McKinney cop in pool party video resigns

The man executing the unnecessary combat roll at the beginning of this video is Corporal Eric Casebolt, lately of the McKinney, TX police department but now resigned. Casebolt was under investigation for what his chief called “indefensible” actions in the course of breaking up a disturbance at a local pool. From putting his knee on the back of a teenage girl to pulling his gun on teenage boys to attempting a wrist lock without control of the forearm, Casebolt is a recognizable kind of guy with a recognizable mindset. Unfortunately writing for Talking Points Memo, former cop Seth Stoughton argues that he represents one of two broad ways police officers can think about themselves: as guardians or as warriors.

It’s an interesting read, but I imagine you can already guess the difference between those categories. Broadly put, 11 of the 12 cops who arrived at the scene of this video set out to protect teenagers from hurting one another. Corporal Casebolt arrived to keep them from breaking the law. This theory explains why he drew his gun on two unarmed children and why, summoned to break up a public disturbance, he handcuffed kids who were running away. Casebolt’s colleagues were trying to make sure nobody got hurt. He was trying to subdue everyone.

If we accept this duality between guardians and warriors, how do we ensure that the fewest cops possible think of themselves as warriors? I submit that one solution is to stop referring to the things we use police for as “wars”: war on drugs, war on terror, et cetera.

Obviously this is a semantic issue, and semantics only go so far. But consider how traffic cops might act differently if your local PD declared War on Speeding. If nothing else, the stakes get higher. Speeding ceases to be a safety risk and becomes a kind of sin—a crime, yes, but a crime that we intend to eradicate or defeat, not a normal part of municipal life.

By extension, speedy drivers cease to be the cops’ fellow citizens and take on the quality of an enemy, an occupying army, a threat. That last word is important. Perhaps the most problematic aspect of approaching law enforcement as a war is that it imagines some balance of power between police and the people they arrest.

The idea that lawbreakers are a threat to police explains Casebolt’s risible combat roll.1 It explains why he drew his gun and why he is so concerned with getting everyone on the ground. He has convinced himself that he is in danger, even though he is surrounded by other cops and unarmed children.

Police work is dangerous, but it is only dangerous in certain situations. Although his supinating wrist lock is terrible, Corporal Casebolt is probably a useful guy to have around when you kick in the door to a crack house. He seems like a terrible guy to have around when you’re trying to calm down a bunch of kids. As a society, we might consider that the latter is a more common situation, and a more vital function of the police.

The function of police in a civilized nation is to protect people from crime, not to fuck up crime people. Perhaps now we are asking for something unrealistic, but a good police force might think of itself as protecting even the people it arrests from the crimes they commit. What if Daniel Pantaleo had sought to protect Eric Garner from the dangers of selling loose cigarettes?

It sounds comical, but the risibility of that idea stems from the pettiness of the crime. You can’t look at the situation that way without remembering that selling loosies is not a big deal. If you think of yourself as a soldier in the war on crime, on the other hand, Garner becomes another criminal, an enemy combatant. And anything you do to the other side is okay during a war.

The difference between a cop and a soldier is that for cops, there is no other side. We pay them to protect us from ourselves. The more we pretend that we’re paying them to protect us from other people, the more we’ll need protection from them. Here’s a fun question: what would Corporal Casebolt be doing right now if nobody videotaped him last week? How many Corporal Casebolts are out there still, fighting a war for us against us?

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  1. There is some utility for having cops think of themselves as warriors, since occasionally society asks them to do something about people with guns, but I agree, it would be nice to see them running away from a hostile situation like the cast of Police Academy instead of creating one. Lets cross that bridge after 10 years demilitarization and see if we need to rebuild the cop-as-a-warrior identity.

    As for the seriousness of selling loosies, the altercation with Eric Garner wasn’t over it. It was over compliance, which I understand police have a very keen interest in protecting. If you’re allowed to ignore requests from the police they become nothing more than the bold person on a bus who will ask you to turn down your music. Even a police force oriented toward citizen protection rather than citizen combat needs to maintain compliance. At least, they think they do I don’t fault them for it.

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