Some years back, I realized, during the reporting on some cases in the area, that law enforcement personnel rely to a large extent on "mind-reading" when they focus on a suspect. By this I mean that many law enforcement personnel have a rigid idea of how "innocent" people react to situations and they apply this to define persons of interest or suspects as those who don't react "right." As I've read more and watched more crime reporting,it sure seems that police assumptions about "the right" behavior has led them to repeated errors, because they think they know how people think and feel and react...and they don't.
Their theory of mind is flawed at the root.
Like most people, law enforcement personnel think of themselves as normal-but-superior. Normal in "psychology" but superior in terms of training, courage, and other factors related to their work. Also like most people, they believe they know how other people think and feel, and that they can interpret behavior accurately. Yet time and again, they have focused too early on the wrong person, accused the innocent, refused to consider alternatives, and made errors of judgment and interpretation.
I know that law enforcement is a difficult, dangerous job, a job that places great stress on those who do it, leading to frustration, anger, fear, depression. I know that modern towns aren't "Mayberry" and Andy Griffith was an actor playing a law officer and didn't have to be one in real life. But that's part of my reason for writing this. While police officers know they aren't Andy Griffith, they don't seem to realize that the rest of us can't be the good people of Mayberry. All of us are in a different time. All of us are subject to the same stressors as the police. And that was only fiction, even then.
Law enforcement self-selects for people who like the rules to be clear, black and white, and who like being in power. That kind of person--the person who prides himself or herself on being law-abiding, doing things the right way, categorizing things into right v. wrong, following all the rules, while holding power over others--is not the kind of person who has much understanding of those who are different, or who accepts that thinking differently, feeling differently, are valid, legitimate, honest ways to think, feel, be. Studies have shown that most law-enforcement personnel are drawn from working-class and lower-middle-class conventional backgrounds: they are conservative by upbringing and come into law enforcement already suspicious of "intellectuals," of the scientific process, of people different from themselves and their background. This is why, for years, most rape reports were disbelieved unless the woman was found dead with wounds all over her. Good women, the conservative belief goes, aren't raped (except by intruders of another race and even then they might not have resisted "enough.")
Mind-reading of this type hinders effective law enforcement many ways. For one thing, it affects the validity of testimony from law enforcement....if the officer is already convinced that X did the deed, can the officer be believed about the behavior the officer witnessed (not even the interpretation of it--the behavior itself?) Not necessarily. In the case discussed in the New Yorker article, police claimed that the suspect "showed no emotion" at the scene, but videotape taken that night shows that he did. Officers remember what fits with their theory of mind: what they expected of someone they'd already decided was guilty. It affects judgment in the field--officers do not expect citizens to be frightened in situations where they, the officers are frightened; or to act on that fear in ways that officers themselves act when frightened.
They demand from citizens a level of behavior that they themselves do not achieve or model. They do not consider the effect of their demeanor, their words, their actions on those they encounter except that they "demand respect," because they have a very faulty understanding of how human interactions actually work. Thus dashboard cameras now used by some departments (and shown on newscasts) show officers yelling and screaming, yanking people around, threatening, etc. Yelling and screaming and threatening raise the tension of a situation and are more likely to cause fear-driven (and thus erratic and sometimes violent) behavior. Ditto with wearing scary black uniforms and breaking down doors--most citizens think "home invasion, criminals!" not "oh, it's just the police.") When did this become "normal?" It wasn't always normal in all jurisdictions, anymore than most policemen used to wear black. (I blame the "reality" cop shows, the Fox channel Cops! and the like.)
This is a serious problem when women driving alone at night are stopped by police--since most women have been warned that not everyone with a flashing light pulling you over is really the police, and police officers on such shows as Oprah have told them to drive slowly to the nearest lighted public place (like a gas station.) Yet women have been arrested for "resisting arrest" when following this advice and in some cases pulled bodily from their cars and thrown to the ground. Charges have been upheld by local courts (with male judges, by the way.) (A place we definitely need a law to protect women--to ensure that in all jurisdictions a woman driving alone and responding to flashing lights by slowing down and driving to a well-lighted public place before stopping is not considered a fugitive and not subject to force, and to instruct police officers that however time-consuming it is to follow such a driver to the next safe place to stop, they should not let their frustration overcome their common sense.)
It's also a problem with the police in an area have decided that a bad guy isn't such a bad guy--as in the Garrido case. So convinced were the police that this guy on parole was really a nice regular guy, reasonable and intelligent, etc.--not to mention religious, which cuts a lot more ice with the police than it should--that when they got yet another complaint from neighbors about children, tents, noises, in the back yard, they just chatted with Garrido in his front yard and never actually looked. In too many cases, complaints from neighbors that actually linked to abductions have been ignored if the perpetrator was glib enough with local police--able to chat easily and calmly with them.
Law enforcement officers do not expect innocent people to be indignant or angry when accused of a crime they did not commit. Yet they themselves get angry if accused of misbehavior they feel wasn't wrong. They do not expect innocent people to take any precautions (such as calling a lawyer) in situations where they feel afraid, uncertain, in danger. So "lawyering up" has become "proof of guilt" for many law enforcement officers, rather than something they should expect from anyone who is used to using lawyers for advice in situations where they aren't sure what to do. (The fact that most citizens know it's legal for the police to lie to them, while it's illegal for them to lie to the police, increases the likelihood that innocent and savvy citizens will seek legal advice quickly. I certainly would. The current state of the law ensures that the accused can be lied to by police, and lied about in court, without recourse.)
Another problem mind-reading causes involved those with disabilities. I posted before about the wheelchair-bound man in the airline terminal in California: a TSA officer tried to take his carry-on bag (sitting on the floor beside his wheelchair) away on the grounds it wasn't being "observed." The man was threatened with detention for arguing with the TSA officer that he was, in fact, the bag's owner and was observing it--had observed the TSA officer trying to take it away and protested. Clearly the TSA officer assumed that someone in a wheelchair was completely incapable, not just unable to walk, and thus could not legitimately watch his own carry-on. For those with mental/behavioral differences (Tourette's Syndrome, autism, etc.) the application of rigid behavior standards can mean (has meant in some circumstances) that citizens have been accused of being drunk, on drugs, or criminals because they could not talk or speak "normally," answer questions quickly and the way the officer wanted, etc. (This puts stark fear in the heart of the mother of an autistic man!)
Last night I was watching one of those true-crime shows, because the Cowboys were demonstrating their familiar pattern of aging-fluourescent-light playing--flickering brilliance, more off than on (sloppy tackling, missed blocks, four turnovers, dropped passes, misreading obvious plays...but combined with a brilliant interception/touchdown by one defensive player and a final hail-Mary-punt-return-to-touchdown win) and I couldn't stand to watch every moment of it. I know the top guys weren't playing, but still...some of the errors you'd expect from high school players. Maybe. Anyway--the true crime show demonstrated the tendency of police departments to narrow their options too early (in this case, decide that the rape victim was really a woman having an affair making a false claim), fail to collect evidence that might conflict with their mind-reading, and make no progress in identifying the real criminal until he had committed several more crimes.
If police understood that they do not understand--that they do not know one right way for people in grief to act and look--for people who are victims of assault to act and look--for guilty and innocent to act and look--they might be able to move beyond their limited understanding of human psychology and work more on the facts, less on the fantasies. They might learn logical thought and the rules that govern research--since they are naturally attracted to rules. That would be easier on them than learning more about people--opening their minds to more possibilities of human motivation and behavior. The latter might make them more effective in the long run, but giving up their belief that they are experts and can mind-read everyone they see would be a start. And in the short and long run, this could lead to better and more effective law enforcement. Fewer missed chances to gather actual data, fewer hasty leaps to the wrong conclusions--and thus a better chance of identifying and capturing the real criminals and preventing more crimes. Fewer traumatized innocents who are actually injured twice--by the crime and by the police--and thus a better outcome for the victims of crime.
If the police understood how their own behavior affects others--if they knew which of their behaviors were likely to make things worse--they might create fewer problems. Kill fewer people who had done nothing deserving a death sentence (if indeed they'd done anything wrong.) Regain the trust of citizens who once trusted the police and now do not. It should be possible to teach police, at the cadet level, to understand the basics of behavior--the whole behavior 1/consequence thing--so they develop better strategies for dealing with the public they're supposed to serve.
I can't recall which year it was, but one year when ArmadilloCon was still at the Red Lion (no longer the Red Lion), we overlapped with a law enforcement convention of some kind. I think it was statewide, but I'm not sure. They were coming in to register at theirs as we were packing up, and the guys toting guns and badges were greeting one another with backslaps and so on.
They started talking shop right away, of course (so do SF fans), and then one of them said to another one, "Oh, you know [nameIforgot], all these civilians are guilty of *something,* we just haven't caught them yet." The other guy laughed and agreed; they both looked at the departing SF fans like wolves observing a deer herd. Somebody else came up and they both then said that to the new guy, who agreed that all civilians were guilty as hell but just hadn't been caught yet.
And I thought "That is some bunch of people to have supposedly guarding us and protecting the Constitution."
My yard hippie says that there are two kind of cops, Peace Officers and Pigs. He won a tidy chunk of change off of the Austin Police Department after a nasty run-in with some cops of the Pig variety. Even so the run-in has left permanent scars. Anytime the cops come, he leaves the property. They know who he is and have checked him out, so it's not that he's hiding from them. He just hates them. He says they trapped him and beat him and beat him and all he could do was lie there. He finally started yelling "just kill me! Please just kill me!"
Here are links to three useful videos about dealing with the police. I encourage everyone to watch them:
Well, keep in mind one of the things Ayn Rand got *right* in "Atlas Shrugged". Sovcoety does tend to set up the rules suchj that everybody *is* guilty of *something*. It's part of the social control mechanisms.
Also, consider what sort of folks cops will have the most exposure to. That tends to foster that attitude. Especially given the human tendency for selective memory.
Here in Austin, a crazy ex-boyfriend of a woman called the police and told them he was worried that she had committed suicide because he had broken up with her (which was a lie, she had kicked him out). He convinced the cops to kick her door in. After searching her apartment, the officers left the crazy ex-boyfriend in charge of the apartment. So he hid inside and shot and killed the woman's current boyfriend and then killed himself.
According to the Statesman, a jury "found that two Austin police officers improperly allowed a man to be inside his ex-girlfriend's apartment after one of the officers kicked down the door in 2004 — but jurors also decided that the officers' actions did not lead to a murder-suicide at the apartment later in the day."
Yes, I know about that. We have stupid jurors who can't think straight, either. Although with the current laws allowing courts to exclude evidence (on both sides) I know that sometimes jurors did not have the facts they needed.
At any rate...how the heck did jurors think letting the guy into the apartment was unrelated to the murder/suicide? If they were given all the facts, that is.
Civilian law enforcement (and by the way, I resent the use of "civilian" for non-law-enforcement citizens. The city policeman is a civilian relative to a soldier) does not draft its members. That's what I meant by self-selected. The person who's drafted and made an MP can choose to do something else when he's out of the military.
I'm glad you were in a good department. There are good departments. There are also not-good departments. Your experience counts and is a data point. So is mine. So is everyone else's.
The problem with "jerks" in law enforcement is the same as with "jerks" in the military and in other positions of power: they are granted more power--allowed to use more force--allowed more leeway before their use of force is considered excessive--than jerks who are shoe salesmen, pizza delivery drivers, or bookkeepers. It should be the aim of every police force to keep jerks out, reduce their jerk-number to zero, because jerks (in any situation) will inevitably abuse whatever small amount of authority they have. And since law enforcement personnel have more authority, their abuse of it--when they do so--is much worse.
As for giving to charity: that's a side issue. Giving does not excuse misconduct when other citizens do it. A check to the charity is not a "get out of jail free" card.
Well, Portland has a fairly decent department. Not perfect, but then we *do* have to staff it with humans...
One thing that's helped with some of the "difference" stuff is that a number of years back the then chief got together with the GLBT community (among others) and set up regular meetings (which still go on) where both the police and representatives of the GLBT community can express concerns. This led to a lot less friction. And extended to some other "weird folks" groups".
*Big* change from 10 years before the meetings when I witnessed a couple of cops would "asked" to look thru a local "club" (since it was a "cleaning party" to do some maintenance and repairs, they got a tour) get shown a "women only" area and express complete lack of understanding of *why* lesbians wouldn't want men in the same area while some things were going on.
Afterwards those of us who'd heard the comments discussed it and our best guess was that their only exposure to "lesbians" was hookers doing girl-on-girl stuff to entertain clients (ie not real lesbians at all)
These days the cops have (thanks to training) a much better idea of how to deal with sexual minorities and some other minorities.
Alas, they still need to work on dealing with mental disabilities...:-(
I found it very telling that the garrido case was blown by a woman, who was not comfortable with the way the little girls were looking at their dad. She did not simply accept his presentation as Good Dad.
Yes. My husband commented on that before I'd even read the story. Several male officers had been there, either as parole officers or responding to complaints...and either never saw the girls or didn't make the connection, and did not check out the specific area mentioned by one complainant.
But the woman officer in that office caught on quickly.
I used to be an X-ray tech in a busy ER. When the manure meets the windmill, I turn off all emotion and do what needs to be done. It was a very effective sanity-preserving behaviour when faced day in day out with a huge amount of trauma.
If the police were to talk to me at the scene of any sort of accident or disaster, I'd show no emotion. That's not the time or place for emotion. That's the time and place to do what needs to be done to ensure the survival of as many of the victims as possible. When it's all over, everyone's safe, and the situation is under control and all the immediately necessary cleanup has been done, *that's* the time to show emotion. That's when I (a non-smoker) need a cigarette, a good stiff drink, and a large handkerchief or two. That's when I'll sit down and shake like a leaf, or burst into tears.
But while the situation is "in progress" nothing. Nada. Haven't got time for that.
That's how I was in EMS. Sometimes I got the shakes on the way to the scene (esp. if waked out of REM sleep) but never when there. Afterward could be rough, as you an imagine, but once on the scene I was focused on "my" patient (when we had more than one, in particular.) I don't recall being scared at the time when I crawled under that truck to see if the guy pinned there was alive...later it occurred to me that it was not the safest place to be, with unknown fluids trickling down beside me and the heat of the engine very palpable. We had the guy with drugs in his undies and the woman with a handgun in her purse, and the guy who'd shot himself in the gut with a shotgun and the other guy who shot himself in the head with a .22 and various combative and noncombative drunks--what you got in the ER, though since we were a rural service we got them less often than you did, and in situ with whatever they'd done to themselves or had done to them. (The severed ear was an interesting one...sort of.)
Our group of volunteers did our hospital ER and surgery training time in a military hospital--we didn't ride out on their units, but did shifts in the ER and (when training for Paramedic) surgery. So we saw stuff we would probably not have seen on our own beat (though it's surprising how varied rural trauma and illness can be.)
There are a lot of people who, for one reason or another, are calm in crisis. Innate temperament, experience, training (including culture of the person growing up)...all factor in.
I come from a law enforcement family, and there are both good and bad cops. The percentage of bad ones get all the press it seems, and the good ones keep doing their jobs. Basing opinions on tv cops shows is bad.
In a small town, my father got harassing phone calls because he arrested drug dealers, child molesters and drunks.
Like most citizens, I also have personal experience with law enforcement personnel, in both rural and urban areas, and in situations (such as being the EMS person at the scene of an accident) that not everyone sees.
Yes, there are good and bad. I know that. Said that.
But as with any of us, a bad apple spoils the barrel...there's at least a 10:1 ratio of attention and memory favoring bad experiences, apparently hard-wire. (And that may be why the law officers I heard talking about "us" were so convinced that everyone was guilty of a crime but just hadn't been caught.)
Moreover, I live in a county that's considered one of the toughest on crime--and in which law enforcement has repeatedly been reminded by the courts to stay within the law. Next to a county in which the largest city's police force has repeatedly shot and killed unarmed suspects and been cleared of any misconduct. In the community where I live, some years back the then-only law officer was found to be raping teenage girls--he'd find them driving alone at night, stop them, and the assault them. We had a county judge who refused to hear cases of domestic abuse because "she probably asked for it." It took a years' long fight to get the police to arrest the gang rapists whose younger victim was put in a catatonic state..."She went to the party; she knew what she was getting into." So my experience is different. All experience makes data points.
As in any profession that impacts the public, the good ones need to do some policing of the bad ones...but the instinct (for teachers, clergy, law enforcement personnel, doctors, nurses, EMS people, firefighters) is to circle the wagons and defend against "outsiders."
Its not that bad here, but when the Old Boy network runs things, abuses and attitudes dont change. I refer to that as Cowboy Mentality. Six shooters at noon.
One of my neighbors here is on the county SWAT team. He is good at his job when called, and with one exception (the man was threatening to kill a woman and her two children) they have resolved the majority of calls without shooting. When an officer around here is discovered doing something wrong, they are normally relieved of duty from the start, then the process, which is very public, starts to review evidence.
That way of thinking is close to the heart of the problem. There really aren't good and bad cops, there are cops who do both good and bad. Some do more of one, others will sometimes completely accidentally drift into the one despite the strongest intentions to do the other.
I too find the "not showing (the right) emotion (the right way), therefore guilty" business very frightening -- especially because once they've zeroed in on someone on this basis, they often use all kind of mindf*** tactics to bully the suspect into "confessing." Sure, they're not allowed to beat victims to a pulp a la the NKVD during the Great Terror, but the psychological tactics often focus on denying the validity of suspect's experienced reality and imposing theirs instead, to the point the suspect is no longer sure what is true and finds it easy to just go along with the cops' line so they'll let up.
I saw some news coverage of a case that absolutely gave me the creeps, in which a girl was killed in her home, and the cops decided that one of her brothers was not showing the grief reaction they deemed appropriate, and therefore had to be guilty. So they used these interrogation tactics on him that simply assumed that he was guilty and refusing to admit it, and insisting over and over to him that he had to have killed her and those were the only logical conclusions from the facts available, and eventually broke him down emotionally until he confessed. I found the confession very suspicious, simply because of the fact that when you're a kid, you're told again and again that the authorities are right by definition and your experienced reality doesn't count if it differs from theirs, not to mention that obligation to obey. So when authority runs amuck, a kid's even more likely to "do as they're told" and make a false confession than an adult (and plenty of adults have made false confessions when exposed to those kinds of tactics).
People process loss in different ways and at different rates of speed. When my grandmother passed away in 1995 (a completely natural death in the ICU with no question of wrongdoing), I was worried that my family would think me a heartless monster because I was completely numb and not feeling any grief yet at the funeral. It was only a couple of weeks later that the grief really hit me -- but even then I wasn't visibly demonstrative, just downhearted and feeling like I had a hole inside.
If that kid was just one of those people who numbs out for a while in response to that level of loss, it's quite possible that he was in fact innocent, but was railroaded into a confession because the police decided that his "inappropriate" reaction indicated guilt.
Our son is autistic. One effect of this in him is that he answers leading questions and tag questions the way he thinks he's supposed to...if you say "You broke the window, didn't you?" he's likely to say yes even though he didn't break the window. It's only now, in his 20s, that he's becoming able to cope with such questions--but in a shaky, soft voice that will not go over well with most police officers. Even now he's more obedient than is truly healthy--he once gave his wallet to a kid at a carnival because the kid told him to (his dad intervened.) If a policeman told this very polite, very obedient young man to sign a confession, he probably would.
I did talk to a police officer about this kind of thing once, and his response was "You can't expect us to understand every crazy kid. You parents always think your kids are special." (Note: autism is not "crazy" and autism is not a fake diagnosis.) This was shortly after an article, referenced on an autism forum at the time, where the police had beaten a young autistic man for "not cooperating."
That sort of thing is why it needs to be a "formal" "training" talk to a group of officers with the department behind it to get across the idea that "no, this is not BS, this is stuff you are expected to know and expected to deal with *appropriately*".
That's what it took for the GLBT and "kink" communities around here. (And we still have stupid people on the non-cop side who refuse to understand *why* the cops *have* to investigate a report of a screaming woman and can't just take your word for it)
My brother is a fairly high functioning autistic man in his early 40s. He has lived on his own (mostly) since his mid-20s. About 10 years ago there was a series of dumpster arson fires in our smallish New England town, the last one of the series in his own Condo complex. At the time he was working 2nd shift in a restaurant, keeping "strange hours" and "acting suspisiously" (he had lived in the condo complex five years without getting to know his neighbors -- big surprise).
He was hauled in for questioning by the police based on the neighbors suspicion of the "strange acting guy in the corner unit". Five hours into it he said, "If I say I did it, will you leave me alone?". So, of course, he signed the confession.
He was released shortly thereafter when my parents posted bond. He went home and made a fairly serious attempt at suicide because he was that traumatized by the jail experience.
At his court trial, they actually implied that his suicide attempt indicated he was "disturbed and guilty". His idiot lawyer had him plead no contest rather than place a man on the stand with a severe stutter and a tendency to rock when agitated.
Three months after his conviction, while he was on monitored house arrest, the fires started again and the real arsonist caught. Once caught read handed, the arsonist admitted to the fires that were included in my brother's conviction. While he did get his conviction expunged, it still has totally shaken any faith I might have once had in the legal system.
Some parents have their autistic children wear med-Alert bracelets or carry ID which documents the disability. The "children" (teen or adult; old enough to be arrested) are taught to proffer the card or bracelet to law enforcement, especially if the individual goes mute when addressed by a stranger (police). Training videos are also available to train law enforcement.
I remember watching a news segment years ago about a woman picked up supposedly drunk and disorderly. She kept begging them not to cuff her. The police locked her in a cell, hands cuffed behind her, and left her there. She freaked. The video ended with her lying in a corner, sobbing, practically out of her mind after the police gang-tackled and shackled her.
I freaked out, watching it, because anybody coming from an extremely dysfunctional home would react to being treated that way. I pray to God I never have an accident or am accused of anything because I have a fear of being handcuffed, especially hands behind my back. I'm extremely claustrophobic and just that much is enough to send me into a panic attack. When I had neck surgery and was forced to try on a steel neck brace, I bent that sucker clawing my way out of it. The very idea of a neck brace is anethema to me.
My point is, law enforcement often fails to take this stuff into account and doesn't give any slack to those with damaged psyches.
The only systemic solution I can come up with for making police change their behavior and assumption is (to take a page from the right wing health debates) begin making them at least partially personally liable for mistakes. Right now most actions of police are immune to consequence, they cripple someone, maybe the city (or whoever they work for) pays for it and they might get a black mark in their record.
Of course another aspect is that the public (juries) has an unrealistically positive view of cops. They are believed by default, and even when there is overwhelming evidence against them they are given a break because of their position.
I did see something positive on a website that was mostly not-so--in Oregon, there are several cases of police reporting abusive behavior (beating on someone who was handcuffed and not resisting) and carrying through. Where the culture within a department changes, so that it's less acceptable to be a jerk, moderate jerks will adapt and the bad ones will leave (or be expelled. We're a social species. Most of us cluster around the high point of the behavioral bell curve of the people around us--we're within less than a standard deviation of the median.
It's really hard to get a Texas jury to see anything wrong with what any law enforcement officer does. The good ones don't do anything wrong, but the bad ones expect a free pass, so of course they push the envelope.
Alas, you can also run into people involved with law enforcement who think that *failure* to get indignant when confronted with something is proof you are guilty ("If you were really innocent you'd have protested") when in reality it was a case of not believing that they really thought *you* did it.
And of course, when you realize that they are serious and *then* start objecting, that's just more "evidence".
I speak from an experience a foster home involving something done by the guy I was sharing a bedroom with and a probation officer grilling us about it.
Oh yeah, that "they can't actually suspect *me*" mindset is both common and a *big* problem when police stop people.
It's sort of the flip side of what you describe. The cops have no way to know you are *not* the fleeing felon driving the same model car (or whatever). And thus to protect themselves, they have to assume that you are dangerous until they can check you out.
Thus the problems with folks reaching under seats for purses or other such things.