Can You Trust the Cops?

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Police keep watch as demonstrators associated with the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement protest in Times Square on October 15, 2011 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty)

Tensions continue to rise in Albuquerque, New Mexico over the police department's use of excessive force. In the last two months, several standoffs have lead to fatalities by Albuquerque police officers.

The most controversial death was that of James Boyd, a mentally-ill homeless man camping in the foothills of the Sandia mountains. Video from an officer's helmet showed that Boyd was shot after appearing to surrender. This tragic incident has fueled angry demonstrations in the city.

On Monday, a swarm of protesters calling for the removal of the chief of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) shut down a city council meeting. Protestors say they intend to do the same at Thursday's meeting. 

Albuquerque is just one example of a long history in America of mistrust between police and the communities they serve.

In April, the NYPD asked New Yorkers to tweet photos of cops helping their community with #myNYPD. The police were hoping to capture sweet photos of a cop helping an old lady across the street or a getting a kid's cat out of the tree. But what did they get? A backlash of images of police violently arresting citizens and using excessive force to uphold the law. It was a naive PR move at best, and at its worst, a clear example of the distrustful relationship between cops and civilians across the country.

But is this an inherently flawed relationship? Or can trust be rebuilt?

For answers, we turn to a man who has felt that distrust deeply from both sides. Norm Stamper was the Seattle police chief during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests—a demonstration that quickly turned violent and ultimately led to his resignation a week later. Norm is now an outspoken civilian advocate for police reform, and he says these instances of excessive force are symptomatic of a larger problem.


Norm Stamper

Produced by:

Allie Ferguson


T.J. Raphael

Comments [4]

Scotty from Southern NJ

Should they be trusted to tell the truth? No. Police are notorious for being professional liars. In so many cases, they've been caught lying on reports, to their victims' detriment. A charge of "assault of police officer" turns out to be assault BY the officer on a hapless victim when a video recording surfaces. They are so used to lying that they still do it sometimes even when they know they're being recorded.

Should they be trusted to uphold the law equitably? No. They create criminals by hassling innocent people and making false arrests routinely with impunity. Many are very good at escalating a minor situation into a major problem that ends with assault of the victim or an unnecessary or false arrest.

Should they be trusted to "serve and protect?" No. For the most part, they serve and protect themselves. Slow to respond, though we often see them sitting in their cars in a secluded location for hours. Some are rude when called for help, and show no interest in helping. When any cops abuse people, the witnessing cops will lie to cover for them; they protect themselves. It's an "us versus them" mentality.

The problem with police is systemic. We have a justice system that typically allows cops to get away with bad and even criminal behavior on the job. So we must attack this problem systemically at the level of elected officials who oversee cops: mayors, city councils, and prosecutors. Video record every encounter with a cop and hold your elected officials accountable for holding their criminal cops accountable.

Jun. 25 2014 01:47 PM
anne sweeney from Peabody, MA

The Police use excessive force in almost every case I have witnessed. They use their plate scanners and now can pull you over if you are one day over on your inspection sticker. High Speed Chases should be called off, once their is a clear and present danger that the public safety is at risk. Tasers should be eliminated, older people who get hot under the collar are Tased and then die. This is use of deadly force. The Police should be more Kai-zen to assist and help citizens, not incarcerate them.
Police should be trained in sensitivity and with the same Citizen training that our Firefighters receive. Everyone loves fire fighters but are afraid or have a dislike for the Police. If the Police advised, gave warnings and helped citizens stay out of trouble through neighborhood interaction, our prisons would not be overflowing.

Jun. 25 2014 01:21 AM
Peter Knipper from SV Albuquerque, New Mexico

As a resident of the unincorporated county that Albuquerque, New Mexico is in Bernalillo with a speech difference- i trust the sheriffs a little bit to not to shot me, and i could talk to them, they could have empathy to me. That being said i have been patted down for talking on a cell phone out side of a grocery store. In the city of ABQ- i have no trust in the cops to be on my side or have empathy with me.

May. 08 2014 02:27 PM
Al Calder

You should respect police, but you should not trust them. This great video from a law professor explains why:

May. 08 2014 11:47 AM

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