September 14th, 2008

Police Glorification


photo credit: !!WaynePhotoGuy

One of the notable attributes of a society degrading into a police state is the duality of both an intense fear [2, 3, 4] and an exaggerated glorification of its police force. As the force is increasingly adored by those who feel protected by them, they are supported in their continual acquisition of armaments, equipment, and training, all this of course helping instill fear in both would-be enemies and the populace at large.

While the most common police slogan is “to protect and to serve”, one of the core elements of police work is the use of fear to intimidate those with whom you must interact. As one example, consider the “Hercules teams” used in New York City for the sole purpose of startling those who witness them:

“The response we usually get is, ‘Holy s—!'” [NYPD Detective Abad] Nieves says. “That’s the reaction we want. We are in the business of scaring people–we just want to scare the right people.”

Such a display of power and might naturally leads a not-so-well-equipped group of people to respect them and fulfill their every request. This principle is likewise implemented by school bullies and gangs. In all such scenarios, those who use muscle to mandate respect often succeed (at least in the short term). Though based in fear, this respect and honor increases if the individuals feel protected by the bully; so long as the bully is on your side, he’s your friend.

Thus, the door opens to glorification, where those who decide to make a career out of police work are treated like Saints. Utah’s own Attorney General is one of those who seemingly worship the ground upon which the police walks, memorializing the deaths of those who have fallen in the line of duty.

Insofar as these individuals were legitimately serving the public and discharging their duty with honor and virtue, then their loss of life should be mourned. But is it appropriate to so elevate our police force above the normal citizenry that every injury or death incurred is mourned with statues, signs, fanfare, and flag-draped coffins?

Individuals who voluntarily choose to make a career out of police work do so knowing the inherent risk that is in the job. But does the same not apply to electricians, pilots, and construction workers? It may seem odd to compare a policeman’s job with these others, but consider the following table that, while nine years outdated, puts into perspective the risk of police work:

U.S.
Department of Labor
Occupational Fatalities per 100,000
Year 1999
Commercial
Fishermen
162
Timber
Cutters
154
Air
Pilots
65
Construction
Laborers
37
Garbage
Collectors
34
Truck
Drivers
28
Electricians
12
Gardeners
(non farm)
11
Police
11
Carpenters
7
(source)

This table illustrates how police work is not as dangerous as certain other careers. None of these jobs are compulsory, and so an individual choosing either one of these fields of work faces some risk to life and limb. Shall we start erecting statues to fallen florists and fisherman?

Those who scoff at such a suggestion might claim that a policeman is serving the public by protecting them and coming to their aid when called upon, unlike the individuals in the other professions listed above. This is a fallacious argument, for like the carpenter and pilot, the policeman is simply rendering a service to his employer—you. Policemen are hired and paid by the public to fulfill a legitimate need. The same holds true for any other enterprise. If I felt my life was under a higher threat, I might hire a bodyguard. If I felt my life was threatened by obesity, I might hire a personal trainer. Whatever the situation may be, it boils down to a simple economic exchange by which a service is rendered and payment made.

It should also be mentioned that the decision in Warren v. District of Columbia clarified that the police are not duty-bound to come to your rescue as you plea. The Court claimed that it is a “fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen” (Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981)). As ludicrous as this may sound, what the Court is telling you is that despite hiring the police to render you the service of protection, they are not obligated to fulfill their end of the agreement. Or, in other words, the police are legally justified in not honoring the implicit contract that exists between them and the people.

I do not honor the police any more than I honor the hardworking entrepreneur, the chef at the local bakery, or the diligent college professor. Any individual who works hard to fulfill a moral need of society is equally entitled to our praise and appreciation (not to mention the fact that all are compensated for their time and energy). The glorification of our police force, the fear used to achieve such an end, and the elevation of police work over the other needs of society should all be repudiated and exposed for the fraudulent fallacies that they are.

26 Responses to “Police Glorification”

  1. Brian Mecham
    September 14, 2008 at 1:52 pm #

    On the topic of cops… I highly recommend that people watch this YouTube video that explains why you should never talk to cops… or rather, that the Constitution (5th Amendment) secures your right not to be a witness against yourself, and that when you do say anything to a cop he/she can (and probably will) use that against you…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8z7NC5sgik

  2. Connor
    September 14, 2008 at 2:00 pm #

    That’s a great video, Brian. We have a family rule that we will not talk to cops, ever (unless we need something from them, not the other way around). That video spells it out quite well.

  3. Jeff T
    September 14, 2008 at 3:20 pm #

    How would you feel about volunteer fire fighters? These men come to our aid not out of economic exchange, but rather out of service to community.

  4. Connor
    September 14, 2008 at 3:26 pm #

    How would you feel about volunteer fire fighters?

    Well, the article is about policeman, but firefighters are likewise branded heroes with regularlity.

    Volunteerism (or a hybrid of some sort) is the ideal—citizens taking action, cognizant that they have the inherent power and ability to help in these situations, instead of continually delegating any shred of authority of responsibility they might have.

    In our neighborhood, we’re exploring the option of a community-based security patrol so that we can each participate and help in the security of the area. Who knows what’ll come of it, at least it gets individuals engaged, rather than relying on others.

  5. Curtis
    September 14, 2008 at 4:14 pm #

    Did you guys see what the Minnesota police did at the Republican National Convention? They were going beserk. The arrested reporters for Democracy Now. They even arrested a jounalist for the New York Post, a Republican publication! The first ammendment is completely dead with this sort of police action and has been for a long time. Check it out if you hadn’t seen it yet here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYjyvkR0bGQ
    and here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvAVHTo0NMc&feature=related

  6. Jeff T
    September 14, 2008 at 4:27 pm #

    In that case, then, wouldn’t you feel good about giving honor and respect to those who voluntarily sacrifice for the community, not out of economic interest, but out of service?

  7. Connor
    September 14, 2008 at 4:54 pm #

    In that case, then, wouldn’t you feel good about giving honor and respect to those who voluntarily sacrifice for the community, not out of economic interest, but out of service?

    Absolutely. Just as I’d feel good about giving honor and respect to those who serve in a soup kitchen, help out at the Special Olympics, or help a neighbor cut down a fallen tree after a hurricane.

  8. Clumpy
    September 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm #

    I think what Connor’s referring to stems more from inherent, disproportionate hero worship based on a person’s profession or volunteer activities than a rational evaluation of each person’s merit. For example, I share a deep respect for the volunteer paramedics from our neighborhood who helped out my dad when he fell off the roof and was unable to move. They were our friends and neighbors who answered the call and dropped everything they were doing to help us out.

    But teachers, firefighters, policemen, etc. get the lion’s share of respect in our society, and I think the great disservice done here is one of omission than commission. Who decreed that school teachers are the unsung heroes of our community, with their cushy hours, frequent breaks, and nine-month workyear? Each and every individual earns respect based on their actions and what they have done (i.e. teachers who really bless the lives of dozens of children every year deserve one of the highest commendations a society can give, and the lazy ones who damage their students condemnation.)

    An individual with a good job who volunteers as an on-call firefighter for the benefit of the community deserves a measure of respect following meritorious actions, as does anybody else who serves others. Heaven knows most of us aren’t doing that.

  9. Jeff T
    September 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm #

    There are some who’d say that many police officers are there only because they want to serve, and their paycheck is incidental. Would you honor those who honestly risk their lives to protect others, without regard to possible economic compensation?

  10. Connor
    September 14, 2008 at 5:06 pm #

    Would you honor those who honestly risk their lives to protect others, without regard to possible economic compensation?

    As I said in the post:

    Insofar as these individuals were legitimately serving the public and discharging their duty with honor and virtue, then their loss of life should be mourned.

    (Or if they are fortunate to not be injured or killed, then they should be thanked for their actions—just as my clients thank me for a job well done.)

    Regardless of intentions, though, the economic compensation is the citizen’s method of receiving the service as an exchange. I do not know what the other person’s true intentions are, but can rest assured (except in cases where the Warren decision applies) that there will be somebody there to answer a 911 call, perform CPR, rush me to the hospital, or whatever.

    When one’s aspirations of nobility become a career, then I think it suffices to simply see them compensated (or perhaps honored in specific circumstances where they performed beyond the call of duty). Those in such a line of work may publicly claim that they are only there because they want to serve, but true service does not entail taxation through force (or a bill in the mail). If an individual truly wanted to render such a service (free of charge to those whom they are actually serving), there are other methods through which that may be accomplished.

    As long as the individual is being directly compensated by those being “served”, it is nothing more than an economic exchange. When the person does it voluntarily or is compensated through some other means (say a sponsor of some sort), then the action may still, I think, be considered service.

  11. Jessica P
    September 14, 2008 at 5:07 pm #

    Connor,
    I agree, when I read your post it reminded me of the billboard that states ” click it or ticket” with a picture alongside it of a policeman, with an expression of intimidation. This billboard disturbs me on so many different levels, for one it’s unconstitutional, and it uses fear for the sake of the “greater good”.

  12. John
    September 14, 2008 at 5:27 pm #

    While we’re exposing fallacies…

    The implication that police, in general, scare everyone like bullies seems too broad a generalization to support. Even your supporting quote highlights that police only aim to scare a certain subset of people. Continuing with the cited article:

    The people the NYPD hopes to scare are the ideological brothers of the Islamic extremists who have successfully attacked New York City twice in the past 13 years.

    We all know people that abuse power, but making a broad generalization about bad cops is just as bad as making the same baseless judgement about saintly ones.

    The language that paints the Utah AG as worshiping the ground seems emotive and and an overall exaggeration.

    The risk discussion seems like a red herring to me. You don’t have to incur great risk to be honored. I fail to see how it’s relevant. For one, Christ himself knew exactly what he was in for, and I honor him.

    The implication that service paid for (regardless of the wage) negates honor is also baseless. So if someone is paid any amount, they’re just the same as anyone else? If a policeman or school teacher or soldier or statesman gets paid for their service (which can sometimes include death), they’re equivalent to the sprocket maker down the road profiting from his own enterprise? Something doesn’t seem right there.

    There’s a reason there aren’t any baker or fisher statues.

    Your comment on Warren v. District of Columbia is even more telling. These people don’t even have to do what they do and die for.

    While I can see that sometimes people are memorialized and weren’t really great people, I think what we’re remembering is selflessness of great people, not (more rare) bullying by some bad apples.

    So, to illustrate:

    But hey – you wanna know a real racket? The american soldier. Those guys are glorified all over the place. Their main tactics are division, diversion, suppression, breaking up communication – and those are bad things.

    I mean hey – we feed, clothe, house *and* pay them. No one forces them into service, so why should they get so much good press? They know what they’re in for.

    With millions in service, and only thousands dying each year, they don’t even rank in the top 3 in your list above.

  13. Connor
    September 14, 2008 at 5:40 pm #

    Even your supporting quote highlights that police only aim to scare a certain subset of people.

    While they intend to scare that subset, there are numerous other bystanders who witness the spectacle, as the article also mentioned:

    Camera-toting tourists stop jabbering and stare at this intimidating new presence, their faces a mixture of curiosity and fear. Even jaded New Yorkers, many of whom work inside the midtown Manhattan landmark, look impressed.

    The language that paints the Utah AG as worshiping the ground seems emotive and and an overall exaggeration.

    Perhaps it was an exaggeration, but the entire blog post I linked to declares his love of the troops, shares a few select stories of death and injury to officers, and pays homage to a memorial instituted to recognize those who “gave their all”. It seems to me that he does indeed place the police force on a pedestal.

    You don’t have to incur great risk to be honored. I fail to see how it’s relevant.

    That’s just it: the police are honored because of the perceived risk to their job. As the AG’s post shows, people seemingly feel that police officers sacrifice and bear a great burden, and thus should be honored. I think my post and succeeding comments make clear that there are plenty of others who should likewise be honored for their work and contribution.

    If a policeman or school teacher or soldier or statesman gets paid for their service (which can sometimes include death), they’re equivalent to the sprocket maker down the road profiting from his own enterprise?

    Sure. I don’t see a problem with this. Each individual has chosen to enter a certain career and fulfill one of society’s needs. The sprocket maker whose component plays a crucial role in a complicated piece of machinery is quite valuable to those whose lives depend on that machinery. Some jobs are more visible than others, but when a person receives a paycheck and consents to render a certain service, then the exchange is complete. They may do a stellar job and go beyond their job description, and for that reason they should be applauded. But simply “doing their job” doesn’t entitle them to praise dripping with psuedo-patriotism.

  14. John
    September 14, 2008 at 7:10 pm #

    Regarding fear, I think you missed my point. Scary and intimidating is good for police, just like effective killing is good for soldiers. There’s no doubt that those tools get misused, but I think it’s the exception rather than the rule. It’s okay for police to be scary – it’s a tool they use in their job. It’s what they’re *supposed* to do.

    Regarding the AG, what is wrong with putting people who gave their all on a pedestal? Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to do? I don’t think a single memorial for hundreds of fallen officers is going overboard.

    Regarding risk – why should it not be honored, especially when they’re risking their lives for us (without being legally compelled to do so, as you’ve pointed out)? Is there any question why policemen and firemen are honored, and entrepreneurs aren’t? It’s because they’re in it for us too. Sure they get paid for what they do – mostly because someone has to be trained and be able to do it full time. I don’t think many are in the army or police force for the riches.

    I think you’ll be alone in your view that an entrepreneur after solely his own interests is somehow just as noble as a policeman who gets a paltry $50K and dies saving someone he didn’t know. I agree that both are necessary and important. I don’t agree with the assumption that both entrepreneurs and policeman share generally the same motivations in improving society and being good examples.

    Finally, do you feel that George Washington was adequately compensated for his services? All this drippy pseudo-patriotism might be a bit much – he did his job and was paid well… why all the fanfare, the fanciful titles (“Father of our nation” and all that), expensive monuments, etc. I bet I can round up volumes of person after person who worships the ground he walked on.

    He may have gone above and beyond, but we did in fact pay him.

    Seriously.

  15. Kelly W.
    September 14, 2008 at 7:37 pm #

    I have been the victim of police brutality, and I was totally innocent. It was simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the cop was a real jerk. In fact, I have not met a cop yet who wasn’t a jerk, but this is only my observation. There may be a good one out there. In my life-long experience, I have come to find out that what Joseph Smith said, and is in our canonized scripture is true: We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. D&C 121: 39

  16. Clumpy
    September 14, 2008 at 7:47 pm #

    Regarding fear, I think you missed my point. Scary and intimidating is good for police, just like effective killing is good for soldiers. There’s no doubt that those tools get misused, but I think it’s the exception rather than the rule. It’s okay for police to be scary – it’s a tool they use in their job. It’s what they’re *supposed* to do.

    I disagree. I fail to see how police fear and intimidation helps our country in the slightest. Intimidation doesn’t elicit true confessions, and it doesn’t help bystanders who only learn to be afraid of the police. A police officer can do their duty without scaring people, except for that fear that a suspect has of being chased down, tackled and incarcerated if they run.

    However, the image that an officer will do their duty out of respect for the people they serve, with the caveat that they will use their weapons and other tools given to them by the people if necessary for the defense of themselves and other citizens, could be and is beneficial.

  17. Connor
    September 14, 2008 at 8:48 pm #

    John,

    Scary and intimidating is good for police, just like effective killing is good for soldiers.

    Scary and intimidating are preemptive measures designed to turn law-abiding citizens into cowering subjects. The effective killing on the part of a soldier, to use your example, is a purely reactive action. Thus, most of us deplore using military to police the world (preemptive), but support using military force in a moral, justified war (reactive action)

    Regarding the AG, what is wrong with putting people who gave their all on a pedestal?

    I think Clumpy gave a good clarification above—it’s perfectly fine to honor somebody for a specific accomplishment that merits public attention. But to honor somebody merely because they were a police officer and were injured or killed in the discharge of their job’s duties—that, I think, is improper.

    Regarding risk – why should it not be honored, especially when they’re risking their lives for us (without being legally compelled to do so, as you’ve pointed out)?

    They’re risking their lives because that is included in their job description. Since they chose to enter that profession, they are aware of the risks involved. The electrician who falls off of a power pole and dies while trying to fix a problem risked (and lost) his life for those he was serving at that time—should not his sacrifice receive equal attention and mourning?

    I don’t think many are in the army or police force for the riches.

    Seems like a fairly well paying job to me… But you’re right, I doubt money is the only factor. I’d be willing to bet that a significant portion of police officers like the power they have, like being able to play with guns and other “toys”, and like the respect that the badge earns them by default.

    I think you’ll be alone in your view that an entrepreneur after solely his own interests is somehow just as noble as a policeman who gets a paltry $50K and dies saving someone he didn’t know.

    Individuals die every day while serving some customer that they did not know.

    I don’t agree with the assumption that both entrepreneurs and policeman share generally the same motivations in improving society and being good examples.

    You’re right—there are both good and bad policemen and entrepreneurs.

    Finally, do you feel that George Washington was adequately compensated for his services? All this drippy pseudo-patriotism might be a bit much – he did his job and was paid well… why all the fanfare, the fanciful titles (”Father of our nation” and all that), expensive monuments, etc. I bet I can round up volumes of person after person who worships the ground he walked on.

    As I’ve attempted to explain above, I’m not against honoring individuals who exceed their job requirements and demonstrate themselves to be trustworthy, hardworking individuals. When George Washington laid down his power at the end of the war (unlike many other military leaders throughout history), he showed his humility and respect for the rule of law. I honor him for that. I do not honor him by virtue of the fact that he was a military man, but I honor his specific accomplishments and his repeated examples of excellence.

    I see no problem with honoring a police officer who goes above and beyond what they have been asked to do. But if they are merely fulfilling a job requirement and doing something for which they are compensated, then I don’t think that that is reason enough to put them on a pedestal.

  18. Kelly W.
    September 14, 2008 at 9:40 pm #

    I don’t think many are in the army or police force for the riches.

    I know a couple of cops who were in it because they got bad grades in school and couldn’t get into anything better than police work or military. Seems that cops and soldiers generally fall into a category of not excelling academically and they usually had a history of being a bully in the school yard. They find police work the way they can project their authority to other people in ways they couldn’t academically.

  19. Doug Bayless
    September 15, 2008 at 8:24 am #

    Now, hold on a second here. I agree with much of this post, but the comments here have crossed a line for me.

    It’s not a good idea to do too much hero-worship of cops (or any profession) and it’s a terrible idea to use them to scare the general populace into submission.

    But it’s also a terrible idea to stereotype cops — just as I’d believe many posters here would (and generally do) avoid stereotyping Mormons, Arabs, Utahns, or whatever.

    I know a lot of cops. I’ve been lucky enough to never have had a bad run-in with one despite some speeding violations etc. where the chance for pompous abuse of power was high.

    Anecdotally, one of my neighbors is a cop. This guy is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Also one of the brightest. Excelled in school. Wants to be a cop “to help people”. Is finishing a master’s program at night. Doesn’t plan to be a cop forever, but is truly out there “to protect and to serve” and does it as kindly and well as he can.

    The system itself may have some flaws that bad people exploit. There may be some trends that we should be concerned about turning back. But, please, exercise some caution when stereotyping a whole profession.

    And finally, in response to some of the other comments, I gotta say that quite frankly being a cop does generate some deserved respect in *my* eyes. Perhaps choosing to be a commercial fisherman *is* more dangerous, but cops have an increased likelihood of putting themselves directly in harm’s way to protect citizens. Honestly, it’s much more dangerous than being a lawyer or a computer programmer — and it doesn’t pay nearly as well on average or generate the same level of respect.

  20. John
    September 15, 2008 at 8:35 am #

    @Doug

    I’m with you – the only thing worse than glorifying policeman without cause is characterizing them as power hungry, gun lovers that want to scare the average citizen.

    One broad generalization can’t be fixed by declaring another. ;)

  21. David
    September 15, 2008 at 8:46 am #

    Kelly,

    I’m sorry to hear that your experience with police officers is universally bad. I wish I could say that I could not believe your report, but I can. On the other hand, I know quite a few officers personally who are very good, intelligent people and very decent even when they are not in uniform. (These officers I know serve in 3 different forces located in two states.) I have seen them on duty and off duty and I can say unequivocally that your experience is only representative of a subset of officers (I’ve known some of those as well). I can also say that the good police officers I have known universally dislike the kind of officers you have run into.

    Connor,

    I like you declaration that:

    Volunteerism (or a hybrid of some sort) is the ideal—citizens taking action, cognizant that they have the inherent power and ability to help in these situations, instead of continually delegating any shred of authority of responsibility they might have.

    and also that:

    Any individual who works hard to fulfill a moral need of society is equally entitled to our praise and appreciation.

    I think where we fail as a society is to not give enough honor to those not in our favored professions. On the other hand, I think that many people are honestly unaware of the compensation that police officers get. My brother is one of the good officers I mentioned above and I know roughly what he gets paid. The salary looks appropriate on the surface for the service being rendered, but once you take into account the amount of money he is required to spend from his own pocket to retain a lawyer for all the times that somebody decides they’d like to take him to court for being pulled over or otherwise detained it’s easy to recognize that officers are compensated more like teachers without the 3 moths vacation.

    In a decade of police work there has never once been any judgment against him in any suit, but he knows that every time he arrests or detains someone he is at risk of being taken to court because the majority of the people he interacts with as an officer are people who view the police as their enemies. My point is that, even without doing anything wrong as an officer, he has had to devote a significant portion of his compensation to protect himself from citizens who want to punish him for doing his job. I think that people need to recognize that aspect of the job before they decide that police work is just another case of simple economic exchange.

  22. Kelly W.
    September 15, 2008 at 9:06 am #

    David, yes, the bad cop who abused me had a history of such abuse. The instructor at the academy where he went to school had an equally bad impression of him. This bad cop was later fired for infractions of embezzling money. But when I talked to others in law enforcement about him, all I got was “the system” trying to cover for him, not to oust him or others like him. This bad cop (name withheld) was very arrogant to me, and I have found other cops with whom I’ve had the sad experience of associating with to be of the same character. But, as I said, I’m sure there must be some good cops somewhere. It is too bad that I’m not the only one who has similar feelings. Since this is my experience, and also the experience of others, there must be a lot of arrogant cops and a system that is corrupt because they cover for each other.

  23. David
    September 15, 2008 at 9:22 am #

    Like I said before “I wish I could say that I could not believe your report, but I can.” There are altogether too many bad cops out there. I believe that is simply a reflection of bad people in our society – I don’t think there’s anything special about the number of bad police officers, only that they have unique opportunities for breaking the law. I don’t want to excuse them in any way – I just wish I knew how to clean up the ranks of officers who don’t deserve their badge.

  24. Kelly W.
    September 15, 2008 at 10:46 am #

    David, you say: “I just wish I knew how to clean up the ranks of officers who don’t deserve their badge.”

    This is the whole problem.

    If we take offense at the officers who are corrupt, we just inflame them and make the problem worse! It is the “system” that needs changed. This system currently encourages the types of people Joseph Smith talked about who aspire to exercise unrighteous dominion over others. The system is rapidly becoming more corrupt in America, evidence firms like Blackwater whose corrupt employees were found running roughshod over the people of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina rounding up innocent residents’ firearms through force. These Blackwater employees ARE in it for the high pay! And Blackwater is currently attracting all those corrupt characters and we don’t need to glorify these types of people at all.

    If the “system” keeps evolving like we’ve seen since 9/11, we will soon have martial law. And this is exactly what the Powers That Be want, as evidenced by the PATRIOT Act, torture policies, elimination of our rights and I don’t need to go on because the facts are in front of our eyes and all we need to do is open them and see.

  25. David
    September 15, 2008 at 11:04 am #

    Kelly,

    You are completely right in your last paragraph. If we allow things to continue in their present course, good officers like my brother would not even be able to keep their jobs – they would be pushed out by those who want to turn the country into a full-fledged police-state.

  26. Bill Mevecky
    September 17, 2008 at 5:43 am #

    I have been warned by my own Attorney in Florida that my defense
    of the FLDS in Texas is LIKELY to produce a phone call between the goons in Texas and the goons in Florida and I will be targeted
    for “Special treatment”.

    Not only are we not that far away from the “Brown shirts” of the good old days in Germany, but we have been there for some time.

    Bill Medvecky
    freethefldschildren

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