Playful and Safe, With Guns

My expectations weren’t particularly high for the post by Nicole Flatow at Think Progress, given that its title was, well, a bit grandiose.

Why Cops Pull The Trigger: Pulling Back The Curtain On Police Shootings

This is more scholarly book territory than the stuff of posts, particularly as the writer is a JD turned legal journalist. The internet is replete with people writing Big Posts about subjects they know nothing about.  Yet, it turned out to be a far more informative post than I ever imagined, and Flatow’s fine writing combined with a trio of sources, former cop turned cop-prof at the John Jay College of Coppery Peter Moskos, former (very) Special Agent turned prof at a California (ahem) university for “working adults” called Brandman, David Long, and Kyle Kaza, a former LA cop who apparently couldn’t get a teaching job, so went on to sell real estate. 

While no one (or three) former law enforcement officer speaks for the rest, and I venture to guess that the three Flatow relied on for the post are among the smarter and more articulate of the bunch, they bring some the flavor of “them” to “us.”  Before any of you haters and yahoos start griping about how they’re all evil, consider very seriously the virtue of our having a better understanding of what goes through their heads as they perform their job.

No, there is no explanation for why cops think it’s within their authority to rape people in search of evidence, which would have made an excellent question for Moskos and Long, but Flatow didn’t get too far below the surface. Still, there are some fun and informative aspects to the post.

For example, on the subject of why police kill people when they’re responding for a call for help in a non-criminal matter:

Criminal justice professor and former Baltimore police officer Peter Moskos said the family was wrong to call the police. While many think officers play a role in community affairs, Moskos says police view their jobs otherwise. “This idea that cops are always at your beck and call is the basis of the 911 system and it doesn’t work,” Moskos said. “When you call the police, you have to remember what cops do is arrest people. If you don’t want to be arrested, you probably shouldn’t call the police.”

Or why do car chases end up with dead bodies (a question I pondered recently, by the way):

Police love a chase. Even as Moskos blasted the officers in the Iowa incident for engaging in a vehicle pursuit, he said he probably would have done the same in their situation, which is why it’s so important to have rules and a chain of command that curb that behavior. “There’s a strong instinct to catch the bad guy as a cop. That’s what you do. … And it’s fun. And the adrenaline’s flowing. … So you have to assume that cops will want to chase and you also fight that urge.”

But at the end of the chase?

“I wish the guy had just given up [during the chase],” Kazan said. “I wish this didn’t go down this way. This guy didn’t need to be dead and this officer doesn’t need to have this kind of shooting on his conscience for the rest of his life. It’s a toughie. It’s bad for all.”

While she doesn’t know that there is a name for it, Flatow sums it all up at the end with a quote:

Even in the best of circumstances, however, and in the eye of a recording device, incidents sometimes happen because police are afraid, particularly when the threat of danger is unclear.

“It’s the only job I’ve ever had — and I’ve had several — where your number one goal is to survive your shift, your number two goal is for your partner to survive your shift, the number three goal is for the shift to survive the night or the day,” said Kazan, who has since left the police profession to work in real state.

Does the post answer the Big Question it purports to address?  Come on, are you nuts? But it’s really quite a good start for people whose only view of cops is as arch-villains and non-humans.  And regardless of whether you love, hate or reserve judgment on law enforcement, it’s far better to speak with a modicum of understanding than merely out of ignorance.

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