Brent J. Meyer
PORAC Vice President
Let’s say it all starts with a parka. On a warm summer afternoon, a police officer on patrol notices a man walking along a street in a residential neighborhood. Despite weather more appropriate for a T-shirt and shorts, this guy is sporting a parka. More observant than the average person, the patrol officer notices that first — a heavy jacket on a nice day. And it’s out of place.
The officer hangs back in his car, watching the man cross the street. Several vehicles slow as the pedestrian meanders through the intersection, dodging vehicles that have the legal right-of-way. He doesn’t notice the police car. Nor is he obviously impaired or staggering. But he seems aimless, not paying enough attention. At this point, the officer has two options. He can forget everything he just witnessed, ignore what his instincts are saying, drive away and wait for the next call for service. Or he can initiate contact, based on the man’s inattention as he crossed the street, and dig a little deeper.
With a few words, maybe the officer learns why someone would wear a parka on a warm afternoon. It’s probably nothing, but you never know. Choosing the second option, the officer pulls over, steps out of his car and, using a friendly, nonthreatening voice, calls after the man. No reaction. The man ignores the officer and keeps walking. The officer calls out a second time. No reaction.
You know what happens next.
Having failed to respond to the officer’s friendly callout, the parka-wearing pedestrian has instantly launched himself into a special category: He’s a person who refuses to comply with lawful commands. Escalating his command presence, the officer orders the man to stop. He has no obligation to let the guy walk away. Good training dictates that he won’t. Suddenly, the pedestrian turns around. He yells at the officer and challenges him to fight. He strips off his parka and assumes a combative stance.
The officer calls for backup, but he has yet to have control of the situation. In attempting to detain the man, they end up on the ground, where the officer overcomes his resistance with several punches before the handcuffs can be applied. As backup arrives, citizens appear with cellphones, saying they filmed the entire encounter. The officer’s dashboard camera provides another perspective. But within 24 hours, the videos go viral on the web. The officer’s punches become the story. He is suspended pending an internal investigation.
Real-life scenarios nearly identical to the fictional one described here happen all the time. They are part of the puzzle that comprises the image of law enforcement. They reflect the price that professional peace officers can pay for trying to serve and protect the public in a proactive manner. When videos are added to the mix, they require a swift, credible and appropriate response to defend our image. Nothing is more important than our image to ensure the respect, integrity and reputation of California law enforcement, almost 70,000 of whom are members of PORAC. But too often, when our officers are portrayed in the news media, the narrative is established by people who know very little about the work we do. Politicians, academics, lawyers and civilians do the talking — usually lacking a legal understanding behind what occurred. Suffice it to say, they offer a much different (and often negative) perspective than that of the veteran cop.
In my time as PORAC’s vice president, and before that as Sacramento POA’s president, I’ve come to appreciate the value of fighting to protect our image. Amid the last three years of an escalating war on law enforcement, the duty of defending that image has become even more critical. There have been decades when it was not so important that PORAC develop media strategies and push to represent our perspective to the public. Those were the decades before smartphones, in-car cameras and instantly viral videos.
Today, we have a different and far greater responsibility. As the largest statewide law enforcement organization in the United States, PORAC must work harder to stand out as the go-to source for the media and public who need to hear our point of view. When these types of videos go viral, the media coverage always seems filled with opinions that ignore facts, or are aimed right back at us in an effort to tarnish our image. Unfortunately, the people who can bring experience, wisdom and credibility to the discussion get overlooked, dismissed or prohibited from speaking.
When it comes to what we do, no organization is better positioned to help the media and public understand what goes into the tactics, policies and decisions made on the streets by law enforcement professionals. This mission is one of the main reasons why PORAC exists, and we must continue to lead in protecting that image. And I am very proud to be part of our efforts that are already underway to do it!
Thank you for your membership, have fun and stay safe!