Free Markets, Free People

Officer Friendly is Dead

The Chicago Police Department was forced to release a video today—one that they went to court to keep from publicly releasing—of the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. He was shot last October by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Despite the fact that Mr. McDonald fell to the ground after being shot once by Officer Van Dyke, Van Dyke proceeded to shoot Mr. McDonald 15 more times as he lay on the ground, then proceeded to reload his pistol, apparently to shoot some more, until stopped by his fellow officers. Thanks to this video, Officer Van Dyke is now under charge for 1st Degree Murder, which as far as I can tell from the video, is entirely appropriate. As I write this, protests are happening on the streets of Chicago.

This video has prompted further thought.


On 14 September, 1984, I graduated from the USAF Security Police Academy at Lackland AFB, in San Antonio, TX. On that day, I was issued Security Police badge number H3329. For the next decade I wore that badge while working as a security specialist, patrolman, police supervisor, desk sergeant and, somewhat to my surprise, as an Air Base Ground Defense Specialist—an infantry grunt—since Security Police were tasked with providing defense of air bases against ground forces.

The recruiter failed to mention that last bit when I signed up.

I learned a lot during that time, like how to de-escalate conflict and use verbal judo to disarm hostility. I learned about use of force, and to always use the absolute minimum of force necessary to effect an arrest. You’d think that military police would have a more leeway than civilians to knock heads, and deliver a little street justice, but that’s not true. We were held to high standards, on duty and off, and were expected to meet those standards. And we knew, without question, that any use of force on our part would be thoroughly investigated to ensure that it was justified, and that we would be severely punished if it was judged excessive.

We’d go to work every day decked out in crisply starched shirts, razor-creased pants, mirror-shiny shoes, carrying a loaded pistol or rifle and given the authority to use those weapons, if necessary, to arrest or detain anyone of any rank. In return, we’d adhere to rigorous standards of appearance, behavior, and conduct in exercising that authority. That was the deal. I can remember a number of fellows who couldn’t keep their end of that deal, and finished their short careers handing out ping-pong balls at the rec hall as Recreational Service Specialists.

After I left the service, I worked part-time for a number of years in Orange County, doing armed, high-risk security in gang areas. Again, we were required to wear sharp uniforms, and maintain high standards of professionalism.  Even though we regularly had to detain gang-bangers, druggies, and other riffraff, not once did we engage in any excessive use of force, perforce being more limited to persuasion and advice than head-knocking.


That’s me, second from the left. All of us were either ex-military police, or graduates of a California POST academy, except for the fellow in the middle, who was attending the Academy at Golden West at the time this photo was taken. A few months later, he graduated, and started with Westminster PD.

That Sig-Sauer P229 I’m carrying, by the way, is the best duty pistol I ever carried. Loved that pistol. Great trigger pull. 

Ah, memories.

But, that was long ago, and much has changed.

I was at the shopping mall in my little suburb of San Diego recently, and a local police officer was walking through the mall on patrol. He was decked out in combat boots, black BDUs, full body armor and SAPI plate, and a Molle vest covered with flex-cuffs, extra magazines, and other gear. His uniform was far more appropriate for a patrol in Fallujah than a suburban shopping mall in a community where the rate of crime has declined by half over the past 20 years.

That change is, I think, symbolic of a deeper, more fundamental change to policing that has occurred.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, many police departments participated in the “Officer Friendly” program, whereby elementary school children were introduced to amiable police officers, given coloring books that contained exhortations to remember that police officers were their friends, and were generally given to understand what wonderful fellows the local constables were. Now, of course, “Officer Friendly” is the sarcastic name given to abusive police officers.

I get the sense that police today are quicker to use force, less interested in de-escalating conflict, and far quicker to take offense to any suspected questioning of their authority. There seems to be a new class of crime today, one that isn’t actually the subject of any legislation. I call this offense “Insufficient Servility.” 

There is a web site that you should read regularly. It’s called Photography is Not a Crime, and it catalogs, on a daily basis, the darker underside of policing in America today. It contains interesting stories on a regular basis. For instance, just culling from today:

  • There are the NYPD cops who, after making some aggressive arrests at a restaurant, returned a bit later to delete the restaurant’s surveillance video.
  • Or the homeless fellow who was beaten to death by the Fullerton, CA, police.
  • Or the Delaware State Police, who decided they needed to use a SWAT team to serve a warrant on a home that was occupied only by a dog, which, of course, they shot.
  • Perhaps you’d be interested in the story of the San Antonio man who was taking photos of his wife’s business, when he was jumped by three SAPD officers without warning, and left paralyzed from the beating they gave him, thinking he was someone else.

Even more amazing is how often the police escape all but the most minimal of punishments—if they are punished at all—for incidents like this. Sure, you’ll be in serious trouble if you’re videotaped unloading an entire magazine into a suspect on the ground. Absent that, however, you have an excellent chance of not being charged with any crime at all, usually because the fellow you shot started to “reach for his waistband”. 

We are told of course, that there are bad apples in any basket, and most officers are very professional. In other words, the bad cops are a tiny minority of police officers. Much like Jihadists are a tiny minority of Muslims, presumably.

But now that video cameras have become ubiquitous, we sure are seeing a lot of video of this tiny minority, and as far as I can tell, the vast majority of the good officers don’t seem to be falling all over themselves to report and discipline the bad apples. In other contexts, that lack of enthusiasm might be referred to as “being an accessory”.

And I wonder, if there hadn’t been video of chunks of pavement and Mr. McDonald’s tissue being flung into the air from the impact of Officer Van Dyke’s bullets, if Officer Van Dyke would ever have been charged with anything. I wonder why we’re routinely using SWAT teams and no-knock entry for warrant service. I wonder why the new term “puppycide” has entered the lexicon. And, I wonder why, when violent crime has declined by 50% since 1993, police officers are shooting as many people today as they did when violent crime was at its height.

Policing, we are told, is a tough and dangerous job. Not as dangerous as, say, being a taxi driver or construction worker, but, still, dangerous, and they need to be proactive to protect themselves. Maybe so, but, frankly, I have little sympathy with that argument. No one is holding a gun to their head, so to speak, to remain a police officer. And in return for that danger, they are among the most highly-paid blue-collar workers, and certainly have among the most generous benefits and retirement.

In short, if the job is too dangerous for you to do in a courteous, professional manner…do something else. Otherwise, I suggest you find the physical courage to do the job properly, and deal respectfully with the public, rather than acting as if you were an armed overlord who is due whatever level of servility you judge acceptable, and empowered to punish those who refuse to offer it.

Certainly, it’s unacceptable to disguise cowardice as aggression, which is, I suspect, what Officer Van Dyke is guilty of. In addition to, you know, the murder. Allegedly.

What we should demand—indeed, the minimum we should demand in a free society—are police forces that live and work by the principles of policing laid down by Sir Robert Peel, nearly two hundred years ago, in 1829, when he created the modern police force:

1. The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.

3. The police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect.

4. The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.

5. The police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws; by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6. The police should use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to achieve police objectives; and police should use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

7. The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.

8. The police should always direct their actions toward their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary by avenging individuals or the state, or authoritatively judging guilt or punishing the guilty.

9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

 If the police want to make their jobs less dangerous, then they need to pay particular attention to Principle #2, because if they lose public respect—which I submit they are moving awfully close to losing—their job will become effectively impossible.

The police are given wide authority, and the authorization to use deadly force, when necessary. They owe us, at minimum, 1) a commitment to uphold the very highest standards of professional behavior, including using the absolute minimum of force necessary, and 2) to ruthlessly extirpate from their ranks those who fail to meet those standards. Anything else creates, to a greater or lesser degree, a police state.

In the interim, however, my advice to you is to avoid committing the crime of Insufficient Servility, and to never, ever, “reach for your waistband”. Because we all know how that will turn out.

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25 Responses to Officer Friendly is Dead

  • Both sides are to blame. How many traffic stops have we recently watched that escalated to violence/death PRECISELY because the detainee showed not just lack of servility, but downright lack of common sense combativeness?

    So yeah, for a large part of this, the public gets what it deserves here. And of course, the cops absolutely do nothing to help themselves out either. The examples you cited above? They’re the reason cops are becoming targets.

  • Like the two/three idiots in Austin the other day who thought “F*** OFF!” was the correct response to the police telling them they had just j-walked.

    Now there is plenty of blame to go around, but it needs to be pointed out (as Dale did) that there is only 1 side that might walk away from ‘blame’ after putting a couple of rounds through the other side or sending them to the hospital crippled, or killing their dogs (which as an owner of 2 honking big dogs who would sooner invite you to sit down to a cookie festival than attack, it bothers me that so many are killed on such a regular basis)

    So the side with ‘the power’ needs to be mighty damned restrained about using it – power = responsibility….

    • Alan, do you believe the same of the “idiot” in Galveston the other day who thought “F*** OFF!”/”Am I being detained or am I free to go” was the correct response to the police telling them he can’t film them in public or he is required to prove his ID on demand.

      This gets excused as He was just baiting and disrespecting the police. He should just do what the police tell me to do and if you feel “your rights” were violated take it up in court.

      • Telling them to “F* off”, which according to the chick in Austin who was busted with them, was what they told the police….was not the right way to respond at the start of the engagement.
        In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that it’s NEVER going to be the right answer.

        there are lawful orders, misinterpretations of law (assume their misinterpretation), and unlawful orders – how I will react is dependent on what they ask of me.

        I wrote a much longer answer here that isn’t an answer, because I don’t have one.
        So I have to ask without trying to be a smartass –

        When you know they ARE wrong, what is the alternative but to do what they ask and seek redress after the fact? And in this, assume that what they’re asking is not grossly illegal and/or harmful, but rather something like telling you you can’t take photos of them doing their jobs.

        Is there a workable proposal that someone has for what to do since only one of the individuals in any such confrontation comes stamped and approved with the authority to commit violence, on the spot, at their own discretion, and generally can call in the world to back them up.

      • I will say this (the recap of your link to Cleveland) is part of what I originally answered.

        Any problem with LEO misbehavior isn’t just the front line – the problem goes all the way up to supervisors, chiefs, mayors, prosecutors, and judges.
        They are supposed to be watching the watchers (turtles all the way down here).
        When they fail to mercilessly squash enforcers who themselves break the law (or invent it as they go along) they’re obviously a substantial part of the problem.

      • Baiting? The cops are supposed to be professionals. That means you don’t take the bait. You don’t lose your cool. You act like a f-ing professional.

  • We have a relative nearby who is a DA – he says a big part of his job is protecting us from the police. Apparently there are a fair number of ‘bad apple’ detectives in his area who make a game of entrapping citizens – and he says they’re really good at it.

    We also have someone close in the military. He says if arrested, he has been briefed to say absolutely nothing except, “I’d like to speak to my attorney.”

    • He says if arrested, he has been briefed to say absolutely nothing except, “I’d like to speak to my attorney.”

      That’s good advice for anyone.

  • Bad apples is the right phrase, but the idiom isn’t “there are bad apples in every basket.”

    The idiom is, “one bad apple ruins the barrel.” And it’s much, much more applicable here.

    When that cop murdered that suspect, every other cop there corroborated his lie.

    I’ve seen nothing about them being even disciplined for obviously false reports, much less the perjury and accomplices after the fact criminal charges that they deserve.

  • A different view…

    And my own modest prediction that the officer will not be convicted of the crime changed.

  • I have a hard time equating murder to the number of shots fired. We’ve all see the pictures of, say, Bonnie and Clyde (but one example), and in that instance the LEOs certainly fired a whole lot of shots. Is the DA in this case going to argue that 1 shot was ok but no more? If not one shot, than any shots or what is the cutoff point? Also, how was this person supposed to be apprehended, but what means and when?

    Also, I do believe the veneration of police forces since 9/11, coupled with the almost complete militarization of these same forces, has inculcated a culture of use of brute force and military style mentality.
    Serve and Protect does not seem to be the dominant mind set; rather Intimidate and Coerce may more aptly apply.

  • The courts and police organizations have worked very hard to remove the uniqueness of our Anglosphere origins and move toward a more European concept of government official.

    One must not be misled by the generality of the phrase used in chapter 39 [Magna Carta], and think it unimportant because it looks simple. It is hard for an American or Englishman to get a fresh mind on these matters. We all grow up with the notion that nobody has the right to arrest us, nobody has the right to deprive us of our liberty, even for an hour. If anybody, be he President of the United States or be he a police officer, chooses to lay his hand on our shoulder or attempts to confine us, we have the same right to try him, if he makes a mistake, as if he were a mere trespasser; and that applies just as much to the highest authority, to the president, to the general of the army, to the governor, as it does to a tramp. But one cannot be too often reminded that this principle is peculiar to English and American civilization. Throughout the Continent any official, any judge. anybody “who has a red band around his cap’ who, in any indirect way, represents the state — a railway conductor, a spy, a station agent — not only has the right to deprive you of your freedom, but you have no right to question him; the “red band around the cap” is a final answer.

    Hence that extraordinary incident, at which all England laughed, the Kupenick robbery. A certain crook who had been a soldier and was familiar with the drill and the passwords, obtained possession of an old captain’s uniform, walked into a provincial town of some importance, ordered the first company of soldiers he met to follow him, and then with that retinue, appeared before the town hall and demanded of the mayor the keys of the treasury. These were surrendered without question and he escaped with the money, representing, of course, that he had orders from the Imperial government It never occurred to any one to question a soldier in full uniform, and it was only some days later, when the town accounts were sent to Berlin to be approved, that the robbery was discovered.

    Such a thing could by no possibility have happened in England or with us; the town treasurer would at once have demanded his authority, his order from the civil authorities; the uniform would have failed to impress him.

    —Popular Law-making: A Study of the Origin, History, and Present Tendencies of Law-making by Statute
    by Frederic Jesup Stimson (1910)

    The crime of “insufficient servility” comes from this trend.

  • I was following a similar discussion on Facebook involving a number of active and retired military personnel. One of these made a comment I thought held great insight: he said that a soldier understands his duty may include the sacrifice of his or her (hereinafter: his) life. His job has to be done, and done right, whatever the cost. The commenter further suggested that the police come to work each day with an entirely different attitude: that is, whatever happens, I’m coming home at the end of the day.

    I’m the last one with the right to accuse somebody else of valuing their interests over their duty, and of course in this case it was not I who was doing so. But that soldier’s perspective shed, for me, a clarifying light on precisely the dichotomy Dale describes.

  • I’m always leary of footage that starts with the police action in the altercation. Its incredibly prejudicial it implies history began with the cops actions. Usually its edited that way. In this case the arrival time of the vehicle coincidentally achieves the same effect.

    It would not necessarily exonerate him of wrongdoing but may provide a context. Words describing the prelude just don’t have the same reach and weight. May or may not make a difference but all these videos seem to have this aspect and usually by design.

    I’m also of the opinion why he was shot was more important than how often he was shot. Shooting to wound is something of the movies I’ve always thought and I assume shooting is intended to make the person not a threat by killing them. After that, the additional shots are more a case of mutilation.

    • ” May or may not make a difference but all these videos seem to have this aspect and usually by design. ”

      Sure. It’s the police department’s video, and they edited it to make the officer look bad.

  • Some perspective for all of us — the laws on use of lethal force are exactly the same whether you have a badge or not. It has be self defense or defense of others.

    If any non-badged citizen was on this video doing this in Chicago, you know that person would already be convicted of Murder-1.

    Send this cop to the penn. It’s the only way we have rule of law.

    • TOTAL bullshit.


      • Well, that’s obviously a well reasoned response. I’m sure you convinced everyone with that one.

        • It was as reasonable…and a damn sight more TRUTHFUL…than your bullshit.

          Start with your initial untruth; the laws on the use of deadly force are NOT the same for civilians and LEOs. In many jurisdictions, they are quite different. Start with Missouri.

          • The only bullshit I see here is between your ears, big mouth.

            Look up the damned law in Illinois before you spout off. 720 ICLS Section 5/7.

            Sec. 7-1. Use of force in defense of person.
            Sec. 7-2. Use of force in defense of dwelling.
            Sec. 7-3. Use of force in defense of other property.

            Each one describes a “person” meaning private citizens and cops are the same. Being a dum-dum, you’ll point to:

            Sec. 7-5. Peace officer’s use of force in making arrest.

            The problem you have is that it removes none of the above restrictions, and simply says that a LEO has no duty to retreat when making an arrest. The real problem you have with that is in:

            Sec. 7-6. Private person’s use of force in making arrest.

            Which says that a private person making a legal arrest has the same exceptions that you see in S.7-5. That means… how did I phrase it… “the laws on use of lethal force are exactly the same whether you have a badge or not.”

            This isn’t the movies. Cops don’t have a license to kill, even in Illinois. That they get away with it so often doesn’t make it legal.

          • It has be self defense or defense of others.

            Was your INITIAL claim. Now you’ve changed that.

            Besides which…

            You choose to cite to Illinois. How ’bout the other 49 states?

            How ’bout Missouri, as a start?

            You seem quite excitable when called on your BULLSHIT. Be calm. Don’t lie.

          • That’s still right. I love how you accuse me of moving the goalposts… as you move the goalposts (you’ve abandoned your own “initial untruth” claim.

            It’s still only in defense of self or others. Even in the section of IL law allowing deadly force for the effecting of an arrest, it’s only allowed if the suspect “has committed or attempted a forcible felony which involves the infliction or threatened infliction of great bodily harm or is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict great bodily harm unless arrested without delay.”

            In other words, you can only use deadly force to arrest someone (cop or not) if that person poses a clear deadly danger to the community.

            Missouri doesn’t matter. We’re talking about Chicago. Cut the bullshit and stay on point. The only reason I’m using the word “bullshit” is that it was the very second word you posted, qualified by “total”.

            I’ve absolutely wrecked the “total” part, and you’ve done nothing to disprove the “bullshit” part. Just leave the internet alone until you sober up.

          • I’ll just rest my case right there.

            You’ve both expanded and contracted your use of terms from your initial post in an attempt to defend your BULLSHIT.

            As one does when he’s caught. Nice demonstration, what?