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poisonedantidote's avatar

Do you agree or disagree with the statement, "the worst thing about the police is their lack of understanding about the law", why or why not?

Asked by poisonedantidote (21611points) January 4th, 2013

After spending a few days doing some research on law, I am currently of the idea that most police officers either understand very little about the law, or choose to act as if that is the case.

If you have ever been stopped by the police in Spain, you would know that they always ask for ID, and if you tell them you don’t have any, they say that they will “let you off this time, but next time you don’t have ID on you it is €60.00 fine”. However, the official law states that you do not need to carry ID, and there is no such fine.

Also, if you decide to take your pitbull for a walk, the police will usually stop you, and ask to see the dog’s insurance papers. If you tell them the dog is insured, but that you don’t have the papers on you, they will tell you the same thing. However, the law clearly states that as long as the dog is chipped and has a muzzle on, that there is no problem.

I will keep this short, and finish by saying, that over the last few days, I have seen at least 10 laws conflicting with lies and misinformation on part of the police, as well as at least 50 videos of police in Spain and the UK, who obviously did not know the law, or seemed to be making things up as they went along.

Does this fit with your experiences with the police in your area?

Do you agree or disagree with the statement in general? and why?


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20 Answers

SABOTEUR's avatar

I disagree.

The worst thing about the police is the fact that they have the authority to hurt you real bad and/or imprison you with the least bit of provocation.

ragingloli's avatar

In Germany we call that “auf Dummfang gehen”, which roughly translates to “catch dumb people”, meaning they try to fleece you of money, hoping you will just comply due to being intimidated by authority or ignorant of your rights and not fight back.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@ragingloli In America, we call that “Rodney King”, which roughly translates to “beat a black man’s ass…whether he deserves it or not.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@SABOTEUR I am not trying to patronize you with this, I see in your avatar you are a black guy, but I have to say, there is something going on in the USA with cops and black people for sure.

I write letters to people as a hobby, pen pals, and a lot of them are convicts from the USA. When you go on a convict pen pal site, you can instantly see the vast majority of them are black or some kind of minority.

I had always heard it said, how blacks get harsher treatment, but I must say I did not realize by just how much until I started writing convicts.

SABOTEUR's avatar

They call it the “Prison Industry” in the US. There are profits to be made by keeping our prisons filled.

Just happens (heavy sarcasm) to be filled with minorities.

I found it disturbing to learn recently that school grades are examined to determine the likelihood kids will eventually turn up in prison. They use this information to project how much money to allocate toward building new prisons.

flutherother's avatar

That’s the second worst thing. The worst is the police in a totalitarian state where there is no law.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I disagree with the premise of the question and I completely disagree with wild assertions of the previous answerers. Their answers may be due to some personal experience with policemen, but I think it is intellectually dishonest to demean the entire profession on account of the misdeeds (or perceived misdeeds) of a minority.

I think that your average policeman on the street has come to the job with a genuine desire to help people and improve the community. I don’t see the profession – as a whole – filled with people who went through the training process with a blind desire to hurt and maim people. Probably a few bad guys squeak through, but that’s true in banking, teaching, and the priesthood as well.

TO a degree, the way police act is based on their training and their experience. A good training program (in my county, it is 9 months long) teaches not only WHAT to do, but what NOT to do, and the penalties for being overassertive. I can’t speak for other jurisdictions, so I don’t know.

But more importantly, a policeman’s actions in the community are going to be based on the reaction he gets within the community. If his daily beat causes him to be spit on and insulted, then he is not going to be looking kindly at a community that allows and even encourages that behavior. On the other hand, if the community is supportive of police presence and assists in keeping the community safe and sound, the attitude of the police will reflect that as well.

Your premise “police don’t understand the law” is completely erroneous. In my experience, they understand the law better than you or I do, and they try to follow their rules and regs in enforcing the law to the letter. I would say that most citizens have their own (erroneous) views of what the law is, and that’s where false arguments like yours arise.

Again, I want to emphasize – not all police are angels and not all citizens are innocent. By far, however, the police do their job well and with a clear understanding of their mission and their community. Painting a picture of “all police are dumb and bad” is just not reality,

livelaughlove21's avatar

I agree that there is unfair treatment toward black people in the US criminal justice system. However, that’s not the only factor as to why the prisons are filled with African Americans (and other minorities).

Research shows that poverty leads to crime. It is statistically true that poverty (and gang activity) is more prevalent in the black community. Also, rates of single-mother households is sky high in black families. That paired with the fact that many young black men still struggle with not only stereotypes, but extreme difficulty identifying adult male role models, this can lead to bad, and even criminal, behavior.

Of course, there are other factors, but cops aren’t the only ones to blame.

I’ve never been out of the US, but I haven’t seen much evidence to support the OP’s statement here. Plus, if a judge sees someone was charged for a crime that does not exist, he must order the release of the person without needing to set bail.

Shippy's avatar

I was going to say Law is a huge subject, and best left for those who study it. But basic street laws should be known by the police. Gosh, how odd.

poisonedantidote's avatar

This is the kind of thing I’m talking about.

The video shows a police officer, who is very confused by dealing with someone who knows a few basics. The cop gets confused, on the defensive, he confuses mnemonics with law, and then attacks.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@poisonedantidote I was more annoyed by the guy stopped than the cop. He was purposefully being a pain in the ass.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@poisonedantidote I agree with @livelaughlove21 , and in any case, one (or even 5) examples does not indict the entire profession.

wundayatta's avatar

@elbanditoroso I don’t know what the data are about this, but it seems to me that a lot of police are bullies. They respect people who have power over them, but have no respect for those they think they can bully. Bullies usually come from families where there is a lot of disrespect for kids, and a lot of physical discipline, if not abuse. Coming from this background attracts them, in general, to the work.

Now I don’t know what “a lot of” means. I could be ten percent or it could be a majority. But even if police aren’t bullies when they come into the force, training methods and the military culture turn them into bullies. They are taught how to use force and that it is the primary tool they have in gaining cooperation. They are not taught much about cooperation and good community relations, and even if they are taught, it is not seen as a serious method for controlling the community. That’s how they see their job: gain control and don’t relinquish it. And that’s how they relate to people in most situations.

I’m an upper middle class white guy, and this is how cops relate to me. Now I’ve learned how not to antagonize them over the years, but as an activist, I’ve been in plenty of adversarial situations with them, and I’ve been taken into the cop shop while exercising my constitutional rights. I’ve learned to shut up. My rights are all well and good, but they have the guns and they have the bracelets. If I don’t want to end up in jail, I better do what they say, even if they are wrong in telling me to do it.

Bullies, of course, are great at coercion. They get so good at it, that a lot of people don’t even recognize they are being coerced. They think they are being treated leniently. Like when being threatened with a fine that doesn’t exist. Most people think it’s a nice cop who is doing them a favor letting them off the hook, instead of realizing they are being bullied illegally into doing what the cop wants. So most people think bullies are actually nice guys because they are so good at what they do.

They train the cops to behave this way. And people are so accepting of it, that they blame the victim when things go badly for them, even though the cop should never have behaved that way. Then they pass it off as a rare occurrence, not realizing it happens all the time in subtle ways. But a lot of people identify with the person in power because that’s easier than thinking about standing up for humane treatment. After all, the cops only go after people who have done something wrong.

Just wait until you get accused of doing something wrong. Yeah. You’ll get off if you have a lawyer and you go to court. But meanwhile you’re locked up . Oh, it’s only until you make bail. You didn’t need those few hours of your life, did you?

Even if it’s only ten percent of cops that are bullies, that’s too much. That means that, on average, one out of ten of your contacts with cops will be of the unpleasant type. Even 5% is too much. This needs to be reduced to under 1%.

linguaphile's avatar

I completely agree with @SABOTEUR “The worst thing about cops is the fact that they have the authority to hurt you real bad and/or imprison you with the least bit of provocation.” But, to add to that, once you are imprisoned and put through the justice system, your life is never the same.

The problem with US cops is that they have NO real repercussions for their actions, as far as I can see. The second problem is that they’re no longer trained to be community helpers—they’re militarized, which makes it worse. Third, cops are one of the least educated professions—they’re not thinkers. So you have a bunch of ignorant people given military weapons with no consequences… regulating everyone else? Scary.

You can say, “they’re not all like that…” but that’s the problem. There are too many like that—even one bully-cop on the force is one too many. Cops have at least 10 interactions with different people on the job everyday. 1 bad cop x 10 contacts a day = 10 affected people a day. TOO MANY.

I’ve had plenty of bad experiences with cops, mostly in small towns. If you live in a small US town, there’s no check and balance, so they basically can do what they want to do. Small town cops are the worst. There’s not enough crime or trouble, so they go and pick people, scream at them, arrest on whim, try to keep up with big city quotas, over-charge and then go home and get off on their ego-high. They create more problems than they solve.

My experience is this— My son is going through a legal situation where he’s been charged with a felony for possessing 3 pills of oxycodone at 5mg each- they were his passenger’s hand-surgery medicine. My son was pulled over for a wide right turn but the cop screamed at him for about 5 minutes, kept cussing at him and called him a piece of shit, accused of being drunk and stoned (he was 100% clean, urine test proved it)—intimidating him. My son, being the kind of kid he is, decided to say, “Yes, my passenger has these 3 pills.” He was hauled out of his car, arrested, recent shoulder surgery arm twisted until he collapsed on the pavement, cussed out nonstop, no Miranda read. Later we found out the cop turned off his recorder any time he was screaming, and on for certain things. The cop broke 5 different major laws, but gets off scot free while my son is looking at jail time and a permanent record. To add to that, the urine test is inadmissible in court because my son requested (demanded, actually) to take the test, not the cop.

Yes, I am angry—not just for what happened to my son, but to me as well. I’ve been profiled and bullied, had a gun pulled on me because I couldn’t hear, know of too many incidents where the law became a figment of imagination… Bottom line, it’s not the lack of understanding of the law, but the lack of regard. Cops have too much power these days.

El_Cadejo's avatar

The worst thing about cops is their perception that they are above the law.

Linda_Owl's avatar

Police & other Law Enforcement agents are hired to ENFORCE the laws. They have a generalized understanding of what is legal & what is not legal. However, they have the power to shoot & kill people, especially people of color, & they frequently do ‘shoot first’ & maybe ask questions later. For a lot of Police Officers, their mind-set is ‘might makes right’ & a lot of Police Officers have developed a great deal of arrogance toward the public. I tend to agree with @SABOTEUR , the Police have too much power to inflict pain & suffering on, potentially, innocent people.

SABOTEUR's avatar

Thanks @Linda_Owl. But don’t misunderstand me. I’m well aware that you can’t apply one standard of behavior to all police officers. Considering their history, though, I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to relating with law enforcement officers.

I would also submit that this question focused on the worst thing about police officers. Had the question concerned the best thing about the police, responses would probably slant a bit differently.

amujinx's avatar

A very good friend of mine has a cousin who is a State Trooper. He has told us that he, and others in his department, will lie, coerce and intimidate to get into a person’s vehicle if they pull them over for anything. It’s not that they don’t understand the law, it’s that they think they are above it and will knowingly break the law or lie about the law just to get what they want.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@amujinx That’s scary. Who knows what else they do just because they can.

linguaphile's avatar

@SABOTEUR @amujinx My mom used to date a police officer for 6 years—from a very rural town. His buddies and he would come over to eat dinner with us quite often and that’s when we heard their stories. They talked about beating people up, bullying them and knew at least one cop on the force that had made people “disappear.” I’ve never been comfortable with that, and that was 25 years ago.

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