Good Cops in a Bad System

In a recent Politico op-ed, author Thomas C. Knowles, a Law Enforcement officer with decades of experience— most recently as a supervisor for the FBI— begins his article with a half-truth, “No good cop ever wants to pull his gun”. This is true in the sense that, a “good cop” knows by pulling his weapon there is a heightened chance someone may be injured or killed, and no sane person starts out their day planning to kill another human. Knowles conceals the fact that even the “good cop” will and must draw their firearm when that officer believes their life or the life of another is in danger. A good cop will invariably pull his weapon regardless of whether the officer “wants” to use force or not is put aside by the officer’s perception of the exigency in real time. Part instinct and part training, the action of a cop taking one life is to save another. It’s not as paradoxical is it seems— good cops are trained to kill, and if deadly force is used it doesn’t always equal a problem in the system. The broken system is silence on injustice.

Knowles feels the need to remind the public —police are not the enemy and in attempt to speak for the entire profession: officers know the system is broken, but platitudes fall short of a real defense to allegations of what many believe is a breakdown in the system. Furthermore, the idea police understand there exists systemic criminal justice issues should be comforting to the reader. This of course is not comforting; if police know the system is not working properly and do nothing to change it, doesn’t that make them part of the larger problem? Knowles is out of touch with the average cop possibly because of his tenure in a supervisory capacity; the vocal officers are not condemning the system when they see supporters wearing “I CAN breathe” t-shirts, they are solidifying their adversarial role against the public. Again, vocal officers do not seem bothered by the recent killing of unarmed black men; they are quite callous in supporting the notion that the recently deceased black males at the hands of police are justified and the discussion should end there.

Let’s not pretend that if  good cops believe the system is broken somehow it absolves them of any culpability as the rank and file of the criminal justice system. The narrative of the good cops protecting the citizenry despite danger to their own life and limb has the overarching premise that police should be extended the benefit of the doubt even in questionable circumstances. As if to say: because police work is inherently dangerous, we mustn’t criticize or call for more police oversight—doing so would in and of itself tacitly convince an unstable person to ambush and murder cops. The notion that holding police accountable is akin to calling for violent attacks on police is the equivalent of saying: those that redress grievances with the government support the violent overthrow of that government—both are illogical.

The injustices in the criminal justice system flow downward from court rulings and legislation, but police can impact the system on their level if they choose. Officers are given much power over the citizenry and much of an officer’s contact with the public is self-initiated by the officer themselves. The criterion that each officer uses to stop a person may vary, but are dependent on the same factors. Officers use their training and life experience as the gauge in whether to contact a citizen. Both of these methods—training and experience—can be biased against certain races or classes of people. All officers have some form of implicit bias and when they act on their bias they have crossed over into discrimination.

There is a stigma and climate of retaliation against good cops that speak out and it is because of this culture that sweeping change will not come from within police departments. Despite the current state of things, good cops can impact the bad system from within. Officers need to encourage the open dialogues on police brutality and police shootings and systemic racism, because it’s the good cops that should not want these talks to be suppressed. These good cops need to be aware of their own implicit biases and be cognizant on curbing those biases. Good officers must use their discretion on misdemeanors and use selective enforcement on victimless crimes—personally nullifying laws designed to punish the poor and target specific races. If officers are serious about making changes in the system, they first need to stop hiding behind the excuse “I’m just doing my job”.

Is Police Demilitarization Possible?

The killing of unarmed teenager, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., has revived a police demilitarization talking point. I do not want to detract from the unfortunate and needless death however; would police demilitarization—had it been in effect—save Michael Brown’s life? No. Simply put, police demilitarization is not police disarmament.  Thus, there are more police issues than demilitarization would solve. Is widespread police demilitarization possible and can one of the branches of the government end it?

House Rep. Chris Stewart is behind the Regulatory Agency De-Militarization Act –RAD. RAD is in response to the overwhelming increase of federal agency’ weapons. Opponents will argue that the increase is in response to sophisticated international drug cartels which justifies the increase of military weapons. Furthermore, some conflicts like the “Sagebrush Wars” in Nevada, was a good reason to arm Park Rangers— whose homes were being pipe bombed. Essentially, the threat to law-enforcement is not perceived but real. Other policies like the war on drugs and BLM land disputes may need to be addressed prior to the wholesale demilitarization of the feds. If this act is passed, it only encompasses the jurisdiction of the federal agencies.

There are over 12,000 police departments in over 50 sovereign states. The possibility of all fifty state legislations and governors passing laws to scale back military style weapons for police will be a feat. The federal government has methods to possibly bring about cooperation: they can stop the 1033 program—the fed program that supplies some agencies the military weapons—or, possibly hold back federal funding to states not willing to comply. But, wide sweeping federal legislation on police demilitarization would be an overreach and fuel states’ rights.

The Founding Fathers were against the idea of a standing army however; there is no provision in the constitution per se. The Third Amendment to the constitution protects against the quartering of troops. I’ve only discovered one Supreme Court Case which remotely mentions this amendment. Could a compelling legal argument be made to compare police to a standing army… I suppose this would apply if the home is extended to common areas of a community and this probably would never happen. The court will most likely continue to deal with the force used, search and seizures, and not the perception of police as an army.

It may be easier to initiate a universal policy or strict guidelines as to when these military like police units are deployed. Although, these policies may still have wide latitude for interpretation, the other methods to end police militarization are uphill battles that will only be temporarily dusted off in the wake of national police attention.

Is Rand Paul Jumping On The Police Demilitarization Bandwagon?

The internet is buzzing about Rand Paul’s Time op-ed–police demilitarization stance. Paul’s opine has mostly received praise; honestly, I think he’s just campaigning in the midst of a crisis. I cringed when Paul used the term “big government”, as the culprit for the current state of police militarization. I know the connotations that “big government’’ conjure up in the minds of Paul’s constituency. It wrongfully insinuates that another political party other than Paul’s is responsible for the ramp up of police militancy. A quick study of history doesn’t point to “big government”, but rather—conservative government who are behind the soldier cop phenomenon.

Big government grows from social reform attempting to make life better for workers, women, and minorities etc.; it’s revolutionary. This counter-culture movement is met with brutal reactionary forces. It is in this clash between the dichotomies that police funding is approved, and police always protect the status-quo.

Our current police forces have grown from  President Nixon’s war on drugs and the counter-culture of the sixties. The response of the police in the sixties is identical to police response today in reference to protests; only the uniforms and equipment have changed with technological advances. Police have way cooler toys to kill and maim. Thus, the tactics and procedures are reminiscent of armed military forces; a modern day standing army. All of this brought to the American people by the Republican Party.

Since Paul blames government for police militarization, I would have expected him to announce some sort of legislation to remedy it. This is the role of legislator, right? Sadly, this is not the scope of his op-ed. Although, he does sound like he wants change. Maybe, Paul will get behind Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson’s “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act”. I’ll eagerly be waiting to see what Paul does next…

Are Cops Racist?

The German philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote in Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility her theories on the mob man and the relationship to the rise of Nazi Party. Arendt postulates, what makes a man do the most heinous acts and what continues to drive men who essentially act in a mob? I, through experience, have discovered the mob man is very much a part of modern policing. My intent is not to compare today’s police department to the Nazi Party however, there are many parallels between police today and the potential for absolute fascism. Is modern police the form of present day mob men as described by Arendt?

The images of jack booted members of fascist parties committing reprehensible crimes against humanity, is an all too familiar visual in the study of history. How does civilized society come to explain the evil that is unleashed by men who are capable of this barbarism in modern time? At first glance it’s reasonable to state; effective propaganda left an indelible mark on those who eventually carry out the orders. For this to hold true we want and need to believe all these men indoctrinated were motivated to be a part of a pernicious movement because they were sadists, racists, xenophobes, or the embodiment of evil. On the contrary, when on trial these men spoke the popular refrain of immunity—“I was following orders.” This defense uncovers something more frightening and sinister. These men were average, and the majorities were not motivated by hate; they thought they were just doing a job.

In a non-ideological comparison, police recruits go through an extensive para-military training program; one might call this, indoctrination into the culture of police. The hiring process unlike the aforementioned, seeks to expunge any trace of malevolence. The police academy is an initiation into violence and not for the faint of heart. Afterward, the recipient of the badge radiates with the ideology of a noble profession. The reasons for entering this occupation center around one common theme—“I’m doing this for my family.” We must understand, whether a cop states he is in the job to fight crime or they’re policing for the employment benefits, it’s all for the family.

Often times a police officer will allege, “I’m just doing my job”—an immunity statement. This is a way for the police officer to disconnect with the un-pleasantries of the job, allowing him to subconsciously focus on what’s really important—family. It would be reasonable to believe if an officer truly felt what he was doing was right, he would not need to deflect. He could proudly say, “I’m taking you to jail because you broke this law”, however, the reason to revert to excuses is simply, the officer does not believe in what he is doing. It is soon evident to the neophyte officer he is tool for the status quo and enforces draconian laws, designed to relive the poor of their limited finances. The street cop soon becomes acquainted with a very biased, and often time unjust justice system. The way to reconcile this realization is to come to grips with why he wears the badge in the first place; this reconciliation brings him full circle to family.

Often times a community will be outraged at the lack of minorities hired on their local police department. There seems to exist the idea that a black officer would treat citizens of black communities more fairly. Those in favor of this fix do not fully understand the culture of law enforcement. Regardless of the race of the officer they still have the same performance objectives, and have the same motivations as their white colleagues. I took the liberty to embed a video of two black NYPD officers using force on a black arrestee.

All police officers are trained to believe every single situation they encounter is dangerous: domestic disturbances; traffic stops; drug offences; felons and all people in general. With this heightened awareness comes the caveat: get home to your family every night no matter what. Thus, light is shed on why officers are quick to resort to violence; it’s part of the training and culture. Take for example this quote from an anonymous NYPD officer in the aftermath of the Eric Garner death:

“If ever a person wanted to know why police work is so difficult, here is a good reason. Best of luck to those guys who’s lives (and their families) have just been turned upside down for all eternity.”

Again, the family is recurring theme; the family suffers along with the officer. It is unclear how far modern police will go to protect what they hold sacred: kill, maim, falsify and omit for what they hold dear. One does not need to search for long to find the latest news of police misconduct. Unlike the subject of Arendt’s theories, police are not agents of a holocaust, but police have at their disposal all the mechanisms to be treacherous.

No, most police officers are not racist, however it is easier to cope with their actions if we label them as such. The truth, their families and the fear of not being able to support them are the proper motivation to become mob men, capable of anything under the guise of law and order.

 

 

 

Does Rioting Bring Change?

The consequences of killing of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown Jr. of Ferguson, Mo, have resulted in a night of riots. The preliminary reports surrounding the officer involved shooting are sparse but, the homicide appears to have escalated from a violation of jaywalking. The community is  outraged and have gone to the streets, some peaceful and others rioting. I have scanned through several articles attempting to explain the reasons for rioting and the mob mentality; the usual psychological treatises that appear in the wake of nationally televised civil unrest.  Regardless of the reasons, if a group of people want to end—in this case—police brutality—rioting is counterproductive. The response to rioting is a more coercive society, and the further militarization of police departments­­.

Shortly after the 1965 Watts Riot, SWAT—Special Weapons And Tactics—was formed at LAPD. Some of their early exploits: 1969, four hours standoff at the Black Panther Headquarters; 1974, SWAT launches a grenade into SLA Headquarters killing six people when the house burned. Fast forward to the LA riots in 1992. In the aftermath, police fervently stockpiled military grade weapons, and officers on patrol wear uniforms which mirror armed forces—giving the appearance of a standing army.

When the media displays the riotous images for public consumption, the majority of viewers will not be allies to the rebellion; the majority will applaud the reactionary force, giving police carte blanch to quash the insurrection by brutal force. This cycle perpetuates more violence. The possibility of growing a movement is lost, and all those involved —peaceful or otherwise—are relegated to the status of criminal.

The response from the majority of Americans to those at Ferguson or any location of civil disorder is let the courts prevail; don’t worry justice will be served is the mantra. However, people know the verdict doesn’t normally vindicate black men.

Changing the justice system is an unthinkable task but, working to change the procedures of the police who perform arrests and forward cases to the courts is much more practical. Community activists need to employ a grassroots strategy for the long term— essentially using the police’ system to change the paradigm. Police have a culture and it’s further ingrained in officers with training and department procedures; the police culture is what needs to change.

Film the Police

The in custody death of Eric Garner was filmed by a bystander, which resulted in a backlash against NYPD. There is a small chance that Garner’s death may result in change to NYPD policy in dealing with non-violent offenders or suspicion of non-violent crimes. Filming the police during interactions allows for two things to occur: it keeps police accountable and when malfeasance is caught they can be shown in the media and on the internet. Videos of police impropriety should be used to pressure politicians who appoint police chiefs. Likewise, police chiefs should be encouraged to make changes to policy and procedure. Policing is a political process and can change with administrations.

Although I am a proponent of filming, some of the videographers I’ve seen toe the line of arrest. Know the laws of your jurisdiction. All too often I’ll watch videographers jaywalk, block sidewalks, and obstruct by placing themselves in the middle of a scene asking questions or appearing aggressive. This is usually exacerbated by not identifying yourself when asked. Don’t agitate; the purpose is to observe. Follow commands and complain later in writing.

Dazzle Them With Paperwork

Most if not all police departments have procedures to accept and evaluate complaints. This process is sometimes spearheaded by a department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. The people of Ferguson and other places inundated with police profiling, would make an impact on changing police policy if they formally entered complaints after every negative police contact. These complaints would range from an officer being rude to civil rights violations e.g. searching without consent. If filming, any contact where an officer asks for identification without reasonable suspicion or probable cause etc.

A high number of complaints will cause more personnel to be used to investigate and resolve, possibly resulting in a change to procedures in how a department dictates an officer carry out their duties. This paper trail also affects the officers personally. Complaints whether sustained or not stay in an officer’s file for a period of time. An officer will soon utilize more discretion for instance not stopping every jaywalker for a full investigation and frisk but, instead using the police cruisers PA system to advise using the crosswalk.  If jaywalking offenses or riding bikes on sidewalks are big violations in a neighborhood, petition the city council to add lighted crosswalks and bike lanes in these neighborhoods. All of these complaints and petitions results in time and resources for an agency. Squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Fight Against Criminal Activity

Criminal element likes to attach themselves to peaceful protests; I loathe predators whether they are cops or not. Fighting police corruption is obviously not cause to harbor those who partake in felonious activity. These individuals need to be denounced swiftly. I see the peaceful protesters placate to looters attempting to appeal to their decency when in reality these thieves are making the entire peaceful gathering amount to nothing. If law abiding people don’t speak out against criminal activity and help fight it, the cycle of violence will continue and everyone is suspect as police patrols increase.
These above points are not all encompassing but they address the bigger picture. Rioting and looting are total losses. The community loses much needed businesses and there is an increased police presence. History has shown that rioting has done little to change social policy. These changes have to come through organized actions to stop the tactics that caused Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the countless of others who have been killed by police actions.