20 Things Both Cops and Citizens Should Know
Law enforcement is in the news – again and again. Recently, we have seen calls to defund the police. Is this the responsible way to go?
Bad cops bullying and killing innocent people (and criminals) is not exactly a new thing. So why the selective outrage? On the other hand, great cops doing amazing things are not rare, either. Where is the celebration?
I want to have a very frank discussion about this. Of course, there are great cops. However, you wouldn’t know this by watching the news or scrolling through social media. Whatever happened to due process?
Of course, there are some bad cops too. But let’s call a spade a spade and recognize that if we want to fix the problem, we must first accurately identify the problem. The truth is that people (of all races) have been thrown into a divide that seemingly blinds us to the realities that ALL citizens seem to face.
Let me begin with a question. When the red and blue lights are shining in your rear-view mirror, do you feel a sense of comfort or anxiety? The chances are good that you feel alarmed, and that should tell you something because that question wasn’t pointed at a race. When you hear stories of someone asleep in his bed being shot and killed by a police officer who opened fire outside his house, your trust is rightfully shaken. However, when you have a problem, the police are probably who you are going to call. It’s an odd mix of emotions, for sure.
Law enforcement is a tough job. Of this, there is no debate. I have a lot of respect for many law enforcement officers and have befriended quite a few, ranging from U.S. Marshals to local police. I suppose this started with my grandfather, who was a captain in the police department in his town, and because of my uncle, who retired from law enforcement. I have always admired both of these men. But our family was constitutional, and our family culture respected the power and authority of the law of the land.
Officers are sometimes presented with a variety of issues that test them to the core. However, this does not somehow elevate them from other Americans. This is important to remember. Of course, it’s hard to remember something if you were never taught it. So considering our current educational system and the lack of Constitutional training in most law enforcement departments, I present to you twenty things that both law enforcement and the average citizen should keep in mind.
1. Becoming a Cop is a Choice
Law enforcement is only a job; becoming a law enforcement officer is simply a choice. Angels didn’t come down from heaven and tap these people for the task. As such, any of them can choose NOT to be in law enforcement if they find that the job is too difficult.
The point I am making is that individuals in law enforcement could have very well ended up working in almost any other profession. They are not special in this regard. Hence, they should not be treated as though they are better than anyone else or have special privileges that others do not. We are all Americans. A citizen on either side of that badge deserves respect if that respect is reciprocated.
2. Cops Swear an Oath
This varies a bit by jurisdiction, but law enforcement officers must take an oath, which is often required for Certification. The oath goes something like this: “On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the Constitution of the United States and the state of (their state), my community, and the agency I serve.”
We should ask ourselves, “How well do they know the Constitution they swore to uphold?” In my experience, that answer is “not very well.” In fact, I’ve had some suggest that it’s okay for our rights to be suspended for safety reasons. This is a clear demonstration of their fundamental misunderstanding of what that document represents and says.
3. The 2nd Amendment was Designed to Protect the Citizen
In May 2016, the New York Times reported, “In more than a dozen states with traditions of robust support for gun ownership rights, and where legislatures have moved to relax gun laws during the past year, the local police have become increasingly vocal in denouncing the measures. They say the new laws expose officers to greater danger and prevent them from doing their jobs effectively.” This supposed danger seems to be left up to interpretation. However, that doesn’t matter.
Regardless of your position on guns, one thing stands out as absolutely and abundantly clear about the Second Amendment. That is that the right of the PEOPLE to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. This amendment does not say anything about law enforcement safety, the comfort of others, political position, having a good reason, sporting events, or even hunting. The founders made it clear that firearms in the hands of citizens are necessary to ensure the security of a free people.
Samuel Adams said that “the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress… to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms;… or to subject the people to unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, papers or possessions.” How often does law enforcement violate these fundamental ideas, and why would law enforcement officers be so fearful of law-abiding citizens carrying the means to protect themselves from those that might seek to violate their rights?
It gets worse. Now, many states are adopting something known as “Red Flag Laws,” where law enforcement can seize weapons if they feel that the person being targeted poses a threat. But as Jim DeMint wrote for USA Today, these tactics are great in theory but bad in practice. He said, “Abuse of power is inevitable if the government can confiscate firearms from citizens who aren’t charged with crimes or diagnosed with mental illness.” He goes on to demonstrate that “Red flag laws around the country skirt or even trample due process.” The fact is that, indeed, they do, and the ones that should be defending the right are the ones participating in infringing upon it.
But we should all remember that cops are not the only ones trying to keep the peace and that civility is a common goal. Gun-carrying, law-abiding citizens are doing their part all of the time. I am reminded of the story of Dawson County Deputy Sgt. Randy Harkness, who was being assaulted, and a gun-carrying woman shot the attacker and saved the Deputy. The same could be said for the attack on the trooper with the Arizona Department of Public Safety back in 2017. Or how about the shooting at a White Settlement church where a convicted felon acquired a firearm and attempted a mass shooting, but an armed parishioner was able to end the threat before it got too bad? These are just a couple of examples. Cops are not out there alone unless they choose to be.
4. The 9th Amendment is Broad for a Reason
The 9th amendment clearly states, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This means that certain unalienable rights may not be listed in the Bill of Rights and that just because they are not listed doesn’t mean you do not have them.
Remember that a right is something inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. I want to make clear that the rights listed in the Bill of Rights do not require the transfer of wealth from a person to a governing body to be achieved. This is an important note considering Marbury v. Madison.
5. Marbury v. Madison Says It ALL
In the case of Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice Marshall of the Supreme Court said clearly that “a law repugnant to the Constitution is void, and courts, as well as other departments (including law enforcement), are bound by that instrument.” This means that if a law infringes upon, goes against, is in conflict with, or is incompatible with the Bill of Rights, it is not valid or legally binding. This also means that there numerous laws on the books that are completely unconstitutional because they are incompatible with our unalienable rights.
An example here might be just about any gun law or any stop-and-search law. But this brings the question of purpose up once again. If law enforcement has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, then how can they, or why would they, enforce so many unconstitutional laws? Is it because they are unaware of this ruling? Are they unaware of what unconstitutional means? Are they unaware of what the Constitution says? Are they willfully complicit?
6. Cops Don’t Always Know the Law
How could they? There are literally more laws on the books than the Library of Congress can even count. So how is law enforcement expected to enforce so many laws? They do it selectively and rely on low-hanging fruit. This tends to come in the form of traffic stops – which generate funds for the jurisdiction. Oddly enough, the Supreme Court has ruled that police stops are legal when the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that a law is being broken—even if that law doesn’t exist.
Reasonable suspicion is not the same as legitimate suspicion. “Reasonable” is up for interpretation and is sometimes just made up. Numerous videos reviewed for this article show plenty of concocted reasons for a stop. For example, in several such cases (with dash-cam footage), the driver was clearly wearing their seatbelt, and the officer pulled the driver over for not wearing one.
While I could debate the Constitutionality of seatbelt laws, I won’t since I have other articles that do. So how are people getting accused of not following a law that they clearly are? In one such case, the lady being cited said she had footage of her following the law, and the cop ignored her and walked away. Of course, some videos show the cop not providing a reason for the stop at all.
The point is that good cops rely on the Constitution as their guide. Bad cops do not. If they did, they wouldn’t write citations for the majority of laws they are attempting to enforce. It really is that simple. That being said, it is important to note that it is the citizen’s responsibility to change unjust laws. This requires participation, collaboration, and proper representation. However, a cop can adhere to the oath regardless. It’s all about the “Right Thing” versus the “Right Way.”
7. Individuals Have the Right to Resist Infringements
There are numerous examples of this, but I’ll use a simple example for the sake of time and space. Generally speaking, a cop cannot just stop you and ask for your papers. There needs to be an actual and legitimate suspicion of an actual crime. Even demanding an I.D. without reasonable suspicion violates Brown v Texas (Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47). In this, I think it’s important to note that “Citizens may resist unlawful arrest to the point of taking an arresting officer’s life if necessary. (Plummer v. State, 136 Ind. 306)” The key here is knowing what is lawful and what isn’t. Chances are, the jurisdiction and the Constitution have two very different ideas on this.
This premise was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case: John Bad Elk v. U.S., 177 U.S. 529. The Court stated: “Where the officer is killed in the course of the disorder which naturally accompanies an attempted arrest that is resisted, the law looks with very different eyes upon the transaction, when the officer had the right to make the arrest, from what it does if the officer had no right. What may be murder in the first case might be nothing more than manslaughter in the other, or the facts might show that no offense had been committed.”
So how do cops continue to get away with infringements of Constitutional rights? Well, I suspect ignorance on both sides of the badge and fear. You cannot love, support, exercise, or defend something you do not know or understand, and it’s hard to exercise your rights when someone is threatening you with force and the full weight of the government. Note that I said “hard,” not “impossible.”
8. A Cop’s Safety Does NOT Supersede an Individual’s Rights
Nowhere in the Constitution does it say anything remotely close to “Your rights exist unless a government official feels threatened or scared.” Any true Constitutional defender understands that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were specifically designed to make government officials feel uneasy with tyrannical behaviors. This is because the entire system of government was set up to ensure that the people had the ultimate authority.
When a law enforcement official violates your rights on the premise of “being safe,” understand that the law enforcement official is in the wrong. This includes seizures of firearms during a stop. Seizure of the weapon for ANY reason without reasonable suspicion of an actual crime is a violation of Terry v Ohio (Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1). This might also be noteworthy regarding “Red Flag Laws.”
9. Intelligence is Simply Not Valued by Some Departments
Most police departments have their own rules, policies, and procedures, so this is not to say that this idea is universal across all police departments. I know several highly intelligent officers. However, examples of what I am saying here abound. One case, in particular, demonstrates the point perfectly.
Robert Jordan applied to be a law enforcement officer with the New London, Connecticut, police department. Jordan scored exceptionally high on the I.Q. proxy test. Do you think he got the job?
Jordan was EXCLUDED from consideration because New London Police stated that those who scored too high could get bored with police work and leave soon after undergoing costly training. Jordan sued the department for discrimination, but the U.S. District Court found that New London had “shown a rational basis for the policy.” Is this policy something you could find in other departments?
10. Cops Are Only Above the Law if You Allow Them to be.
A badge does not mean that an officer cannot be held accountable for the violation of your rights or for the crimes they might otherwise commit. It is important to remember that an officer is nothing more than a United States citizen and that they are also governed by the document they swore to uphold. The Constitution is the law of the land, not the officer. Some jurisdictions understand this and enforce the law universally. Some don’t. Some are corrupt to the core.
If law enforcement officers are not adhering to their oath, they are no better than the corrupt officers that operate like gangs found south of the border. It often takes a fed-up citizenry to make the change, which presents itself in various ways.
I want to stress that there are good cops and good departments out there. Of course, that might be hard to even want to believe if you have ever been the victim of civil asset forfeiture. Or better yet, here is a comical but rather serious view of it. Now, I have more links, but since the publication of this article, several have been taken down.
11. Not All Cops are Good Guys (clearly)
You SHOULD be worried when a cop pulls you over and attempts to speak with you. You simply never know what kind of cop you’re going to get. Are they going to be the kind of officer your kids will look up to or the kind of officer to rob you or take your life over nothing?
A study conducted in 2016 showed that roughly three police officers are charged with a crime each day. In fact, the Police Crime Database provides information on 10,287 criminal arrest cases from 2005-2014 involving 8,495 individual nonfederal sworn law enforcement officers, each of whom was charged with one or more crimes. The Washington Post reported that the most common crimes were simple assault, aggravated assault, and sex crimes. Sadly, cops are rarely prosecuted for unlawful use of force.
I share this to demonstrate that cops are just people who choose a job. Just because the officer in front of you has a badge does not mean they are a good person. Some cops are great Constitutional defenders, but many are not. Of course, this data doesn’t include those who don’t get caught or those who simply lie and contort to advance their agendas or paychecks.
12. Cops Have No Obligation to Protect
The court case Warren v. District of Columbia (444 A.2d. 1, D.C. Ct. of Ap. 1981) made it abundantly clear that the police do not owe a specific duty to provide police services to citizens based on the public duty doctrine. This means that police are not obligated to protect you from anything.
You need to ask yourself, “If they do not have a duty to protect, then what exactly is their purpose?” Match this with ignorance or unwillingness to uphold the Constitution, and we are starting to see a serious problem.
13. Cops are Not Trained to Protect Rights
There is a reason why lawyers will tell you NOT to answer ANY questions. It’s for the same reason that cops will tell you that “anything you say CAN and WILL be used AGAINST you in a court of law.” Cops are trained to gather evidence against you, and it’s REALLY easy to incriminate yourself – even when you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.
But it’s more than that. The ACLU said it best. “You cannot assume officers will behave in a way that protects your safety or that they will respect your rights even after you assert them.” This is true, and this should be obvious. For example, some law enforcement officials will detain someone to see if they can find something unlawful.
This is unfortunate (and unconstitutional), but a simple search through Youtube will find you a seemingly endless supply of video evidence to support that claim. Most people (including officers) don’t know that being detained without a REAL suspicion of any criminal activity violates Delaware v Prouse (Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648), and doing so is not only punishable in a court of law. Still, it can often lead to an escalated situation with individuals aware of this fact.
14. Interactions with Law Enforcement Should be Recorded
Many law enforcement officers now have body cameras to record their interactions with the public. But that shouldn’t make you rest easy. Body camera footage ends up “missing” much more often than the public might like to know.
I am reminded of a recent story from CBS Chicago titled “Key Body Camera Footage Missing After Chicago Police Officers Raid Wrong Homes, Point Guns At Children,” or even the Shawna Cox cell phone video from inside LaVoy Finicum’s truck that somehow picked up details that were missed by law enforcement cameras. These are just two of many!
The point is that if you get pulled over or have some other kind of interaction with law enforcement, you should record it if at all possible. If you don’t and your situation goes to Court, it will be your word versus the officers. Know that an officer’s testimony can be evidence in Court. You need to ponder how much weight the jury will attach to a cop’s testimony over yours. If you have it recorded, the recording can speak for itself.
Many cops will tell you that you cannot record them. This is a lie and all the more reason that you need to record. I mean to say that if a cop says this to you, the chances are high that you’ve got a bad one in front of you.
To be clear, understand that the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 11th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have all held that the First Amendment protects the filming of officers and the public. As Carol Rose, Executive Director of ACLU of Massachusetts, said that recording is “a vital tool for uncovering, if not deterring, police misconduct.”
And while I’m on the topic, you might want to set up a camera in your home as well.
15. Ego is a Big Problem
Egos can be dangerous. Chances are good that you’ve heard a cop say something silly like “Slow it down on my road,” “I can do what I want,” or “This is my town.” Isn’t it YOUR road or town too? In my research for this article, I came across numerous articles on police websites and plenty of feeds on law enforcement forums that spoke about ego in law enforcement. What I discovered is that ego is a huge problem in the policing community.
Further research found a 2018 study in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology titled “Do they Aggress Earlier? Investigating the Effects of Ego Depletion on Police Officers’ Use of Force Behavior,” that found that “circumstances that produce ego depletion could lead to the inappropriate use of force through reducing self-control.” This made just about every “bad cop” Youtube video make sense.
This is important for both the officer and the non-officer to understand because both safety and rights are on the line on both sides. Let me generalize the ego issue with the words of an actual officer. “Of all the destructive forces cops face, probably none is more dangerous than our own ego.”- Officer Chris Hernandez. I think he’s correct. It’s dangerous for both the officer and the citizen.
“Ego ain’t your amigo.” – Lieutenant Paul Marik.
16. Perceived Power is Intoxicating and Addictive
The effects of having a perception of power are intoxicating, highly addictive, and very dangerous. In many ways, it’s no different than a powerful drug, and its effects occur at the cellular level. From a psychological and biological point of view, we are talking about the neurochemical effects of dopamine. Specifically, the feeling of power stimulates the brain’s reward system, which happens through the release of this powerful chemical. This results in a “high,” which is often sought out to be repeated by those who experience it.
Like any addiction, though, withholding the release of dopamine results in withdrawal and opposition to giving up that perceived power once it is achieved. Symptoms of this type of addiction (or withdrawal) can include a variety of behavioral issues ranging from a lack of inhibition, poor judgment, extreme narcissism, perverted behavior, and cruelty.
Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, once wrote, “Power is addictive, in both a psychological and physical sense.” He went on to say that “The ego boost from having people at your beck and call is tough to lose, even if you voluntarily choose to retire or leave.” The question you need to ask now is, “What does all of this mean for officers?”
17. YOUR Ignorance Transfers Power to Law Enforcement
The public grants law enforcement a certain level of authority. This means it can also be taken back. You’ve probably heard that “knowledge is power.” Have you ever given that any real thought? I want to express this point by using contrast. What is the opposite of “power?”
If you were to look up antonyms for “power,” you would see words like inability, incompetence, incapability, disability, impotence, helplessness, hopelessness, impairment, inadequacy, ineffectiveness, ineptness, powerlessness, failure, incapacitation, insufficiency, shortcoming, unfitness, unskillfulness, and uselessness. Do you want any of these words to describe you?
I share this because I want you to understand that knowledge is power, but that power is transferred. This means you can acquire your “power” through research, examination, education, and understanding. Rights are much easier to violate when you don’t know what they are. On the other hand, rights are much easier to defend when you know exactly what they are.
By NOT taking the knowledgeable approach and just hoping that those who swore the oath know what their limits are, you are essentially transferring your power to law enforcement. As demonstrated previously, this is not a good idea. Considering what I have provided today, that is a dangerous proposition that I would not advocate.
18. All Cops are Not the Same
I definitely don’t want this article to come across as a cop-bashing piece. It’s not. Instead, I want to point out that bad cops need to be held accountable for their actions.
There are some great Constitutional defenders out there. I’m reminded of Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins, who has gone out of his way to fight unconstitutional laws. This is just one example. I know no less than 100 Sheriffs across this nation who have publicly declared their Constitutional Defense and I thank them for that.
Speaking of which, there is a reason why sheriffs across the country seem to be the ones getting entangled in Constitutional matters. Rarely (if ever) will you see a police chief standing up for liberty the way a Sheriff would. Why? Well, remember that a Sheriff is a publicly elected official. As such, the Sheriff is often tasked with matters that directly impact the citizenry. The police chief, on the other hand, is instated (usually by a board) and is tasked with matters that directly impact the city or jurisdiction. Their motivations are simply different. What is important to ponder here is the culture in which these two departments would ultimately develop.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that police/peace officers will not stand for truth and liberty. There are some; it just doesn’t seem to be as common. That being said, it should also be known and understood that just because someone is a publicly elected Sheriff doesn’t mean they are going to be a Constitutional defender or are somehow not subject to corruption as well.
A recent story out of Florida demonstrates this perfectly. According to a report from the Tampa Bay Times, a Florida sheriff’s office used an algorithm to predict who might commit a crime. This led to the relentless harassment of innocent people without any evidence of a crime. But that didn’t stop the deputies from charging those people with things like zoning violations and making unjustified arrests. This is just one example of many!
19. Revisiting the Oath
“On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the Constitution of the United States and of the state of (their state), my community, and the agency I serve.”
This oath should probably have a new meaning for everyone (both law enforcement and the citizenry at large). These are not just words to be recited. They mean something special.
20. Knowledge is Power
Clearly, there is some work to be done and knowledge to be shared regarding law enforcement. It doesn’t look good when you look at the whole of it. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between officers and gang members.
Of course, each department is different and has its own culture regarding how things are done. The point is that you cannot support, exercise, love, or defend something you do not know or understand. Knowledge is power, and power is transferred. Both law enforcement and the citizenry at large, must humbly but relentlessly pursue the knowledge necessary to understand what is really at risk and attempt to truly understand what side of the law you find yourself on.
All that being said, the citizenry as a whole must remember that we grant law enforcement a certain level of authority to handle the things that they do. And just as we demand respect, so too must we provide respect, not for the badge per se, but for the individual – that earns that respect. However, when law enforcement does something wrong, they should be held accountable like anyone else.
The funny, telling, and perhaps ironic part of this article is that the good cops that read this are probably thinking, “You know… that’s reasonable.” The bad ones are likely infuriated—gut check time.
BONUS: Cops Sometimes Make Mistakes
Sometimes cops make big mistakes. I am reminded of an incident in Tennessee where cops raided the wrong home and pointed their weapons at a naked woman as they made her go outside. Of course, this was after they caused a ton of damage to the home.
The mistakes get bigger. Sometimes cops kill innocent people. This we know, but what you may not know is that it’s usually NOT about race. In fact, researchers report that “white police officers actually kill black and other minority suspects at lower rates than we would expect if killings were randomly distributed among officers of all races.” Surprised?
In contrast, “we find that NON-white officers kill both black and Latino suspects at significantly higher rates than white officers.” A research team led by Charles Menifield, dean of the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University–Newark, suggests that “the killing of black suspects is a police problem, not a white police problem.”
Friends, we have a cop culture problem. More to the point, we have a Constitutional ignorance problem. And really, we have a division agenda being played out by both government and media. The sad part is the good cops fit the description of the bad ones, and the bad ones fit the description of the good. The only things separating the two are their actions.
The point is that we have a slew of issues regarding law enforcement culture. Perhaps Rand Paul had it right when he said, “There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement. Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.” Perhaps we all need to wake up and smell the coffee.
Would you like to read more about Law Enforcement? You might enjoy: Is Contempt for Law Enforcement Justified?
Check out some of these shining examples of some not-so-shining cops – (just a few of the hundreds):
And these could literally go on and on and on and on…