Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight, Fight, Fight

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.

33 thoughts on “Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight, Fight, Fight

  1. william doriss

    The Boston PBA president famously said, “The public does not understand Police Work.”
    Well, no kidding! No truer words ever spoken.
    Command Presence has a certain ring to it. Another example of two random words jammed together which are supposed to mean something and clarify a situation in the legal/law enforcement arena. Thanx for spelling it out for us.

    1. SHG Post author

      By focusing on the substance of police/public interactions, we tend not to recognize that our concerns and police concerns don’t intersect. We know we’re not a threat, so our behavior (the good guy curve) is based on our understanding of the interaction. The cop, who perceives every non-cop as potential threat, views our normal good guy behavior as a direct affront to his command presence, thus compelling him to increase his need for control and enforce it.

      It’s one thing if we recognize this, and yet choose to be non-compliant, but a lot of people end up getting hurt, if not worse, without having the slightest clue how or why the cops are behaving so aggressively and violently. When I write about the First Rule of Policing, some people think it’s a snarky joke. It’s most assuredly not a joke, and not realizing this could cost someone their life.

      1. Frank

        Then perhaps the solution is to replace, by statute law if necessary, the “first rule of policing” with the Coast Guard motto. Not “Semper Paratus”, the other one: “We have to go out, we don’t have to come back.”

        If that results in fewer people willing to become police officers, that’s all right with me. If nothing else, it will separate the yahoos from those with a true vocation.

  2. lawrence kaplan

    So given this, what do you suggest people should do when confronted with an arbitrary and absurd police command?

      1. John Barleycorn

        Avoid any movement or eye contact that could be interpreted as a furtive gesture.

        If you want to avoid a disorderly conduct charge and handcuffs keep the creative retorts to a minimum while doing so.

        It also doesn’t hurt to sit like you mean it, stand like you don’t mind, and “move along” with an innate herbivore herding instinct that would make a castrated cow proud when the predators are about.

        This advice is only valid if you are humming the Hawaii Five-O theme song in your head at all times during any police encounter.

          1. John Barleycorn

            Hum, Barney Miller is a little to jazzy for you.

            Bonanza went with Raw Hide, which if fitting for a CDL but you still need to grow into your leather fringe so I guess that’s out.

            Only prosecutors liked The Sopranos theme song so I guess that’s out.

            Welcome Back Kotter could work especially in your comment section but I don’t think that’s it either.

            Andy Griffith comes in at 20:1, and in won’t even speculate about Gilligan’s Island.

            If it were to be Pink Panther or Sesame Street I would be impressed but I don’t think so.

            You are probably a Rockford Files Man.

            1. SHG Post author

              Some good ones in there (and I think very highly of the Sopranos theme, by the way), but nope. I’ll give you a hint: Chuck Connors.

        1. George B

          > Avoid any movement or eye contact that could be interpreted as a furtive gesture.

          You’re best off if you are wearing a smock with no waistband, and have had both arms amputated.

          Just Because.

          1. John Barleycorn

            I could roll with an accessorized smock.

            Some of the new spit guards are rather Hannibal Lector looking and if matched with a pair of cuff mitts (amputation is still a little extreme) might seriously accessorize and complement a nicely pressed smock.

            I don’t think everyone could pull off the look but it certainly has GQ potential.

      2. lawrence kaplan

        SHG: I, of course, wasn’t asking for free legal advice. Just for some informal suggestions from a very knowledgeable individual.

        John Barleycorn: Thanks.

        1. SHG Post author

          I, of course, wasn’t asking for free legal advice. Just for some informal suggestions from a very knowledgeable individual.

          Lawyers have a name for “informal suggestions rom a very knowledgeable individual.” It’s called “free legal advice.” And I trust you realize that Barleycorn is an secret agent of foreign intelligence here to spread disinformation.

          1. John Barleycorn


            No worries at all Lawrence.

            I am bound by tradition anyway, and do happen to have the ceremoniously naked nomadic Jezebel of the Zappa Nation of No Guilds tattooed on my bicep and I am sworn to stay tuned into proactive distress calls gathered throughout the globe which are rebroadcast via the Mother Ship located off the Icelandic coast which rebroadcast every day at midnight Greenwich Mean Time to the “prox”-“i”-“mity” chip in my elbow.

            And….Now, that our esteemed host has inadvertently exposed all legally guild-ed ones soft underbelly liability that is not of their making but foisted upon them by the powers that be we can now proceed unfettered to the first of the eleven Secret, Probing, Pro Bono, Principles (the known as the SP-PB-P) that must be considered when the shielded ones arrive “to save the day, society, and you from yourself”.

            1) If you or someone else near you dials 911 or you just happen to be strolling or rolling down the avenue and encounter all the law a badge can represent in the name of “protecting” and “serving” without severing the peace you should be prepared for a 411 probing that will bleed every last carbon atom of life from the hypocrisy and nature enforcement in the name of “keeping the peace”.

            For if you don’t come to terms with this and act accordingly, the badge and all it (“by insistence of necessity”) represents…will have your fleece on the loom before you can see the spinning wheel of the enforcers mind at work.

            This first principle has come to be widely accepted by society as being in and of itself in your and its best interest.

            However, if for some reason or another your “self” becomes suspicious that this might not always be true and you find yourself smelling the foul stench emanating from the tonsils of the beast herself as her minions on a levels prepare to hold you “accountable” you will in fact have to actually pay someone for advice and counsel unless you happen to end up in the right bar at the right time in some hamlet somewhere along the coast of Iceland when the Mother Ship’s crew takes unannounced shore leave once yearly or there abouts.

            P.S. Did you know that 87.64% of the people who decide to go to law school in the United States submit their applications to their top three preferred institutions on a Tuesday Afternoon? I am now certain it is due to the fact that the Moody Blues are now heard in elevators across the nation and nobody knows what year it is anymore.

            P.S.S. Chuck Conor could have been a great hockey player if he grew up in Iceland. But the real Q is…was the esteemed host allowed to watch the Rifleman while eating grilled cheese sandwiches with the crust cut off or did he become a fan after he was old enough to go on a date?

            P.S.S.S. These good cop , bad cop, first rule of policing posts get way to many comments and need to escape the rabbit hole. The cheap seats want more nuanced and three dimensional interpretation of the contextual
            reality and interpretation that defines order and accountability under the ever evolving interpretations of law from policing powers to the supremes sucking their teeth during oral arguments.

            1. John Barleycorn

              It was obvious all along but I always assumed you to be more of a nuts and bolts type.

              Life is good…and consequential.

              Line drive to off the right field fence or nothing but net.

              Swing number two…

              Giving up? What does that mean?

  3. Mark Draughn

    Thanks for that interesting explanation. It makes a lot of sense in its own context. And it really explains a lot. For example, you’ve mentioned before the disproportionately violent response that cops sometimes have to deaf people. It’s hard to establish command presence over someone who can’t hear your commands…which is interpreted as a threat by the officer who doesn’t understand why the person isn’t obeying.

    But I’m not ready to completely abandon my theory that some of them are just sociopaths looking for an excuse to ruin someone’s day.

    1. SHG Post author

      Just for “fun,” I’m throwing in this oldie but goodie. The driver is in diabetic shock.

      Note the part where the officer (he appears to be the sergeant) shows up late, after the others have the guy on the ground, and starts kicking him, saying “stop resisting, motherfucker.” If this video doesn’t make a good cop ashamed, nothing will. After one cop announces they found insulin in his pocket, he shows his concern for the other cops by asking “if anybody’s hurt.” Afterward, it’s all good for a laugh, because they will all go home for dinner that night.

      1. Brett Middleton

        Worse seems to be at the end where the laughing cop says he could have taken the guy by himself. Seriously? That’s his take-away lesson from the incident, that it’s easy to beat up on people in diabetic shock? The whole aftermath sounds like a bunch of adrenaline junkies flyin’ high.

  4. Brett Middleton

    If the goal is to establish trust and respect, where in the world did they get the idea that arbitrary behavior would move things in that direction? Who trusts and respects someone who behaves in ways that have only a tenuous connection, at best, with the reality of a given situation? Granted, perceptions of reality may differ somewhat among cops, Bad Guys, and people on the Good Guy Curve. Still, it doesn’t seem like anyone vetted this idea with a psychologist, or even someone who passed Psych 101 as an elective to fill a science requirement for their English Lit degree. Arbitrary commands seem more likely to produce confusion and frustration than trust and respect, especially when they are impossible to fulfill (such as “stop trying to breath” or “stop having a seizure”).

    1. SHG Post author

      The concept was initiated with trust and respect as the stated goals, meaning that if police were sufficiently confident and in command, people would perceive them as such. The notion requires a foundation of people agreeing that they inherent trust and respect police to begin with, and this would confirm that trust. Therein lies one issue.

      The second, however, is in the execution (no pun intended) as opposed to the theory. Even well-founded theories of law enforcement tend to have some problems on the street.

  5. Jim Majkowski

    “Command voice” doesn’t work in real life the way it does in Star Wars or Dune. One of the guys who purport to teach “command presence” also wrote:

    This is why behaving like an insecure alpha is going to get you into more trouble than out of it.

    Eric Hoffer once said: Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength. That statement applies in spades to command presence without faith in one’s defensive tactics. It also explains why some officers go overboard. It isn’t because they are assholes or mean, it’s because down deep they are scared that they don’t have the resources to handle a violent offender.

    1. SHG Post author

      I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that quote’s appeal to machismo. It might be an effective way to make the point with manly cops, but it still seems better to explain it in terms of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing, rather than because it proves your the more manly man.

      1. Jim Majkowski

        I thought the quote was gently hinting that the ones who bluster had better improve their skills. One problem with hoping that people will do the right thing because it is the right thing is that the ones who would already do, or at least try, and the ones who don’t seldom comprehend the argument.

  6. spencer neal

    Where it gets ridiculous is when different cops are yelling contradictory orders to someone or even when the same cop yells contradictory things.

    1. SHG Post author

      That always makes my head explode.

      Cop 1: On the ground
      Cop 2: Hands in the air
      Cop 3: Freeze

      Then one shoots, and they all shoot, because cops, oblivious to the untenable situation they created.

  7. Mike G.

    Some police officers have “command presence”, and you can tell who they are, but quite a few don’t and never will. And you can easily tell who they are.

    IANAL, but [Ed. Note: balance deleted with extreme prejudice.]

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