Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Good Cop, Bad Cop

There's been a lot of police abuse lately with the OWS protests over the US. I'm watching these videos of cops going off on empty-handed protesters. And I find myself feeling both mad and vulnerable.

Why do police behave like this? Maybe it's the megaman-like riot gear that's turning them sour.

Or it could also be the police acting as a group causing deindividuation. There's a tendency for people to behave outside peaceful social norms when they aren't individually identifiable. This seems like another good reason to enforce officers wearing their name tags. Officers sometimes forget their name plates when handling protests.

We've really created a perfect storm for misconduct. We have deindividuation, authority roles reminiscent of the Stanford Prison Experiment, and pressure to blindly follow orders like in the Milgrim Experiment. It's no wonder so many police become violently antisocial. Maybe we shouldn't be getting pissed at individual, callous officers. Instead, perhaps it's appropriate to evaluate police environment. If we can change their environment, perhaps then we can change their group behavior.

And this isn't impossible to do. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Make name plates clear. Put officer names and badge number on the back of their uniforms like a jersey.
  • Make laws that unambiguously allow citizens to record police when they're on duty. Police must not tell citizens that they cannot film.
  • Require officers to wear cameras (not just the kind used to monitor protesters). Some cities have already experimented with this. This helps protect good officers from frivolous claims as well.
  • Stop having officers dress like armored ninjas.
  • Maybe don't use wartime weapons like sound canons and tanks. Scaring everyone around you can't help.
  • Sometimes an individual or a few protesters can spoil the bunch and behave poorly. This does not authorize permission to launch an attack on entire crowds of people.
  • Save tasers, pepperspray, tear gas, flash bangs, fists, and batons for actual violent encounters. Even if police insist on arresting people illegally, they can at least do so without hurting them.
  • Many people are looking for work and are quite capable. Fire bad cops.
Not sure what I mean about police violence against protesters? Take a look:
  • (Video) A veteran was shot in the head with a tear gas canister. Then, when others came to his aid, an officer threw a flashbang grenade at them.
  • (Video) Another veteran is marched down by a line of officers in riot gear. One officer leaves the pack and beats the man down with his baton until his spleen ruptures.
  • (Video) Sitting protesters at UC Davis are peppersprayed at point-blank range.
  • (Video) Octogenarian professors are not off limits.
  • (Video) Some "nudging" with batons as described by the Associated Press.
Now this is not to say there aren't good cops out there. There are:
  • (Video) Cop checks on dressed-up protesters.
  • (Video) Cop looks out for protesters' welfare.
  • (Video) Police arresting an unruly jackass without beating him
  • (Video) This isn't in the US, but look at how the police interact with the suspect. They threaten him with tasers, but they don't use them because they're not quite necessary. They use as much physical force as they need, no more. This happens to include legitimately wrestling the suspect to the ground. Also note how stupid this suspect is. Had he followed the advice at the end of this post, he would be a lot better off.
Unfortunately, some good officers are also retaliated against by fellow officers.

Regardless if the cop you're interacting with is good or bad,  here's some decent advice (I'm not your lawyer):
  1. Don't be an asshole. Really, don't be a fucking asshole.
  2. Be polite, if you can handle that.
  3. Don't resist arrest, and don't EVER touch a cop.
  4. If a cop says he's trying to do you a favor by searching you or asking you to confess to something, then remember that cops can lie to you all day long.
  5. Say, "I'm not resisting, but I don't consent to searches."
  6. Don't offer information that can be used against you. And if you can't tell the truth, then don't say anything.
  7. If you are being arrested, announce (yes, verbally) that you are using your right to remain silent and that you want a lawyer.
  8. If you are unsure if you can go or if you don't think the officer has a right to keep you, then ask if you are free to go.

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