Police Officers Are Not Superhuman

by Jamison Koehler on January 6, 2013

In some cases, you can understand the tremendous amount of deference that is accorded by courts to a police officer’s experience.  Only an experienced officer, for example, might know that a particular type of package is used to deliver drugs in a neighborhood.

Other times you have to question this deference. Police officers do not have superhuman capabilities; they have no ability to see through walls or into the closed cabinets that may shield contraband from plain view. Moreover, they usually view everything in the worst possible light, finding criminal activity wherever they look. Coming across a group of young men standing on a street corner, for example, a police officer might see a drug deal in progress or a robbery about to happen.  The rest of us – the uninitiated — see a group of students waiting at a bus stop.  “Disorderly” for us is a group of young people having some fun.

Why is it that a suspect, when confronted by the police, will inevitably reach for the one area he does not want the officer to search, thereby drawing the officer’s attention to it?  I can understand this in gun cases:  guns are heavy and you might want to secure the firearm to your waist before you start to run.  But a packet of marijuana in your coat pocket or shoe?

And why is it that officers always have the good fortune to reach precisely for that area that contains the contraband, always lucky with the first guess?  I had a gun case a while back in which the officer, suspecting my client of public urination, came up from behind and grabbed him in the groin area.  What a stroke of luck:  The officer could have gotten his hands wet.  Instead, he recovered a shotgun.

Compounding the problem is the 20/20 hindsight the officers employ whenever they take the stand. With their recollections skewed by a desire to confirm their initial suspicions and to secure a conviction, police officers do not lie or shade their testimony.  Except, of course, when they do.

I appreciate the work that police officers do on all of our behalves.  I really do.  I myself am a first-class scaredy-cat when it comes to these things.  I am running away from trouble at the very moment police officers are running toward it.  The problem is when officers feel they must do the prosecutor’s job in addition to their own. Joe Friday had it right with “just the facts, ma’m.” You have done your job as soon as you make the arrest.  Let others sort things out from there.

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Letter to an Honest Cop

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