Friday, September 10, 2010

Your Police Force and You

I had an interesting discussion with a coworker of mine yesterday that got me thinking.

I believe that high school children should be taught:

About arrest and powers of arrest--not just mentioned, but they should be tested on it.
About rights and responsibilities while communicating with police officers--everything from a meeting them on the street to arrest.  Not just Miranda rights stuff, but practical advice and steps they can take to avoid injury and legal issues.
About police work, especially things like duty-to-act, use of force, and securing an area that may not be intuitively obvious, and will affect what will happen to you when police are on the scene.
And especially about personal safety when in a situation where there are police officers called to the scene.

I don't care about creating obedient little citizens who do everything a police officer says.  I don't think anyone wants that.  But I do care about people understanding enough about what police work is about to handle themselves--not just from the rights/responsibility standpoint, but safety.  I don't expect the classes to teach how to be safe in every situation where a uniform appears, but a few added percentage points on the grand scale of survivability would be nice.  After all, we're not perfectly safe from predatory humans, or car accidents--but self-defense awareness and defensive driving will give you an edge.

This is in response to an article about a man who was shot by police.  Regardless of whether this is deemed a 'good shoot' or not or whether he believed the officer was a bad guy disguised as a policeman or not ... the man is dead.

 I want my kids, and all kids, to have all the information they need to make an informed choice.  Maybe they will make the same choices, and be at risk from the people sworn to protect them, even die because of bad policing or because a bad guy impersonated a police officer.  But I want them to have choices--real choices, options, knowledge, and an understanding of the consequences of the choices they make.  I don't want them to die at the hands of a good police officer simply because they didn't understand how policing works, or chose to believe in a fantasy where all cops are bad ...

Which reminds me of an aside.  There are people who seem to believe that they have unlimited rights on their own property, including using a gun to warn off a police officer who is trespassing on their property.  (I'm not saying that this is what happened, though many commentators seem convinced that the pastor had every right to carry and even draw a gun on a police officer because he was on his property.)  Of course we don't have unlimited rights on our own property.  Child abuse, spousal abuse, kidnapping, rape, torture ...   We don't have the right to do anything we want in our own homes, and police have to be able to deal with investigating disturbances somehow while infringing on as few rights as possible.  That interplay is not as simple as some people would want you to believe.  They may not understand, or not want to understand why situations like this aren't easy to judge, even if we knew exactly what happened.  I don't believe anyone, including the officer involved, knows (and no one may ever know) what went wrong.  

Anyway, it's not too hard to understand why education is so crucial.  When someone collapses in cardiac arrest, are you more likely to be able to perform CPR when you've already learned how to do it, or, not knowing CPR, will you be able to do it while the 911 dispatcher tries to explain it to you on speakerphone?  It's not rocket science, but ...

When you're scared or angry, you usually can't choose, or learn, or even think very well.  You react.  The best thing to do is to have your choices already made--to know in advance what to do.  Hopefully, when the adrenaline is flowing, and all you can hear is the rushing in your ears, you'll remember your class lessons.

When you're pulled over for a traffic stop, do you:
A. Get your driver's license and registration out.
B. Get out of the car and approach the officer.
C. Get out your gun or other weapons so that they're in plain sight.  Be sure to wave them around so the officer sees them, and refuse to cooperate until you see an official badge and picture ID.
D. All of the above ...

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