Saturday, September 6, 2014

Perfect Police People

Many echoed the sentiments of David Hiller. He's the chief of police and director of public safety for Grosse Pointe Park in Michigan. We reached out to him, and he told us that, quote, "if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. Stop and speak to the police. Because he's talking to you doesn't mean you did something wrong. And if you did, then we have a problem," unquote.
Michel Martin "'The Talk:' How Parents Of All Backgrounds Tell Kids About The Police"
Chief Hiller's sentiment is a common one. Less common is an examination of the assumptions that underlie it. For his statement to always be accurate, police officers must be omniscient and infallible. Because, in reality, it doesn't matter what you may or may not have done. What matters is what people think you may have done. If a person encounters an officer who thinks that they may have done something wrong, then, as Chief Hiller notes "we have a problem." And of course that person is going to want to get the Hell out of Dodge.

And one other issue to bring up - police officers are not required to be truthful with people they consider suspects.
In the performance of their duties, police officers frequently engage in a significant amount of deceptive conduct that is essential to public safety. Consider lying to suspects, conducting undercover operations, and even deploying unmarked cars. Presenting a suspect with false evidence, a false confession of a crime partner, or a false claim that the suspect was identified in a lineup are but a few of the deceptive practices that police officers have used for years during interrogations. These investigatory deceptive practices are necessary when no other means would be effective, when they are lawful, and when they are aimed at obtaining the truth.
Police Officer Truthfulness and the Brady Decision
Which perhaps explains the following advice:
Many times, an officer will tell you they cannot help you if you do not talk to them. More often than not, what you tell them will be in their report and will be used against you. It is important to remember that police officers are under no obligation to be honest with you.
Morris Parnell & Ellis "Your Rights"
None of this is to say that dealing with the police is, on its face, a bad idea. It's simply to point out that while Chief Hiller may think that the innocent have nothing to worry about from interacting with a police officer, many people find the reality of the situation much more complicated. When people say that those who have done nothing wrong have nothing to hide from the police, they are building upon an idea that a police officer is a neutral and unbiased finder of fact who goes into an encounter with no erroneous information or preconcieved notions of about the person they're dealing with. Maybe it's just me, but that comes across as an impossibly high bar for any mere mortal to consistently live up to. And because that idea tends to go unstated, it's rarely challenged.

And it needs to be challenged. Not to demonstrate that police are bad people, but to show that they're people in the first place. If angels were to police men, to borrow the phrase, then we could assume that they were neutral and insightful enough to only have a problem with the people who have actually done something wrong. But while I've seen plenty of people in blue with badges and guns, thus far wings and halos haven't been part of the ensemble.

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