The Burden of Saying “NO!”
I remember the first time I read an article about public perceptions of LEOs. I believe it was in the academy during the block of instruction entitled, “Policing The Public.” We were fortunate that our instructor had a great deal of experience and used the time and the lesson plan to teach a course that could have been retitled, “How to be nice, use common sense, and treat people as you would like to be treated to achieve success in law enforcement.” I enjoyed the class and used a lot of the techniques on the street.
However, after about five minutes on the street, you learn that these techniques will not work on everyone. These techniques will probably work with the person who called the police because his neighbor’s leaves from the house next door are blowing onto his yard, yes-that was a real call. They are likely to be largely ineffective during your interactions with the person who is torqued when you arrive and has already assaulted everyone in the house because they were home! That was another real call.
Recently, several folks have pondered this question out loud, “Why are cops so easy to hate?” I read a great article with this title written by Dr. Joel Shutls, Chief of Police for Adams State College in Alamosa, CO. The article and many others search for the answer. All provide many insights. I propose another more simple reason.
For a lot of people contacted by LEOs in the type of bad situation described above, law enforcement is there to solve a problem. The LEOs arrive with full knowledge that their failure to implement a solution to that problem will lead to further issues, injuries, and sometimes rapid escalation of the underlying issues. This requires LEOs to use a horrible, negative, and dreaded word. This word is feared by children, excites controversy in nearly every environment, and is frowned upon in most business environments. That word is “NO!”
“No” takes on many forms in law enforcement. “No, sir, you cannot drive because you are intoxicated,” or “No, I cannot let you take your wife’s jewelry as you leave because ‘you bought it anyway,'” or simply stopping the suspects actions by applying handcuffs, willingly or not! No matter how you put it, LEOs must communicate “NO” in order to perform their duties. It is part of the job. Everyone who has watched TV knows this will happen, so what is the big deal?
For what it is worth, here is my take. For many of the people who hear “NO” from a LEO, that may be the first time in their lives that they heard that word from someone who means it and intends to enforce it with the ability and determination to do so! How many physical confrontations have you seen that began when you told the suspect “NO?”
Perhaps we should commission a study on a better was to say “NO.” Maybe we should check with our counterparts in other countries to see what they say instead of “NO.” Do French police have better luck with “NON?” How do people react to “Nyet” in Russia or “Nein” in Germany? I suspect the reaction is the same because it is not the words themselves that sparks the reaction, but the person speaking the words. However, putting limits on the activities of those who break the law or infringe on the rights of others is a core mission of law enforcement.
So, until someone comes up with a better word, we are stuck with it! Do I think that will happen anytime soon? Well, you know what I’m going to say.