How Much Do you Fear Police?

Confessions: Cops terrify me. Some of you may be rolling your eyes at me right now as, in my 24 years of life, I’ve only gotten pulled over once (and it wasn’t even my fault). Nonetheless, police are scary people to me. If I happen to have one behind me while I’m driving, my heart starts racing. I start double checking that I’m doing everything right and start to second guess where my registration is. These stories we’ve heard recently have not been helping anything. For me, it all comes down to the power cops have over the public. If a cop is doing something wrong or illegal to you, there is nothing you can do in the moment. All you can do is report them after the offense or attack has happened. While I’m sure the majority of cops don’t act that way towards the public, I can’t shake this fear. Now, I’m starting to wonder, is this fear irrational? How many share my fear?

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41 thoughts on “How Much Do you Fear Police?”

  1. Hi TK,
    I checked other because I am 68 years old and worry that I will be stopped and get a ticket and that will have a trickle-down effect on my already exorbitant insurance due to my age. My eyes aren’t as good as they once were, my reflexes are slower, and so in general driving is becoming a trickier business than it once was. So yes, I share a fear of cops for different reasons. I agree my fears are not so terrifying as those for people of color, but they are fears that belong to me, and so they are real. Good question! And of course, timely.

  2. I work in law enforcement in a small town, and you’d be amazed at how many people share your plight. If I’m headed to get coffee, and get behind someone, all of a sudden, their speed drops to 1 MPH below the limit, signal lights come on at the right times, and all of a sudden, they’re the best drivers in the world. I’ve actually had someone pull over to let me by, and when I stopped and asked if everything was okay, she told me “Yes, but you’re freaking me out back there.”
    -I cannot speak for every cop out there, but there is intense scrutiny on police. Doing something wrong, illegal, unjust, or whatever can be met with profound repercussions, and this day and age, agencies are upping their screening and hiring requirements to try to avoid picking up people who are going to be problematic in the name of the agency or at the expense of public safety and understanding.
    I am terribly sorry that you’re so afraid of the police, that isn’t why we do what we do. There isn’t any intent on scaring people. Most of us know that, But I know where you’re coming from. What is that old saying? “Do something right, and nobody notices. Do something wrong, and nobody forgets.” – Law enforcement lives and functions as one entity, so when one of our people does something stupid, violent, wrong, or whatever- we all have to wear that mantle. Instead of “that’s what that guy did” the mentality becomes “That’s what cops do” in the public eye. Believe me, egregious acts committed by one cop somewhere is lamented and regretted by the rest of us.
    …But aside from all of that, if you DO get pulled over, ‘second guessing’ on your paperwork isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I get someone who has it all out, right, and ready, before I even get to the window, that often sends a signal to me that “They’ve been here a few times before” and might mean that their infraction was less of a mistake than it is a habit.
    And- full disclosure, even working IN law enforcement, I’m not immune to a bit of nerves when I’m contacted by other agencies who “Want you to call them.” I had a request to contact another agency the other day, and my first reaction was “Uh oh…what did I do!”
    Good luck, smile, and be honest, and you’ll see that we’re not all worth being afraid of. ~AD

    1. I have had a couple good encounters with police. There was one incident where I would give anything to find the officers who came to help and thank them profusely. It’s just that sometimes it feels like a no win situation. To you, having license and registration ready is a sign someone may be in a habit of a certain infraction. To another cop, not knowing where that stuff is might be a sign they are trying to get away from something. I mean, you get in trouble if you don’t have that stuff, right?

      It’s that sort of balance that is a little freaky. It seems like there’s almost nothing I can do to prove innocence and everything I can do to show I’m guilty regardless of which I actually am.

      I don’t mean to cause offense. I really do appreciate the police. In most of the situations where I was in an emergency, the cops present have been very helpful. I just wish I had a solution. I don’t feel like people should fear the police and I wonder why that feeling is so common.

      1. Many, many moons ago, when I was a fresh-faced blogger I wrote a post about children and cops. My theory is that more and more people are growing up these days only associating the police with problems. Childhood exposure to police in a positive manner is limited. Parents (and I have actually heard this now myself) will see us in public and tell their kids “If you don’t behave, I’ll have the officer arrest you.” The local school limits our access to the building because we might intimidate or frighten the kids. There are so many things in place that prevent children from seeing the police as an entity to do good and be of assistance, and instills in them much more the idea that law enforcement is something to be afraid of. As people get older, this ideal becomes cemented with specific instances of police officers doing something wrong in a high profile. Having kids, and working in law enforcement, I can honestly say that I think the fear of the police starts early. Very early. Firefighters are brought into the schools to teach fire safety. When we do that, we get massive amounts of thank-you letters and pictures taken. The police are asked not to come around unless asked. To a five or six year old kid…what sort of message does that send? And how hard will those messages and lessons be to negate down the road?
        Yes- there are morons in this profession who will seek to intimidate, but by and large that isn’t the purpose of the job. But the stigma created by well-meaning but misinformed parents, or well-meaning but misinformed schools and establishments is a really hard to combat.
        This, I think is the answer you’re looking for. At least in my humble opinion, from the inside looking out.

  3. “For me, it all comes down to the power cops have over the public. If a cop is doing something wrong or illegal to you, there is nothing you can do in the moment. All you can do is report them after the offense or attack has happened. While I’m sure the majority of cops don’t act that way towards the public, I can’t shake this fear. Now, I’m starting to wonder, is this fear irrational? How many share my fear?”

    I share this fear and think it is quite rational. They have guns and could shoot someone and there is no way for the dead to report anything.

    1. Exactly. AND if you happen to try to defend yourself, the law will be on the police offer’s side. Is there any time when assaulting an officer isn’t a crime?

    1. What do you mean they don’t have as much authority? I’m really curious about this now. Can you give me some differences between police in Holland and in America?

      1. Well, it’s more that people are not afraid in the sense that whenever they see the police, they’re like ‘oh it’s just the police. They can’t do anything to me’. And it’s a bit true because you’re not easily arrested here even when people get rude to them. Whereas in America I get the impression that the police gets much respect from the community. In Holland we don’t regard the police as that important (mostly because people think they don’t do their jobs well enough). Does this give you a bit of an idea?

  4. I get that. I’m afraid of the police sometimes as well, thinking they’re going to arrest me for failing to surrender my camera when I went to see a movie at the mall.
    It’s depressing how we are so afraid of the people who are supposed to protect us make us feel so unsafe and unprotected. In my case, there are a lot of stories of police corruption here in the PH.

    In your case, I have heard of news of Police acquiring Military Grade equipment to prance around the sub-urban neighborhoods and several cases of Civil Forfeiture as well. Maybe you have at one time heard of this, and it has affected you in some way?

    But statistics that don’t affect the individual make a fear of the police irrational. I just try to comfort myself at the fact that I know a lot of decent police officers, maybe you should get to know your local law enforcement personnel as well to help you with this fear.

    1. I just feel like the police should be trained to deal with the public, not the other way around. There was a video that went around a little bit ago. You see from the cop’s car camera that he’s about to pull out of a gas station, then backs back in. He stops a car that came into the station. This guy has parked and is out of his car. The cop asks for his license and registration. When he turns back toward the car, the cop shoots him. He didn’t die, but he lays on the ground asking repeatedly “what did I do? Why did you shoot me?” The cop said he thought he was going to grab a gun.

      Um, What? Where do you think a person keeps their license and registration. My boyfriend said maybe the guy moved to fast or something. But that’s what I mean. The public shouldn’t have to be trained in methods to avoid getting shot by police. It’s the responsibility of law enforcement to train their police to better avoid shooting innocents.

      I know there’s no easy solution and that most cops are good, but people wouldn’t fear police if there wasn’t an issue that needed to be addressed.

    2. By and large, that military-grade equipment is given to SWAT or SRT teams to help deal with high-profile violent cases. After one of the major natural disasters that nearly destroyed much of the area I live in, the local department was offered to have GIVEN to them a surplus Humvee. No charge. Free. Its yours. The department turned it down because there was no need for it, They ordered new bullet resistant vests some months back, and had to return the outer carriers because they were the ‘tactical’ ones- with the pockets. The town and the department didn’t want to come off as looking militant, so they returned those carriers. The local PD doesn’t even have ARs or patrol rifles. Yes, its a small town, but I suspect you’d find more cases like this one if you were to dig around. Your local beat cop isn’t driving around loaded with surplus military equipment, it simply isn’t necessary.

      1. Well, I only base my statement from a report by Jamie Oliver on HBO. It really isn’t necessary to have police have high grade equipment, but from what I saw on that report, several counties across America have that problem. I could be wrong and misinterpreting a news/comedy show. But I guess could check that episode out and get back to me. I thinks it’s available on YouTube.

  5. The last three times I’ve been pulled over by a cop, it’s been because of their own mistakes. One of those times it was because the cop was having a bad day — and it was only 7:15 in the morning and he was just starting his day!!

    Yes, I fear cops and it’s too bad. Most of them are probably good and decent people just doing their jobs the best way they know how. They are ruined by the bad apples, however, that use their power inappropriately.

    1. Sometimes they really do seem to pull you over for no reason. I guess I understand if they are looking for someone in a specific car… but still. Some just seem so hostile. That’s no good and I can’t imagine that’s even good for handling most criminals, especially if they are non-violent.

      1. The one who was “having a bad day” accused me of staring him down when I passed him. He was in an unmarked car, on his way to his desk job. He then pulled me over for reckless driving. I was so pissed. I got out of my car which you’re never supposed to do. I explained to him my version of events and why I had not driven recklessly and also why I wasn’t glaring at him. I try to be an observant driver. When I pass people or they pass me, I look in their cars to see who and what is going by. He let me go once I gave my version, but I will never, ever trust cops again.

  6. I’ve had different experiences, so it depends on the policeman. Once I was speeding to my fiancees house with medicine i had just picked up for her, that policeman was nice. Once, I was stopped and the policeman was menacing, with his gun aimed and ready, as he was stopping me to find out if I was the culprit in a hit and run. He exercised adequate restraint as I offered no resistance, and we parted just fine. And once, I was at an intersection passing cars as I had seen at least 50 other drivers doing every day, and I was informed it was illegal. I felt that one was unjust, unless the police would enforce it for everyone else. My car was an old beater and not a nice car; I felt I was being singled out. I have driven that section of road daily since then, about a year ago, and have never seen another car stopped for the same infraction, but have watched them do exactly what I did, where I did it. So I think it depends on the policeman. How nice is he? Does he have an unwritten quota to meet? Has he had a rough day? Does he look down on me if my car is not pretty? I really don’t fear them as long as they aren’t flashing their lights or aiming their guns at me, but those moments when they were, especially when I hadn’t done anything I felt was wrong, were pretty upsetting and traumatizing. And the points and the fine made me mad, especially the next day when I watched 5 other drivers do the same thing I had done, and a week later when a cop sat behind me and did nothing when two did it.

    1. I often wonder if some laws are there just as an excuse. The tollways into Chicago have a speed limit of 55 but traffic usually drives at around 70. So, if I cops sees your car and thinks you fit the description of one they are looking for or are just bored, they can pull you over because you’s speeding. I mean, I get that speeding is against the law, but when everyone else is doing it… I just don’t know.

  7. I’ve been thinking a lot about this too lately, and trying to calm my anxieties – wondering if I’m being irrational. But with police all over the country, and abroad using unwarranted, excessive force, I think not.

    1. Isn’t it a shame. When I’m the one who calls the police, I’m not that afraid. It seems when I instigate the contact, they’re nice. But if they instigate contact, it seems far more likely to become a hostile situation.

    2. The instances of excessive force are far outweighed by the number of guys on the street who are doing exactly what they should be, in a manner respectful, yet still pursuant to the necessities of upholding the law. The excessive forces case are put in the spotlight because they’re better news stories. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, it does. But you’re more apt to hear about the bad apples because nobody wants to wade through the thousands of happy-ending stories about old ladies who got their stolen or lost cell phones back, or the street-level drug dealer who was arrested.

  8. I come from a small town and notice a difference between the village and city police. The small town police seem to be a lot friendlier and sociable, not as intelligent, but they often remember you from when you were younger. “Ah, yes. I used to play Frisbee with your dog. That must have been 20 years ago. How is she now?”

    I was walking through Brixton, a suburb of London, and outside my house I stopped to get out my keys. Suddenly a riot van pulled up and the side doors opened to reveal five or six fully equipped futuristic looking cops. All eyes were on me. One of them came out and asked me if I was okay, and if I lived there. I said I was just getting my keys to go inside, and they retreated, the doors closed and the riot van drove away. I felt very protected in a Minority Report sort of way, but I have to say I know I am safer in the small towns where the police are more familiar with the public, they see the same faces, they know the character of the area, and more often than not they are there to serve the community, install trust and really to act as a deterrent.

    Once driving through aforementioned small town I was pulled over doing about 20 through a quiet street. My heart raced as yours did, wondering what the hell I’d done wrong. The officer asked me where I had bought the car from, I mentioned the auction and he said he wanted to go there to buy one for his son, asked me what day the auction was held and so on, then he let me go. I thought he was accusing me of stealing it.

    It’s difficult to know when driving if you’re doing anything correctly with so many rules, and with the media’s portrayal of the police it is tough to know what kind of officer you will be dealing with.

    1. I think there is a difference too. Unless I’m the one who requested the assistance of a city cop (in which case they tend to be pretty nice), they’re just mean. Like they already think you’ve done wrong. I was a passenger in a car when my friend got pulled over. He grabbed his papers so he had them ready for the cop. The cop looked around the car and my friend politley asked “sir, what was the reason I was pulled over?” He was within his rights to ask and I don’t think such a warranted question deservs a hostile answer, but the cop yelled back that he was switching lanes dangerously. In the end, he gave my friend a warning for speeding. The warning said he was only a few miles over the limit.

      I feel like some of the stories I read are like that. People are speaking within thier rights or otherwise doing nothing obviously wrong, and the cop freaks out. Some yell and some take more drastic action.

      However, in a small town, I had a cop follow me out of town. My heart was racing and I was paying hyper attention to the speed limit. As soon as we were out of city limits, he pulls me over. After taking my papers, he asked if this was my car and if I knew why he pulled me over. My answers were yes and no. He then told me the license plate was expired – over 6 months expired. Then I changed my first answer, since it was legally my parents car (It was my high school car and I was just used to reffering to it as mine). Bless his heart he let me call my mom and, when I offered, he took my phone so he could talk to her about what was going on. When all was said and done, he appologized, saying he couldn’t give me a warning because it was so overdue. Since I was driving, the ticket had to be in my name. My parents happily paid the ticket for me since it was their fault. I really appreciated how kind and understanding he was. Never ever have I been treated so nicely or seen someone else treated so nicely when they’ve gotten pull over since.

      Whoa, this got long… sorry. Long story short, I think there may indeed be a difference between city and small town cops.

    1. “Protectively Cautious.” I like that. Every year, in NY, police departments are REQUIRED to sit through “Article 35″ training, which is about use of force. The program is riddled with videos showing police officers killed while doing traffic stops or serving simple cases. Without knowing what you’re up against until the situation is in hand….”protectively cautious” is exactly what that is.

  9. I shouldn’t have any reason to fear the police, but after hearing stories about people getting murdered by law enforcement while in Walmart, sleeping in their beds while the police raid a neighbor, or like the story in Ferguson, unarmed, cooperative and holding hands up in a surrender signal, I’ve come to realize that law enforcement crime is every bit as random and unpredictible as regular crime, and while I’m sure most cops aren’t like that, I can’t be sure which of them are. Just like people who don’t know if the person with an AK-47 in Walmart is a mass murderer or an open-carry demonstrator, as long as police have lethal methods at their disposal, we can’t trust that they will always use them responsibly.

    Unfortunately, I have to contest a few points mentioned by adequatedad earlier. This problem wouldn’t be nearly as widespread if police actually were held up to such an intense scrutiny. But the common thread in all these police murder cases is usually the cop getting off scot-free without so much as a trial. In fact, when the United States attorney general showed up in Ferguson, he didn’t do anything but go around hugging people. If instead, police were visibly arrested, tried, and incarcerated for murder like any other person would be, other cops would probably think twice about shooting at whoever they felt like.

    However, there’s also the “cop instinct” myth to deal with, the gut feeling that police have that tell them someone’s up to no good. Again, look at adequatedad’s example of someone with their paperwork out and ready for the police. Even people who have never been pulled over know that anywhere in this country, the cops are going to ask for your license, registration, and/or proof of insurance. Taking two seconds to pull them from the glove box (I keep mine in a marked envelope for easy access, despite having been pulled over no more than three or four times in my life) could help expedite the process and show a willingness to cooperate. That should not signal to a cop that this person is up to no good. Now if you factor in larger things like race and the assumptions we make (usually without knowing we do it…racism is not usually a conscious choice we make) based on that, a cop might feel compelled, even justified, in taking drastic action over a small matter.

    1. As I understand, on duty cops have different rules… or something. After Ferguson, I saw a lawyer on the news explaining that a shooting by an on duty cop is not the same as a murder by a citizen, no matter the situation. I don’t think a cop CAN be tried for murder and I’m not sure what the highest form of punishment a cop can get for an unjustified shooting. I can understand that because we don’t want cops to be afraid to defend themselves, potentially risking their lives and the lives of others around. There must be a balance we just haven’t found yet.

  10. I’m afraid of the police, and I’ve never had so much as a speeding ticket (because I’ve never driven a car).

    Where I lived years ago, I got stopped many times simply for being a pedestrian. Apparently this is suspicious behavior, because law-abiding citizens all have cars, right? *shakes head* Also, walking with a limp (never mind that I was leaning on a cane and maybe there was a reason I was limping) was considered “proof” that I was up to no good.

    A decade later, I can joke about it and say, “Trust me, you do NOT want to be caught by the cops while carrying a bag full of sci-fi novels!” (Art supplies are also bad to be caught with. Who knows what mischief a person could cause with a small linoleum block and some mulberry paper…?) But it was scary back then, every time something like that happened. Because I knew that there was NOTHING I could do about it.

    1. I never had anything like that happen, but it is odd how law abiding citizens can still feel harassed. Just because a person may not be typical – for example, they may not have an ID because they don’t drive a car or they may not have it on them because they’re not currently driving – doesn’t mean they’re up to no good.

      I get it on some level. Cops don’t spend a lot of time dealing with the best people in society. I imagine it would be a challenge to treat everyone well if your used to people reacting to you in a certain way.

      1. Oh, I had ID on me. It just wasn’t a driver’s license.

        For all I know, that particular cop could have been harassing me repeatedly because he was offended by my height, or he thought a “crippled” person shouldn’t be wearing old combat boots… Maybe he didn’t like my accent. I was never told what I’d done wrong.

  11. Don’t worry. Lots of people in America are afraid of cops. I actually recently read a blog post by a women who had returned from visiting family in Japan and she couldn’t help but notice that in all of her travels, everywhere she went, she never felt afraid of the police as much as she does in America. It’s because no one is regulating what American Police Officers are doing. And even when we do find out that some have done absolutely terrible things, the worst punishment they could possibly receive is being fired. Which is just crazy funny because no matter the reason you’re fired as an officer, you can just move somewhere else and join their police force with no issues.

    As a result, small towns have been seeing a string of police murders and suing the state over it. The money in the settlement they receive comes from tax payers, not the police force. It’s a power struggle that people are just now realizing needs to be checked. I find it so mind blowing that no one noticed this kind of stuff before now. Media really has opened the curtains on some dark archaic practices that those in power don’t see as an issue because, as long as it not THEM why should THEY care if someone’s house is raided by a SWAT Team only to later find out after the deaths of the residents that it was the wrong house.

    Accountability has been lacking for too long but the buck stops here. The citizens are not happy and are not going to take this lying down. I live near St. Louis and I was born there. Words cannot express how proud I am of my home town for standing up and screaming at the top of their lungs, “Enough is enough! Who do you serve? Who do you protect?”

    1. When I went to Northern Ireland, the police there freaked me out. But they were carrying huge guns, larger than I’d ever seen an officer in America carry, and have vehicles that looked ready to go to war. They have some issues over there though, so it makes sense. Here in America, are we really so hostile that we need fear? Or maybe what I’m noticing is the cops fear… do the cops react so because they fear the public and should they?

      1. I think it’s strange for cops to fear the people because, currently there are more cops killing civilians than there are civilians killing cops. Also, if you’re scared, why be a police officer in the first place? Maybe they aren’t being trained well enough or just see all people as criminals? Either way, some laws need to be passed to fix this. People shouldn’t have to live in fear of those who swore to protect us with their lives. For instance, I’m never scared when I see a soldier, just proud 🙂

  12. I come from a family of police officers and still get a little anxious when I am driving and a police car drives by. Of course, It’s actually really easy to forget that cops are people. Yeah, their job is to catch the criminals (and speeders) but otherwise they are no different than you or me.

    1. Very true. And no one wants to be late to work or something because they got pulled over.

      You know, after going through all these comments, I really wish there were more positive stories out there about cops. About everyone. I want well-told positive stories of every day life. I’d love to hear that more often than all the bad stuff.

  13. Most of my experiences with police have been positive. I also assume a respectful tone and admit an infraction (speeding) if that’s the nature; which cops appear to respect. I live in a small town now I believe has too many cops without enough activity to warrant such, so even when it’s plainly obvious you are out for a late night walk (strolling with a coffee or tea should indicate something, I would think) you can tend to get bugged when you’d rather not want the attention. As I work shifts my hours of walking can be when the vast majority of people are asleep…. I like the quiet of it. Irrationally I have a fear of them but it’s not entirely irrational as it’s natural to feel intimidated by authority. I can say I’ve had to be forceful with language a couple of times where I felt unfairly discriminated. I’ve managed it and the cop backs off especially if you can take a stern, factual, but respectful tone. (ie I won’t be bulled tone.) I also imagine a cops job is quite difficult.

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