A Primer on Policing for Anarchists, Activists, Dancers, Artists and Other Undesirables

Recently I’ve been involved in a number of discussions on Facebook with artist friends who have a general bias against social norms. Their perception is that anyone (they) should be able to invade any space at any time and do any thing – whatever they want whenever they want wherever they want. “Hey, man. It’s a free society, right?” This attitude is held by many of the “occupy” protestors as well as performance artists and others.

I am in an interesting position to comment on this phenomenon as I studied dance, video art, performance art and installation art. I also was a Police Explorer early in high school and am currently licensed in private security and bail enforcement in the state of Utah. By day I manage several design departments at a local college and by night, well most of the time I’m sleeping, but on rare and exciting occasions I’m staking out drug dealer’s houses, following cars, looking up property owners to find a lead on a skip, tracking escaped pedophiles or training in firearms and restraint techniques – TO STOP THEM FROM DOING WHATEVER THEY WANT WHENEVER THEY WANT WHEREVER THEY WANT.

I like both these intellectual and exploratory arts as well as the forces of order that work to keep our society functioning, but many of my creative friends hate anyone and anything (namely cops but security officers, the courts and prisons as well) who use force to compel compliance.

A lot of people say “hey, they should keep pepper spray out of the hands of cops! It’s dangerous. People have died from that.” I love the comment of a friend on Facebook who said “the best way to keep pepper spray out of the hands of cops is to obey their lawful order.”

So the question is, what is a lawful order? There are a lot of laws on the books to bring things back into order. Non loitering laws, anti harassment laws, speed limit and traffic light regulations, auto registration requirements, and social nuisance laws are in place to maintain order. When someone is breaking one of these regulations society moves up the use of force continuum to manage the unmanaged environment.

So the next question is what is the use of force continuum? Well, there are two. The first has to do with individuals and personal defense and the other has to do with the social regulation of environments. When an individual is under threat and there’s no police or other social force of order there to intervene an individual may use equal force to compel a situation to stop. A shopkeeper may ask a panhandler to leave. Someone in an argument can ask the other to deescalate the pressure in that situation. If one of the individuals assaults the other the defender may, in most jurisdictions, use equal force to defend themselves. In some places there is a requirement to attempt to flee first and only use force secondarily, so check your local laws. In general, blows may be stopped with blows, deadly force may be stopped with deadly force. In each case, once the attacker stops, the defender must also stop. Someone starts a bar brawl and you may block and punch as they attack you, but once they back off you are starting a brand new fight, in the eyes of the law, if you go and slug them again. First the other guy was an assailant, and guess what? Now that he’s stopped and you are still pumped up, you are the assailant.

Where a lot of people get all bent out of shape is when it comes to police and other forces of order. Society believes that the personal force continuum is a backup and that individuals shouldn’t have to deal with creating order or justice in every situation. We employ a group of people, at great risk (physical, psychological and other) to themselves, to maintain order and balance in our social environment. In doing so we have authorized a different use of force continuum.

The Institute of Justice, drawing from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, defines the use of force as the “amount of effort by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject.” So we can see that there is a difference. The general population cannot use additional force to compel compliance, where it is expected of the police officer. The officer, because of taking the badge and his or her Oath of Honor must intervene. The citizen can ask someone to follow the law but the officer must press them to comply, and may, at his or her discretion use one level of force above those at the scene. The second part of this is the willingness or unwillingness of the subject. Unwilling subjects are more likely to receive added force compliance if they do not step down upon verbal requests or commands.

When I was in the Police Explorers I remember an officer explaining how to create the best outcome in a traffic stop if you are pulled over. He said, pull the car over, turn it off, remove the key and put it on the dash. Many officers are injured by motorists who use their car as a weapon, so putting the key on the dash reduces the risk of the auto used for assault. Create the opportunity for the officer to see. Turn on the overhead passenger light if it is dark. Keep your hands on the wheel at 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock. Respond to the officer’s requests and move slowly and deliberately so the officer can see what you are doing. When an officer is forced by the driver’s actions to begin issuing commands, “get your hands where I can see them. put your hands on the steering wheel,” the officer may take actions to compel compliance, and in the interest of personal defense often feels it is a requirement of the situation to step to higher levels of force. The unwilling subject is headed down the wrong road.

In police theory, John S. Dempsey describes the officer on site as the first level of force. Because the officer is the extension of society’s expectation of law and order when someone calls an officer to a location it is the beginning of society’s expectation of control in that environment. When people choose not to comply and to continue acting out, the officers are authorized to issue commands, and just like the traffic stop, use force to compel compliance. In general, the officer may maintain one level of force above the others in the situation. No officer on scene means individuals interacting with one another – the officer on scene is force level 1 because the law is involved and all regulations apply. A non-compliant individual can result in force level 2, physical force or constraint, an escalation toward violence in many jurisdictions allows the officer to draw a gun on a subject. This is different than the civilian, you will remember. Deadly force by an individual cannot be brought to bear unless the attacker escalates to deadly force, and you’ll also remember I said that in some jurisdictions you are required to attempt to flee first.

When artists and activists get angry about the police, they aren’t really angry at the police officer, they are actually getting angry about the expectation of order set by our society. Furthermore, they are indignant that society would set an expectation that police are expected or authorized to compel compliance. They say, “the cop is a person like anyone else. They don’t have the right!”

Actually, they do. And actually, it’s just fine that they have the right.

I’d like to highlight a few situations where people have become indignant. “Ohmygosh! We live in a Police State! It’s soooooo terrible!”

Here are a group of activist “dancers” who went to the Jefferson Memorial to try to prove a point.

These officers were denounced on Facebook by a group of dancers until I posted a response:

“I see a difference between a couple going to the monument, hugging and starting to shift their weight from foot to foot and a group of people who show up with an entourage of camera people – there must be eight or nine camera people with the group – for the purpose of causing and documenting a scene. You and I (to my friend who posted the link) did improvisational dance at the fountain by the lake in central park ten years ago. Had an officer approached us I would have said, “We are dancers and I’m here in New York for the summer to do workshops with Tricia Brown, Irene Dowd, Zvi Gothiner and some others. We were just doing some improvisation on the stairs. Is that OK?” If he said “No” we would have left.”

“You’ve got to understand the structure of policing to understand why they were arrested. They were arrested because of the confrontation. Police in any country are required to maintain one level of force above those in any situation they are called to. Defying an order requires that the police step to the next level. It’s as implicit in policing to step to the next level when orders are defied as for dancers in improv: when a dancer jumps at you in improv, you catch them.

“If the dancers wanted a legal, non-confrontational environment they would have gone to the guard and said, “We created an improv dance to express the spirit of this monument. Can we dance it and videotape it for YouTube?” If the guard said, “no,” the next logical question is “is there someone we can talk to in order to get a permit?” It is because of the protestors behavior that I don’t feel bad for them and question their motives.”

After posting that the thread seemed to fizzle out without additional comments. The “dancers” were being jerks and they pushed the officers to issue an order, then they denied the order, and then they said “oh look what tyranny in America!” Total crap. They have free speech, so they can say what they want, but they still get the cuffs and the body slam for non-compliance.

Another friend said, “but do you support the protests in Egypt and around the world?” I support getting rid of the dictators, but not the method of protest per say. I also think the techniques, training and escalation used by poorly trained police and military in these countries are atrocious. You can see the difference between countries by looking at this video from Egypt last week.

In the US we see additional force applied when verbal commands are not heeded, and we see that added force stop as soon as the non-compliant individual becomes compliant. in this example from Egypt we see a mixed bag, indicating no use of force continuum training, or at minimum a complete rejection of standard use of force guidelines accepted by the civilized world. Verbal commands are given, leading immediately to physical force through beatings, kicking and stomping, even though the order to disperse is being heeded by the crowd. Even when protestors have gotten on the ground force is escalated by the uniformed individuals. You also see at least one uniformed person escalate to deadly force, drawing and firing a revolver at the fleeing crowd. The lack of training and poor mission objectives and poor mission control is exhibited by the uniformed individuals who careen and bump into one another as they run down the street toward the protestors.

In an example from Canada during the G8 summit there we see a civilized use of a movement almost like rushing in a football game. To reclaim a stretch of road on command a group of officers rush forward toward protestors, sweeping the group down the road without significant risk of harm. They are not using batons which can break bones, and they effectively deny the protestors from claiming the street, which was denied by legal order.

I believe strongly that those involved in protest must read and understand the law. In many of their protests they break significant laws based on a mindset that says, “I don’t believe that should be a law, so I’m not going to follow it.” Then, when they receive the immediate response such as higher uses of force required by civil society or the long term penalty such as jail, prison or something simple like community service or parole they cry, “Tyranny!”

I’m going to leave you with a final video from UC Davis where a small group of aggressors incited a mob mentality in a group of students, pressing them into surrounding and trapping police officers who were leaving the site. Rather than use their batons and break bones, the officers called in backup. An officer, Lt. John Pike, sprayed a row of students who had locked themselves into a wall, blocking the retreat of the initial responding officers. The pepper spray broke the barrier without using physical force that could cause additional long-term harm to the students.

Unfortunately, this peaceful resolution to the added use of force by the protestors resulted in suspensions and questions about whether pepper spray should be used by police at all. Having been certified in the use of pepper spray, I’ve been sprayed. It burns it makes you cough and scream out loud that you wish you had been born when protestors were sprayed with a fire hose instead. However, the spray has a shelf life, and the initial reaction goes away in 20 minutes with light sensitivity the next day, and unlike being sprayed with a fire hose, it’s not going to result in dislocated ribs, twisted ankles or concussions.

I think the question for protestors should be, “what kinds of use of force would you like used against you when you deny an order?” The choices on the table can be pepper spray, taser, baton, beanbag rounds, grappling and pain compliance techniques, or live ammunition. These are the components of the use of force continuum. I in the past 15 or 20 years the number of options have increased from the limited list – baton, grappling and pain compliance techniques, and live ammunition. The addition of more tools has reduced the use of deadly force, but it has increased the hue and cry by those opposed to a civil society. This post certainly won’t bring an end to that debate, but hopefully it informs and aids in a civilized discussion.





Special thanks to Dr. Joseph Schafer of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale for his feedback on this article and insight into the use of force guidelines for police. His insight led to a clarification. I initially wrote that levels of non-compliance by subjects “required” an increase of force by the officer. Dr. Shafer clarified that additional force is authorized, but at the officer’s discretion.

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One Response to A Primer on Policing for Anarchists, Activists, Dancers, Artists and Other Undesirables

  1. dynamiteutah says:

    Oregon police are also concerned about the public’s lack of understanding of use of force guidelines. They produced a video this year which dispels a number of misperceptions fueled by holywood and common misconception.

    I believe more of this kind of education is needed. http://youtu.be/-G1ApUEXcbo

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