Any casual view of police procedurals on TV or in the movies recognizes the “good cop, bad cop” routine. The “bad cop” screams, yells, accuses the suspect of all sorts of things, insults his family, talks about spending centuries in “the Hole” and then walks out.
The “good cop” then apologizes for his or her partner’s behavior, offers the same suspect water or a soft drink, then, by virtue of being so much nicer, hopes to elicit a confession.
Good cop, bad cop almost always works on the screen. I have no idea whether it works in real life.
Over at Talking Points Memo yesterday, former police officer and current law professor Seth Stoughton considers the longer McKinney pool video, and the two officers most prominently featured in it. He uses the terms Guardian and Warrior to describe the two mindsets, and how they affect policing.
The kids interacting with the first officer were excited, but not upset; they remained cooperative. Had they gone home at that moment, they’d have a story for their friends and family, but it would be a story that happened to have the police in it rather than being a story about the police.
The wrong mindset, on the other hand, can exacerbate a tense encounter, produce resistance, and lead to entirely avoidable violence. It can, and has, caused longterm damage to police/community relations. We shouldn’t be surprised that the kids Corporal Casebolt was yelling at weren’t eager to do what he was ordering them to do—no one likes being cursed at and disrespected in front of their peers, and people of all ages, especially teenagers, resent being treated unjustly. That resentment can lead to resistance, and Police Warriors—taught to exercise unquestioned command over a scene—overcome resistance by using force.
He then suggests:
What should officers do in similar situations? For starters, they must realize that the public—even a group of non-compliant teenagers—are not an enemy to be vanquished, but civilians to be protected, to the extent possible, from indignity and harm. A Guardian mindset encourages officers to be “procedurally just,” to ensure that their encounters with civilians are empowering, fair, respectful and considerate.
My personal contention has been that good officers are better off when bad officers are culled. The culling should be sooner rather than later. The response of McKinney’s chief publicly affirming most of the officers while publicly chastising the one is a good example of leadership in the policing community. It is a good example of leadership in the rest of the community as well.
Seth Stoughton is a law professor at the University of South Carolina, where he is affiliated with the Rule of Law Collaborative. He served as a police officer and investigator for more than seven years. Follow him on Twitter @PoliceLawProf.