Police Culture: Paranoid and Insular

Police One published an article titled 20 cultural faux pas in police departments. No mention of police brutality or other forms of abuse. I know, priorities.

However, among superficial gems such as “sub-par uniform presentation,” “letting loose with double entendres during defensive tactics training,” and “having a dead flashlight” there were statements of note. Ways that academy training and law enforcement culture perpetuate an insular environment of paranoia.

For example:

“Diming out” an off-duty officer. Most smart officers don’t want the general public around them to know that they’re police officers when they’re off-duty — there’s just too much liability at play. If someone with an ax to grind against LE personnel sees someone in civvies talking to a uniformed officer in a familiar way, they’re going to surmise that they’re LE too, and would then be able to ambush or harass them later on. If I was on duty and encountered someone I worked with who was off-duty, I’d usually silently nod in greeting and keep walking — unless they initiated conversation. This was a sensitive subject, and was taught early on in the Academy. You had to go so far as to train your kids to not do this. That may sound harsh or extreme, but imagine being an unarmed off-duty officer caught in the middle of a bank robbery and having your kid yell, “You can’t do that — my daddy’s a cop!”

Read this well and consider the implications. The individual police officer is so fearful of the general public that they don’t want to be recognized as a police officer.

This is not how the hero behaves. This is how the scoundrel and the bandit is forced to behave.

Police officers teach their children not to expose them, as well. This creates and perpetuates police culture. It is just a small example of practices that ensure the social circles of police officers are drawn from a pool of immediate family or fellow officers. This is taught in the academy. It has a fundamental effect on the psychology, mental health and antisocial behaviour of law enforcement officers.

Another example:

In the Academy, having to be accommodated in any way, or bringing trouble to the rest of the group. You learn from the first day that you will succeed or fail as a group, because that’s how it will eventually be on the street. True, and necessary, but it establishes a dynamic in which the weak and slow are the near-immediate target of derision. I still remember the seventy-five pushups we had to bang out when someone lasered everyone with a shotgun, the excruciating strain of having to carry a failing recruit at the end of a run, and having to sustain an upright pushup position on sharp limestone gravel when someone missed a knife during a search, while an instructor passed a knife in front of our faces and ominously repeated recruit by recruit, “This will kill you.”

The police officer is taught to be fearful of the public from the very beginning. The training is ominous and threatening. Every mistake is a potentially fatal step. When you read about the police shooting an unarmed man, this is why. This is the psychology behind it —  the perception of exaggerated threat. It breeds paranoia in law enforcement culture and perpetuates an us vs. them mentality.


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