I have no formal training in police tactics. But I've got cable, and I've seen the American TV show Cops. A friend of mine jokes that if you've seen enough of this show, then you are probably as qualified to wear a badge as many police officers. If that's true, then I've seen enough to be commissioner.
Cops was the original reality TV -- no bikini-clad babes, no buckets of cash for debasing yourself in public. Just a cameraman sitting in a squad car for a night filming whatever nonsense the police officer ran into. It is a veritable pillar of modern US culture, rivaled only by monster truck rallies and anything Jerry Bruckheimer has done.
I'd always wished there had been a Taiwanese version of Cops, and little did I know that I would get my wish earlier this week.
If you've ever seen Cops, you've no doubt been shaken to see five huge Texas troopers forcibly remove a Mexican migrant farmer from his car and knee him in the crotch, pointing their guns and screaming incomprehensibly at the top of their lungs because his tail light was out. It can be disturbing to watch the ferocity with which some policemen around the world go about their jobs.
Cops served a useful role in this regard. It offered a double-barreled cinema verite cautionary tale. On the one hand, you saw quite clearly why you should obey the law, while simultaneously learning why we must keep the government's police powers in check. Brilliant.
But I'd been missing something. I wasn't giving the cops in Cops enough leeway. I began to realize this last Sunday, when police were filmed chasing a drug addict in his car halfway across Taipei.
Judging from the video of the chase, here are some conclusions about the National Police Agency's standard procedures when pursuing a suspect in a vehicle.
First, you follow the suspect around until he happens to run into traffic. While he's waiting for the light to turn green, you draw straws to see which of the 40 cops chasing him has to approach the car. If you're unlucky enough to get the job, walk to the front of the car and ask him to get out. Although you are permitted to draw your sidearm, you are not permitted to lose face or cause the suspect to lose face by raising your voice or appearing angry.
Next, look back at the other cops with a helpless expression on your face, thinking: "Oh sweet Jesus, what do I do now?" This will prevent the suspect from having an unhealthy fear and respect for authority. If this doesn't stop the suspect, try asking again. If this fails, use the critical thinking instilled in you so effectively by the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) education system.
I began watching Cops: Taipei with amusement, thinking how lucky we are to have such docile and courteous police. I giggled with anti-authoritarian delight as the man led the police on a chase around the city, accompanied on TV by a fusion of Michael Jackson's Thriller and Darth Vader's entrance theme. What fun!
My merriment abated when the police started shooting at the man's tires. This seemed an odd tactic, considering he was on a busy street and could have been blocked in by police cars, or pulled out of the car without too much trouble. But no, the confronting officer deemed it better to start squeezing off rounds into the back tire.
The cop then asked the driver if the bullet-riddled rubber had mollified him. No luck. So the cop went back and capped off a few more rounds into the same tire. But then the light changed and the suspect drove away.