The “Ex-Cop” Phenomenon

Content warning: the following post includes discussion of police crimes including sexual assault, negligence leading to death, as well as responses to those crimes.

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I first saw the phrase “ex-cop” in headlines about Daniel Holtzclaw, the Oklahoma City Police officer who committed sexual crimes, using his position as a police officer to discourage his victims from reporting his crime. I found it odd. I’d only heard “retired cop” or “fired cop”. ” Ex-cop” was something new. Yet story after story used the term.

Now Brian Encinia, the officer who committed perjury and lied about details surrounding the arrest of Sandra Bland, who died in police custody, is being called an ex-cop too. It’s technically true that neither man is presently employed by police forces. But it is also true that they were cops when they broke the law.

Brian Encinia escalated a routine traffic stop to the point he was threatening “I will light you up” while aiming his stun gun at an unarmed crying woman, a woman who died shortly after under contested circumstances. He did not do that as an ex-cop; he did it in uniform, armed, and on the job. It was his position as cop that allowed him to do it, and to lock Ms. Bland up.

Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted on numerous counts of a variety of sexual crimes, crimes he committed while on duty. He pulled over his victims, as a cop, and threatened them with criminal charges. He abused his state given authority and the power it gave him over civilians. His crimes were facilitated by his profession.

These men were not ex-cops when they broke the law. They were not ex-cops when they pulled these women over and assaulted them, sexually and physically. They were not ex-cops when they falsified police reports or when they plotted to do it again. They were cops.

Ex-cop is a rhetorical trick that distances these men and their crimes from the institution that gave them the power to do the things they did. It protects the institution from criticism, and leaves the door open for more cops to commit more crimes. Ex-cop is the new term for cops who got fired after they got caught committing terrible acts on the job, with the gun and badge the police force gave them.

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