To Protect And To Serve – You Can Be Too Smart To Be A Cop, And It’s Beginning To Show

Although this case occurred around the turn of the millennium, I just found out about the Appeals Court in New York who upheld a lower court’s decision that barring intelligent people from the police force is perfectly acceptable.  According to the courts, “the city did not discriminate against Robert Jordan because the same standards were applied to everyone who took the testA1.”  The judge may have thought to himself “Hey, I’ve been functioning as an effective judge in New York for many years and nobody has ever noticed that I’m as dumb as snot.  If I can do it, any police officer can do it.”  I would have thought his decision in this case would in itself have proven him wrong.  Following his logic, it would also be perfectly reasonable to exclude blacks or women from the force as long as you checked the racial and/or sexual identity of every applicant (apparently, it’s only if you forget to ask that you can get in trouble here).  Contrary to what the judge seems to believe, the definition of discriminationD says

. . . making a distinction . . . against . . . a person . . . based on the group . . . to which that person . . . belongs rather than on individual merit.

In this case the group would be “intelligent people”. It stands to reason that to effectively discriminate, one has to be able to tell whether the applicant belongs to said group, which implies that all applicants would be measured by some uniform standard. Not only IS this discrimination, but it’s a very bad idea. Two recent news items should make this clear.

Police Officers Should Be Smarter Than Criminals

The first article is about a prison debate team defeating an elite team from HarvardA.  

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
“But what does an article about the Harvard debate team have to say about the intelligence of the police force?”  Well, in the first article referenced above (A1), it said that the average police test score was around 21, which is barely above average intelligence.  I’m guessing that the student body of most colleges would score higher than that, even at Harvard (although based on the last article, I can see why you might want to question that assumption).  The transitive property in mathematics says that if the inmates are smarter than Harvard students and if the students are much smarter than average, then they are smarter than most police, and the inmates must be smarter than the police.  Don’t fret!  If this math word problem was too tough for you, you might still find success in the New London, Connecticut police department.
Even though I spoiled the ending of the inmate debate story for you the article is worth reading, with some interesting statistics about the relationship between education and recidivismD (repeated or habitual relapse).  At first I found that part of the article encouraging, but in light of this discussion one has to wonder “Does an education make a person less likely to (re)turn to a life of crime or, now being smarter than the police, are these people just less likely to be caught again.”  There are a number of articles like the one from NBC NewsA that say fewer and fewer cases are getting solved.

Police Should Be Smart Enough To Know Who Is The Bad Guy

Another concern is the behavior of the police, themselves.  This court decision would seem to explain a lot of police behavior in the last few years.  I’ve been scratching my head ever since the Trayvon Martin case was decided in Florida (OK, so that was only a police wannabee), but have been unable to comment on every ridiculous case that has made the news of late.  I will take a little time to address the most recent case to come to my attention – that of the teenage WHITE boy who was killed by a police officer for flashing his high-beam headlights at him one nightA.  This whole incident was a simple misunderstanding that any police officer with half of a brain would have resolved peacefully. The boy’s high crime against the state was in believing that the police held themselves to a higher standard than your everyday thug.  He couldn’t imagine that a genuine police officer would take offense to a simple act of courtesy. That was a fatal mistake.  At time 1:03 on the tape, he questions if this is a real police officer. This is not a trivial concern. Go ahead and Google something about being stopped by fake police; there are lots of horror stories and several articles explaining what to do should that happen to you. This officer should know about these rules and be aware of the driver’s concerns, yet he did nothing during the entire encounter to distinguish himself from a fake cop or a common criminal. He is clearly not here to listen and work with his constituents – it seems that he is only on the force to get his thrills by bending everybody he meets to his own will and to feed his bloated ego. That’s how it looks to me. If you are stopped by a possibly fake cop, WikiHowA (and others) say to ask for identification. See how well that went at time 1:26. At any point in the video you could ask yourself “What would a fake cop do right now” and compare that to the actions of this police officer. At the same time, point to any action made by the boy in the first five and a half minutes that suggests he was a danger to anyone. By the time he was tased, he had good reason to fear for his life. And even in those last ten seconds of desperation and utter terror, for the officer to think that the unarmed kid on the way home from church had transformed into a genuine killer, or for the prosecutor to say that the officer had no choice but to murder this boy is outrageous.  The kid didn’t suddenly turn into a homicidal maniac.  He thought he was doomed and was just trying to do whatever it took to stop the torture and get away to live another day.  This officer wasn’t about to let that happen.  I could argue that the boy’s actions in the end were entirely predictable.  If so, and if the officer were taking deliberate action to promote the inevitable as it appears in the tape, then it would be entirely reasonable to charge that officer with first degree murder.  If the prosecutor cannot think of at least a dozen more reasonable ways that the officer could have handled this situation, he should be fired. By closing his eyes to justice he is part of the problem, not the solution because by so doing he is destroying his and the department’s credibility and the people’s trust in the whole establishment. They are not protecting and they are not serving. Neither one of them deserves to be paid with your hard-earned tax dollars.

This is just one example of what could and will happen when the intelligence of your police force is not a priority, and when discrimination (of any kind) is allowed to occur.  But if I were actually smart, and if I thought I could make a real contribution to society by following a career in law enforcement, I would not let the decision of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in this case dissuade me from that goal.  I like to believe that the only reason this decision hasn’t been overturned is because the original plaintiff lost hope in the system and moved on.  Even after the Hobby Lobby decisionC, I retained enough faith to believe that “common sense” would eventually prevail – certainly by the time this case got to the Supreme Court.

How Long Have I Been A Skeptic?

I have no idea when all of this started, but this may shed some light on the issue.  It is the earliest memory I have of me questioning conventional wisdom.

The Story Of The North Wind And The Sun

I was in elementary school in southern California – I don’t remember what grade – when we had an assignment to read this short story.  It’s one of Aesop’s Fables.  If you missed it, or can’t remember that far back either, you can find it at, among other places.  As the story was explained to me, it was supposed to illustrate the superiority of persuasion over force or, at the very least, that the sun is stronger than the wind.  However, that’s not the way I saw it then.  And now that I’ve had years to develop my experience and wisdom, that’s not how I see it today.  Even back then it  was clear to me that both the sun and  the wind had their individual strengths and weaknesses.  The north wind, although not feared in the same way as his cousins, the tornado or the hurricane (a.k.a. cyclone, a.k.a. typhoon), is no slouch and has sunk ships, caused massive amounts of damage ashore, and taken lives.  The sun may seem benign, even benevolent to those living north of the 40th parallel, but large swaths of land have suffered due to his excesses, and in fact he can only be tolerated at distances greater than around ninety-three million (93,000,000) miles.  At the time I read this story, I was not aware of all of these statistics or the full power of either of the contestants, but even then “I wasn’t born yesterday”.  We didn’t get snow in southern California, but it can get windy enough to appreciate the north wind’s power.  And then there was that story about the three little pigsA, which showed the destructive force of wind (caused in this case by a lone wolf).  On the other hand, in the summer the sun was so strong that people used to say they could fry an egg on the sidewalk.  By the way, nobody in southern California ever claimed to be using the power of persuasion when they are trying to fry eggs.

It was clear to me back then that the sun was obviously smarter than the north wind, and designed the rules of this friendly little contest to take best advantage of his own talents.  The goal was to get the man to take off his coat.  Had the contest been to get the man to put ON his coat, most of us can see that the sun wouldn’t have had a chance.  The first lesson for the north wind might be to be wary of letting your opponent make the rules.

Secondly, it is crucial to be aware of your own limitations.  For the north wind to think that a strong, cold breeze could force somebody to part with their coat is delusional.  One can never improve if they don’t even know where they are deficient.  And even if it is not possible to correct a particular flaw, as long as you are aware of it, there may be a way to compensate.  Odysseus was an excellent example of this in his dealing with the sirens (scroll down to the eleventh section of “The legendary story of Odysseus”).  By taking the advice of a women (Circe) and making allowances for his weaknesses, Odysseus was the first person to listen to the Siren’s great song and live to tell about it.

The final lesson to be learned from this story was that a good public relations team is worth its weight in gold. The way they put that spin on the sun’s use of force was masterful. Unfortunately, this is a lesson I’ve had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around, to my own peril. Even today I don’t put enough effort into public relations, continuing to hold on to the naive belief that if you work hard, your efforts will automatically be noticed and you will be rewarded – even though experience has disproved this theory time and time again.  Seemingly, some people never learn. Being able to learn from your own mistakes is crucial.  If you could learn from the mistakes of others, you would be well ahead in the game.