Finding You In Contempt

I generally refrain from commenting on the specific actions of fellow law enforcement officers, as I found early on that doing so usually always has a downside and rarely results in positive feedback. If I support the officer, I hear claims of the “blue wall” at work and if I find fault with the officer I hear complaints that I am not supporting a fellow LEO. So you see it’s a no win situation.  For those reasons I will not be analyzing the Texas traffic stop of Sandra Bland, which led to her being jailed for several days, during which time she apparently hanged herself. But I would like to address another “expert’s” comments on the subject.

In the days following Bland’s death, the radio talk shows were inundated with experts willing to provide their own interpretation of the stop itself, the legality of the arrest and with whom responsibility for her death lies. During one such segment, a gentlemen introduced as “a lawyer and former police officer” claimed that Ms. Bland was guilty of nothing more than “contempt of cop,” meaning being belligerent to or questioning the officer’s authority, and that this means the stop was illegal. Therefore, the DOJ should be called upon to investigate this as a possible civil rights violation.

If you’ve read my earlier columns, you properly understand how I feel about DOJ civil rights investigations (AKA witch hunts) especially under their current leadership. But let’s leave that for another day, after such an investigation actually takes place. Let’s instead discuss this “contempt of cop” defense.

ContemptYes, one of the reasons Ms. Bland found herself in handcuffs and later a jail cell instead of driving off with a warning was contempt of cop. No, this is not an actual violation that exists in any penal code nor is it valid grounds for an arrest. But it is a blatant show of disrespect and grounds for an officer, such as the trooper with Ms. Bland, to reexamine an earlier decision to issue a warning and instead issue a citation or make an otherwise legal arrest. FYI – traffic violations are arrest-able offenses in many jurisdictions, including Texas.

Many critics look at this “contempt of cop” as a citizen being penalized for exercising their rights. That depends on your point of view. Those critics, and it appears it’s a growing number of citizens, believe it is their right to treat officers in any manner they deem fit and that those officers have no choice but to put up with it because “it’s their job.” The officer’s viewpoint is a bit different. Every citizen has the absolute freedom to exercise their rights and sometimes that includes using cursed language toward an officer. That officer is expected to take a great deal of verbal abuse without recourse. But this only goes so far and is not a blank check.

Every citizen stopped by the police, whether for running a red light or murdering their neighbor, is hoping for some degree of leniency from law enforcement. In most cases, officers are more than willing to grant that leniency to those who are deserving of it and the first sign of being deserving is to NOT attack the officer for stopping you in the first place! A warning is never a right and is always a favor you are hoping the officer will grant to you. Just as with any favor, the first step in getting that favor is asking in a polite and appropriate manner.

The moral of this rant is simple. When stopped by the police, you have ceased to be in control. Accepting that fact is not being a sheep, it is accepting the situation as it is. If you wish to leave the encounter with a warning or reduced charge, then ASK for it but do not demand it. Chances are, you will be surprised how different this stop ends compared to others you may have had.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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1 thought on “Finding You In Contempt

  1. I agree with you Tom. A caution or warning is a privilege, not a right. It is always at the discretion of the officer. What worries me is that to many incidents seem to spiral out of control these days. It is as if they turn into a ‘p*ssing contest’ where neither side wants to be seen to walk away because to do so is to somehow admit defeat.

    In my day as a uniformed cop, traffic tickets used to come in books of 50. We used to carry one that was already in use, along with a fresh unused one. We used to joke that a belligerent motorist would run out of money before we ran out of tickets to issue. Yet we rarely had to go past four or five because the motorist got the message and shut up. If they didn’t things had usually escalated to to a point where they were going to gaol.

    One of the things I found hardest to learn was to be able to apologize to someone whom I incorrectly accused or otherwise inappropriately dealt with. Yet is was a very important lesson that I had to learn, because we all make mistakes from time to time.

    Young cops especially think that an apology is an unrecoverable loss of face. This is simply not correct. It may actually be the right of the person whom you have offended. It may be the cheapest way of keeping your job, avoiding a law suit and avoiding disciplinary action. If the person is a criminal, you will likely have another chance sometime in the future to even the score on your terms. If not, then you may well have left someone with a more positive view of the police that may yet transform into some benefit, especially if that person later sits as a juror in a criminal trial.

    In the Bland matter, the officer who gets my sympathy is the gaoler. No one wants to have a death on their watch, regardless of the cause. I had one very early in my career and it still haunts me (metaphorically).

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