“Stop resisting” is the key phrase that all too often signals excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. It is yelled loudly and often in the course of arrests for events escalated from normally trivial matters, and often matters that subsequently fail the test in court. Theoretically, a faulty arrest negates the resisting arrest charge, but a scratched police officer knuckle in the course of a forceful arrest may get elevated to assault on an officer. Unless there are impartial witnesses to the event, the word of the officer is most often treated with higher credibility than the arrested citizen, and is particularly true when racial stereotyping (racism) is deeply ingrained in the law enforcement and judicial systems.
Many law enforcement officers have learned the “magic” of the key “stop resisting” words. The words become almost complete exoneration of any subsequent use of force to include lethal force, particularly when the officer plays the “threat” (real or perceived) trump card. While it is true that a larger proportion of police officers take their “protect and serve” oath seriously and operate effectively within the law, lax hiring practices, poor psychological evaluations, ineffective or inadequate training, and the culture of law enforcement officers (abetted by police associations or unions) support an alarming number of substandard officers that have no business being in law enforcement.
Post Iran and Afghanistan military combat veterans hired in law enforcement are rarely optimally suited as police officers. Military combat training has absolutely no bearing on effectiveness as a legitimate police officer unless the post 9/11 goal is to build an authoritarian militaristic police state. Combat also results in altered mental capacities. Anyone who has worked with combat veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress can easily relate to the psychological and behavioral issues manifested in the individual. Most frequently, mental stability is the result of drug regimens. Hiring a military combat veteran as a police officer necessitates thorough and frequent independent psychiatric evaluations coupled with serious performance reviews. Anyone who has become mentally detached from the act of killing another human is not suitable for law enforcement.
Although “resisting arrest” is a common systemic issue in law enforcement agencies around the country, the recent New York Police Department findings are illustrative of the magnitude of the issue; 40 percent of the law enforcement officers account for 100 percent of the “resisting arrest” charges, and even more staggering is 5 percent of the officers account for 40 percent of the charges. It takes no statistical analysis genius to conclude that a problem clearly exists.
A possible and very rational method to reduce the trite “resisting arrest” allegation is to require police officers to substantiate the charge with conclusive evidence proving the charge. Five officers piled on top of an individual does not prove the individual resisted arrest, but rather indicates that significant force was used, and that extreme use of force must be proven with absolute facts justifying the level of force. The police officer’s statement alone cannot be taken as singular fact of resistance. Every charge of “resisting arrest” should require independent review and verification that the level of force was justified commensurate with the degree of resistance. “Beyond reasonable doubt” is the test for criminal charges to be sustained in court. If police officers are held to a higher level of accountability than present, it is possible the the catch-all charge of “resisting arrest” and extreme use of force will be reduced. As it currently stands, “resisting arrest” is the officer’s safety net to justify operation outside the law; the charge should be the rare exception rather than the rule as 60 percent of police officers prove that effective operation is possible without extreme use of force.
Clearly, sweeping changes are required in all law enforcement agencies across the country. Those changes require total transparency and accountability for all law enforcement actions. Disparate racial enforcement must also be resolved as a priority item. The initiative, Campaign Zero, that rightly arose from the systemic issues of inequitable policing on a racial basis highlighted by Black Lives Matter are actually issues of great importance to every citizen in the country. Silent tolerance will not solve the problem; it is the problem.