Cop confusion

Being a uniformed policemen requires few conventional job skills. You certainly don’t require qualifications or experience; the main thing you need is a limited degree of physical fitness.

Given the meagre entrance requirements, policemen are paid notably more than their talents would earn them in any alternative job open to people with the same level of qualification and experience, such as toilet cleaner or roadsweeper. Presumably the reason for this is that policemen are at a moderately greater risk of personal violence than a toilet cleaner or roadsweeper.

If we were morally coherent, then, we’d view a policeman who was shot as no more heroic than a labourer who died in an industrial accident: both people died doing moderately dangerous jobs, because they were willing to trade increased personal risk for slightly higher pay than the minimum wage. The most notable difference between the two situations is that what builders do is unequivocally useful.

So why do we regard people who assault or kill cops as *worse* than people who assualt and kill members of the public?

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6 thoughts on “Cop confusion

  1. Rather harsh, no? Policemen have to know quite a lot, especially about the law; perhaps not the technical side but at least working practices, which is more important anyway. True, you don’t need a uni qualification to join the police but, if you have one, you can be fast-tracked to a promotion, something you wouldn’t get as a toilet cleaner. Maybe qualifications aren’t so important simply because there isn’t much you can do that would be relevant to joining the police. As you said, it needs "few conventional job skills" though I disagree that being fit is the only requirement. Imagine if all our police recruits had to come from a relevant background and experience; they’d be all ex-army types. Fun.
    Anyway. The (on average) nine-month selection procedure should indicate that they’re looking for more than just the ability to run around without breaking a sweat. And the thirteen weeks of police training followed by two years probation as an officer translates into quite a lot of experience in itself.
    I don’t think that we view criminals who kill police officers as somehow ‘worse’ than those that kill civilians. I certainly don’t. But I think we can identify with the tragedy of someone losing his life because of his job. Police officers know the risks and, as members of the public who prefer not to take those risks even for ‘slighter higher pay’, we respect that and are sorry that they were killed in their official capacity. On a personal level, it’s someone getting killed and thus the murder like other murders.

  2. For the same reason that lying in court is considered far more serious than lying in public.

    We rely on the institutions of the law to protect us from anarchy, so any attempt at interfering with their function, from telling porkies to assaulting or killing police officers, is seen as being a rather bigger deal than the physical act would normally imply, because there’s a symbolic importance that you don’t get with a straightforward mugging.

  3. The post is probably unfair. It was set off by reading some American references to ‘cop killers’ that seemed to imply they’d done a uniquely evil and bad thing compared to other killers, which seemed wrong. And since all my experiences with uniformed police (on- and off-duty) have been negative/neutral, I’m not in any particular mood to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    My constructive thought on the police would be to go for much greater specialisation: effectively, restructure the police around CID, with civilians doing most of the paperwork, crime reference number issuing, and trivial interview work that uniformed officers spend the majority of their time doing. Detectives would continue to do difficult interviews (and specialists with counselling and legal training could do rape and other sensitive interviews). Hire PR people to do community liaison stuff – they might actually be able to get kids to listen…

    The uniformed force could then be cut back to much smaller number of highly trained, intelligent, hardcore non-psychos (I know the supply of such people is limited, which is currently part of the problem), and would only be used on occasions when significant force was required – arresting violent people and intercepting crimes that were actually taking place.

    (BTW, I edited the comment above to sort out italics – hope this is OK…)

  4. Correct comment order is Ista > (Michael and me at about the same time). I have no idea why it’s all gone horribly pear-shaped. If this comment makes no sense, then I’ve fixed the problem.

  5. I just got through reading Bent Coppers by Graeme McLagan which made me hate all police types for a few days, so I get it. I like your PR people-community liaison thing idea. Less walking around looking imposing and more positive action would go a long way.

    And thanks for sorting out the italics thing, I really shouldn’t play with tags I don’t understand.

  6. To me, an American living in New York, I can say that "we" absolutely do view cop-killing as worse than normal person-killing. I’m split as to whether it’s an artifact of the post-9/11 canonization of our (long-reviled) police forces, or whether it’s a mask for still deeply held feelings of hatred for the police.

    But it definitely smells like bullshit to me.

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