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October 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 23, 2014

  • I’m quoted by Nicky Woolf of Great Britain’s Guardian on the police militarization angle in Keene, N.H. civil disturbances (also: Van Smith, Baltimore City Paper). Also quoted regarding the ominous move to heavy armaments of Wisconsin prosecutors investigating their political opponents in the dawn-raids “John Doe” proceeding [Watchdog, and second post, earlier] Humor in The New Yorker from Bruce McCall ["Pentagon Cop Aid Hits Snags"] And here’s a previously unlinked Cato panel last month on cop militarization with David Kopel, Mark Lomax, and Cheye Calvo, moderated by Tim Lynch;
  • Australia prime minister declares “repeal day” with “bonfire” of regulations [Jeff Bennett and Susan Dudley, Cato Regulation mag; earlier on Minnesota legislative "unsession" to dump outmoded or pointless laws]
  • “After dawdling for a year, panel tosses bogus complaint against Judge [Edith] Jones” [@andrewmgrossman on Houston Chronicle via Howard Bashman, Richard Kopf, Tamara Tabo, earlier here, here, and here]
  • Making waves: Michelle Boardman review of Margaret Radin book on boilerplate, adhesion contracts, fine print [Harvard Law Review, SSRN]
  • Why litigation lobby could cost Democrats Senate majority this year [Tim Carney]
  • Online-services companies, better not do business in Maryland since the state has a very special law that one law professor believes sharply restricts your customer research [Masnick/TechDirt]
  • Picking Thomas Perez as Attorney General would (or should!) ignite firestorm of opposition. Is that why President’s waiting till after Nov. 4? [Washington Examiner]

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Kansas: “A federal jury Tuesday awarded a former McPherson police officer who was found sleeping on duty almost $1 million in wages and damages. Matthew B. Michaels alleged the city violated his civil rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act and the Kansas Wage Payment Act. He was fired from the McPherson Police Department in July 2012. Michaels said he was discriminated against because of a sleep apnea disability.” [McPherson Sentinel]

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It’s been more than a year since police shot John Geer, and the Fairfax department still won’t release the name of the officer who killed him. This has all been happening in the national media’s own backyard, the suburbs of Washington, D.C. [Robert McCartney, WaPo] In Ferguson, Mo., a delay of several days in releasing the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown was among the grievances that set off protests and confrontations that made world news; yielding to pressure from police associations and unions, many departments have adopted policies against releasing the names of officers involved in shootings either for an initial period or even indefinitely while an investigation remains open. Writes Alexander R. Cohen: “We’ve seen more patriotism from the people of Ferguson than from the people of Fairfax on this issue.”

P.S. Also, from Slate Star Codex, how Ferguson turned into a Referendum on Everything.

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  • Six L.A. County sheriff workers get prison for obstructing jail probe [L.A. Times, earlier]
  • More thoughts on pros and cons of police cameras [Howard Wasserman/Prawfs, Scott Greenfield]
  • Equal time: Heather Mac Donald’s perspective on Ferguson, policing, and race food for thought even if different from ours [City Journal; our earlier coverage of Ferguson]
  • “15-year mandatory minimum federal sentence for possessing shotgun shells (no shotgun) almost 20 years after past felonies” [Volokh]
  • How much criminal culpability for battered women when their violent partners harm children? [BuzzFeed]
  • If Stephen Colbert broke NYC’s wacky knife law on the air, all the more reason to reform it [Village Voice (link fixed now), earlier]
  • Details of additional charges in billion-dollar Department of Justice case against FedEx for not policing contents of its packages [WSJ, earlier]

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If collecting workers’ comp payments premised on disability from knee and other injuries, it is best not to post photos on Facebook of your exploits continuing to race your BMX bike [Kent, Wash.; MyNorthwest.com]

P.S. You might face less scrutiny, per this L.A. Times account, if you’re a Los Angeles firefighter or police officer claiming injury on the job under a remarkably generous compensation scheme “that has cost taxpayers $328 million over the last five years.”

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Police and prosecution roundup

by Walter Olson on September 24, 2014

  • “Shaneen Allen’s prosecutor might be having second thoughts” [Radley Balko, earlier] Sequel: Indeed.
  • “If you get a parking ticket, you are guilty until you have proven yourself innocent …. And that’s worked well for us.” — “senior” Washington, D.C. government official [Washington Post quoting inspector general report; also includes details on traffic camera protocols]
  • Not an Onion story: Eleventh Circuit chides use of SWAT methods in Florida barber shop inspections [ABA Journal ("It's a pretty big book, I’m pretty sure I can find something in here to take you to jail for"), Volokh, Balko, Greenfield] Militarized cop gear is bad, routinized use of SWAT tactics is worse [Jacob Sullum]
  • New England Innocence Project looking at several shaken-baby cases [Boston Herald, background]
  • Innocence commissions like North Carolina’s not a big budgetary line item as government programs go, alternatives may cost more [A. Barton Hinkle]
  • New evidence continues to emerge in Ferguson police shooting, but is nation still listening? [Scott Greenfield]
  • Prosecutors arrayed as organized pressure group is very bad idea to begin with, and more so when goal is to shrink citizens’ rights [AP on "Prosecutors Against Gun Violence"; Robert H. Jackson on prosecutors' power and role in society]

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Maricopa County (Phoenix) Sheriff and longtime Overlawyered mentionee Joe Arpaio did not keep close track of the military-grade gear the Pentagon gave him — in fact, his office seems to have lost some of it — and now the feds are lowering the boom: “Because of the agency’s continued failure to locate nine missing weapons issued by the Pentagon’s 1033 program, the Sheriff’s Office was terminated from the military-­surplus program, effective immediately. The agency is required to return its cache of issued firearms, helicopters and other gear within 120 days.” Arizona Republic reporter Megan Cassidy quotes me regarding the interesting timing of the announcement, following closely after events in Ferguson, Mo. helped stir a nationwide furor over the 1033 program. It’s not specified (h/t Lauren Galik) whether they’ll have to give back the hot dog machine and $3,500 popcorn machine.

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Police and prosecution roundup

by Walter Olson on September 11, 2014

  • Enviro activists unlawfully block coal ship, Massachusetts prosecutor expresses approval by dropping charges [James Taranto, Jacob Gershman/WSJ Law Blog, ABA Journal]
  • Unfortunately-named Mr. Threatt charged with “robbery that happened while he was in jail” [Baltimore Sun via @amyalkon]
  • “How conservative, tough-on-crime Utah reined in police militarization” [Evan McMorris-Santoro, BuzzFeed] More: What if we needed it someday? San Diego Unified School District defends acquisition of armored vehicle [inewsource.org] And Senate hearing [AP]
  • “Machine-based traffic-ticketing systems are running amok” [David Kravets, ArsTechnica]
  • Thanks, Fraternal Order of Police, for protecting jobs of rogue Philadelphia cops who could cost taxpayers millions [Ed Krayewski; related earlier]
  • Study: returning from 6- to 12-person juries could iron out many racial anomalies at trial [Anwar et al, Tabarrok]
  • Courts can help curb overcriminalization by revitalizing rule of lenity, mens rea requirement [Steven Smith]

Public employment roundup

by Walter Olson on September 9, 2014

  • Some wages rise accordingly: “Scott Walker’s Act 10 leads to a ‘teacher marketplace’ in Wisconsin.” [Ann Althouse]
  • Police/fire psychiatric claims: “Retired NYC cop takes plea in $27M disability-fraud case; ex-prosecutor is a claimed ringleader” [Martha Neil, ABA Journal]
  • “Every Day Turns Out To Be Labor Day For Hapless Taxpayers” [Ira Stoll]
  • In Harris case, high court revolted at notion of government inserting itself into family relations to siphon off money for union’s benefit [Budget and Tax News, PDF, p. 9, and thanks for quote]
  • “Overprotecting public-employee pensions, from the Reason Foundation” [Sasha Volokh] “California Embraces Pension-Spiking Bonanza” [Steven Greenhut]
  • “Sure We Hassled Boy Scouts at the Border, But You Can’t Prove We Pulled a Gun, Says DHS” [J.D. Tuccille]
  • “The results show very little difference at age 60 in the life expectancy of police and fire as compared with other public employees.” [Alicia Munnell via Steven Greenhut] “Los Angeles Police Average Total Compensation $157,151 Per Year” [Ed Ring, Flash Report] More: Soaring public safety costs rack California towns [OC Register]

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Police roundup

by Walter Olson on September 4, 2014

  • Spectacular investigative report from Radley Balko on fines, fees, and revenue-driven law enforcement in the towns north of St. Louis [WaPo] Reading it, I’m pretty confident my two cents a couple of weeks ago was on the right track;
  • Talk about wrong turns: some self-styled progressives want to seize the moment to extend federal government control further over local police management [BuzzFeed, Scott Greenfield ("czar" idea)]
  • More reporting on how we got police militarization [ProPublica, Newsweek]
  • Race, police, and political power in Ferguson [Charles Cobb guest-posting at Volokh] Richard Epstein on not jumping to factual conclusions (link fixed now);
  • N.Z.: “Police union’s election year wishlist” [Radio New Zealand (via @EricCrampton who comments: "Short version: any restriction on liberty that makes their job easier"); yesterday's post]
  • Pretextual pot busts? Zimring’s curious defense of NYC “broken windows” policing [NYP]
  • Yes, there’s a SWAT lobby in Washington, D.C., behaving as you’d expect [Tim Mak, Daily Beast] “If Democrats Seek to ‘Rally Blacks’ Against Police Militarization, They Might Start with the Congressional Black Caucus” [Nick Gillespie; Zaid Jilani, Vanity Fair]
  • “Police Officers and Patents of Nobility” [Coyote] “Man shot, paralyzed over unpaid parking tickets” [Balko; Lehigh County, Pa.]

The need for police forces isn’t going away, so what practical suggestions do libertarians have in the here and now for discouraging police resort to excessive force? Thanks to Ed Krayewski at Reason for quoting me on the subject of tackling the power of police unions, which not only protect bad actors from removal but tie the hands of well-intentioned administrators in a dozen other ways and exert political pressure against effective reform. (Other suggestions in the piece: increase use of body- and dash-cams, extend the role of civilian oversight boards, and end the Drug War; relatedly, curtail SWAT tactics and the use of other paramilitary force.)

On a perhaps not unrelated note, the Washington Post reports today on the police shooting of an unarmed suburban Washington, D.C. man in his front doorway after he refused to let police into his home following a domestic call. The fact that jumped out at me was that, a year after it happened, the Fairfax County police department is still releasing no information about the incident, not even the name of the officer who pulled the trigger. According to the Post’s account (related lawsuit), police shot kitchen contractor John Geer once but first aid did not arrive until an hour later — he bled to death — and his body remained unmoved for hours, like that of Michael Brown on the street in Ferguson, Mo. The Fairfax chief says his department is just following its own policy by not releasing the officer’s name or other information while an investigation is pending (and pending and pending) — but how that policy came to be adopted, and for whose benefit, are questions worth asking.

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Revelations that a single senior Houston police officer served on at least ten grand juries have been an eye-opener to those who might have assumed that the grand jury as constituted in Harris County (Houston) was random or representative in its composition. Radley Balko:

…critics allege that the “key-man” system that many Harris County judges use to pick grand jurors selects for law enforcement officials and their friends, family, and acquaintances. Critics say it’s too easily manipulated, and results in grand juries continually picked from the same pool of people — cops, retired cops, friends and family of cops, and older, whiter, wealthier, more conservative people who both have the time and money to serve, and are familiar enough with the system to even know to volunteer to serve on a grand jury in the first place.

Adding to the problem, grand jury members are invited to go on police ride-alongs, are given free time at police shooting ranges, and are invited to participate in 3D shooting simulators designed to make them empathetic with police officers. Those same grand jurors are then asked to assess the validity and credibility of the police officers who testify before them, not just in routine investigations, but in investigations of the killing of police officers, alleged abuse by police officers, police shootings, or police corruption.

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Three columns to read on the subject: Gene Healy, Glenn Reynolds (linking this site), and Nat Hentoff (like Healy, a Cato colleague) in his syndicated column (thanks for mention). I had a letter to the editor yesterday in the Frederick News-Post drawing connections with local lawmakers (as well as a blog post at Free State Notes with similar themes) and the Arizona Republic quoted me Tuesday on the federal subsidy programs that drive militarization, including transfers to the ever-controversial Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office of Joe Arpaio. Earlier here, here, here, here, here, etc.

P.S. Also quoted on NPR.

As I and many other writers have noted lately, the town of Ferguson like several nearby suburbs in St. Louis County has a reputation for raising revenue through aggressive use of tickets for minor traffic and vehicle infractions, a practice that many suspect weighs more heavily on poorer and outsider groups. Blogger Coyote, who now lives in Arizona, has some reflections about police practice in that state and also adds this recollection from an earlier stint in Missouri:

I worked in the Emerson Electric headquarters for a couple of years, which ironically is located in one corner of Ferguson. One of the unwritten bennies of working there was the in house legal staff. It was important to make a friend there early. In Missouri they had some bizarre law where one could convert a moving violation to a non-moving violation. A fee still has to be paid, but you avoid points on your license that raises insurance costs (and life insurance costs, I found out recently). All of us were constantly hitting up the in-house legal staff to do this magic for us. I am pretty sure most of the residents of Ferguson do not have this same opportunity.

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Race is one reason for constant police hassle in towns like Ferguson. Revenue is another. In a Cato post yesterday, I note that court fees are the second biggest source of revenue for the small city, and that the Ferguson municipal court last year issued three arrest warrants and presided over 1.5 cases per household. As a result, many residents of the town “wind up interacting constantly with law enforcement because of a culture of petty fines” — enough to make for tense relations between the community and the police even aside from the racial divide. Similarly: Alex Tabarrok, who wrote on related issues two years ago. More: Amy Alkon; Brian Doherty at Reason says his colleague Scott Shackford reaches a lower estimate of the importance of fines in the Ferguson budget.

P.S. The ArchCity Defenders report on problems with North County municipal courts is online (PDF). And even before Ferguson blew up, there had been stirrings of reform on some of the courts’ user-unfriendly practices [Post-Dispatch]

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All-Ferguson edition, including my CNBC exchange last Friday, above:

  • Typically good John Stossel column [Washington Examiner, syndicated, and thanks for mention] Disturbing innovations coming our way in the world of crowd/protest control include “puke cannons,” “pain rays” [Gene Healy, Washington Examiner, ditto]
  • Cause of death: failure to comply with police orders [David M. Perry, opinion] “Here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you” [Sunil Dutta (L.A.P.D. officer), Washington Post; Ken at Popehat]
  • “Expect Many, Many Lawsuits From Ferguson” [Chris Geidner, BuzzFeed]
  • Not the safe conventional move: I’m quoted on Sen. Rand Paul’s willingness to grapple with Ferguson [Politico]
  • Local commercial economies take a long time to recover from damage done by looting [Kate Rogers/Fox Business, thanks for quote]]
  • Political economy: unusual state of representation in Ferguson makes the town an outlier [Seth Masket, Pacific Standard] Police-driven budget? “Ferguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees” [Jeff Smith, NY Times]
  • According to Victor Davis Hanson, we critics of police militarization have “empowered [radical groups] to commit violence” [NRO]
  • “What I Did After a Cop Killed My Son” [Michael Bell, Politico, Kenosha, Wisc.; civilian review]
  • “Why Are There No News Helicopters Over Ferguson?” [Peter Suderman]

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Should cops wear cameras?

by Walter Olson on August 19, 2014


I’m at 1:45 in this report that aired on WOAI (San Antonio), Fox 45 Baltimore, and other Sinclair Broadcasting stations nationwide, with accompanying article. See Nick Gillespie in Time, also linked yesterday; earlier on police cameras here, etc.

P.S. Don’t underestimate the data security issues.

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