Discussion about Police in the United States

I´m not going to get into detailed specifics at this moment, but I would like to share a thought, and hear your opinion as well.

I´ve been to the United States well over 20 times and have visited Florida, New York, Rhode Island and Conneticut.

I´ve lived most of my (almost) 21 years in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. My family, for the most part, comes from Spain, so I also visit the country often. It´s been about 8 times I´ve been there now, each time I go I stay about 2 months.

One of the things the most stands out to me in all countries I´ve been to is that the police, in the US, tend to look to arrest people versus just walking or driving in a car and stoping people for serious matters.

Allow me to explain. In Europe, for example, I see the police driving around or patroling the streets and they tend not to stop people simply because the “look” suspicious or because a car has a small crack in the back window or if a car has a broken tail light. They are more into (with what I´ve seen, of course) giving tickets to cars that have been parked for way longer than what laws allow. They also tend to stop people who are being blatantly violent, or if they catch a criminal stealing on the act.

This is not to say that there are no under-cover operations, or that the above mentioned examples are always followed, it´s just a trend I see.

In the US, cops can stop you for pretty much anything. Merely glancing at a cop quickly or making a sudden movement in front of the cop is enough reason for them to stop and question you. When arrested, besides the Miranda rights, they are excessively cocky, and will nail you in court for pretty much anything you say to them. Of course, as noted, exceptions exist everywhere, but I do sense that “big brother” feeling in the states, where you are forced, in a way, to protect yourself from the police, versus just letting the police defend your rights (again, I must stress exeptions).

By contrast police in Dominican Republic, and much of Latin America are just plain corrupt and can arrest you if you are not a person of wealth, or can let you go if you pay them money.

Anyway, I´ll add more details later on, but now I want to ask, do you, fellow doper, believe that cops in the US are a bit excessive and have too much power? Do you have any comments about the Police in the US at all?

I have lived in the United States since my birth. I have often come into contact with police officers, mostly just by chance, very rarely as the result of a traffic stop. In a few situations, I have interacted with cops in professional or personal situation.

Largely, my interactions with cops have been exceedingly courteous, even when I was being cited for an infraction. I have never felt fearful for catching the eye of a police officer.

On the other hand, I have had unpleasant interactions with security guards at government facilities.

I am much more wary of security personnel than I am of police.

I’m not sure about the wider question of police power, but on this point you are correct in identifying a method of policing that is, if not unique to, very common in the US. It is especially prevalent in poor urban areas and has risen to prominence in the last few decades. There are a lot of factors that have led to its development.

To name two big ones:

If you arrest someone, you get to search them. If you don’t arrest them and their car, it is much harder to search them without an arrest. So there is a big incentive to arrest people for every little thing because it provides a freebie search opportunity. This is one of the most common ways to interdict drug traffic, for example. Police have a profile for “suspicious” vehicles (southern state plates, multiple male occupants, hispanic or black occupants, certain kinds of cars, etc.). Police form suspicions that don’t rise to the level requires by the law in order to stop and search a person or a vehicle, so they make a pre-text stop based on a minor violation of the law. The goal is to confirm or deny the suspicion (which might be a valid suspicion based on years of police work, or might just be simple prejudice).

A related factor is so-called “broken windows” theory. See here. The idea is that by enforcing all the little laws, you encourage law-respecting behavior on the big issues.

I know you tried to explain it but I still don’t understand how you make the distinction. I’ve been pulled over multiple times for traffic violations including speeding, rear lights out, expired tags, and a few times for reasons I’m not entirely clear about but I’ve never been arrested. In almost all of these cases they were officers specifically assigned to traffic detail as in it was their basic function to enforce traffic laws. I don’t get the impression that they were looking to arrest me as they never asked me to step out of the vehicle (except once) and I’ve never been patted down, had my vehicle searched, or been arrested.

So I question the premise set forth in the opening post that U.S. police officers are just looking to arrest people. Certainly some of them are. Drug interdiction being a good example. However I don’t think most traffic cops are.

Some/many US cities have a separate “parking enforcement” division that handles this, freeing up the police officers to handle other duties. So this may be why it may appear that police aren’t concerned about such things.

As for your other questions, I don’t know about that. The last times I’ve seen police in action, they were either doing what appeared to be normal traffic stops, or in one case helping look for a man with Alzheimer’s disease who wandered away from his family member at a clinic. Oh, this morning I saw one enforcing the train crossing rules, as we have some people who if they arrive late try to run across the tracks in front of the train so they can board it. :smack:

My business includes watching police activity regularly, and I don’t really see where the behavior of officers is particularly random. In smaller jurisdictions most of the troublemakers are well known to law enforcement so their activity is watched extra close. In larger jurisdictions the calls come in so fast it’s all officers can do to run from one place to the next.

One of the biggest differences you might witness may have to do with how ‘close’ the community you are visiting is. Many cities in the US have transient populations that just don’t know each other very well, so the stigma of misbehavior doesn’t apply like it does in a more static community, such as the rural town I choose to live in.

I am only guessing, but I imagine the area you live in may simply be a bit more stable than some of the areas you have visited here.

In reality the majority of America is just as stable, you’re just not likely to visit those areas they tend to be away from the big cities.

I have lived in several cities, and driven across the U.S. a few times. I have not had an unpleasant experience with a police officer in the last 25 years.

I am fair-skin, and speak american standard english. I am invisible to police.

When I force my self on their notice (speeding, running a red light, driving without a current emissions or registration sticker, driving under a pick-up, being rear-ended by pick-ups, interrupting a stake-out, reporting crimes*), I never am treated with suspicion or disrespect, even when I get a citation. I am always very polite, primarily because I don’t trust anyone with a gun.

  • this is over 25 years …

I’m from LA (Contrary to popular belief, the motto of the LAPD isn’t “Come to LA and we will treat you like a King.”)
I have found the LAPD, Sheriffs, and the California Highway Patrol to be very nice people as long as you are very nice to them. It is a true case of you will reap what you sow.
When stopped by the police (traffic) I am always polite. In return, they have always been polite to me in return. I have even had officers apologize to me for writing me a traffic ticket.

I agree with you. In general, I also get the “big brother” feeling, and am wary of police. I do feel like they have too much power. I believe that many cops will bend the truth in court to make sure that their arrests are justified and validated through a conviction. I think that courts will take cops’ word as gospel, although cops’ reports and testimony can be flawed and inaccurate. I also feel like it’s too easy for anyone to become a cop, so you get a lot of people who aren’t that bright, so they get to feel Big and Important as a police officer, with a lot of power, and this power intoxicates them and can be too easily abused.

Why do I feel this way? Basically a culmination of my observations as a citizen and community member, and all the news stores I have read throughout my 32 years. I’ve never personally had a specific bad experience with the police, but that may be because I am a white woman and not likely to attract attention or suspicion from police (let’s be honest). But I do feel generally fearful of cops, it’s just an overall feeling I get. If I was a person of color, I am sure the fear would be a lot worse.

On edit: Although I can’t explain very succinctly why I feel this way, I think that Richard Parker explained it well. I believe what he says is entirely accurate.

As a white, middle aged male, I too am invisible to Police.

In my younger days, I tended to get more speeding tickets, be pulled over more often and so forth. My subjective experience is that if you’re less than polite with them, they’ll be less than polite with you. With few exceptions, mostly where the officer is in a bad mood or is just plain a Dick, but more often where I was the one being a dick before I got pulled over.

Two years ago I had contact with the police over a false charge of a gas station drive-off. I was upfront and polite with the officer, who was nice to me about the entire thing, even though I was a suspect at the time and even though I was quite irate at the gas station assistant manager who made the call. When it was proven that I wasn’t guilty, I was released immediately.

I’ve worked as a Security Officer for four years in a variety of settings. There are two kinds of SO’s in my experience. The first are the worst. They’re the cop-wannabees and tough guys who are in it because they want power but either cannot be a cop (for various reasons), or are working toward being a cop. Some are former military who have no other skills, and unfortunately, many of them fall into this same category of the more assholish guards.

The second, a definite minority, are like me: I see myself as little more than a glorified babysitter.

The thing you need to remember with Security Officers is that they are not police officers, even if they try to convince you that they are. We have NO powers of arrest and no more authority to manhandle you than your neighbor does. If a Security Officer harasses you or gets physical with you without cause, don’t fight back (because then you’ll be arrested), SUE THE SHIT OUT OF HIM AND HIS COMPANY.

Attitude wise, remember that Security Officers are generally powerless individuals who have been charged with maintaining order and following procedures. We’re in a precarious position of needing to make people follow the rules without having that police authority to back it up. We’re also required to put up with massive amounts of shit, not just from the public, but from our bosses and our clients; all of whom attempt to pull or push us in different directions. This tends to breed a little bit of a surly and suspicious attitude toward the public, who can be quite mouthy themselves.

Seems to me the train would enforce those rules better. Darwinism in action and all that.

I guess it depends on where you live. Since police are paid relatively well in New Jersey it is not easy to get a position. Unless things fall just the right way it is usually a process that takes at least two years and a lot of difficulty. And that is just getting selected, not the academy. There are routinely hundreds of people trying for each position. The State Police generally get thousands for each position. Many departments narrow the field by requiring college degrees. Pay shitty wages and you get what you pay for.

Please keep in mind that the U.S. does not have a single nationalized police force. We have Federal police (e.g., FBI), state police (e.g., Highway Patrol), county police (e.g., Sheriffs), and city police. Large colleges have campus police. National Parks have their own armed peace officers. All of these have different chains of command, different uniforms, different policies, different hiring practices, and different rules.

I can guarantee you that a beat cop that handles a gang-ridden inner city area will have a significantly different attitude on the street than a suburban traffic cop or a Beverly Hills detective.

You simply can’t make a blanket statement about the attitude of “American Police.”