Brent J. Meyer
PORAC Vice President
Some might call it “old school,” but I grew up in the profession when compliance was gained simply according to the doctrine of “Ask them; tell them; make them.” Nearly 20 years later, times have changed. From the street cop’s perspective, the hallmark of gaining compliance epitomizes two words: not negotiable. Nothing has changed, save for the fact that law enforcement professionals are trained to employ a simple definition when it comes to compliance. In every state and situation, the law provides no wiggle room for discussion, no time to seek second opinions, and no delay for instant-replay reviews. When a law enforcement officer orders a citizen to do something, that person must comply. Period.
For those of you who work the streets, the non-negotiable rules of compliance are obvious and necessary, not just for our safety, but for the safety of suspects, potential victims and the innocent people living life around them. We know what can happen if someone we contact in the field refuses to follow commands. And we know why peace officers, faced with a citizen who chooses not to comply, work quickly and decisively to gain control over the situation. We train for it, having had that art of compliance woven seamlessly into our DNA. While compliance is straightforward for us, it’s something else entirely to many civilians, often the same people whose safety and rights to peaceful existence we aggressively protect.
Many of these people, lacking our training and understanding of the law, see compliance as a gray area or the starting point for discussion, something to bargain over, while some are mentally ill or under the influence and beyond coherence. You can blame lack of compliance on the media, television, elected officials or anyone else. Ultimately, however, who ends up with the blame doesn’t matter. As peace officers, we must address the reality that in our state and nation, the ironclad rules of compliance have become a major disconnect — a gulf between the public’s expectations and understanding about law enforcement, and us, the professionals whose service keeps our communities safe. In my travels across California and Nevada over the past three years, I’ve had the great opportunity to meet with hundreds of peace officers. More often than not, I’ve heard stories with a familiar theme: If only that guy had complied. Having worked my share of patrol in Sacramento, I understand that feeling all too well. Simple compliance would make our jobs vastly easier, but that isn’t reality.
I’m encouraged to see an increased recognition about the disconnect between the public and law enforcement over the concept of compliance. We can’t always expect the most troubled residents of our communities to comprehend what it means to follow commands given by the police. But continuing the discussion and education around this topic can significantly improve relationships between citizens and law enforcement, as well as the communities officers serve. Last year, I heard the mantra “comply and complain,” a not-so-original idea that has been gaining momentum across the country. I believe that it’s a powerful educational tool that encourages people to obey a peace officer’s commands, without resistance, no matter how unjust they may appear or seem at the moment. There will be ample time to file a complaint. The goal of “comply and complain” is to help citizens understand how law enforcement is trained to operate. It rests on a basic premise: When tensions are high and the situation is evolving quickly, it’s not the time to start an argument with the police. When it’s over, complaints can be lodged, investigated, defended, upheld or dismissed. A professional, comprehensive review once everyone has calmed down benefits both civilians and peace officers, and helps safeguard the well-being of all parties concerned.
PORAC recognizes the importance of accountability and transparency in the relationship between law enforcement and the communities we protect. Peace officers rely on support and respect from the citizens within those communities. We can’t effectively do our jobs if we lose credibility in their eyes. That support, respect and integrity begin with the understanding of how we work, which is where transparency must exist. The more our communities understand about our process — our training, our procedures and the reasons why we do things — the more they will appreciate why we need their compliance.
As we move into 2017, it will remain a critical task to help educate our communities in ways to work together. That job starts with helping everyone understand that compliance is not an option. While I did not grow up in a law enforcement household, I was taught very early on that it’s not acceptable to argue with police. That’s probably more to my parent’s credit than anything, but I was fortunate enough to avoid trouble and, ultimately, make my way through the peace officer pipeline as a teenager. The early advice I received about not arguing with cops has served me well. Perhaps it’s the kind of sound advice that the media should help perpetuate, rather than the unproductive banter that it has been known for lately.
Prior to becoming PORAC Vice President, I led my city’s POA and found myself intricately involved with the civilian complaint process. More often than not, I found that we could almost always defend our procedures or actions when they were questioned. It is true that none of us are perfect, a tribute to the fact that we must always come from the communities we serve. But, we are fortunate in California and Nevada to have the best standardized and most comprehensive law enforcement training in the country — training that continues to evolve, improve and raise the standard of outstanding service for the nearly 70,000 public safety professionals who make up our membership.
Thank you for your membership, and stay safe!