By Paul Budrow
Why do police officers sometimes seem arrogant? Because their priorities are different than yours.
In most instances, you enter an interaction giving the other person the assumption of goodwill.
When you meet someone for the first time you don’t harbor an inherent suspicion about the motives of that person, and your interactions proceed founded on this assumption.
Or think about your interactions at work. When you go into a job, you default to considering your peers as more or less equal. Of course, as time wears on, you begin to categorize people, but those initial interactions will be civil and respectful, because that’s what’s expected.
Now, think about the work day of a police officer. His or her job assignments consist, primarily, of being dispatched to successive 911 calls. When someone calls 911 for police service, there is an unspoken statement by the caller that the situation at hand has deteriorated beyond his or her control, and police are needed in order to bring the situation back under control. That is the assumption that the officer has going into each situation — not that he can take his time and/or go in to the situation nonchalantly, but that a situation needs to be quickly and efficiently brought back under control.
When the officer gets to the scene of many of these 911 calls, she encounters people who seek to hinder her investigation. She talks to witnesses who lie about not seeing anything. She talks to suspects who lie about where they’d just been or what they were just doing. She talks to drunken people who can’t coordinate themselves and won’t remember what was said in 10 minutes. She talks to addicts who try to conceal the fact that they’re high. She talks to grade school kids and teenagers who have been conditioned to mistrust or despise police. She talks to people who lie about their identity because they have warrants or because they just want to frustrate her. She talks to people who act nervous and take too long to answer simple questions, raising her suspicions. She talks to people who have drugs, guns, knives, and any manner of other contraband hidden in their residence, in their vehicle, or on their person.
Now consider that the officer is doing this many times per shift — five, 10 or maybe more encounters every day. He will quickly learn that, in order to get anything accomplished with these liars and obstructionists, he is going to have to employ tactics that in any other field would be unacceptable. He is going to have to be blunt, brusque and curt. He’s going to have to call bluffs and smokescreens and BS. He’s going to have to interrupt rambling, circular explanations. He’s going to have to look people in the eye and say, “We both know that you’re lying to me right now.”
When a normal, everyday citizen comes into contact with a police officer, that officer may not know you and so won’t necessarily enter into interpersonal contact with the same assumptions you do. Additionally, if she’s in uniform it’s possible she has a task at hand she’s focused on. Until you are a known entity, you may be treated coolly and humorlessly. In a small town, policing is even more difficult as the officer may have to, or already has, arrested, investigated and/or assisted you or one of your friends or family members.
You may interpret the response of this police officer through the lens of your expectations, and judge him to be arrogant. However, your assessment is based on your interaction in a vacuum. That doesn’t mean either one of you is “wrong.” You’re coming from different places.
Police officers cannot afford to give people the benefit of the doubt, because there are only so many people you can relax your guard around in this line of work before the officer gets himself or someone else hurt or killed. Be gracious to police officers, for their burden is great.
Paul D. Budrow is the chief of police in Twisp. This article is adapted from one written by another police officer.