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Saturday, July 11, 2015


Despite what many police officers say/think, I DO NOT hate law enforcement. While it is true that I am vocally critical of a number of law enforcement officers, my criticisms are specific to bad behaviors of those particular officers (supported by ample evidence), and are not meant to be a broad indictment of all law enforcement generally. The truth is that I appreciate the good officers that perform a very tough job under less than ideal conditions. I honor and respect honest men and woman that truly understand their oath and try to live by the high ideals that they had when a badge was placed on their chest.
Still, we have to recognize that there is a problem with police/citizen relations in this country that needs correction. There has to be a better way. If we have the courage to embrace positive (and maybe difficult) change, we can fix what is broken. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but here are my suggestions.
1. Treat Police Officers as Human Beings.
Police Officers are not superheroes. Superman…Batman…Spiderman…all fictional characters that can perfectly perform amazing tasks, while the horrible things they experience have no negative effect on their psyche. These characters do not exist, but still, society expects police officers to act like these super heroes and perform perfectly without showing any negative effects. This is neither realistic nor fair. As a society, we need to stop treating Police Officers like they are fictional, super-human, imaginary characters.
As an attorney, I see and hear horrible things as I comb through thousands of pages of evidence files, preparing to defend my clients. Over time, exposure to these terrible facts affects me deeply…it jades me…it changes me…I don’t smile as much as I used to and my family notices the difference. So then, what about the police officer that has to compile all of that evidence in that neatly prepared file? What about the officer that doesn’t have the privilege of not seeing the graphic human faces attached to the case? What about the cases that never make it to the attorney’s desk…the horrible accidents, de-escalation of not-so-cool heads, and the crimes where there is not enough evidence to bring about justice? Let’s not kid ourselves. Dealing with these issues would change anyone. Police Officers are witnesses to real life crazy, heartbreaking, and emotionally draining scenarios. We have to recognize the human element to their jobs.
2. Give Police Officers the Resources That They Really Need.
If we look at any police department’s budget, how much money is allocated to the human element of policing? What resources are dedicated to helping officers not only return home safely, but return to their families in the same mental state as when they left their homes? As a society, do we even care if our police officers are mentally damaged on the job? If everyone expects our police to act like Andy Griffith, we either have to make sure that the police only deal with Andy Griffith issues or make sure that the officers exposed to horrible things have the necessary resources to properly deal with it. I believe that a reasonable investment in making sure officers are mentally sharp will increase productivity, minimize negative mental effects, and make better police officers. Professionals that know more about this than I do will have to work out how to do this, but the law enforcement budget needs to make it happen.
3. Police Need to Recognize Perceptions.
Right or wrong, the way the public perceives police officers is their reality. Every time a police officer makes an excuse for their actions, that officer defines that interaction as a negative one. Every time a police officer says “I’m just doing my job”, citizens hear “Police Officers are bad”. Think about it. If it is a negative interaction, and a police officer is “just doing their job”, then a police officer just told the citizens that police officers are negative. That is the perception that police officers are creating for themselves. Likewise, if a police officer projects a controlling/demeaning attitude towards others, that police officer is telling everyone that “police officers are controlling/demeaning to others”. Perceptions matter, and whether it is fair or not, the negative perceptions are the ones that people remember most. Most importantly, negative actions/perceptions make a police officer’s job more dangerous, more confrontational, and more difficult.
Conversely, a positive perception is a service to the community and makes an officer’s job less dangerous, less confrontational, and less difficult. In fact, positive officers that do their job by the book make a defense lawyer’s job extremely difficult. For example, the Boulder City Police Department employs a man named Officer Nutzman. Officer Nutzman treats everyone with respect and calmly goes about his job without any perception of superiority. He talks to suspects with a calm demeanor, respects their Constitutional rights, doesn’t cut corners, and is as honest as the sky is blue. The problem for defense attorneys is that our clients openly and freely talk to Officer Nutzman and tell him EVERYTHING. Officer Nutzman treats them fairly, makes accurate records, doesn’t trample on anyone’s Constitutional rights, and leaves defense attorneys with little or no ammunition to fight a charge (unless, of course, our client is innocent). Officer Nutzman has a reputation for his honesty (even when it hurts the case), a talent for de-escalation, and a pleasant demeanor. Is there any doubt that Officer Nutzman is doing it right? Officer Nutzman clearly recognizes perceptions and projects a positive light on police work.
To simplify what I’m trying to say: If officers will refrain from acting like a jackwagon, be honest (even when it hurts the case), not cut corners, stay calm/friendly, and not project negativity (including telling the public that they are “just doing their job”), the public perception of police officers will improve dramatically. Just ask Officer Nutzman.
4. Demilitarize.
You cannot win the hearts and minds of the community when you look like an occupying force. Police Officers may look cool with their military gear, but it scares normal people and sends a dangerous message. If you need the equipment, fine, but don’t show it off. Showing off (or acting in a way that makes it look like you are showing off) makes yourselves look like jackwagons. Tactical gear works regardless of how it looks, so try not to look like you are overthrowing your community…please.
5. Good Cops Need to Turn in Bad Cops
We have all seen the media stories and the YouTube videos- bad cops caught doing horrible things on cell phone cameras/security cameras. These are the bad cops that I fight against- the ones that are defendants in lawsuits. The worst part is that these bad cops make all of you look bad, especially since there are other police officers there that don’t do anything to stop them. When the media shows cell phone footage of police acting badly, and there are other officers present that do nothing to protect the public from the bad officers, it sends a horrible message and further tarnishes all officers.
So, be a friend to your fellow officers and step in to stop bad behavior. When it is serious enough, make reports to internal affairs or your superiors. There are many, many people whose negative perceptions of police would turn positive if good officers turned in the bad ones. Please do yourselves and everyone else a favor by doing the right thing and policing your own ranks. For best results, and you need to act before the story hits the news.
Lastly, please note that every single suggestion that I am making to correct what is wrong with law enforcement/citizen relations also applies to attorneys. Lawyers clearly need this advice as well.
Stephen P. Stubbs
Attorney at Law