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Anonymous Cop

Anonymous Cop is a veteran police officer in a big city Midwestern police department.



Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

In Praise of the Unreasonable Cop

Expressing an opinion—even an educated one—can end your career. And that's a damn shame.

December 16, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

June 1979. My friend Harold is parking his VW in the parking lot of Mt. San Antonio College when "The Logical Song" comes on the car radio. He reaches to turn off the ignition and I ask him to hold up for a minute. It's not that I'm any less anxious than he is to declare our emancipation from public education, but the serendipity of the DJ's timing isn't lost on me.

I'd heard the song for the first time a few weeks before while lying in bed and listening to the AM/FM radio atop my nightstand. Supertramp's elegy to childhood innocence also serves as a caustic indictment of those who systematically kill that innocence. Now, sitting in Harold's Bug, its lyrics likewise sum up my educational experience, right down to its caveat:

Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a radical,
liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won't you sign up your name, we'd like to feel you're
acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable!

I comfort myself that I will soon have my diploma in hand and William Workman High School in the rearview mirror - and that'll be the end of that shit. I turn off Harold's car radio then join him and the rest of my class as we shuffle zombie-like to the graduation podium.

Ah, sweet idealism of youth...

Flash forward three decades and now college and even the sheriff's department are in the rearview mirror and I realize that I was full of crap: It wasn't the end of that shit.

College professors taught me the academic hazards of indulging in any real novelty of thought and how to regurgitate their spoon-fed pabulum upon command. That same cagey couching of opinion served me well enough in the sheriff's academy, where my fellow cadets and I were brought into a degree of conformity and uniformity with one another.

Throughout, we were taught by word and example to adhere to the party line and only exhibit fearlessness of initiative in matters of life or death. Dissent may be fine, but only in the abstract for the Department is an organism that will expel foreign bodies to preserve its homeostasis. Those who deviated from script found themselves expelled from the academy, 86'ed out of custody, banned from patrol, barred from promotion, and persona non grata in the Land of Good Standing.

Not surprisingly, men that exhibited no trepidation at pulling over carloads of armed men proved reticent to speak candidly in offering in-house dissent.

In a half-assed concession to an inability to keep my mouth shut and a desire to make as few waves as possible, I muddled my way through my marginal career. Still, I was able to extricate myself from that lot. Unfortunately, many of my fellow wingmen have not.

Among them are some officers who are being penalized for speaking their mind on drug laws.

Joe Miller is one of them. Miller, a probation officer in Mohave County Arizona, was fired after signing his name to a letter from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) titled "Law Enforcers Say Control and Tax Cannabis to Protect Public Safety." Now, Miller wasn't the only one signing this document. Others included the District Attorney for the County of Humboldt, Calif., an Oakland City Attorney, a retired judge for the Superior Court of Orange County, and the former chief of the Seattle Police Department.

But Miller was the only one to get fired from his job for doing so.

That Miller was terminated despite disclaimers specifically distancing his posture from being construed as speaking on behalf of his agency is confounding. A review of the verbiage in his termination notice does little to rectify the confusion: "...fail[ing] to maintain neutrality in action and appearance when [he] gave permission to the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) organization" and for failing "to include [his] job title and department 'Deputy Probation Officer, Mohave County Probation Department' with [his] endorsement of a California ballot proposition posted on-line [sic] on September 13, 2010 . . .."

"I was terminated not because my service was inadequate," Miller said afterward. "But because my views on drug policy didn't align with those of Mohave County or my superiors in the Probation Department,"

I hope that the ACLU is successful in going to bat for the 54-year-old Miller.

But whether it is or isn't, the fact is that Miller isn't alone in facing an uncertain future for having exercised his first amendment rights.

Border Patrol Agent Bryan Gonzalez had pulled abreast of another agent when he ruminated about the effects legalizing marijuana would have on border-related enforcement. Among his speculations was that cartel-violence would drop substantially.

Perhaps the guy in the other green-and-white patrol vehicle recognized that Gonzalez's intelligence would make him a formidable rival in some future promotional process. Maybe he just saw an opportunity to make himself look good in the eyes of his superiors. In any event, he passed on Gonzalez's sentiments to supervisors and Gonzalez was eventually terminated for his statements. Not unlike Miller's termination letter, Gonzalez's termination notification leaves one wondering why the hell he was fired: "...personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and esprit de corps."

More detailed accounts of Miller's and Gonzalez's sad predicaments are online. 

Personally, I would have thought that Gonzalez's reflective comments embodied each of the attributes so coveted by the Border Patrol. He obviously thought seriously about the work he was doing, what other options might be entertained, and had the courage to express his edified opinion.

I also think the decriminalization of drug usage is a point of inevitability, if not in deference to common sense then to economic reality.

But whatever one's take on the war on drugs, it makes sense to hear both sides of the equation. And who better to hear from than the men and women who man those front lines? Who better to speak than people such as Miller and Gonzalez?

One would hope that such dialogues would be encouraged. That men and women who have their pulse on the situation would be in a position to analyze where it's at and where it may go. After all, we don't want a bunch of damn cookie-cutter types running around with guns and badges who are incapable of thinking for themselves.

Unfortunately, there's that little rule thing to contend with. It's unspoken, but it's there and we all know it. The first rule of Law Enforcement is: You do not talk about Law Enforcement. The second rule of Law Enforcement is: you DO NOT talk about Law Enforcement (and those that do will get a Fight Club beatdown).

Well, I think we should talk about law enforcement. I think we should discuss every damn thing that comes across our desk and on our radar. We should continually ask ourselves if what we're doing is the right thing or not. We should wonder if established practices are necessarily best practices.

Who should be asking these questions? Well, I'm glad you asked.

For years the "reasonable officer" standard has been the litmus test for many a judicial decision. But I can't help but think of George Bernard Shaw's postulation: That progress is dependent upon the unreasonable man. If that is the case-and I suspect it is-maybe we should give an audience to the unreasonable cop from time to time. Maybe Apple was onto something with that whole visionaries and dreamers ad campaign.

I look forward to the day when the law enforcement environment will foster an open exchange of ideas. That's an environment where sheriffs will know what the hell is happening in their jails and police chiefs will know what it's like working in the trenches, where superiors will pay more than lip service to wanting a free-flow exchange of ideas instead of being so hell-bent on shutting them up and shutting them down.

In the meantime I look at these "leaders" and am tempted to channel a Joseph Welch during the 1954 Army-McCarthy Hearings when he asked Sen. Joe McCarthy: "Have you no sense of decency?" Except I think I'd also ask: "Have you no sense at all?"

As far as the possibility of fired Border Patrol Agent Bryan Gonzalez returning to a career in law enforcement? Don't count on it.

"I don't want to work at a place that says I can't think," he says.

I couldn't have said it any better.

Tags: Sheriffs, Police Chiefs, Legalizing Drugs, Officer Disciplined


Comments (18)

Displaying 1 - 18 of 18

Russell Jones @ 12/19/2011 2:48 PM

In the 1970's, as a narcotics detective for the City of San Jose and later with a DEA Task Force, I had many conversations with my bosses on the subject of what I was beginning to perceive as the "failed policy" in the War on Drugs. Those conversations are detailed today in my book "Honorable Intentions." Back then, reasonable discussions were often held. Unfortunately, on the job today I would not have the same freedom of speech. Russell Jones

David @ 12/19/2011 3:06 PM

This "war" on Americans to enforce prohibition that causes violence has got to end. It will eventually, the real question is how many lives must be destroyed before it finally does. To ban the free expression of ideas will only serve to extend the inevitable.

Diane Goldstein @ 12/19/2011 3:40 PM

Dean, well written and validates my opinion of the moral imperative that law enforcement should have to question bad public policy. We need to remember that our roots our in serving our communities as "peace officers," not blindly policing people simply because its always been that way. We lost this war long ago. It is has now engendered the corruption and disrespect for our profession that Chief August Vollmer predicted in the 1920's. Thanks for speaking out in this important matter.

Diane Goldstein, Lieutenant (ret.) Redondo Beach PD, CA

r @ 12/19/2011 3:47 PM

Thank you for writing and posting this.

"We have duties, for the discharge of which we are accountable to our Creator and benefactor, which no human power can cancel. What those duties are, is determinable by right reason, which may be, and is called, a well informed conscience. What this conscience dictates as our duty, is so; and that power which assumes a control over it, is an usurper; for no power can be pleaded to justify the control, as any consent in this case is void. "

--The Essex Result, May 12, 1778

Jeff McConnell @ 12/19/2011 4:06 PM

Dean, I am a retired deputy sheriff sgt. You captured the reality not of the issue of drug decriminalization, but of the plight of an officer who has the difficult plight of the line officer who has the audacity to question the status quo. I cannot count the times that I have suggested new ideas, only to be told "we have always done it he way we do it now." We cannot, will not "win" the war on drugs. Even more than the significant postive impact on our economy, thousands of potential victims of drug cartels in Mexico and Central America would thank us for legalizing recreational drugs.

Curtis Creek @ 12/19/2011 7:04 PM

Kudos. It makes no sense to criminalize a public health issue. Using criminal sanctions to control a disease is just not resonable or effective. It takes courage and toughness and resolve to be a police officer, but a special kind of courage is needed to take this stand. Courage of conviction.

R. G. Montgomery @ 12/19/2011 7:15 PM

I'm a retired federal officer. I worked Border Patrol for six years and then twenty-two years as a Customs Inspector/CBP Officer. I disagree about the advisability of legalizing marijuana, but I have to agree with the problem of dissent.

Agencies on the whole seek officers who will not think and evaluate without consulting the political correctness handbook. I get the feeling management is fearful of having subordinates more intelligent than supervisor(s).
In support, when I applied for the Portland, Oregon Police Bureau I was declined on the basis my I. Q. was too high. I wasn't dumb enough to be a cop.

Problems in law enforcement agencies at all levels are excessive force, corruption, incompetence and a general inability to fulfill the mission of the agency. Problems become systemic because individual officers are taught from the first day in academy not to question the actions of other officers or superiors. 'We have to take care of each other...', right?
Los Angeles, California Police Department has been under a 'consent decree' of federal oversight for some years. This stemmed from an atmosphere of brutality and cover-up fostered by the agency and union mentality of privilege. Seattle, Washington Police is fighting charges of excessive force on a departmental scale. I guess 'nobody saw nothing'.
No doubt some charges of brutality are spurious. However, in the LAPD matter, the violations were established beyond doubt on the part of individual officers. Frankly, I cannot believe the immediate supervisors and middle managers were so incompetent they never noted what was happening.
The only answer I see is to inform the populace they are responsible for defending themselves, arm the citizens who haven’t been convicted of felonies, and reduce agencies to bare minimum. As a nation, we must enforce – upon administrators, supervisors and lastly officers – the concepts of ‘equal protection under the law’ and ‘no one

R. Wheeler @ 12/19/2011 9:43 PM

Great article. Aside from the marijuana reference, it focuses on the absolute, zombie like, loyalty that's demanded of the system as a whole. I spent 24 years as a deputy sheriff in NV with a large portion of it serving under a sheriff who believed in unquestionable obedience to him, period. A person who rarely communicated and and could not lead. How dare I raise a question to a man who has never sat in a patrol car but pretends to know everything about law enforcement, politics, the community, and me. A man who didn't believe in education or achievement. Any new ideas always had to appear as if they were coming from him or his undersheriff. Promotees had to behave like his personal zombies or be outcast. Individual expression was forbidden. Those who expressed anything other than the controlling line were labeled for failure and banished if possible. Every thought, comment, action, or expression had to be weighed against what admin would think regardless of how correct you were. The sheriff kept his head in the sand and away from reality. Those who utilized their First Amendment rights were told to go elsewhere. As a graduate student, I could not believe the level of incompetence that was leading my department. I worked for people who had difficulty in leading with anything other than threats and intimidating policies. It's most unfortunate as my fellow officers were some of the best people to ever hold a badge; they simply need a little direction and leadership. Once I got my time in I retired.

TripWire @ 12/19/2011 10:12 PM

The Thought Police are alive and well.

malcolm kyle @ 12/20/2011 2:54 AM

Transform's outstanding book titled, After the War on Drugs: Blueprints for Regulation, provides specific proposals for how drugs could be regulated in the real world.

The book is available for free online. If you would like to read it then here it is: http://www.tdpf.org.uk/blueprint%20download.htm

It doesn't take much imagination to realize that most of the 'at present' prohibited (available 24/7 at a dealer near you) drugs are derived from fast growing weeds like the cannabis plant, the poppy and the coca bush. These can all be cultivated legally and easily in many different regions on our planet without the aid of terrorist organizations.

http://free-download-ebooks.com/Search/opium

http://www.weedfarmer.com/cannabis/

http://www.lycaeum.org/~mulga/coca.html

The at-present illegal (non-patentable) Drugs may well have risks, but the results of their use are clearly not nearly as negative as prohibition itself.

We're talking deaths, broken families, economic waste and "loss of rights". The vast majority of the people who are suffering and dying in this war are not suffering and dying from the drugs themselves, but from prohibition.

When illegal drug dealers fight over turf or against government forces, their neighbors or innocent by-standers are often killed in the process. This present situation is not un-like what people suffered during alcohol Prohibition in the US. When drug users are killed by tainted drugs, it is due to prohibition. When they die from overdoses because they were afraid to seek help, it is also due prohibition. When our streets become over-run by thugs, it is due to prohibition. When terrorists and criminals are gifted the 300 - 500,000 million dollar market in narcotics, it is also due to prohibition.

Johnny T. @ 12/20/2011 5:41 AM

I feel the law enforcent officer's that live this situation every day know what their talking about. I respect our officer's of the law and know they would know when something isn't rite. Like the war on drug's. It isn't the drug's it's the law's involved.

Paul Laska @ 12/20/2011 10:46 AM

Dean...
Great points. Both as to the absolute need for a different policy regarding drugs, and the civil liberties of members of the profession.

India Mitchell OPD, Retir @ 12/20/2011 12:31 PM

Great article. I can say NOW that I am retired that I do disagree with our goverment's policy on marijuana. I don't drink or partake of any substance, besides food, for chemical enhancement of my mood (you DO know that chocolate can give you a buzz don't you?)
But more importantly, the unwritten rule that we don't talk about police work, outside of earshot of other officers, remains a sore spot with me.
Several years ago I was interviewed, and misquoted, by our local paper regarding women as police officers. I was later approached by a Command officer who screamed at me that "we do not air our dirty laundry in public!" I had one witness to this and he begged me not to have the Command ofc. written up for 'conduct unbecoming" because of his fear of repercussion. I was fairly new on the job, but it taught me the lesson that should I open my mouth, I better be prepared for the consequences. I felt lucky however as most of my career I was working with honest, decent men and women. But I knew I had to be careful what to express and realized I had lost my true "freedom of speech" if I wanted to stay safe and accepted.

Capt David-retired LA Cou @ 12/20/2011 2:54 PM

Great article. An open doctrine of discussion is a good idea. I can remember arresting guys for a few seeds and a small amount of grass and they got state prison time. Seems like such a waste now. The war on drugs was lost years ago, and the feds now call it something else, they war on life-style or something like that. The US govt should legalize marijuana, heroin, whatever. Put the cartels out of business, put the enormous profits into reducing our debt and use for better schools and a much better educational process. But, until one can be honest about ideas and not get head slammed by the brass who rely on keeping 'the law' intact as it creates a perceived need, nothing will change.

DaveSAM25G @ 12/20/2011 9:56 PM

Sgt Solid article!! This is so correct why else do all of us become more focused and willing to address after retirement (Yep take my birthday then I’ll be younger), and tried before meet the two-ear syndrome in/out!! I got mixed feeling on legalization of leaf but everyone has their rights to say how they feel right? What article this article is all about while I may not agree I respect this! This was very hard to read because it hit's to the core of everything "communication within any team." The best advice I can give from experience is don't go it alone strength in numbers...Know the rules, SOP's, and laws - their betting you don't take the time to read them and will use them against you! There is one thing you should always have and follow...not for sale (Character-Integrity-credibility). Leadership was somewhat different in the old school days - but even then these issues where there! We hear the slogans open door policy - two way feedback back and concern only work when truly applied. When the going gets real tough your true friends don't number as high...it's like a boxer looking into his corner nobody there - but the warrior fights on regardless even at high cost - when you are fighting for a truly important cause like the 300 Spartans did and believed in! If you truly believe in what you’re doing, then damn it act or you may regret it later! The hardest ones are when you follow the rules and SOPS and still get run over by the bus because of Politics or politically correct (yea I don't like that word either)! Once again, politics in Law Enforcement and Military operations get's people killed and hurt...I still got a few teeth left back there from the bite marks a proud war wound!!! President Roosevelt said "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, and the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing! (Stay Safe happy holidays and be careful you are needed!)

Dean Scoville @ 12/21/2011 8:52 AM

Thanks for each of your comments. I value all of them, even those that are in disagreement. FWIW, if any of you know how to reach either Miller or Gonzalez, please let me know. I know of a captain who would like them to apply with Anchorage PD where their talents might be better appreciated. On the one hand, it's extremely heartening to know that APD's Captain Bill Miller would invite them the invite. On the other, it's sad to think that an officer would have to consider relocating in the first place...

Jack A. Cole @ 12/22/2011 4:33 AM

Great article!

LEAP is an nonprofit educational organization representing over 50,000 police, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens, federal agents, and supporters in 86 countries. We believe the U.S. war on drugs is a self-perpetuating, constantly expanding policy disaster. LEAP members know that only legalized regulation of all drugs will end the violence, while lowering the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction—without destroying generations of our young by arrest and imprisonment.

LEAP wants to end drug prohibition just as we ended alcohol prohibition in 1933. When we ended that law we put Al Capone and his smuggling buddies out of business overnight and we can do the same to the drug lords and terrorist who today make over 500 billion dollars a year selling illegal drugs around the world.

Legalized regulation of drugs will end the violence and property crimes that are a result of prohibition of those drugs. That means drug dealers will no longer be shooting each other to protect their turf, no longer killing cops charged with fighting this useless war, no longer killing our children caught in crossfire or drive-by shootings.

Regulation with standardized measurement of the drugs purity will end unintended overdose deaths. People die because they don’t know how much of the tiny package of powder they purchase is really the drug and how much is the cutting agent. Too much drug and the user is dead. In an illegal, unregulated market they will never know what is in that package.

Legalization will also prevent half of all potential cases of AIDS and Hepatitis. According to the US Center for Disease Control 50 % of all new cases can be traced back to intravenous drug users sharing needles, which they will no longer have to do.

We can then treat drug abuse as a health problem instead of a crime problem and save the lives of our children, which we are now sacrificing at the altar of this terribl

The Thinker @ 12/28/2011 8:40 PM

Excellent, well thought out article. I realized early in my career that speaking out, even in a positive, helpful manner, was rarely well-received. I progressed into management, but not higher because I wasn't a "yes man." I was taught critical thinking in college; such thinking is not well received in law enforcement. I've come to learn that many of my former colleagues were closet racists and right-wing extremists; in retirement some openly discuss a coming civil war against their own government or a world war against "the Muslims." Very sad.

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