“Collars for Dollars” Plus “Occupy Wall Street” Equals What?

The Facebook post above was posted to Reddit earlier today.  We don’t know if this is an accurate copy or not, the internet being what it is, but it’s close enough to what we’ve heard actual officers say that it is useful to illustrate a couple of points.

First, the whole “Collars for Dollars” mentality we’ve mentioned before. In short, the NYPD is a unionized labor force, whose workers get paid a base salary plus overtime. The base salary is barely sufficient to meet the expense of living in NYC (so many cops choose to live pretty far away from the city, cutting any ties to the communities they police, with attendant consequences). The way for an officer to make some real money is by working overtime.  That lovely, lovely overtime is what pays for their mortgages, their kids’ schools and the occasional night on the town. The way to make overtime is either (1) by making arrests or (2) working a “detail.”

Arrests generate overtime because, at the end of one’s shift, one gets to stay at the precinct for many more hours filling out the reams of attendant paperwork, securing evidence, and helping a prosecutor draft the various complaints. If any of the collars were for felonies, ideally they have been timed so that the resulting grand jury presentation will be held on the cop’s regular day off — RDO for short — which gives the cop 8 hours of overtime even if he only showed up at the DA’s office for half an hour.

Details are out-of-the-ordinary assignments where an event requires extra police to provide security, police not otherwise assigned to a normal duty — police working overtime or on their RDO. Details can range from providing a police escort for a visiting dignitary, to lining the streets for a parade, to dealing with an unruly mob. Details are a great source of overtime.

You see this in the Facebook discussion, which appears to include more than just one NYPD officer. The original poster is on his RDO, and he’s hoping the OWS protesters start acting up so he can get called in to do a double tour and get 15 hours of overtime pay (for getting the chance to hit some protesters). Another jokes that he hopes they don’t start rioting until his shift starts that night, presumably so he can maximize his overtime.

There’s nothing wrong with police officers joking about stuff that, to the rest of us, might sound obscenely offensive. It is often a tough job, often horrific, and black humor is how people of all walks of life deal with such things. The post about pretending to be a protester, shoving people from the inside, shouting invective, and leaving a BB- or paintball- gun behind? That one’s probably a joke (although — and probably because — such things have been known to happen).

But there are other wishes expressed here which, though certainly cathartic, are probably more sincere. The desire to “rock,” or get physically violent with a protester, comes out strong here. Why? Because the protesters are the enemy.

That’s our second point: To the police, it’s “Us against Them,” and you are Them. No matter how nice and decent and of good character a person is, it is nigh impossible to be a police officer for very long in this town without developing an “us against them” mentality. It’s easy to feel aggrieved when people march on city hall every time you blow your nose, when people call you names for protecting them, when you’re hamstrung by legal technicalities and PC policies that prevent you from doing your job. When you’re a cop, nobody is on your side except for your fellow cops. Everyone else (and yes, this does include prosecutors) is the Other.

And when that Other starts acting up, breaking the rules, committing repeated offenses of Contempt of Cop… well, that resentment builds up. Whether it’s a bicycle protest that is inconveniencing half of Manhattan, or a perp who makes the cop chase him through alleys and trashed lots, or a group of OWS types shouting invective, that resentment can manifest itself in physical violence. Sort of a “fuck me? fuck you!” punch or tackle. It’s not business; it’s personal.

You’re already the Other. Once you start being a real problem, you become the Enemy. And the longer the cops feel restrained or frustrated from doing something about it, the stronger this enmity grows, along with accompanying feelings of resentment and grievance.

And so you get the cop who tackles a bicycle protester, seemingly out of the blue. Maybe the cyclist shouted something or made a face, or maybe he was just the one that this cop was going to take it out on. And so you get the cop who, on finally catching the fleeing perp, gives him a couple of good pounds. He ripped his pants, which is coming out of his meager salary, and he had to get all out of breath and take some risks chasing after the guy — the perp owes him that.

And so you get cops hoping that an OWS protester gives them a reason to hit back. The desire to hit back is strong and real, especially the longer the cop feels restrained from doing something, and it’s only waiting for an excuse to do it. It’s not right, but it’s the way it is.

Keep that in mind next time you take part in a protest. Be safe out there.

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1 Comments

  1. Fred Fnord, June 12, 2012:

    The only way to ensure that you won’t have the snot kicked out of you by a policeman having a bad day is to not engage in protest at all. This is more or less the current zeitgeist. (In addition to your above examples, I have also seen one example of a situation where a group of police instructed a bunch of protesters to do something or be arrested, and then arrested them for doing it when they did it.) And unless you are killed or permanently maimed, the most that is likely to happen is a short suspension, and much more likely there will be no repercussions at all. And this isn’t even taking into account new crowd-control tactics — sonic weapons, microwave weapons, and good old tasers — which essentially allow police to torture masses of people into doing anything they say, without leaving any marks. Within the next ten years, I predict ‘zap them a few times with the microwave cannon’ (or whatever the new nifty crowd control weapon is) will become the standard response to whatever protests the local government, and/or those with local influence, find inconvenient.

    The sad part is, most of the US is perfectly happy about this situation. They wouldn’t protest — they’re not starving, they’re employed, and a lot of the people who are currently being screwed are a different color than they are, so they don’t really count — and so they cheer the police on.

    We have more or less given up our right to peaceably assemble. And, by equating free speech with money, we have changed our right to freedom of speech into something more or less unrecognizable. And of course we’re preventing people from building places of worship where they want, based solely on what god they worship, so we’ve given up our freedom of religion.

    But hey, at least we get to keep our guns, right? I’m sure they’re more important than freedom of assembly…

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