Law (and Law Enforcement) Need not Lead to Violence

Despite some of the commentary on threads from recent posts, the presence of the law does not mean that force is around the corner (or that law enforcement officers have no choice but resort to violence in the face of malefactors).

Via AL.com: Police officer buys eggs for woman caught shoplifting to feed her family in Tarrant

A woman caught shoplifting eggs in Tarrant Saturday didn’t leave with handcuffs and a court date. Thanks to a Tarrant police officer, she left with food for her family.

Officer William Stacy was called to the Dollar General on Pinson Valley Parkway when employees caught the woman trying to steal a dozen eggs, Tarrant Police Chief Dennis Reno said.

The woman had her young children in the car. She told Officer Stacy that she was only stealing because she was trying to feed her children.

Stacy talked with Dollar General, and they said they wouldn’t prosecute. So Stacy made an offer.

"He said, ‘If I give you these eggs, will you promise that you won’t shoplift anymore?’" Reno said. "He knew that she was telling the truth and that’s the reason he went in and bought the eggs."

Stacy bought the eggs and gave them to her, Reno said. The woman then asked if she could give him a hug.

A fellow shopper caught the hug on video, posted that on Facebook, and it had nearly 300,000 views on Facebook Monday afternoon.

Video at the link (and for the curious:  black shoplifter, white cop).

Always good to remember that there are nice stories out there.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Quick Takes, Race and Politics, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. JohnMcC says:

    I’ve had the experience of living on a mobile sailboat for a couple of years. Also done a lot of backpacking. I’m convinced that less than 3 or 4 hours of real bad weather in either pursuit makes any human contact so overwhelmingly wonderful that the politics we obsess over here in what passes for ‘normal’ isn’t thought of for days and weeks on end. Priorities. Maslow’s heirarchy. Whatever. Great therapy.

    And I specifically include the moment when you realize the YOU need help and You need to throw yourself on the mercy of a stranger. To be, just to get specific, ourselves the woman in the story above. Pretty easy to feel like the good cop. Much more enlightening to be the hungry woman for a few moments now but moreso when really bad sh!t is happening all around you.

    THAT, my friend, is when all this we are wrangling over assumes manageable proportions.

  2. stonetools says:

    Some data:

    The FBI reports that in 2011, cops in America killed 404 suspects in acts of “justifiable homicide.” Astonishingly, though, as FiveThirtyEight reports, this number likely doesn’t include every civilian fatality that year since it relies on voluntary reporting and doesn’t include police homicides that aren’t justifiable.

    Still, 404 is a large number. By comparison, just six people were killed by police in Australia over the same period. Police in England and Wales killed only two people, and German police killed six.

    Last year, police in England did not record a single shooting fatality, with officers across the country only firing weapons on three occasions.

    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-do-us-police-kill-so-many-people-2014-8#ixzz3LP0EFPLa

    Now of course Americans pretend that the rest of world doesn’t exist, but this country by country comparision makes it clear that the US is simply in another dimension where it comes to police killing of civilians. So no, America is exceptional once again. The reason?

    There are some theories about why cops in America kill more people. Ladd Everitt from the Washington-based advocacy organization, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told Business Insider, “We see this as a product of the continuing arms race between law enforcement and civilians that has been going on for decades.”

    Everitt said the increasingly sophisticated weaponry being sold to U.S. civilians is forcing police to keep up, with both sides purchasing ever more powerful weapons.

    The arms race means “police officers have legitimate fears about the nature of the firepower they are confronting on a daily basis,” he said.

    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-do-us-police-kill-so-many-people-2014-8#ixzz3LP2Ta1In

    Cue the usual suspects coming on line to assure us that that the arms race has nothing to do with the vast number of police killings. But this sounds plausible to me and it tracks the enormous difference in gun deaths between the US and countries with sane gun policies.

  3. @stonetools: The comparative numbers certainly underscore that the problem is not law or the state, but the way the law is enforced.

  4. Guarneri says:

    An anti-gun advocacy group thinks guns are the problem. Who’d a-thunk it?

    Time might better be spent asking why the US’ criminal element’s psyche desires ever more and more powerful weapons, and even more importantly, the obvious correlary “why their brazen willingness to use them?”

  5. Guarneri says:

    As for buying eggs, it’s a nice one-off feel good story, but in the context of the issues it is best characterized as a child’s fairy tail. What next, solving income inequality by requiring reading about squirrels who saved nuts, or tortoises and hares??

  6. KM says:

    This is what deescalation looks like. This is what an officer in control of the situation and themselves looks like.

    The officer, instead of assuming malice and hostility on the part of the offender, looked into the situation further then the immediate few seconds of contact, discovered a rationale and acted appropriately (not a viable solution longterm but good here). The officer didn’t assume the shoplifter was a greedy jerk just out for the lulz and challenging the Man but saw an opportunity to (1) assist someone in need, (2) not add to the overcrowded jails for a minor infraction and (3) restore faith in both shoplifter and shop owner that the police aren’t there to drag people away. The actual action is somewhat irrelevant to the whole – it’s that the officer took the time to see this as more then a “potential arrest! Act now!” and see “citizen in violation of law – investigate then act”. This can make all the difference.

  7. CET says:

    @stonetools:
    Everitt said the increasingly sophisticated weaponry being sold to U.S. civilians is forcing police to keep up, with both sides purchasing ever more powerful weapons.

    Cue the usual suspects coming on line to assure us that that the arms race has nothing to do with the vast number of police killings

    I’ll do one better and assure you that there is not an arms race, at least, not in the sense that Mr. Everitt describes.* According to the UCR (or pretty much any statistical breakdown of crime done by a reputable source), handguns account for the majority of firearm deaths by a substantial margin. Improvements in handgun technology over the last 100 years have been largely about ergonomics and user safety, and in fact, one of the more popular models today (the 1911 and its derivatives) has remained largely unchanged during the last century.

    Part of the reason gun people tend to ignore the left on these issues is that most gun control advocates demonstrate pretty clearly that they know basically nothing about guns.

    *I’m assuming that was a veiled reference to ‘assault weapons’ which is a debate I’d be happy to have, but is probably a bit of a tangent for this thread.

  8. CET says:

    @KM:
    I would add that this also what things can look like when:

    (1) Police departments adopt the intent and spirit of ‘community based policing’ rather than claiming to adopt it while giving their officers quotas to fill.

    (2) Relations between officers and civilians are good enough that neither the officer nor the civilian immediately worries about being attacked by the other party over a trivial issue.

    See also:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/nyregion/photo-of-officer-giving-boots-to-barefoot-man-warms-hearts-online.html

    http://www.11alive.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/09/10/police-officer-gives-homeless-man-boots-photo-goes-viral/15377577/

  9. Franklin says:

    @Guarneri:

    An anti-gun advocacy group thinks guns are the problem. Who’d a-thunk it?

    A gun advocate doesn’t think guns are the problem. Who’d a-thunk it?

    (Have you more insight than that, Guarneri?)

  10. al-Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    What next, solving income inequality by requiring reading about squirrels who saved nuts, or tortoises and hares??

    Well, THAT and more tax cuts are what conservatives believe will solve the problem of income inequality.

  11. stonetools says:

    @CET:

    I’ll do one better and assure you that there is not an arms race, at least, not in the sense that Mr. Everitt describes.*

    You may not think so, but I’ve talked to police officers and they most assuredly think there is one. They have to police the streets, which means that their take on things is a bit different from the guy sitting behind a keyboard, stroking his chin and talking about the history of handguns.

    Part of the reason gun people tend to ignore the left on these issues is that most gun control advocates demonstrate pretty clearly that they know basically nothing about guns

    And part of the reason gun safety advocates ignore the gun people is that gun people condescend to those who don’t know what are often insignificant differences between one model of gun and another. I’ve lost count of the number of times gun people think their knowledge of the difference between a Sig Sauer Model P226 and a P290 or some such jibber jabber is actually a substitute for reasoned argument.

    The point really is that an armed society isn’t a polite society: it’s a trigger happy society in which police justify their shoot first and shoot fast approach by saying that they can’t wait to actually confirm whether the object the suspect is reaching for is a real gun or not. Indeed, I saw someone on CNN justify the shooting of the 12 year old in Cleveland precisely becauseof that: he said just a movement of his hand toward his waistband justified the officer shooting the child dead.
    So, yeah,”trigger happy police” are an inevitable consequence of an armed society, although the War on Drugs and race play a part.

    Matt Yglesias nails it here:

    Freedom isn’t free, and a somewhat higher rate of police-involved killings could simply be the price we pay for strong gun rights. It’s the interaction with race, however, that makes this so problematic.

    The cost of American gun ownership isn’t borne evenly across the country. Black people — specifically young black men — are suffering disproportionately from both gun homicide  (which, yes, is more common  where guns are widespread — it’s true that a large share of crime guns are already illegal, but the legal circulation of large quantities of small weapons makes it much easier to obtain one illegally) and police shootings.

    To be clear about something, since it seems very important to a lot of people who email and tweet at me, this is not some kind of crazy cosmic coincidence. It is genuinely true that men murder at a higher rate than women, that young people murder at a higher rate than old ones, and that black people murder at a higher rate than white ones. That a pall of suspicion falls on young black men is, in part, a statistical inference.

    But this statistical inference gets young black men killed for encounters with the police that would lead to a reprimand or a citation for a white one. And that’s a national scandal. It is a form of wholly unjustified collective punishment inflicted on an African-American community that, just like the white community, consists overwhelmingly of non-murderers.

  12. CET says:

    @stonetools:
    You may not think so, but I’ve talked to police officers and they most assuredly think there is one.

    With the obvious caveat that I probably don’t talk to the same police officers that you do, I would assume that what they are concerned about is the proliferation of small, cheap handguns. I’d be curious to see numbers, but I’m guessing when cops shoot first, it’s because they are concerned the suspect is accessing a concealed handgun (or in the recent cases, concerned that the suspect might overpower them and take their handgun, which is a totally separate issue).

    That may seem like a semantic point, but it isn’t – if the problem is the ease with which criminals can get their hands on what are arguably the ‘simplest’ firearms (<$400 handguns) that's a very different problem than if criminals are routinely using semi-automatic rifles (which are only about 40-60 years old rather than 100). The first points to a need to control access (e.g. a functional background check system, and a viable way to nail straw-buyers), the second points to the need for a serious discussion about which weapons are legal for civilian purchase.* I could care less if gun-control advocates know a Glock from Sig, but conflating the role of semi-automatic rifles** and handguns in crime reveals a basic lack of understanding about the topic.

    *Both of which are reasonable discussions to have, but unless folks are ok with some serious threadjacking, we might want to wait until the next time Doug brings it up.

    **This is really the most charitable interpretation of 'increasingly sophisticated' that I can come up with that applies to anything that's realistically available for civilian purchase.

  13. CET says:

    (This is a second set of replies to specifics to mitigate the tl;dr aspect at least a little)

    @stonetools:
    Indeed, I saw someone on CNN justify the shooting of the 12 year old in Cleveland precisely becauseof that: he said just a movement of his hand toward his waistband justified the officer shooting the child dead.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not wild about realistic toy guns for this and other reasons. But I think guns would have to extremely rare for officers not to be keyed up when confronted with a realistic fake, particular at night. In short, this is tragic, but not really pertinent (except to the extent that they might have been a little slower to shoot a white kid or a girl – so race more than gun control).

    So, yeah,”trigger happy police” are an inevitable consequence of an armed society, although the War on Drugs and race play a part

    A consequence in some places, yes. An inevitable one, no. Based on data from the 2010 UCR* homicide rates in Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, both Dakotas, New Hampshire, and Vermont are all 30%. I would venture to guess that police use of force in those states is also relatively low (and if it isn’t, then perhaps the proposed relationship between gun crime and police use of force needs to be re-considered).

    That’s not to say that guns, particularly illegally owned ones in densely populated areas with high crime, don’t cause a problem. But the problem is that guns are a force multiplier for existing issues (and I that we would agree that the war on drugs and densely populated neighborhoods that resemble failed states are too of the most important).

    Freedom isn’t free, and a somewhat higher rate of police-involved killings could simply be the price we pay for strong gun rights.

    This point is reasonable, but I tend to police killings are one of the weaker arguments for stronger gun laws, both because it fails the ‘swimming pool’ test,* and because there are things that need to be done anyway that should address the problem.

    *300-400 people per year, mostly children, drown in swimming pools in the US (CDC stats – I can dig them up if you’d like). Since no one (AFAIK) is advocating bans on swimming pools, this seems like a good approximate threshold for assessing the point at which legislative solutions are reasonable.

  14. Matt says:

    @CET: I was reading that and all I could think was “what???”. Guns use basically the same ammo designs that have been around for +50 years and in some cases +100 years. There’s been no increase in the power of weapons available. In all actuality the guns you can choose today to buy as a civilian are less powerful then the options you had before. You know back when you could buy a full auto BAR or various machine guns without any background checks etc. Calling a black riffle an “assault weapon” is just trying to turn the old semi-auto into something scary.

  15. Matt says:

    @stonetools: Police officers also think it’s more dangerous then ever for their profession. In reality the FBI database and even the fraternal order of police data shows that it’s never been safer to be a police officer. IT’s not even in the top 10 most dangerous jobs. Most cops die from car accidents and most are injured in the same manner.

  16. stonetools says:

    @CET:

    A consequence in some places, yes. An inevitable one, no. Based on data from the 2010 UCR* homicide rates in Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, both Dakotas, New Hampshire, and Vermont are all 30%. I would venture to guess that police use of force in those states is also relatively low (and if it isn’t, then perhaps the proposed relationship between gun crime and police use of force needs to be re-considered).

    I think you’re doing your best to tap dance around your the argument that yes, police related shootings do seem logically located to the fact that society is armed. I think in those places the rates of police rated shootings go down because those places are whiter and more rural. But still the rate of police shootings there must be higher than 8 in Germany, 6 in Australia, and of course 0 in the UK and Japan.

    This point is reasonable, but I tend to police killings are one of the weaker arguments for stronger gun laws, both because it fails the ‘swimming pool’ test,* and because there are things that need to be done anyway that should address the problem

    If you are African American, or have an African American son, you are not going to be blase about the distinct possibility that you or your son are going to be gunned down with impunity by the police. This isn’t of academic interest to me the way it is to you. I and my two brothers have both been stopped by the police. In my stop, the police made a big production of stopping me reaching for my ID. I guess I should be glad he didn’t just shoot me for”making a furtive movement.”
    Finally, with all due respect, it is just absurd to compare children dying in pool accidents with agents of the state killing citizens for no good reason and getting away with it. Seriously? I know gun cultists love the swimming pool analogy, but come on. A bunch of unjustified police killings actually IS a BFD, and deserves every bit of attention we are now paying to it. Whether it means gchanging gun laws is an open question, but if need be, we should not shirk from even that, if it is “only” 400 killings a year.

  17. Matt says:

    @stonetools: Look you should realize by now that cops don’t even need guns to kill people and get away with it. We’re dealing with an institutional problem and even if all guns magically vanished cops would still be killing people with tasers, holds, batons etc.

    Want to de-escalate the problem some? Get rid of the giveaways from the DoD to police forces and cut the war on drugs. Get rid of asset forfeiture in it’s current form so police departments are no longer policing for profit. Get rid of no knock raids and cut swat teams back to their original use.

    Most importantly start actually holding police officers accountable for their actions.

    Till then police will continue to run rampant with abuses.

  18. Matt says:

    It’s funny you mention Germany as despite having extremely strict gun control laws (outright banning nunchucks and other weapons too) they still experience school shootings and stuff.

    THe only year where no one was shot and killed by the police in the UK was 2013. 2014 has already seen at least one.

  19. Stonetools says:

    @Matt:

    One, eh?im sure NRA propagandists would phrase it that the rates of police killings in the UK went up 100 per cent.
    Let’s not be ludicrous here. The plain and simple facts are that American police kill at far greater rates than police in other civilized countries and a big part of that is guns on both sides. I’m sorry but you have to be delusional not to admit that.
    I agree that institutional changes have to be made as well. Your suggestions are good ones and I would add that as Doug said a special prosecutor should be automatic for all police killings. There needs to be model rules of engagement requiring that use of deadly force truly be a last resort. And maybe special sensitivity training for police who are assigned to police neighborhoods of a different race.
    In the end, though, a society with lots of guns floating around is inevitably going to be a society where police kill unarmed civilians out of fear they could be armed . The best we can do is make it less so. I would opt for a more sensible and fundamental approach to the problem but that’s a long war. We’ll just have to be content with treating the symptoms.

  20. CET says:

    @CET:
    A consequence in some places, yes. An inevitable one, no. Based on data from the 2010 UCR* homicide rates in Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, both Dakotas, New Hampshire, and Vermont are all 30%.

    Err . . . that should have read homicide rates are less than 2 per one hundred thousand, while ownership rates for firearms are upwards of 30% (e.g. within the range of those European paradises we keep reading about). That’s what I get for using brackets and not proofreading after the post. . .

  21. Grewgills says:

    @CET:
    You are comparing lightly populated rural areas with densely populated nations, that isn’t exactly a fair comparison.

  22. CET says:

    @Grewgills:
    You are comparing lightly populated rural areas with densely populated nations, that isn’t exactly a fair comparison.

    Short version: It’s not as far off as you’d think by just comparing average state-wide population densities. Besides, if folks insist on comparing apples to oranges,* they shouldn’t be upset when I include peaches.

    Long version:
    Not exactly – I’m comparing states that have lightly populated rural areas, but even in ‘rural’ states, a big chunk of the population is concentrated in metro areas with reasonable population densities.** Now, one could argue that those metro areas are also responsible for most of the crime, and they may well be, but I’d bet that they also have lower than state-average rates of gun ownership. And at a certain point we’re back to ‘gun ownership is not a general causal factor for crime, it’s a factor (particularly for illegal guns) that makes crimes worse in high crime areas.’ Again, that may seem like a semantic point, but those point to very different solutions.

    *Unless you really think that the most important major economic and societal difference between Western Europe/Scandinavia and the US is gun ownership.

    **If someone really wants me to run some numbers for this, ask, and I’ll put something together. But if everyone is willing to grant this point, that’s an hour or so of my life I can do something else with.

  23. Barry says:

    @Matt:

    “It’s funny you mention Germany as despite having extremely strict gun control laws (outright banning nunchucks and other weapons too) they still experience school shootings and stuff.”

    You forgot to add ‘at rates comparable to the USA’. Without that, your argument is meaningless.