I recently read a story about two cops who arrested a 74-year-old woman they claimed had attacked them — although video of the incident doesn’t match with their account. If I were writing about this incident, about all I could say is that it looks like the cops overreacted and then exaggerated to cover the asses. To some extent, that’s just common sense, but it’s a fair criticism to point out that I’m not a police officer, and I don’t know much about police tactics, rules, training, or the reality of life on the mean streets.
ExCop-LawStudent, on the other hand, is an experienced police officer, and his commentary is scathing:
According to one report, the Trooper had difficulty filling out his report at the Travis County Jail. That is a typical problem when the arrest is not actually for a crime, but for Contempt of Cop. In addition, state troopers tend to have an attitude that requires their directions to be obeyed without question or hesitation, and they tend to get irritated if they perceive that someone is not moving fast enough. Finally, troopers are extremely reluctant to admit that they made a mistake, as they perceive that as a sign of weakness.
In any event, it is easy to look at this and determine what happened. The Trooper did not think that this little old lady was moving quickly enough and decided to yank her out of her chair even as she was gathering her belongings. Once she challenged him (“you’re hurting me”) he likely decided that she needed to be shown her place and be arrested. This led to the charges. If you look at Northington’s arms, it is fairly clear as to who used force, and it wasn’t the little old lady.
Again, there are problems with this. According to the arrest affidavit, she resisted arrest by grabbing her seat. OK, even if we give the trooper the benefit of the doubt, if she is resisting arrest, there has to be an underlying charge. What was she being arrested for in the first place? Second, any assault on a peace officer is a felony, even if that is just by contact (i.e., an offensive touch). Without video, it is the trooper’s word against the suspect. Here, Northington supposedly slapped the trooper with an open hand. Yet the black trooper does not make a move to help the trooper who was just “assaulted” by Northington. I’ve been in those situations where an officer gets slapped. Every officer that is there immediately jumps in to control the suspect when that happens. That did not happen here, and is indicative of a COC arrest.
The department spokesperson has a particularly galling response:
“Our DPS troopers work every day to ensure that all visitors and staff at the Texas Capitol remain safe and that order is maintained,” [DPS spokeswoman Katherine] Cesinger wrote. “It’s unfortunate that some find it is easy to pass judgment on the officers who are risking their lives every day to protect and serve Texas.”
Even ignoring that a representative of an institution that routinely handcuffs and cages people (and not always with good reason) is complaining that mere criticism is passing judgement, I still wonder: Do police officers who say things like that realize how stupid it sounds?
I mean, if a cop stopped me for speeding and I explained that I’m a taxpayer and a productive member of society, would he let me go? If I give a lot of money to charity, will cops let it slide if I occasionally duck out of restaurants without paying? If a pediatric cardiac surgeon murders his wife, does the homicide squad give him a walk because of all the children he saved?
No. Of course not.
Look, it’s not the “risking their lives…to protect and serve” that’s pissing people off. That’s the police activity that we like. That’s why we hire them and give them pension plans. It’s the abuse, the unnecessary beatings and tasings, the dog shootings, and the occasional killing of random innocent people that make us angry, and rightly so. If the police don’t like us passing judgement on them, they should behave themselves.
We can laud people for their good works while also criticizing and punishing them for their transgressions. We can be pissed off at police behavior we dislike, and we can also be thankful for officers who respond to emergency calls and protect us from criminals. There’s no contradiction here.
Update: In a couple of tweets, @whattheada, who’s a prosecutor, comments,
Maybe cops won’t let someone go bc they’re a surgeon or donate to charity, but PDs expect lienency from ADAs…
…im just saying – that’s a terrible argument. those ARE mitigating factors used ALL the time.
This wasn’t a lawyer arguing for leniency for a client who had been found guilty (or was negotiating a plea), this was a police spokesperson trying to discourage criticism in the press — essentially trying to shutting down further inquiry into the matter.
It’s one thing to say “Our guy behaved badly, but he’s otherwise a very good officer, so we’ve decided to give him a break.” When done honestly, that’s an acceptable judgement call. What this police spokesperson is saying is more like, “He’s a very good police officer, so how dare you question his behavior!” Now that’s a terrible argument.
The problem is deeper than it appears to most people. When I got in law enforcement a couple of decades ago (I won’t say how long, but they were still issuing revolvers at 98% of the departments), officers handled things differently as a matter of course.
As time passed, police were increasingly militarized. In my mind, this creates foreseeable results, resulting in even more of an us v. them attitude that you see from the DPS spokesman. It has become a “how dare you question my authority” issue, and it won’t get better until the public insists on changes.