Whether you’ve seen the movie The Incredibles or have missed it, you might be living it. The plot centers around a family of people with superpowers that have been ordered by the government to stop fighting crime. Sound familiar? If not, take a moment to review the stories about California mandating restrictions on use of force, Connecticut considering forbidding shooting at vehicles, New Hampshire revising its use of force law, and numerous cities refusing cooperation with federal law enforcement.
In a way, this is a high compliment to the law enforcement profession since these activists and lawmakers are showing us that they believe police officers have superpowers! Here are those magical powers that we need to use more wisely, according to these statehouse policy geniuses:
The Power Over Physics
With the ability to control the path of every bullet, and determine the line of flight of every vehicle, there is no wonder why our powers must be legislatively limited! With computer-like calculations of wind, coefficient of friction, angles, surface tension and porosity, velocity, mass, sound waves, light refraction, and the trajectories of every person in motion, there’s no reason why a supercop like you should make an error with your vehicle or weapon systems.
In the real world, the variables in any arrest or use of force event are too numerous to even know, much less calculate. Every action that requires deployment of a tool carries with it the risk of malfunction, failure, or unanticipated outcome. Planes crash, rockets explode, and transmissions can slip. Slides and triggers on pistols glitch, handcuffs can slip off, cars can skid, thick clothing can dampen a baton strike or a Taser barb.
Suspects and bystanders can change speed on foot or on wheels. Sound can echo and misdirect. Traction of boots can slip. None of the infinite forces at work in a moment of an officer’s contact with a suspect is without a variable that can alter an outcome. We live under the laws that Newton discovered with no exemption for good works or good intent.
The Power Over Biology
Cops are universally as fit as Chuck Norris and agile as Jackie Chan. One or multiple opponents who dare to challenge our authority to take them into custody can be felled with a few secret ninja moves or wounded with a well placed single shot, John Wayne style. Our senses need no milliseconds to absorb all the information we need to make those instantaneous flawless decisions. Performance on little or no sleep, impervious to the errors of stress or exhaustion, is no problem.
The greatest training advances of the last twenty years in policing have come from a study of human capacity. Even the amazing brain takes time to process sensory inputs, sort through alternative responses, and send the appropriate signals to our body parts to execute that response. Much of the foundation of that knowledge comes from sports psychology and research on human performance in athletics. There is no sport where 100% is the standard measure of performance for hitting, launching, catching, kicking, or directing a ball into a hole, net, or the hands of a team member, but our next morning commentators can’t fathom why an officer did what they did after watching some snippet of cell phone video.
It is individual humans interacting with other individual human beings that constitutes the bulk of a patrol officer’s work. Those interactions cannot assume peak performance by any of the parties involved in an encounter.
Power to Predict The Future
This is the most amazing power of all the superpowers that police officers possess. They know what others are thinking. They intuit motive, merit, and mental capacity. They know what will happen if they make an arrest, or let a person escape for another day. They know if it is a suspect’s birthday, the eve of their wedding day, or if they were just getting ready to make something of themselves if only they got a chance.
The answer to the question of why an officer chose a certain course of action is that the officer acted on the information they had at a given moment, not the certainty of what would happen if a different course of action, or none at all, had been taken. One use of force investigation I reviewed suggested that an officer should have terminated a foot pursuit of a burglar caught in the act of breaking in a vacant home. Since the officer knew the offender, said the internal review, the officer should have stopped chasing the suspect and obtained a warrant instead. This prescription was given even knowing that the officer was aware that the suspect was already the subject of an active warrant which clearly had not made the suspect law abiding and compliant.
Education is Key
Those making policy and law can only do so with the information they have - much of which is provided by activists hostile to law enforcement - or from the misconceptions of movie fiction and false narratives of viral videos. Police officers, leaders, and police advocates may fail to understand that they can take an active role in educating law makers about the realities of policing.
I recently wrote the members of a state legislature who were on the committee considering a proposal on use of force and received personal replies and questions from several of the members. I was able to explain, in rational terms, the adverse impact of the proposal which was ultimately not passed into law. One of the legislators communicated that many officers had expressed opposition to the measure, but none had articulated the issues until my correspondence.
Your voice can make a difference. It may be your only real superpower.