Thursday, December 4, 2014

May I See Your License?

You don't ever want to go out there and not be the best. You want to be the best cop that you can. Be the best writer you can be. Everybody has their goals. Everybody has their dreams.

I was a fit twenty-something, all of five six and maybe one fifty. He was over six feet tall, and hit two hundred with only one foot on the scale. Paramedics were examining both of us in the booking area of our police station, to ensure that the injuries we'd both sustained didn't require a trip to the ER. I called my wife at her work to explain that - yes, the news was reporting that a police officer had been injured. Yes, it was me. No, I wasn't hurt badly.

Wanted felon? Gang fight? Hardly.

I'd stopped him for a most mundane traffic violation - his inspection sticker had expired. Of course, the inspection law in Colorado was set to expire itself, replaced with an auto emissions test. I was "prospecting," using a lawful stop for a minor violation to see if I could find anything else. He pulled into his driveway, offered the always pleasant "deuce" and went into his house. 

His mom came out and said I'd frightened him. "He lost his drivers license," she said. 

"Is it suspended?" I ask.

"No, he just lost it."

About that time, junior emerges from the house and retrieves his six pack of beer from the car. I tug at his sleeve, explaining that I can always--

He hits me in the chest with the Buds.

Game on. In the course of the next two minutes I am knocked to my knees twice. We destroy several pictures sitting on a piano, (playing a couple tunes on the way by) and basically lay waste to the poor woman's living room. It is pre-portable days so I'm on my own. It wasn't the smartest move, but now I'm in it to win it. 

He isn't exactly fighting. He's resisting arrest. From afar it would look like I was attacking him, because I am. I'm trying - desperately - to overcome his resistance with just enough force to get him under control. That's what the law says I can do, that's what the citizens of my community expect me to do. It isn't personal. I can use reasonable force to effect an arrest. What is reasonable?

My partner, who'd worked for Houston PD, arrives after what seems hours. He steps into the fray and his revolver falls out of his holster. Awesome. If this monster makes a move for the gun, I'm going to shoot him. No question. But wait....

We throw him head first into the brick mantle of the fireplace. That stuns him for a moment, enough for us to cuff him.

All of this because he misplaced his driver's license.

He was on parole for a robbery he'd committed in Ft. Collins. At the prelim (injuring a police officer is a felony) his attorney asked me why I had used force in a situation involving an inspection sticker. The judge, known for both his laconic manner and his tendency to side with the defendant, didn't allow me to answer.

"I understand why the officer did what he did. Why don't you?"

The young man ended up pleading to a misdemeanor. He returned to prison to finish his robbery sentence.

Use of force by police is almost always a response not to attack, but to resistance. We are directed by our communities to arrest people when it is an appropriate response to an alleged criminal act. It is in their names, as their governmental agents, that we take action. When someone resists, they are in effect denying that society has a right to lawfully arrest them, that there are any limits to their liberty interests. Plainly, no society can tolerate that. Collectively, "The People" have the right to make laws and compel adherence to them.

The recent Staten Island case (about which I offer no opinion here) is an example of how police-citizen encounters can begin with a petty accusation, and how tragically they can end. Luckily for me this fight over an inspection sticker ended with a few bumps and bruises. I had a big lump on my head - the Chief was nice enough to tell me I didn't have to wear my hat for the rest of the day.

It wasn't the smartest thing I ever did, but at that point in my career it was my best. 

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