Police Psychology – Us vs. them

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Why is it that we see a militarization trend of the police? Why is it that we see a trend of police abusing their power and dehumanizing those under their authority? It’s difficult for us to understand as we cannot fathom that every police officer abuses their power…doing so would be stereotypical.  While there are good officers, or even to an extent good police departments, we must still acknowledge the adverse trend of police power abuse and militarization and understand how it can spread like fire.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford prison experiment was a social psychology experiment performed in 1971.  24 college students volunteered in the study and were paid $15 a day over a two week study to act as either a guard or prisoner.  The study was stopped after only 6 days because things got entirely out of control.  Even though everyone knew this was a study, the power given to the guards (through authority and symbols of power (e.g. – handcuffs, nightstick, etc.)), and the dehumanizing of the prisoners (e.g. – stripped of clothes, assigned a number instead of a name, etc.) resulted in abusive behaviors and psychological breakdowns.  Remember, this was only a study of normal male individuals over the course of 6 days.  6 days!!  After watching this video, you should be able to understand how accepting a career as an authority figure can change your personality.

Recent proof of police dehumanizing civilians

One of the hot police brutality videos circling the net is the death of Eric Garner.  Eric was an overweight asthmatic man who broke up a fight.  Due to his large stature, the cops for some reason perceived him as a threat.  Eric peacefully was negotiating with the officers asking what he had done wrong when several of them ganged up on him, put him in a choke hold, and brought him to  the ground.  Between the stress, the choke hold, and the offiers piled up on top of him, Eric died of either a heart attack or asthma attack even though he was pleading with officers that he could not breathe.   You can see the video below:

So, how do other officers view this incident?  Do they think it was unjust?  Or do you think they will act like fellow guards in the Stanford example?  There are several online forum boards for officers where they must verify their employment.   When reviewing several of these boards like PoliceOne.com, you can find comments by real life police officers on the Eric Garner case.  If you want some top line quotes, take a look at these….

– Don’t resist. I don’t understand why these people don’t simply comply. 

 

– All he had to do was comply and he would not be dead. 

 

As far as the grab around the neck, I would have done the same thing. That piece of sh!t was too fat and wide to grab anywhere else.

Some of the comments are outright ruthless!

– A more accurate headline would be “Non Compliant Fat Bastard Gets Just Due In Resisting Law Enforcement Officers”

 In Closing

Again, to not be stereotypical or generalize police, the comments I viewed were about 50/50 with half of the police officers saying that those officers used excessive force.  However, there is one take away to this whole post….

Do not think for one second that if you are not doing anything wrong, the police will not bother or abuse you.  Chances are, you might have a run in with the bad 50%.

  • Mark

    My belief is that isolation is a factor. Most law enforcement professionals spend their lives associating with other cops and criminals almost exclusively. Both groups comprise only a tiny percentage of the population but if that’s all you know, it’s going to manifest as an “us vs. them” mentality because these groups have an inherently antagonistic relationship. Criminals prey on each other to an extent, but focus on the law-abiding as potential victims. Law enforcement tends to view anyone outside their organization as a potential threat and that’s probably because there are so many stupid regulations, one can’t possibly avoid breaking obscure laws without even realizing it.
    I must, however give due credit to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. I “sneaked up” behind a couple guys pounding on my front door in the dark one evening and though they did end up taking custody of my firearm until I produced my license, the encounter was extremely polite and professional. Three nervous, armed men encountered one another in the dark and resolved the incident with no rounds fired.