Posts tagged as:

police

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.

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One consequence of the events in Ferguson, Mo. is that people are talking with each other across ideological lines who usually don’t, a symbol being the attention paid on both left and right to Sen. Rand Paul’s op-ed last week in Time. And one point worth discussing is how the problem of police militarization manifests itself similarly these days in local policing and in the enforcement of federal regulation.

At BuzzFeed, Evan McMorris-Santoro generously quotes me on the prospects for finding common ground on these issues. The feds’ Gibson Guitar raid — our coverage of that here — did much to raise the profile of regulatory SWAT tactics, and John Fund cited others in an April report:

Many of the raids [federal paramilitary enforcers] conduct are against harmless, often innocent, Americans who typically are accused of non-violent civil or administrative violations.

Take the case of Kenneth Wright of Stockton, Calif., who was “visited” by a SWAT team from the U.S. Department of Education in June 2011. Agents battered down the door of his home at 6 a.m., dragged him outside in his boxer shorts, and handcuffed him as they put his three children (ages 3, 7, and 11) in a police car for two hours while they searched his home. The raid was allegedly intended to uncover information on Wright’s estranged wife, Michelle, who hadn’t been living with him and was suspected of college financial-aid fraud.

The year before the raid on Wright, a SWAT team from the Food and Drug Administration raided the farm of Dan Allgyer of Lancaster, Pa. His crime was shipping unpasteurized milk across state lines to a cooperative of young women with children in Washington, D.C., called Grass Fed on the Hill. Raw milk can be sold in Pennsylvania, but it is illegal to transport it across state lines. The raid forced Allgyer to close down his business.

Fund goes on to discuss the rise of homeland-security and military-surplus programs that have contributed to the rapid proliferation of SWAT and paramilitary methods in local policing. He cites Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, which similarly treats both manifestations of paramilitary policing as part of the same trend.

As McMorris-Santoro notes in the BuzzFeed piece, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) has introduced a bill called the Regulatory Agency Demilitarization Act, citing such unsettling developments as a U.S. Department of Agriculture solicitation for submachine guns. 28 House Republicans have joined as sponsors, according to Ryan Lovelace at National Review.

There has already been left-right cooperation on the issue, as witness the unsuccessful Grayson-Amash amendment in June seeking to cut off the military-surplus 1033 program. As both sides come to appreciate some of the common interests at stake in keeping law enforcement as peaceful and proportionate as situations allow, there will be room for more such cooperation. (& welcome Instapundit, Radley Balko readers; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

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  • D.C.-area listeners: Today (Monday) I’m scheduled to join host Diane Rehm on her popular WAMU radio show, along with other panelists, tune in at 10 a.m. [update: transcript];
  • “A few people have pointed it out, but our ROE [Rules of Engagement] regarding who we could point weapons at in Afghanistan was more restrictive than cops in MO.” [@jeffclement, part of an interesting Storify on veterans' opinions of Ferguson; related on gun-handling practice of Ferguson police last week as seen by gun aficionados [Reddit via VICE]
  • Obama should call for an end to the 1033 program, which drives local police militarization, says my Cato colleague Tim Lynch [CNN, Yahoo] Pentagon surplus grants to local police don’t correlate with terror threats (state that gets most per officer: Alabama) [WP] Missouri grant angle [David Mastio and Kelsey Rupp, USA Today]
  • SWAT raids on poker games and a comedian: John Stossel’s column this week is on Ferguson [Fox] The inimitable Mark Steyn [Steyn Online] And for balance here’s a contrary view from someone who views militarization as both inevitable and necessary [Jazz Shaw, Hot Air]
  • “What I Did After Police Killed My Son” [Politico; Michael Bell of Kenosha, Wis.]
  • Asset forfeiture, federal partnerships fed St. Louis County gear acquisition [Eapen Thampy, Forfeiture Reform] More background on forces fueling militarization [Glenn Reynolds, Popular Mechanics, 2006]
  • “The Missouri Highway Patrol, St. Louis County, and the City of Ferguson agree that public has the ‘right to record public events’” [Volokh, 2010 Cato video] “Prove the truth”: why cameras help good cops [Nick Gillespie]

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A timely reminder [Ed Krayewski, Reason] Appallingly, some unions have won provisions forbidding authorities from interviewing an officer charged with misconduct until days after an incident, which means a lawyered-up officer can, if so inclined, hold back from committing to a story until it becomes clearer what story is convenient. Krayewski:

Whether Ferguson’s police chief or mayor are actually interested in firing this cop is hardly known. But in the current situation, their hands are tied by an intricate system of legal protections built for cops around the country. Firing Michael Brown’s killer would not make him guilty of murder. That’s what jury trials are for in this free country. But cops, who are authorized by the government to use violence to attain their goals, ought to be held to a higher standard than everyday criminals, not lower ones. A job is a privilege, not a right.

We’ve run many items over the years on this theme, including: Connecticut officer reinstated with back pay after “covering up a hit and run crash involving a fellow officer [she] was involved in a relationship with,” and police union “defends Denver cop fired for driving drunk at 143 mph”; union saves job of officer who planted white powder on suspect in a drug arrest, also in Connecticut; the comprehensively bad “Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights” package enacted in many states; etc. And closely related, from Ken White at Popehat: “Don’t Give Special Rights To Anybody! Oh, Except Cops. That’s Cool”; J.D. Tuccille, Reason.

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Michael Daly at The Daily Beast has the flabbergasting story of Henry Davis, who was picked up by cops “for an outstanding warrant that proved to actually be for another man of the same surname, but a different middle name and Social Security number,” then beaten by several officers at the station. What happened next was truly surreal: while denying that Davis had been seriously hurt at all, though a CAT scan found he had suffered a concussion and a contemporaneous photo shows him bleeding heavily, four police officers sought to have him charged for property damage for getting blood on their uniforms. The story emerged in part through contradictions in sworn testimony. Moreover, it developed that the department did not have a practice of placing incident reports of this sort in the officers’ personnel files, making it impossible to know how often individual officers had been involved in allegations of excessive force.

The kicker: the police department was that of Ferguson, Missouri.

P.S. Here’s a court document.

Earlier on petty fines and charges as an abusive element in law enforcement. More on the Davis case from Kevin at Lowering the Bar.

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Above: Cato podcast, interviewed by Caleb Brown.

The events in Ferguson, Mo. have vaulted police militarization to the top of the national news. I’ve spent a lot of the past 48 hours talking with the press, covering the issue on Twitter and other social media, and fielding reactions to my blog post (reprinted at the Cato blog), which has gotten considerable attention. Highlights:

P.S. Finally some good news from Ferguson. Newly assigned cops from the Missouri Highway Patrol wear blue not camo, mingle and talk to protesters with respect — and suddenly there’s calm. And the Rand Paul piece is making news.

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Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone“?

As most readers have reason to know by now, the town of Ferguson, Mo. outside St. Louis, numbering around 21,000 residents, is the scene of an unfolding drama that will be cited for years to come as a what-not-to-do manual for police forces. After police shot and killed an unarmed black teenager on the street, then left his body on the pavement for four hours, rioters destroyed many local stores. Since then, reportedly, police have refused to disclose either the name of the cop involved or the autopsy results on young Michael Brown; have not managed to interview a key eyewitness even as he has told his story repeatedly on camera to the national press; have revealed that dashcams for police cars were in the city’s possession but never installed; have obtained restrictions on journalists, including on news-gathering overflights of the area; and more.

The dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.

If you’re new to the issue of police militarization, which Overlawyered has covered occasionally over the past few years, the key book is Radley Balko’s, discussed at this Cato forum:

Federal grants drive police militarization. In 2012, as I was able to establish in moments through an online search, St. Louis County (of which Ferguson is a part) got a Bearcat armored vehicle and other goodies this way. The practice can serve to dispose of military surplus (though I’m told the Bearcat is not military surplus, but typically purchased new — W.O.) and it sometimes wins the gratitude of local governments, even if they are too strapped for cash to afford more ordinary civic supplies (and even if they are soon destined to be surprised by the high cost of maintaining gear intended for overseas combat).

As to the costs, some of those are visible in Ferguson, Mo. this week.

[edited to add/update links and to clarify the issues of military surplus and the un-interviewed witness; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty]

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  • Did feds try to pass off bogus paperwork in Maryland forfeiture case? [Van Smith, my two cents at Free State Notes, Radley Balko (and thanks for mention)]
  • “I’m not saying that warrants are completely useless.” [Ken at Popehat]
  • “Massachusetts is the only state that incarcerates people suffering from addiction who have not been convicted of crimes” [ACLU of Massachusetts]
  • “Where Would We Be If Not For Police In SWAT Gear Raiding Poker Games?” [Amy Alkon]
  • Class of federal crimes that shows the biggest racial disparity isn’t drug offenses, it’s gun offenses [Balko on Shaneen Allen case in New Jersey]
  • Our merciful laws: “I Saw a Man Get Arrested For a Sex Crime Because He Made a Scheduling Error” [Lenore Skenazy, Reason] “Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far” [Matt Mellema, Chanakya Sethi, and Jane Shim, Slate]
  • Police chief seeks to arrest one of own officers on brutality charge, state’s attorney says no [Scott Greenfield; Ed Krayewski, Reason; Enfield, Ct.]

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Another scandal from its seemingly bottomless depths [CNN, earlier here, etc.] “Are Narcotics Corrupting the Police Force?” [Joel Mathis, Philadelphia magazine] And the police union wants an investigation of reporters investigative reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, whose exposure of misconduct by narcotics squad members won a Pulitzer prize, on the grounds that some anonymous source has allegedly charged that they might have made payments to sources [NewsWorks]

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Ramsey Orta, whose street video of Eric Garner’s chokehold death at the hands of NYC cops became a worldwide sensation, has only days later been nabbed by that same police force on grounds of an unlawful gun infraction in what the police describe as a known drug location. “To decipher some of the police jargon, every location in New York other than St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a ‘known drug location’ as far as the police are concerned,” writes Scott Greenfield [Simple Justice]

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The tests “disproportionately screened out female applicants, resulting in a disparate impact against those applicants.” Officers who are highly fit have more options in a situation where force is required — subduing a suspect without resort to a gun, for example. Still, courts have often gone along with demands to weaken tests and standards. [DoJ press release] More: TV and Treadmills (FBI uses higher standards than the ones DoJ is suing over).

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If you last saw it in the small town of Hamlet, N.C., it might have been impounded by the police on low-level charges and then sold for scrap to junkyards in a series of what appear to be irregular and under-monitored transactions. “In police files were two court orders, signed by a state district court judge, but otherwise left mostly blank. Those pre-signed court orders, which judicial experts say are extremely unusual and do not seem appropriate, appear to have been copied and then used to dispose of at least seven vehicles.” [News and Observer last November via Balko]

More from New York City: “TLC Wrongly Accused Hundreds of Being Illegal Cabbies in Past Year.” And when they accuse, they can and do seize your car, which you may have to go to a lot of trouble to get back. [DNAInfo] Related: “City investigators wrongfully accused a black man of being an illegal taxi driver after they spotted him dropping off his wife at work, believing she was a white livery cab passenger, a lawsuit charges.” [DNAInfo via Alkon]

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  • Cop caught on camera stealing dying motorist’s $3700 and gold crucifix “walked out of courtroom with big smile on face” [Bridgeport; Connecticut Post]
  • Durham, N.C. police officer testifies department would illegally gain access to homes for purposes of search by lying about getting 911 calls [IndyWeek]
  • “California Highway Patrol Seizes Medical Records Of Woman An Officer Was Caught On Tape Beating” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
  • Drivers routinely expected to give up otherwise-basic civil liberties in exchange for right to use the roads [Michael Tracey, Vice]
  • Teen sexting prosecutions in Virginia and elsewhere: “We must destroy the children in order to save them” [Radley Balko]
  • Narcotics officers get training credit at tax-funded seminars in how to argue in favor of drug laws [Missouri pro-legalization site via Balko]
  • Back from the ashes: advances in fire and arson forensics cast doubt on earlier convictions [Texas Monthly]

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“…will inevitably be used to protect police and others in power, not…the weak.” [Ken White/Popehat on case of Thomas G. Smith, whose conviction, later overturned, for "disorderly conduct" and "unlawful use of a computerized communication system" was based on an obscenity-filled rant against cops on the Facebook page of the Village of Arena, Wisc. police department]

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  • “Emails show feds asking Florida cops to deceive judges by calling Stingrays ‘confidential sources.’” [Wired]
  • Trial penalty: mortgage fraud defendants in study fared far worse if they insisted on process of law to which they are notionally entitled under Constitution [Wes Oliver at Daniel Fisher's; more on joint Duquesne Law/Pittsburgh Post Gazette study from reporter Rich Lord, first, second]
  • “‘Florida’s Worst Cop’ Finally Convicted of Something, May Be Headed to Jail” [Ed Krayewski, Reason, earlier]
  • “Plans to expand scope of license-plate readers alarm privacy advocates” [Center for Investigative Reporting, earlier here, here, here, here, here] But at least our sensitive personal information will be safe with the government! [Lowering the Bar]
  • “Challenges to ‘shaken baby’ convictions mounting” [Wisconsin State Journal, earlier]
  • A Pavlik Morozov for the Drug War? “Brave” Minnesota 9-year-old hailed for turning in parents on pot rap [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, background on Soviet youth hero]
  • “Police SWAT teams in Massachusetts form private corporations, then claim immunity from disclosure laws” [Radley Balko via @gabrielroth, more from ACLU report on police militarization]
  • Sad and bad: “House Republicans vote to block Obama’s new pardon attorneys” [MSNBC, Jacob Sullum, my Cato take]
  • Ready for sorghum-patch unrest? More than 100 U.S. Department of Agriculture agents are armed with submachine guns [Matt Welch]
  • “Cop who punched Occupy Wall Street protester gets tax-free disability pension” [New York Daily News, video of punch]
  • “Officials could identify just one [Bronx] prosecutor since 1975 … disciplined in any respect for misbehavior while prosecuting a criminal case.” [City Limits via Radley Balko]
  • Georgia drug raid: flash-bang grenade thrown into crib badly burning toddler [Tim Lynch, PoliceMisconduct.net "Worst of the Month"]
  • New book by Sidney Powell critical of USDOJ explores Ted Stevens, Enron prosecutions, has foreword by Judge Alex Kozinski ["Licensed to Lie": Craig Malisow/Houston Press, Legal Ethics Forum, Amazon]
  • Two times over the legal limit, hmm. Would it help to flash my badge? [Prosecutorial Accountability on state bar discipline against San Francisco deputy d.a.]

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  • As condition of bail, federal magistrate orders arrestee to recant charge of government misconduct [Eugene Volokh]
  • Possible life sentence for pot brownies shows “utterly irrational consequences of pretending drugs weigh more than they do” [Jacob Sullum, Radley Balko] Life sentence for guy who sold LSD: “the prosecutor was high-fiving [the] other attorneys” [Sullum]
  • Do low-crime small towns across America really need MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicles and other military gear, thanks to federal programs? [Balko]
  • Minnesota reforms its use of asset forfeiture [Nick Sibilla, FIRE] Rhode Island, Texas could stand to follow [Balko]
  • If not for video, would anyone believe a story about Santa Clara deputies “spiking” premises with meth after finding no illegal drugs? [Scott Greenfield]
  • Falsely accused of abuse: “He Lost 3 Years and a Child, but Got No Apology” [Michael Powell, NY Times "Gotham"; Amine Baba-Ali case]
  • Two federal judges denounce feds’ “let’s knock over a stash house” entrapment techniques as unconstitutional [Brad Heath, USA Today]