Saturday, November 11, 2006

Please help me with a research project

I'm doing a little informal research, and I'm hoping you can help me.

Please click on the link below, and view the short video. Ignore the hokey metal music that's been added as a soundtrack, and forget that it's a clip from the TV show Cops. Understand that this is a brief video clip taken from COPS and put on YouTube for entertainment (hence the lack of emphasis on police procedures like interviewing, and instead added emphasis on the takedown.) The added music obscures/drowns out some of the dialogue. Please assume that the subject being taken down has been identified as the offender in a fight, as described briefly in the video.

After you watch the clip, please scroll down and anser a few questions for me. You can post your answers as comments.



I have a few questions for you:
1) Is the police officer's use of force justified?
2) If not, why not?
3) If the officer had pepper spray, should he have used it?
4) The officer had a Taser. Should he have used it before putting his hands on the arrestee?
5) If the officer's use of force was not justified, what do you think he should have done?
6) Did you see any indication that the subject posed a threat to the police officer? If you did think the subject posed a threat, what did you see or hear to make you think that?
7) Did the officer's use of force offend or shock you?

Thanks for responding to this if you can. I'm doing some use-of-force training this week, and I plan on comparing your responses (you're my non-law-enforcement control group for now) to those of the cops in the class I'm teaching.

Thanks again!


11 comments:

Johnny Yen said...

Before I answer the questions, some comments--

1. Why didn't they stop the first guy for more questioning-- they said "two white males fighting." He was a white male, walking away from the scene. His description of the guy he said he'd seen fighting was not at all like the description on the radio. The police report had said was a white male, 30 with blonde hair, grey outfit and 130 pounds. The guy they stopped didn't look like he'd been in a fight, was about 22 years old, over 200 pounds and had red hair.

2. The guy that got tackled definitely should probably taken his hands out of his pocket. However, if he was trying to look non-aggressive, standing calmly with his hands in his pockets is a pretty good way of doing it. And I saw no indication of a weapon.

3. It was a fight-- no report of weapons. I understand an officer's worry of a weapon, and the guy should probably have pulled his hands out of his pockets, but was a chokehold and tackle warranted at that point (see 1 and 2)

4. There was an officer on the scene already, who seemed to have the situation under control. Why didn't he consult with him?

Answering the questions:

1) Is the police officer's use of force justified?

No.

2) If not, why not?

Suspect did not remotely resemble description, was not acting aggresively.

3) If the officer had pepper spray, should he have used it?

No.

4) The officer had a Taser. Should he have used it before putting his hands on the arrestee?

No-- suspect had not acted aggresively, and again, didn't match description-- officer used words of someone running away from the scene, rather than an officer at the scene to guide his actions.

5) If the officer's use of force was not justified, what do you think he should have done?

Told the suspect to stay where he was at, consulted officer on the scene and questioned suspect. If suspect had acted aggressively, use of force would have been justified.

6) Did you see any indication that the subject posed a threat to the police officer? If you did think the subject posed a threat, what did you see or hear to make you think that?

No. The officer acted aggressively-- swearing, belligerent and ultimately using physical force.

7) Did the officer's use of force offend or shock you?

Yes. It's interesting, because I think that similar situations happen often, with the ethnicities of the cop and suspect reversed.

lulu said...

1) Is the police officer's use of force justified?
no
2) If not, why not?
the suspect is disobeying the cop, but is not threatening him or acting in a way that indicates that he is a potential threat.

3) If the officer had pepper spray, should he have used it?
no

4) The officer had a Taser. Should he have used it before putting his hands on the arrestee?
no

5) If the officer's use of force was not justified, what do you think he should have done?
I have to go with Johnny on this; the officer should have gotten more information before he acted.

6) Did you see any indication that the subject posed a threat to the police officer? If you did think the subject posed a threat, what did you see or hear to make you think that?
He did not appear to be a threat, except of course for the fact that he was not following the officer's instructions.

7) Did the officer's use of force offend or shock you?
Yes. It seemed a little out of proportion to the situation. I am not saying that he should not have touched the suspect, but it seems to me like grabbing him by the arms and cuffing him would have been a better choice if he felt himself to be in danger.

I also think that the officer went into the situation looking for a fight. If you want to calm a situation down, not that the situation looked volatile to me, screaming is usually not the best way to do it.

All of that being said, it is very easy to sit in front of a screen and make judgements. I can't say what I would have done, because the few times I have had to break up fights at school, I have acted entirely on instinct and not on logic.

Anonymous said...

1) Is the police officer's use of force justified? with just the information shown in the video, I would have to say no.
2) If not, why not?
The subject did not appear agitated or threatening. He seemed calm. Yes he disobayed but that alone should not have been enough. Also since this was in Vegas is there a possibility that he may have been an international tourist?

3) If the officer had pepper spray, should he have used it?
unless the subject was advancing towards him in a threatening manner no.

4) The officer had a Taser. Should he have used it before putting his hands on the arrestee?
he should have threatened to do so, and if the subject did not respond then proceed

5) If the officer's use of force was not justified, what do you think he should have done?
give him a warning and then use a taser

6) Did you see any indication that the subject posed a threat to the police officer? If you did think the subject posed a threat, what did you see or hear to make you think that?

he did not seem a threat at all.
7) Did the officer's use of force offend or shock you? I guess a little but without having been there to see all of what happend it is kind of hard to tell.

Tenacious S said...

1.No
2.While the subject was not physically complying, he didn't seem to be "amped up" like the officer said, just standing there with his hands in his pockets. Couldn't the officer have stepped behind him and physically taken the guys hands out of his pockets and patted him down to check for weapons?
3.What for?
4.I don't know what's worse, getting tasered or getting slammed into the pavement.
5.See answer #2
6.The only threat I could see is that the subject was non-compliant and that he could possibly have been conealing a weapon. He was not acting aggressively or trying to escape.
7.Yes, the use of force shocked me. The guy's head bounced off of the pavement. That can't be good. You could kill someone like that.

Coaster Punchman said...

1. Possibly, though it seemed a little extreme.

2. I'd say it wan't justified in the sense that it was too extreme.

3. I don't know. I haven't been trained as a cop.

4. Ditto.

5. Again, I have no training in this area, but if there were a way to restrain someone due to sensing a need for personal protection, is there a way to do it quickly that doesn't involve grabbing someone by the throat and throwing them to the ground?

6. The indication that there was a possible threat is that the cop told him several times to remove his hands from his pockets and step to the car. If the guy had at the very least removed his hands to show that there was no hidden weapon, the cop would not have been justified in being so violent. But what if that guy was hiding a gun?

7. Yes, but we also have a need for people to cooperate with simple requests from law enforcement officers. We have cops for a reason, which is to protect the public. The guy was being obstinate about simply removing his hands from his pockets to show that he was no threat to the cop. Until he did that, I think the cop was entitled to fear that the guy may have been a threat.

I'm kind of wavering on all these answers, but this is what my gut/common sense would tell me.

Are you going to tell us what YOU think?

Bubs said...

CP, here’s what I think:

I’m not sure.

Sorry that sounds like a dodge, but it’s not. Johnny’s response made me realize that this is a very limited glimpse of a particular force encounter. I contacted Cops and found out that they cannot send me the complete episode; it’s about to go into syndication and they recommend that I watch for the episode and tape it myself.

1) I think the officer’s use of force is probably justified, based on the subject’s repeated refusal to follow simple instructions, coupled with his thousand yard stare. I realize, though, that I’m relying on my own experience in making this judgment. I’m also assuming that there’s been probable cause established to arrest the guy for battery. (It looked to me like a significant amount of footage was edited out of the clip, and I’m assuming that the officer, when he said the subject was “amped up” had some information that caused him to say this. If they didn't have probable cause to arrest the guy, it might have been excessive to use that level of force for failing to comply with instructions.

3 & 4) Considering that the officer had a Taser, I’m surprised he didn’t use it first. Usually, in most use-of-force models, a Taser or OC spray may be used BEFORE going “hands on” with a non-compliant subject. An officer can use “reasonable” force to effect an arrest, and clearly this officer felt confident and skilled enough to use a quick stunning/destabilization technique. If it had been me, with my skill level, I’d have used the Taser. Pepper spray would’ve been ok, except that if it worked you’d have to decontaminate the guy, and if it didn’t work completely you could set the guy off running through the parking lot once you sprayed him. It’s also possible that pulling out a Taser might’ve caused him to run as well.

6) I thought that the subject posed a clear threat to the officer, not in the sense that he was about to attack the officer. Based on my experience and training, he gave every indication that he would resist violently the instant an officer approached him—the refusal to follow simple instructions to place his hands on the car (and presumably submit to arrest), the blank stare/lack of affect, the shifting of body weight as the officer approached, and his hand position (not completely in or out of his pockets) all would indicate to me the high probability of a fight.

7) The officer’s speed and technique impressed me. I almost wondered if he was playing for the camera.

So far, most of my civilian friends have thought that the officer wasn’t justified, and didn’t see the subject as a threat. Not surprisingly, most cops thought it was reasonable, but most of them said if they’d had a Taser they would’ve used it first rather than risk getting hurt themselves in a fight, or risking hurting the subject in a fight.

Johnny – if there was any hint of a weapon, the cops would’ve had their guns out. They were, I think, strictly worried about the subject fighting or running. The technique used was not a chokehold at all, but a stunning and destabilization technique. The target isn’t the throat, but the jugular notch (that little divot at the top of your sternum.) It’s pretty effective and non-damaging. The first officer at the scene didn’t have anything under control, he was merely maintaining visual contact with the offender until a second officer (a supervisor, judging by his stripes) got there. Again, I think there was footage edited out, so we don’t really know what transpired before the second cop got there. My assumption is that they wanted to arrest the subject; even if they hadn’t decided yet to do that, the subject was refusing to even cooperate with a simple pat-down, and no officer should try and conduct a field interview with a suspect without first patting him down.

Where did you hear the officer being belligerent or swearing? I heard one “bleep” as the subject went down, and my impression was it was the subject swearing. Even if it wasn’t, the officer’s approach, while stern and direct, was professional. I've found, though, that the direct/linear way that most cops communicate (think Joe Friday, "just the facts ma'am") is not the way normal people communicate, and it frequently comes off as rude or belligerent to civilians.

Lulu – Most violent confrontations start at the very first moment of contact, when the officer first attempts to grasp or control a subject. This guy gave every indication that he would fight once an officer got close enough. Officers don’t have an unlimited amount of time to stand around talking, especially in the parking lot of a busy fast food joint on the Strip. To most officers, the refusal—three times—to simply take his hands out of his pockets and approach the car was enough signal that a fight was imminent.

Katy—Where you saw “calm” I saw “creepy.” To me, that guy was going to refuse as long as it took for his lizard brain to come up with a plan to fight or run. The cop took him off his plan. I like your idea about threatening to use the Taser to try and get compliance. I’ve had that work numerous times—once that laser dot is on their chest, a lot of people become compliant really quickly because they don’t want to get zapped.

Ten—Getting Taser’d is better than having your melon hit the deck. I would take the Taser over the pavement any day. The Taser only hurts for about 5 seconds.

Thanks for helping me out. I may be posting some more stuff like this in the future, and I really appreciate your taking the time to think about it and reply. And I hope my answers made sense.

Tenacious S said...

Bubs, it's always good to hear what insight and experience have taught people. I work with kids with autism. I can see a bite coming from a mile away. most people just get chomped. Weird correlation, I know, but you learn to read the look in somone's eyes.

Bubs said...

Not a weird correlation at all--an excellent point. There are a few books I recommend to DT trainers I work with, and two of them deal specifically with understanding the knowledge and experience that goes into making quick, intuitive judgements:

Blink, by Malcom Gladwell

The Gift of Fear, by Gavin DeBecker

Johnny Yen said...

Bubs-- it definitely is interesting to hear what people with experience think and feel. There did seem to be a lot missing-- the officer's actions seem out of context, and out of proportion, I think, to most of us civilians.

One thing I definitely considered was how big the guy was-- big enough to make it difficult for 2 or 3 guys to cuff and restrain if he decided to be difficult. Compliance with instructions is pretty crucial when facing that.

I'm still curious why the officer consulted with a civilian leaving the scene, rather than the officer on the scene. Maybe that was edited out.

RE the swearing-- I watched it a couple of times and at first assumed the bleeped portion was the perp swearing, but I thought it was the officer after that.

My personal connection is watching the difference between myself and colleagues in dealing with situations at the school I work with. I have the advantage and luxury of 15 years of experience, often in difficult teaching environments, to draw on in de-escalating situation. Most of these kids are used to a lot of confrontation, and to speak calmly and firmly to them calms a lot of situations. "I need you to..." is a phrase I'll bet is heard in both your and my fields. It gives them a route to back down without losing face, and it personalizes you to them. The "kids" (first year teachers) are learning quickly that confrontation is usually a losing fight, at least in my field.

Bubs said...

It is in mine too. If you wanted to you could get in a fight nearly every single day and just be a miserable s.o.b. your whole career. What you find is that the good communicators, the ones that have or at least display empathy, go a long way.

Dale said...

I feel sort of ridiculous about this but...when I first watched this, I immediately thought, yes, the use of force is justified. I thought the suspect to be uncooperative and he had his hands in his pockets and you never know right? I would have said no to the taser or pepper spray. I was startled by the use of force but that's the point right? You don't say, okay, now I'm going to take you down and then jump at him.

I belong to the school of if you're running away and the cop yells Halt! Freeze! Stop! or Hey!, you deserve to be shot in the ass if you don't stop.

Some of the other comments made me stop and think about it some more and then I thought, well, I don't want to be the lone dissenter and shut up. Not my usual m.o. but sometimes maybe I'm too sheep like. Don't tar and taser me.