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Fear or Respect the Police?

When 28 year old Jared Massey was tasered alongside the highway by a Utah state trooper in 2007, the incident elicited a lot of strong opinions.

Comments ran the gamut from, “The motorist was a criminal who deserved it” to “The trooper is living proof that the police are out of control.”

As is the case with most incidents of this nature, the truth is most likely to be found somewhere in between the two extremes.

Contrary to the declarations of absolute guilt or innocence on the part of the motorist and the trooper, the video shows that neither side was entirely wrong or entirely right.

The trooper’s actions were upheld by his superiors and Massey received a $40,000 settlement for his troubles.

But the incident was a solid learning experience for the rest of us.

The trooper, while beginning the stop with polite professionalism, quickly became the more confrontational of the two when Massey refused to simply shut up, sign the ticket and take it.

The men were obviously on different wavelengths and it appears that the trooper, as he explained to a sheriff’s deputy later, finally decided to show Massey who “was really in charge.”

For his part, Massey fell short on a number of fronts, but his lack of cooperation was among the most minor of them.

He failed to realize that in any disagreement with a law enforcement officer, the side of the road is the absolute worst place to try to argue your case.

As at least one former police officer puts it, “You have to be willing to lose on the side of the road, in order to win the real battle; not being arrested and taken to jail.”

That advice, by the way, is not for the sake of hardened criminals, but for ill-informed people like a motorist who through his own ignorance, inadvertently provoked a frustrated trooper and escalated his traffic ticket into a tasering, his arrest and jail.

He simply didn’t understand that the deck is hopelessly stacked against any person who tries to reason, complain or argue his way out of a citation at roadside.

And if that person happens to encounter into one of those thankfully rare officers who feel the need to show their dominance, the motorist will soon be enjoying a long, lonely ride to jail.

Apologists for Massey maintain that the video proves our police are becoming increasingly brutal in enforcing the unbending will of the state.

Apologists for the trooper claim that failure to immediately bow and scrape to an officer’s authority heralds the imminent onset of anarchy.

Both are painting but a partial view of the bigger picture, though there are elements of truth in each viewpoint.

Few people have an accurate foundation by which to understand what their local police actually do on a daily basis, unless they are related to an officer or have attended one of the excellent citizens’ academies offered by many departments.

Those who have had the opportunity to observe for themselves and to speak to officers firsthand can attest to the professionalism and down to earth nature of the vast majority of their local police force.

Most police take seriously the confidence placed in them by the public they serve and when one of their officers crosses the line, they aggressively weed out those who would betray that trust.

Police are expected to respond to some of the worst situations imaginable and to bring order to temporary chaos while behaving impartially and respecting the rights of those with whom they are dealing.

That’s a tall order for mere mortals.

But the vast majority of officers do it anyway knowing that not many people understand their profession and fewer still will hesitate to criticize based upon that incomplete understanding.

Having said that, there are some highly disturbing trends in how the state uses its police powers.

With the increasing procurement of federal funding and equipment by local police agencies across the nation under the auspices of homeland security, there is a real danger of local law enforcement becoming just another arm of the federal government.

Somebody get these guys a terrorist event. Stat!

The ever-increasing militarization of even small town police forces and the use of paramilitary tactics in serving arrest warrants on even the most mundane, non-violent offenses have served to create an “us vs. them” mentality among some members of law enforcement.

What starts out as a group of sheepdogs can quickly become a pack of wolves.

When officers no longer see the public as a community to be served, but rather as an adversarial mass of potential criminals who need to be managed for the safety of the state, trouble isn’t too far off.

The official mentality is shifting from training peace officers to training code enforcers and this creates a corresponding hostility toward those who are not agents of the state.

It also fosters an attitude in which lack of accountability to the general public can lead to a sense of being able to operate above the law.

This flies in the face of one of the nine principles of policing as espoused by Britain’s Sir Robert Peel, who was considered to be the father of modern policing.

His instruction was: “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

Law enforcement officers perform a difficult and stressful job that depends upon the respect and trust of the public they serve.

But when the mindset of, “It’s better to be feared than respected” takes hold, both they and the public will find themselves increasingly polarized and more prone to viewing one another as a threat.

Keeping government operating within its proper role is the best defense against the creeping tyranny of a state that is tempted to use the police to advance its interests over the the public’s.

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bryan-hydeBryan Hyde is a husband, father, disciple, teacher, guardian, reader, writer, truth seeker, stirrer of pots, radio talk show host, and PITA to those who seek dominion over others. He’s also a proud member of the Pro-Freedom Conspiracy.

He does professional voice work through his company One Clear Voice. He is also a frequent and popular contributor to St. George News.

Bryan and his wife Becky are raising their six children in Cedar City, Utah.

Subscribe to Bryan’s blog here.

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Fear or Respect the Police?