Calibre Readers Respond to the “Constitutional Cop” Situation

By Calibre Press  |   May 20, 2020

We received a flood of feedback following Jim Glennon’s piece on Officer Greg Anderson, a patriotic Seattle-area cop and veteran who posted passionate personal views—in uniform—on what he called the “tyrannical” pandemic edicts issued around the country. His Chief, Rod Covey, who Anderson and scores of others like and respect, suspended him after Anderson refused to pull the posting.

Overwhelmingly, officers across the country voiced clear understanding of, and for the most part respect for, the professional purism that has driven both Anderson and Covey into this challenging spot.

Officer Anderson feels compelled to stand his ground, at the risk of losing his job, in defense of what he sees as Constitutional duties officers are sworn to uphold. Chief Covey is compelled to enforce departmental policy, which prohibits officers from doing what Officer Anderson did in uniform. This decision has also come at great personal and emotional expense, as demonstrated by the vilification of Chief Covey as an anti-patriot and a threat to Constitutional rights. Counter to that feedback, though, Jim Glennon noted a “remarkably large and impressively passionate” outpouring of support for Chief Covey. “Scores of officers who know Chief Covey personally spoke very highly of him,” said Glennon. “They hold him in extremely high esteem and admire him as an excellent leader, a deeply dedicated law enforcement professional and an outstanding human being in every sense of the word.”

Almost unanimously, the piece was seen as fair and well-balanced, which was our goal. Here’s a random selection of the feedback we received:

Prominent trainer and police psychologist, Dr. Alexis Artwohl, author of Deadly Force Encounters, writes:

“Another great column on a difficult topic, Jim. I agree with all you said. Kudos to you for helping guide officers through this conundrum imposed on them by out of control politicians.”

 Asst. Chief Patrick Arpin with Bellevue (WA) PD writes:

“This was an excellent post that respects both sides of the argument.  As a law enforcement leader, 33 years on the job, I’ve had to enforce policy violations even though I respected the officer and even understood to a degree why they took the actions they did.

“I have personally known Chief Rod Covey for years and he is what you said – an honorable man.  He is a great leader and very well-liked and respected in our region…and I suspect beyond. LE officers who refuse to follow orders or violate policy must accept the consequences of those actions which may, and sometimes should, include termination. We don’t have to like it, but it is a necessary part of law and order.

“Thank you for a well written post.”

From Training Sgt. Doug Kazensky in the Community Services Unit of the Longview (WA) PD:

I agree with you 100%.  For the record, I have met Chief Covey.  I have served on panels with him.  You may not know this, but Chief Covey speaks through a tracheotomy device after surviving cancer, but the man comes to work every day to serve.  He truly is inspirational and he definitely is in a hard spot.

Thanks for the article.

A captain from a northern Virginia area agency comments:

Thank you for your work bringing concepts like this one to our minds for discussion.  If nothing else, as a profession we must continuously engage in serious dialogue about the nature and effects of what we do and why.

As a 29-year veteran, 17 of those as a commander, I see both sides of this issue, but I see a slippery slope not addressed in your article that has to be pointed out. There is a clear judicial process for determining whether emergency decrees are a violation of constitutional law.  With the over-politicizing of everything, especially this pandemic and the responses to it, I cannot blindly assign faith to one point of view or another because it gels with how I personally think things should be.

I swore to uphold the US and Virginia Constitutions, and the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I don’t make those laws. The General Assembly does, and I am duty-bound to enforce them, regardless of my personal feelings.  I have a measure of discretion, absolutely, as do all officers, but we still must seek to meet our community’s expectations lawfully and not with our own agenda.  There is a reason “Lady Justice” is portrayed blindfolded.

We all enforce unpopular laws.  I’m sure there are cops out there who think marijuana use is OK or that 0.08 BAC is not “drunk,” but if it is illegal in their jurisdiction, they should be citing offenders. If we have officers feeling they can ignore laws they personally do not like and only enforce ones they agree with, aren’t they then also violating their oath of office?

Perhaps officers concerned about whether emergency decrees withstand constitutional scrutiny should ask their leaders to have their prosecutors AND their county/city attorneys provide guidance.  It’s what we did in my agency.

This isn’t as clear-cut as the pandemic-deniers would have you believe.  This isn’t enforcing something clearly illegal, like segregation.  This is really about the tactics used to ensure compliance with emergency decrees intended to ensure the entire community is safe from this virus.  I think that the tactics described are poor ideas, but that’s my personal opinion.  Are they unlawful? Maybe, maybe not, but are they a good use of police resources in the long run?  Absolutely not (again, my opinion).

Somebody should have spoken up in a closed setting about the tactics to employ for gaining community compliance in a very challenging time. That same community will remember how each agency handled the emergency decrees.

Former officer Mark Daniels from Portmouth, RI responds:

“Maybe it’s time now for policies to change.

“And why does every offense always seem to require the extremes of firing or forced resignation? Aren’t there far more proportional ways of disciplining or making a point?”

From Lt. Joseph Pretti with Eddystone (PA) PD:

Good article on “Should the Constitutional Cop be Fired? I don’t know why officers never listen when it comes to social media and case laws. The biggest thing that we always stress in my department–and it also comes from our local FOP–is “Watch what you say on social media.”

I like to give my opinions and tell people how I feel just like everyone else, but I don’t do it on social media. That’s probably one of the reasons I don’t have any social media accounts. They can cause more harm than good.

Training Specialist Stephan J. Rothstein (ret.), formerly with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in Austin, TX responds:

You make some very good points in this article and reflect what I think most police supervisors were thinking. Upon seeing the video for the first time, I was also wondering how he could think about making a video like that in his uniform and in his patrol car.

I generally agree with your conclusions in the column. As much as I dislike the idea, I think the officer’s termination would be upheld through any appeal procedure which looks at the law. He made it the department’s business when he made the video in uniform. If he had not been in uniform or in a patrol car, then I am not as sure that his rights, including freedom of speech, should be curtailed just because he is a police officer. I recognize, however, that courts have not agreed with me on that.

There is one point I strongly disagree on. A citizen’s constitutional rights are never to be suspended, not even in an emergency. I have no idea where and how the concept of rights being suspended because some elected official (mayor, governor, president or dogcatcher) thought it was enough of an emergency came from. The Constitution itself shows us that this was considered and is not allowed.

Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 2 shows that the founding fathers considered emergencies and what could be done to citizens’ rights. It provides specifically for the worst emergency they could think of at the time; rebellion or invasion, and it allows for the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus. The most important thing to recognize here is that it refers to the Writ of Habeas Corpus as a privilege and not a right

This paragraph shows that the intent of the Constitution was to not suspend rights, just privileges and it gives a guideline for how serious the emergency must be for that suspension. Since there is nothing else at all in the Constitution that allows for the suspension of rights, and the Constitution is the highest law which no other laws can contradict, I do not believe any law providing for a suspension of rights would be legal.

Another argument would be to ask when the government could decide to suspend other rights, like your rights against self-incrimination or unreasonable search? If any rights can be suspended, then it implies these could be, too. Who gets to decide when those can be suspended?

I urge you to reconsider your opinion on whether or not constitutional rights can be suspended at all.

Sgt. Michael Fadden (ret.), currently a non-sworn training officer in Egg Harbor Twp. NJ writes:

I just read your article and the post by Chief Covey and to be honest, I was surprised at the comments in response to the Chief’s post. The vast majority (at least the ones I read) were blasting him and his decision. I can only assume that most of the people replying are not cops and do not understand that Constitutional Rights are not limitless.

We have been training officers for years that they do not have an absolute right to freedom of speech, especially on social media. Anderson comes across as a smart guy and he had to know this. If a cop feels that he is being ordered to violate Constitutional Rights, he can always refuse the order or perhaps, more subtly, simply not take action and deal with the consequences when they come. That’s why we have unions and lawyers. But to take it to social media and violate policy is asking for trouble.

In any case, your “walking both sides of the fence” is entirely appropriate in a case like this.

The following two tabs change content below.
Calibre Press

Calibre Press

Calibre Press has 37 years in the business of keeping officers safer, smarter and more successful, from rookie to retirement.