In recent discussions here on police use of force, it has been suggested that since cops know they’re doing a risky job, they should wait longer than a civilian might before using force to defend themselves or effect an arrest. After all, don’t they have more equipment and training? And didn’t they “assume the risk”?
Um…no. Here’s why.
First, we all remember Spiderman’s Uncle Ben wisely advising him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s true as far as it goes, but it only goes halfway. As I’ve taught my students for decades, police and civilian alike, power and responsibility must always be kept in a dead-equal balance.
Power without responsibility tends to lead to tyranny. But responsibility without the power to fulfill it is the very definition of futility.
One commentator here longed for the days when police were “peace officers” instead of “law enforcement officers.” News flash: Police have always been both. The purpose of law enforcement is keeping the peace, and the peace cannot be kept against violent criminals without the power to enforce the law.
Historically, society has given the cop and the private citizen different standards of justifiable use of force: “Equal Force” for the so-called “civilian,” and “Necessary Force” for the cop. Picture Lady Justice holding her scales, with power on one side and responsibility on the other.
It’s “equal force” for the private citizen because their responsibility is only to stop the attack and prevent harm: if, for instance, the suspect flees, they have no duty to capture him and their right to harm him ended when he broke off his assault. But it’s “necessary force” for the police officer, because his or her duty is not merely to make the “bad guy” stop threatening them anymore: their sworn duty is to pursue, overpower, capture and disarm and restrain him, and transport him to jail.
All of which, the first time you try to do it to a criminal who doesn’t want it done, turns out to be a helluva lot more difficult than simply dissuading him from screwing with you anymore. It is why, for example, in a fistfight with a man his own size the cop is allowed to strike him with a baton and a citizen who did the same would likely be charged with aggravated assault.
We all wince when the cop has to injure or kill a drunk, a mental patient, or someone drugged out of their mind. How the Hell do you think the cop himself feels about that?
But the cop has no way of knowing what has motivated his opponent’s violent behavior, and if he did, it wouldn’t matter. It can’t matter. His duty is to restrain the violent person to protect the public, no matter what triggered that behavior.
Cops should take more risk? They did that already when they became the person others would call to stop violent criminals. Their exposure rate is already vastly higher.
Every cop understands that risk is part of “The Job.” The public they serve needs to recognize that sacrificing life and limb on the altar of Utopian political correctness is not in the contract.