Cause and Effect by Jan Thomas

Done in One (Thomas Dunne, ISBN: 978-1250054869) tells the story of fictional SWAT sniper Jake Denton. Today, co-author Jan Thomas has stopped by to share some thoughts on police/civilian interaction from her uniquely qualified perspective as someone who has been helping train police recruits for over twenty years.

Cause and Effect

My first novel, Done in One (co-written with Grant Jerkins), was recently published. In the wake of publication there have been interviews, reviews, guest blog appearances and other opportunities to talk about the book.

I soon found myself here, on Elizabeth’s website, reading a guest blog by another writer. The writer had written a first person account of a trip his novel’s main character had made to Ferguson to see what the civil unrest had wrought. He wanted to see what this battle between civilians and cops was all about.

As I read, I recognized that I am in a very unique position to speak on this issue. And it’s not because I’m married to a SWAT Sniper and therefor biased beyond reason. But because of where my perspective is rooted.

The rampant media coverage, stirring the cauldron of animosity with alleged acts of police brutality, even prompted one highly-rated daytime TV host to say, “I don’t know what kind of training these cops are getting, but they clearly need MORE TRAINING.” Well, I DO know what kind of training these cops are getting. At least within the State of California. I’ve spent the last few decades working at a police academy, helping to train new recruits in any and all situations they might encounter as a patrol officer working a beat.

My work involves taking on many roles: suicidal suspect, sexual assault victim, armed robber, ruthless killer, horrified parent of an abused child, domestic violence victim. The job requires verbal sparring of the highest order and the ability to adapt as situations pivot and change, flowing fluidly from one scenario to the next while balancing the fine lines of the law, personal rights and level of compliance and interaction. At its simplest form, it is an issue of “cause and effect.” If you do “A”, it causes me to do “B” and the effect will not be what you are hoping for.

It takes epic mental toughness to wade alone into a brawling crowd of combatants, fueled by liquid courage and ill intentions. A good cop can settle everyone down, have them part ways for the night, and no one goes to jail. It takes even greater mental fortitude to stand still for 10 hours and listen to people scream in your face, spit at you, insult you (and your mother, and your mother’s mother and maybe even your dog) and just let it flow off your back. Add nerves of steel to run towards the gunfire instead of away from it, and the growth of a set of brass balls and the evolution of hopeful recruit to a Sworn Officer is complete.

The crux of the issue is simple. Instructions given by an officer of the law are to be followed. Those are the rules of a civilized society. As a whole, we recognize that certain people, who are charged with the safety and well-being of all, are entitled to ask questions or give instruction at any time and you, as a citizen, are required to answer, listen and/or comply.

Why? Because when a cop says “Keep your hands where I can see them!” and you just shove your fists deeper, it’s not just the fact that you are not “showing your hands”. It’s also the fact that he’s a cop and you are refusing to comply. Lack of compliance usually means trouble in law enforcement. As a cop on patrol, it can mean you’ve pulled someone over for a “fix-it ticket,” not knowing the driver has an open container in the car, which would violate his parole and send him back to prison. That’s why they say there is no such thing as a “routine” traffic stop. You cannot know the mind, history or intent of every stranger on the street.

The ironic truth of the matter is that each individual citizen actually controls the destiny of their own interaction with police. That’s right. It’s really up to individual and how the individual handles things. Cause and effect. Officers are trained to remember that while you might be the 10th call they’ve answered so far this shift, it might well be YOUR first and only time ever needing (or dealing with) a cop about anything!

They are taught, and therefor strive to treat everyone with dignity, respect, and without judgment. They also learn that there are always two sides to every story with the truth usually somewhere in the murky middle. They are trained to deal with every emotion you might express and endeavor to calmly guide you through your situation.

Virtually everything a cop, or a group of cops do, they tell you about it before it happens. They warn you. Repeatedly. “Put your hands where I can see them! Sir, take your hands out of your pockets!” It’s why you’ll hear them yell, “Taser taser taser” after telling you for the fourth time that if you don’t “show your hands,” the taser is coming out. It’s not the cop’s lack of training. It’s the individual’s failure to comply.

Any time you have a large group of people, alcohol and a few loud instigators, you have trouble. I’ve seen Super Bowl celebrations devolve into riots, mayhem and destruction of whole neighborhoods. Cops have taken an oath and sworn to uphold it: To protect. To serve. To keep the peace. That means when they need to clear the streets because other people, who aren’t part of your demonstration or party, still need to get to work to feed their families, they are simply doing their jobs. Even then, they make an announcement like, “People, please begin to disperse. You’ve made your point, hollered yourself hoarse, so please start clearing the area.”

If people start walking away, it goes well for everyone. When a select few choose to stay and then fight about it, it is again, their failure to comply that escalates the situation. Law enforcement officers will announce WHY they need to clear the streets. But if people do NOT listen, it causes an escalation to the next level of “less lethal” enforcement, like tear gas and rubber bullets. Cause and effect.

And should some other citizen take exception to your protest and seek to settle it personally or by physically attacking you? That very same officer you’ve been covering in self-righteous spittle for that last few hours, would step in front of your attacker and protect you. Protect and serve. You are entitled to your opinion. As long as you are not infringing on other people’s rights. Lack of compliance to a uniformed Officer of the Law is a red flag for any cop. And for the society he protects.

This is not a First Amendment issue. The police allow for “protests” all the time. They plan for them, schedule extra officers, and have a visible presence to remind people to keep it peaceful, civil. If you get rowdy, they warn you, several times, just as they’ve been taught, giving you every opportunity to comply. When YOU choose NOT to comply, you’ve chosen the taser for yourself.

I also wonder about this. If there is such rampant police brutality going on, (even with cameras in patrol cars recording their every action) then how is it that a child molester or cop killer is ever “taken into custody”. Wouldn’t these brutal cops rather hunt them down, kill them slowly, and enjoy it?

And why is this such an issue for me? Well, yes, I am somewhat prejudiced in my views based on the life I’ve lived with my “sniper” and the death threats and all the other fun things that go on over the course of that kind of career. But I still think that society needs to look at those failing to comply, not the people keeping the peace.

Because if you choose to harm, hit, beat, fight, or try to kill a UNIFORMED OFFICER, you are telling society that the rules don’t apply to you and you no longer have anything to lose. Yet, cop killers are taken into custody all the time. To stand trial. Why? Because the cop took an oath. An oath to obey and uphold the laws of society and to keep the peace. That very oath keeps him from taking the law into his own hands. Further, society has a justice system and that officer is fulfilling his oath by putting his faith into the system. He hopes that, through due process of law, the cop killer will be judged by a jury of his peers and face sentencing. But whatever the outcome, the cop accepts and respects the verdict. He does NOT take the law into his own hands, no matter how badly he may want to.

I sincerely thank Elizabeth for her generous offer to give me a platform to speak my mind. I know many may disagree with what I’ve written here, but it won’t be the first time that’s happened! Thank you for sharing some of your time with me and reading this far.

Done in One is available from Thomas Dunne (ISBN: 978-1250054869).

Jan Thomas has worked as a firefighter/medic, a role-player at a police academy, a weekly humor columnist and a screenwriter. She lives in Northern California with her husband, a retired law-enforcement sniper, and their two St. Bernards. Done in One is her first novel.

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