Cops’ Response: Shooting Blanks

It’s not certain that these voices reflect the best that rank and file police in New York City have to offer, but there is a smell about them that leads me to think that it’s not happenstance that they showed up here and decided to offer rather long comments in defense of their position.

Maybe these are the talking points the union wants out there, the best defense the cops have to offer for their actions.  Maybe these are just the personal efforts of their writers, but I doubt it.  First came a comment by Kevin:

Funny how the only thing you mention in this article is the fact that cops are a disgrace and should let anyone walk all over them because the public pays their taxes. Police officers are the public as well, they pay taxes (more than most) to be treated with such disrespect. That is the sole problem, disrespect! No children these days are brought up with respect or morals. The people these days only care about themselves and no one else. Police officers all over the nation turned their back on the mayor of NYC because of his abandonment of the police, HIS POLICE! that same mayor also let the “public” down and turned his back on them when he let thousand upon thousands of protesters get violent and close down streets and bridges. Do you have any idea what the severity of that was? If a person has a heart attack they have 3 to 4 minutes to get to the hospital. Did the public care about the public then? No! We’re they assaulting police officers during their “peaceful” protests? Yes! This is by far the most ignorant and a mature article I have ever read. So hold the Pulitzer and the position at the New Yorker until you mature and figure out how to write the facts and not just your opinions!

The second was a comment by Arlene Mcloughlin:

Interesting strategy you have here, insults and put downs to all who disagree with your opinions on the NYPDs actions. A few questions about your current position, how dangerous is your job? Does your keyboard pose a potential threat? I bet those water cooler conversations get mighty heated huh? Does your family fear for your safety, and hope you return each night? Of course the fantastic paycheck that the NYPD brings home and all those grand benefits make it so worth it to not only risk their lives but also be under the skeptical scrutiny of pompous asses like yourself who live in an ivory tower and think all public servants answer to them. How righteous you are, how wonderful it must be to live with such scruples that the lowly police force how dare them have a voice or opinion other then yours. oh wait you have a voice, you have an opinion. Thats your blog, a very public opinion and voice that civil servants do NOT have the luxury of. They can not strike or protest like the thugs out there. They have nothing but their actions to show disdain for this inept empty suit of a mayor. Go ahead defend him and the crap on the streets, someday you’ll need a cop. I hope they turn their backs to you too.

Most of us would truly appreciate some rational understanding of what makes an NYPD cop think he’s entitled to behave the way he has, but fear that there is no legitimate answer.  To the extent these two comments reflect the best cops have to offer, they confirm, in spades, our worst fears.

It’s not that we haven’t heard these points made before.  Indeed, we heard them over and over.  While these are the arguments that seem to work with people who get headaches if forced to think, their illogic and irrelevance has long been recognized. They’re just foolish nonsense.

If the job of police officer is too hard, too scary, too difficult, then get another job. No one forced you to become a cop, and no one forces you to stay on the job. You can’t bear performing the functions required? So leave. Don’t let the door hit you on the butt on the way out.

No one but a cop can appreciate how hard a job it is?  That’s the delusion of special snowflakes, just as cops can’t seem to appreciate how beating a guy for not jumping high enough or fast enough destroys his life. You don’t care, because it’s all about you? Yeah, we all understand. We also understand why you have no grasp of false equivalencies, strawmen, or any of the other logical fallacies that the rest of society has to live with.

Arlene accurately notes that those who disagree have been treated with insults here, though she has no grasp of why. Pathetic arguments are treated in kind.  If you don’t want your thoughts ridiculed, don’t offer ridiculous thoughts.  If that’s all you’ve got, then you’re shooting blanks.

But the comments of Kevin and Arlene bring another piece of this puzzle to light. One might hope that, at the very least, the police recognize the Machiavellian nature of their threats, their extortion, as if it reflects some minimal level of intelligence.  These comments suggest they don’t, that they are as dopey and irrational as many, in their worst nightmare, think they are.

Sure, we all know that the vetting process in becoming a cop eliminates anyone who is too smart, as an inappropriate candidate, but we really want to believe that the ones given guns and shields aren’t among the stupidest people walking the streets.  To reiterate, we give these people guns and the authority to use them against us.  They can’t be that stupid, right?

The good news is that they aren’t all Arlenes and Kevin.  There are also cops like Police Officer Adhyl Polanco, with a more nuanced understanding of why it’s not all about cops.  But there aren’t enough Adhyl Polancos to stop the Kevins and Arlenes from making all cops look like blithering but dangerous idiots.  And there are enough cops to leave the people of New York City with the clear understanding that they will sacrifice us for their own self interest, and believe that they are doing us a favor all along.

We would all like to have a reasonable discussion about this, but there is nothing reasonable to discuss when the best they have to offer is so pathologically stupid as to suggest the worst thing we can do is let these cops back on the street at all.

Sorry, but you don’t get “respect” for being disgraceful and ignorant. The former might be subject to change. The latter, not so much. The problem goes far deeper than many imagined, and comments like these confirm the worst fears.

38 thoughts on “Cops’ Response: Shooting Blanks

  1. JLS

    Just recently discovered your blog and wow Is it ever needed!

    I’ve been saying for a while now that its not a training problem as is often asserted but rather a culture problem. When you have a group of people who actually beleive their lives are more valuable than others, when you have a group that routinely exercise the most violent acts against others for petty offenses or sometimes no offenses at all, then you have a recipe for disaster. I can’t help but think a big part of the problem is the constant flattery and backside kissing that they get from the public. Such worship corrupts and the police as an institution have become completely corrupt in America.

    The Arlene’s and Kevin’s live in a bubble in which they are constantly told they are heroes that we couldn’t live for one minute without; a world where any criticism, however moderate, is simply not acceptable. This goes to their heads and forms their perceptions of themselves (hero/warriors) and the common people (ungrreateful disgusting creatures who don’t teach their children respect).

    This is why when DeBlasio didn’t give them the unqualified ass kissing they demand they went rogue. They’ve been shielded from the truth for so long that when they get exposed to it they were stung to a fury.

    1. SHG Post author

      Well said. Power corrupts. Worship distorts. In order to have the confidence needed to do the job — what cops refer to as “command presence” — they are indoctrinated to the idea that they are, indeed, “special,” and that society “owes” them special treatment. Smart people realize this is just a line fed to bolster their confidence. Less smart people actually believe it.

      1. Troutwaxer

        Cops are told that respect is required for “command presence” but they don’t really understand the meaning of “respect.” Cops hear “respect” and they hear the street version of the word, where “respect” is defined as “immediate obedience to superior force.”

        That’s not the kind of respect they should be talking about. When a cop hears the word “respect” s/he should be thinking about the kind of respect which is earned by making fair, intelligent decisions based on a clear grasp of constitional principals, hopefully mediated by knowledge of the damage they can do by weilding force inappropriately. I could go on at great length about the how various ugly police departments need to reform their behavior, but I’ll leave that to others. Suffice to say that making those reforms leads to the kind of respect needed for REAL command presence.

        I’ll note in closing that I currently live in a city where the police do their jobs very intelligently and conciensciously. It’s a nice change from some of the other places I’ve lived.

  2. DanQ

    I keep getting stuck trying to align facts with the position police are not respected.

    There is a constant stream of respect coming from just about every point of the political compass and shade in the social spectrum. By my measure, second only to the men and women of our armed forces.

    You routinely hear of the danger, the selfless courage and integrity of corps and individual alike. Around here, regular folk place blue light bulbs to illuminate their porches on Halloween in an annual display of respect.

    However, there are similarities when comparing their behavior to children repeatedly praised for long-past achievements or those that come easy.

    1. SHG Post author

      Much as some people hate cops because they see them as all “evil,” one-dimensional cartoon characters, many see them with similar lack of depth but in the opposite direction, all heroes. Both are delusions. Cops, like anyone else, can be good or bad, or both. When they’re good, the get praised. When they’re bad, they get criticized. When they do their job, they get paid and get to keep it. When they don’t, well…

  3. Charles Platt

    The complaint that anyone who works in such a dangerous job deserves respect is very common. However, Bureau of Labor Statistics 10 most dangerous jobs 2013:

    1. Logging workers
    2. Fishers and related fishing workers
    3. Aircraft pilot and flight engineers
    4. Roofers
    5. Structural iron and steel workers
    6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
    7. Electrical power-line installers and repairers
    8. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers
    9. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers
    10. Construction laborers

    Police do not make the top ten. And I have always felt that respect is something that has to be earned. Merely putting on a uniform doesn’t do it for me.

    1. Dan

      I agree that respect is earned, but I just want to point something out in response to the common (but nevertheless worthwhile) comment that there are other jobs that are more dangerous than police officer. The reasons they are dangerous are different. Roofing is dangerous because its elevated and you can fall and there are either inherent safety limitations to working at an elevation, or our corporate masters decide that roofing is not profitable if there’s too much safety involved. Police work is dangerous because of a more human element- mostly that police have to deal with people at their worst, whether they’re worst be because of some kind of malevolence, mental illness, substance or whatever. Anyway, I think there’s something fundamentally different between the danger of falling off roof, and the danger of being shot when you try to intervene as a husband attempts to kill his wife in a drunken rage. There are similarities too, mostly that nobody forces anyone to do either, and that you take away from the bravery if you expect multiple pats on the back, all day long, for doing your job.

      1. SHG Post author

        While the BLS stats (and more importantly, the 2014 stats of 126 police on-duty deaths from all causes for 900,000 cops, making the risk .00014%), disprove the myth that police “put their lives on the line for us every day,” your point that these deaths really don’t reflect the full story is important.

        The reality that really blows the myth, however, is the First Rule of Policing, which compels cops to shoot/tase/beat at the potential of risk of harm to them. Kinda sucks the whole hero thing right out of the job.

        1. Jack

          And don’t forget, only a little more than 1/3 of those deaths were caused by violence (shooting, stabbing, etc.) – the rest were more mundane, like traffic accidents and heart attacks.

          Yes there is the human element of the danger they face which makes it somewhat different from the other occupations, but you have to remember – regular ol’ citizens face the same danger just walking down the street. In some cities, regular citizens have a much higher chance of being murdered by just living there as police do when on duty…

          Yes, the job is potentially dangerous and officers who perform exceptionally deserve some respect – but they have to remember respect is earned, not commanded.

            1. Jack

              I was right on the verge of forgetting what happens when I reply to you instead of one thread up. Ouch.

      2. Patrick Maupin

        > The reasons they are dangerous are different.

        You’re right. Police officers are about as likely to kill themselves in a car accident as to be killed by someone else, whereas cab drivers are about 4 times more likely to be victims of homicide as police, and less likely to kill themselves by bad driving.

        But perhaps that’s not what you meant.

          1. Patrick Maupin

            Ah. I thought that “other jobs that are more dangerous than police officer” was referring to all other jobs more dangerous, but I should have paid more attention when all your examples were about roofers. My bad.

    2. Rick Horowitz

      I wonder if the reason those jobs are so dangerous is because it puts them out where there are higher concentrations of cops?

      JUST KIDDING! (No, really, I was just kidding.)

      As has been said elsewhere by many of us, you can have an appreciation of police officers, without taking it all the way to blind, unflinching, worship. You can also require that police officers meet certain standards, so that people who no more deserve to die than anyone else – including police officers – do not die at the hands of police officers unnecessarily.

      A common argument I’ve seen that somehow those who die brought it on themselves, or deserved to die, does not fly. They did wrong? That’s what we have courts, and trials, for. The United States has never, until now, approved summary execution by the police. Particularly for non-criminal behavior.

      Not even for misdemeanors. Not even for felonies.

  4. David M.

    Found at the bottom of Kevin’s Neoconfucian modernist libertarian slush pile:

    Respect. that’s the problem. Respect!
    As the Sage said in one Analect:
    If you act insincerely,
    though cop you be, clearly,
    your words have their opposite effect.

      1. Fubar

        Word wrestlers rest once in a while.
        David M. wrests arresting sharp style.
        Nervous? No. I bestow
        il miglior fabbro.
        Now I’ll rest as I read him and smile.

        1. David M.

          Is congratulating someone for X while totally kicking their ass at X, like, a literary technique or something? Does it have a name?

          1. Fubar

            [ A complex question, far more complex than our indulgent host SHG should be prevailed upon to endure on his back pages. Therefore, brief citations —

            Suggested background scholarship: The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship: Or the Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating, Stephen Meredith Potter, pub Rupert Hart-Davis, Ltd, London, 1947. Reprinted 1962, Penguin Books, Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex. In particular, subheading “Bookmanism” in Chapter 8, “Lost Game Play”.

            For more specific details: One-Upmanship, Stephen Meredith Potter, pub. Rupert Hart-Davis, Ltd, London, 1952. Reprinted 1962, Penguin Books, Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex. In particular, Chapter 6, “A Note on Litmanship”.

            Should those treatises provide inadequate answers, they may yet provide basis for research leading to your publishing an original article on your question in an appropriate Law Review. ]

    1. lawrence kaplan

      “Whereupon the pony went down on it knees in the sawdust, genuflecting before the man with whip.” Jack London

      What I need above all is respect
      And you better not pause to reflect,
      But when I say freeze
      Just get down on your knees
      And don’t even think to not genuflect.

  5. Neil

    Now that our worst fears are confirmed, and Machiavelli is involved, I think he would have some advice regarding the Compelling need for Bold Political Moves.

    Discourses On Livy, Book I, Chapter XXXIII


    I say, therefore, that since it is difficult to recognize these evils when they spring up, this difficulty caused by the deception which things give in the beginning, it is the wiser proceeding to temporize with them when they are recognized than to oppose them. For by temporizing with them, they will either extinguish themselves, or the evil will at least be deferred for a longer time.

    [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

  6. Nigel Declan

    What the police and their supporters forget is that respect is a two-way street. While the badge confers authority, that is not the same thing as respect. Respect is earned by showing respect, not by beating people over the head with your authority. Telling citizens to “respect the badge” is meaningless if officers aren’t willing to similarly respect it. No, no magic act or statement will make every perp say “thank you” when they are arrested, but taking steps to limit use of force and to reduce the deaths of unarmed citizens (among other things) will go a long way towards earning the respect of the public.

  7. Beth Clarkson

    I appreciate both your column and commentors. Thank you.

    I had lunch with a friend today who brought this issue up. She said she was of the opinion that all officers were in the job for the power. I didn’t agree, although I do think that people who want power do tend to seek such jobs. It’s the whole system was what I told her and she ended up agreeing, although neither of us middle-aged middle-class white women had the slightest idea about how to fix the system.

    The police culture in our country is certainly a serious problem. It’s not impossible to change, but as you have often pointed out, the whole system is broken. We have to fix all of it – the courts and the prisons as well as the police force. I don’t know what solution we will eventually find, but I appreciate your highlighting of the various aspects of the problem that need to be tackled. It will help us understand where and how to implement change with the highest probability of effectiveness.

    1. SHG Post author

      People tend to reduce complex problems to simple solutions, as it’s either too vexing or too complicated to otherwise think about. But that was Mencken’s point when he wrote, “for every complex problem, there’s a solution that clear, simple and wrong.” There is nothing easy about fixing the system, but one of the cogs that’s most badly broken is police culture, and it’s one of the cogs that will be extremely hard to fix.

  8. Curtis

    “Does your family fear for your safety, and hope you return each night?”

    Actually, there is no guarantee that any of us, no matter who we are, when we walk out our front door, will return home safely and alive.

    As for protecting and serving, try telling that to the millions who have been raped, robbed, mugged, assaulted, home invaded, murdered, and etc., and their families, since the advent of police in America. Obviously, they were not protected and served.

    1. SHG Post author

      The difference is the rest of us didn’t choose an occupation knowing that it involved potential risk, or get paid to do it. For the rest of us, it’s just life.

      1. Curtis

        And when you choose an occupation knowing that it involves risks, and you get hurt, or killed, well… that’s just life. It sucks, but there it is.

        I lost a finger last year in my occupation. Crying about it now is not going to bring my finger back. I accepted the risk when I chose my occupation. And that’s life.

  9. fledermaus

    I think what is missing is a recognition that police-work is a job. And like all jobs it has duties. These duties are unpleasant and police may feel disrespected. But we’ve all felt disrespected at out jobs, even when we’ve thought that we are doing them right. I just wish the members of the NYPD would take a deep breath and meditate on the concept of professionalism, and consider how their actions reflect on the other police around the country.

  10. Sharon G.

    “No children these days are brought up with respect or morals.”

    Police don’t have children? Or do the police only have morals, everyone else not? Interesting position to have. The police have respect and morals, no one else. How much more condescending can the police be?

    It reflects their actions against the public, the respectful, moral (police) vs. the disrespectful, immoral (public).

  11. Anne Krone

    Possibly the obtuseness on the part of the police is just another manifestation of the ‘everyone gets a trophy and a tummy rub’ fad currently rotting our culture. The concept of earning anything by hard work and actually doing your job well is just so old fashioned!

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