Great Moments in Police Professionalism

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Courtesy of the Idaho Police Officer Standards and Training Academy:

Each class at the Idaho Police Officer Standards and Training Academy is allowed to choose a slogan that is printed on its graduation programs, and the class of 43 graduates came up with “Don’t suffer from PTSD, go out and cause it.”

[…]

Black said the class president was ex-military, and that the slogan “slipped in.” He declined to identify the graduate. Black said future slogans would be vetted by academy leaders.

Where to begin?  You’ve got a graduating group of police officers who advocate police brutality as their class slogan.  Which to me means one of two things:  Either these guys didn’t learn anything in the academy—in which case they shouldn’t be graduated to become police officers—or this kind of attitude was accepted and encouraged in the academy.  Which is obviously a pretty huge problem, too.

I suppose some will say it’s a joke.  I don’t know.  Seems to me that joking about police brutality oughtn’t be acceptable either.  Especially for someone fresh out of the academy.

Note also that the academy’s director explains the dust-up by noting that the class president is “ex-military.”

Um.  Isn’t that all the more reason for concern?  This guy’s conflating military attitude (which is appropriate in the military) with police work (which is not at all appropriate in police work*)?  And he’s going to be a cop, now?  Worse, he’s the guy the other cadets looked to for leadership?  Isn’t that all just a little troubling?

This is a big problem—the kinds of people police departments are recruiting to become cops.  There seems to be less emphasis on keeping communities safe and public service and lots of emphasis on busting up bad guys and playing cowboy like the guys on Dallas SWAT.  Remember the recruiting video the police department in the Raleigh suburb of Garner was using at local high schools?  The whole thing was about busting down doors, car chases, tackling bad guys, and generally kicking ass.  What kind of person is going to watch a video like that and be attracted to that kind of career?  What kind of temperament is that person going to have?  And is that the kind of temperament you want in your police force?

Seems to me that a video like that attracts the kind of candidate who might later think it’s funny to go out and inflict post-traumatic stress on the public.

(*Actually, I’ve noted before that there’s some evidence that U.S. troops in Iraq treat the civilians of an enemy nation quite a bit better than police officers here at home treat American citizens.)

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25 Responses to “Great Moments in Police Professionalism”

  1. #1 |  Nick T | 

    The thing I find most surprising (though not most disgusting) about this story is that an ex-military guy would mock PTSD in this way.

    PTSD is a really significant and debilitating mental illness. It’s not something one can be merely told to “not suffer from” and it’s not something that should really be joked about inflicting upon someone else. If he is ex-military he either got out before seeing any combat duty (which may explain his desire to be such a tough guy now), or he is surely – perhaps unkowingly – mocking his comrades.

  2. #2 |  MikeT | 

    It’s not surprising that the military tends to treat the civilians better because the military tends to hold its people to a much higher standard of professionalism than law enforcement. It also helps that the military draws from a wider pool of people than law enforcement does, which helps it avoid drawing too many of the violent tough guys into its ranks.

  3. #3 |  Whiskey | 

    is it too late to just fire the whole class?

  4. #4 |  the friendly grizzly | 

    This slogan does more to verify what the police are ultimately for: to protect those in charge from the common people. I attended school with kids whose parents survived Germany’s idea of The New World Order. One of those parents told us that where he was from, the cop who smiles and greets you today will be the one who marches you to the trains when a law tells him to do so.

    I believed him then (I grew up in Los Angeles), and believe him all the more now.

  5. #5 |  Larry | 

    It is possible to recruit responsibly. In the UK in 1989 I recall a magazine advertisement soliciting police recruits. It showed a police officer’s face an inch away from an angry protester who was spitting in the officer’s face. The text said that the police needed officers who can keep their cool under stressful circumstances.

  6. #6 |  Zifnab | 

    *gag*
    Come on guys, give me a break. They’re 20-something macho guys given the rather pre-school-esque job of giving their graduating class a spiffy new banner name. So they approached it in a pre-school-esque fashion and tried to emphasize how tough-as-nails they were.

    Tasering pregnant women? Harassing ex-girlfriends? Beating up Rodney King? These are signs of a dysfunctional and deeply flawed policing system. Coming up with a cheeky graduation slogan? Not so much.

    I’m not saying that the Idaho Officer’s Academy doesn’t have its problems. I am saying you guys are taking a single case of juvenile humor and trying to use it to damn an entire graduating class. When someone actually goes out and causes a guy PTSD, I’ll be right behind you guys. But as of now, you’re stretching it.

  7. #7 |  Wayne | 

    When I was growing up (40 years ago), my parents always said, “if you’re in trouble, if you’re lost, if you need help in any way, look for a police man or call 911.” Now what do I tell MY kids? If you can’t trust the police to treat someone with a medical condition like PTSD in the proper manner, can you trust them to help a child? If someone lacks compassion for someone with a medical disorder, it doesn’t seem likely that they would have a whole lot of compassion for a crying four-year old separated from her parent at the mall (or someone having an epileptic seizure, or someone having car trouble in a strange neighborhood, or an old person hearing strange noises outside the bedroom window…) Also, funny how the main stream media hasn’t run away with this — can you imagine if it was a bunch of graduating social workers or health care workers who made a similar slur about mentally- or physically-handicapped people?

  8. #8 |  Nick T | 

    As far as recruiting, I know I’ve heard radio ads for the NYPD and they sounded very good and appropriate. It was a fake conversation between two people, one explaining why she was entering the academy and her reasons were very community oriented, about helping people and being a “lifeline” and a vague statement about “keeping the city safe.” Nothing about cleaning up the streets or even “fighting crime.”

    I bet a lot of officers would respond compassionately to a lost child or to someone in need of help on the side of the road. It’s that there seems to be a disconnect between that role and the fighting crime role (the super-bad-ass mode), and so they so easily treat people with such little compassion when they’ve viewed them as a criminal or even if the person gives them some attitude.

  9. #9 |  Nando | 

    I bet the class was mostly young men. I’ve had plenty of experience with this type of macho-group mentality when I served in the Armed Forces. The job of a cop, while not really the same, is still a stressful one where your life is on the line every day. Some people cope with it by joking, others by acting maturely. Not all of us will react the same when put in this situation.

    The truth of the matter is, not everyone is cut out for the job (either military or police). The military used to weed out the weak, but they can’t even do that any longer (what’s with these “time outs” in basic training? How are these people going to cope with the pressures of war if they can’t handle the pressure put on them by a couple of drill sergeants?) It is this macho mentality that helps to keep them alive when thrown in bad situations. It’s sad to say, but it’s a necessary evil in the military and as a cop.

    Just as the military is able to handle both dealing with civilian populations and enemy combatants, cops should know the difference between regular civilians and the criminals. It’s not a hard thing to teach.

  10. #10 |  Wayne | 

    I agree that probably most officers would respond compassionately to a lost child or someone in need of help. At least I hope so. But I’m not sure about the graduates from this academy class. It’s way more fun and ego-gratifying to stomp some young punk into the ground for having marijuana residue in his pocket or just a bad attitude and lack of respect for authoritah. OOOH–RAHHHH.

    Unfortunately, however, the real news here, namely, how this slogan even came to be presented in the first place, appears to be just buried in a sea of irrelevant news. Those running the academy should have put an end to this before it ever became public (and I also mean they should have corrected the prevailing attitudes of those in the class that support this slogan). It’s just going to become more and more common, and more and more buried in irrelevant news, until we as a population are conditioned to believe that this is the way it always was, the way it should be, and the way it always will be. As I’m sure was said before somewhere on this web site, we’re not going to just wake up one day and find ourselves living in a fascist police state, it’s going to happen so gradually no one will notice until it’s too late.

  11. #11 |  runcible | 

    I’ve got to agree with Zifnab on this one. While it wasn’t the best idea to run with this as a class slogan (“cop humor” is usually a little dark for most people’s taste), I do believe that, in order to be upset by the slogan’s “endorsement” of police brutality, you first have to read that “endorsement” into it.
    Much ado about nothing.

  12. #12 |  mnuez | 

    Police are pigs. Fuck ‘em.

    On a side-note, you free-market folk are awfully kind to say bad things about the police, after all, their only purpose is to protect YOU from US.

    YOU’re able to use all of your superior intellectual skills, educational backgrounds and financial bases to continue to get richer and richer off of our backs, but somehow POOF! freedom ends where my clenched fist begins. You can use all of YOUr tools to outcompete me and to take advantage of the entire legal system and power structure that supports you but when I move in to wrestle you for some property that somehow, magically, you “own”, personal freedom and “free competition” has been taken too far.

    So what are you, too dumb to recognize that the police are nothing but yet another one of your meritocratic/Darwinistic tools? Or did a cop once harass your wife?

    mnuez
    http://www.mnuez.blogspot.com

  13. #13 |  Nick T | 

    Zifnab,

    why are the things you mentioned signs of a “deeply flawed policing system” but this slogan is not? Now, I’m obviously not saying it is the same thing, but it seems like a pretty decent “sign” to me of a problem. In fact i think this is a better sing than the harrassing ex-girlfriend example you provided, because it shows the attitutde of a *group* of police who had just undergone training and should still be in their most idealistic mindframe. (A single rogue cop with control issues could stalk an ex-girlfriend without it being a systemic problem.)

    I think it is fair to point to this and question either or both of a) what is occurring (or not occurring) during their training and b) what type of person is being recruited to become a cop in Idaho. Which, not coincidentally, are th every points raised in the post.

    Your statement, “you guys are taking a single case of juvenile humor and trying to use it to damn an entire graduating class,” is pretty confusing. i know police apologists often want to say that one incident of police abuse does not make all cops bad or reveal a systemic problem. But here you’ve used the same canard without realizing that we are using “X” to damn… wait for it… *the very people responsible for “X”* yet somehow we’re painting with too broad a brush!?

    The thing is, single incident of police abuse by a veteran cop, and you’d say it’s isolated, or it’s too far removed from training and recruitment to reflect on those systems. This is obviously not those things. And, just because someone is tasered or beaten doesn’t mean it’s not still a “sign” of a serious problem.

  14. #14 |  Nick T | 

    “I do believe that, in order to be upset by the slogan’s “endorsement” of police brutality, you first have to read that “endorsement” into it.”

    runcible,

    You’re kidding right? Don’t you mean you first have to be *able to* read. The slogan says to cause PTSD in plain langauge. How is that not an endorsement of polcie brutality? (unless you posit that encouragement and endorsement are two different things which have somehow not converged in this example, which I would love to hear explained.) I think we all understand this was somewhat tongue in cheek, but it still reeks of “let’s get out there and kick some ass!”

    Even if the recruits were to explain it really just means “let’s get out there and kick some ass, where such ass kicking is appropriate and necessary to further safety of our communities.” It’s the emphasis on that part of the job that is concerning.

  15. #15 |  Wayne | 

    Nick, don’t waste your keystrokes on the flame-baiters.

  16. #16 |  runcible | 

    Sorry to disappoint those who think I’m trolling or spoiling for a flame war. I’m just speaking about things I know from personal experience. Like it or not, the average 21 or 22 year-old doesn’t become a police officer to “serve their community”. They become cops because they’re looking for excitement. They become cops to roll in the street with bad guys, get into car chases, jump from rooftop to rooftop in foot pursuits… that sort of thing. Are these things representative of what police work is really about? Of course not. (Although, I have done all of these things at one time or another.) However, truth be told, if people knew what the job was really all about… you wouldn’t be able to pay them enough to take it. Trust me, I have enough complaints about attitudes and trends in law enforcement to fill a book. However, I’m not going to get all breathless about a little posturing by a bunch of rookies who don’t even know what they’ve gotten themselves into.

  17. #17 |  Persona non grata | 

    oderint dum metuant

  18. #18 |  Packratt | 

    Indeed you are right to suspect that US soldiers in Iraq are treating civilians and even known insurgents better than the police here treat suspects.

    As in my story, which you mentioned a few months ago, when a US Army Medic freshly back from Iraq came to see me when I was held in jail, he was angered by how poorly they had treated me and how they had forced me to languish there without even bothering to dress my wounds, which were still open at that time, 3 full days after my arrest.

    He told me, “I am ashamed that I’m over their fighting for a country that treats you like this when we treat known insurgents, people who just shot at my friends and fellow soldiers, better than they are treating you here in this jail.

    At least in Iraq we give them something for pain and treat their injuries. I can’t believe this is happening here.”

  19. #19 |  MNPundit | 

    Except for the torturing of course, but I guess they do most of that at Gitmo so it’s not really “Iraq.”

  20. #20 |  Packratt | 

    MNPundit…

    No, they do their fair share here in the US as well.

    The DOJ recently found several instances of deadly constitutional rights violations at the King County Jail where I was held, some of those violations included letting people die slow and agonizing deaths from infection, sexual abuse of prisoners by guards, and physical abuse that resulted in eye lacerations and other grievous injuries… In a jail where pre-trial detainees are held.

    In my case, I was intentionally denied medical treatment as a form of punishment, of torture. The pain from my injuries was so intense that I suffered from convulsions nightly, lost 30 pounds and couldn’t sleep for two weeks. Other people in the holding cell with me were so afraid I was going to die they started to threaten a riot if I weren’t looked at. But the torture continued no matter what, even after they realized I was innocent.

    The army medic who visited me told army doctors, including a colonel, how I was treated and they tried to get in to see me but the jail wouldn’t permit them access to me or my records, even with my permission.

    I was lucky, to some degree, I was innocent and there was video tape to prove it, or else I would have died in there.

    So, keep on fighting for the detainees in Gitmo while the rest of us suffer and die in jails right down the street.

  21. #21 |  Les | 

    mnuez,

    You are hilarious. I remember when I was a really confident, but obviously and profoundly ignorant undergrad, too. Great times.

  22. #22 |  ParatrooperJJ | 

    It is a quote from LTC Dave Grossman, a noted authority on combat stress.

  23. #23 |  Zifnab | 

    “The thing is, single incident of police abuse by a veteran cop, and you’d say it’s isolated, or it’s too far removed from training and recruitment to reflect on those systems. This is obviously not those things. And, just because someone is tasered or beaten doesn’t mean it’s not still a “sign” of a serious problem.”

    Beatings, taserings, and other abuses of power – even in isolated incidents – are needles in the haystack. If you find one, its worth investigating to see if you can find others.

    A single cop who thinks it is ok to beat his girlfriend, because she is too afraid to call 911 for fear of getting one of his buddies, shows a breakdown in the system. A pair of cops who aren’t afraid to taser someone because they know they won’t get caught and/or punished suggests that not only the cops but their superiors are derelect in duty.

    A group of not-yet-commissioned college-aged cadets exhibiting bravado haven’t actually caused any physical harm. While I’d take a second look at the crew – who knows, maybe there really are issues beneath the surface – no one has actually caused another person PTSD yet.

    When I was in college going to football games, it wasn’t uncommon for perfectly well-adjusted fans to yell “Get’m! Sack’m! Make’m eat dirt!” There were other fans who’d down five or six beers. I kept my eye on the beer drinkers. The cheering guys generally didn’t bother me.

  24. #24 |  Al Tinsley | 

    I vote for a “do over” for the whole class just on the fact that not one of them caught it either. I’ve been on the receiving end of these types of police officers in rural Indiana. It’s called “one up” by some, whereby the office is always one step more belligerent (though I’m sure that they have a nicer word for it) than the “suspect”. The result is that citizens no longer receive any respect of dignity in dealing with the authorities. If it were up to me, ever cadet would be required to grow his hair to a length of at least one inch and would have to watch a least one episode of the Andy Griffith Show every class day. My brother is a police officer trainer and his comments about his academy was that it’s greatest function was to weed out the crazies. Idaho needs to do the same thing.

  25. #25 |  Nick T | 

    Zifnab,

    Funny you should mention football, cuz you’ve moved the goalposts. The point was whether this slogan was evidence of a systemic problem.

    As my comments allowed for, cases where someone is physically injured are different and worse, but attitudes can be just as indicative of systemic problems (remember, that’s the thing we’re actually talking about here) as actions.

    I find your football comparison strange since the beer-drinkers, like our nascent police cadets, also had yet to actually injure someone, but you were willing to put 2 and 2 together and figure out that beer might lead someone to cause some actual trouble. Deplorable attitudes sadly don’t enjoy a similar causal connection in your mind.

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