Top Categories

It’s Not Personal – Police and You

In our world there is a drive to see things either one way or the opposite way. Issues are presented only as left/right, up/down, or black/white. We’re inundated with pressure to choose a side and then defend that side no matter how ridiculous the argument becomes. However, when we are honest about most subjects we see that there are levels and grey areas and unknowns. It’s true of politics, race relations, relationships, religion, and anything else that involves human emotions over scientific method. When people have an emotional stake in something the truth often suffers. As I write this, truth is suffering due to the emotional reaction of many to the Brown and Garner Grand Jury decisions. My intent is to offer a few different essays on various components of these events, and today I offer my thoughts on American policing.

As a generalization, when given power to do so, there is nothing government can’t mess up. Usually it amounts to obscene wastes of tax money, but on occasion it steals people’s lives. If we look at government on a world-wide scale, it has outright murdered close to 200 million people in the last 115 years.

History, coupled with the basic American birthright of revolting against anyone who treads on you, means that we always have and always should consider anything labeled government as an adversary and a threat to liberty. President, Congressman, State Senator, mayor, code enforcer, school board member or dogcatcher matters not. All occupy a place of power and exist on the public dime, and because of that they simply can’t be trusted. It’s nothing personal; it’s just the nature of the relationship. And why is that? Because we (private citizens) are the employers of these public servants – but unlike the company hired to drywall your basement, these public servants have men & women with guns backing up all of their bright ideas. Those government enforcers are Police.

Police are supposed to have a specific job – in short, that job should be to respond to breaches of the peace and restore said peace. They accomplish peace restoration through verbal and physical contact with the public. Sometimes it involves warnings, sometimes citations, and sometimes arrests. Arrests are usually non-events, but can include many levels of force up to and including lethal force. Sworn Peace Officers are unlike any other citizens in that they have the right to suspend a citizen’s rights. Under the correct circumstances police officers may detain, arrest, and even kill a citizen. They literally carry the power to deny a person their right to life, limb, liberty and property – heavy stuff that carries major responsibility.

With such an immense responsibility comes a natural public distrust focused on the actions police engage in. It’s healthy – it’s a check and balance that needs to be there. Why? Well, aside from simply being public servants, police recruit from the human race and suffer the same mental, physical, legal, moral, spiritual, and ethical dilemmas we all do. Police are human. They can and do make mistakes, and on occasion even act in a criminal manner – again, while wielding arrest powers. That means they are capable of serious damage to citizens should they choose to operate outside the law or be used as enforcers for corrupt politicians and unconstitutional laws.

It’s important to remember that the vast majority of police officers actually do a pretty good job in spite of having to deal with people lying to them daily. And, yes, the majority of official interactions police have with the public involve someone, or many people, lying to them. Add in the political motivations of their superiors, the odd hours, high levels of stress, constantly dealing with domestic calls, and cleaning the vomit and feces out of the back of the patrol car, it quickly becomes apparent that even officers with the best of intentions can become jaded.

Being a police officer is not something I would want any part of; it’s a thankless job that has little glamor and far too much paperwork. The Hollywood presentation of the lives of police is exactly the same kind of fiction as the Hollywood presentation of all things firearm related – that is, completely removed from reality. I understand the job, and we’d live in a better place if more Americans did.

That being said, police officers all raise their right hands and swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. They, like all public servants, are supposed to be focused on protecting the rights of citizens not abusing those rights. So, when an abuse is observed, whether it be speeding without their lights and sirens on (which most of us see daily) or panic shooting a man in the back during a traffic stop (see video below), it creates distrust. Police are granted authority that the rest of us don’t have, and regardless of how some officers suggest that their “hands are tied”, or they are “outgunned”, or that they “don’t have the tools they need”, when it comes down to it, should they decide to violate their oath, they can ruin the day (or life) of any of us. And given the Thin Blue Line and a tendency for administrators to avoid embarrassment at all costs, abuses can and do get covered up.

In the minds of the public, one person unjustly shot, one person unjustly arrested, or one person unjustly written a ticket, makes all police bad. I’m not saying that’s a proper conclusion, but it becomes the perception of many – and that perception becomes “reality.” An officer talking on their cell phone while driving in a town that makes such a thing a ticket priority ruins the credibility of the department – and that’s just a minor thing. Video appearing of a patrolman berating and swearing at an EMT for not getting out of his way, while a patient sits in the back of the rig, even though ambulances have the right of way, enforces a stereotype that “police are power-tripping tyrants.” And that’s bad for everyone.

Police have a public relations problem right now. Our fault, their fault, nobody’s fault – doesn’t matter. The distrust gap is growing and needs to be addressed immediately. In my opinion a number of things need to happen.

1- Hiring qualifications need to be stricter – especially intelligence and ethics testing, as well as psychiatric evaluations. The job requires a certain type of personality. Those quick to anger, or motivated to be police for the wrong reasons, shouldn’t be employed. We all know people in our chosen professions who shouldn’t be there. Luckily for most of us, a bad garbage man or a bad plumber doesn’t usually cause deaths or end up with people serving prison time when they shouldn’t. Because of the responsibilities police carry they should be culled from the best humanity has to offer. This should coincide with an appropriate pay raise. In the big picture, higher salaries will save money as it creates competition and attracts a higher caliber individual, which will in turn reduce the amount of lawsuits brought against departments.

2- Officers need to meet and greet the public on a daily basis. There needs to be hand shaking and introductions, and that needs to happen from both sides. In fact, I would suggest that all of you reading this make a point in the next few weeks of inviting a police officer for a cup of coffee, and instead of telling them your problems ask them if there’s anything you can do to make their job easier. Stop in and make an appointment with your sheriff or chief – not to complain, but to ask them if there is anything they need from you or the public. Just show them some support and that you’re on the same side. How often do you think that happens in any of their lives? Imagine how that kind of relationship building will affect your community.

3- Officers need to step up and not tolerate bad cops in their ranks. Yes, one risks being skipped over for promotion and becoming the “black sheep” of a department, but the reality is that if you look the other way when a fellow officer violates the rights of a citizen, you’re complicit. If allowing bad police to continue being bad police is part of your job description, then a good person is left with no choice but to consider other employment.

4- All of us need to become well acquainted with use of force statutes and legal concepts such as Disparity of Force. Familiar to the point we can articulate them to others who don’t understand what they are seeing on a video or why an officer or armed citizen took the course of action that they did.

5- Police leadership needs to do exactly that – LEAD. Playing politics with the rights of citizens and the lives of officers, having “CYA” as a priority, and allowing others do their dirty work and take the fall, is not the work of noble and honorable people. As the old saying goes, it all rolls down from the top.

6- Police need to stop being used as revenue sources for states, counties and municipalities. Asset-forfeiture-seizure laws are a travesty, and in many cases have been used for outright legalized theft. Nothing destroys the public trust more than knowing an officer can steal cash, cars, or homes without arrest or due process.

These suggestions are just a short list. I’m not counting on points 1, 3, 5 or 6 happening anytime soon, but 2 and 4 are something we (both officers and the public) can take upon ourselves tomorrow.

The last thing I’d like to address is police arrest powers and how they need to be understood by citizens.

When an officer says the words, “You’re under arrest”, understand that one way or the other, you’re going to be arrested. There is no talking your way out of it, and there is no physical way to stop it and go off to live in peace. You can either comply, or they will get physical. It might involve you eating pavement, or it may involve a compliance device or even a gun. But when you resist – and that can be as simple as locking your joints – all officers can assume is that you will continue to escalate your resistance and that they need to over-power you immediately before you gain advantage. During an arrest officers are not interested in your politics, race, income, GPA, or who you or your parents know. Their only interest is getting you to lock-up without getting themselves injured or killed – that means they will use whatever force is required. Understand, every officer knows how quickly their lives can end.

If arrest powers are up for debate at the time of an arrest the entire purpose for having police is moot. An unlawful arrest is something to be fought at a later date in court, not on the sidewalk. Fighting it there, even if you momentarily prevail, will result in life as a fugitive and eventual arrest on a greater charge.

As serious as this is it would stand to reason that we need to strongly consider what it is that we want our police making arrests for. I make a point of considering every new piece of legislation through this lens: Is this something I’d personally be willing to shoot someone over? That’s my litmus test for all law, codes, and statutes that will be enforced by people with guns. Using that as a guide I can honestly say that there is little I’m willing to shoot someone over. Seat belt usage, the length of someone’s grass, and selling untaxed cigarettes are a few I don’t consider trigger worthy. Maybe your opinion differs – but here are the facts of life: The more laws there are, the more interaction with law enforcement there will be. And the more attempts at arrest that are made, the more opportunities there are for injury or death.

The laws we support had better be worth that price.

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” –George Bernard Shaw

23 Responses to It’s Not Personal – Police and You

  1. Richard December 10, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    Hi Frank,

    I applaud you for a well written, and well reasoned, article.

    I spent more than a decade in police work and agree that implementing some of the changes in law enforcement that you suggest are important. But the problems in law enforcement are merely a reflection of the problems in society at large. As society degrades, so does the applicant pool for police jobs. I’m afraid that the number of quality applicants continues to diminish. We should still strive to improve policing, but the underlying problems are much larger than the job.

    I do find it interesting that you quote George Bernard Shaw at the end of the article. As a Fabian Socialist, he loudly advocated for eugenics, the nationalization of private property and was a vocal supporter of Stalin. Pretty much the opposite of liberty.



    • Frank Sharpe December 10, 2014 at 12:54 pm #


      Thanks for your service and for your note here.

      I couldn’t agree more with your comments on “society”, and that’s why this will be a series of articles. 😉

      As for George Bernard Shaw, you are again 100% right. And as the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. I’m a fan of quotes and often times use them from odd sources. Mao was right when he said political power grows from the barrel of a gun – that he was an evil murdering tyrant makes it no less true.


  2. Ray December 10, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    Great article, Frank. I agree 100%. Supporting good LEOs and recognizing that reforms need to be made shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

  3. SD December 10, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    As a LEO, I find some of your points agreeable and some just need to be better researched. You basically said an officer can arrest you and throw one in prison, but that’s just not true. Yes an officer, with probable cause can make an arrest and place that person in jail until court, unless bonded out, but the decision of placing one in jail or prison after that falls on the court system (Judge), and is based on facts of the case examined in court. If the court finds what the officer found to be enough fact to develop probable cause for an arrest, then the defendant will be handed a sentence, whether time to serve or not. If the court finds the officers probable cause unfounded, the case is dismissed.
    Again, with the asset seizures, an officer doesn’t just seize property at a whim. Based on training, and officer is trained to figure out why you have $2,000,000.00 dollars cash in your trunk. No, it definitely is not illegal to carry that cash, but if the person is feeding the officer a line of BS, it will be seized until figured out in court. You have a legit bank statement or other proof, fine, happy travels, but you him-haw around and give me three different stories and then start distancing yourself from it saying it’s your buddy’s and your just transporting, I’ll call BS. Im holding it, and your buddy can come claim it. What’s said as far as one bad coo spoils the view of the rest of law enforcement, is true for every other circumstance. Many more times than not, a person travelling with that much cash with no solid reason, is most likely in some sort of bad juju business. Double standards, and one must always remember that an officer does NOT make the laws, your friends at your respective capitol hills do that. you got a speeding ticket for going 80 in a 55? Sorry, but you don’t ell at the burger boy at McDonalds for charging you $5.35 for that big Mac meal, and you know full well speeding costs. “Go the speed you can afford.”

    Other than that, rather good article.

    • Frank Sharpe December 10, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

      You may be reading into this a bit more than was intended. I never used the word “prison” other than in my example of the bad garbage man – but the truth is that if evidence is planted or ignored, reports are falsified, or lies are told on the stand, innocent people can end up in jail due to the actions of officers engaged in such things. People can also end up in jail simply by being arrested, and then stay there because of their lack of resources, both legal and monetary. There are plenty of innocent people sitting in county jails all over the nation simply because they can’t raise bail money.

      As far as seizures go, things like this are a bit much to ignore:

      I was pretty clear that police are enforcing the laws that we all want – through vote or non-involvement – the laws exist because the public allows them to. Hence my suggestion that we all need to reevaluate what we want our police enforcing.

      Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughts!

    • HillBilly Bob December 11, 2014 at 12:14 am #

      What do you do if you pull over a couple and they have $20,000.00 in a zippered bag and they tell you they just came from the bank and show you a statement that shows the couple just withdrew the money?
      Wasn’t there a police department in Georgia that was confiscating everything they found in a speed trap?

      • SD December 11, 2014 at 6:05 am #

        I guess all I can speak for is my department then. Were aren’t over the top-powerhungry-gestapo. If I pulled someone over and they had $20,000 with a legit bank statement, as I said in my other post, happy trails. I understand that there are times when that happens, and I myself have had close to that amount in my vehicle once when I closed a bank account. It does disgust me there are departments and individual cops like that. I guess I may have read into it all a bit much, and can only speak from my experience and my department. We are fully aware that not everyone is a criminal and not everyone deserves a ticket. (My hometown PD where I grew up, on the other and, YIKES!)

        • HillBilly Bob December 11, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

          Sounds good SD, now what do you do if the couple/occupants tell you they threw the bank statement away 3 days earlier?

          • SD December 11, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

            Would you honestly leave that much cash in your vehicle for three days? A reasonable person would either transfer to new bank, make whatever payment, or store it at home in a safe, etc. There’s a lot more to determining if someone’s up to no good than just oh, hey, you have a lot of money floating around in your vehicle. Again, there is a totality of circumstances that one must look at before determining a course of action. Yes there are bad cops, good cops, cops that make mistakes (and hopefully either through departmental or court system are righted). I won’t try to rationalize anything any other cop does because I’m not in their situation and seeing all of the circumstances laid out in front of me. Again, every situation is different, and every cop is different. But be honest, cops have to make decisions in a small window of time, some bad, some justified. Just as any other occupation.

          • Frank Sharpe December 12, 2014 at 9:17 am #

            SD – last time I checked, this is America. Having cash in your vehicle should not leave anyone suspect of a crime. Now, if you and your car fit the description of a recent bank robbery, then different story. But the idea that simply possessing cash over a certain arbitrary amount is PC for confiscation couldn’t be more contrary to the principals of liberty.

            The burden of proof in such matters should always lie with the government.

          • HillBilly Bob December 12, 2014 at 10:21 am #

            SD I never said leave the cash in the vehicle for 3 days, say someone pulls $20K out of the bank on Friday afternoon to head the opposite direction on Monday morning/afternoon to buy a car as some people deal in cash only
            You are standing there at the car talking to the couple and they tell you this
            Do you tell them to carry on, have a nice day and be safe or do you call a supervisor, confiscate the money and tell the couple to get a lawyer?

          • SD December 12, 2014 at 10:50 am #

            Hillbillybob, again, I would look at totality of circumstances of that particular occurance.

            Sharpe: you are correct, it is not illegal to posses cash in your vehicle, as I said that before. I also never once said there was a certain arbitrary amount that raises suspicion, and no certain amount automatically gives you PC For ‘confiscation’. Again, TOTALITY OF CIRCUMSTANCES OF EACH INDIVIDUAL OCURANCE WILL DICTATE A CERTAIN COURSE OF ACTION.

          • Frank Sharpe December 12, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

            So, SD, in proving my point for me, you’ve stated that it’s up to officer discretion, and with no set limit, could actually be a single dollar.

            And, please, feel free to call me Frank or Mr. Sharpe. 😉

          • SD December 12, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

            Don’t be a troll. One dollar would be assanine. Again, it is all in the circumstances and the training an officer has had and what to look for. I already told you I would not make arrest solely on a person having loads of cash. Yes I would ask questions, as who wouldn’t,cop or not. You’re on the assumption,and mistaking what I’ve said, into if one sees cash in the car, boom, arrest. No. That’s narrow minded, and that officer SHOULD be reprimanded. As with all things in life, Mr. Sharpe, there are way more details to a story, than just the title. I will reiterate that I understand and am fully aware there are bad cops out there and will infringe upon fourth amendment rights without so much as a second thought. But I am not one of them. Again, I am merely trying to spell out what I, and My fellow officers in my state are TRAINED to do. I believed in the constitution before I became an officer, and swore and oath to uphold and protect it, and that’s just what I plan to do. We(officers in MY state) all are taught and retaught of the fourth amendment (as well as others) and how important it is in our line of work. My Sheriff(boss) / department all swore we would not enforce any sort of gun confiscation ( I know different amendment, but trying to make a point, not all of us want to strip our fellow citizens of their rights!). Officers can and do go through additional training, some of which includes drug interdiction, and I’m just saying to you, there ARE many many many many more finite details that will lead an officer to a DRUG related arrest when they find a large some of cash in a vehicle and stories aren’t coinciding. Forgive me if I was basing my info off my dept, my training, and experience. I cannot speak for the rest of the nation, but can only imagine training is similar. One simply does not make an arrest off one detail, so quit making it sound as if that’s the way it is.

          • Frank Sharpe December 12, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

            If any department or agency wants to take property, then make an arrest, bring charges, and convict the person in a court of law. Anything short of that is tyranny.

            I now humbly bow out of this conversation.

  4. Jim December 10, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    Great article and many well made points as some one who worked on the street in emergency services and witnessed great and terrible cops at work, I can attest to many of the things that you have mentioned. I wholeheartedly agree with the aspects of laws and what people and the politicians (who often don’t represent the people) view the use of police. Hollywood with its bs portrayal of LEOs doesn’t help. To SD I suggest you read a series of articles done by the washington post ( a paper I don’t normally agree with) but assest seizure laws are being abused and on a regular basis as politicians become more desperate for cash to fuel their vote buying. This puts cops as the tip of the spear in a very dubious position as the kings men and we all know how that turned out. Also you might check out Three Felonies a Day.

  5. Greg Toal December 10, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    That was an incredible piece of journalism. Thank you. There are many things to think about thanks to this article. I fully agree there needs to be more hand shaking & ” What can I/we do for you” with the Police. I frequently ” Chew the rag” with any officer I run into. More people should do this. Every town has it’s “Ass#%^le” cop, I try to find out why this rumor exists. I’ve rarely found it to be true IF you’re not breaking the law.Police need CONSTANT psychological learning & testing, to help the do THIER jobs AND LIVES better. As you said, no job is like a Cops’.
    Thank you again for a well written article, and, what happened to the idiot that pulled over the Ambulance??

  6. al December 10, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

    i have been arrested twice for because of miss-conduct of officers.
    I am a cops kid.
    once I was ILLEGALLY searched for reading a magazine in my car while awaiting a friend to get off of work.
    the other I was arrested for a strong armed robbery because the suspect used a car that looked like the one I had in my yard that had spiderwebs on the drivers door when you opened it, less than 2 hours after the robbery was supposed to have occurred.
    Do I think there are good cops out there?
    are there bad ones out there?
    Do Not come to my door without a warrant!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. dan December 12, 2014 at 12:39 am #

    the MAIN problems are the ‘laws’ that the POLITICIANS decide to place into existence…they only want power control and revenue , from the ‘laws’ that they enact…it has nothing to do with public safety….POWER and CONTROL and then they require the ‘enforcers’ to do as they are told to do…..GET rid of the insane politicians as a start then get honest citizens in to sort out for repeal as many ‘control laws’ as they can…….TRAINING of the LEO …MUST make them understand and abide by the Constitution….and the rights that are GUARANTEED by it…..’Politicians laws CANNOT override the BILL of RIGHTS….ever…….imho

  8. Jim December 12, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    Good points Dan, Craner died because the government wasn’t getting their cut. So much is about power and giving certain segments of society an advantage over others. Unfortunately so many LEOs get used as props and yesmen by pols which is unacceptable. Alexandria Va PD was going around the other day giving out fliers concerning open carry which flat out explained the law incorrectly. They corrected this in a statement when called out on it but the first impression is what counts.

  9. HillBilly Bob December 12, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    I am not trying to be a dick, I am interested in what kind of questions you or most cops would ask after me and the wife being pulled over with $20K we pulled out on a Friday to go do business on Monday and we don’t have the statement on us
    If my reply to an officer asking why we have so much money is we are going to buy a car and we don’t have the bank statement what happens then?
    Is a supervisor called and follow up questions asked or are me and the wife told to go get our car and have a nice day?
    And this is with no prior problems with the law whatsoever. If there are follow up questions what type would they be?
    Again I am genuinely interested and any police officer in here can chime in

    • SD December 12, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

      After the traffic part of the stop was done, and you were free to go, I would ask if I could talk to you more(ONLY if I had a suspicion based on other indicators of criminal activity). I would ask simple questions about what bank, car dealership, etc. I would watch your body language as I listened to your replies. Otherwise, if I had no other reason to suspect criminal activity, yes you and your wife would be on your way. An officer is trained to pick up on tiny details, and yes some miss them, but there are those that are good at what they do and catch many a drug related traffickers. I wasn’t trying to be a dick either, only trying to explain my side of it. 🙂

  10. HillBilly Bob December 13, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    I think the forfeiture BS needs to go away entirely, I would rather see drug dealers go free than to screw one honest person/family out of one penny and I despise drug dealers and the shit they peddle
    After the person(s) are found guilty of drug dealing then perhaps take everything they were pulled over with or caught with