October 29, 2009

Steve Pomper

Suspect Theater

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I watched a well-teased video of alleged police misconduct on a FOX news show the other morning. “Caught on video!” My ass. They promoted the video as if it were of a clearly recorded action scene directed by Steven Spielberg. Instead, viewers could barely see some vague, shadowy images within a darkened doorway. The reporter mentioned that the suspect could be heard better than seen and was, “…clearly yelling for help…,” as if that in and of itself somehow imbues the suspect with credibility.


The reporter repeatedly mentioned the possibility of police abuse, but never the possibility of suspect theater. I don’t think the reporter intended any malice to law enforcement, but I do think the report could have been more fair and balanced, and less inciting against the police. (And I’m a regular FNC viewer).


The reporter seemed sadly ignorant of the notion that sometimes suspects scream simply to get attention and that suspects often lie about police abuse. I can’t tell you the number of suspects I’ve arrested or have seen arrested who scream at the least little—or no—provocation; it serves a purpose. I remember one arrestee whom an officer had handcuffed and was lying on the sidewalk awaiting a patrol car to arrive at the scene. Four of us were standing by, with only one officer in physical contact with the suspect, his hand on the suspect’s shoulder.


Let me tell you, that suspect was screaming as if we were poking him with a cattle prod. This guy should have been nominated for an academy award the way his blood-chilling cries carried throughout the neighborhood, curtains drawing open in the high rise apartment buildings—he would have won it hands down. If I weren’t seeing with my own eyes that the guy was completely uninjured, I’d have sworn he was being tortured—not enhanced interrogation—real torture. Later at the precinct, with no sympathetic eyes watching, I asked the suspect why he wasn’t screaming now. Having adopted a rather pleasant demeanor he said, “No reason to now.”


Look, I’d never suggest no officer ever abuses his authority, but please remember, it’s in a suspect’s best interest to make bystanders think the officers are abusing him. It takes the focus off of the suspect and his alleged crime, and places it on the officers who are in the vast instances simply attempting to protect the community. At the very least, view these dubious, grainy, shadowy news videos with that proverbial grain of salt. If the officers are guilty of some offense, we’ll hear about it soon enough and loudly; if the officers are cleared, as they usually are, we’ll never hear about it again.   


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