Short Take: Cop on Cop

What to make of this video? As has become the norm, activists of greater passion than knowledge will try to spin it to fit into their paradigm, in this instance to show how all cops are inherently violent and abusive. Maybe they just don’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe they do, but realize that the unduly passionate are more than happy to condemn their enemies whether they deserve it or not.

But do the cops here deserve it?

As the “perp” in this newly released 2020 video of Columbus, Ohio police arresting ATF Agent James Burke is a “cop” in the sense of being law enforcement, the assumption is that there was no basis for their heavy-handed tactics and, if they weren’t so angry and vicious, could have easily cleared up the misunderstanding by merely checking his shield, calling his office and verifying his identity. Problem solved. No need to resort to force.

To get to that simplistic view requires ignoring some issues shown in the video. Initially, if the agent was engaged in his law enforcement function, why was his shield not displayed beforehand? This was no undercover assignment, and had his badge and identification been displayed, it might well have precluded a call to the cops at all.

Why was he alone? Granted, sometimes agents are deployed solo, but rarely. Some police departments don’t have the personnel, but this is ATF and they have plenty of warm bodies.  So where was his partner?

And the agent, having been trained, should have been very well aware of the fact that once he was staring at a cop with his gun drawn, this was not the moment in time to argue rather than comply. Cops are trained to take command of the situation, which was what the Columbus cops were doing. This was not the time to argue, discuss, debate or question. This was the time to comply, and while non-cops on the good-guy curve may be excused for not appreciating what the police are doing and why, there is no excuse for an ATF agent not to appreciate the situation.

But what about the blue brotherhood, cop taking care of cop? Under a thousand other scenarios, sure, there’s courtesy. But that doesn’t happen until the cops are certain that the guy they’re pointing their weapons at is, in fact, a cop and not some guy with dime store badge.

People impersonate police. They do so for a variety of reasons, some aggressively criminal, such as raiding a drug dealer’s stash to steal his drugs, and others less so, such as pretending to be a cop to feel all macho and manly. Some use stolen badges while others use toy badges. Sometimes, it’s hard if not impossible to tell the difference between a real cop and a phony on the street. Without knowing which side the guy with the gun telling people he’s a cop is really on, real police police find themselves in a quandary. They don’t want to hurt one of their own, but they aren’t prepared to be killed if they make the wrong call. The First Rule of Policing is very much in force.

Was Agent Burke a real ATF agent? Would the cops have known, either from what they observed upon arrival or his conduct thereafter? Did he cooperate or did he resist, whether with excuses or not? What were these cops to do, believe him first and risk the possibility that he was the bad dude?

Had Burke, having come into the cops’ sights without displaying a shield or otherwise having any outward sign of law enforcement, oddly alone, calmly complied at the outset, and then advised the officers that his shield was in his pocket, would it have gone differently? And why, when asked the name of his superior, was it such a struggle to give a simple explanation, as there had to be one person that day who held the post?

Finally, if an ATF agents is in such poor health that he can’t be arrested, how is he still in adequate condition to be an ATF agent working in the field?

11 thoughts on “Short Take: Cop on Cop

  1. Drew Conlin

    This made me immediately think of the “ Rochester street massacre “ in 1972 In Detroit. The incident, a confrontation between Detroit Police and Wayne county deputies resulted in one dead deputy several others shot by Detroit police. A main issue being believing a person is a cop just because he says so.
    It was 1972 and some might say things have changed, but given the scenario this incident in Columbus might have been similar.
    A Detroit police officer was charged in this incident.

    1. SHG Post author

      Who doesn’t ask themselves, “what did this make Drew immediately think of”? Perhaps there is some tiny bit of information from your memories of 1972 that might be illuminating here, or was this just about Drew’s personal stroll down memory lane?

      1. Drew Conlin

        Aha! I wondered if you might admonish me…my apologies. It’s been a while since you’ve found it necessary to… I swung and missed

        1. SHG Post author

          My point is that you could have swung and hit if you had connected your memory with the issues raised here. Consider what your comment contributes to others and maybe your fascinating memories will be of interest to others.

  2. Whey Cooler

    The ATF has just over 1700 sworn. I stopped reading after you made that ignorant assumption that they are feds and have plenty of staff.

    They don’t.

    1. SHG Post author

      You stopped reading, random nutjob? Oh no!

      That combo of clinical narcissist and blithering idiot is always good for a chuckle.

    2. 007

      Some police departments have five sworn officers total, which means they lack the personnel to have more than one on duty at a time. The ATF has over 2600 sworn (a minor mistake on your part, but only minor given that you’re a total moron) which is more than enough to send agents out in teams.

      It’s fine that you’re stupid, but don’t make the rest of us look bad. Burk was bad enough.

  3. R C Dean

    “But what about the blue brotherhood, cop taking care of cop?“

    Based on what is in the video, if he wasn’t a cop, wouldn’t he have been charged with resisting arrest (and I’m sure a fistful of other charges)? I haven’t heard that he was, so presumably the professional courtesy came later.

    I have read that he is suing the police department. The irony of an LEO being on the wrong side of qualified immunity does amuse me.

    1. SHG Post author

      “…(and I’m sure a fistful of other charges)?”

      Nothing makes certainty easier than ignorance. Back to reddit with you.


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