Should the constitutional cop be fired?
You are never off duty as a police officer when it comes to how you represent yourself, your agency and your responsibilities
This article was first published on the Calibre Press website.
By Jim Glennon
Port of Seattle Police Officer Greg Anderson, a former Special Forces soldier who served in combat theaters overseas, is in the news.
He may be fired. Why?
Anderson made a video and posted it to social media. The video essentially addresses the need for officers to uphold their oath to the Constitution of the United States and resist enforcing “tyrannical orders” decreed by state governors around the country – decrees that are unquestionably (outside of very limited circumstances) and completely unconstitutional.
The officer’s video garnered hundreds of thousands of views in a very short period of time.
In it, he says, “I have seen officers around the country enforcing tyrannical orders. I’m seeing people arrested or cited for going to church, for traveling on the roadways, for going surfing, for opening their businesses, for going to the park with their families…”
He addresses a case in which undercover agents set up a sting to arrest women doing nails in their own houses.
A little over a minute into his nearly nine-minute video, Anderson makes a statement that resonates with many police officers around the country.
“We need to start looking at ourselves as officers and thinking, ‘Is what I’m doing right?’”
He continues: “We don’t have the authority to do those things to people just because a mayor or governor tells you otherwise. I don’t care if it’s your sergeant or chief of police; we don’t get to violate people’s constitutional rights. It’s not how this country works.”
Anderson then reads from the Constitution of the United States. He articulately produces examples of police officers blatantly violating several amendments by stopping people from protesting, blocking people from going to church, and making traffic stops merely to find out where the driver is going.
And he is right – at least when measuring such government intrusions against the document that is the Bill of Rights.
Anderson has a solid argument, and its one that I can guarantee is being made by many (if not the majority of) officers in this country right now. Just take a look at our survey on COVID-19 decree enforcement.
Very few want to monitor and mandate the behavior of adults going about their daily lives. Even fewer agree with it. I’ve yet to speak with a police officer who looks forward to enforcing social distancing rules and documenting/citing mask violators. One recently said to me, “They are asking us to be glorified hall monitors for grown-ass people.”
In a follow-up video that was recorded as an update of his current situation and status a few days later, Anderson states that he is shocked his speech went viral and was surprised at how well his video was received. He says that even his agency’s command staff was supportive of the video and its contents, and notes that one of them personally called to offer his support and to thank him.
Hours later, however, the winds shifted. Anderson received another call from the very same commander. This time, he was ordered to take the video down.
He refused on the very same grounds that he passionately articulated in his first video: right is right, and the Constitution trumps non-legislated laws decreed by one elected official.
So, he was put on administrative leave pending dismissal. He was put there by a chief whom Anderson respects greatly.
Greg Anderson is a husband and father who has a family to support. He knew this when he made the decision he knew would most likely result in his termination. All the officer had to do – and still must do to keep his job – is simply remove the video from social media.
He won’t remove the video.
To many, he is a hero in more ways than one.
I agree with that assessment, by the way: He is a hero. The man has served his whole life. He risks his life domestically and has risked his life in foreign countries. He has personal convictions, and he stands and lives by those convictions – the same ones that are shared by most of his brothers and sisters in law enforcement.
A GoFundMe page with a goal of $50,000 was set up to support Anderson. As of this writing, it has exceeded $400,000.
Good for him. I’d love to have a drink with Officer Anderson and talk God, country, politics and family.
So, obviously, I support him and his video, right?
Well, it’s not that simple.
I support, in principle, basically everything he said, as well as his right to say it.
However, it’s the how, where, and when he said it that causes the conundrum.
It’s Complicated – Or Is It?
I’d like to go back to two things I already addressed: Emergency decrees and Officer Anderson’s chief.
Concerning the constitutionality of the edicts established by governors during this crisis, I wrote, “…decrees that are unquestionably (outside of very limited circumstances) and completely unconstitutional.”
Thanks to the pandemic, we obviously find ourselves in very confusing and unique circumstances.
Do state constitutions give their respective governors the authority to suspend the constitutional rights of its citizens for a limited amount of time in order to survive certain crises?
The answer is yes. But then comes the sticky mess.
Does one person (a state governor) get to determine what defines a “severe enough crisis” which allows that same person to suspend the average citizen’s constitutional rights? Does that sole individual have the ability to prohibit the average person from walking down the street, attending church, or assembling with friends? Can that same person, on his or her own, determine that such a suspension should be established with no clear end in sight? Can the benchmarks for returning to freedom from government oppression be moved at the will of that very same person? Can the emergency be declared in perpetuity?
All good questions – solid questions. They are questions I have in my own mind, have discussed with my family, and that keeps me up at night (and see that I wake up quite angry). They are also questions that support Anderson’s primary arguments, but we won’t attempt to answer them in this article.
On to Anderson’s chief – a man he very much respects and, in fact, likes. The same chief that respects and likes Officer Anderson. How do I know? He made a public statement on the Port of Seattle Police Department Facebook page. Read it! It’s incredibly professional, personal and pointed. It also addresses a reality about the restrictions of making the law enforcement profession a career and life choice. And it is a life choice.
Anderson’s chief explains that you are never off duty as a police officer when it comes to how you represent yourself, your agency and your responsibilities.
Anderson put his chief in a bad spot. The policies concerning the use of social media are there for a reason. On top of that, the first time I saw Anderson’s original video – no matter how much I agreed with the vast majority of it – my thought (as a guy who was in command for 15 years) was, “Why the hell is this guy doing this on duty, in uniform, in a squad car? There is no way this fits in policy.”
Before you argue over the First Amendment rights of police officers, the Supreme Court has addressed it several times: their rights are limited. And I suspect that the Port of Seattle Police Department’s social media policy is both necessary and solid in scope.
Just because I and 99% of those watching agree with Anderson’s points, it doesn’t allow for a violation of policy. You can’t ignore policy violations just because you agree with the intent of the violation or are fond of the officer in question.
While watching Anderson’s follow-up video, I was hoping that he was going to say he took down the original video recorded inside his squad car and was going to re-record it as he sat in his gym, without mentioning his position or police department.
It’s possible that a re-recording may still have violated the department’s social media policy; I don’t know. But it’d be a longer leap to go after his job, which his chief obviously doesn’t want to do.
True Leaders make the Tough Decisions
I seem to be walking both sides of the fence here, so let me clarify: I agree with Anderson’s general beliefs. I think many state governors are way over their skis when it comes to their actual powers. Many of their edicts make no sense, are certainly inconsistent and very arguably unconstitutional. And they appear to give no thought toward the pressures they put on the average cop and how enforcement is going to set back community relations. As a cop, we are trained to follow well-established laws – not gubernatorial edicts.
But Anderson didn’t just make a case for the resumption of the Bill of Rights in that squad car. He advocated for officers to defy the direct orders of their chains of command, while in uniform and on duty.
Chief of Police Rod Covey, by all accounts that I’ve seen (including from Anderson himself), is an incredibly honorable human being. He is an experienced cop who cares about his officers – probably to the point that he would give his life for each and every one of them without hesitation. But he is definitely in a tough spot, and it’s probably not as political as most may think it is.
It’s a matter of order, consistency, structure, and, above all, trust among the ranks that policy violations will be objectively enforced.
Police officers live by rules, orders, laws, and policies – many that we don’t like, even as bosses. But if they are legal and they are designed for the betterment of the department and the department’s reputation, then they must be abided.
Chief Covey gave Anderson a reasonable out in my opinion. I wish he took it.
To many around the country, Covey is seen as the bad guy.
Is he? I don’t think so. To me, he seems like a solid leader. From his post on Facebook, he seems like an honorable man and police officer.
In this, I agree with Anderson once again: Covey seems to be the kind of guy I’d love to work for.
About the author
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration and is the author of the book "Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement."