’s side of the shared yard.
Why does the cop seem so frustrated and like he is on a power trip when he shows up? Besides the above mentioned reasons and another little known fact. A cop has to respond to a variety of calls in a single shift. You can go to a fatality accident with a screaming parent pinned in the car and a dead child, to a civil problem, to a domestic violence call where the victim has been badly beaten, but refuses to cooperate to a child sexual assault case and then back to a civil problem.
While the calling party is screaming incoherently over the neighbor’s dog shitting on his lawn, the officer is thinking about that last call he was just on. The call where the family was hysterical because they just ran over their 4 year old son’s head in the driveway. That cop had been trying not to sob like a baby himself as he tried to do his job and conduct the investigation. After all he probably has children himself. Shortly after that he is at the civil problem guy’s house and trying to do everything he can not to scream at the guy and tell him to shut the fuck up and go hug his damn kids, because that is what is REALLY important. The cop may appear cold and rude and like he is on a power trip…But in reality he is just a PERSON trying to process all that is happening in the day…and eventually throughout his career.
When cops are with family, friends and other cops they tend to deal with these parts of the job with humor. When out on a shift it has to be shoved down deep and the “game face” put on. Just remember…that cop may NOT be on a power trip…he may just be having a really bad day and trying to keep from taking it out on you…So it is the cold bearing and “Just the facts Mam” that you see.
Conversations between police and citizens…
I understand that some people will read this and continue to feverishly believe all cops are vile murderers out to kill and maim in the name of the “power trip” or racism or maybe just plain sociopathy. There is nothing I can say or do to change the minds of those rare zealots. As far as everyone else, I feel it is important for law enforcement to have frank discussions with the citizens we enforce the laws for.
In the end we are all just people and all have to try to do our part to keep society from unravelling. Hopefully my babbling has helped someone out there think of law enforcement as something other than whatever their preconceived stereotypes are and gave some food for thought. Feel free to comment if you disagree or if this has helped you understand a bit more about the realities of policing.
Also published on Medium.