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Stop Working

Stop Working

I’m metaphorically raising my hand. Now I’m gesticulating with the entire arm, furiously, while grunting the attention-getting signature: “Ooo-ooo!”

Alas. It’s almost impossible to be heard over the din and incessant clamor resonating from the clueless and biased masses. But if someone here is willing to pay attention, I have the answer. I know how to resolve this issue about police officers using these gestapo-like stop-and-frisk tactics in New York.

And it really wasn’t difficult to figure out. In fact, it was pretty obvious. A win-win! Nobody’s feelings hurt. No accusations against the cops. No questions about civil rights being raised. It’s perfect! I’m a genius!

Here’s the solution so pay attention. Got a pen? Write this down. Ready? Here you go …

Stop working.

Huh? Yep, don’t do a thing. There’s no downside. You won’t—and in fact, you can’t—get fired for doing nothing. Lack of initiative isn’t grounds for discipline.

I mean answer 9-1-1 calls, I guess, but other than that—nothing. Wander around, ignore your “gut” when in the presence of criminals, respond only after someone has actually been victimized. Then if you have probable cause—not that ambiguous, nasty reasonable suspicion – then go ahead and make an arrest. As long as no one objects, of course.

And if they do object and it looks as though they may be uncooperative or defiant, then by all means don’t approach or invade their personal space—because using force is so unpleasant, and it just looks bad.

Instead, go before a judge and present facts. If she’s satisfied that probable cause exists, have her issue a warrant. Then drop it into the system and forget about it. Then you’ll be free again to do, well, nothing.

As I discussed earlier this month in my article As a Police Officer, is It Good to be Prejudiced? pre-judging people is an innate behavior, impossible to stop and the best friend of a police officer. Our job is to be proactive and stop crimes before they can be committed. And for you non-police officers, let me tell you something: We’re pretty damn good at it.

Stop-and-frisk is misunderstood by most anyone outside of the criminal justice world. Certainly the vast majority of the media are confused, the public surely doesn’t understand the reality of the Terry v. Ohio decision and apparently there is even some confusion among some sitting on judicial benches.

The reality: The Supreme Court says police officers have a right to act when they have reasonable suspicion, based on articulable facts, to believe that someone is armed with a weapon and/or a crime is being, or is about to be, committed.

And in a recent Quinnipiac University poll, a majority of New Yorkers (66%) were found to be in favor of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy. Why? Easy. They are the victims of crime and they don’t want to be.

At the same time, most of the people who represent those citizens (politicians), the majority of the media and the vocal activists all oppose the practice. Why? They assign evil intent to the policy and believe there’s universal, malicious motivation behind the officers who use it in the field.

The possible fallout: The naysayers will get their wish. The police will stop doing it—along with other things.

Bureaucracies breed mission failure due to calcified systems that encourage inaction and discourage initiative. Those obviously aren’t stated goals and some administrators are probably unhappy that I’m using such a broadly negative brush to describe the profession of law enforcement. But it’s an unintended reality for many, many agencies.

It’s a natural result of the government system where no concrete bottom line exists, where there are no clear delineations between success and failure. The mindset therefore turns to avoiding problems and preventing litigation. This trickles down to the supervisors who, inadvertently perhaps, convey to police officers that they need to avoid riling the citizens, drawing negative attention to the department, and in general, making any kind of litigious mistakes.

And what’s the best way to avoid making mistakes? Easy: Don’t do anything.

Right after I started in this profession 33 years ago, a veteran officer told me how to avoid getting in any kind of trouble: “Listen kid. Let me give you some sage advice. They can’t shove it up your ass if you’re sitting on it.”

I remember laughing at that perspective. I’m not laughing now. Apparently that’s what the media and many in the community believe the mission should be. Oh, they’re not saying that literally, but that’s what they’re asking for.

They may wind up getting it. There is—and I can’t emphasize that enough—almost no downside for a police officer to avoid work. In fact, they may get promoted. I’m not being facetious.

Cynical, am I? No, I’m an observer. I was a cop for 30 years, boss for 18 and I’ve taught in over 40 states over the past 16 years. Last year alone I taught 75 seminars and I’ll probably do the same number this year. I stand in front of nearly 10,000 police officers annually and interact with 100s, comprised of every possible rank.

Many, many supervisors do their best; in fact, I’d say the majority. But it’s the line level personnel—the cops—who deserve most of the credit. They work in spite of the roadblocks they constantly encounter systemically. But they can only take so much.

Citizens need to understand: Police officers don’t have to work in order to get paid!

Yeah, they have to show up, answer calls and write some tickets. But there’s virtually no external motivation for them to initiate and be proactive. That comes from within, from a place only they understand. A place that compels them to stop the bad guys before they hurt others, even when they know it could damage their own careers.

What bothers me more than anything is the aberrant, evil and untruthful characterization of police officers as a whole by media folk, activists and the political class. They rail on, with virtually no opposition, about the malicious motivations of police officers who are, in reality, making an honest attempt to identify criminals and stop them before they injure others.

But no one ever says to the anti-police sycophants: “Whoa!! Where do you get off describing police officers as villains?”

It’s simply taken as an undeniable and incontrovertible that police officers are motivated by evil intent. To that I say: bunk.

Are some of them lazy? Sure, every department has their percentage of slugs. But those aren’t the ones making the controversial stops. They’re the ones doing the minimum, flying under the radar, staying out of trouble.

The majority of the officers want to do the job. Do they make mistakes, use poor judgment at times and let their emotions get to them, sure. They’re human. But they also run into burning buildings, crawl into overturned cars, jump into rivers, buy food for the homeless, coach baseball teams and contribute to the communities they serve. Day in and day out they put their lives on the line and do what they need to do, despite of what the media believes, what some politicians say, and what roadblocks are constructed by their own bureaucracies.

I believe this: Keep demonizing the police, call them names, assign ill-intent to their motivations and they’ll eventually get the message. They’ll do what their told: nothing.

And then what?

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