Perspectives: What has happened to our peace officers?

OPINION –My friend Bryan is one of the most nonthreatening, law-abiding, intelligent, diplomatic, and down to earth people I’ve ever known. Which is why his experience this past weekend is so troubling to me.

He was held at gunpoint. Ordered from his car and handcuffed. Threatened with lethal violence. And then he was let go with a ticket for a broken taillight. If something like this could happen to my mild-mannered friend, it could happen to any one of us.

Last week my friend was pulled over by a Unified Salt Lake City police officer. During the stop, the officer spotted Bryan’s legally stored 1911 pistol and unleashed his inner chimp. He ordered my friend from his vehicle at gunpoint, handcuffed him, and told him he was lucky that the officer didn’t “blow a hole” in his head.

He questioned my friend about whether his pistol “was registered” despite the fact that no such requirement exists in Utah law. Why would he feel the need to do all this to a peaceful, compliant, and noncombative individual?

Before going any further, I must emphasize that this officer does not represent all police officers everywhere. The officers to whom I’ve related this story all shook their heads in disbelief and disgust. But this hyperaggression toward a person who was peacefully obeying his commands provides a disturbing glimpse into how peace officers are being replaced by law enforcers.

Eric Peters offers a refreshingly direct assessment of the difference between these two terms:

Not a buzz-cut, black sunglasses-wearing steroid-jacked thug itching to exert his limitless authority under color of ‘the law.’ Rather, a person hired for the sole purpose of intervening when a harm is committed. An actual harm or injury to a real person or persons – as opposed to a violation of ‘the law.’ Nothing more – and nothing less.

Keeping the peace involves a lot less coercion than aggressively enforcing innumerable laws. A peace officer wouldn’t needlessly escalate a peaceful traffic stop into a life-threatening situation, but a law enforcer will.

The problem doesn’t originate with the officers themselves, it stems from the way their superiors are using them.

Police are being trained to view the public as potential opponents rather than a citizenry to serve and protect. They are taught that an inflated atmosphere of “officer safety” justifies putting the interests of the state above the rights of the people. Many officers are being ordered to be more “proactive” and to write more citations and make more arrests. Officer discretion is being removed and replaced with bureaucratic mandates.

This means that police are being pressured into finding reasons to cite or arrest rather than simply keeping the peace. Their job performance is evaluated based on how many people they bring into the system. Given the incomprehensible number of laws, statutes, and ordinances on the books, even the most law-abiding citizen can be written up for some offense.

How does that square with keeping the peace?

Police, in many jurisdictions, are becoming indistinguishable from soldiers in the way they are training, the way they’re equipped and the way they operate.

Examples of criminally abusive official behavior, like my friend experienced, also demonstrate an increasing distance between the state and the people.

This should be of particular concern for students of history who can draw from the examples of other societies that saw this rift appear and widen.

Milton Mayer spelled out the danger signs in his book “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945”. Mayer writes:

This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes.

Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow.

But Mayers goes on to note that the unifying shock never arrives and widespread recognition of what has actually been taking place always comes too late.

We need police officers that understand the vital difference between being a peacekeeper and being a militarized code enforcer. There are many who do understand this, but they face increasing pressure from their bureaucratic superiors to be order-takers and heel-clickers.

This doesn’t bode well for them or us.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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33 Comments

  • Ken July 29, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I take it you contacted Unified to get their side of this story! Then again from a lot of your articles you will print anything without facts to back it up and STG News condones this type of behavior. I do agree with a lot of your article and the police state will become more and more controlling.

    • Bretticus July 29, 2013 at 10:45 am

      It’s always a few that paint a negative picture for the rest. My last few run-ins with law enforcement officers (traffic stops) have been positive. They are doing their job and it helps to help them do it. They were courteous and let the driver go with a warning (I think I was commuting both times with a coworker.) A little positivity goes a long way.

      For example, my dad was pulled over by a Nevada State Trooper on his way back from work. He wasn’t speeding at the time so he asked how the officer knew he had been speeding earlier. Apparently, he was clocked by an airplane and called in. The “novelty” made my dad chuckle. The officer told him he was the first person that hadn’t become angry and belligerent that day and let him go with a warning.

      I dunno what happened in this case, but it sounds like your friend didn’t mention the pistol. Even if you possess it legally, I think, as a common courtesy, you should disclose to the officer that you are carrying it so he or she doesn’t overreact.

      Very good article though. Especially the part on how an officer’s performance is measured. Oh, if they could all be Sheriff Taylor and no Barney Fife!

      Ken, this is an OPINION article. Investigative journalism is not a prerequisite. That’s why it’s marked OPINION. If the allegations are true (and what would contacting Unified accomplish as it’s one word against another) Bryan’s friend was grossly mistreated. He should be reported. Hopefully, a few more people will report his behaviors and gets power-crazy thugs like this off the force!

      • Ken July 29, 2013 at 2:06 pm

        Thanks Bretticus I can’t read that word opinion! Everyone reading this is lucky that you are there to correct them and show our misguided arrogance. If you state something to be FACT then back it up. So you were there and you saw and heard everything that happened, well why didn’t you just say so? Good hell and I wasted all that time. You da man Brett!

        • Alna July 29, 2013 at 6:51 pm

          If you can read, then you should know what the word “opinion” means. The author is relating a personal story and giving his opinion. You don’t have to agree with what he said or how he feels about any subject, you don’t like the writing, don’t read the article.
          Write your own article and fill it with any facts you want and debate the issue. But see if you can do it without being snotty or rude, people are more likely to listen to you then.

          • Ken July 30, 2013 at 4:37 pm

            Good lord, nothing like interjecting yourself where you don’t belong! Get over your arrogant self. If you could read then you wouldn’t have stuck your nose in, snob!

  • Katina July 29, 2013 at 10:10 am

    I have to disagree with you about the training that peace officers receive in Utah. I just finished going thru POST (Peace Officer Standard Training) and having a few military members in my class, it is far from similar to soldier training. Where the problem lays is in the uneducatedness of some guys and in the psych that gives them an above the law big head when they put on the badge. In talking to 1 chief, he said that he believes that officers should have at least an associates degree and be required to take a few communications courses before going thru POST.

    • Bryan Hyde Bryan Hyde July 29, 2013 at 10:37 am

      When a department’s administration is requiring police to go out and find excuses to write someone up or to arrest them, it changes the nature of their job from peace officer to law enforcer. It also destroys the public trust necessary for the police to do their job. This shift in the way police are being trained to see everyone who’s not in uniform as a group of potential offenders does nothing to secure our rights or protect us.

      • Good Neighbor July 31, 2013 at 9:39 am

        I’ve been an officer for 12 years and in the military for two. I’m sure Katina wants to believe her chosen profession is a noble one, and it should be. However, the sad reality is that Bryan is spot on in all aspects of the current state of law enforcement and the growing stampede of individual right trampling done by those whose only oath was to safeguard the individual rights of our constitutional republic.

  • Utah Taliban July 29, 2013 at 10:25 am

    When I think of Utah’s police, coupled with its restrictive, controlling religious-oriented ordinances and laws, I reminiscence of living in a Middle-east country which was heavily policed by a extremely restrictive Muslim oriented government. Utah comes closest to that experience of living in a 3rd world heavily policed, religion controlled place. The troubling aspect is that residents here are just as oblivious to it as were the populace in that 3rd world Muslim country.

    • Bretticus July 29, 2013 at 10:49 am

      What a ridiculous comparison, Really? I’m sorry your son/daughter/uncle/friend/you got caught. Taliban?…hardly. Feel free to exit this “3rd world” state anytime you like.

      • Utah Taliban July 29, 2013 at 11:30 am

        Very much Taliban with the church police state that conducts profiling, looking for minor infractions to stop and search, and laws and ordinances that revolve around a religion’s doctrine despite denying people some basic freedoms they would enjoy elsewhere outside that religious umbrella… just like the middle eastern muslim countries. Go see it for yourself. Then come back here and open your eyes.

    • William July 29, 2013 at 11:21 am

      “Utah Taliban”:

      Would you please provide proof of your assertion?

      • Utah Taliban July 29, 2013 at 11:39 am

        One example, gay couple harassed and arrested by Utah Taliban Police for kissing in public. Great example of Taliban police mentality to not only deny people their freedom and rights, but also harass and arrest them because their rights went against a controlling religious mindset that demands conformity from everyone. Just like in the middle east muslim countries. You might not be muslim, but you must conform to their religious laws or risk arrest, just like that couple in SLC.

    • Thinkety July 30, 2013 at 11:49 am

      Tali. If you are referring to the video where the gay couple were kissing, and then were prosecuted for it, they went intentionally to be apprehended, to make a statement. As far as your comparison with the Taliban, I know people from middle eastern countries, and if they even think you are a homosexual they will kill you. If you steal, they will cut off your hand. Let’s know what we are talking about before we make a comparison, so we don’t look so ignorant.

  • Craig July 29, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Why are you surprised? Do you believe this is an isolated case? Trying being of Hispanic, African or Polynesian descent. Many of us are stopped for NO REASON at all other than DWB…Driving While Brown.
    I don’t speed.,always use my blinkers and obey All rules of the road. I have never had a ticket of any kind and as far as I know, have never given a so called “officer of the law “any reason to stop me.
    Could it be because I drive a nicer car than “Bubba?” Is it a Barney Fife mentality?Who knows…
    Being racially profiled is a …

    Ed. ellipsis

  • Mary July 29, 2013 at 11:18 am

    The cop saw a gun and he reacted to that. I’m sure you know your friend is a great guy, but how does the cop know that? For all he knows your friend has another gun and is about to start shooting because he just robbed a store down the street. If you have a gun in your car you can’t be shocked that the cops see you as a threat, you are a stranger with a gun!

    That said, I don’t agree with the police over reacting and getting violent without reason (even though I’m sure they have a reason in mind). But I’ve encountered some pretty um…..aggressive cops in St. George too. I’m a 23 year old female who doesn’t carry a gun or knife in the car and has a clean driving record, and I’ve been pulled over on several occasions and immediately been treated with hostility by the officers (broken tail light, so called expired insurance, ect) as if they thought I was about to try to run. I can only assume that if I look like a threat the them, that a man with a gun must be really freaking scary.

    Not good at all.

  • kirk July 29, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    It basically comes down to a few words each officer can do 1. Protect and serve or 2. Harass and be an ass. Which bumper sticker is on your vehicle

  • Pat July 29, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Incidents like this are occurring in many places and are not isolated to Utah. It is a concern that police are more concerned about their safety than the safety of the community or persons. It is very important that they take precautions because there are also some very dastardly people in the community. Do the police have training to take care of traffic violation stops from becoming a killing spree—either the person being stopped shooting an officer or vice versa.
    In response to the Utah Taliban. I lived in a closed country in the Middle East. The UT police is hardly close to anything that happens there. The muttawas in some cities will take a bamboo stick and whip women not properly dressed. That gay couple you sight would receive the death penalty. Muttawas also get after businesses that remain open during the prayer call, five times a day. They have banned groups of Western women from their malls for loud laughter and boisterous behavior. They must come to the mall with their husbands.

    • Bruce Willys July 29, 2013 at 5:02 pm

      No. I don;t give a … how concerned an officer is about his safety, you do not little another, UNARMED, CALM-BEHAVED human being. Period!!!!!
      Ed. ellipsis.

    • Utah Taliban July 29, 2013 at 8:29 pm

      A state system that allows its state police forces to return young girls to abuses of polygamist sects is not protecting the girls’ safety and their rights. That state system is protecting the doctrines of religions. Those girls were possibly subjected to beatings or other punishments, all under the watchful of their police. That is very much like the muttawas you speak of. Policing to keep women in their religious place. Very Utah. Very Taliban. You have laws preventing bars within a ridiculous long distance of a church. You have curtain laws in places serving alcohol, because of religion. Again, very Taliban like.

  • Tyler July 29, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    It’s gone from peace state to police state to rapidly!

  • Bob July 29, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    We have a busy-body, dynamic, corrupt, stressful, on-edge, manipulating society and all this mayhem is coming out through the cops’ behavior in cities all over the nation. It’s an outrage!

  • yowza July 30, 2013 at 12:33 am

    When you’ve worked as a cop for several years, you become jaded. These guys deal with some very traumatizing situations of seeing teenagers heads blown off by suicide, babies dying in crack houses etc. Not to mention dealing with the crap of society and all the inbred rejects the local town has to offer. All this considered it starts to take a toll. Officers begin to become suspicious of everyone until they know for sure who they’re dealing with. People lie and will act as sweet as saccarin to a cops face but how often is that guy stashing meth or has a long rap sheet of home burglaries. No one really understands cops but other cops. Hence the high divorce rate, sadly.

    • Craig July 30, 2013 at 2:02 pm

      @yowza…
      If that’s the case, they should look for another line of work. We don’t need a cop who is on the verge of collapse. Not everyone who “looks suspicious” is a law breaker.

  • Daniel July 30, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Excellent article. Consider correcting your terminology, however. These police are not “law enforcers.” They are “statute enforcers” and “revenue enhancement agents”.

    Statutes are what the legislature, counties, and municipalities dream up and put on paper. They may, or may not, conform to law and natural law. To be an enforcer of the law implies advocacy for justice, which runs contrary to your central thesis that these up-and-coming bullies are the antithesis of justice.

    “This plain language may perhaps sound uncouthly to an ear vitiated by courtly refinements, but words were made for use, and the fault lies in deserving them, or the abuse in applying them unfairly.” — Thomas Paine, The Crisis II

  • Daniel July 30, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Also consider how overwhelmingly Utah police chiefs have advocated victim disarmament and gun control. For example, see:
    http://utgunrights.com/alertsupdates/2013/alert060313.htm

  • Sarge July 30, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Its a shame this is now the policy. The Police in Cedar City do this with the backing and support of the District Attorneys Office.

  • Bender July 30, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I have known, and currently know, many fine police officers. That said, I have taught my children that a not insignificant fraction of front line law enforcement are emotionally retarded children who are looking to avenge 9/11 and every slight in their personal lives each time they get frustrated with the public. I teach them to treat every encounter with law enforcement as an opportunity to be summarily executed. Act as if you are dealing with a volatile child and don’t do anything that might set them off. Cops were not to be feared when I was young and this is not what I was taught by my parents.

  • pete July 30, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Great article Bryan. My question is, what is being done afterwards with the officers, and with the abused, law-abiding citizens? In the instance of your article, does the Unified PD pay him a hefty sum for abusing him? If so, how much?(same question for all the other cases similar to this as well) And is the officer put into jail under assault charges? I think police that do use anything even close to abuse of power should be punished similar to how a citizen might be punished if a citizen tried to assault a person wrongfully. I mean can you imagine(as a citizen) going up to some random person in a park and throwing them on the ground, tying their hands behind their back, and pointing a gun at them? Then you release them and say, “O, sorry, my anger got to me, wrong person, I will let you go with a warning this time, lucky I didnt kill you.” If a citizen did this, I assume they would be put in jail, court, assault on record, yada yada yada. Should be the same if not worse for police randomly assaulting people.

  • My Evil Twin July 30, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    You know kiddies, all we have here is third party information. I think we all know how reliable that is. So go on, make judgements about what happened, even though you really have no way of knowing.

  • Deneen McCarthy July 30, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Bryan,
    I used to listen to you on KSUB every day and called in many times.

    Unfortunately, I had very similar things happen with the police in that area over the last few years. I think they view us as the enemy. We all could snap at any time is the thought. Yes to all those who say “they’re not all that way”. Of course not, but too many are and it is getting old.

    I left Cedar City last year. I do miss your radio program. I thought you were insightful and open minded. I never heard you be aggressive or overbearing. I imagine you are the same in day to day life. I don’t think this was the way you should have been treated.

    Good Luck and loved this story!

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