Out on the Edge


Iowa Football Player Thanks Police.  The rest of the story, is he is sitting in a park playing computer games, wearing headphones and totally oblivious to his surroundings.  Police are searching for a bank robber, apparently a large black man.  This guy is black and a college football player.  

The police approach and give him a variety of verbal instructions that he cannot hear because of the headphones.  His failure to comply is taken more as a refusal to comply and they (five officers) draw down on him. He states they were not in uniform but since they were armed he complied with their instructions.  He was frisked, identified and released.  He thanked the officers for the way they handled the situation.

I tried to wear earphones in public once, might have lasted a minute. Can’t do it, headphones interfere with my ability to perceive what is going on around me.

One thing that struck me.  This guy insists that the officers were not in uniform.  The officers maintain that they were in uniform.  This seems to be easy to prove or disprove. I tend to believe the officers, but I am not branding him a liar.

What if previously held preconceptions interfered with the ability to recognize a police uniform for what it is.  Think of all the jocks wearing team jerseys with the number of a star player, that doesn’t make them sports stars. I see the potential for a serious disconnect here.

I have drawn down on an armed suspect who refused to “drop the gun”. Why?  When the shouting was all over, he had what he thought was a reasonable explanation.  It went like this, He wasn’t doing anything wrong, the gun was unloaded.  He had just purchased it at a bar.  He was going to his cousin’s house to show off his “new” gun.  (It was a rusted JC Higgins single shot shotgun with a split stock). He didn’t drop the gun because he didn’t want to damage it.  It goes without saying that he was drunk as a skunk.  He agreed to “put” the gun down without further incident.  It could have ended a lot differently.  Here we have a suspect who failed to appreciate the situation he is in.  

In the football player situation five uniformed officers confront him and he fails to recognize them for who they are, uniformed police officers.  The officers know who they are. They are wearing a uniform with shoulder patches, a badge on their chest and a stripe running down their pant leg. They are carrying eighteen pounds of equipment around their waist and each is carrying a handy-talkie that is babbling on in the background.  On top off that they are saying police type platitudes, “Hands up, Don’t move, Freeze, Police”, while waiving cop type guns around. How can anybody fail to recognize them for what they are?  It must be a trick.

Confrontations are rarely cut and dried.  Outcomes can turn on the smallest things.  Both sides bear a responsibility for their actions.  That being said, citizens/suspects have an obligation to obey the law.  If a stop is legitimate, then the officer already has an indication (reasonable suspicion or probable cause) to believe that a specific individual has violated a specific law.  This doesn’t mean that the individual did, just that the officer is justified in inquiring further. In Texas, this obligation to further investigate is mandatory ( TX CCP  Art 2.13)      www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/ .  In statutory language “may” indicates an option and “shall” indicates an obligation. An officer has no obligation to step back, or back down. In any legitimate confrontation, the officer is going to be ahead of the suspect in the moral or legal curve and when push comes to shove that may be the difference between life and death for the suspect and indictment or exoneration for the officer.