In an extraordinary article in Law and Order, a police management magazine, a point that has been made here innumerable times has finally been made in black and white: There is no “officer safety” exception to the Constitution.
The article, No “Officer Safety” Exception to the Constitution, Charles Huth, Jack Colwell, and Randy Means, Law and Order, Jan. 2015, is very clear that officer safety has gone too far. They state:
A number of law enforcement agencies are currently under fire for their patterns and practices of “stop and frisk.” This is only the present manifestation of what has been for decades a national epidemic of illegal police practices rationalized by the mantra “officer safety.” Frisks are not supposed to be the rule in Terry-type stops; the rule would be no frisk. The same is true for handcuffing subjects and placing them in the back of police cars. (emphasis added)
ECLS notes that this doesn’t come from some criminal-loving cop hater, but from some of the most respected voices in the law enforcement community.
Huth is the past President of the National Law Enforcement Training Center* and a Captain with the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department. After the Eric Garner death, Huth was on CBS News showing the difference between an arm-bar chokehold and the much safer lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR). Colwell retired from the KCMOPD after 29 years and is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect with Huth, a program for increasing officer connection with the community and decreasing confrontations. Finally, Means is a partner at The Thomas & Means Law Firm, and has a long history as a police legal advisor, and risk management at the IACP.
As the authors note, law enforcement involves a heaping dose of “law.” While police have an unfortunate tendency to both be simultaneously ignorant of law, while claiming that their every whim is the law and citizens either comply or suffer the consequences, there is actual law that has been almost entirely ignored by police.
What the authors fail to note, of course, is that judges have been overwhelmingly complicit in the “officer safety”-trumps-law-no-matter-what meme. Yet, there is no constitutional authority for such a view.
So, where does one find the officer safety exception to the Constitution? Generally speaking, it doesn’t exist. Generally, the rights of the people trump the rights of an officer to be guaranteed a safe outcome in dangerous situations.” (emphasis added)
This. The pervasive attitude of shoot first, just in case, has cost too many innocent lives. Yes, there are dangers to being a cop. You knew that going in, and surely pound that home every chance you get in your demand for respect. The respect you refuse to show others.
If the choice is between feeling safer by violating someone’s Constitutional rights or taking calculated risks while honoring our oath, the pledge we made when our badges found their home on our chests is supposed to win every time.
The fact that this article comes from respected voices in the law enforcement community, and appears in a police magazine, is huge. Maybe, just maybe, enough blood has been needlessly spilled that even the cops are beginning to realize that the First Rule of Policing is unsustainable and fundamentally wrong.
Sure, cops should make it home for dinner alive. But so should everyone else. The public is not fodder for police fear, with a bullet or beating just to be sure that it’s them, not the cop, who might be harmed.
But merely saying the obvious isn’t sufficient, not by a long shot. As ECLS notes,
I can tell you that this is not the way that officers are being trained. I can tell you that this is not the way that most officers on the street view it.
Perhaps this will have an impact in both the training, and more importantly, the attitude of cops on the street, that the lives of non-cops are not expendable so that their lives are safe. The Constitution provides no right to the First Rule of Policing, and there is no justification for cops, who make the choice of taking a job that has the potential for danger, to shoot first just because they’re perpetually scared.
But it’s not just the cops who need to learn the law. More important is that judges, who have no excuse whatsoever for not understanding that there is no constitutional right to officer safety, to end using it as an excuse for cops to kill, to violate the Fourth Amendment, and to wave off police abuse as if it can’t be helped. Or worse yet, that the safety of cops is more important than the safety of anyone else.
It’s time for judges to stop enabling this fiction that costs innocent people their lives. Cops do not get a free pass on harming people and violating their rights just by uttering the officer safety mantra. Judges need to remember that the Constitution exists to protect us from the government. The “officer safety” exception to the Constitution doesn’t exist, and it’s time for judges to do their job and protect everyone, not just the cops.