Pet Peeve

Just heard a clip from what sounds like a strong speech by Hillary Clinton at the A.M.E. Church centennial in Philadelphia tonight, in which she spoke of the explicit bias evident in police-involved killings of Black Americans; of the brutality of the events in Dallas, made yet more bitter by the fact that the Dallas police department’s engagement with the kind of policing we seek; and the need to get guns under control.

All good, though I’m sure that, as Clinton said, the fact that she juxtaposed the fact that Black lives matter with a massacre of police officers and the third-rail issue of gun control will enrage many.

So what am I kvetching about?

A phrasing that she used that is common, wrong, and both an expression of and a part of the problem: her use of the dichotomy “police and civilians.”


Police are civilians.  They are the civil power.  They are not soldiers.  They are subject to the rule of law adjudicated within civilian courts — not military justice.  They are tasked with special powers and thus burdened with specific responsibilities and duties — but they’re civilians.  They answer to mayors and (civilian) police commissioners and city councils and ultimately the public.

It’s an expression of the dangerous militarization of the police to distinguish them from “civilians” — those who are in fact citizens, fellow citizens, the commonwealth.

Say “police and the community.”  Say “police and the public.” Don’t say them and us, even when that’s too often what’s felt.  We can’t get from there to here if we encumber cops and everyone else in language that preserves the wall between those of our fellow citizens who carry badges and guns and those whom they serve.

/Rant over.

Image:  Paulo Veronese Christ and the Centurionmid 16th century.

101 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    Online dictionary says you are wrong.

  2. 2
    redshirt says:

    Fuck the police, coming straight from the underground.

  3. 3
    jake the antisoshul soshulist says:

    The problem is that police too often promote us vs. them.

  4. 4
    Trentrunner says:

    I would add calling those killed “the fallen.”

    Just a weirdly ennobling and obfuscating euphemism.

  5. 5
    Vickie Feminist says:

    Great point about us not being”civilians” when we are seen as separate from the police. Thanks. And thanks to the BJ community for the sense of folks coming together during a terrible time.

  6. 6
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Baud: F**k ’em I say.

  7. 7
    Mike J says:

    Tweet it at Meg Rooney. Find the one that’s a speechificator first.

  8. 8
    FlyingToaster says:

    Hear, Hear.

    Even the Roman Empire distinguished between the vigiles (the combined police and fire patrol) and the Urban Cohort (SWAT/riot police).

  9. 9
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    While it is technically correct etymologically, I agree that it emphasizes the militarization of the police, which is the lst fucking thing we need in the US. It’s here, of course, but for the love of g*d, let’s not approve of or endorse (however tacitly) the concept.

  10. 10
    Baud says:

    @Tom Levenson: After further research, Webster’s includes the police (and firefighters) as non-civilians, but the OED limits it to armed forces.

    ETA: Although OED does have this general definition:

    A person who is not a member of a specified profession or group.

  11. 11
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    It’s a good point, Tom, but it’s nothing new. Non-LEO have been referred to as “civilians” for decades. Anyhow, I think context makes it pretty clear what is meant.

    (Edit: But for god’s sake, don’t get me started on “decimate.”)

  12. 12
    Baud says:


    Full Definition of civilian

    : a specialist in Roman or modern civil law

    a : one not on active duty in the armed services or not on a police or firefighting force b : outsider 1

  13. 13
    JPL says:

    I just watched Atlanta Mayor Reed greet the crowd and say that protests are welcome but they can’t close the freeway. He walked out in the crowd.

  14. 14
    Mike J says:

    @Baud: Dictionaries are descriptivist, not prescriptivist. Definitions reflect the many wrong ways people use words. Professional crafters of words should be much, much pickier than dictionaries.

    (Did I have a comment eaten?)

  15. 15
    Baud says:



    Full Definition of decimate

    transitive verb

    : to select by lot and kill every tenth man of

    : to exact a tax of 10 percent from

    a : to reduce drastically especially in number b : to cause great destruction or harm to

  16. 16
    PeakVT says:

    This has been a peeve of mine for while. Police are civilians, are not above the law (nor should they be protected by exceptional law, as in Louisiana and probably elsewhere), and are supposed to protect the public and preserve the peace, not merely enforce the law. Shooting nonviolent members of the public who are obeying the law does not protect the public or preserve the peace in any way, and the fact that the police often get away with such misdeeds erodes the people’s trust in the law (which many members of AA community don’t really have in to begin with, for good reasons).

  17. 17
    Baud says:

    @Mike J: @Mike J: It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

  18. 18
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Mike J:

    Dictionaries are descriptivist, not prescriptivist.

    Depends on the dictionary. I own both a Webster’s Sevond and a Webster’s Third.

  19. 19
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Yup. It does NOT mean “to destroy utterly or completely, to demolish,” although that is how nearly everyone uses and understands it. So I can no longer use the word because it is almost certain to be misinterpreted and misunderstood.

    And that makes me ever so sad.

  20. 20
    Baud says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: The original meaning has been decimated.

  21. 21
  22. 22
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Sometimes I hear locutions like “totally decimated” or “50% decimated” and my head starts to splode.

  23. 23
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    What in the ever-loving blue-eyed fuck does this comment have to do with what the grownups here are discussing? Back to the nursery with you, young feller.

  24. 24
    dmsilev says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: I assume ‘50% decimated’ really should be ‘semimated’.

  25. 25
    Gelfling545 says:

    @jake the antisoshul soshulist: That mindset is part of their training, or it used to be so in the past. I was married to a cop for 15 years & heard all about it, repeatedly, ad nauseum, ad divorce court. Supposedly it’s to encourage an esprit du corps or some such.

  26. 26
    Mothra says:

    Clinton is generally too eager to please conservatives with her word choices. It’s pandering and it does her no good anyway.

  27. 27
    Yutsano says:

    @Mike J:

    (Did I have a comment eaten?)

    FYWP has been rather hungry lately.

  28. 28
    Baud says:

    @Mothra: Yours is the type of lame critique I’m looking forward to for the next 8 years.

  29. 29
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mike J: Yes, but I found it.

  30. 30
    Mike J says:

    @Yutsano: I mentioned the name of a Clinton speechificator to tweet at and didn’t know if someone felt it shouldn’t be bandied about. Which I would sorta understand, even if it’s not a secret or anything.

  31. 31
    Gelfling545 says:

    @shomi: Dear sir or madam, have you perhaps imbibed too freely? Because that makes no sense at all.

  32. 32
    redshirt says:

    @Yutsano: FYWP is never sated.

  33. 33
    WaterGirl says:

    Tom, I am really glad you blog here.

  34. 34
    Mike J says:

    @Adam L Silverman: It seems FYWP doesn’t like the word speech-ificator (with no hyphen), since it just ate again.

  35. 35
    🚸 Martin says:

    I believe the proper terminology would be ‘sworn’ vs ‘non-sworn’. That also makes clear the responsibilities of individuals within the police department.

    That issue comes up periodically in California politics where many prison guards are actually sworn officers (varies by state). The context is usually pension benefits, with an argument that all sworn officers should receive the same pension benefits.

  36. 36
    smintheus says:

    The police are part of the public as well. The solution is more straightforward: “police and non-police”. Even the military are included in the latter.

  37. 37
    Adam L Silverman says:

    Law enforcement are, technically, state sanctioned para-military. As agents of the state they have certain immunities and prerogatives that non-law enforcement do not. I agree that it is not good to emphasize the separation between them and the rest of the citizenry, but its now woven into the warp and weft of the profession. Moreover, American law enforcement culture promotes three classes: law enforcement, perpetrators/criminals, everyone else (who, also, could become perpetrators/criminals).

  38. 38
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    “Semimated” sounds like coitus interruptus.

  39. 39
    Kay (not the front-pager) says:

    Say “police and the community.” Say “police and the public.”

    How about “police and the rest of the community.” or “police and the rest of the public.”? Makes it even more clear that they belong to and with the people.

  40. 40
    Culture of Truth says:

    Okay, but aren’t police also members of the public? Aren’t they also part of the community?

  41. 41
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @efgoldman: The Marines have always been an expeditionary force.

  42. 42
    inventor says:

    I hate when people use “impact” instead of “effect”. An impact is the collision of two or more bodies in space. An impact will almost always have an effect on one or more of the bodies.

  43. 43
    🚸 Martin says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Right, but that only applies to some police employees. Only some carry a badge and gun and can arrest people. I agree that they should be recognized because they carry very specific and important responsibilities delegated by the state. I don’t see a point in treating non-sworn police employees any differently than anyone else, so ‘police’ is both overly broad and too narrow since there are sworn officers in fire departments and other agencies. They are all grouped together under the sworn designation.

  44. 44

    The guy next to me on the bus is writing something weird looking.

    Could be math. Could be ARABIC!!1

    (It’s set equations)

  45. 45
  46. 46
    Schlemazel Khan says:

    I was a firefighter for a few years in a pretty white, pretty well to do suburb. I got to know all the cops there. They all divided the world into 3 parts. There were bad guys, sheep and cops. This was back in the 80s when things were a lot calmer than they are now. Those guys did not see the really bad stuff yet they still viewed the world in those parts everyone they met had to fall into one of the three. I don’t get it, there was no gray, there was not neutral, there was nothing except bad, victims or cop and there was no mixing.

  47. 47
    🚸 Martin says:


    I haven’t noticed them running around the streets killing unarmed people.

    Posse Comitatus suggests you’re looking on the wrong streets. On other streets they do indeed do that. (not an endorsement)

  48. 48
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @🚸 Martin: When was the last time you saw or heard the person handling payroll at the local PD refer to themselves or be referred to as a cop? I’m not talking about anyone but the folks with badges and guns. If you don’t have the certification, the badge, and the gun you’re not a law enforcement officer. You might be a dispatcher. You might be a lab tech. But you’re not a cop or a deputy or a detective or an investigator or an inspector.

  49. 49

    @Mike J: mmm, no, they shouldn’t be. Not when their audience is people who use the vernacular. The common clay of the new west. You know, morons.

  50. 50
    Oldgold says:

    : a person who is not a member of the military or of a police or firefighting force
    Source: Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary

  51. 51
    JPL says:

    I’m watching , the Atlanta abc channel and they are speaking about the low wages that officers earn. Maybe it’s time to increase the salaries in order to attract more committed people.

  52. 52
    Schlemazel Khan says:

    @Schlemazel Khan:
    that should have been to @jake the antisoshul soshulist:

  53. 53
    🚸 Martin says:

    @Culture of Truth:

    Okay, but aren’t police also members of the public? Aren’t they also part of the community?

    But they have unique responsibilities (and therefore risks) within that community. Now, this would all be a much more productive distinction if the public believed that sworn officers were better held accountable to those responsibilities, but in theory they would be and that distinction would be both positive and meaningful.

    By calling them non-civilians, it in some ways abdicates them of that responsibility. The military are considered non-civilians because they are enlisted rather than employed. They do not have the day-to-day right to refuse and as a result they carry less direct responsibility for their actions (that is delegated up through military ranks) where police don’t (or shouldn’t) have that. That’s another important distinction.

  54. 54
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @efgoldman: I know, I was gently teasing.

  55. 55
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Tom, as someone who has NOT been a civilian, I fully support and share your pet peeve.

    Cops are civilians. Period, end of discussion. They are NOT soldiers, and never should be counted as soldiers.

  56. 56
    scav says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Interesting difference, undoubtedly unintentional in descriptions. You said “As agents of the state they have certain immunities and prerogatives that non-law enforcement do not.” while Tom mentioned “They are tasked with special powers and thus burdened with specific responsibilities and duties”. Along with the powers, he also mentioned the responsibilities of their status, whatever exact term is used. And that half is all too often being elided on this subject. Because, while many of them are oh so eager to accept if not insist on the additional status and perqs of their profession, there sure seems to be a sustained campaign on their part against oversight of and consequences for their actions. To belabor the obvious, this is troubling, over and beyond the populations of Americans that disproportionately bear the burden of their unfettered actions.

  57. 57

    The FOP leader or something was on the radio today talking about how they want it treated as a hate crime.

    His reasoning was… flimsy.

  58. 58
    🚸 Martin says:

    @Adam L Silverman: People that handle parking violations often look a lot like sworn officers but are not. I don’t think they would call themselves cops, but they are all police employees, and calling them ‘police’ or ‘non-civilians’ blurs important distinctions. As I noted, in some states corrections offers are sworn but in most states they aren’t. You have sworn transit officers in some jurisdictions that are separate from local police. College campuses typically have a combination of sworn and non-sworn individuals. You can be arrested by certain firemen, but not others.

    We delegate very specific responsibilities to sworn officers, just as we delegate very specific responsibilities to licensed professionals in certain occupations. Those delegated responsibilities should mean that they are held to a higher standard of conduct and judgement.

  59. 59
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @scav: Without a doubt. American law enforcement/policing (sub) culture is quite interesting. When I was still an academic I taught it as part of my criminology and criminal justice courses. There was always a number of cops of various types in the class. It was always an interesting set of discussions.

  60. 60
    Oldgold says:

    Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

    a. A person who is not an active member of the military, the police, or a belligerent group in a conflict.
    b. A person who is not an employee of the government: programs available to both government employees and civilians.

  61. 61
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @🚸 Martin: You do know I have a doctorate in criminology, right? I’ve taught everything from students who are also cadets in police academies all the way up to senior law enforcement administrators and senior Federal law enforcement officers.

  62. 62
    lamh36 says:

    @efgoldman: I believe I heard that he did, but that the Feds were working w/state authorities, but not taking over the case?

  63. 63
    🚸 Martin says:

    @efgoldman: Yeah, that’s a pretty good term as well. I prefer the term ‘sworn’ because it carries a constant reminder that these individuals swore an oath not just to uphold the law, but to be the very agency which does that. They are a necessary component to a functional legal system (as are judges, etc.) and when we allow that to slip away from our consciousness, it becomes easier to both act as though they aren’t necessary (hey, let’s give fucking everybody a gun!) and aren’t responsible (we can’t prosecute police or else the system will break down). Because they are necessary, they do and should be positively recognized (paid, respected, etc.) and held accountable.

    First responder loses some of that distinction, IMO.

  64. 64
    sigaba says:

    I’m pretty sure I learned the meaning of the word “civilian” by hearing police use the term in a dichotomous and exclusive way — “those people over there, who are not us, are civilians.”

  65. 65
    Eric U. says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: the matlab ‘decimate’ function allows you to define the percentage. But only using it to reduce by 1/10th doesn’t make much sense, for that you probably want to use one of the resampling functions

    @efgoldman: the Marines and the Army are occasionally pressed into service as police. This happened in Iraq with really bad results. The military shouldn’t be used as police, and the police shouldn’t be militarized. It doesn’t work

  66. 66
    Doug R says:

    Police are civilian soldiers.

  67. 67
    🚸 Martin says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I know. And I think that ‘law enforcement officer’ is an exact overlap with the ‘sworn’ distinction. But that’s a different term than ‘police’ – and I’m less concerned about how those employed understand their responsibility, and more concerned with how the general public projects what those terms mean.

    Perhaps my perspective within a university complicates my view because we have what often seems like an extralegal layer – where many activities are handled internally, sometimes by sworn officers, but sometimes just by a citation being issued by a non-sworn public official. Students routinely seem confused when an action escalates from one to the other, and I think a lot of that is due to the fact that we play a bit fast and loose with the distinction in the interest of making a space that mistakes can be made and forgiven a bit more easily than in the general community.

  68. 68

    @lamh36: The decision to use a grand jury is irrelevant; it won’t make the slightest difference in the outcome. Aside from that, focusing on getting an indictment of the officer is exactly the wrong approach to take here. Doing so will end up disappointing and counterproductive.

    I really doubt that there’s going to be an indictment, unless the investigation turns up dramatic new evidence. As horrific and heartbreaking as that video is, it has zero evidentiary value with regard to the question of whether the shooting was justified, because it doesn’t start until after the shooting has occurred. Barring some witness that we don’t know about, the case will come down strictly to Diamond Reynolds’ word against that of the cop. And while I’m think that her story is probably pretty accurate, subject to how terrible human beings are at providing eyewitness testimony to anything, I highly doubt that a petit jury of 12 Minnesotans will agree beyond a reasonable doubt. If I were the prosecutor, I doubt I’d bring charges based upon what we know so far, because it’s unethical to do so in a case you don’t think you can win. No matter what his views on it are, a conviction would be highly unlikely.

    So don’t focus your anger on getting a prosecution. Focus it on changing how police are trained. Focus it on changing the laws under which police can be prosecuted. Focus it on getting society to change its attitude on this issue. I know that this is the white guy telling POC how to respond, but I am frustrated at watching people fail to understand the problems with pushing for prosecution in cases that will result in acquittals.

  69. 69
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @🚸 Martin: I’m not trying to fight with you, but I think you’re making this overly complicated. To a certain extent the subcultural components extend to the non-sworn components within the profession as they’re within the tent. We had this discussion and type of inclusion when the Army was doing its Profession of Arms study so that civilians would be included. That said, whether you go with sworn or not-sworn or law enforcement officer versus whatever other term you’re going to use, I think everyone is tracking on your point.

  70. 70
    Miss Bianca says:

    @efgoldman: I thought it was going to be a “dog bitch” entry, too!

    Nevertheless, despite the technical niceties inherent in the relationship of ‘police’ to ‘civilian’, I am heartily glad Tom raised that point, and highlighted it as a false dichotomy. I’m not sure whether it’s that police are encouraged to think of themselves as animals apart, or that the profession itself simply attracts personalities that are attracted to that mindset, but that pattern has to be interrupted, somehow.

    If police think of people as ‘sheep’, do they see ‘bad guys’ as wolves? Themselves as ‘sheepdogs’? If so, do they feel that sense of obligation to protect their ‘flock’? Or are they turning and attacking the sheep themselves? (there, efg, we’ve turned it *into* a “dog bitch” entry!)

  71. 71
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: The trichotomy is: cops (related personnel and their families), perpetrators/criminals, and everyone else who are all either potential perpetrators/criminals or victims.

  72. 72
    Glidwrith says:

    @🚸 Martin: Terry Pratchett’s character Sam Vimes also felt if a policeman was not a civilian, why then he became something else.

    Law enforcement and keeping the peace are inherently different than how the military functions. A society cannot enjoy the freedom of speech, right to protest or to assemble since a military, by definition would view that as a threat.

    The police must be civilians and part of our community. To do otherwise only invites the abuse of power.

  73. 73
    PhoenixRising says:

    Here are some words that solve the problem Tom points oht, which is an unforced rhetorical error on the part of HRCs speechwriters:

    The public
    Community members

    Who else has a useful idea rather than a semantic nitpick that ignores the problem?

  74. 74
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: where in this grid/continuum does the “cop who goes bad” fit in? Or does that possibility just Not Compute?

  75. 75
    redshirt says:

    Where does Batman fit into this discussion?

  76. 76
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: Cop is cop.

  77. 77
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Oh, of course. Silly me. That’s how cops get away with murder.

  78. 78
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: Its really not that simple. They have union based protections written/negotiated into their contracts. Because they’re agents of the state they have certain immunities. Some states have other statutory protections that range from one offs to full fledged Law Officers Bills of Rights. And, of course, because of the nature of the work there is the professional and subcultural inclination and tendency to circle the wagons whenever something happens to protect the entire group.

  79. 79
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym:

    I think many people would be at least somewhat satisfied if these killer cops were fired from their jobs and barred from ever working in law enforcement again, but so far history shows that doesn’t happen, either. Departments seem to just shrug and move on.

    I do wonder if this Minnesota police killing is going to result in some actual action, though. The white, suburban, middle-class parents whose kids knew “Mr. Phil” at their school seem really, really pissed right now.

  80. 80
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Miss Bianca: What I’m getting at is, if the rest of us who are noncops are in a perpetually liminal state – either victim, potential victim, or potential perp – at what point – if any – does a cop’s behavior put him/her beyond the pale of “cop” and into a different status? I guess what I hear you saying is, “never” – even if they do end up doing something heinous enough to actually face charges for.

  81. 81 I try to be amused says:

    From Peelian Principle #7:

    …the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

    (Sir Robert Peel founded the London Metropolitan Police, the first police force based on the concept of policing by public consent, in 1829.)

  82. 82
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: Its complicated. This becomes an emic/etic (insider/outsider) issue. From outside the profession it may appear that nothing is being done and the bad cop has gotten off with no real damage to his or her career. From the inside it might appear differently. Transferred and given the worst assignments, shifts, routinely passed over for promotion, etc. The subculture itself has ways to punish its members, even when they don’t deserve it, that are not always/often visible to those outside of the profession.

  83. 83
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @…now I try to be amused: And that is why they’re called Bobbies. As in Bobby’s (Peele) men. As well as Peelers. Though many often think the later was supposed to be for keeping their eyes peeled.

  84. 84
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: except the Britishism I always seemed to encounter was the phrase “keep your eyes skinned”, which I always thought sounded rather horrible – worse than “peeled”, for some reason.

  85. 85
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    The subculture itself has ways to punish its members, even when they don’t deserve it, that are not always/often visible to those outside of the profession.

    That was the excuse the Catholic Church used, too. Most people didn’t find it very convincing.

  86. 86
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I am aware that subcultures find ways to punish transgressions among their own kind. : ) I guess I just get cynical about what transgressions count as “deserving” of punishment – would they be the same ones that we civilians deemed deserving of punishment? Execution of an unarmed man would count as a major transgression to me, worthy of the shittiest internal punishment imaginable even if there’s no civilian trial or punishment: but perhaps it would be the cop who testified, for example, against this person, who would suffer from internal Siberia-zation – because *that* would be a real transgression – against esprit de corps.

  87. 87
    Mnemosyne says:

    Also, if the speech Tom refers to is the one that just came into my email box, it’s a frickin’ barn burner, at least when condensed into email form.

  88. 88
    BC in Illinois says:

    I’m coming to this late, but I listened to Hillary Clinton’s speech and didn’t get the impression that some of the comments in this thread seem to convey. Let me list the seven places I found in the speech where she contrasts the police and the non-police.

    4:44 – – “12 officers were shot, along with two civilians
    8:10 – – “the police and the communities they are sworn to protect”
    11:36 – – “improve policing and strengthen their bonds with the community
    14:26 – – “police who put their lives on the line to protect us
    15:26 – – “bring law enforcement and communities together”
    18:20 – – “people in authority making sure their fellow citizens had the right to protest
    18:41 – – where the police and citizens all see themselves as being on the same side

    She talks about the police and the communities, the police and us, people in authority and their fellow citizens. In that context, one description of the shooting victims of Dallas–“12 officers were shot, along with two civilians”–doesn’t seem to me to be an unnatural way to make a summary.

    As has been stated elsewhere, it was a great speech.

  89. 89
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Mnemosyne: This is the problem that institutions have. If it appears they are covering up bad actions by their members, they bring discredit on the entire institution. It takes strong leadership to avoid this trap, which too many institutions fall into.

  90. 90
    Plantsmantx says:

    Ok, point taken, I guess. I’m much more struck by the fact that she stayed on this message today. It took some political courage to do that.

  91. 91
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    I agree with the sentiments, and several things bothered me about the Dallas Police Chief’s comments this morning. I’m especially troubled by the continued, automatic, recitation that “police put their lives on the line for us every day”, as if the police have a uniquely dangerous job and the times are uniquely dangerous now.

    Cops do not go on suicide missions when they go on patrol every day. We shouldn’t talk about them as if they do. The times are not (yet) uniquely dangerous – crime rates are low and falling.

    Pulling a car over for a broken tail light is not, statistically, a life-threatening situation for a policeman. Questioning someone about selling CDs outside a corner store is not, statistically, a life-threatening situation for a policeman. Being on parade duty is not, statistically, a life-threatening situation for a policeman.

    Any more than being in first-grader in a Connecticut grade school is inherently dangerous.


    It looks like one is 8.5 times more likely to die as a logger than as a policeman.

    Yes, I recognize that policemen have died in the course of their duties. That is horrible.

    But we should be much more careful about the language we use. Sloppy thinking and sloppy public expressions do not help us figure out the ways to improve public policy.

    Yes, it was horrible, inexcusable, tragic, and terribly troubling what happened in Dallas. But deifying those cops and the Dallas PD is not going to help prevent it (or something much worse) from happening again.

    We are all at risk of deadly violence by people with guns – not just cops. We need to do more to get guns off the streets, to make sure that cops don’t lash out with deadly force when it’s not called for, and to get help to people with anger and mental health issues before they act out in a murderous fashion.

    My $0.02.

    (Who recognizes that my statements above can be picked apart. I’m not a professional speechwriter or lawyer and I don’t represent the government.)

  92. 92
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: I used to feel that way about hostage (which almost always is used for “captive” now). Language evolves. It’s almost pointless to fight it, even though it’s painful to see, and it reduces nuance in language that can be important.

    Ya gotta pick your battles! :-)


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    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    I agree that it is not good to emphasize the separation between them and the rest of the citizenry, but its now woven into the warp and weft of the profession.

    Well, unweave that shit. And unweave ‘public safety’ and ‘peace officer’ and other Newspeak. The Met got it right early on:

    the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

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    scav says:

    @Miss Bianca: Sudden linguistic giggle: anymore, the “sheep” category are those of us that get fleeced by fines and civil forfeiture to pay for all the extra goodies the cops decide they need. Sheep as revenue centers. Policing for Profit. Nomen est omen. (To be fair, it’s the police+local governments that work together on this aspect of civic ingenuity. Because the same money acquired under the name of “taxes” is taboo and unclean.)

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    pseudonymous in nc says:

    And I now see that I was beaten to that. A friend of mine is a special constable — a volunteer weekend police officer — and a full-time prosecuting barrister. That’s an interesting combination of duties.

    But British police forces have always been run on a larger scale than the median American force — not as large scale as something like the RCMP, but sizeable entities that don’t reflect municipal or county boundaries.

    The status of gendarmeries is more interesting: they’re historically (and bureaucratically) military forces under the control of interior ministries. I remember a BBC radio documentary a while back about the gendarmes assigned to St Pierre et Miquelon, the little French island off the coast of Canada, and how state policy was never to assign a gendarme who was a native of that department, so you have people from continental France sent out to work there.

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    pseudonymous in nc says:

    And I’ll toss this to Adam, in the spirit of academic discussion: to what extent is the FBI a uniquely American take on the gendarmerie model? Or is that a completely misguided frame through which to see its work?

    I ask this because I think there’s an argument for a federal force in the US that provides certain functions that gendarmeries typically offer in Europe or the RCMP often provides in Canada — not least the public belief that they’re not subject to local cultural biases or political pressure — and the FBI and DOJ tend to be called in to do that job.

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  98. 98
    Steeplejack says:

    @Mike J:

    Hear, hear!

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    Steeplejack says:


    This is one where, fully paid up member of the Pedants Guild though I may be, I have to disagree. The original (Latin) meaning of decimate is really obsolete. How often do you need a word to specifically describe reducing something by 10 percent? What if you need to describe a 20 percent reduction? Et cetera.

    Meanwhile people are getting away with murder on reign vs. rein. We’ve got to pick our battles.

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    Cleos says:

    “I’ll take Political Statements Tarted Up As Pet Peeves for $400, Alex.”

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