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Are Police Becoming a Necessary Evil?

After reading stories like this, this and this it becomes progressively harder not to take the view that cops are a necessary evil.

The first story is about how two sheriff deputies in Florida really screwed up.

Pinellas County sheriff’s vice and narcotics detectives briefly lost a car they had under surveillance one afternoon in August, but then it reappeared: A white Chevrolet Lumina, with tinted windows, a yellow license plate, and two black men inside.

They didn’t check one thing, however, when they spotted the Lumina the second time – the license tag.

That oversight Aug. 17 led to pandemonium at an Enterprise Rent-A-Car, when two detectives stormed the business, their guns drawn, and wrongfully arrested two black men.

[snip]

The two sergeants each have been suspended for 12 days, Sheriff Jim Coats said Wednesday, one day after the county commission agreed to pay the men a total of $100,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

“It’s something we’re not proud of,” Coats said.

They were disciplined for failing to verify the license plate, and for using such force with the two men. Their names were not released because they continue to work undercover.

In a surveillance video, one sergeant was seen repeatedly putting his foot on Small’s shoulder – or giving him a “foot strike” – as Small was prone on the floor, but trying to look around; this sergeant also pushed Small’s face into the floor, the video shows.

“I stomped down trying to step on him and flatten him to the ground,” the sergeant told internal affairs investigators.

After Small and Lobban were handcuffed, members of the squad gave each other high-fives, the video shows.

To the sergeants, Small was resisting while Lobban was not, according to their interviews with internal affairs. No one in the vice and narcotics division who was involved, including the captain in charge, had a problem with the level of force used.

The two sargents are appealing the suspension. Frankly, given the excessive force, that the two men don’t seem to have a problem beating up suspects, I’d say they need to be fired. But then holding police to a standard equal to or above that of civilians…well that is just crazy.

The second story takes us back to what is now starting to look like the murder of Kathryn Johnston.

An Atlanta police narcotics officer has told federal investigators at least one member of his unit lied about making a drug buy at the home of an elderly woman killed in a subsequent raid, according to a person close to the investigation.

In an affidavit to get a search warrant at the home Nov. 21, narcotics officer Jason R. Smith told a magistrate he and Officer Arthur Tesler had a confidential informant buy $50 worth of crack at 933 Neal St. from a man named “Sam.”

But narcotics officer Gregg Junnier, who was wounded in the shootout, has since told federal investigators that did not happen, according to the person close to the investigation. Police got a no-knock warrant after claiming that “Sam” had surveillance cameras outside the Neal Street residence and they needed the element of surprise to capture him and the drugs.

[snip]

Buddy Parker, a former federal prosecutor, said that officers who lied to the magistrate could face serious charges in addition to making false statements to a judge.

“If that was the case, you have a conspiracy,” said Parker. “If you have a warrantless entry, you have no legal investigation. It can be either conscious disregard for the law and all conduct flowing from that is criminal — the entry, the homicide. It’s no different from people going in to rob a bank and kill someone in a shooting.”

The last story is an update on Kenneth Jamar,

Remember Kenneth Jamar? He was the Alabama man who almost suffered Kathryn Johnston’s fate last June. Partially deaf, and suffering from gout and two hear attacks, he met the raiding federal-local SWAT team with a pistol. The SWAT team opened fire, and nearly killed him. An internal investigation cleared the police of any wrongdoing, despite the fact that address on the warrant was wrong, and that police had circled the wrong house on a satellite photo. They were looking for his nephew. Not on murder or rape charges. But on drug distribution charges. The nephew actually watched the raid from his father’s home. After they carted Jamar off in an ambulance, police arrested the nephew without incident.

Jamar is now suing the police. Hopefully he’ll win a huge settlement.

With police like this, who needs criminals.

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About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research.

Comments

  1. Steven Plunk says:

    Two points. First, it is your local police agency that is more likely to violate your rights than the FBI. In my opinion this is because the local jurisdictions have less respect for constitutional rights. The media loves to report the latest terrorist surveillance methods that might infringe on privacy rights while they ignore every day actual abuses by local law enforcement.

    Second, it all goes back to training. Today’s police are trained to avoid any risk. That means all are treated as high risk threats. Little old ladies included. Police departments must return to the idea that most citizens are not threats and that some risk must be carried with the job. Until then we will continue to see abuses as noted in the post.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. Anderson says:

    As Steve V. suggests, a lot of the problem is that police are held to a *lower* standard than the average person. I guess on the theory that it frees them up to do their job.

    Doesn’t seem like such a hot theory any more.

    Frankly, I would prefer that police in non-emergency situations stop & think what the hell they’re doing, and wonder whether they could get fired & imprisoned for not knowing the answer to that question.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. just me says:

    First, it is your local police agency that is more likely to violate your rights than the FBI. In my opinion this is because the local jurisdictions have less respect for constitutional rights.

    I think this is a good point.

    I think we need to be careful with thinking that cops are bad, or are worse than criminals.

    I do think police forces are overly enamored of the more military style equipment and enforcement.

    It is dangerous to be a cop, our state has had two cops killed within the last few months by people they were trying to aprehend-cops aren’t playing a game, they do a dangerous job, and while the majority of calls and stops result in nothing dangerous, there are enough bad calls to be wary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  4. just me says:

    Frankly, I would prefer that police in non-emergency situations stop & think what the hell they’re doing, and wonder whether they could get fired & imprisoned for not knowing the answer to that question

    The only problem is that often it is the non emergency situation that turns into a dangerous one. There was a cop killed here several years back that was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop-and this happens quite often in every state (there is a reason cops are taught to put a handprint on your car during a traffic stop). Knowing when something routine and not dangerous has switched into not routine and dangerous isn’t always an easy call.

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  5. Steve Verdon says:

    just me,

    I’m sorry, but I think you’ve fallen into the problem so many often do. You vastly over-estimate the probability of a bad outcome. How many traffic stops are there, and how many go bad? That is something that never comes up in these discussions; all we hear about is the one(s) that went bad, which I’d be willing to bet are a tiny fraction of the number of stops.

    Same goes with serving warrants. In Fairfax VA, about half of the warrants are served with a SWAT team. Think about your household, would a warrant need to be served on you or a member of your family with a fully armed, locked & loaded SWAT team? Do you like the odds of 50-50 that that is how one would be served on you or a member of your household?

    Further, one reason why SWAT units serve so many warrants is to “preserve evidence”. Is evidence so important that we are willing to risk the lives of the innocent?

    Cops need to held to a much higher standard than they currently are, and preferably one higher than us civilians are held too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. djneylon says:

    a lot of law enforcement agencies are incredibly sloppy with paperwork….they have a tendency to excuse their mistakes by falling back on the pressure of the moment….they try but fail to assume a paramilitary style, when many of them would not last five minutes in a operational military unit…they see life as “us (cops)” and “them (everyone else)”….they have near zero accountability…the real threat is many of our large police departments (and the bigger they are, the truer all the above are) do not trust the citizens in their community and have lost the trust of their community…..it’s past time for “to serve and protect” to be not a motto, but a mission statement

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  7. Steph says:

    I always thought this was a good blog done by a good person.

    BUt anti police means pro rape and murder. You dance when you hear an officer died.

    If a gang member was shooting you’d want him to shoot the officer not the officer shoot them.

    Yes police make mistakes. But most of the complaints against them are bogus.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    Steph,

    Are you simply trolling or were you serious?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Anderson says:

    Steph,

    Are you simply trolling or were you serious?

    Stupid, either way. (That’s no way to troll.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Steph says:

    I think rape and murder are evil you think police are.

    If supporting people who put their lives on the line every day is stupid I am.

    My best friend’s husband was a police officer killed in the line of duty and worthless subhumans like you danced and say he deserved it.

    Police make mistakes there’s no question about it and there are bad ones out there.

    But anyone who would call them evil every single one of them is ridiculous.

    I consider child rapists evil. You consider police evil.

    The last murder in my town the murderer was named Anderson. All people named Anderson are murderers then.

    People like Anderson think the gang leaders rapists murderers and such are the GOOD guys.

    What’s your favorite crime? Every anti police person thinks criminals should be allowed to roam free so which crime do you think should be legalized first?

    People like Anderson want murder and rape to be legal.

    Only good thing about anti police people is if you ever are dating one RUN. They are saying they will beat and rape you and your children daily if you ever marry.

    A police officer risks his life every day.

    Anderson rapes kids every day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  11. Gollum says:

    Hmmm.

    Steph, it may be time for you to visit the clinic again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Kent G. Budge says:

    Steve, you can do the math. Suppose it’s a one-in-a-thousand chance that a traffic stop will turn dangerous. That probably sounds pretty remote to the average person. Now consider that a traffic cop will probably stop a thousand people a year. That means about a 60% chance per year that the cop will have a traffic stop turn bad. Not so remote after all.

    My point is that civilians confront dangerous situations so rarely that they can afford to hesitate and stop and think. Their lifetime risk is small. Cops who want to live long enough to collect their retirement have to be ready to respond instantly to a threat. This does make for accidents. I think the reason cops get more slack is because these realities are understood.

    Having said that: I think the pendulum may well have swung too far in favor of the cops, and now needs to swing back. But let’s put a healthy damping term on the oscillations. Pronouncing cops evil (even if a necessary evil) might help the pendulum turn back, but it also increases the chances that it will swing right past the optimum to the other extreme.

    There is no excuse for the Johnston case, which isn’t about a poor decision in a snap situation, but a premeditated pattern of entrapment that plausibly warrants for first-degree murder charges. I’m less familiar with the other cases and don’t know how typical they are — that Balko is able to compile an impressive list of abuses is not proof that he is not cherry-picking his data. Failing to double-check a license tag strikes me as the kind of stupid lapse that should not necessarily be career-ending. Whether the arrest used too much force is a separate question; without the video, I’m hesitant to judge.

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