Not too long ago, there was an incident in Arizona between a professor at Arizona State University and a police officer. (try our cpi training online or our crisis intervention certificate) It’s gone viral, so you may have seen it. The professor was walking across the road—apparently jay-walking—as the police officer pulls up and stops her. They get into a verbal altercation. At one point she says something to the effect of “Well, you didn’t need to be disrespectful!” The next thing you know, the situation becomes physical with the officer slamming the professor to the ground. Unbelievable. In a matter of seconds, this situation that started as a very minor offense, escalated to the point where the officer was on the evening news. I imagine it will ultimately result in some sort of lawsuit against the police officer for excessive force or something similar.
Somebody reached out to me to ask my opinion. “Hey Brendan,” they said, “I know you’re a cop, and I know you train in this kind of stuff. Like, was that cop…did he do it right? Did he…was he right? What do you think?”
Here’s what I think. There may be more to the video and there is always more than what you are shown on TV. What the media shows is specifically cut, edited, and produced for ratings. Period. The reality is it doesn’t matter whether he was right or wrong or whether she had a right. He probably had a legal right to stop her because she was jay-walking. However, when you listen to the video, you can hear she’s starting to become resistant with him very quickly. Is that where she went wrong? Absolutely. She says, “You were being disrespectful,” and started trying to prove her point. I don’t want to say anything bad against any fellow brother in blue, after all, I’m all about cops and doing a good job. The reality is, though, that if you’re dealing with an officer who is a jerk, arguing with him/her about how they’re being disrespectful towards you is not going to get you anywhere. You’ve already started out on the wrong foot and behind the curve.
Now, should that officer, in those first moments, taken an opportunity to recognize that she was letting him know that something he said or did made her feel disrespected? Absolutely. The ugly situation that followed might have been avoided had he swallowed his pride, pulled in his ego, and maybe tried to correct it by saying something like, “Ma’am, I apologize. We got off on the wrong foot, let’s try this again.” In that moment, it didn’t matter whether he liked her, whether he agreed with her or not, or whether he simply though she was being ridiculous. Whether he wanted to or not, simply by offering a simple apology, he might have potentially resolved the problem and avoided the resulting situation. Instead, he refused to back down. She took it upon herself to argue with someone who, in her mind, was already being disrespectful. Unfortunately, she chose to argue her point at the wrong time, with the wrong audience.
Let me offer a word of advice. If you have a problem with a police officer with whom you’re dealing, talk to their supervisor. I know, in that moment, it might be a difficult situation, but trying to argue with a jerk cop on the side of the road, or in the middle of an incident, won’t help matters. If they’re already being a jerk, the odds are that’s who they are, and that’s the way they’re going to act. You are not going to change their mind by starting a fight with them in that moment. So, don’t even try. Don’t sink to their level. It’s not worth the effort. Try to get a superior on scene, or have your lawyer speak for you afterwards, they often can make a much louder argument, especially if you are in the right.