What should I teach my nephew about cops/authority in general?

I’ve always had a healthy respect for law enforcement. This has been challenged by hearing, in my adult life, about the endless stories of misconduct, cover ups, incompetence, and general thuggery. Libertarian types like The Agitator post such stories ALL THE TIME, leading many commenters to remark how they hate cops and do not trust them at all. This is a sentiment I’ve seen repeated on this very board, for pretty much identical reasons.

So what do I tell future generations, like my nephew, about the police? On one hand, I don’t want them to be scared of going to them when they’re truly in need, especially in their young years. OTOH, the stories are reality, and it’s something important that’ll impact their lives.

In fact, we could extend this to the concept of authority in general. I know a healthy distrust for authority is vital, but how do you teach that without it being translated as “don’t pay any attention to what your parents or teachers say”?

It’s a toughie. Any thoughts on either cops in particular and/or authority in general?

(Disclaimer: In my nephew’s case, I will, of course, consult/debate with his parents on really important stuff like this before opening my big fat mouth. This is just something to get my though process flowing.)

Rule # 1 - In any encounter with police do exactly what they say when they say it. Don’t even think about getting one over on them. It will not end well for you or anyone who is with you.

Rule # 2 - Yeah, they are human and imperfect, so are you. Just follow rule # 1.

Mmm, that’s a VERY good point. I’d forgotten that I should teach them to do what the cops say anyway, if only because they have the power to screw up your life something awful.

But the original question still holds, in that I would like to give reasons to do so, and telling the “truth” would accomplish the “distrust” angle, if that’s at all clear.

Icarus said exactly what I was going to post: They are human and so are you. Always do what’s right and respectful and you should never have a problem.

I think Icarus wisdom is basically right, so long as the kid also knows his rights (e.g. doesn’t have to consent to searches, etc.).

But I also think a full and honest answer depends on your nephew’s race, class, and location. A poor black kid living in Gainesville TX should not trust the local police and should be taught to avoid them unless absolutely necessary. (I’ve worked on cases against the Gainesville department and feel safe in saying that they cannot be trusted.) A middle class white kid living in Greenwich CT will have totally different relationship with the police, and is much safer trusting them. The proper advice to each kid would differ.

If we’re talking about a middle class white nephew, I would add at least one point to Icarus’:

#3 Don’t commit crimes. When police abuse people’s rights (and bodies), it is most frequently when the police think they are justified in doing so to prevent crime.

Missed the edit, but wanted to add:

#4 Help them to recognize how difficult a job the police have. That’s an important part of understanding and relating to police (and authority generally).

Police officers are human, but they have a super-human authority, they have the ability to limit your freedom. Deep in my bones I feel what makes a person WANT to be a cop is most likely something bad, but future generations will have plenty of time to get as jaded as me.

Icarus pretty much summed up what I’d tell the kiddies.

I can’t do much but reiterate what others have said here.

It’s important that they understand that when a police man (or fireman) says to do something, bloody well do it. They say “hands up,” your hands go up. If you feel that a police officer is treating you poorly, it’s critical to keep your cool and try to explain the problem as succiently as possible. Never raise your voice, never lose your temper.

Also, I think it’s important to always keep this is mind: police officers have great authority, and we all know that authority often leads to corruption. But even so, the great majority of police officers are basically decent, hardworking people who work a dangerous and often thankless job in order to maintain society for the rest of us.

The only time you ever want to be dealing with the police are on your own terms. Meaning, if you have a crime to report, feel your safety is being threatened et cetera then explain it to a police officer.

Any other time don’t speak to them about anything substantive without an attorney present, period.

I tend to believe the opposite, but after a few years of dealing with the dregs of society they start to become less likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

When 75% of the people you deal with in a given day BELONG in prison no matter how cute, well dressed, well spoken, they might be, you start defaulting to arrest them all and let the courts sort it out.

The courts can often afford to take their time unraveling something and can dismiss inappropriate charges made by arresting officers very easily. However, when you start getting into resisting arrest, playing street lawyer, refusing searches on principle even when you know you have nothing to hide, now you are making thier job harder, who would want to do that, why a criminal of course. Since you want to play games, they start playing back. This will never end well for joe lunchbucket on the street.

A few points:

  1. Statistically, police are just doing their job honestly 99.9% of the time.
  2. People who bitch about the police have usually had negative run-ins with them. Usually this because they (i.e. the bitchers) were doing something wrong, and the police had zero sympathy and treated them like they were idiots. Most likely they also tried to get fresh with the police being young, rebellious teens at the time which aggravated things. Further run-ins upped this animosity because each time they behaved worse towards the police.
  3. Don’t break the law, and you’ll find the police to be a friendly bunch.

We should also recognize that honest people have been screwed over by police, without doing anything wrong, and without being a dick. The assumption that people play games with police is true, but that shouldn’t be the assumption in every case.

A foolproof way to kidnap someone is to use police uniforms.

Teach him that cops have guns so he should start carrying one ASAP.

Is your nephew Black or Hispanic? He needs to know that cops will be a little rougher with him than they are with his white buddies. This isn’t fair or rational and nothing he does will change it, but he needs to know it happens.

1 Showing respect and using manners goes a long way

2 Comply

Everything else can be worked out at a later date if need be.

Due to liability concerns I can see a department saying no, but I would see if your son could go on a normal days run with a cruiser and officers. Let him determine what his relationship with police officers will be like.


I disagree with the rule “do what the police say.” What if the police want to talk to you without your lawyer present? I think a better rule is do what the police say, but don’t say crap until there is a lawyer present.

So very true.

Do you have any friends who are police officers? We have a couple, and it’s been nice for the kids–nothing huge, but for example one day our friend stopped by our house for a minor thing, and let the girls explore his car. He’s their friends’ dad, so they see him as a real person (insofar as any young kid sees an adult as a real person).

So if you know a cop, you can just hang out a little sometime or something.

I think the rule should be: “If a police officer gives you concrete physical instructions, obey. But always know you have the right to remain silent, which you should use if you fear incriminating yourself. Also, if you feel that the police officer is a fake, find a way to get in the presence of other, verified police officers.”