Civil Liberties

Police Officer: 'if you don't want to get shot…just do what I tell you.'


Sunil Dutta
Colorado Technical University

"If you don't want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground," warns Officer Sunil Dutta of the Los Angeles Police Department, "just do what I tell you."

The thing is, Officer Dutta (pictured) is also an Adjunct Professor of Homeland Security and Criminal Justice at Colorado Technical University. And he uttered those words not in the heat of the moment, but in an opinion piece in the Washington Post responding to widespread criticism of police attitudes and tactics currently on display in Ferguson, Missouri, but increasingly common nationwide.

Dutta continues:

Don't argue with me, don't call me names, don't tell me that I can't stop you, don't say I'm a racist pig, don't threaten that you'll sue me and take away my badge. Don't scream at me that you pay my salary, and don't even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?

Dutta actually comes off as a reasonable law enforcement officer, when compared to some of his colleagues who can be found venting on police-only bulletin boards or referring to Ferguson protesters as "fucking animals." Dutta acknowledges that police can abuse their authority, saying "When it comes to police misconduct, I side with the ACLU: Having worked as an internal affairs investigator, I know that some officers engage in unprofessional and arrogant behavior; sometimes they behave like criminals themselves."

He endorses the use of body cameras and dashcams to record interactions between police and the public. He counsels, "you don't have to submit to an illegal stop or search. You can refuse consent to search your car or home if there's no warrant."

And yet he demands unresisting submission to police without argument or even legal protest. Just how do you "refuse consent to search your car or home" without running afoul of the no-nos Dutta warns may get you "shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground"?

Remember, this is a thoughtful police officer, with a PhD., who teaches criminal justice.

Maybe Matthew Worden, an Enfield, Connecticut, police officer, was being thoughtful when he beat the living shit out of Mark Maher earlier this year. That incident begaan when Maher asked Worden why another person was being detained.

Worden's own department thought the officer's actions were over the top, but the state's attorney declined to seek arrest or prosecution.

Militarized police

The last week has seen an enormous and justifiable focus on the militarization of police departments in this country, including tactics and equipment. Jungle camouflage, assault rifles, and armored personnel carriers have been part of an intentionally intimidating show of force in Ferguson, Missouri—the sort of display that has become all too common throughout the country.

But you don't have to have an armored vehicle to be a jerk and a danger to the public. If you have the attitude that you are owed deference and instant obedience by the people around you, and that you are justified in using violence against them if they don't comply, we already have a problem. That's especially true if official institutions back you up, which they do.

If you really think that everybody else should "just do what I tell you," you're wearing the wrong uniform in the wrong country. And if you really can't function with some give and take—a few nasty names, a little argument—of the sort that people in all sorts of jobs put up with every damned day, do us all a favor: quit.

The law enforcement problem in this country goes well beyond boys with toys. It's much deeper, and needs to be torn out by the roots.