5 statements cops should never make on duty
Your destiny should be to be a great police officer; think and speak like a true professional and you will be one
Words have power. They can make things worse or they can make things better. When a police officer encounters a suspect hurling insults, making verbal threats, or otherwise spouting off at the mouth, it may be tempting for the officer to talk back. But what you say can come back to haunt you. Here are five things you never want to hear yourself say when on duty.
1. I am the law.
Laws are created by the legislature; you were created by your parents. You are the authority by which some of the laws are enforced. Your actions are guided by those laws. When you make that statement, you start down the slippery slope of forgetting who and what you have taken oath to be and the beginnings of what you took an oath to stand against.
2. This is my highway, city, county, road…
Nope, this is the jurisdiction you are sworn to protect and serve. It doesn’t belong to you. Taking ownership of your actions, your choices and your words is a good thing. You own your words and choices, not the city, county or state. Only a medieval king owned all that he surveyed. When you over invest in your job and start to think and act as if you are the sole owner, you have lost sight and perspective of who you truly are. When you lose that perspective, you replace it with a false reality. Never forget who you are and what your authority truly is.
3. You don’t have any rights.
Nothing good ever happens after this statement. Whether it is anger, fear, frustration, or a false perception (see above), if you ever hear this phrase escape from your mouth – or even start to think it – you need to immediately recant that concept and get in touch with reality. Everyone we deal with has rights. We have the power and the authority to curtail some of those rights during Terry detentions and arrest situations. But even in those situations, your actions are guided by the Constitution, state statute and Supreme Court rulings.
4. There is nothing I can do.
When you get a call and it turns out to be a non-criminal matter, you are the victim’s hope. You are the person who is supposed to have the solution. Some times that solution is telling the victim what they need to do – explaining the process for a civil suit, methods for obtaining an eviction notice, how to get treatment for substance abuse, or call social service. In order to do that, you need to know what public and community resources are available and be able to assist and direct them in their efforts.
5. If I have to come back, someone is going to jail.
There are a couple of problems with this statement.
First, if you don’t have cause to take any police action the first time, can you guarantee you will on your return? If you get called back and you still have no reason to arrest, you have lost credibility. Officers in this self-created conundrum often feel forced into taking legal action, despite the fact that they lack probable cause. When driving a suspect to jail, you should know the reason for the arrest, you shouldn’t be trying to create one.
The second reason is officer safety. By telling the suspect(s) your intentions, you allow them an opportunity to plan their escape or assault on the next responding officer – whether it’s you or someone new. The next officer who answers the call may not be aware of your statement and is now walking into a dangerous situation that you created.
Why is what you think or say so important? Consider the following quote commonly attributed to Frank Outlaw, “Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Your destiny should be to be a great police officer; think and speak like a true professional and you will be one.
This article, originally published 05/18/2015, has been updated.