26 learning points from watching a cop lose his temper
A seven-year veteran LEO was recently fired after berating a driver. Here's how to prevent this from happening to you
A seven-year veteran of the Waterbury (Conn.) Police Department was recently fired as a result of his conduct in response to an incident that occurred while he was directing traffic in an intersection after the traffic lights went out.
I would like to take this opportunity to provide some guidance to all officers who reviewed the bodycam of the incident to help prevent what happened to this officer from happening to you.
[How do you respond when another officer on scene gets angry? Share your comments in the box below.]
Traffic direction is a very dangerous duty so:
- Position yourself in a spot, where you are clearly visible in all directions.
- Use as many aids (lights, cones, etc.) as possible to facilitate the safe control of traffic.
- Properly wear your vest to make yourself more visible to the traffic you are directing. The officer had his vest unsecured and loosely thrown over his shoulder diminishing its value.
- Use universal, hand signals that are understandable clear and visible.
- Consider the use of the traffic whistle. One blast means stop, and two short blasts mean go. I always had one available and used it whenever I directed traffic. This is universal, easy to understand and easy to hear. Couple it with hand signals and you will have fewer misunderstandings between you and drivers. It will also keep you from yelling obscenities if you are inclined to do so.
- Blade your body with the flow of traffic to make yourself a smaller target.
- Never ever blindly back up when you are doing anything in the roadway.
- Do not hit a moving vehicle with your hand. It is a little bit like catching a cannonball. You won’t probably stop it and you might get hurt.
- When a violation does occur, do not abandon your post. Get the plate, the direction of travel the violation and radio the information in using good radio discipline. You can even deliver the ticket later if you wish. It is imperative in a situation like this that you continue to prevent serious accidents by finishing your primary mission which is directing traffic.
Making the contact
- When directing a vehicle verbally, decide where the driver should stop the vehicle and then communicate your requests clearly.
- Use caution on every contact.
- Have a defensible “greeting” for traffic violations and use it. For example, “Good afternoon, Ma’am, I am Lt. Dan Marcou of the -------- Police Department. My reason for stopping you today is you failed to stop as required at that intersection behind you. Is there any reason you did not stop?"
- Use appropriate volume and avoid profanities.
- When a driver says “I’m sorry,” or tries to explain their actions, let them do so, and listen. In most cases that start, “I’m sorry,” they will make admissions that you can enter into your police report. The driver also might say, "My child is having a seizure and I am trying to get her to the hospital," which should shift the focus of the stop.
- Let’s be honest. At some point in this career, someone is going to make you angry. Whenever I felt myself getting angry I mentally told myself. “The person who angers you conquers you.” This would enable me to get my professional police mind in gear.
- There are people who will deliberately try to make you angry. This could be a deliberate distraction, or an attempt to trigger you into an overreaction because ending your career would give them great satisfaction.
- Redirect your anger to a justifiable and controlled intensity. Remember that the first person you must control at every scene is you.
- Breathe. Consciously doing survival breathing (deep in, through the nose, after which you push the air out with the muscles of your abdomen) will have a calming, centering, and focusing impact on you.
- If you are going to cite a driver for a violation, then cite. If you are going to lecture a driver, have a prepared lecture that has a positive message for each violation and then lecture them. Do not cite and lecture.
- If you are nearly out of control emotionally, do like this officer Hinkle tried to do. Turn the contact over to your uninvolved backup and ask them to issue the citations. Once this is done, back off and take a breath.
- Make certain the offenses you cite are provable and align with the actions of the driver and not with your level of emotion. Do not cite for a violation you can’t support in a court of law.
When arriving as a backup
- Use caution as you arrive and park defensibly.
- Assess, what is happening at the scene.
- When your assessment is that the officer you are backing up is emotionally and verbally out of control (physically was not the issue here) you can certainly do as the corporal did, who arrived at this scene. Take the officer aside and tell them, calmly “You need to calm yourself.” That was great.
- You can also practice and use the technique called “Officer Override,” which should be pre-trained. You tell the verbally out-of-control officer, “Officer ---- they are trying to get you on the radio,” and motion them toward a spot away from the contact. When the officer that is losing it gets the message and steps away, you take over the contact.”
- End the contact as positively as possible, by telling them to drive carefully as you assist them into traffic if necessary.
This incident was a tragic situation in which an experienced officer lost his temper and then lost his career. All I can do for him is hope and pray that he lands on his feet.
However, after watching this video I concluded there were some learning points that are important to review to help prevent this from happening to one of you.
If you forget everything I said here, there is one thing I would like to finish with that you should never forget. They are the words of my first great law enforcement trainer, Eldon Mueller: “THE MAN WHO ANGERS YOU, CONQUERS YOU!”
- 6 don’ts of directing traffic
- To stay cool is to be cool
- Why you should combat breathe before you leave
How do you respond when another officer on scene gets angry? Share your comments in the box below.
Police1 readers respond
- Just keep your cool but obviously, there weren’t enough officers to assist him with traffic control so it’s really not his fault but his demeanor was whack and you don’t talk to a woman that way, authority or not!
- With all due bluntness, this guy lost his cool throughout and made absolutely no attempt to regain his composure in spite of the fact the woman was apologetic throughout the interaction. It leaves me to wonder how many other incidents this guy has had. As a state resident, I'm glad he got sacked and would not look forward to interacting with him in any capacity where he has a badge.
- Just an observation from a retired cop with over 30 years of experience. This colleague has been judged on this one incident, what had he dealt with immediately prior to this incident? What other traumatic events were in his stress container? Had his colleagues noticed a change in his behavior leading up to this event? We don't just lose it over a single incident, these things build up over a period of time and it is something we need to be aware of. It is quite easy to fire him and get rid of the problem, but how many other ticking time bombs have they got in the department? The department needs to take some responsibility for not picking up the warning signs. The role of a cop is unique and anyone who tries to compare it with that of even a military role has not experienced being a cop. So if you are still serving, please take time to check in with yourself and also look around you to see if any of your colleagues are struggling. The oxygen mask analogy from the plane is perfect, first put yours on then help others.
- I’ve directed traffic before and it's a job that sucks. People do exactly this! The officer did make ALL VALID POINTS! I do understand where he’s coming from. However, he lost his temper. He should not have argued with her like he did. He should have told her like it was, even if he was “yelling,” but she needed to shut her mouth and just admit she was wrong. Arguing with an officer is NEVER a good idea. Civilians tend to forget that LEOs control whether or not you’re going to get a ticket when they pull you over. I totally understand when he said he was emotionally hurt. It’s freaking scary to be almost run over by a car! I was almost run over by a full-sized school bus! And I verbally lost it! Same scenario as this lady in the car completely disregarding the officer in the middle of the road. I called the bus company and gave them hell, in a professional way. Then followed up by sending an official letter. When I told that story to my then fiancé, (I’m the hot head, he’s not), he said she would have been in cuffs. No question about it. We take safety very seriously and when you put others in danger you’re creating a dangerous situation for everyone.
- Excellent points, all! It's SO obvious; sadly, there were two instances (in more than 25 years) where I verbally "lost it." I finally learned before it was too late.
- It’s so easy to verbally lose it when you run high on emotions, like the officer in this video did. I know from first-hand experience. So many people expect officers to be free of emotion and just be robots. But we’re all human and we all have emotions, in a profession where one must be tougher than the average and hide our emotions to a great extent most times, it’s shocking to see an officer lose it. Especially when his life just flashed before his eyes! I believe there are two forms of losing it. First, yelling. Most people yell because of a situation, not usually directed at anyone. And it’s not yelling per se, but talking very loudly, excitable. The second is emotional distress. And that’s what this officer did. He let his emotions get the best of him and he continued to run with it even when his backup tried to de-escalate him. I’m sure if his backup was able to de-escalate him and calm him down he’d still have his career. He most likely would have had to offer a formal apology to the woman for making her cry, even though she was 100% wrong and she still needs to know that; but he’d still have his career.
- What can work is when a department adopts a culture to address issues like this. Some agencies use a code word that everyone has been trained on from the first day on the job forward. That code word initiates an adult "timeout." Your partner says the word and, if properly trained BEFORE the incident arises, the officer will immediately disengage and allow the partner(s) to take over. There is no debate, it is automatic knowing that the reasons can be debriefed at a later time when calm heads prevail. The real challenge is when that officer does not have immediate support. Now we are talking about having personal de-escalation techniques and resilience practices well ingrained. This can help the individual recognize when they are heading down the wrong path emotionally to interrupt that pattern before it gets out of control. No one is immune, no one.
I love that this cop-wannabe was fired for this – they were absolutely right to do so. He wasn't just an abuser on the loose, he was something much more dangerous – an abuser with a gun and a badge on the loose. That's far more dangerous to the community than a driver misreading a traffic situation as a one-time mistake. The driver MADE a mistake – the cop WAS a mistake. If he could treat a decent, apologetic woman like this just because she made a traffic error, how was he treating everyone else out there? And if he had a fear-ridden, rageaholic meltdown over a near miss in traffic, how could he possibly be expected to keep his cool and stick with his training when things got really dangerous out there, for example with a robbery suspect or drug dealer with a warrant? Even as an experienced, extremely safety-conscious motorcyclist, drivers almost run me over at least once a month, and I've learned to deal with it as a rational adult – mainly by taking responsibility for my own role in the incident (and there's ALWAYS two sides of an incident). In this case, the cop was giving sloppy signals, expecting drivers to be mind readers.
The first mistake and most dangerous is not lifting his left hand up to stop traffic and making eye contact. Early in my career I always turned my body to face the oncoming vehicle, made eye contact and used two hands (raising high and visible) palms out to stop traffic. I don't think this was a fireable offense but definitely retraining and suspension. Good luck to this officer and the operator who deserved more respect.
He had every right. Firing him is wrong. Stupidity from drivers is rampant.
I just would take the officer back and tell them, "Just remember we are getting paid to be here.. they're not."
This officer’s actions were not in keeping with the highest standards of law enforcement during this particular time. But, who has done the job and NOT lost their temper like this officer did (or worse) at one time or another? This includes the chief. He’s human and we are all human! He is probably a good cop who is trying to do a crappy job and deal with stupid the best he can day after day. Instead of terminating him, they should have suspended him, and given him time to decompress, and helped him. All they did was fire a cop who would likely never do this again. Good luck finding a competent replacement.
As a therapist who works with law enforcement, all I hear in his voice is a real threat to his life. I understand his fear and concern, but the response was so emotional that it crossed over to being irrational and unhealthy to the unexpecting driver. These points made are so insightful. Peer support is so powerful in these situations.
This officer defended what he got. The lady's car was two lanes away, traveling around ten mph. The officer had to run at a right angle, just to even swipe and hit her vehicle. His hieroglyphic hand movements were not easily discernible, and his vehicle was even blocking the vision of some of the motorists. Wonder what his police work history looked like.
I used to tell my officers, the BWC doesn't lie. I think they have made officers more professional and self-aware of their actions and words. Most citizen complaints are exonerated, obviously not in this case. In my opinion, this officer definitely deserved discipline and anger management unless this was an ongoing problem. Training in traffic directing skills would also have been helpful because his were awful. Finally, how would Officer Hinkle have felt if another officer had talked to his wife the way he talked to her? Very unprofessional but correctable.
You should take him aside and tell him to calm down and that he is losing control of the situation. You should also let him know he shouldn't be screaming and using profanity. He should also let her explain what she thought was going on. His vest didn't look like it was on correctly. He should have been in control and used his training.
It’s really simple: the officer had no self-control and was totally unprofessional. He could’ve handled this so much differently. You can’t talk to people in that manner when it apparently was a mistake or misunderstanding. That happens on traffic control all the time, that’s a risk that we take. In my opinion, the officer was way out of line and totally unprofessional, and he should be disciplined for it.
The firing of this officer is a bit extreme unless there were past complaints against him with documentation to back them up. Remedial training would be a recommendation along with a period of probation.