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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lawful Restraint

The sight of police officers arresting a suspect is not a pleasant one. Even when handled with restraint and calm by both the officers and the suspect, it can send shivers up the spine. Restraining a suspect who is resisting arrest is a violent, but a sometimes necessary, aspect of a police officer's duty. Either the threat, or demonstration of overwhelming force is often the easiest and safest way to end a violent situation. Frighten the suspect into submission. Placed out of context, these acts can easily be seen as police brutality.

If Ottawa-area make-up artist Stacy Bonds had a lengthy criminal record, it's unlikely much attention would have been paid to her arrest and strip search two years ago. Had she been accused of a serious crime, not public intoxication, it's unlikely she would have garnered the sympathy she has so far. Had she violently resisted arrest, or made unprovoked physical attacks on the officers conducting her search, then the conclusion of most dispassionate observers would have been of sympathy for the officers, and contempt for Bonds.

The videos that have been released in recent weeks of Bond's arrest and strip search, show a slight woman being roughly handled by three male and one female officer. The video, embedded above, also shows, and this point has not been mentioned very often in the media, Bonds kicking Constable Melanie Morris. Only after kicking Const. Morris was Bonds forced to the ground and her bra cut off with scissors.

A few seconds before the kick we see the officers violently grabbing Bond's hair and arms. This seems to have been in reaction to Bonds showing the slightest resistance to being searched, a small turn to the left, which is visible at the 42 second mark of the above video.

A terrified young woman, with little apparent experience in dealing with the police, did not react with complete docility. That is why she was arrested and attacked by four Ottawa Police officers, in a botched cell block search. Bonds was initially stopped for allegedly taking a sip from a bottle of beer, though the bottle was never recovered, and briefly questioned by a trainee officer with five months experience. After being let go, Bonds asked the officer, John Flores, as to why she was stopped. Then she was arrested.

Perhaps she was less than respectful to the officer. Had she kept quiet and been deferential, it's unlikely she would have been further bothered by the police. Rather than behaving like a docile automaton in the presence of authority, she behaved like a free person, annoyed at being pestered and then angry at being violently manhandled by public servants. What she did was perhaps not the smart thing to do, it was the human thing to do.

To say that the officers showed an appalling lack of judgement, is an understatement. They behaved, whether due to inexperience or arrogance, toward a small and harmless woman in manner that might have been excessive in dealing with an enraged 300 lb. biker. It was not so much what those four officers did, but with whom and why. Had Stacy Bond behaved as expected, it's unlikely the arrest or attack would have occurred.

The danger here is not of officers using excessive force. In life and death situations the appropriate amount force is never an easy judgement. The real threat to our civil liberties, perhaps even our lives in extreme circumstances, is the expectation by some officers of not simply respect, but outright subservience by members of the public.

Being rude to a police officer - and there is no evidence that Bonds was rude or violent to anyone until manhandled - is not a criminal offense. I've personally witnessed instances of police intimation, simply because a citizen was somewhat rude to an officer, a rudeness no worse than what a cashier at Wal-Mart gets on a daily basis. When dealing with members of the general public, expect to meet a fair-share of hot-headed idiots, or just ordinary people under stress.

A police officer who cannot politely but firmly deal with the general public, should seek other employment. An officer who looses his cool in extreme situations, should be given the benefit of the doubt, and punished when and where appropriate. Such clashes between generally law abiding members of the public and the police, whether at the APEC summit, the G20 in Toronto this summer, or cases like those of Stacy Bonds, highlight a growing sense of superiority by some officers over ordinary citizens.

I can recall that even fifteen or twenty years ago, there was an enormous respect for the police in Toronto, something not much in evidence after the G20 fiasco. For years the police were assumed to be automatically in the right. In recent years there has been an increasing lack of respect for officers. Mention you had an interaction with a cop, from a speeding ticket or something more serious, and the almost instant reaction are mini-rants about how all cops are SOBs.

Nor are these tirades from the libertarians or anarchists, but ordinary political middle of the roaders with no apparent axes to grind. There is an arrogance and swagger, which some officers exhibit, that is off-putting. Most people have either a strong suspicion, or fear of authority, an overbearing cop can exacerbate these fears. Just as a cop's fight or flight instincts can kick in, so can a ordinary member of the public's own survival instincts.

Part of police training is reminding frontline officers that the peaceful members of the public are afraid of them, and they need to conduct themselves with that in mind. When stopped by an officer, the mental reaction of most people is: "What did I do wrong?" The best officers are the ones who can, while maintaining authority, still place a citizen at ease during ordinary interactions. It's partly training, and partly a natural empathy. It's a very hard balancing act, but it's what they are paid to do.

After a series of unwise judicial rulings, and the adoption of a very lax approach to sentencing, the 1960s and 1980s witnessed an explosion of crime through out the United States. This was mirrored, though to a far lesser extent, in Canada. This, in turn, provoked a long and sustained reaction from both the police, and the general public, to what was seen as molly coddling from the bench.

Even after crimes rates began to drop and stabilize at relatively low levels, this "get tough" approach remained in the public mind's. Accusations of police brutality were dismissed as scum bags trying to escape punishment, or attempts at revenge toward officers who were protecting the public. Infringements of civil liberties were downplayed, as part of the battle against out of control crime.

Those who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, the people now assuming positions of power, either witnessed the epidemic of crime first hand, or were bombarded with its media images. This created in some an exaggerated, though understandably, deference to the police. The pendulum simply swung too far the other way.

The newer generation of police officers often expect such deference, and feel threatened when it is not offered. It is not too great a leap, for these officers, to go from assuming a mouthy suspect might become a violent one. For sake of any future Stacy Bonds, and all of us, the cult of deference needs to be replaced with one of simple respect.


Posted by Richard Anderson on December 14, 2010 | Permalink


"After a series of unwise judicial rulings, and the adoption of a very lax approach to sentencing, the 1960s and 1980s witnessed an explosion of crime through out the United States"

Is it possible to make a stronger claim and establish causality here?

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2010-12-14 8:48:29 AM

Cops never change. Every generation is the same as the last. Right now, they're riding the wave of hero worship that began right after 9/11. They need to be brought back to solid ground, but that isn't going to be easy to do. Unions, associations, and the sheer number of cops in the system makes it harder to rein in bad behavior.

Crooked associations may be the toughest problem to solve. One of their biggest sponsors is the software company that created the gun registry software. Police association support for the long gun registry has nothing to do with crime prevention, and everything to do with lining their pockets.

Cops are a necessary evil, nothing more. It's been that way since the dawn of human society. By turning control over to the biggest, and best armed, we've had to give up some of our freedoms. There'll never be a perfect balance of freedom and safety. It's a pendulum.

Posted by: dp | 2010-12-14 9:45:07 AM

Stupid cops and smart cops. Stupid public and smart public. In this case, possible stupid cop and definitely stupid female who got arrested. Managing stupid arrestees who fight back with flailing arms and malicious intent takes more than one cop if harm to all involved is to be avoided or at least mitigated. The female arrestee got a hell of a lot less "punishment" than she deserved.

Posted by: Agha Ali Arkhan | 2010-12-14 9:59:01 AM

I think part of the problem is ignoring human nature. On one hand we expect and demand that policemen function like machines while not doing the same with the public. Too often the police hesitate the take the necessary action at the appropriate time due to what I call political correctness, which results in excessive action when they finally decide to take action. If an officer discharges a firearm during the incident, the officer must hand over the firearm for an investigation. Add to this the poor recruitment standards in order to satisfy the affirmative action targets of their political masters, and too often we have cops who should not be cops. It is most often the incompetent and inexperienced who overreact and resort to abuse and brutality. I suspect that Bonds had the misfortune of dealing with this type. The good ones also get more than a little frustrated when the real criminals get off due to "technicalities", poor judges and a justice system that has little to do with justice.

Does this mean we must overlook police incompetence and abuse of power? Absolutely not, but neither should we automatically assume that the police are always at fault in any confrontation, which seems to be rather prevalent today.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-12-14 12:22:44 PM

Alain-There seems to be a lot of hesitation to take action when the level of risk goes up. Why is it there's always a cop around when some kid rides his skateboard on the sidewalk, but absolutely NEVER when there's a shootout between rival gangs? You can't chalk it up to coincidence time after time.

I also hesitate to blame judges, and the legal system as often as some people. A lot of these cases that get thrown out are the fault of sloppy, incompetent police work. They just happen to have the loudest voice, and an in with media. If judges got in front of a camera every time the cops screwed up an investigation, I'm sure we'd see things differently.

I put cops on the same level as most other unionized public employees. There are plenty of good ones, but sometimes they're overshadowed by the useless ones.

Posted by: dp | 2010-12-14 2:58:59 PM

dp, we are saying the same thing about the hesitation to take action. One could fill a book with examples. I attribute it to two causes: one being the lowering of recruitment and training standards in order to meet affirmative action targets (as in your example of a shootout between gangs), and the other being the fear of being accused of being racist, sexist or anti any of the sacred groups (when aboriginals or ethnic groups are breaking the law).

I do disagree with you that judges in some cases and the legal system carry no blame. Getting off on a technicality has nothing to do with justice, and I am not referring to cases where the police planted evidence. Just one example of the problem with our system was when my daughter's truck was stolen from our farm. The guy was known to the police and even had been shot by them once. However since he managed to bail out of the truck leaving his gear inside but was not inside when the cops arrived they could do nothing. He had to be caught inside the vehicle. The same goes for a small group of local thugs well known as responsible for numerous break-ins. The cops have to catch them in the act and even then they are back on the streets before you can say uncle. Sorry but this is rubbish as a legal or justice system.

Anyway I repeat that I am not saying one must believe the cops are always in the right. I am suggesting that it is rather more complicated than simply always being in the right or in the wrong. In the case of Bonds the evidence against the cops seems very strong.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-12-14 6:21:34 PM

Ultimately, while law enforcement officialdom says they want the best people to join police forces, they want the worse that a society can produce. Easy to manipulate, with lax morals and criminal predispositions, this is the sort of person that will be your typical police officer. Like the "brown shirts" of former times, thugs and dullards are your current crop of police officers. Yep, citizens: this is your tax dollars at work.

Posted by: AB Patriot | 2010-12-14 8:20:33 PM

Your article has given me loads of knowledge, I keep reading it daily. In fact I wait to read your articles. I hope you keep writing such good articles.

Posted by: Apcalis | 2010-12-15 1:38:30 AM

Most people fear the police , when they should have respect for them , its backwards. Its a perfect career choice for a phychopathic personality to become a police officer.

Posted by: don b | 2010-12-15 8:52:13 AM

So, a free person can mouth off or spit at a cop and the police officer has to take it. If a "free" person punches a cop or tries to steal a piece of equipment does the cop get to react or is he supposed to just sit there and take it? Funny, you complain about giving cops too much power but what about you? Some of you would have cops treated as second class citizens? You would treat a cop the same way a black man was treated in 1940's Alabama! Hey dp, the cops down here put their lives on the line every day. I don't hear about you doing anything to deal with crime in your area! Are you a member of a neighborhood watch? Have you ever rendered aid to a citizen in need! I'm always amazed at the people that whine about the police but have no problem dialing them at the first sign of trouble. I am not a cop but I have gone to the aid of someone being accosted by criminals. I was amazed at how many "free" people refused to help the crime victim. I guess part of libertarianism is "freedom to not get involved". If thats it then I don't want any part of it. Gee. AB you sound like you have quite a problem with cops. Bit of a chip on your shoulder? Makes me wonder what they ran you in for? Do you still think Elvis is alive? Or have you discovered the secret plot between the CIA, the Mounties, and Crest toothpaste to smuggle radioactive denture grip onto the native reservations of Saskatchewan to serve as homing beacons for aliens from the Planet Mongo? Sorry, I do not believe in such a conspiracy. However, feel free to drive out near Regina and test this conspiracy!

Posted by: Jake | 2010-12-15 7:31:50 PM

what a five star theatrical perfomance from the female cop! And at what point do the other officers ask an agressive co-worker to excuse themselves from the situation? Seems to me this could have been handled by putting her in a cell for an hour to cool off.And why were 4 male officers cutting off her shirt? Should there not have been more female officers there to deal with her? Is this police force not meeting it,s recruiting qouta's? I hope that girl win's a ton of cash from that pathetic excuse for a female cop.

Posted by: mark | 2010-12-19 3:57:07 PM

Looks to me like that stupid pig hurt her own knee by kneeing the counter when she was trying to keep kneeing that little girl in the back of her legs. That lady cop should be fired and jailed for assault. This is what a Harper police state looks like.

Posted by: DrGreenthumb | 2010-12-20 8:27:07 AM

Jake, you are my hero. I wish I could contribute to society the way you do, but I'm just not brave enough. It's just a shame there aren't more like you. Maybe then, Regina wouldn't be such a dismal example of social decay. A place where the locals think nothing of stepping over a freezing native, or turning away from a gang beating. Keep up the good work, and stay in Regina, please. Don't bring your attitude to my town.

Posted by: dp | 2010-12-20 2:17:49 PM

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