Know Your Place: A Response

Transcript used in the video:

Howdy y’all, Pete here from

Recently a couple of friends shared with me an article entitled “Know Your Place”, which was posted to by William Harvey.

I thought it important to weigh-in on.

Specifically, I hope to share some thoughts with current law enforcement employees, as that was the intended audience of the original article.

Please do familiarize yourself with Harvey’s piece, so you can see that I’m not trying to distort his main thrust, which advocates that law enforcement employees defer to their superiors, especially when in the presence of “citizens”.

Failure to do so, Harvey worries, can cause “citizens” to view your specific agency or the institution of law enforcement itself, with less respect.

A few points made by Harvey that caught my attention:

The prolific use of the word “citizen.”

In seven paragraphs it’s used eight times.

Why, you ask, did this stand out to me?

Because viewing a person as a “citizen” infers that there’s another group, which I’m pretty sure Harvey would identify as LEOs.

So what’s the big deal?

If one creates such distinctions, and operates with such a paradigm, people are viewed according to a category.

It only creates and perpetuates division, which doesn’t set the stage for a harmonious coexistence.

Moving on.

Harvey claims that “law enforcement is stepped in para-military tradition” – assuming that’s a factual statement, which I don’t, though the trend has become so – is that a good thing?

Do you really want to live in a militarized society?

Do you want your kids to grow-up in a community where fear is used as the rationale to erect a police state?

Harvey makes a couple of statements that show to me, his underlying motivation – the control of perception.

A couple of phrases he used: “diminishes his position in the citizen’s eyes” and “how we are judged by the public.”

It seems Harvey is concerned not with reality, but in window-dressing.

He goes on:

“I know that there are times you may despise your supervisor. You don’t want them around you but due to assignments or situations they’re going to be there. If you don’t respect them as an individual, respect the rank and uniform they represent. If you disrespect the rank by showing this disregard for your agency’s leaders, you’re setting yourself up for problems.”

To summarize: never criticize – it’s dangerous!!

In fact, criticism, constructive criticism is healthy and necessary to any effective relationship – be it among lovers or colleagues – and to any endeavor.

Being admonished for questioning the so-called “leaders” seems just a bit dictatorial.

If such a structure is good for law enforcement, as Harvey claims, then why not apply the same self-censorship to all aspects of life?

That would be a pretty grim world.

When this video was recorded Harvey’s article had netted only a couple of comments, but they were insightful.

In one, Marc notes that if an action wrong for a “citizen” then it’s wrong for a LEO.

I’d agree – but think Marc fails to take his point to its logical conclusion.

If one would agree that theft is wrong but support law enforcement, as it’s currently structured, they’re lying to themselves, as the institution and its actors operate based on theft.

Law enforcers today claim a “legitimate” right to initiate force – to steal the wealth created by others in their community, to then protect them.

Seems a bit paradoxical, don’t you think?

Following orders is NOT an excuse – by James Schlitt at

The second commentor – Jeffrey – notes that “A bad order is a bad order, but as long as it’s not illegal, immoral or unethical (and most aren’t) then we have an obligation to follow it.”

But is that true?

Again, every action taken by law enforcement employees today is ultimately couched on the fact that the good supplied – security or safety – was facilitated through the use or threat of force.

Is that ethical?

True, Harvey’s goal – mutual respect – is admirable, but real respect is not gotten through orders.

Might there be another way that goal could be accomplished other than repeatedly denoting just how critical it is that subordinates obey rank so that the reputation their department not be tarnished?

In fact, I’d argue that putting anything – be it a person or an institution – up on a pedestal and ignoring or actively sidestepping wrongs, creates a bad situation.

Most now employed as police are not bad people, but they’re caught-up in a system built on a flawed foundation.

Instead of telling police employees that they should act a certain way, might it be better if the provision of law enforcement had such incentives built-in?

I encourage you to check out the resources housed at to consider how law enforcement could be supplied like any other good or service, via consensual interactions.

Thanks for your time. I appreciate you exposing yourself to other perspectives.

Text of original article

by William Harvey, published to on Dec. 18, 2012

“Hey, buddy” is not the way to start a conversation with a superior officer. Introducing your watch commander to a citizen as “Wild Bill” is far too informal and diminishes his position in the citizen’s eyes. This happens far more than you think. Matter of fact, I was on the receiving end of both of these. Let’s get the decorum lesson behind us.

Law enforcement is steeped in para-military tradition. Rank structure is a key to our successes. You are taught this in the academy, some of us lived this in the military and structure must be adhered to. I’m not talking about calling a commander by his rank if you two are out fishing. There can be friendships, despite the strict fraternizing policies of some departments.

William Harvey, author of “Know Your Place”

When you introduce your supervisor to a citizen with their proper rank, you set the following standards. First, you show respect toward the department and what it stands for. If the citizen has a problem, complaint or this incident requires somebody from a higher pay grade, they should know it.

This high rank is there to be a problem solver or solution provider with this circumstance. No offense, I’ve known a few cops named Bubba and Snake. And I’ve been referred to as Wild Bill (don’t know how I ever got that nickname). However, the informed citizen knows circumstances can require someone from higher up the flagpole.

To meet and greet the supervisor who will cure their situation will reek to no end if they are called Wild instead of their respective rank. Also, this informal name will assure the citizen that the fix is in. If the supervisor is on a first named basis, the citizen may believe they won’t get equitable treatment. The flip side of this is that when interacting with citizens, the commander must use the proper title for their staff as well. This shows the outsider that we have mutual respect for each other, exhibiting professionalism. It is all based on respect of the system.

I know that there are times you may despise your supervisor. You don’t want them around you but due to assignments or situations they’re going to be there. If you don’t respect them as an individual, respect the rank and uniform they represent. If you disrespect the rank by showing this disregard for your agency’s leaders, you’re setting yourself up for problems. I’ve seen this disdain later set the stage for a charge of insubordinate behavior, which is serious at any department and should never be tolerated. If you let your anger or disdain bubble up, you’ll let it slip out at the most inopportune time.

How we treat each other and the respect we show our agency is often how we are judged by the public. If we act like professionals without causing citizens to suspect hooliganism, then we will be seen as professionals. If we lower our standards of respect, we are no more than a group of workers. Keep our vocation at a professional level.


  • 1605

    I always call cops by their first name and I encourage them to call me by mine. I don’t care for para-military structure. It’s a farce.

    Someone ring a bell because here comes Sargent-Major-Chief-Admiral-Lieutenant-Colonel-Private-Captain t and Common to set us straight. The Sgt will probably come by and explain that rank doesn’t mean that much to him, really, despite his moniker.

  • SFCRetired

    The only rank that means anything to me is that worn by members of the armed forces. Peace officers have no business either wearing military ranks or expecting to be called by those ranks. For one thing, most of them wouldn’t make a pimple on the nether regions of a good Army PFC.

    I’ve had a couple of them get a tad huffy when I refused to address them as “Corporal” or “Sergeant”. Of course, neither do they like it when I refuse to answer their fishing questions. None of their @#$%^&! business where I’ve been, where I’m going, or where I work.

  • t.

    I call people Mr this or Mrs that. Its called being respectful.

    Pete, you don’t like the term “citizens”. You seem to taken rat offense at it. What phrase would you prefer? “non-police fellow citizen” roles of the tongue nicley.

  • BluEyeDevil

    SFCRetired, nice to meet you sir, I too am ex-military 39th I.D., and veteran of the farce that was the Iraqi war and I agree with you totally. A cop is not military or even close. Ranks do not apply to civilian law enforcement and have no place in dealing with the public. I would also like to add, military style semi automatic weapons, combat shotguns, any sort of gas weaponry, combat boots and BDU’s, Drill Sergeant style head gear, kevlar helmets, armored vehicles, pain compliance weaponry, hoods for concealment, training for military style movements and batman utility belts.
    What ever happened to blue shirt and dress slacks, with badge and name tag clearly visible, a service revolver and shot gun in the trunk and a yes sir or ma’am, can I help you.
    Even though I am ex-military, I do not walk around demanding people call me E-6 staff sergeant last name. Just another fine example of militarized police and the growing police state in this country. Is’nt that right T.

  • t.

    Read my earlier comment and you tell me there dumbass.

  • BigPoppaAZ

    As “t”, stated, and we hardly, if ever, agree, what would be a better noun to describe a national of the community/commonwealth, generically of course? A quick dictionary lookup returned the synonyms of “burgher – national – denizen – townsman” would those be more appropriate?

    As a society, good, bad, or indifferent, we have optioned, as a whole, to allow Law Enforcement Organization within our community to protect and serve. In as such, we recognize a differentiation between a layman and an LEO in the course of their respective duties, enforcing the agreed upon law. Any level of authority given and/or deference to, per se, is afforded within the bounds of the individual is in the course of their job duties, only.

    As a society, both LEO and “burgher” let’s say, we must remain vigilant, recognize and hold accountable that LEO’s own behavior and actions are governed by the same laws that they are sworn to uphold. No one is granted extra rights.

    I think Pete’s off base on this one.

    As an aside, Pete, as an avid Pogonotrophist ( I’m liking the beard. Keep at it.

  • BluEyeDevil

    oh I’m the dumbass, LOL. I was just using you for some positive reinforcement because I thought you were a “good” cop and I did read your post. LOL, good and cop there’s an oxymoron for you. Anyway does your lack of intelligence limit your vocabulary to “dumbass”. In your world of rainbows and unicorns I would have thought you could come up with some more colorful dialect than “dumbass”.

  • t.

    Devil. Oh I could have…that one just perfectly describes you though.

  • Chris Mallory

    Citizen is the correct term. Much better than the thug preferred “civilian”. Citizens are armed and rank higher than mere government employees. Government employees work for us. They need to remember that.
    As for rank and titles, I do not use any government rank or title when talking to a government employee, including when talking to judges. No “Your honors”. No “Officer”. I just speak directly to them, as an employer speaks to his servant.

    Government employment should entail a loss of the status and rights enjoyed by Citizens. Government employees should be scorned and ridiculed at every opportunity.

  • T

    Mallory: Good first sentence. Them straight to stupid

    Maybe you should do a little research and stop thinking that you are good at thinking. An ie t Greece may be a good topic. Find out was required to even be a citizen there.

  • taser you back

    How about calling me what I am, no matter where I am in the world-a person. I’d prefer that to citizen.

  • t.

    So, Hello person. That’s sounds dorky. That’s why I go back to Mr or Mrs. Common respect that’s uncommon around here.

  • Helping Out

    Just call all of them “chief” This way you can cover all of the ranks and be as condescending as possible at the same time. It’s a win win