The bad lieutenant

The bad lieutenant June 30, 2020

Buffalo police investigating officer caught on video using vulgar language.”

The officer in question was upset that a citizen was recording video as he and nine other officers dealt with an apparently intoxicated person on the sidewalk near a Buffalo 7-Eleven. Fully aware that she was recording him, he called her “a disrespectful little f–king c–t.”

I work in retail. I have years of decent performance reviews and no disciplinary strikes against me at the Big Box, but none of that would matter if tomorrow I told a customer that she was a “f–king c–t.” I would be fired that same day. Those of us who work in retail are held to far higher standards of conduct than most big city police officers. This is why all those viral videos of MAGA-drunk customers throwing tantrums over having to wear masks show retail workers demonstrating the kind of heroic patience, forbearance, restraint, and de-escalating skills we almost never see in any of the viral videos involving police officers.

The “vulgar language” directed toward a law-abiding citizen is not really the worst thing Buffalo police Lt. Michael DeLong does in this video. Yes, those aggressively disrespectful words would earn this video an NC-17 rating if it were a movie, but the more damning language here is DeLong’s anger that she’s being “disrespectful.” That suggests that he imagines his job to involve patrolling the streets of Buffalo, vigilantly seeking out anyone who fails to demonstrate sufficient respect for and deference to him as a police officer.

That’s not an actual job that any city needs to hire anyone to perform. No city council should be sitting around going, “Hey, let’s take a third or more of our budget and use it to hire a bunch of guys to walk around the city demanding obsequious respect from everyone they encounter.”

Yet DeLong’s words, and his actions, show that this is how he conceives of his job. He creeps up on the young woman recording the scene employing the “policing” tactic of taunting, escalating, and seeking to provoke any excuse to wreak violence on her. He stands inches away from her — without any mask in a pandemic. He looms and menaces, frustrated that she refuses to be intimidated by his efforts to intimidate.

“Get away from me. Can you get away from me?” the woman says.

“No,” he replies.

“Why?” she says.

“Move me,” he says.

“I’m not going to move you, but you can get away from me, though,” she responds.

“No,” he says.

“You can get away from me,” she says.

“No, I don’t,” he says.

“Personal space,” she says.

“Excuse me,” he responds.

But he doesn’t move, not at first. He asks a few more vaguely threatening questions (“Is this your car?” isn’t seeking information) and then does that weird cop thing where he suggests that members of the public aren’t allowed on public property. He literally puffs his chest in an attempt to initiate physical contact. He only moves away once he realizes this young woman isn’t going to take the bait of his juvenile “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!” stratagem.

That trick serves no useful purpose, no civil function, no “police” function. It does no good to anyone and is not good for anything. Again, no city needs to be hiring anyone to go walk the streets trying to bump into citizens in order to arrest (or pummel and then arrest) those citizens for the infraction of having been bumped into by city employees.

The real shame for the Buffalo PD here is that DeLong’s creepy menacing and unprofessional thuggery overshadows the behavior of the other officers seen here in this citizen’s video. DeLong asserts that the man in distress here has been “violent” and that he “attacked his own mother.” He seems frustrated that the other officers are refraining from responding to such previous alleged violence violently and he seems to think the absence of this citizen’s witness recording would permit the kind of skull-cracking response he seems to long for here.

Take him out of the picture, though, and what you see is a bunch of cops doing a pretty good job handling the situation without any use of force at all. They give enough space to this man in distress that they’re able to peacefully convince him to get in an ambulance and accept the help he needs. No guns or tasers or billy clubs or handcuffs. No skull-cracking, no tackling, no sucker-punching, no adrenaline-junkie enthusiasm for the toxic exhilaration of violence.

Photo-shop Lt. DeLong out of this video and it could almost serve as a training video for the kind of police response that no one would be seeking to defund or abolish. Leave him in and you’ve got a training video for what cops should not be doing and what cops should never be allowed to do.

When forced to admit to incidents of police brutality, police harassment, or police criminality, police departments almost always claim that such incidents are the work of a few exceptional “bad apples.” That’s sort of what we see here: One vulgar, unprofessional, itching-for-violence cop demonstrating the kind of behavior that would be a crime if anybody else did it, while in the background several uniformed officers perform their essential duty with the restraint and professionalism of a crack team of Trader Joe’s clerks.

The sick thing, though, is that the bad apple is a lieutenant. He outranks all the cops in the background and he’s got the institutional authority to punish them for making him look bad by their good behavior.

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