How Police Officers Can Police Better, According To An Ex-Cop

"I know what it's like when you put your hands on somebody."

How Police Officers Can Police Better, According To An Ex-Cop

For 16 years, Dominick Izzo worked as an Ilinois police officer, putting himself on the line for the communities he served. 18 years is a stretch worthy of note in any career, but for Izzo, his substantial time on the force also makes his criticism of certain policing practices so impactful.

While 43-year-old is now in the midst of a bid to become Cook County, Illinois's next sheriff, he's most well-known for his viral videos online where he offers his critiques about policing methods across the country that he believes to be dated. He hopes both that his critiques will spark change in individual police departments as well as help ordinary citizens better handle interactions with police. 

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"I was an idealist," Izzo told A Plus about his early years as a police officer. "As hokey as it sounds, I went in thinking I could make that difference... but in year five I realized it was a business. There is not a lot of leadership in law enforcement — there is management... We are policing people for revenue."

Izzo believes that certain departments"bleed" poorer communities for money with lower level infringements like traffic violations and public intoxication tickets. In more affluent communities, he explained, there is far less "proactive" policing. 

The criticism isn't uncommon. In 2014, Ferguson, Missouri became the subject of a nationwide debate about the excessive use of force by police following the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. As noted by an article published in the Harvard Law Review, in 2013, the St. Louis suburb had issued more arrest warrants than there were residents. And, per the Review, fees and fines generated by the suburb's municipal court accounted for $2.4 million in revenue that year, making them the suburb's second largest source of income.

"We were not community policing," Izzo said of some of the lower-income towns he worked in. "And even the fact that the term community policing has to exist makes me sick because it's a redundant term."

Dominick Izzo

In one of the most recent viral videos that he posted on Facebook, Izzo discusses his belief that police officers' instructions for people to "stop resisting" fails to account for a natural human response. When someone — including a police officer — has their hands on you, Izzo told A Plus, it's natural for a person to feel threatened. It's a normal response to tense up and protect your vital organs with your arms. This response, he added, often leads to suspects being written up in official police reports for "resisting" arrest or, worse, being hurt or killed by the police on the basis that they are "resisting." 

But is instinctively (and passively) covering yourself resisting?

"I know what it's like when you put your hands on somebody but you give them conflicting orders," Izzo said. "Nobody wants someone to put their hands on them. By human physiology, if you touch me, I'm not going to relax… you pull your arms in to protect yourself out of a basic, automatic human response."

Temporarily out of uniform, Izzo has been trying to help bridge the gap between civilians and police via social media engagement and public talks. He points to the numerous videos online showing police officers allegedly using excessive force as evidence that there is a deep divide between communities and their law enforcement officers. He also thinks that now is the time to address it.

"Yes, you have to take a 30-second video that you see online and understand that there is more to it," Izzo said. "But there are times when within that 30 seconds you can blatantly see things that are just wrong, and it's just amazing the law enforcement community can't stand being called out if there is something black and white, absolutely wrong on a video clip."

Izzo also talks to civilians about how to best interact with police in order to stay out of trouble and protect themselves. His number one piece of advice is "as best you can, 100 percent comply."

While he's critical of American law enforcement, Izzo also has hope that things are on the verge of changing. This moment in America's history, he said, is one of the best opportunities for police to reform how they work, reinvest in better training and respond to the call from civilians for more responsible policing. 

"The people are demanding for change and it has to come," he said. "Now is the time to start putting pressure on police for far superior training."

Cover image via Dominick Izzo.

Correction: A previous version of this article noted Izzo worked in law enforcement for 18 years. He worked in law enforcement for 16 years. 

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