After watching a number of youtube videos sent to me, each of which involved a person subject to commands by police who were, upon failure to comply, harmed, it occurred to me that both the victims of the harm, and those who commented about it, failed to appreciate what was happening.
The harm was in response to what we refer to as “contempt of cop,” the failure to do as told, whether completely or quickly enough. The reaction tended to focus on the propriety of the command. Sit down. Stand up. Stay in the car. Get out of the car. Stop the video. Move away. The reaction by the target of the command was that they don’t have to, the command was unlawful or that the order was ridiculous.
The orders may be arbitrary. The police officer didn’t particularly care whether the person was standing or sitting, in the car or out. What the cop cared about, and cared deeply, is that the person complied with his order, no matter what his order was. Command presence.
A core concept in modern police training is that command presence protects the officer. It’s the cop’s way of showing the person with whom he’s interacting that the cop is in control, that he is not weak and is the predator rather than the prey. The corollary is that the person who complies with the officer’s commands is not a threat to the officer’s safety. The person who refuses to comply, who challenges the officer’s command, is a potential threat. Due to the First Rule of Policing, threats must be stopped.
Ironically, the notion behind command presence was not to strike fear into people, but rather respect. If an officer appears confident and in control, he will obtain compliance not through the threat of harm, but through the trust and respect he engenders.
It all boils down to how you present yourself. Do you “look the part”? Do you carry yourself with confidence?, Do you ACT the part? Do you speak the part? If you can, then you are developing Command Presence, which will make your job a LOT easier.
It sounds relatively easy when boiled down to its most simplistic terms, but the exercise of authority in the hands of people who lack the restraint, concern and intelligence to distinguish between command presence and naked force is a dangerous and toxic mix.
While we’re on that subject, exactly what is and isn’t command presence gets a little fuzzy in practical application.
While we’re on the subject, it’s not exactly all that simple when someone doesn’t particularly like what your command voice is telling him to do.
In fact, he might have other ideas about what he wants to do. Such a person might even go so far as to get somewhat testy about you telling him or her what to do. Then what are you going to do?
Any and all of these can make establishing command over the situation difficult.
It isn’t enough just to tell someone what to do, you have to be in a position to enforce it AND keep someone from coming up with his own option for response.
This applies to complainants as well as perpetrators. It’s why police use force against the person who called for their presence, and then fails to comply with their commands. It’s why police ignore pleas that a person can’t breathe on their stomachs, and having commanded he lie that way, enforce it until he’s dead.
While the first level is the command, the problem is that they fear that their bluff may be called. Threats to arrest, to tase, to beat, may be sufficient with some people, but others won’t bite. They’re then left in the position of having to back up their command with forced obedience.
Another contributing problem to an over-reliance on bluffing is ineffective control tactics. Officers are afraid to engage with a violent, resisting perp because they don’t have the tools they need to quickly and effectively end a conflict.
Often pain-inducing, but departmentally approved, defensive tactics, don’t subdue a violent suspect. Instead they serve to spur him to greater heights of resistance. In this kind of situation, all the officer can do is “punish” the perp by inflicting pain for each example of unacceptable behavior. This, however, creates its own battery of problems of noncompliance.
The entirety of this training focuses exclusively on the officer. That they will “inflict pain” isn’t perceived as a negative, but as mandatory. The cavalier mention of punishing the perp isn’t viewed as conduct unbecoming, but conduct they are expected, trained, to use to prevent “unacceptable behavior.” Unacceptable behavior, of course, is noncompliance.
Notably, this is characterized as “defensive tactics,” which will shock most people. The police officer’s view is that he isn’t harming you because he has some perverse desire to inflict pain, but because he fears the noncompliant individual and must use force to back up his threats for his own safety. Without the use of force, the cop’s command presence is lost, and he becomes the prey to the potential predator who refuses to accede to his commands.
In the quest to train officers in the use of command presence, a cottage industry exists to quell any concerns that inflicting pain to enforce compliance is wrong, that Monday morning quarterbacks who question their use of force are not only to be ignored, but proof that their use of force was proper and necessary, and that the law supports their conduct if only they phrase their explanations “properly.”
The point of all this is that, with some exceptions, the cop doesn’t care whether you are standing or sitting, in the car or out, speaking or silent. What he does care about, and cares beyond your appreciation of his purpose, is that you comply with his commands so that he has established his command presence, feels in control of the situation and, therefore, has no fear that you’re a threat to his safety.
Forget constitutional rights, the officer will engage in whatever harm he feels is required to establish his control to the point of killing the victim, if necessary, in order to assure that at the end of the run, he goes home safely. He may feel badly about it afterward, but he has been trained to take command at all costs in the course of the interaction. Cops complain that non-cops don’t get it, and indeed, we don’t. Not because we’re incapable, but rather because we don’t adhere to the First Rule of Policing as manifested by their overarching need for command presence.
From any perspective but that of a cop, this sounds utterly insane. Yet, this is what is running through an officer’s head as he interacts with the public, and why he feels entitled to enforce absurd and arbitrary commands by inflicting pain. Now you know.