Police Above the Law?
Agitator guest blogger Jim Bovard draws attention to a rather disturbing story from last week in the Washington Post that got very little attention. Indeed, the story was buried on page B07, indicating that the editors figured this had relatively little news value:
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier put out fliers yesterday warning officers in town for National Police Week that they must obey city laws covering disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and other “unacceptable behavior.”
Lanier ordered the fliers distributed around downtown in hopes of curbing complaints about officers drinking in public, playing loud music and causing other trouble. Several D.C. residents contacted officials in recent days with complaints about rowdy and profane conduct.
[T]he complaints this year do not rival those generated in other years. In the mid-1990s, for example, some New York City officers held loud, drunken parties at Washington area hotels — mooning guests, groping women and damaging property. Other incidents have ended with prosecutions: A Boston police officer was convicted in 1996 of making threats during a disturbance at a Georgetown restaurant, and a New York officer pleaded guilty to a 2003 sexual assault of a police cadet in a hotel room.
When thousands of people gather, even for somber events such as this one, there are invariably going to be a few incidents. The response, though, seems to be something other than chagrin that a few bad apples are making fine professionals look bad:
Several visiting officers said they were offended that Lanier was posting signs ordering them to behave.
“Is this because the attention is on us, or is this a way of saying the chief doesn’t want us here?” said retired New York officer Mike Dufan. “We’re here year after year to honor the fallen dead. Do we have a few cocktails? Yes, we do. I could say the same about congressmen and senators, but there isn’t a big stink about them.”
Bovard recounts his personal observations of bad conduct by the officers at the above post and at his own site.
Many of the cops were bicycling around to draw attention to their campaign for a memorial to cops killed on duty. I was cycling around downtown on Saturday, May 12. Not only were they running red lights en masse, but they would surge out into busy streets and hold their hands up as if every driver was obliged to slam on the brakes (despite the green light) – and let royalty proceed.
Again, I’m sure that these incidents do not accurately represent the group as a whole. Still, it’s frankly embarrassing that police officers, let alone officers gathered to memorialize their comrades who died in the line of duty, would have to be singled out for reminders that the law applies to them. Then again, the cops on “Cops” and similar shows act like thugs knowing that they are on camera for a national television audience.
I often get the sense that many police officers have a sense of entitlement and feel themselves above the mundane laws that apply to you and me. For example, police cars routinely blow past me on the road, going well past the posted limit, even though they don’t have emergency signals on. And, certainly, the days of police officers addressing mere taxpaying citizens as “Sir” and “M’am” are long gone.
Police provide, at considerable danger to themselves, a “thin blue line” of protection that allows the public to go on with our daily lives with a greater sense of security. For that, they deserve our thanks. At the same time, they are public servants, not overlords. A police force can not do its job very effectively without the trust and active cooperation of the citizenry. Yet, too many law abiding citizens fear and even dislike police officers.
Something is very wrong with that picture.