We’re starting to go through a period where we are seeing, due to the proliferation of video cameras, a lot of bad actions by law enforcement.
People like to say, “One bad apple spoils the batch.” Well, that is a lovely analogy, for apples. People are not apples. I’ve used the analogy myself – and will never do so again. We are much more complex. There are those who will “defend the blue” no matter what they do. Those people are wrong. Period. A bad cop is no different from a traitorous soldier. He or she violates a sacred trust with the public when they break the law, violate someone’s rights, or behave in a manner that is not conducive to the common good. Those of you who are “Blue Supporters” no matter what are often the same people who ask; “Where are the Muslims speaking out against terror?”
That said I have to ask – where are the GOOD cops? Why aren’t they speaking out vociferously against bad cops? Well, you have to hunt for them, but they are out there. Black Cops Against Police Brutality (B-Cap) was founded in 1991 by DeLacy Davis, a sergeant in the East Orange, New Jersey Police Department. Sadly, it seems to be the only police founded organization of its type (please correct me if I’m wrong). There are hundreds of community based anti-brutality organizations, and I’m sure that some police officers belong to those, but there was no other that I could find that was driven by a LEO.
That is in direct contrast to the hundreds, if not thousands of anti-terror organizations founded by Muslims, or the 70,000+ (yes, that is a real number) Imams who have issued fatwahs against those who would commit heinous deeds in the name of Allah (One example of this occurred in December, 2015 during an annual gathering of South Asian Sunni Muslims in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh this week, almost 1.5 million attendees signed a document protesting global terrorist activity!). Yet the same people who claim to support officers 100% of the time are the same people who will criticize Islam to high Heaven no matter what the facts may be. You are wrong.
The problem in American style policing is extensive. A report released by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found nearly half (46%) of all cops say they witnessed misconduct by fellow officers and said nothing.[i] Additionally, 73 % of the individuals pressuring officers to keep quiet about the misconduct were leaders! That is completely unsatisfactory. Police Chief Magazine has a detailed report on misconduct and the rationalization that officers use. These excuses range from rationalizing that there was no real victim to the outright dehumanization of the victim. I’m not going to repeat their finding here, but suffice to say they are interesting.[ii] This behavior doesn’t happen overnight, but is instead normalized by the behavior of the entire police community to alleviate the guilt of being on this slippery slope of misconduct. The more frequently an officer rationalizes bad behavior, the easier that behavior is for them to adopt. In some cases, these rationalizations become dominant inside an entire department’s culture. This is nothing new, there are decade’s worth of empirical research to show that this is what happens, and not just to police, but to anyone who is part of culture of rationalization.
It is a matter of having power without sufficient checks. We can sit here and discuss officer misconduct all day long. They ARE people, and people are flawed. In 2015, the AP found that in a six year period, over 1,000 LEOs committed sex crimes while on duty that ranged the gamut from sexual misconduct, possession of child pornography, and rape. The problem I still have though is this… where is the outrage in the LEO community? Rationalization of conduct can only address that so far. The same investigative report argues that the problem is likely much, much larger than what we know because, the problem is so pervasive that civilians are afraid to report it. Experts argue that the majority of victims never come forward out of fear of retaliation. [iii] It doesn’t help that often cases are under-charged by prosecutors, and often under sentenced; Jonathan Bleiweiss of the Broward Sheriff’s Office (Florida) was sentenced to a five-year prison term in February for bullying about 20 immigrant men into sex acts. Five years? Really?
Additionally, when misconduct does happen, those 46% (and you can rest assured that number is low) of officers who choose to ignore the misconduct, also tend to become very, very ignorant. If they’ve not been so jaded by their own rationalizations, if they are still good cops, they do so for the same reasons that victims don’t come forward, out of fear of retaliation by the very police officers, and agencies they work for. Ostracization and blackballing were two of the main reasons police do not report misconduct by other officers. One 17 year old victim was quoted saying; “What am I going to do? Call the cops? He was a cop.” The same Police Chief’s report found that 79% of academy recruits said that a law enforcement Code of Silence exists and is fairly common throughout the nation.
Well, here’s a problem boys and girls in blue… this is the age of the video camera. Right now, sitting at this desk, I have three – one on the computer, one on my phone, one on my IPAD, there is also a dash cam in my car. At home I have…about a dozen including two that can fly and two that can go underwater. The average Houstonian is recorded 100+ times a day. Cops probably more so since they’re out there more. So we will all see a lot more video about what goes on in the day to day world of police. A simple search of Youtube.com for “police” results in 35,000,000 hits – probably not all unique.
While in February 2016, U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued an order arguing that the there was no inherent right to film police unless that filming was in some way expressive conduct[iv] – other circuits have found that the First Amendment “protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property.” In other words, officers, you will be filmed. You may as well get used to it. Now. Harassing those who are filming you and not interfering with your work will lead you down a path of pain – and makes you look like a jackbooted thug… how would YOU like to be the Supreme Court case? What do you do when fifteen people whip out their I-Phones and actively stream your activities to YouTube? Rant and Rave? Or do your job? Welcome to the world where EVERYONE is Press. If you’re a belligerent piece of shit, you need to find a new job. You’re an insult to the badge.
To my fellow photographers – you do NOT have the right to interfere. Nowhere in the country do officers have the right to order you to stop filming. Nowhere in the country do officers have the right to confiscate your camera. Nowhere in the country do officers have the right to destroy your images – in fact, that’s a crime, and officers have been charged with felony tampering for doing so. EVERYWHERE in the country, Officers do have the right to order you to stop interfering with a scene, but it also has to be reasonable – Record from a distance. Download the ACLU’s KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: PHOTOGRAPHERS article, learn it, love it, live it. https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights-photographers. Learn a phrase like; “I’m just exercising my constitutionally protected right to document police activity” or “Officer, I’m not interfering. I’m asserting my First Amendment rights. You’re being documented and recorded offsite.” There’s a lot of information out there, and nothing I say on this blog should be considered legal advice – my opinion, informed though it is – is no substitute for knowing the law in your own area – If you do try to use my words as a defense, please, let me know how that goes for you. One piece of advice I will give right here though is this… if you are going to record police at work… do NOT do so secretly. Let me say that again – DO NOT DO SO IN SECRET. You are not James Bond. Do so openly – you aren’t doing anything wrong. If you intend to record secretly because you’re frightened, then this is not an activity you should be involved with. In some places, secretly recording anyone is a crime. Fortunately, those laws seem to be on their way out. But they’re not out yet.
NOW, all that said, I know many out there who will claim that all cops are bad because of the actions of one or a few bad cops. Change the subject of your argument to “Muslims” and ask yourself if your argument makes sense. Because I know many of you argue that the actions of the few terrorists should not reflect on the larger Islamic community. I argue that the same argument holds true for police. In 2010 there were 6,613 LEOs involved in REPORTED misconduct (which is distinctly different from ACTUAL misconduct). According to the BLS there were over 900,000 LEO’s in the U.S. in that same year. That gives a statistical percentage of 0.73% of the entire population of LEO’s accused of being involved in misconduct. Judging an entire population on the behavior of less than 1% of the population’s activity is called what again? Would the word I’m looking for be “bigotry”? Prejudice? Can I find newer stats? Are the stats above likely woefully low? Probably…but do you really think either will represent a significant change? If so, you should research them, and post your findings, with your source(s), in comments.
In 2015, police in the U.K. killed three suspects: 1 time for every 21.366 million citizens. (1 person was killed by police in 2014 and 0 in 2013. English police reportedly fired guns a total of three times in all of 2013, with zero reported fatalities.)
From 2013-2014, German police killed absolutely no one.
In the entire history of Iceland police – 73 YEARS – they have only killed 1 person ever.
U.S. police killed 965 people (some reports say 1,100). For the U.S. rate of police killing to equate to the UK, based solely on population, the U.S. would have to have a population of 20,618,833,333 people – or nearly THREE TIMES the population of the entire planet.
In fact, American police killed more people in March, 2015 than U.K. police killed in the ENTIRE 20th Century. (111 v. 52)
Even so, no one can justifiably claim that there isn’t a problem. An April 2014 finding by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), following a two-year investigation, that the Albuquerque, N.M., police department “engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment,”[v] and a similar DOJ finding in December 2014 with regard to the Cleveland police department.[vi] In March 2015, the DOJ also issued a report detailing a pattern of “clear racial disparities” and “discriminatory intent” on the part of the Ferguson, Mo., police department.[vii]
U.S. Police use deadly force on a daily basis. Between 1999-2013, police killed 6,338 people. That’s an average of 452+ per year.[viii] That number is rising! American police in 2014 were 18 times more lethal than Danish police and 100 times more lethal than Finnish police. In the entire history of the country, Icelandic police have killed 1 person.[ix] Why? Are American’s just that much more violent that other people? All 50 states and Washington, D.C. – let me say that again – ALL 50 STATES AND WASHINGTON, D.C. FAIL to comply with international law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers.[x] Could that possibly be part of the problem? Yes. I suppose. But how about the militarization of police? I’m not talking about equipment, I’m talking about attitude. Police in the U.S. are being trained for combat, not policing. The magnification of threats – i.e. screwdrivers, cell phone…etc….have resulted in major tragedies. 57% of all people shot by police in 2014 were armed with a TOY. A TOY.[xi] There’s no good excuse, Knife violence is a big problem in England, yet British police have fatally shot only one person wielding a knife since 2008.[xii] In contrast, U.S. police have killed 575 knife wielders since 2013.[xiii]
I spent most of my military career as an engineer on ships. But I started my career off as a Military Police officer with the 304th Army Security Agency, and while my primary duties were not garrison duties (I was an interrogator), I still see cops today do things that would have gotten us at least an Article 15, if not courts martialed. Pepper spraying a frightened and confused octogenarian, shooting a child with a toy gun without investigating first, Tarika Wilson, who was killed while holding her one-year-old son in a raid intended for her boyfriend, Autumn Steel, shot by a cop trying to shoot her dog…in front of her 4 year old child (Seriously, WTF is up with cops shooting at dogs? I’ve found records of dogs as small as CORGI’s being shot by SWAT teams… really? For fucking real??? And at least one CAGED pit bull… blows my mind).[xiv] A Topeka, Kansas police officer decided that the best way to check on an alarm call was to fatally shoot a tiny 26-pound dog at the residence. A miniature pinscher mix – a witness on the scene, a retired judge said that the officer started shooting “on sight.” The call was an alarm check.[xv] That as far as I’m concerned is indicative of cowardice. And it is all totally unsatisfactory.
As a military police officer, we were held to very high standards. I was never allowed to be a civilian cop, due to a hearing loss that the Army was seemingly unconcerned about, and I ended my career as a M.P. to pursue a different opportunity. That said, I hold civilian cops to the same standards taught to me by Staff Sergeant Bickley, Sergeant Armstrong, Staff Sergeant Penualla, and other great leaders I have served under. I also believe that we all, especially police officers, must hold the Police to a high standard. I don’t think we’re doing that these days. The lesser standards, the militarized – “combatant” – attitude, the lack of accountability, the code of silence…. It’s all leading to pain, unrest, injustice – It’s all completely unsat. Worse, if you’re o.k. with the oppression, or even the appearance of oppression, then you are the oppressor. We don’t need oppressors, we need public servants, and public guardians. If you don’t think there’s a problem, then you are probably part of it.
You CANNOT tell me we don’t have a problem.
YOU CANNOT TELL ME THERE ISN’T a solution.
[iv] Fields v. City of Philadelphia, et al – https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160223/09134633685/federal-judge-says-recording-police-not-protected-first-amendment.shtml
https://en.wikipedia.org/…/List_of_killings_by_law_enforcem… http://www.washingtonpost.com/…/a-year-of-reckoning- police…/http://thefreethoughtproject.com/american-cops-killed- peop…/http://www.globalresearch.ca/police-in-the-us-kill- …/5438391http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-25190119#TWEET972719