Posts Tagged ‘police’

Obama curtails police military surplus program

What, no more free surplus bayonets and grenade launchers? Radley Balko:

According to NBC News, the new policy will stop “tanks and other tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, firearms and ammunition measuring .50-caliber and larger, grenade launchers and bayonets” from being given to local police agencies.

Additionally, the new policy would attach some restrictions and conditions to the transfer of other equipment, “including armored tactical vehicles like those used in Ferguson, as well as many types of firearms, ammunition and explosives.” These restrictions include requiring the agencies to present “a clear and persuasive explanation of the need for the controlled equipment,” adopt community-oriented policing strategies, agree to “close federal oversight and monitoring overseen by a new federal agency with the power to conduct local compliance reviews,” train officers who will be using the gear, and keep data on how the equipment is used and with what results.

A spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police has already promised to fight the plan. Despite the changes to the 1033 surplus program, so far as I can tell, municipalities and states will remain perfectly free to purchase most of the named categories of equipment; they’ll just have to do so on the open market with their own money. Of course, once they are constrained to weigh such purchases against other uses of public funds, most will probably have little interest in doing so — which is part of the point we critics have been making.

Radley Balko himself deserves applause for having led the way on the issue of police militarization, both when he was at the Cato Institute and more recently as an independent reporter and Washington Post commentator, above all in his book Rise of the Warrior Cop. More of his work on the issue at Cato’s Letter (2013), at this video, and in a white paper on paramilitary police raids, as well as a general link to Cato’s work on the subject by many authors. I’ve covered the subject in many posts here and elsewhere, as well as in a podcast.

Police and law enforcement roundup

Dorian Johnson sues Ferguson and Darren Wilson

After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., a quick, high-profile round of on-camera media interviews by Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson helped establish the public narrative that officer Darren Wilson had stopped Brown and Johnson for no better reason than walking in the street, and that a peaceable Brown had been gunned down while trying to surrender with his hands in the air. To put it mildly, several key elements in this account were not well supported by the investigations later conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and others, and Johnson’s version of events was further put in shadow by the revelation that before the police stop he had accompanied Brown into a convenience store where Brown committed a strong-arm robbery of cigars later handed off to Johnson. At any event, Johnson has now filed a lawsuit against the town and against Wilson for being stopped and for the subsequent gunfire: Johnson wasn’t hit, but says he was endangered by the shots. [NBC News] Meanwhile, the chairman of the large law firm of Winston & Strawn will receive $1,300 an hour to represent Ferguson in the Justice Department probe. [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal]

“Police Misconduct: A Special Interest with Special Privileges”

Mike Rappaport at Liberty and Law explores how special interest politics contributes to shielding police misconduct, including the role of Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights laws (earlier). More on LEOBR/LEOBoR laws in two articles quoting me: Daniel Menefee, Maryland Reporter/WMAL and other outlets, on prospects for reform of the Maryland law; Kris Ockershauser, Pasadena Weekly, citing coverage last year from Jim Miller of the McClatchy papers on California’s tight restrictions on public access to police disciplinary records, which grew in part out of the state’s enactment of the 1976 Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act.

Related: Ross Douthat (New York Times), “Our Police Union Problem“. And for everyone who, like me, has been noticing the parallels between bad cop entrenchment and teacher tenure, Charles Lane wants to call our attention to the pending Supreme Court case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, on dues [Washington Post, earlier and more on Friedrichs]

David Simon (“The Wire”) on what went wrong in Baltimore

What went wrong with police-community relations in Baltimore, and are there any hopes for improvement? I liked David Simon’s interview on this subject so well that I edited it down into a sort of highlights reel in a Cato at Liberty post.

P.S.: Flashback to this December post: “At least twelve Baltimore cops sought workers’ comp for stress after using deadly force on citizens [Luke Broadwater, Baltimore Sun/Carroll County Times] And I was a guest on the national Leslie Marshall show Monday, guest-hosted by Newsweek opinion editor Nicholas Wapshott, on the topic of Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights.

Police and community roundup

  • Lucrative: Los Angeles writes $197 tickets for entering a crosswalk with “Don’t Walk” blinking [L.A. Times, more]
  • Forfeiture reform bill in Tennessee legislature stalls after “a key committee heard from family members who are in law enforcement and who do not want to give up a source of income.” [WTVF (auto-plays ad) via Balko]
  • As protagonists got deeper into trouble, they kept making bad decisions: Heather Mac Donald has a dissenting take on Alice Goffman’s much-noted book “On the Run” [City Journal, more favorable Tyler Cowen review previously linked]
  • In Georgia: “Probation Firm Holds Poor For ‘Ransom,’ Suit Charges” [NBC News, Thomasville, Ga., Times-Enterprise]
  • Police and fire jobs are dangerous by ordinary measure but involve less risk of fatality on job than trucker (2-3x risk), construction, taxi, groundskeeper, sanitation [New York Times]
  • Police think tank finds St. Louis County ticketing culture “dysfunctional and unsustainable” [Ryan J. Reilly, HuffPo] John Oliver on snowballing effect of petty municipal fines and fees [YouTube] NYC is writing fewer summonses for teenagers these days [Brian Doherty]
  • “Subtle hand movements,” whispering, being nervous, changes in breathing: list of six “invisible” signs someone is resisting an officer [Grant Stern, Photography Is Not a Crime response to Joel Shults, PoliceOne]

Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights laws: time for reform

“I don’t understand how she [Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake] can continually say they’re not cooperating,” Michael E. Davey, an attorney for the police union, told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday. “They are. They did. And they’re lucky they got those statements before I got involved.”

They’re lucky they got those statements before I got involved. That’s a little window into the adversarial relationship between the union representing six Baltimore officers under investigation and city officials charged with determining whether Freddie Gray’s fatal injuries in police custody might have been caused by foul play such as an unbelted “rough ride” in the back of a police van.

Newsweek, and before that the Foundation for Economic Education, have now reprinted a short Cato at Liberty piece in which I describe the operation of Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights (LEOBR or LEOBoR) laws, of which Maryland passed the first in the early 1970s, and which have spread to more than a dozen states; in many other localities union contract provisions accomplish some of the same goals. These laws sharply restrain how police forces can pursue misconduct investigations against suspected officers, and officials in Baltimore and elsewhere have repeatedly cited the law as an impediment to investigations of officer misconduct long predating the Freddie Gray incident, including the probe into the enormous scandal of employee misconduct at the state-run Baltimore jail. (I’ve got more at Free State Notes about the local Maryland angle, including the failure of efforts this year in the state legislature to reform the law.)

Radley Balko followed up with a post summarizing my argument and adding an important point, which is that these laws can provide a covert way for departments to sabotage investigations so as to help out fellow officers, by introducing seemingly inadvertent errors that ensure that charges will later have to be thrown out.

In my opinion, conservatives should no more defend LEOBRs than they should defend teacher tenure laws, and for much the same reasons. In response to rising criticism, which has intensified since Gray’s death in custody, police unions have begun a broad effort to shore up support for the laws. The version of my article at FEE, for example, drew a response from a Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police official which you can read here together with my response.

One oft-heard claim that these laws merely give suspected cops the same rights as other suspected citizens. Don’t miss Ken White’s new post at Popehat blowing that argument to smithereens. Equally laughable is the suggestion from union brass that the laws merely put into effect Fifth Amendment or other constitutional rights. While a few cases from the Warren Court era did invent new constitutional constraints on public agencies’ handling of employee investigations, LEOBR laws go far beyond anything in those cases.

Further reading and listening: Ed Krayewski, Reason; Kojo Nnamdi show; New York Times “Room for Debate” roundtable with Prof. Paul Butler, my friend and former Manhattan Institute colleague Heather Mac Donald (the middle-of-the-roader, in this context) and FOP’s Chuck Canterbury. See also my coverage of correctional officers “bill of rights” laws in Maryland, Pennsylvania, etc. here, here, here, and here.

The economics of rioting

Following the outbreak of serious riots on the streets of Baltimore, I wrote a post yesterday at Cato:

…More than twenty years ago in the Cato Journal, distinguished law and economics scholars David Haddock and Daniel Polsby published a paper entitled “Understanding Riots” that’s still highly relevant in making sense of events like these. Employing familiar economic concepts such as opportunity cost, coordination problems, and free-rider issues, Haddock and Polsby help explain why riots cluster around sports wins as well as assassinations, funerals, and jury verdicts; the group psychology of rioting, and why most crowds never turn riotous; the important role of focal points (often lightly policed commercial areas) and rock-throwing “entrepreneurs” of disorder; the tenuous relationship between riots and root causes or contemporary grievances; and why when a riot occurs the police (at least those in places like the United States and United Kingdom) seldom manage to be in enough places at once, more or less by definition.

I conclude that pundits and the news media are continuing to get the story wrong about riots like those in Baltimore, and link to the Haddock and Polsby article itself. The post is here.

P.S.: This is neat: Jack Shafer at Politico takes and runs with some of the paper’s analysis about prevention strategies and the spread of information about riot locations. And Jesse Walker looks further at the role of “outside agitators.”