Monday, August 20, 2007


It is the opposite of writer's block. Working on the introduction to the citizen's guide to police use of force, I find myself wanting to say three distinct things. Three solid, powerful reasons that the book needs to be written and, more importantly, needs to be read. Yet the ideas don't blend in an easy way and I'm also unwilling to let any of them go.

The obvious thing to do is to skip the introduction and get to the meat. The obvious on how officers are trained, what they are taught about the use of force continuum and how they are taught to make those decisions will practically write themselves. The deeper chapters on how experience with violence enhances and deepens the training will be easy (and fun and probably therapeutic) to write. Skipping the intro is obvious and I will do it if I need to, but in the past I've used introductions as a sort of mission statement- here's the problem, this is who I am and why I'm writing it, this is why you need to hear it. It not only sets the tone for the reader but I use it to set the tone for my writing.

It's just hard to choose. All of the facts and images will be used, but which should be the first one that the reader sees? Here are the options:

1) Contrasting caribou and wolf with living rooms and grocery stores hits the theme that violence is the natural environment of life. Violence is and from the very richness and abundance of our lives we have the luxury to pretend that it is an aberration. We pretend that it is horrible and wrong, think that it is odd when it happens but we know we are lying to ourselves. This cognitive disconnect drives us to create theories that are little better than fairy tales or whistling in the dark. Worse, when faced with the people who do deal with violence, citizens tend to marginalize them, pretending that the officers and soldiers are somehow broken and unreliable. The equivalent of putting fingers in one's ears and going , "lalalalalala I can't hear you!"

2) Society has largely decided that violence is bad, but isn't quite stupid or suicidal enough to have forgotten a basc truth: force is the ONLY thing that can stop violence. This possibility would talk about the long term effects of other strategies, such as appeasement and denial. Our solution is to create a profession who exist primarily for the application of force for the good of and protection of society. This also creates a cognitive dissonance. In other societies with recognized warrior castes, this wasn't a problem- but where we recognize the need for good force, but still feel that force is inherently bad it separates the protectors of society from the society that they protect- to the point that they don't understand the officers and soldiers.

An aside, and something that I am afraid will drive some people up the wall: I absolutley consider the officer's point of view to be superior to and clearer than the citizen's. All officers have been and are citizens; few citizens have been officers. If someone has lived on both sides of a line, I feel that their conclusions about that line are inherently more valid than someone who has only seen one side.

3) Judging from ignorance- this is one of my personal drives in writing the book so I may be too close, or maybe close to the bone is just what it needs. If a plane crashes, the people who pass judgment are pilots and aircraft engineers. If someone dies on an operating table, doctors hold an inquiry. If someone dies after a use of force (the wording is deliberate, there- sometimes officers kill people, but sometimes people crash cars or their heart gives out or the balloons of meth in their belly pop) reporters, politicians, citizens groups most of whom have never been in a fight; many of whom would have no chance at keeping their temper after just a few minutes of verbal abuse... feel perfectly free to judge.

This might be the key. I don't mind being judged. I am aware that I am an instrument of force for society (possible intro 2) working with dangerous people (possibility 1- see why I am having a hard time writing it? Everything blends) and the people have a right and a responsibility that the force I use is in fact for the good of society. My problem is with ignorant judges. People who don't know the policy, keep confusing a use of force or a shooting with a "fair, clean, fight" or a John Wayne movie. People who get their ideas about either crime or violence from entertainment: TV, books, movies. When force is used, it must be used to professional standards. The people evaluating it must be familiar not only with the professional standards but also the environment.

Partly, I'm even more concerned that the people who need to read this book either will not or have too much ego entrenched in their point of view to listen. But that's just despair. That won't slow me down.


Kai Jones said...

Confusion about your thesis might mean you have more than one book to write.

However, as I read your three points, I imagine a sturdy building. The first one is the foundation without which the others fail to convince; the second arises naturally out of a thorough understanding of the first joined to the belief that *changing* that truth is both impossible and undesirable.

If you particularize the third to the situation under discussion rather than focusing on its universal truth, you can tell that it also logically arises on the foundation of the other two statements.

I think your most fruitful inquiry would be into your goal. What do you want to accomplish through this book? I think the answer to that question is the most important template for how to write it, including the introduction.

Anonymous said...

A while ago you told a story about an autistic kid who was walking around aimlessly while swinging a large blunt object. The disparity between the resulting news article, and the reality of the situation as you explained it, brought home the point that I think you're trying to make with this book. I think that beginning with an example like this, and following with option two would be the best choice.

In my opinion, options one and three are bad choices for an introduction, because your assumptions: that either violence is inherent in human nature, or that violence is completely different from what people expect, differ from the assumptions of at least a portion of your audience. You can beat home those points later on, but I think that pages 1-15 aren't a strategic place to do so. However, most people can agree that certain individuals need to be separated from the rest of society for a period of time, and that this is going to entail a certain level of force.

Regarding despair: For what it's worth, I never considered prison guard to be an admirable profession before I started reading your blog.


Mac said...

Sounds like the prospective readers need some force used on them to get them to feel the point. Only, verbal force is all you've got to work with, or maybe some nice pictures.

Anonymous said...

Personally I believe the book is in number two. I have a feeling that lots of people actually do believe that violence is not necessary. The news says you guys are gun happy bullies, criminals say you beat the hell out of them for no reason, psychos say they needed help not hit, the crack guy was under the influence-his mama says he is such a good boy. The LEO is under a gag order from the department. Your side never gets a chance to be heard, at least by the general public. Therefore, they are human and judging is what we do. Problem is we are judging with only half the facts which are mostly lies to begin with. Write a book that tells the complete stories-why shooting the guy was the last and only choice, and weave points one and three in with it. Let me stand beside you, feel the fear, know the lack of options, experience your oath to protect. Maybe I am crazy, but I believe most (not all) people will give it a fair shake IF they know all the facts. Most of us just never get that chance, that is until you write this book. Point two helps me to understand, point one and three is maybe venting cause I don't??


Kai Jones said...

I responded to your comment on my LJ; I don't know if you go back and look for those.