You can't order police officers to die for your politics

Now that the Senate GOP has begun the process of rolling out their own version of a “police reform” bill, predictable partisan fights are already breaking out. One of the major bones of contention is the idea that the bill would “discourage” the use of chokeholds by the cops during confrontations with non-compliant, disruptive or violent suspects. As with some other provisions, this doesn’t go far enough for the liberals and Democrats who are aiming to either defund or abolish the police, but will settle for as much as they can get in the meantime. They want the maneuver to be forbidden entirely with punishment meted out to any cops who violate the prohibition. (Washington Post)

The Senate Republican proposal, expected to be endorsed by a vast majority of the GOP conference, veers away from mandating certain policing practices from the federal level and does not include an explicit ban on chokeholds or certain no-knock warrants — all facets of the Democratic plan.

Instead, it encourages the thousands of local police and law enforcement agencies to curtail those practices by withholding federal funding to departments that allow the tactics or do not submit reports related to them.

The legislation also requires local law enforcement agencies to report all officer-involved deaths to the FBI — an effort pushed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is spearheading the GOP bill, since 2015 — and it encourages broader use of body-worn cameras for officers.

While this certainly shouldn’t be mandated from the federal level, we’re talking about things that must be handled with extreme care even at the state and local levels. The idea that anyone can simply grab a pen and paper and legislate how things will play out during a tense encounter between the police and a criminal suspect is laughable. Or at least it would be laughable if there were anything funny about such a serious subject.

Suggesting that Congress can simply roll out some new rules about a crisis situation where the cops wind up in a physical and potentially deadly confrontation with a subject is magical thinking. First of all, you’re talking about a vanishingly rare event for the most part. I mentioned these statistics in a previous article, but they bear repeating. In 2017 there were more than ten and a half million arrests made in the United States.That doesn’t even take into account the even larger number of police stops and interactions that ended without an arrest. The vast, vast majority of arrests ended without any notable incidents. A little over 900 of them ended with the police shooting a suspect and killing them. (The majority of whom were white, by the way.) That’s a vanishingly small number. I mention this only for perspective.

Coming from a family with more than our fair share of cops, the attitude I detect from some of these Democrats is simply insulting. Do you honestly think that there are police out there in any measurable numbers who get up in the morning and put on their uniform hoping that they’ll get the chance to put someone in a chokehold that day? Do you think they’re dreaming of the chance to shoot somebody, particularly when the odds are that the suspect will be shooting back at them? That’s the last thing pretty much any officer in the country wants. They would prefer to see and respond to no crimes and have a peaceful community. And if they are called on to respond to an incident, they would like it resolved calmly. They want to go home to their families that night every bit as much as you do.

But sometimes officers encounter a criminal who will never comply with orders and will either flee or get into an altercation with the cops. As we’ve seen from too many witness videos by now (such as the Rayshard Brooks shooting), things can go from boring and normal to violent and potentially deadly in under a second. Yes, there needs to be plenty of training in how to respond. And there should be standard practices in place so every officer knows the best way to handle such an incident, ensuring the greatest chance that the episode will be resolved with nobody getting hurt. But human nature is a funny thing, and it’s not always going to work out the way you would like.

There may come a time in any officer’s career where their life will be literally on the line with almost no time to respond. At close quarters, a chokehold may turn out to be the only viable (and hopefully nonlethal) option. At a distance against an armed assailant, they may have to draw and potentially use their firearm. And they don’t need to be worrying about whether they’re going to lose their job over it. Most of the well-heeled people in Congress who are cranking out these rules have most likely never seen an episode like the one I described above and would probably pee themselves if they suddenly found themselves in that position. (My apologies to the combat vets currently serving in the legislative branch.) Threatening to punish them if they don’t conform to your ideas (or those of your most rabid supporters) of how they should save their own lives demonstrates a lack of moral fiber on the part of our elected officials.

We ask a lot of our police officers. Probably too much in some cases. With the exception of a few rotten apples we need to weed out quickly and aggressively, they are all out there on the front lines fighting so you can have a peaceful life under the rule of order and exercise all of your freedoms. Seeking to exert this sort of granular control over them from on high is offensive. And if a lot of them start walking off the job after this I certainly couldn’t blame them.