Verbal abuse of Northfield’s police officers; where’s the line?

A faux ticketDespite what you see in this photo, I’m not the type who would verbally abuse a cop. But this article in yesterday’s NY Times about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., As Officers Face Heated Words, Their Tactics Vary, made me wonder what the line of tolerance is for our local men and women in blue. Should they ignore the verbal abuse as long as no threats are being made? Does the setting matter (public vs private)? How about if the comments are coming from a youth? (continued)

Several officers interviewed in four cities on Friday said they tried to ignore such remarks. Others said they had zero tolerance for being treated disrespectfully in public. The line of when to put on handcuffs is a personal and blurry one, varying among officers in the same city, the same precinct, even the same patrol car.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    I think cops should have a low tolerance level of verbal abuse by kids, as it’s indicative of a problem… and early intervention may help to avoid a bigger problem down the road.

    July 26, 2009
  2. Anthony Pierre said:

    Doesn’t it depend on the situation? For example traffic stop vs hanging out at your house

    July 26, 2009
  3. john george said:

    Anthony- Is being disrespectful/antagonistic toward police ever acceptable, or, for that matter, even wise?

    July 27, 2009
  4. kiffi summa said:

    Anthony and John: is the Police EVER being antagonistic or disrespectful to the citizens they stop, or even ‘apprehend’, ever acceptable?

    July 27, 2009
  5. Britt Ackerman said:

    There was a really good article on this topic in Sunday’s Strib called “Thin Blue Skin.” Can’t find the article on-line now, but if anyone’s got the hard copy laying around it’s worth the read.

    July 27, 2009
  6. john george said:

    Britt- I read the article. It is good, because police officers are human just like the rest of us. I think we need to extend them that understanding.

    Kiffi- I think this whole thread is in reference to the the ordeal with Prof. Gates in Cambridge. Perhaps this perspective should be considered. The police were responding to a report of a break-in of a residence. The professor, seeing that there is a white officer at his door, immediately thinks- “He is here because I am black and he is profiling me, so I am going to make a case of this.” Instead, he could have identified himself as the legal resident of the home first, then found out why the officer was there. I wonder what type of scenario there would have been had a black officer responded to the call? It is only speculation on my part, but I think it would have played out differently. Racism is not just an attitude within the white community against blacks, or whomever. Racism and respect are a two-way street. And, respect is something that should be offered to every person, whether they wear a badge or not.

    July 27, 2009
  7. Matthew Hagen said:

    Griff – Why should the age of the person make any difference? Should I be less able to argue the validity of my being pulled over or stopped by an officer of the law any less or more then you simply because I am 19? While I have very little respect for a large portion of the police department as a result of certain interactions with them over the years I do know that no matter your age you have to understand the time and place for those arguments. Age is completely irrelevant. Things such as the situation, crime being committed, and other factors must be taken in to account so that an officer can protect themselves but age seems to be the smallest of those factors.

    July 27, 2009
  8. Anthony Pierre said:

    is it a crime? I dont think so, but I will defer to our lawyering friends

    July 28, 2009
  9. Anthony Pierre said:

    john, if you can dig up the 911 call and the dispatcher recording, listen to them.

    there is no doubt that crowley was in the wrong arresting gates.

    I think it has less to do with race than people realize.

    July 28, 2009
  10. Peter Millin said:

    Maybe i am old school or maybe it is my German heritage, but in general I never argue with a policeman the moment he pulls me over.

    If I feel i have been wronged our legal system has way to deal with this…afterwards.

    Cops have to put up with a lot of crap during their careers. Most people tend to be respectful, but some are just pricks. This goes especially if they are a celebrity, somehow those folks think they are above the law, and deserve special treatment.

    The issues around Gates are part of the very same problem as mentioned above. Combine that with Gates’s own prejudice and racism and we have a cocktail for disaster.
    Most people would thank the police for being there so quickly. Most people just would present the required ID. Most people wouldn’t start screaming and yelling at someone that is just here to see if you are ok.

    Crowley might have reacted to harsh by arresting him, but Gates was the one who was out of control.
    Gates is a provocateur and got the best of Crowley.

    The more disturbing part for me is Obama’s reaction to this. He either didn’t think about what he was saying or he believes too that all policemen are racist.

    July 28, 2009
  11. Anthony Pierre said:

    There was no crime committed, so why was Gates arrested? I think Egos had more to do with it than race.

    Like I said look up the 911 recording and the dispatcher recording. Make your own conclusion.

    July 28, 2009
  12. Anthony Pierre said:

    the police report even makes his arrest more ridiculous. Gates called the police station on the police officer lol

    July 28, 2009
  13. john george said:

    Anthony- If the police report is correct, then the allegation of disruptive conduct is valid. I could not hear anything on the links you list that give me any evidence either way. If the police report is correct, then my opinion is that Gates is the racist in this case. I would think that a Harvard Professor would have more sense than to challenge a police officer without first positively identifying himself. But then again, common sense is not too common anymore, and has nothing to do with the degrees behind a name.

    July 28, 2009
  14. Anthony Pierre said:

    I am not saying and have never said Gates was without fault in this.

    What I am saying is that he shouldn’t have been arrested. No one should have been arrested.

    July 29, 2009
  15. Matthew Hagen said:

    I am going to have to agree with Peter on this one. There are established legal channels that one goes through if you feel that you have been wronged by an officer of the peace. Arguing with one who is in front of you is just plain stupid. Lets remember that they do have guns, handcuffs, tasers, and the ability to arrest you. Come on people. Do I understand that you can get a ticket or arrested for something you didn’t do? Yes. Do I also understand that if you don’t agree you go to court and fight it and if the system works the way it should you win. Arguing with an officer of the peace is just plain stupid.

    July 29, 2009
  16. Anthony Pierre said:

    Stupid is not against the law. If it was, then 7/10 people would be in jail.

    July 29, 2009
  17. Matthew Hagen said:

    Anthony – Being stupid = perfectly legal. Getting caught acting stupid = sometimes legal, sometimes not. The time and place have a large amount to do with what is illegal. If I commit a stupid act inside my home with no one around I will most likely not get in trouble. If I do it in front of or directed at an Officer of the Peace I probably will suffer a consequence of some sort.

    July 29, 2009
  18. Anthony Pierre said:

    If you get arrested for that, then the officer is in the wrong.

    July 29, 2009
  19. Peter Millin said:


    I am not sure what the 911 call proves? Based on that call the police had to go there, despite the vague answers of the caller


    July 29, 2009
  20. Anthony Pierre said:

    it proves there wasnt race involved in the police call. and that the officer knew it was some dude that might have owned the house

    July 29, 2009
  21. john george said:

    ANthony- The police can’t run on presumptions. That is why the officer asked for identification. Why Gates was so beligerant in his response is beyond me. My opinion is that it was racially motivated.

    July 29, 2009
  22. Matthew Hagen said:

    Anthony: What John said is absolutely correct. It is the same reason that police ask for identification of everyone in a gas station when responding to a robbery there or frisk hostages after they are released from captivity. How is the officer supposed to know who is the resident and who is just a common robber using the excuse that it is his house in an attempt to get away with the crime?

    July 29, 2009
  23. Matthew Hagen said:

    Anthony: It is possible for the officer to arrest you for doing something stupid and for that to be the correct course of action. Driving while intoxicated, i.e. acting stupid, is an offense that it is perfectly normal to be arrested for. Running around naked, i.e acting stupid, is an that it is possible to be arrested for. Disturbing the Peace, the charge Gates was arrested under, is an offense that one can be cited and/or arrested for.

    July 29, 2009
  24. Anthony Pierre said:

    it might be, but she he have been arrested. that’s the point.

    July 29, 2009
  25. Peter Millin said:


    As much as an officer needs to respect an individual, the officer deserves the same respect.

    Gates “wasn’t just yelling” he verbally insulted and atteacked the police officer, who is a public servant not a piece of meat.

    Gates took the opportunity to push his weight around and to get his 15 minutes of fame.

    If he would have acted, like most people would do, in a sane and professional manner. This “issue” wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

    It is astonishing that a man of Gates’s intellect and standing in the community was behaving like a jackass.
    He made a fool of himself in fron of any fairminded person.
    If he would be the professor of any of my kids I would be seriously worried. Gates has shown bad judgement and has blown out a harmless situation in to a frontpage story. He has done this for his publicity and has in the process smeared a good cop.

    Cops are not doormats or punch bags for any idiot who is having a bad day. They are public servants that put their lives on the line for us every day, so that we can sleep peacefully at night, and they don’t become millionaires by doing it.

    Are there bad apples among them? Of course their are, just like in any other profession.

    Crowley is not one of them……

    July 29, 2009
  26. Anthony Pierre said:

    yep I agree with you peter, but gates should not have been arrested.

    July 29, 2009
  27. Matthew Hagen said:

    Anthony: At that point him being arrested was up to the officers (multiple members of the local pd and Harvard Police Officers were present according to the accounts) at the scene. Now if a judge found him guilty I would probably disagree as the evidence looks a little scarce in retrospect. However we were not on the scene and a that point it is up to the officer with the Justice System as the final voice. Hence the system of checks and balances making sure that one area does not have supreme power.

    July 29, 2009
  28. Anthony Pierre said:

    since the charges were dropped, doesn’t that mean the arrest wasn’t warranted?

    July 29, 2009
  29. Teresa Armenta said:
    1. I am a Nurse Practitioner. Like cops, I see people who are often at their worst, their most vulnerable, frightened and angry. Venting is okay and necessary. And I have had patients cross that line and get verbally abusive to me. I don’t have to take it and I tell them so -respectfully-and remove myself until they calm down. Threats or actions to harm are handled by a call to security. Therein lies the difference. Angry name-calling vs threats to harm should provoke different responses. Especially if you have invaded someone’s home-in error as in Professor Gates’ case.

    2. And verbal abuse by kids may be indicative of a problem–or not. However, the manner of intervention is crucial. Kids will learn more from police officers who “role-model” a respectful way to handle confrontation rather escalating the situation by threatening the kids with their position. Kids learn mostly from parents and peers-they also learn a lot from the treatment they see or receive from any person in authority, be it a teacher, doctor, or cop etc.

    3. And to say it is “unwise” to ever be disrespectful to/antagonize an officer, to me- speaks of fear more than respect. Therein lies another problem. In my mind, the respect and desire to not antagonize should be mutual.

    July 29, 2009
  30. john george said:

    Teresa- What did you mean by this last paragraph?

    And to say it is “unwise” to ever be
    disrespectful to/antagonize an
    officer, to me- speaks of fear more
    than respect. Therein lies another
    problem. In my mind, the respect and
    desire to not antagonize should be

    I was the one who raised these issues. What is the other problem that lies therin? I suppose I could speculate on what you meant, but perhaps you could explain it more clearly. Thanks.

    July 29, 2009
  31. Griff Wigley said:

    Matt wrote:

    Griff – Why should the age of the person make any difference?

    Teresa wrote:

    And verbal abuse by kids may be indicative of a problem–or not. However, the manner of intervention is crucial.

    Yes, manner of intervention is crucial. A bullying style by a parent, teacher, or cop can trigger a bad reaction.  But otherwise, verbal abuse of someone in authority by a kid is not normal and should not be ignored.

    July 30, 2009
  32. Scott Oney said:

    Griff: I notice that you introduced quotations in this post (#30) with “Matt wrote” and “Teresa wrote.” I’ve pretty much given up on trying to understand the finer points of what’s allowable and what’s not on LG, but I thought I at least had this much down, namely, that we’re supposed to address people directly (as modeled in this post), as opposed to talking about them. Has this diktat been suspended, or am I missing something more subtle here?

    July 30, 2009
  33. Griff Wigley said:

    Scott, I used the quotations because it has been quite a few days since Matt asked me his question.

    I wasn’t talking about them but you’re right, I should have used their first names in replying to them. Thanks for catching that!

    July 30, 2009
  34. Matthew Hagen said:

    Griff – I guess maybe I am just not getting it but I really do not see any foundation for age discrimination when it comes to how an officer responds. You said, “But otherwise, verbal abuse of someone in authority by a kid is not normal and should not be ignored.” Why should age make a difference? Any verbal abuse of an authority figure in a situation like that should be looked in to and evaluated regardless of age. It could mean an underlying issue regardless of the age, race, or sex of the person.

    July 30, 2009
  35. Patrick Enders said:

    Disorderly Conduct: Conversation About Gates Arrest Precedes Arrest

    A lawyer who moments earlier had been complaining to friends about police overreaction in the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., got a taste of the Gates treatment himself after loudly chanting “I hate the police” near a traffic stop in Northwest Washington, D.C.

    July 30, 2009
  36. Patrick Enders said:

    Disorderly Conduct: Conversation About Gates Arrest Precedes Arrest

    A lawyer who moments earlier had been complaining to friends about police overreaction in the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., got a taste of the Gates treatment himself after loudly chanting “I hate the police” near a traffic stop in Northwest Washington, D.C. (more specific address, of course, rejected by the LGN police-bot).

    July 30, 2009
  37. Maisie Ebert said:

    I’m sorry, but right when I read the title of this article, I thought, “Shouldn’t this be called ‘Verbal Abuse FROM Northfield Police Officers?” I, myself have never really been targeted by them, but many times, I have witnessed certain police officers pretty much abusing their powers and targeting the youth. I used to have respect for all police men, but since I moved to Northfield, that has changed.

    I guess I can’t really say this without giving examples, so I’ll give a few of the most recent examples.
    About a week ago, a cop just sat in his car, watching my friend and his friend for almost a half hour, and when my friend spat, the cop wips out his tickets and writes one. “Oh, some youth just spat! But if an adult did that, oh well.”
    Later that morning, two other people I know were sitting outside of a local dining place with there bikes. The cop took away their bikes. They weren’t even riding on them. While he was about to write their tickets, a college student passes on the sidewalk with a bike. I said, “Aren’t you gonna write him a ticket too?” ANd the cop just ignored my comment. He wasn’t a youth, so it didn’t matter that he was on a bike.

    Also, one of my other friends recently put a bumper sticker on his car and has been pulled over at least 5 times within the past 1 and 1/2 weeks for nonsensical reasons.

    I really think the cops in this town need to go to Chicago and police that area for an hour. Then they’d see what they should be doing. They just think that us youth are easy to target, and most are! But there are much bigger problems than a kid spitting on a sidewalk and two kids sitting by their form of transportation. What are the cops going to do? Take away my shoes? Because that’s my way of transportation.

    Thank you Northfield Cops! Thank you for doing your jobs and screwing kids over because you abuse your power and ignore the stuff that actually matters. That’s what good cops do. Good cops are lazy cops, like you.
    The bad cops bust people for drunk driving and killing people, of course!

    Uh, I guess I should stop typing about now before I say too much.
    I think it is the youth who is being abused by the cops. Not the opposite.
    Once again, I USED TO HAVE RESPECT for cops. But now, the Northfield ones lost my respect.

    Do they have fun bullying kids for a living?

    August 6, 2009
  38. Maisie Ebert said:

    Also, kids have tried to build a good relationship with the police. But the police won’t try at all to help with that.

    August 6, 2009
  39. Anthony Pierre said:

    You need to bring this up in a more public forum. City council, talk to the chief, etc.

    August 6, 2009
  40. kiffi summa said:

    After many years on the Key’s adult board, and knowing how often the Youth Board has appealed to the Police Dept to come and discuss various issue with them, this is really disturbing to once again hear a first hand account of NF police officers’ treatment of youth in the community.

    Maisie: I personally know you to be a very bright and sociable young woman with admirable social skills; I therefor find your account credible, and as AP says, in need of airing at a larger forum.

    I would hope that Chief Taylor will respond, and make the first overture . It is almost impossible to consider this being brought to the City Council by the kids, with the existence already of such discriminatory behavior as described here.

    August 6, 2009
  41. Anthony Pierre said:

    backed up by adults like you, I am sure they will be heard

    August 6, 2009
  42. Arlen Malecha said:

    Kiffi –

    In post #37 you say “… this is really disturbing to once again hear a first hand account of NF police officers’ treatment of youth in the community.”

    From reading Maisie Ebel comments in post #35 It does not sounds as though she saw these incidents happen but rather is relaying what she heard from her friends. (I believe the leagal term for this is hearsay.)

    I am in no way discounting what she wrote, but it deos not appear that she witnessed these incidents “first hand”.

    August 6, 2009
  43. kiffi summa said:

    IT would appear that Maisie did witness the bicycle incident first hand as she reported that she said something to the officer. I would agree the spitting incident is somewhat less clear (although she says in the first paragraph “I have witnessed”); knowing Maisie, I believe she would select incidents she had observed.

    But Arlen, if an adult had described these same incidents, how quick would you be to question their validity? That’s not an accusation; just a question…

    August 6, 2009
  44. john george said:

    Maisie- I think the whole concept of respectful attitude is individual and has nothing to do with age or position. My contact with the Key kids, which, happily, is increasing, is very positive. I have had the same positive interraction with law enforcement personel. I have also had negative interractions with both youth and law enforcement, so I really hesitate to judge the whole of sny group by the actions of a few mis-lead people. I can understand your hurt and frustration, but I would encourage you not to give up. Not every adult/authority person is unreasonable.

    August 6, 2009
  45. Griff Wigley said:

    I think it would be great if Amy Merritt, the new Executive Director of the Union of Youth, and Police Chief Taylor had their own 1-1 (beer?) summit first and then see about scheduling follow-up sessions/a forum with a larger group of youth/police officers.

    August 6, 2009
  46. Maisie Ebert said:

    There have been certain incidents that I have heard of with youth being “bullied” by the police that are far worse than the two I gave examples of. I feel that I can only give examples of incidents that I have witnessed or been a part of first-hand.
    I am downtown very much so it is not unlikely for me to see these things.

    Also, I try not to give too much information about the incidents, like names and such, because it is not my job to say who did what to who. Other than not giving out the names of the youth and officers, I do not see how what I had said was hearsay.

    August 12, 2009
  47. Arlen Malecha said:

    Maisie, I am not doubting your statements. The way I read your previous post made it sound as though you were repeating what you had heard v. reporting what you had seen. I may have misread your previous post and if I did I truly apologize.

    August 13, 2009
  48. Arlen Malecha said:

    I also apologize for giving you a new last name in my prior post.

    August 13, 2009
  49. Maisie Ebert said:

    Haha it’s okay. Everybody messes up both my first and last names.
    But I really think that a new forum should maybe be started about the youth/police relationships.
    It might help. It really does disturb most of the youth that the cops seem to target us. So most kids have given up on trying to build a good relationship with the officers.

    August 14, 2009
  50. Arlen Malecha said:

    I feel your pain. I think I have seen / heard about 100 different variations of my name (first & last) as well.

    I am sure it is discouraging to try & set up a meeting and not get it. But don’t give up. It am confident it will happen sooner or later. Hopefully sooner than later.

    August 14, 2009
  51. Bright Spencer said:

    Sorry to jump in on this one so late, but I have heard from a reporter, whose name I completely forget right now, that this issue between Gates and Crowley is at least partly one of classism and not one of racism at all.

    As for respecting the police, I have learned in Chicago, that if a policeman stops you and he has a hangover and he has just spent the 100th night of hell
    with perps, then you better call him Sir just in case he is at the end his rope and looking for a place to jump off. It’s no insult. These men might go through more crud in a day than many of us ever will…in the name of keeping society relatively chaos free. Give these men and women the respect they deserve. When they screw up, give them an extra dose of leniency, but don’t let them do it again.
    We need to have police around as long as there are people wanting to do other people harm.

    August 17, 2009

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