Dr. Dolittle Meets the Hill Street Blues

Heather Mac Donald has devoted a lot of attention to the interaction between police and minorities for at least the past ten years. Time and again she has taken studies quoted by the left and demonstrated how the left lied and manipulated to get the desired results. She is at it again.  City-Journal.org/html/conjuring-disrespect

This time it is a study, out of Oakland, identifying the police use of language to determine racial bias. “The attempt to find systemic police bias has come to this: the difference between an officer saying “uh” and saying “that, that’s.” According to Stanford University researchers, police officers in Oakland, California, use one of those verbal tics more often with white drivers and the other more often with black drivers. If you can guess which tic conveys “respect” and which “disrespect,” you may have a career ahead of you in the exploding field of bias psychology.”

This is the difference between Adam-12 and the real world of policing. The ideal police officer, using ideal words to achieve an ideal result. Something to shoot for, but never achieve. Go to U-tube and look up Burns and Allen, Carole Burnett with Tim Conway or Abbott and Costello (who’s on first?) What you will find is a reasonable, rational person, Burns, Burnett, or Abbott, attempting to converse with another person just watch the topic doesn’t matter.

Both parties hoping to converse with another person brings their personal experience to the conversation. Unless they grew up in the same neighborhood, attended the same schools were the same age and ethnicity, each will bring their slant to the discussion. Since this isn’t “Star Trek” and people are not equipped with universal translators there is always a possibility of misunderstanding.

It doesn’t take long for a rookie police officer to discover that he/she can control a confrontation via the use of language. This can be done directly, “Watch your mouth!” It can also be more subtle. Ignoring a point, badly stated will often cause the speaker to restate the point in an acceptable fashion. Conversely, encouraging expansion on a poorly stated point may elicit further information.

The first guy I ever arrested, Rudy, replied to my initial contact by saying, “You’re new here, I just want you to know I don’t fuck with police.” Back at the station and perusing his two-inch thick arrest file; I found that he was truthful. He had assaulted a variety of people in many different ways, but never the police.

Years later, he was the “victim” of an assault. Three guys armed with a knife, broken bottle and a gun jumped him. He took their toys away from them, two went to the hospital, and one was in the wind. A particularly obnoxious patrol officer was trying to take a statement from Rudy. Rudy was trying to explain that he didn’t know why the three motherfuckers jumped him.

The use of profanity caused the officer to respond, “Hey, watch your fucking mouth.”

Rudy sidled up to me and said, “You know me. You know I don’t fuck with the police.” He nodded at the obnoxious patrolman. “I’m fixing to start.” Rudy got the opportunity to talk to another officer with more brains and less delicate sensibilities.

A technique that most officers learn early on is called “mirroring.” Wikipedia the lazy man’s way to find almost right answers describes mirroring this way:

Mirroring_(psychology) Mirroring is the behavior in which one person sub consciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. Mirroring often occurs in social situations, particularly in the company of close friends or family. The concept often affects other individuals’ notions about the individual that is exhibiting mirroring behaviors, which can lead to the individual building rapport with others.

The definition says that it is subconscious behavior. My experience is that Mirroring can be applied with training and use. It allows an officer to establish a rapport with the individual that he happens to be dealing with at that moment. In the study that Mac Donald discusses, the judgment as to whether a verbal tic was rude or not was made by third parties not involved in the discussion. No judgment was made as to whether or not the communication was effective or not.

Good officers learn that there are two sides to every story. An officer who jumps to one side or the other is not likely to get a complete picture. By appearing neutral and giving each side, a say the officer is on the way to building rapport. Telling a child molester that his assertion that the three-year-old led him on is entirely believable. May lead to additional information. Telling that same child molester that you hope he burns in hell is liable to bring the interview to a premature close.

One of the hardest things for an officer to do is to resist the urge to holler bullshit! Given the opportunity, most suspects willingly provide all the information needed to implicate themselves. Miranda is good law but bad psychology.  Officers need to mirror the verbal skills of the people they deal with at any particular time. This may aid in mutual understanding. What do you do when a rape victim doesn’t understand the term fellatio?

I believe there are dead suspects out in the hood, simply because the officer was too polite. That politeness portrayed the officer as tentative, afraid, willing to back down and not in control. It was the last mistake the suspect ever made.Profanity, strong language, threats during an escalating confrontation are part and parcel of the confrontation and not noteworthy in and of themselves.

As a young patrol officer, testifying in court, I was asked to recount the events leading to the arrest of the defendant. I replied, “I ordered the suspect to halt and informed him he was under arrest.”

The defense attorney had one question, with a follow-up. “Do you recall your exact words officer?”

I replied that I did not.

His follow up,”Could it have been, ‘Freeze motherfucker or I’ll blow your shit away.”

I replied that I did not recall my exact words, but that particular phrase was certainly within the realm of possibility.

On redirect the District Attorney came back with one question, “Assuming that the defense attorney is correct in his phraseology, why would you use such language?

My reply, “I just wanted to make sure I was talking to him in words that he could understand.”

Police work cannot be reduced to a windows tree or schematic if this, then that. At a certain point, the variables become so diverse that micro managing of all possible responses becomes an exercise in futility. Left unaddressed is the fact the police represent one-half of the communication equation. What happens when the other half does not understand or follow the rules?

The other consideration is that there is already a check on police behavior. It is available in a courtroom setting. I suspect that most of the effort to restrict police options is designed sidetrack court prosecutions. If an officer can be disciplined or fired before trial, the underlying charge may be dismissed.  In many instances, the question of police misconduct needs to be part of the case and chief.

Throughout the Bill of Rights, you will find one term. It is used as a yardstick for government behavior and is often repeated: reasonable. In the context, the question becomes; given all the facts and circumstances were the actions of the government or government actors reasonable. Reasonable as it is understood in contemporary times.

Courts have even created a fictitious creature to aid jurors in their decision making. He is called the reasonable man. According to  Barrons’ Law Dictionary, citing the Restatement of Torts 2d, defines a reasonable person as “someone who uses such qualities as attention, knowledge, intelligence, and judgment which a society requires of its members to protect their own interests and the interests of others.”  

The “reasonable man” is everywhere. He is looking over a police officer’s shoulder as the officer goes about his job. The reasonable man is there when the officer suffers insults, assaults, and injuries. However, the reasonable man remains untouched. Unlike the police officer, the reasonable man doesn’t let a full bladder, empty stomach, or miserable weather affect his thinking or consequent decision making.

When it is time to go to court, the judge helps the jury to build their own reasonable man to help assess the information presented at trial. This reasonable man is not a clone, as he takes on facets of the personalities of each juror. This means that the understanding of the jury’s reasonable man isn’t universal. Understanding varies with each juror. In the end, it is the combined experience of all these legally fictitious “reasonable men” grounded in common sense, shared life experiences, individual intelligence and judgment that will determine the outcome at trial.

The outcome does not necessarily represent the ideal, but it does represent justice. It may not be the perfect solution, may not even stretch to the best. Rather the jury’s decision reflects that given the fallibility of humans in communicating to resolve difficulties, to describe circumstances, choose a rational course of action, and best meet their self-interests the verdict rendered reflects that actions taken were either reasonable or unreasonable.

Mistakes have been made and will continue to be made in attempting to apply justice. The choice is the process can be conducted in an open forum with both sides having an equal ability to present their best case. Or the process can be fragmented with bits and pieces farmed out to self-interest groups and so called experts to render a judgment that is not transparent and not subject to an independent review.

This is liberal gamesmanship at its best with a shift in focus. Typically, liberals like to narrow and restrict the focus so that the flaws in their argument can be ignored. Example:

“Hitler built the autobahn, he’s a pretty good guy.”

“What about the six million Jews, he had killed?”

“Now you’re changing the subject, we’re talking road building.”



Here we go again.  “The cop disrespected the suspect.”

“What about the bus load of Nuns he killed?”

“There you go again changing the subject, we’re talking good grammar, not good taste.”