Cooperate Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

Via Reason’s Matt Welch, the Washington Post provides the insight of 17-year LAPD veteran turned “homeland security” professor at Colorado Tech University, Sunil Dutta, as to the mindset of the police officer on the mean streets of Ferguson. Lest there be any doubt as to where this is heading, it’s entitled, I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.

Don’t start spitting yet. Wait for the deeper insight into how terribly wrong we are to misunderstand everything coming out of Ferguson, from the killing of Michael Brown to the management of the community.  There is a very real problem, according to Dutta. We don’t get it.

It is also a terrible calumny; cops are not murderers. No officer goes out in the field wishing to shoot anyone, armed or unarmed. And while they’re unlikely to defend it quite as loudly during a time of national angst like this one, people who work in law enforcement know they are legally vested with the authority to detain suspects — an authority that must sometimes be enforced. Regardless of what happened with Mike Brown, in the overwhelming majority of cases it is not the cops, but the people they stop, who can prevent detentions from turning into tragedies.

In case you’re wondering, the calumny (meaning “character assassination”) has nothing to do with the smear of dead Michael Brown, but the “cops are murderers” strawman Dutta seeks to sneak past us.

Of course “cops are not murderers.” Murderers are murderers. Sometimes, murderers are cops.   And indeed, in the “overwhelming majority of cases it is not the cops.”  Nobody suggests otherwise. But then, how many cops have to murder to make it a problem for you.  Is one percent of a half million interactions sufficient? Why that’s a mere 5000 murders. A drop in your bucket, Dutta?

Of course, there are also the beatings, the tasings, the occasional rapes and/or sexual assaults, but you didn’t claim cops aren’t rapists, and I wouldn’t want to put words in your mouth.

Working the street, I can’t even count how many times I withstood curses, screaming tantrums, aggressive and menacing encroachments on my safety zone, and outright challenges to my authority.

Did someone tell you at the Academy that the public would be showering you with kisses and adoration?  Perhaps they suggested you would carry all that cool hardware on your service belt because people would get in your personal space to request your autograph, you rock star, you.

Oh wait. You were a cop. Your job was to deal with people who were often displeased to see you. Are you complaining? Do you want to give back your pension?

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.

That’s not, of course, because you, the police officer, are smarter, more concerned, more thoughtful, more sensitive or more knowledgeable.  Rather, it’s because you have weapons and will use them. So this is as true for police officers as, say, an armed robber on the street.

Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me.

In most human interactions, there is a bit of rational give and take. Granted, you shirk it off because you’ve heard it all before.  Oh, to be so world-weary that no one (who doesn’t sign your evals) could possibly have anything to say that might be worth listening to.  But you have command presence; right or wrong is well past relevant. It’s now about control, and you will use whatever force is available to exert total domination because, well, that’s what somebody in the Academy told you to do.

Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?

This is where we, sadly, part ways.  When you use the word “cooperate,” you do so applying the cop definition.  We, non-cops, are to cooperate with you, cop.  We, as you’ve already told us, are to do as you say.  Your idea of cooperation has nothing whatsoever to do with cooperation.  It’s just a much better word than “comply or I will inflict pain, perhaps even death.”  If they put “comply” on the side of a cruiser, it would really suck as marketing, so you call it “cooperation,” which sounds all warm and fuzzy, much as “stop resisting” sounds reasonable as you pound your baton into an unconscious person’s skull.  That only happens rarely too.

The disconnect seems to be that the public just won’t do whatever a cop says. Sometimes, they won’t do it fast enough. Sometimes, they don’t do it right enough. Sometimes, they won’t do it at all.  Your solution is just do it or you’ve brought the wrath of the police down on your own head.  You kinda like the power of cop. It lets you blame the victim for doing what you have to do.

Thanks, Dutta, for explaining this.  Thanks for teaching everyone why we continue to have these issues with people getting killed by the non-murderer cops, who just want us to do as they command.  And especially, thanks for clearing up the nagging issue of whether pinning a shield to one’s shirt creates an inexplicable potential for dangerously violent behavior based on numerous concerns spelled out in the DSM (pick your number).

You see, we don’t have anything particularly against cops. We have a problem with violent crazies with weapons and shields. Some of them happen to be cops. They shouldn’t.  So what exactly does a professor of “homeland security” teach?  I’m betting it involves cooperation. Or else.

And the reactions roll in: Ken White at Popehat, and Rick Horowitz.  Neither appears interested in taking Prof. Dutta’s class.



61 thoughts on “Cooperate Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

  1. RRose

    His last article for the WaPo was in favor of abolishing police internal affairs departments. [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

  2. Dan

    This guy is a turd and that he’s affiliated with a “university” is embarrassing. For the university.

  3. Charles B. Frye

    I learned everything Professor Dutta wanted to teach me in his essay after watching three episodes of “Cops.”

  4. Richard G. Kopf


    I wonder whether Terry v. Ohio, improperly understood and mistakenly taught in police academies to give virtually unlimited power to stop (and frisk) citizens as they go about their business, emboldened generations of cops to be overly aggressive when they encounter citizens who simply don’t look right? If I am right that Terry is at least partially responsible for the Robo Cop mentality that you decry, then maybe someone ought to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider. In my view, unless Terry goes away, “stand and deliver” is the sensible mantra for citizens accosted by overzealous cops. Sometimes, legal realism sucks.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      I’m reluctant to blame the tool for a bad mechanic, Judge. From the legal realist perspective, he’s got a point, not because there is any doctrinal basis for what he says, but because they own the weapons, the public and, dare I say it, the courts.

      In fact, if I had to offer a riposte to his lunge, it’s that the idea that disobeying a lawful order (or resisting arrest), without the prerequisite actual underlying crime, should be a very good reason for judges to not only dismiss, but impose sanctions against the police. They are emboldened because no one says no and stops them. Let’s stop them.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Who’s your Daddy?

        Justice Douglas speaking in his dissent of Terry vs. Ohio

        ~~~”To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path. Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern forms of lawlessness. But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment.”~~~

        Hum…perhaps this sentiment answers part of the unarticulated “why” regarding what is happening in Ferguson.

        1. SHG Post author

          Those were simpler times, when allowing police to conduct a stop without cause didn’t seem nearly as much of a threat. Douglas was able to see a little further down the path than the majority. But Supreme Court Justices are hampered by their sanitized reality, even Justice Douglas. The secret wasn’t giving cops the Terry stop, but making cops invincible and presumption of good faith irrebuttable.

    2. Greg S

      Actually the insane belief in they myth of authority is far more to blame. Nobody has any moral right to force another person to obey them. Legal doesn’t very often equate with moral.

      1. SHG Post author

        Don’t go to “moral” right. This is law. Save your morality discussion for philosophy class or your lean in group.

  5. Tim Cushing

    “…in the overwhelming majority of cases it is not the cops, but the people they stop, who can prevent detentions from turning into tragedies.”

    So, is Dutta actually arguing/admitting that the public needs to exercise self-control because cops clearly can’t control themselves?

    1. SHG Post author

      If I was cynical, I might say it sounds an awful like the rationale of a wife beater: She just didn’t listen. Sounds an awful lot like blaming the victim to me.

      1. Alex Stalker

        That was the first thing that popped into my head after reading Dutta’s words. “I wouldn’t have had to hit her if she had just done what I said.”

      2. George B

        What came to mind for me was the word:
        from the best documentary ever made of the future err present: The Prisoner.
        Synopsis: #6 is making trouble again; and labeled “Unmutual” by #2.

        By not prostrating yourself in front of Rover ^H^H Dutta, you are being Unmutual.

  6. Bob Mc

    “Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary…”

    Aren’t all these 1st Amendment protected speech?

      1. David

        Some of the stuff he says will lead to a beating is so obviously protected that part of me wonders if this article would make good evidence in a suit alleging systemic rights violations at the LAPD.

  7. lawrence kaplan

    Actually, what the police should put on the side of their vehicles is not “Comply,” but” Comply–or die!”

      1. Dragoness Eclectic

        I favor the slogan on the Decepticon police car from the first “Transformers” movie: “To punish and enslave”.

  8. John Barleycorn

    Agent Cogent and Concise are on union break and told me I was pushing it. But this is worth the iron fist deletion risk.

    This breaking activity scheduling news just came in:

    In order to get more legitimate protestors to attend the bedtime rally in ferguson tonight they are going to be staging a Heroes Only Cage Match with no option of retreat between two black men in bullet proof vests with billy clubs vs. one white cop in a t-shirt with a knife.

    Professor Sunil Dutta will be refereeing.

    The looters will be giving away free energy drinks and pastries.

    The National Guard will be ushering the event tonight while smoking swisher sweet 50/50 blunts with weed donated from Colorado.

    And if that is not enough to get you off the couch tomorrow night at six the The St. Louis City and Ferguson PD’s are bringing their wives and are going to be hosting a BBQ and a family recipe sharing event entitled “Everybody’s Entitled to Make it Home for Dinner”. All process from this event will be donated to the Mental Illness Awareness and Treatment Foundation.

    Tentatively scheduled for Wednesday at noon will be a lunch seminar with guest speakers from the St. Louis County DAs office entitled “The Grand Jury and You”. Attorney General Holder himself is scheduled to be the headline speaker but currently the organizers of the event and his agent are negotiating the legality of waving his fee in lue of a contribution to the future Presidential Library.

    And if no looting occurs on Wednesday night Caption Johnson will be rewarding the press and legitimate protestors with ecstasy laced ice-cream cones while hosting the tryouts for American Idol with the winner advancing to the national finals and the top ten runner ups will without a felony will be getting a scholarship for the two years criminal justice program at the local community college and a guaranteed slot at the state police academy. Runner ups with a felony will be getting a scholarship to their choice of the court reporter or paralegal program.

  9. DP

    “challenges to my authority”????? You’re nothing (probably) more than a high school graduate with a badge and a gun. You “earn” authority; you don’t demand it. He probably refers to non-cops as “civilians” also, like he is some armed forces person serving his country rather than some yahoo with an inferiority complex.

  10. Charles B. Frye

    So, should we (you) delve deeper to discuss what a Rubik’s Cube Section 1983 actions against law enforcement and governments have become, leading to the threat of litigation ringing hollow to even the most dense LEO? Only in the rationale for reasonable suspicion and probable cause to justify a search do you see judicial logic pretzel-ized to the extent “good faith” and “reasonable force” are when a LEO is accused of excessive force. Courts have seemingly adopted the “First Rule of Policing” as well. The threat of litigation, and judicial oversight of our law enforcement officers, is laughable under current law.

  11. bill

    His advice has worked wonderfully for more than a few deaf/mute people, people in diabetic comas or photographing your wife’s future office The really rich part is his strong support of asserting your constitutional rights – No Cop would ever take that as disrespect. Even if you bow down follow his advice, which Roger Carlos did to a T, you can still end up getting beaten and blamed for it so what’s his point really?

  12. anonymouse

    “To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path. Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern forms of lawlessness. But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment. ”
    Terry v Ohio Dissent

    The dissent is more reasonable and should have been the majority, in my opinion.

    1. SHG Post author

      So you couldn’t be bothered to read the comment that already gave that quote. Nothing like being sloppy second.

      1. anonymouse

        I missed it. I thought that i had read all of the comments, but obviously, I hadn’t. I hope that your snarky reply worked to give your ego the boost you must were hoping it would.

        1. SHG Post author

          Of course it did. My ego depends entirely on your failure to read and my ability to point out the obvious to the anonymous. You are very important to my self-esteem.

          On the bright side, at least I didn’t trash the comment as I do most of yours.

        2. bill

          I hope that your snarky reply worked to give your ego the boost you must were hoping it would.

          . Indeed, b/c everyone knows SHG is all about Belly Rubs and Self-Esteem hugs. My response is OT enough you’ll probably never see it, but if you do, word to the wise, firing sitting fastballs at him doesn’t usually end with the desired result

          1. SHG Post author

            I don’t mind that he’s a little butthurt and needs to take a swipe back at me. No harm, no foul. But no belly rub either. That would be wrong.

  13. Barry Sheridan

    Professor Dutta does not make his point all that well perhaps, but he certainly has a point!

    Today, the wider populations of the freer nations, and here I mean Australia, NZ, Japan, most of Europe and the US, have in general become much more confident towards authority, at times aggressively so, attitudes cemented primarily through the assertion of rights rather than responsibilities. This behaviour has gradually altered the ordinary and necessary interactions of daily life, there being as a result much more wariness and even hostility towards each other. Whereas this might once have been restricted to the fringes of a broadly civil society, say amongst criminals and others who less enthusiastic about following the principles of decent law abiding order and everyone else, it is now unexpectedly common place. This might not be apparent in a better areas where a semblance of economic well being and family restraint remains, but there is little doubt that the resentments of a poorer life has wrought considerable changes to both the authorities and the citizen.

    Let us be honest, law enforcement nowadays is difficult in all the countries mentioned, criminality of various sorts is a serious issue that challenges the State and its populations, the US in particular facing its own brand of issues made worse by the widespread availability of firearms. What this means for a police officer who has matured during an era where he many face not just obscene verbal abuse, but also someone armed with a gun or knife is not hard to imagine. It is one thing to know you have to be patient in explaining to someone why they have to answer a few questions, it is quite another to never know if they will draw a weapon and try to do you harm. In essence it takes a strong nerve and a stable manner to deal with this over time. Alas as we have seen, the reaction of the police is poor, they too quick to meet the conditions of the day with aggression, in so doing they are undermining the assent that is necessary for them to succeed.

    This situation is doing no one any good. America needs a debate about what is going on. Part of that discussion must realise you cannot expect policing to be good if you are going to refer to someone doing their job as a pig. They are human being in uniform. They have families and others they care about and who care for them. Decent policing needs both sides to meet and find out what is best. Ferguson offers another chance to make a start.

    1. SHG Post author

      There are good points in there, and a few very dangerous points in there. The police and the public are not two equivalent tribes who need to get along. Law enforcement is a job, which people choose to do, are trained to do, are paid to do, and do with the acquiescence of the public. Law enforcement is given authority to act within the constraints of the law. They do not get to make up their own rules, suffer their own frailties and feelings, act upon their individual initiative, because the public does things that displeases them.

      If the job is too hard, any cop can quit. No one forces him to be a cop, and no cop has a right to be one if he can’t handle the responsibility of a hard job. The solution is never to usurp the rights of those he exists to serve to make his job easier.

      1. Dan

        And therein lies the paradox of the first rule of policing. Being a cop is hard, yet the minute it becomes hard, you get to use your gun to make sure it doesn’t get really hard. Cops expect adulation and hero status because their job is hard, yet their entitled to avoid hard situations at all costs.

        1. SHG Post author

          No one ever said that the police perspective was intellectually sound or consistent. Then again, it doesn’t matter because they have the guns.

      2. Barry Sheridan

        In making the point that those in the police are human beings like everyone else I sought to, admittedly without labouring the point, to draw the sides together. We are all part of the whole, as this statement must imply, I see no reason for you to miss this fact SHG.

        While you say they are trained to do the job and are given considerable authority in doing so this does not give the public carte blanche to behave as they please towards the police. The reciprocal is also true, the police have no justifications for beating or killing except in extreme circumstances for the wider good. It is very much a case of united we stand, divided we fall.

        Whilst I offered some consideration towards those who volunteer for these duties, I cannot help but feel you are being disingenuous in dismissing the difficulties. There is no need for this, part of the required debate must include exploring the two sides so that the nation can determine how to go forward.

        1. SHG Post author

          This is what disturbs me about the “can’t we all just get along” perspective, much as with the “consensus is good” and everyone should compromise. You are fundamentally wrong about the relative nature of the sides. It is not the duty of the public to sacrifice its constitutional rights to make it easier for the police to do their job. Your refusal to accept this notion is why I dismiss your view.

          Sorry, but there is no compromising the Constitution for the benefit of the police. I find your point totally misguided and reprehensible. You can give up whatever rights you want, but you cannot give up mine.

          1. Barry Sheridan

            Alas SHG I seem to have touched a raw nerve and made you cross with me. Perhaps cultural difference accounts for some of it, anyway I had not intended to suggest that your rights as laid down in the Constitution should be infringed. The hope was to utilise the angers inherent in the Ferguson outrage to promote the sort of debate I feel is required to get policing back to its civil origins. A retreat as it were from the aggressive face it now seems to present to the ordinary American citizen.

            Please accept my apologises for agitating, I tend to seek compromise where it can be achieved. Sometimes it can’t of course, as is the case with Islamic extremists. Regards

            1. SHG Post author

              No raw nerve, and I’m not angry with you at all. I sought to explain the problem I have with the logical fallacy of your position. Obviously, I did a poor job of it if you were left with the sense that I was angry. No worries.

        2. John Barleycorn

          Seems it me there are some lessons to be learned from those Icelandic “crazies” and their recent kitchenwear revolution.


          Amazing really.

          It would never fly in America though. Them wooden spoons and cast iron pans keeping the base beat would surely end-up on display as weapons at the 2:00 a.m. press conferences.

          Why bother making it home for dinner if all the pots and pans are in the street?

  14. Snrm

    But there is a point where a cop has to use force. If you walk aggressively (read dangerously, threateningly, etc.) the cop has a right to defend himself violently. It is a subjective evaluation: there is no way around it. At least here in the Phoenix area, the police aren’t shy about kicking bad cops out unlike 20 – 30 years ago. And this is with the officers union using evey dirty trick in the book to defend them. I think the author is painting too broad an emotional brush against cops in general. Ferguson may be rife with a corrupt justice system (thank heaven for the second amendment) but it is just one town and Mike Brown had it coming.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’ve been hoping that someone who took issue with me would post an insightful comment, something bearing some small indication of thoughtfulness, so that other views would be offered. Up to now, all have been of the ilk of “blacks are animals” and “Brown was a thug and deserved to die.” There are no doubt places on the internet where such monumental ignorance will see the light, but not here.

      Shockingly, your comment is the most thoughtful offered here, and so I let it post rather than trash it. But…

      If you walk aggressively (read dangerously, threateningly, etc.) the cop has a right to defend himself violently.

      The insanity of this contention is beyond comprehension. So police can kill people they “subjectively” believe are walking aggressively? It comes as no surprise that you close with “Mike Brown had it coming.” Thank you for offering the strongest possible argument in favor of Darren Wilson.

    2. drustrange

      “If you walk aggressively (read dangerously, threateningly, etc.) the cop has a right to defend himself violently ….Mike Brown had it coming.”

      Um, actually, No on both counts.

      The police do not have the right to ‘defend themselves violently’ against a ‘dangerous’ or ‘aggressive’ walk. If that was true, everyone at the Ministry of Silly Walks would be behind bars.

      Re: “having it coming”, you are confusing causality with legal limits on police authority. Yes, if Brown had ‘complied’ instead of causing trouble, he might be alive, but that’s irrelevant both legally and in the larger picture. Cops will continue to encounter trouble in the course of their job; in fact, that is the very definition of their job. That’s why there must be limits on their authority and right to use of force in the face of “trouble” (Tennessee V. Garner, Graham v. Connor, to name a couple…. not that I think those are being applied particularly well. But still). Ours is not a country where cops get to execute people whose gaits or arguments piss them off.

      1. SHG Post author

        Not that your comment isn’t good, but I really hate it when intelligent people begin a comment with, “Um, actually, No…,” if they aren’t goofing on the language used in the comment to which they’re responding. On the other hand, Monty Python references are appreciated.

    3. George B

      > At least here in the Phoenix area, the police aren’t shy about kicking bad cops out unlike 20 – 30 years ago.

      a) Prove it. Show me cites and stats.

      b) Kicking them out is not the point; it’s a pointless placebo. Arresting, trying and convicting them so the citizens of Tucson or Taos or Trenton do not become their next victim….THAT should be the goal.

      As an example of why: Swearengin, a cop in the Bakersfield area killed two citizens with an issued deadly weapon; and was just sentenced to……240 hours of community service. And he may keep his job. [There’s a kicker in this story, but this thread is not weapon-specific; it’s about attitude.]

      1. SHG Post author

        Maricopa County has Sheriff Crazy Joe. It’s hard to take anything out of Phoenix too seriously when they keep electing this flaming nutjob?

  15. Bartleby the Scrivener

    This person cannot seem to make up his mind as to whether with the people or against them. In the aforementioned article where he spoke of abolishing internal affairs, he suggests civilian oversight as an alternative and voices strong support for video of all police interactions with the public, and in the article quoted in this blog, he goes to ‘comply, or else.’

    I am very disturbed by this attitude, and if this is a common one held by police officers, we are far closer to the Soviets than would ever leave me comfortable.

    1. SHG Post author

      I think his mind is quite clearly fixed: If you don’t want to be hurt, obey. I see no lack of clarity here at all.

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  17. AmericanIcon

    A thug is a thug, in a ‘hoodie’ or a uniform. Pinning on a badge makes you no better or worse than the population you deal with, nor absolves you of the obligation to treat everyone not performing a criminal activity with the same respect – not ‘deference’, merely ‘respect’ – you expect to receive. If you act as if you can abuse citizens with impunity, don’t be surprised if those same citizens treat you with the contempt your actions earn, or if they bring you the same desserts visited on other petty tyrants.

    1. SHG Post author

      To the extent you are attempting, however simplistically, to say that the police must earn respect by treating people with respect, that’s fine. But you still make the error of false equivalencies; the duty of the police to the public is not the same as the duty of the public to the police.

  18. Bruce Coulson

    In Warren Ellis’ ‘Transmetropolitan’, police carried riot shields with the word SUBMIT. Seems more honest than ‘cooperate’. Shorter and more concise, too.

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  20. DaveL

    Dutta’s advice is essentially the same as that often given to the victims of violent crime: give them what they want, don’t resist, and you won’t get hurt. It may even be good advice. But at least when we’re talking about muggers we can usually trust that the speaker won’t lose sight of the fact that it’s the criminal’s behavior that’s causing the problem, not his victim’s resistance to it.

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