Why Does the Public Put Up With Abusive Cops?

My latest article on LewRockwell.com was anything but kind to the armed bureaucrats who claim to be the protectors of safety, yet to my surprise I received only one moderately critical response. Almost every emailer — and there were plenty — added their own stories about how police officers abuse their powers and fail to make us safer.

Here was my favorite response: "Why is it after spending 32 years as a California Peace Officer (28 with the California Highway Patrol) that I cannot find fault with your article. … Let me add tip #11: Never tell the public that 11% of the on duty killings by police qualify as wrongful deaths; while only 2% of killings by the uninformed, ill trained, dangerous public are so."

Clearly, we’re on to something here.

The day my article was published, the local news was consumed by reports about a California Highway Patrol officer who was gunned-down while on duty. The suspect is a 16-year-old-kid who, allegedly, wanted to impress members of the gang he wanted to join.

Within hours, the suspect was apprehended, and the news reports were filled with talk about police protecting their own. A "conservative" drive-time talk-show host kept emphasizing how much more tragic this killing was than other killings, because the victim was one of those brave souls who put his life on the line protecting us.

The crime was terrible, no doubt. But why do police respond so overwhelmingly when one of their own is killed? I can’t recall a manhunt of similar proportions taking place when a mere citizen is gunned down in broad daylight. I don’t know why the death of an officer in the line of duty is so much more egregious than the murder of anyone else.

This just reinforces the "us vs. them" mentality of those who carry the weapons and order us around.

The truth about police bullying, and police failure to care about the people they are supposed to protect, came through in a Los Angeles Times article on Tuesday. California Highway Patrol received a call at 8:38 am on April 4 reporting a car going off the road at a specific location along a freeway. Here’s the Times account:

"Three minutes later, the Riverside County Fire Department dispatched two trucks that drove both sides of the freeway but found nothing. A California Highway Patrol officer soon joined the search, stopping briefly to look over the side of the road. Both searches lasted less than 15 minutes.

"In a ravine hidden from view 150 feet below the roaring traffic, Norma Bustamante lay dying, her 5-year-old daughter, Ruby, nestled close by. The little girl would survive nine days on her own…."

Now compare the lackluster police response to that case to the response to the officer who was gunned down, where hundreds of officers scoured the city. When a fellow cop is involved, no effort is spared. When a mere citizen is lying there dying, a search doesn’t consist of more than a perfunctory 15 minute gaze along the side of the road. According to published reports, Bustamante’s family said that police told them to hire their own searchers because they didn’t have the time or budget for a search.

Oh, yes, thank God for these great protectors of us all. What would we do without them?

Here’s a story from The Associated Press, as referred to by Bob Wallace on his LRC blog post on Monday:

"The city of Portland has agreed to pay $145,000 to an elderly blind woman after police pepper-sprayed and shocked her with a stun gun."

Who even needs to read further into the story than that? Wallace’s headline was right on target: "How Do You Parody This?" It reminded me of a scene a few years ago when Anaheim police drove a mini-tank, accompanied by SWAT team members with military-style rifles, into a quiet suburban neighborhood to arrest an elderly doctor who was in no way threatening.

My wife, this week, was outraged after watching a TV news show that included a segment on police who handcuffed and harassed a man who was trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. The cops said the agitated man had threatened them because of his angry words. I sure can’t figure out why the guy was agitated, can you?

The guy’s response: How threatening can a man in a bathrobe and slippers be?

If only the guy in the bathrobe were a fellow cop, he would have gotten a police escort to the hospital.

My point: We all know that police frequently abuse their power, and that they almost always treat the citizenry with disdain. We know they take care of their own, but don’t do all that much to protect the rest of us. We know they use excessive force all the time, and have little concern about citizens, and use little common sense in dealing with people who are upset or agitated. We know police unions are bankrupting treasuries with their endless demands for higher salaries and better benefits.

As the email above shows, cops know the game, too. So why are most people so unwilling to admit that we know what’s going on? Why do city councils refuse to hold local police departments accountable? Why aren’t there protests against police misbehavior and abuse?

Good questions. I’m still searching for the answers.

Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register.