HI, OFFICER BOB!

Two recent New York Times pieces have drawn attention to a pair of positively staggering statistics. First, a national survey of over 7,300 young Americans found that by age 23, more than 30% had been arrested. This excludes traffic violations, open container tickets, and the like. Three out of ten Americans have been arrested by the time an average person is finishing college. Second, the NYPD recorded over 600,000 pedestrian searches (the "stop and frisk" variety) in 2010. The subject of 87% of these was either black or Latino.

As this editorial by a 23 year old black New Yorker points out, this is not without long term consequences:

When I was young I thought cops were cool. They had a respectable and honorable job to keep people safe and fight crime. Now, I think their tactics are unfair and they abuse their authority. The police should consider the consequences of a generation of young people who want nothing to do with them — distrust, alienation and more crime.

He's being more diplomatic than I would be (which I suppose is why he's in the New York Times and I write a blog full of dick jokes). The fruit of the War on Drugs has been several generational cohorts of Americans who think cops are A) assholes, and/or B) the enemy. They have every reason to think that, and law enforcement seems eager to give them more every day.

This is anecdotal to the places I've lived and I can't find any statistics on it, but when was the last time you saw a cop "Walking the beat"? Like, on foot? Not actively pursuing anyone, not sitting in a squad car, not conducting a roadblock or investigation…just walking around and, you know, interacting with people. Hell, I'm not sure I've ever seen that. An older friend of mine tells stories about growing up in Philadelphia in the 1950s and passing Officer Bob every morning on his way to school – not frisking kids or running a metal detector over them. Just standing around saying "Hi kids! Be good!" Does that actually happen anywhere these days, even in small towns?

The militarization of law enforcement and thirty years of Zero Tolerance, tough-on-crime politics have created an America in which law enforcement has become, perhaps unwillingly, the Other, the Ministry of State Security types used as anonymous, menacing stock characters in dystopian fiction. And the frightening end result is that most Americans my age or younger – anyone born after Carter, I guess – have never had an interaction with the police except being arrested or being given a ticket. For non-white people in particular, many of us reach middle age now having never had a positive interaction with police. It has all been negative. Seeing the police does not make us feel safer. It makes us want to get the hell away from the police, because we believe that nothing good can come of interacting with them.

The statistics that opened this post point to deep problems with law enforcement in this country. Americans, especially younger ones, see police as callous, mean, prejudiced, and arrogant. We don't think of cops as Officer Leroy who was hung out on Main Street and told us to stay out of trouble. When we see cops, we think of that square-headed guy from high school who everyone laughed at so he decided to get a badge and take his insecurities out on society. We don't think of them as people who help us – we think of ourselves getting pepper sprayed, smacked over the head, or held face down on the pavement at gunpoint for no reason whatsoever.

I'm a law abiding 33 year old white male with a Ph.D. and an aspiring middle class lifestyle…and I've never dealt with a cop who wasn't an asshole toward me. Not once. If that's how they treat someone who practically shits white male privilege, I feel safe assuming that they're not being much friendlier or more helpful to anyone else. The police officer is supposed to be someone we can trust implicitly, and instead the policies of the past three decades have transformed the citizen-police relationship to one of deep, mutual suspicion. They see us as drug holding, law breaking felons-in-waiting, and we see them as an opponent to be avoided at all costs.

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68 Responses to “HI, OFFICER BOB!”

  1. HoosierPoli Says:

    Fucking nailed it, and another classic line: "someone who practically shits white male privilege".

  2. jgalt Says:

    You sound like a hippy to me. Why would a cop play nice with a hippy.

    BTW, the one cop I know was EXACTLY like you described. He's was. and still is, a total loser. It scares me that he carries a gun.

  3. Alvin B. Says:

    +jgalt So who exactly DO you have to be for a cop to play nice with you? Heck, they don't even play nice with their own most of the time. I have to say that while I've never been arrested, I have been on the sour end of a few dealings with the police myself, and I've got friends who've had it worse. And, like the author, I am white and male – you'd think it wouldn't be a problem. I am seriously trying to recall a pleasant encounter I've ever had with a police offer in my entire 37 years. I think one tried to sell me Amway when he was off duty once, he was pretty nice about it. I didn't buy.

    Thing is, they are so busy heckling people for stupid shit that habitual repeat offenders often go untouched and often nobody is nearby or available to respond in the event of a true emergency. Something less than an emergency you may as well not try.

  4. Major Kong Says:

    We had several guys in my national guard unit who were on either the city or state police forces.

    They were all pretty decent – but I never had to deal with any of them in an "official capacity".

  5. Slocum Says:

    "Protect and Serve" should be changed to "Knock Down the Wrong Door and Shoot Your Dog"

  6. DanL Says:

    I'm a 53-year-old white lawyer–not exactly the profile of a troublemaker. And I do everything possible to avoid police. If I see a cop down the street, I cross to the other side, or turn around. If I see one behind me on the road, I turn off and let him pass. I don't trust them, and I've never had a good interaction with them. To me, there is a thin line between a cop and a thug. Both have violent mindsets and a disposition toward intimidation. The only difference is that if a cop shoots you, it's always, always "reasonable force." Where I live, cops routinely shoot unarmed citizens, yet there has never been an indictment. The grand juries never find that a crime has possibly been committed. It's a rigged game.

  7. Middle Seaman Says:

    The police has deteriorated with the rest of the country. The more violent the system became towards its own citizens, e.g. cut education, allow hidden guns in houses of worship, the more violent the police has become.

    The alarming 87% racially motivated stopping of pedestrians is the violence of the 1% towards the 99% with racial and violent emphasis.

  8. randy062 Says:

    This is just the 'tip' of the iceberg…I remember when cops wouldn't write traffic tickets on Sundays,unless an accident was involved…

    Have any of you read the new NDAA bill that was passed this past week??
    This thing is being lauded as a civil rights breakthrough success,,,unbelieveable… Wait a couple of years and see how 'this thing' gets weaved into everyday life,,,,'this thing' has assured that the 60's shall never happen again…. I pity anyone under the age of fifty living in the United States today,,,or in the world for that matter…

    Hopefully an asteroid will smash into my bedroom while I sleep,,quick and painless….

  9. Number Three Says:

    I live in The Nation's Capital, and the cops actually walk a beat here — under certain, limited circumstances. When I lived in the Dupont Circle area, there was a string of muggings, and as a result the chief of police put the cops out on foot. I actually talked to a few of the cops walking the beat, expressing my view that this was a good thing. They seemed friendly enough. Now I live on Capitol Hill, and a couple years ago there was a rash of carjackings. Once again, the chief of police (a different one) put the cops on the street. I have no idea whether cops walk a beat in dicier neighborhoods (Trinidad, East of the River).

    None of this is to disagree with the main thrust of the article. However, as a "government bureaucrat" by trade, I think it's important to stress that there are many good people in the public sector — people who do what they do every day because they believe in serving the public — and that must include some cops. It's just that a lot of that is not going to make the news.

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    I'm 53, and when I was a kid growing up in Queens, NYC, the cops used to walk a beat.

    In my neighborhood, most days it was Officer Mike, a big old Irishman, with a gun that looked as big as a howitzer when I was little.

    Now, instead of walking a beat, I think they run to join in a beating.

    Actually, they drive – it's faster.

  11. Purple Says:

    I'm white, male, early 40's, and generally haven't had very many positive interactions with police, not since Officer Friendly in grade school, anyway. However, in Rochester, NY, I've seen pairs of police on foot patrol after 11PM a couple of times, and in the warmer months, they have bicycle patrols. I was once driving through a pretty crappy neighborhood and saw a single cop on a bike. It was broad daylight, but I still had to admire his balls.

    Otherwise, I agree with the content of the article.

  12. c u n d gulag Says:

    Oh, and when I was a bartender, I loved it when firemen came in for drinks after work – they were great guys, had a good time, told some terrific stories and jokes, and tipped well..

    Cops? Not so much… Almost all of the them were macho assholes – even the women. They were mean – and grew meaner with every drink. And their tips weren't that great.

    But the lowest form of life, in my opinion, are CO's (Correctional Officers). They are mostly scum. They'd come into the bar looking for fights, were obnoxious assholes, and were shitty tippers.

    I taught for over 3 years in a Maximum Security Prison in Upstate, NY, and I would much rather deal with the inmates than the CO's. I met one CO there that was decent. The rest were hardly credits to the human race. I know it's a tough job to guard prisoners, but, jeez, a little humanity wouldn't hurt…

  13. * Says:

    My cousin became a PO a couple years ago, I think I should send him this blog post before he has a chance to become jaded…

  14. anotherbozo Says:

    The most devastating—because the most tangential and matter-of-fact—fictional reference to racist stop-and-frisk was in the old movie, "House Party" with Kid 'n' Play. Tellingly it had a black director, Reginald Hudlin.

    The two leads were walking in a white neighborhood, a cop car came up alongside them, copy got out, gave them the third degree, frisked them, told them to get the hell out. This had nothing to do with the plot. The characters weren't at all surprised, I recall. They'd wandered into a white neighborhood, so this was to be expected.

    Then the plot went on its own merry way. No big whoop.

    Since it was primarily a black movie for black audiences (Hudlin was no Spike Lee), the assumption was that the viewers would all have this as part of their set of assumptions about cops and racism.

    Woke me up. Wow! It's really like that?

  15. Tteddo Says:

    Believe it or not when I grew up in Detroit there were beat cops and they all were pretty cool (in the 70's). It was in a white area though. Also both interactions with the Kennebunkport PD in the last few years were great, but every other town around here is as described pretty much.

    Instead of projecting helpfulness or protection, they all project menace.

  16. smelter rat Says:

    Even up here in peaceful old Canada you won't see any cops walking a beat (not in my province at least). I mean how would they carry their laptops, body armour and shotguns around? Oddly enough, the only places you might see an attempt at "community policing" is on remote native reserves, and even then, not on welfare days when most of the community is pissed drunk.

  17. bb in GA Says:

    NDAA – Bad Moon Rising

    //bb

  18. Nan Says:

    I'm a white woman, and I've got to echo what everyone else is saying — think the last time I had a pleasant encounter with a cop was at least 40 years ago. These days, they're all macho assholes, especially the women — they seem to have bought into the idea that in order to gain any respect, they have to be bigger pricks than their co-workers who were born with dicks.

    One of the more depressing conversations I've had in recent years was with my teenage grandson — he and his friends were in the habit of hanging around downtown in the small northern Wisconsin city where he lived at the time. If they spotted a cop car, they tended to break up and run. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be warning a white teenager to stay absolutely still and not turn his back on a police officer, but based on what I'd been seeing with the militarization and dehumanization of the police, I had no doubt even a cop in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, would not hesitate to shoot a "fleeing"

  19. Nan Says:

    And the system twitched and cut off the last word. Fleeing teenager, of course.

  20. Entomologista Says:

    Because I am white, female, young, and not unattractive my experience with cops has been different. I am the very definition of the person they (especially male cops) have in mind as somebody whom they are supposed to protect. My brother, on the other hand, is brown and as such his experience is completely different. He gets pulled over randomly. When he's with his white friends he's the one who gets in trouble. The cops pull my family over to question how we're related to each other. It's completely ridiculous.

  21. Amused Says:

    My husband and I were stopped by a cop just outside of the small town of Ouray, Colorado, five years ago. I don't know what attracted him to us. Perhaps the new Impala and the Utah license plate gave it away as a rental. The cop accused us of driving "straight through" Ouray at 50 miles per hour (a blatant lie; we were stuck in traffic for a while, and we stopped at a grocery store) and ignoring his lights and sirens as he tried to stop us "for ten miles, at least" (another blatant lie). Then he started making increasingly menacing comments about the fact that we were from the New York City area. I kid you not, there was a long segment in that encounter where I was afraid for my and my husband's lives. We were above a steep drop; there were no witnesses; and a cop who lied to our faces about why he stopped us would not hesitate to lie to others about how we died. His conduct did nothing to dispel that impression. After twenty agonizing minutes of taunting and threats, he let us go. As we were driving away (very slowly), my husband, who is not ordinarily the least bit interested in race issues said: "We are lucky we aren't black — I guess?"

    But, while this is probably the most egregious incident I've had with the law enforcement, I share Ed's experience that I have NEVER had an interaction with a cop in which the cop wasn't a complete jackass to me.

    Also, on the subject of police corruption and terrorizing law-abiding citizens, I highly recommend this "This American Life" broadcast about Adrian Schoolcraft, a New York City cop who surreptitiously recorded conversations in his precinct for many months. It's beyond appalling.

  22. Fish_Doc Says:

    I'm mid-30s, white, have several degrees, and was arrested too many times in my younger days. I've been pulled over three times in the last four months and haven't gotten ticket. I'm honest (i.e., "yes, I know why you pulled me over. I didn't stop at that stop sign."), respectful (i.e., yes sir and no sir), and I have a concealed weapons permit that shows up when my license is looked up on their in-car computers.

    I'm guessing that once the officer/deputy/patrolperson sees that I have a CWP (which means I've been given a thorough background check by local law enforcement), they deem me one of the "good guys" that should be let off with a slap on the wrist.

    In response to the questions that may follow regarding my possession of a CWP: why not?

  23. Tim H. Says:

    For working class people the distrust goes a long way back, my father was a WWII vet, and distrusted law enforcement. I remember old cartoons with characters running from the police. What we see now is only that bad situation made worse.

  24. Jared Says:

    In one of his books, S.M. Stirling coined the phrase "professional practitioner of coercive violence". A handy, if cumbersome, title which covers cops, soldiers, thugs, pirates, mercenaries, bouncers, anyone who breaks skulls for a living.

  25. skyskier Says:

    Like everyone it's mostly bad but I want to commend the 5-10% of them who are decent human beings. I remember a couple of encounters (out of a whole lot) with real people who happen to be cops.

    In one instance I was going 75mph in a 55 zone when he lit his lights (not a speed trap he was just on a side road). So my first thought is to put distance between us by opening it up a little, pushing 100-120 on the straights (not that hard on a new GSXR). This is a mountain road north of vancouver, very twisty, one lane each direction. We go for about 4 miles, me in "sport riding mode" and him in full chasing mode. I'm using my speed, narrow profile and knowing the road well to cover ground. I'm starting to gap him when I'm thinking "this is not the brightest of ideas". I stop at a small parking lot at the end of straight-away where he could see me turn in. I must have had close to a mile on him by then. Take off my helmet, gloves and unzip my suit while I wait for him to catch up, park and get out. His words to me "So, what's going on?" "Kind of going fast there weren't you?" "I need you to slow down and ride carefully, have a nice day".

    This was a mountain road with no residences so the risk was mostly to myself but still, he could have been a total d1ck. I came to learn through a friend (turns out he was a friend of a friend) that he got t-boned by a bus while on duty not far from our little chase, a few months later. RIP cst Audi.

  26. ladiesbane Says:

    Cops are usually hired locally, so think in terms of your locale. Growing up in rural Montana, cops were guys you went to school with (or their dads) who radioed for help when you were in the ditch, broke up fights at the Log Cabin bar, and let your social studies teacher drive drunk because it would be a shame to arrest the football coach. Nice guys, but over time, they have lots of respect for their own privacy and very little for yours. Prone to stalking girlfriends and ex-wives.

    Portland, OR cops walk beats, talk to neighbors, and tend to live in the areas they patrol. Policy comes down from the top on that: you are there to keep the peace and earn (actually merit) the trust of the citizens. They do, by and large. Accountability to the standard and a sincere urge to make the town a better place really help. You can call them without hesitation.

    But Phoenix metro? A town with deep poverty, enormous race/crime/drug problems, a hugely conservative and diverse religious population, and temperatures that make everyone crazy? Some cops are okay, especially if you are wealthy, white, and straight, but the Sheriff's department is the biggest street gang in the state — and proud of it. The best thing you can do, even as a victim, is stay off their radar.

  27. bill Says:

    The "pepper-spray cop" internet meme sums up what the young generation thinks of police, for the most part.

    They exist to be feared and mocked.

  28. E* Says:

    I went to grad school in the UC system, so you can only imagine how I feel about cops. We had almost daily muggings and occasional rapes on campus, and the UC police reaction was to send out e-mails warning us to not come to campus unless it was "necessary." Really? That's the best you can do? Meanwhile, they pepper spray and taser the f*** out of non-violent students, whose only offense is their presence on campus.

    It seemed they were a little unclear on the concept of "campus" and what we students were supposed to be doing there.

  29. CHlady Says:

    in Chapel Hill, NC the cops walk and talk and act like Mayberry cops, always have, then this happened. http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/12/14/1711751/chapel-hill-police-committee-asks.html so the future is still unknown.

  30. Jaime Says:

    Quite a few years back in Burbank CA, I was driving a craptacular looking Datsun station wagon and on my lunch break pulled into a shopping centre parking lot, slotting into a space between two cars. I got distracted and started reading the local free alterna-rag without exiting my vehicle.
    'KNOCK KNOCK' at my window. A Burbank PO standing by my car asks me for my license, reg etc. I hand 'em over.
    "Can I help you sir?" asks I. "What are you doing?" "Reading this" – holding up the LA Weekly. "I saw you park and you didn't get out of your car." "Well, I got distracted. I like to read."
    Back to his unit to check me out on the computer (at that time I had a perfect driving record with clean insurance and current reg).
    He comes back – "Ever been in jail?" "No, never." "You sure?" "Not ever." "You got a job?" "Yes – I work at Company X on Y Ave here in Burbank. I'm on my lunch." (Y Ave was essentially around the corner by car). "Well, what you did looked suspicious. Have a nice day."
    I've always wondered what initially caught this guy's eye and can only conclude this was a mild instance of Driving While Looking Poor.

  31. acer Says:

    I've had a few pleasant runs-in with the fuzz. When I was in college, I was twice detained for public intoxication, then given a warning and a lift home. That was immediately pre-9/11.

    After the last ten years, I'd rather deal with the Crips than the LAPD. I'd argue that drug prohibition, more than anything else, has led to our current scenario, and that further militarizing the War on Some Drugs was part of the Bush Admin's plan to exploit the WTC attacks. Worked like gangbusters, obviously.

    A tip for service-industry types: Never work in a "cop bar." They NEVER FUCKING CLOSE. And be particularly on notice if you live in the snakepit that is Chicago:
    http://archive.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/06/cop-to-be-sentenced-for-beating-bartender.html

    In the interest of fairness, I'll add that Highway Patrol officers have been cool with me more often than not when they've stopped me for equipment violations I clearly didn't know about.

  32. komoriblue Says:

    I understand why some people feel the way they do about cops. As a white female, my experiences have varied; I've had some very pleasant (even humorous!) interactions with the police, and some very unpleasant ones.

    By far the worst, however, was when I was pulled over in a largely upper-class white neighborhood with the guy I was dating at the time, who was very clearly biracial. The cop interrogated and threatened us both, separately, for at least 20 minutes. I hate to think what the situation could have become had I been pulled over for anything worse than the broken taillight.

    I know that not all cops are bad people. I also know why they have the reputation that they do, and I can not say it isn't deserved. The entire situation is very sad and terrifying.

  33. Andrew Says:

    I'm a law-abiding white male age 46 and have been treated better than I deserve by the police. I once was let off without a ticket for going 50+ mph in a school zone. I didn't see the sign, and I knew I was going a bit fast, but I never would have deliberately done that, and I think the cop believed me, believe that I didn't come that way very often, and believed that I wouldn't do it again. And I haven't. But I deserved that ticket. And I've deserved others that I haven't gotten. I've also been yelled at in an intimidating manner by a cop merely for asking for clarification as to what he was asking me to do. Question = questioning authority, apparently. But he didn't hit me or arrest me. The cops who've investigated minor property crimes of which I've been the victim have, as expected, been ineffective and slow to arrive, but they were polite. About the worst cop experience I ever had was when I had to identify a perp in a photo lineup, and only one of the pictures was of a person of the same race as the suspect. I said I couldn't be sure because of that, and the case was lost. I still live in that town, but I don't trust the cops, as they have a reputation for being racist, and my anecdotal evidence confirms that.

  34. Andrew Says:

    Best cop experience: In May 1991, aged not quite 26, I was suffering from (as yet undiagnosed) mononucleosis. The main symptom was that I was insanely tired all the time. One afternoon, on the way to visit a friend in a small East Bay town whose cops are notoriously bored, I stopped at the AM/PM to get a coffee. As I was driving to my friend's house in a non-cupholder-equipped car, a cop pulled me over for "weaving." I told him, "Yeah, that's because as soon as I saw your flashing lights, I spilled hot coffee on my crotch." He laughed and let me go.

  35. Xulon Says:

    Way back in the mid-70s, the lily-white suburb in which I grew up (Greece, NY) started a beat-walking thing with a couple of police officers to improve community relations. In a newspaper interview, one of the officers expressed surprise at the good reception they received. "I expected some verbal abuse", he said as if he thought white suburban housefraus were going to open their door and spew at them as they walked by. Better to have not given that interview I would say.

  36. JohnR Says:

    I'm in the same generation as DanL and cund, and actually have had several neutral and even positive interactions with cops and state troopers over the years (and have known a couple socially). To a greater or lesser extent, many of them are failrly decent people, but overworked, cut off from the people they're ostensibly 'protecting' (and protecting from whom?), and like the guys in Viet Nam, unable to easily separate the "good guys" from "the enemy". With all that, my gut-level reflex reaction is still distrust bordering on outright hostility when I encounter a cop, no matter how much I try to push it down. It may be from a couple of bad experiences, combined with a lot of news stories, I don't know. What I know is that cops, like interstate truckers and the military, are surrounded by people who act suspicious at best, hostile at worst, and are liable at any moment to do something stupid, dangerous and even life-threatening. I'm not surprised so many of them react the way they do to any sort of perceived threat. The system is set up to force that sort of response. I put myself in their place, and I suspect I might well have trouble restraining myself in a perceived crisis. Probably not as gleefully vicious as some percentage of them are, but what with group dynamics, you never know. Letting it all go is almost pleasurable in a horrible sort of way. That's kind of like warfare in a foreign land – when you're released from the rules of society, and become the Hand of God (so to speak) some of us just find it too arousing to easily go back to being a small person in a big, restrictive group. Cops now get to live more or less outside the rules in much of the country. How do you get it back to them being part of the larger group again? Especially when we've been living under 'divide and conquer' for a couple of generations. All I know is that hostility breeds hostility, and it tends to go in only one direction. I really think we're not going to be able to go back until we come out the other side, like the various losing totalitarian states have over the centuries. I hope I'm wrong yet again.

  37. nate Says:

    Officer Eddie: (reading Steve Sax's license) Well well, Steve Sax, from New York City.

    Officer Lou: I heard some guy got killed in New York City and they never solved the case. But you wouldn't know anything about that now, would you, Steve?

    (Lou and Eddie laugh)

    Steve Sax: But there are hundreds of unsolved murders in New York City.

    Officer Lou: You don't know when to keep your mouth shut, do you, Saxxy Boy?

    Read more: http://www.tvfanatic.com/quotes/shows/the-simpsons/season-3/page-9.html#ixzz1h6Gd5ZtB

  38. sluggo Says:

    I trust cops as far as can throw them. They have not hassled me in years. Their personality type, by and large, is determined by who can push around who, so they may see me as someone not to mess with since I am white, working class, college educated, pushing fifty and I am about the same size as an NFL linebacker.
    Probably the same reason gangbangers leave me alone….see any connection??

  39. Da Moose Says:

    Let's not forget that many police departments recruit heavily from the armed forces. They're staffing their ranks with people who've been brainwashed to operate in an environment where no law exists: the battlefield. Whenever I see a news article that some local municipality or city has had to cut their police force because of fiscal constraints, I always take note of this great news. Phuck the police.

  40. DrAwkward Says:

    I'm not disagreeing with Ed, but here are some notable exceptions from my neck of the woods:

    1) In Riverwest in Milwaukee (where the artsy college student, bohemian types live next door to working-class minority folk), cops have been walking a beat during warmer weather, as a reaction to the uptick in crime we get when Summer hits. I haven't interacted with them a lot, but i'm glad they're there.

    2) The Madison police have been mostly so frickin' cool with the protesters that it's Bizarro world.

  41. Michael Says:

    There have been a few good blog posts from people who've been arrested as part of the Occupy protests. One good one detailed his arrest and detention in downtown NYC, and he pointed out that except for the Occupy protesters, the only people arrested during the entire time he was present (~2 days,) were black drug users. Zero arrests for anything else.

    There IS no crime except for drug crime, in major cities anyway. The entire system at this point exists to frisk black people and incarcerate them if they are found in possession of drugs. That's what 80% of the cops are doing 80% of the time. The other 20% incorporates everything else you might expect: traffic stops, solving murders, eating donuts. The entire system is devoted, more or less, to putting black people in jail for nonviolent drug crime.

    It's an eye-opener when you think about it like that.

    I'm an upstanding white male wealthy citizen and a military veteran. I've never had a good interaction with the police, never had an interaction where they went out of their way to help me. Have had several where they went out of their way to screw me.

    In the military, many people had joined with the express intent of becoming police officers afterwards. (Colleges that offer classes on military bases always offer criminal justice degrees… it's a standard career path.) They were, in general, the most thuggish people I knew in the military. Not to say that they were all assholes. But they all had asshole potential. And I suspect a few years of police work is enough to bring that potential out.

  42. EJ Says:

    Not sure about other cities, but in Los Angeles the initial push to take cops off neighborhood beats and put them into squad cars in the 1950s was part of a fight against corruption. At least in the perception of city and police leaders, "interacting with the comnunity" was too often synonymous with "mixing with shady characters" and "shaking down local merchants."

    Of course this backfired and we ended up with the modern, militarized LAPD whose problems reached their nadir under Chief Gates and continue to this day – but the original thinking behind it largely predates the modern War on Drugs.

  43. acer Says:

    @EJ:
    Historically accurate, but however misguided that thinking was (and it was arguably a bad solution to a worse problem, at the time), I think the WOD was the gasoline on the stovetop.

    Gates did yeoman's work in getting most Angelenos to trust pushers more than cops, but he couldn't have done it without the Drug War. At this point, the damage is done – restoring traditional beat cops wouldn't change anything.

  44. merl Says:

    Here in Renton we have bicycle cops. And I have seen them just standing around talking to people at the transit center. I'm a white 53 year and have been pulled over for various traffic offenses I don't know how many times. The only ticket I've ever received was from a black cop in Louisiana. I figured it was payback. hahaha

  45. Craig Says:

    I had one pleasant interaction with a motorcycle cop in Kortrijk, Belgium. I was on a solo bicycle tour, and had stopped to look at a map. The officer stopped beside me and asked what I was looking for. When I told him I was looking for a hotel, he told me to follow him. He led me through the city traffic to a really nice place right next to the main square. I suspect that that's the first and last police escort I'll ever get while riding a bicycle.

  46. Zeb Says:

    Here in San Diego, one of the safest big cities in the nation, we've had around a dozen cops arrested this year, including two for rape/sexual assault. That, combined with bad police stories out of Orange County and LA, certainly hasn't helped the reputation of the police force.

    Sadly, being right on the border, our police are probably even more militarized than those of many other cities, despite our extremely low violent crime rate– all thanks to the War on Drugs.

    Also, I'm in my twenties, and I have never seen a cop walking the beat, except at large events like festivals and football games.

  47. Heqit Says:

    I'm a white, college-educated 30-year-old woman in a fairly small Southern town. My experiences with cops – all traffic stops – have been mostly but not entirely negative. Had one cop who pulled me over twice in one 24 hour period (for not having an up-to-date state inspection sticker) who was very nice about it but still gave me a ticket; had another who pulled me for speeding (62 in a 45 zone) and yelled at me for 10 minutes but DIDN'T give me a ticket. Scariest encounter was when I was dropping a coworker off after work and bumped his neighbor's car. I pulled up to get out and assess the damage, and a cop who was driving by pulled over, jumped out, and began accusing me of trying to do a hit and run. It was almost one in the morning (we'd worked the late shift), and my co-worker, a flamboyantly gay black man, came out of his house to argue with the white (did I mention this was a small Southern town?) cop on my behalf. Cop was PISSED, and for about 15 minutes I was scared that my coworker was going to be shot and/or I was going to be arrested (but not the other way around). Luckily nothing actually happened and the cop eventually left, but damn was that tense.

    So, like @Entomologista upthread, I'm pretty much the definition of "Person To Be Protected" in what I'm guessing is standard cop-think. My experiences clearly could have been much worse, but I still cringe and avoid if at all possible when I see the police. And interestingly enough, my extremely conservative, law-and-order Republican small-town-doctor father – who is Establishment to the core – has actually warned me to be careful of the local Sheriff's office deputies. The stories he's heard them tell around the hospital has convinced him that he NEVER wants his daughter alone and at their mercy. Yikes.

  48. DJ Says:

    I've had mixed results in my experiences with cops. Growing up in Chicago, I had more than one unpleasant run in for the most benign things. One example that sticks out: a couple of friends and I decided to play basketball at the condo complex one of us lived in. This was after hours, and technically we were in the wrong…but instead of just a simple warning to get out, a cop rushed into the court, grabbed us all, shoved us up against the fence, pulled our hair while screaming about how we had "done something to his car" (no idea what he meant, we'd never seen the guy before and weren't the type of kids to vandalize vehicles)…just way, way over the top considering what we'd done, but we were too young and beholden to the idea of "the badge" to protest much. We did complain to the complex's management office, but I doubt it did any good.

    On the other hand, the same group of friends and I got busted walking around in a forest preserve while smoking pot. The cops could have had a field day with us, but instead calmly scattered what we had on to the ground and said "No evidence. Go home."

    Driving….got pulled over as a teen for not completely stopping at a sign in a parking lot. There was a speed bump directly in front of the sign, so I was going quite slow despite the lack of a full stop. I was in my very first car — a rickety heap I bought for just a couple hundred. This cop proceeded to pour over every inch of the car, looking for anything he could ticket, and of course, there was a lot. Just ridiculous.

    Then, as an adult, I move to Vegas, where I'm warned that the cops are absolute dicks. Sure enough, I get pulled over within my first week (hadn't changed my license plate yet, though the ones I had were still valid). I steeled myself for an unpleasant experience…only to discover that the cop was very nice, understanding that I'd just arrived and not making a huge deal out of it. And every other time I'd gotten pulled over, the same thing: each cop was very cool about it, never giving me a ticket and even complimenting me on my spotless driving record.

    I really can't compare my experiences with what others here have had and/or written about; I feel I've been pretty lucky overall. Like most, I just do my best to avoid any situation that would put me in contact with cops. I try to remember that there are human beings in those uniforms…but the reality is you never know what *kind* of human being you're going to be dealing with.

    It's just a shame that the pricks soil what should be a respected job.

  49. arjuna Says:

    here in san francisco i see beat cops in most of the neighborhoods i frequent: the very hispanic/bohemian Mission district; the dead-at-night but bustling-by-day Financial District; the weekly motel ridden Tenderloin; the tourist trap of the Haight Ashbury; stroller-filled Noe Valley and Cole Valley; even the so-called Jazz District (actually known as the Fillmore). I don't see them interacting very much with the locals, but their presence is felt. A friend of mine that works in a tattoo shop on haight street says that his interactions with the cops on that beat have been fairly positive, but he only interacts with them while he's at work, so there's not really much for them to screw with him over. my own experiences with the beat cops here have been mostly neutral, but i'm a mid-30s white guy that has to wear a collared shirt to work, so i guess i'm off their radar.
    but i haven't always been off the radar, as i was once a young troublemaker. in those halcyon days, every interaction i had with cops was, at best, uncomfortable, and at worst, terrifying, painful and humiliating. even as a currently law-abiding citizen i do everything i can to avoid contact with law enforcement. even the nice ones on haight street trying to improve the public image.

  50. tones Says:

    I am white but have long hair.
    I got pulled over every time I drove until I started going in disguise.

    I am 42 and have never , ever had a good experience with the police.
    i have been called names, searched, harassed, and the best time I can think of was the one time they did not give me a ticket.
    That is the best I have ever had.
    I fear them deeply and definitely see them as none other than the enemy.
    To Protect and Serve has no place on their vehicles whatsoever.

    Only the Fire Dept actually protects and serves, and only they are good in my book.
    When the traffic lights are out or there is a huge traffic jam -do they get out and direct ?
    Hell No!
    They flash the lights so they can break the law and pass all the rest of us while we wait.
    Obviously they are far too important to represent the people who live in the area, they exist only to protect the rich FROM the poor.

    Thugs.Hoods.crooks.blaggards.

    I think 90% of the money spent on them is totally wasted, and goes to no good use.

    Wasn't there a time where they would wait at the station in case you called ?
    Now they just go out and "drum up business", i.e. cause crime and frame others for it.
    Any area where there is real crime, you will NEVER see them.
    They will all be busy tasing little old ladies and elementary school children.
    [at the donut shop]

    QWS has solidified this view for me, it is DEFINITELY us against them.
    They would sell us into slavery or fascism so fast our heads would spin.
    They would love to beat us down if we resist.

    Then pepper spray the girls and children while shooting the men in the head with tear gas canisters -for fun.

    F—k the PO-lice!

    ESPECIALLY NYPD!!!

    /rant

  51. Bernard Says:

    My nephew is in the Army due to Right wing War on Youth. Darker skin than mine meant 3 years in the Army or in jail with a record. Police power is part of the War on America, Blacks,Latinos, etc. the "Other". the mindset of the military as i recall from "Avatar" is what i think of. Us vs. Them.

    seeing the cops in my town go after kids on Friday Saturday nights on a regular basis at the same selected locations only shows how preplanned and malicious these people are. police hiding out waiting for some young kid to snatch when he drove by. Keeping the peace by "getting" the easy prey, and money from parents via court/lawyers, the Police Entity/Homeland Insecurity

    money power control over the "Other."

    always having a minimum of 3 cops cars at a "bust."
    the system they use for protection from "poor" folks.
    Conservative Paradise, indeed. and it is indeed a safe place to live. consider the price paid.

    Destroying lives to Keep Blacks (the Other) from Voting. White male power/Money. nothing new here.

    why we won't see any end to the War on Drugs.

  52. acer Says:

    Shouts out to Reagan, Riordan, Koch and others who helped militarize cops with one hand while annihilating legitimate "inner city" money-making opportunities with the other. We feel ya, baby!

  53. Grelb Says:

    gimmie some gin and a taco
    and I am ready to rock-o

  54. eau Says:

    This phenomena is not confined to the States, nor to cops.

    I'm a white Australian with what's often called an olive complexion – I'm just dark enough that I manage to draw a bit of "random" extra attention at airports, just about every single time I fly, just about anywhere in the world. It happens so often, it's become a running joke among my friends. My white partner, who has been with me for most of these trips but is much paler than I, has never been "randomly" stopped. Never.

    Don't get me started on Aussie cops up North (Australia's north: USA's south, pretty much).

  55. Enomis Says:

    I'm 54, white, upper middle class, with a Ph.D. (Your readership seems to be a pretty narrow demographic.) I grew up watching /Adam 12/ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam-12) and actually expected police to be polite to citizens and scrupulously follow the rules.

    I too must report that I have almost never encountered a police officer who was not, well, a dick. To be honest, this experience holds also for officers out of uniform. I have long said that anyone who wants to be a cop should not be allowed to be. As far as I can tell, they are just bullies that grew up.

    In fairness, I should say that I can usually get them to stop being a dick by talking to them. I treat them the way the fictional officers on /Adam 12/ treated people. Also there was a surprise exception just last month. An officer responded to the scene of an auto accident I was in, and he was not a dick at all. Maybe he forgot to be a dick that day.

  56. grendelkhan Says:

    I think this is one of those things where what I thought was anecdotal is actually nearly-universal. My brother hates cops, and has ever since he got pulled over at a traffic stop and apparently reached for his registration without telling the cop first, and had a gun pointed at his face. It was apparently a very formative experience.

    I was sort of neutral on cops until I had a car stolen, and the cops who I dealt with were professional and all that. (Person-who-shits-privilege here as well, so no surprises with that.) The thing that did surprise me was that the cop who handled it figured out where the car would be, and when he drove me there to wait for the tow truck (the joyriders had broken it, of course), he seemed to know everyone who walked by. I remarked on that, and he said that a good cop knows everyone on his beat, knows what's going on in the community.

    But, of course, it's much easier to do the keep-'em-in-line-with-fear thing, and it takes a lot of effort to get to know so many people and understand they dynamic out there. Maybe the guy was just tooting his own horn, but I'd never even had the idea that there was more to policing than cracking heads and investigating crimes after the fact.

  57. Da Moose Says:

    http://news.yahoo.com/cops-ready-war-094500010.html

  58. Nom de Plume Says:

    Well shit, you could watch a single episode of "Cops" and know what dicks a lot of them are. And keep in mind, that show is designed to portray them in their best light.

  59. Jim Says:

    It's ironic: Police have become more and more intrusive, yet parents worry more and more about letting their kids play outside because of the perceived risk. It's not the America I grew up in, or want today's kids to grow up in. In too many cases (though fortunately not all), cops walking a beat have been replaced by SWAT teams in armored vehicles brandishing military weapons. Money from the Homeland Security apparatus has made it de rigeur.

  60. doug Says:

    Late 60's: My room mate graduated with a degree in Philosophy, told us all he was going to join the police force,which he did. We all had good relations with his squad mates, but ultimately he had to quit, as he said he was becoming a red neck typical cop after about 8 or 9 months. He said his job was basically telling people they had a problem when they did not think they had one. Only a few people can be cops and remain nice. There were several on his squad with lots of experience that still treated everyone with respect. I admire the ones that can. I think the police has become much more militarized in the last few decades, as have the gangs and criminals they meet every day on the job. It can not be ramped down in any way that I see.
    It is interesting that no one takes a cop's viewpoint in all the posts before this. Tells something about the demographic as well….
    Ed, try riding with one sometime. It is eye opening.
    Thanks for all the great columns this year.

  61. Townsend Harris Says:

    Ed, you need to shit harder. A lot harder. You need to lay major cable in the white male privilege department. Time to upgrade your age and wardrobe and potential political connections. You're 33 and your most privileged years are ahead. (And you thought you had nothing to look forward to.)
    In big American cities, the trick is simple. Look like a perfectly-scrubbed middle-aged white male in a good suit, good shoes, shaven, barbered. The goal is to make cops worry that you *might* have a lawyer who knows a deputy mayor who'll ream the ass of his precinct captain if he fucks with you.
    Always greet the officer with a Mitt Romney smile and an open hand, asking "Officer, good to see you. How are you and what can I do for you?" You'll skate through.
    I pity everyone else.

  62. Bears Fan Says:

    As a long time resident of both Chicago and its burbs, I have to say that Chicago cops are horribly racist lazy and mostly a waste of space. This coming from someone that grew up in a wealthy white suburb, that went to a college, Western Illinois University, which is one of the top LEA schools in the nation. I have tons of cop friends both in the suburbs and city. I have over the years ended up distancing myself from most of the city cops. Even the ones that were OK guys in college became substandard humans after years as Chicago cops. One guy that I knew in high school, that you would consider to be the epitome of a compassionate, caring, open minded individual, became a racist scumbag after a few short years working with the CPD. The stories I've heard from cops or their immediate relatives about the lengths they went to in order to avoid work is nothing but depressing.
    The guys I know that are cops in the lower middle and middle class neighborhoods are mostly really decent people. I can't say that they are that way on the job, because I've never been around them at work, but I doubt they are much different in dealing with others there than they are out of uniform. The Chicago cops on the other hand are people you really wouldn't want to spend time with outside of work.
    I imagine that much of this is from dealing with areas that have a high crime rate, but it seems that there are simply culture differences inside the police departments. Most of the Chicago cops I know, even those with college degrees, are part of cop families. Daddy, uncle, brothers etc. were all Chicago cops. I think that reinforces the racism and bad attitudes they seem to have. I suppose when you were growing up in such a family the only stories you heard had negative connotations to them, and they were exposed to the racism from a very young age, so the bad attitudes towards people were reinforced all the time, and easily reproduced once these guys became cops themselves.

  63. PGE Says:

    I'm 55, white, long-haired,middle to upper-middle class, and have been lucky. I've witnessed cops clubbing someone who was on the ground and no threat, but all my own experiences have been neutral at worst. Of course, I rarely say anything but "Yes,officer", "No, officer", or politely answer their questions. Best exprience: walking to catch the bus to work one morning on the north side of Chicago when an unmarked pulls up next to me and two cops jump out. They ask if they can see the contents of my briefcase, and I let them; then ask what they'll find in my pockets. I tell them there's a 16th of an ounce or so of weed in my breast pocket, which they ask for. Then, "Have you ever been arrested before?", and I respond "Yeah, as it happens about a month ago I was picked up for smoking a joint in Grant Park". "How much did you have on you?" "Less than half as much as you're holding there." Incredulous, "You're kidding. They brought you in for that!?". They then told me they'd stopped me because I matched the description of a thief they were looking for in the neighborhood, put the bag of dope back in my pocket, wished me a good day, and went on their way. As you might guess, this was just before the war on drugs got started. No doubt it would be a different story if it had happened last week.

  64. Typical Says:

    This happened a few hours ago in my neck of the woods. The quote from the cop right before he shot a man in cold blood in a bar is pretty telling:

    "I'm a cop. I can do whatever I want to do."

    http://ht.ly/87nnt

  65. Ben Says:

    @PGE: Learn your 4th Amendment rights.

    The only positive interactions I've had with cops were a polite fellow in Wyoming who gave me a speeding ticket, and a cop who responded to a car accident and took down all the relevant information in a dispassionate manner. Other than that, dicks.

    A friend of mine was mugged on the south side of Chicago. She dutifully reported it to the police who proceeded to pull in the first black kids that they could find, even though they bore no resemblance to the description she had given. She was absolutely mortified and felt so guilty about the treatment of the "suspects" that she regretted reporting the mugging at all.

    That's fucked up.

  66. TwShiloh Says:

    It seems the culture and environment described here (http://www.policemag.com/Blog/Patrol-Tactics/Story/2011/12/In-Praise-of-the-Unreasonable-Cop.aspx) has a lot more to do with the behaviors you identified than sociopathic bullies flocking to law enforcement.

    Certainly there are some there but it's the institutions which encourage and reward those behaviors that we should really be worried about.

    If people aren't having positive interactions with law enforcement we should be asking what metrics law enforcement agencies are evaluating their officers against. I don't know but I'd be surprised if 'community relations' was present on more than a handful of evaluations.

  67. My Says:

    @Amused:

    Wow. Holy sheeyott. I'm not even done listening to this: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/414/right-to-remain-silent and I'm already pretty well entirely disgusted. Having lived in NYC, I'd heard stories…but good gawd. How can the entire NYPD leadership even continue to function? How can the people of NYC not march on city hall?

  68. jjack Says:

    I have had a positive interaction with a cop. My dad was one.

    Part of the reason he's not any more is because he got tired of playing workplace drama with a bunch of assholes who ended up consuming the whole department.