Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The No Duty to Protect Argument (lets hate some cops)

As with most supreme court decisions regarding conduct of law enforcement, the case that would determine the duty to care (public duty doctrine) for all law enforcement in the US would be comical if it wasn't the exact opposite.  Just like Batman, law enforcement is not legally obligated to protect you.  Unlike Batman, the police are real and have a duty to do so, not a moral obligation bred of personal tragedy (and perhaps some helpful psychological issues), rather they serve for a paycheck, an actual sense of duty or because they have some issues of their own that the badge allows them to act on.  Their duty is personal and legal.  Outside of a hilarious (or tragic) dereliction of their legal duty, they cannot be held liable for not protecting a citizen.  If you notice all those legal words its because the legal system has helped create the problem.

Its not this easy, shockingly

Many court decisions that identify what LE can and cant do are codified because law enforcement did something stupid.  Not malicious (at least, not usually) but stupid (or ignorant) nonetheless.  Everyone at some point in their career will make a mistake, will fail to perform a task or will outright derelict the hell out of their duty.  It may even be funny when they do it, when its a cop going Chief Wiggum on you, the comedy is decidedly lacking.  We like the bumbling cop on TV, but we sure as hell dont want officer McDouchecanoe responding to your 911 call or consoling the victim of an armed robbery or rape.  As the line between reality and entertainment is blurred by a Greek tragedy-long list of horrible police shows, what is known and what is suspected becomes so blurred it might as well be the US/Mexico border.

I see the comment all the time "The cops have no duty to protect you." This is 100% true; except when its not.  There is a good reason for this, but it gets lost in the hate of LE in general that, if it isn't growing, is becoming far more obvious.  We live in times that make authority (real and imagined) uncomfortable because we see continued abuses of power at every level of the government.  There is a clear reason why LE has no "duty" to protect you and it has everything to do with the litigious nature of our society and the protection of the people, not the person.  But before we get into that, lets talk about why this is such a popular rallycry for folks to use when its time to bash the po'.  

These people (cops) have a sworn duty to uphold the law, not circumvent or ignore it.  Police brutality is perhaps seen as the first step on the stairs to the top of government corruption and its one the media is more than happy to exploit to make their air time more valuable.  Are the cops in the US more abusive than they were 50-60 years ago?  I would say absolutely civil rights movement not, either that or point to the abuse that led to the mandatory Miranda Warning given to anyone under interrogation because a few cops decided that they could obtain a confession without letting the accused know he had legal rights.  The man in question was eventually convicted of the crime (rape of a teenager) but only after his first conviction was thrown out.  Because some cops did what they did, we have Miranda and it has been hilariously misunderstood ever since (thanks, TV).  No, I think history bears that LE today is more educated, more professional and more law-abiding than their Adam 12 ancestors, despite the fact that everything else looks otherwise because lets face it, filming a cop doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing is boring unless that something is him face shooting bad guys.

If hes saving a kitten, pulling a kid from a car wreck, teaching a free class on car seats, helping a stranded motorist or generally doing anything not in the script of The Wire, we dont care enough to film it.  This is not in any way an excuse for stupid ass police behavior, but it does put it in a new light.  We love the negative, we love building drama and we maybe even like to think that we are on a freefall elevator full of screaming monkeys ride to a dystopian future.  Dont think so?  Name the last move that depicted the future as a place that would be worth living in.  Oh, no, Ill wait, go on.

The exception movie is nothing buy filthy, heart breaking lies.

     Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.       
Dont like Starbucks?  Why Not Zoidberg?
People are dumb.  Dumb people gotta eat so they get jobs.  Lazy people do too, and so do the ignorant and indifferent.  They work everywhere doing all manner of jobs from barrista to sheriff. One of them can screw up your coffee, the other one can ruin your life.  Which one will you rage at more?  Yeah. Humans sort of suck at not screwing up, in fact I would go the other way and say we excel at making mistakes.  Law enforcement is no different; but the problem isnt as simple as honest mistakes.  There are people wearing the badge who honestly shouldn't be, and some of those people should be in prison.   Some.  As hard as it is to become a police officer (credit, background, physiological investigations, polygraph, fitness, shooting, legal knowledge, driving, criminal procedure, hand to hand, etc. etc.) sometimes a dirt bag makes it in.  The honest cops hate that guy more than you do and we want to identify them and get rid of them as soon as possible, but its going to happen again because human nature.  Mistakes will be made.  This is no excuse, its an explanation.

Now what if I told you that a lot of the time, there are shitty people on the end of a 911 call and what if this simple fact of life was an overriding reason why cops have no duty to protect you?  What if I told you that the Justices understand the legal system maybe a bit better than you or me and have to make the most objective of objective decisions trying to account of every possible situation their decision could affect while you and me usually only think of how our decisions could affect us?  The police have no duty to protect you, rather they protect the public at large.

If they had a duty to protect you, as in every single individual, all manner of ridiculous law suits could and Better Call Saul would be filed when cops couldnt get to a burglary call in time, or were not able to pre crime the theft of your car.  If you want to see a total collapse of the legal system, this would be the way to do it.  Does this fact get abused by lazy, bad (or scared) officers? Yes, it does, but it also protects LE from the type of lawsuits that get airtime on TMZ.  Rest assured; any law that allows someone to not do their job will be exploited as often as it is legitimately used.

Duty isnt in an oath, ethics classes in adulthood are as pointless as a Tetris Movie and selfless service isnt something you can pick up like a card trick.  It takes a special kind of person to be a good officer and then that same person has to wade through depraved humanity, filth, shit, hate, bullshit lawyers, indifference and mediocre pay to arrive on the other side being the same sort of good person they started their career as.  If you think thats difficult, now consider an ehhhh-quality person or shit bag starting the same journey.   just because LE has no duty to protect you does not mean that they wont try, or maybe even lay down their life to do so.

If you want to hate all cops based on the actions of a few, thats fine.  Dont expect any reasonable person to be swayed by your unqualified statements or quoting of laws out of context though.  Its socially acceptable to hate all cops, chances are that if you arent a cop hater, you know one.  Thats fine too.  Im in LE and I dont care for some cops (as individuals I have met) but by and large the cops you havent met that you hate are actually on the same side as you.  I wont go as far as to compare blanket cop hatred with racism because its not nearly the same thing, though if both ideas were people they would probably get their coffee at the same Starbucks.


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