How 'comply and complain' can prevent a future Ferguson

Something we’ve seen altogether too little media coverage of is the fact that in many of the controversial cases where an officer has used deadly force on a subject, that subject did not comply with lawful orders

Imagine that the date is August 7, 2035, and a police writer has sat down to chronicle the post-Ferguson era of law enforcement. What would they write?

A good historian would undoubtedly include tales of our cops’ courage (like this, and this, and this) and compassion (like this, and this, and this) — heroics demonstrated time and again in the past year.

However, so far this chapter in our history is dominated by controversy and conflict. Much of what will be remembered from the past 12 months will be acrimonious debate over race and officer-involved shootings and violent conflicts between protesters and police in places like Baltimore, Cleveland, and Seattle

This Chapter Remains Unfinished
All of the above may be true, but we must recognize that the history of policing in the post-Ferguson era will not be one year in duration — the past 12 months will comprise just the first few paragraphs. Perhaps our hypothetical historian’s chapter on law enforcement in the early 21st Century will conclude with what changed in the years yet to come. 

Let’s consider what our future history might hold if cops and citizens do what it takes to bring this war to a peaceful end. What if this chapter in police history is entitled How America Adopted Comply and Complain?

Something we’ve seen altogether too little media coverage of is the fact that in many of the controversial cases where an officer has used deadly force on a subject, that subject did not comply with lawful orders. There is not enough time or space to examine each instance, but as August 9th approaches, let’s consider the incident at the intersection of Canfield Drive and Caddiefield Road. 

When Officer Darren Wilson came upon Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson, the pair were walking down the middle of the street. Regardless of whether or not he had ID’d them as the suspects in the strong-arm robbery of those Swisher Sweets at the Ferguson Market, Officer Wilson had the full legal authority to order the two young men to the side of the road, where they would:

  • Not be in jeopardy of being struck by a passing vehicle, and 
  • Not be disrupting the neighborhood peace by blocking traffic

Not only did Michael Brown not comply with the lawful order to move out of the street, he escalated his non-compliance to a violent physical confrontation with Officer Wilson. He bludgeoned Wilson with his fists, and then attempted to take Wilson’s sidearm. Bad things tend to happen when people do this, and our citizens need to be educated about that fact. 

Unfortunately, law enforcement officers and trainers cannot be the people to deliver this message — we must enable others to do it. Law enforcement professionals should reach out to community leaders — from public school teachers to pastors in pulpits — to give them the tools they need to educate the masses. They need to know and understand the term ‘comply and complain.’

Community influencers need to tell the people that when told by police to do something, the best and safest course of action is to do it. In the event that an individual feels their constitutional rights have been violated, they may seek redress, remediation, and remuneration after the fact. They may file a complaint against the officer. They may even sue the department. But a person cannot have their day in court if they’re dead (their family can, but they cannot). 

There is no question that officers have the ability to influence the outcome of citizen contacts. Two acronyms — ATM and QTIP — immediately come to mind:

  • ATM: Cops who use the Ask, Tell, Make method tend to — as Gary Klugiewicz says — write shorter reports. 
  • QTIP: Remember to Quit Taking It Personally when a subject attempts to escalate a contact to confrontation. Get control, obtain compliance, and get on with the next thing at hand.

But it is imperative that the people on the other side of the equation take responsibility for their actions. If law enforcement helps the community embrace the concept of comply and complain — an old idea we need to make new again — the history of this time in law enforcement could potentially have a very happy ending indeed. 

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2021 Police1. All rights reserved.