Although it's certainly reached a fever pitch since, even before September 11, 2001, the internet and workplaces were full of stories of people - often a friend, or friend of a friend - being stopped, questioned, detained, and generally hassled by police for, seemingly, no reason at all. A lot of these stories would seem to be Homeland Security-related, fuelled by fears of domestic terrorism. Still more are seemingly sad tales of officers abusing their power, stopping motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and photographers on a whim, harassing them, then letting them go.
Even though I am unashamedly pro-cop, I don't deny that there are a few bad apples out there with badges and guns. Is it possible, I wondered, that, with griping about cops being a national pasttime, the actions of a few bad seeds outweighs and overwhelms the long-unsung good that hundreds of thousands of other LEOs do? It seems possible, and is certainly an easy answer. I certainly rarely see or hear anything positive in the media, or even being said by individuals, about law enforcement today.
To hear it told, it's seemongly impossible to go out for a walk at night, take pictures of bridges, power plants, or government buildings, hang out in the park at odd hours, or even walk down the street without having several of one's rights violated by an overzealous officer with complete disregard for the law.
I know a lot of peace officers, and by and large, they're exceptionally cool, kind, likeable men and women. While I've had literally dozens of encounters with LEOs in a professional capacity, they've been - without exception - completely positive. By the standards of the internet pundits, I must be the luckiest guy alive, to have never once been handcuffed without explanation, never once been beaten, never once illegally searched without or against my consent. In all my late-night or early-morning walks, in all the hours - days - I've spent photographing throughout the cities, I've never once been hassled by an LEO. Nor has anyone I personally know. Yet, to hear the stories, cops abusing their power are a plague, running rampant across the western world, all-pervasive and omnipresent.
Everything you read on the internet is true, of course.
I and a friend decided, informally, to test out, even gently provoke, the police departments in local cities. Would we be met with politeness, professionalism, and courtesy, or abuse and violence? Would, for that matter, the cops stop us at all?
I spent six hours walking on foot through some of the worst, high-crime neighbourhoods this city has to offer, between 10pm and 3am, on three separate days. Would I get stopped and hassled for being in a "bad" neighborhood at night, on foot? If so, would the officers accept my explanation that I was just out for a walk, even though I live a fair distance from this neighborhood? I'm a moderately wierd-looking long-haired white guy, but I feared that might count against me some. To compensate, I wore a can of pepper spray and a flashlight side-by-side on my belt, with a t-shirt covering them, a combination that's been mistaken for a holstered pistol in the past and one which I'm normally careful to avoid. Surely a suspicious bulge at my waist would get me stopped?
Nope. Didn't get stopped - didn't even get so much as a second look. There were cops to be seen - I spotted around six marked cruisers per hour, and probably missed a few - but not one stopped me, let alone beat me or searched me. Hmmn.
On three nights, between sunset and 3am, my friend and I wandered the riverfronts and downtown areas for more than ten hours in total between two large cities, photographing trains and tugboats and bridges. Bridges! The bane of the nighttime photographer, according to the internet, structures around which more shutterbugs are confronted by police than all others combined. We started out low-key, shooting from public parks, even though they all close at sundown. We stood beside our tripods under streetlights, making long exposures and clearly visible to hundreds of passing motorists. We shone flashlights around, we made noise. By the end, we were standing on the median of busy roads, standing - trespassing - on a railroad right-of-way, climbing over fences to set up our cameras where we wanted them and standing there, taking pictures. Desperate to prove the internet community right, we parked on government property, loitered around staffed county buildings, photographed a power plant and a nicely-lit museum from the shoulder of a roadway. We stood on bridge decks and took pictures. We stood under bridges and took pictures. We used flashes, we examined grates and manhole covers with flashlights. We poked around back alleys and construction sites, took photographs from private property...
...and not a single officer, not a police officer, a state trooper, a sheriff's deputy, a federal agent, nor even a security guard, stopped or confronted us even once. They had ample opportunity, for many drove right past us without even slowing. The Gods know we were really making an effort to get stopped and questioned, to see first-hand this all-pervasive abuse of power that has supposedly swept the nation's LEOs. But it just didn't happen. If you can't get stopped by the cops while standing on a retaining wall on the wrong side of a fence, high above the river, across the street from a power plant, at 1am on a weekday, downtown in the state's capital, while taking pictures of two road and one rail bridges, with an accomplice, well, damnit, you're just not going to get stopped. It's that simple.
So we determined by very unscientific methods that wanton, widespread abuses of police power and authority are not nearly as wanton or widespread as the internet would make them out to be. If this is the case, then what explains the hordes of angry young men and their endless diatribes against the police? Are we just really fortunate to not have any bad cops around here? Or is it something else?
It's readily noticable that those who've had bad encounters -often multiple such encounters - have extremely low opinions of law enforcement as a whole. They have no respect whatsoever for LEOs or the good they do day after day. They insist that all cops are evil, corrupt, power-hungry rights-violating sadists, and nothing at all will sway them from their hard-set opinions. This can be explained away as a simple cause and effect; most people would be unhappy with the police if they were constantly being "hassled" by them.
Perhaps, though, there's a better explanation.
Is it possible that these vitriolic men hated LE before they ever had a cause to, having been fed a daily dose of police corruption and abuse stories by the oh-so-unbiased sensationalist media? Could they just be angry malcontents who hate "the man" in all it's many forms?
I definately think so. Having an attitude, hating and disrespecting someone, is not a way to make a good impression. Having an attitude with a cop is a good way to ensure your encounter goes badly. The old axiom "do unto others as you would have them do to you" is still remarkably true today. Treat an officer - anyone, really - badly, and they're not going to extend you unnecessary kindness or courtesy.
When involving law enforcement, I refer to the phenomenon as Cop Karma. You hate, disrespect, bad-mouth, and spread lies about law enforcement, and suddenly, magically, you find all your fears come true, as you suffer bad encounter after bad encounter with LE, too blinded by ignorance, anger, and stupidity to realize the problem is yours, not theirs. Bad Cop Karma.
There would seem to be a flipside, though - good Cop Karma. People who respect and appreciate LEOs, who understand the difficulty and stresses of their jobs, who approach them with honesty and respect and kindness, have all their expectations met. They get away with warnings, not tickets. They don't get pulled over. They can act suspicious as hell in the middle of the night and be completely ignored.
This helps explain the seeming schism between the reality of the hateful, negative, culturally-brainwashed idiots and that of the positive, open-minded folks. Neither are wrong in their experiences or beliefs; they both simply get what they deserve. It's a self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing belief system. Not to get too metaphysical, but in a way, it's a form of magick; by exerting your belief - your Will - on the environment, you produce changes in the fabric of reality as you, yourself, experience it.
It may sound trite, or silly. Boiled down to the basics, though, it's really a very simple idea. You get out of life, or law enforcement - anything, really - only what you put into it. Negativity breeds negativity, and it's a sad, neverending downward cycle. You can just as easily have bad Workplace Karma, or Relationship Karma, and the fundamental causes are the same.
No doubt about it, people with bad Cop Karma far outweigh the people with good Cop Karma. Unlike regular karma, Cop Karma affects, and is affected by, your current life only. Whether it's possible to repair decades of bad Cop Karma by changing your attitude and outlook, I really can't say. It certainly can't hurt, though. Why not give it a try?