« Booze, Cigarettes and Coffee: The Three-Part Healthcare Test | Main | Losing Hearts While Losing Your Mind »

July 28, 2009

Comments

"That's one reason why I'm looking at a certificate from the local FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) lodge, thanking me for a donation that I just made to support one of their programs."

I hope you checked with your local police precinct that this is legit. One of the most common cons there is is getting people to pony up for fake "support your local police" funds, where 95%, if not 100%, of the funds goes to the marketer. This works both by telemarketing (primarily) and door-to-door (secondarily).

Same thing for "support your local firefighters lodge fund." Always call the actual police and/or fire department to make sure it's legit; don't take anyone else's word for it, no matter how official they sound, or the paper they produce looks. General advice for everyone.

"But, y'know what? We've talked an awful lot about Crowley and Gates. Probably too much.

This is an open thread."

Can I repeat again my suggestion that open threads should be pure open threads, and that trying to combine "here's a combustible subject," or even "here's a subject that will generate a lot of argument" (such as about music) and "this is an open thread" results in all cases in the "open thread" part being drowned out, and sometimes people even being criticized for bringing up another subject (as, it happens, is exactly what happened to me in the most recent "open thread").

It just doesn't work. Bad idea. Subject threads and open threads are not combinable, by nature.

I hope you checked with your local police precinct that this is legit. One of the most common cons there is is getting people to pony up for fake "support your local police" funds, where 95%, if not 100%, of the funds goes to the marketer. This works both by telemarketing (primarily) and door-to-door (secondarily).

Excellent point, Gary. I know about this scam, which really does damage legitimate FOP activities because it makes all FOP efforts suspect. (When I lived in a different city, my policy was to categorically reject FOP solicitations for this reason; I donated in other ways.)

In this case, I am certain that my donation went where it was supposed to go.

The fundamental point is that cops shouldn't arrest a person who hasn't committed a crime.

Amen. While I think everyone agrees that cops "shouldn't" arrest people who have done nothing wrong, that is exactly what is going to keep happening as long as the system stays the same. Right now, cops can arrest people for nothing and face zero consequences, so, they do. Right now, most police forces have no incentive to find out when their officers are arresting people for nothing, so they don't know how often it happens and they have no idea how that number changes. You can't fix what you can't measure.

I'd love to see a world where people who are arrested for nothing can go through a simple administrative procedure and get a hundred bucks docked from a cop's pay when they can show that their arrest was a sham.

Sorry about italics.

This may be an open thread, but I just want to chime in and entirely agree with the main points of this post: 1) being a police officer is hard work and people who do this work, and do it honestly and well, deserve our respect; 2) people who haven't committed a crime shouldn't be arrested; 3) cops abuse their power far, far too frequently.

I was about to ask if anyone was really still defending Crowley as it becomes more and more apparent that even if everything happened exactly the way Crowley said it did, he still didn't have legal foundation to make the arrest.

I was going to ask, but then I popped over to the comments on http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/07/letter_from_eve.html>boston.com...

Sadly, we're in a Catch-22 where without the race + class double whammy, arrests for contempt of cop are too commonplace to garner national attention, but in a case like this where it does get attention, the debate focuses on the racial element (which may or may not be a red herring) and doesn't laser in on the larger problem of law enforcement exceeding its authority. Frankly, I don't think it matters whether excesses like these are racially driven or not, because the problem isn't that there are racist excesses, the problem is that there are excesses at all. Solve for the whole and you also solve for the subset.

"I was about to ask if anyone was really still defending Crowley as it becomes more and more apparent that even if everything happened exactly the way Crowley said it did, he still didn't have legal foundation to make the arrest."

There are these points.

I doubt this is one of those problems that's solveable as a "whole," as opposed to ameliorating.

I suggested in a previous thread having all cops wearing this sorts of micro video cameras whenever on duty, and I'm not kidding. We can mandate it by law, and why shouldn't be? And digital storage isn't a problem, either, these days, if we wipe the record after a week or a month or so. Cops don't have a right to privacy when on duty, and besides, you can pass a rule, or even make it law, saying that the records aren't checked except in cases of citizen complaint or reasonable suspicion, thus preserve some modicum of privacy for police on duty to not go crazy with the idea of being watched all the time. (Though plenty of jobs involve being watched all the time when not on break, and they pay a lot less than being a cop does.)

That meeting with Gates and the President is going to be interesting, now that we have the tape. To be a fly on that wall....

It just doesn't work. Bad idea. Subject threads and open threads are not combinable, by nature.

That's a fair point, Gary. I just wanted to be clear that folks shouldn't feel compelled to limit themselves to the topic of my post.

I suggested in a previous thread having all cops wearing this sorts of micro video cameras whenever on duty, and I'm not kidding. We can mandate it by law, and why shouldn't be?

This.

I know that many police departments have dash cams in their squad cars, and I think that's been a tremendous help so far. But I have no problem, none whatsoever, with recording every moment a police officer is on duty. Law enforcement groups as a general rule tend to support videotaping of interrogations, as this protects them as much as it protects the suspect. The same principle should apply in general to all law enforcement interactions with the public.

Out of curiosity, has anyone read The Transparent Society, by David Brin?

The book is ten years old now, and I don't agree with all of Brin's conclusions, but it's very thought-provoking.

I've read it though I may confuse parts of it with his other privacy writings, and I found it very interesting (though my leanings are more toward what he calls Strong Privacy advocates).

One of the most interesting bits, which is worth mulling over is:

"Although elites of all kinds still have many advantages over commonfolk, never before have citizens been so empowered. And history shows that this didn't happen by blinding the mighty -- a futile endeavor that has never worked. It happened by insisting that everybody get to see."

The word for the corner-cutting cops do on the stand is "testilying."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testilying

"Out of curiosity, has anyone read The Transparent Society, by David Brin?"

I've read the linked stuff on his website, and some other interviews and pieces by him about his views, but not the actual book.

I think the links at the page I link to above should give people the essential idea of the argument he makes, which is a pretty good argument, I'm sad to admit.

Sad because I like the idea of privacy, but I'm forced to agree that there's a good case for inevitable technology making it literally impossible to enforce by law; at best we may be able to limit public abuse, and criminalize private abuse, but that'll only go so far.

I do agree it's thought-provoking. Brin is a very bright guy, even if he can be rather annoying in person at times. His arguments should probably be part of any argument about privacy.

Of course, Bruce Schneier, who is not at all annoying in person, makes one of the most relevant counter-arguments here.

Always-on videotape would be a great law enforcement tool as well.

Gary steps over the real privacy issue, though, which concerns the civilians the police are interacting with.

Also, while I think cops sometimes lie, more often they get things wrong and are subject to biases.

"Gary steps over the real privacy issue, though, which concerns the civilians the police are interacting with."

I'd hoped I'd covered that by suggesting that any such law, or rule, mandate that the records never be examined without either a civilian complaint, or "reasonable suspicion" (in the legal sense) of the officer having committed a crime. And you'd probably want to mandate wiping the records entirely after some reasonable given amount of time, whatever that might be determined to be.

And any showing of them to anyone where the faces of the civilians aren't relevant can blur out those faces.

"Always-on videotape"

Technically this would be "always on digital storage" now. :-)

Don't know anything firsthand about cops, much less this case, but some of my military experience may be pertinent.

Stop me if you've heard this.

Oh . . . you can't, can you?

Well, when I was in transitional status, shortly after basic training, I was assigned to the orderly room of a training company. The very first clerical task I ever had was to write up the minutes of a meeting that had never taken place! Nothing terribly serious about it, just an expenditure that should have been authorized in advance, but wasn't, so we figured out who would have been at a meeting to authorize it, wrote they were there and authorized it, and then they signed the minutes, those who were still around. And we forged the signatures of the rest.

This was the beginning of my brief but colorful career in the Army of Clerks, which was excellent training for my much longer, though less colorful, civilian career as a historian. It was excellent training because I learned off the bat, from the inside, never ever to trust a "document" without some sense of who wrote it, and for what purpose.

I learned to take it as fundamental - the default assumption in all situations until shown otherwise - that the basic motive for all documents is CYA, that being Army vernacular for Cover Your Ass. It's not evil, it's not abnormal, it's not something that requires exceptional explanation, it's just the way things are. Worked just as well for the 19th-century Spanish colonial bureaucracy as for the 20th-century US Army.

And that should be our assumption with regard to the "official" versions of the Cambridge police transcripts - or any other official justifications - even in the absence of tapes.

As always, however, YMMV.

The policeman had to make a decision on the spot. The people commenting on it are monday morning quarterbacks.

"Nothing terribly serious about it, just an expenditure that should have been authorized in advance, but wasn't, so we figured out who would have been at a meeting to authorize it, wrote they were there and authorized it, and then they signed the minutes, those who were still around. And we forged the signatures of the rest."

I can't give any details without screwing over yet another person, but I was forced, decades ago, on pain of being fired, by someone in a position to fire me at that publishing company, to do something similar, to cover that person's ass, in a way that screwed a writer out of the reversion of rights to several books that the writer rightfully was entitled to because the authority at that job had not, in short, gotten some notices filed and out within the deadline the contract had called for. So the authority had me forge a copy of said notice, with a backdate, and the writer was notified that the original version to the writer simply must have gotten lost in the mail.

It's far and away the most unethical thing I've ever done in any business sense, and all I can claim is that I didn't want to be fired, and it was made clear that I would be if I didn't do it. (To be sure, it was a matter of a few weeks, but that has nothing to do with either the legality or morality of it.)

So: "It's not evil, it's not abnormal, it's not something that requires exceptional explanation, it's just the way things are."

Yes.

And my own example above, which fortunately is the only such blatant example I've ever had to commit, bothers the hell out of me to this date.

(Note to future Google readers: I've worked freelance for dozens of publishers in the past, both in and out of the house, so if you think you can figure out who I'm talking about in any way, you're likely to be wrong. And in any case, everyone has long since changed jobs some dozen times, as has the ownership of that publishing house. And the writer remains pretty rich, thank goodness. But it was still wrong.)

On a much more minor scale, I was made the person who took notes, for a bunch of months, at one publishing house, at the weekly editorial meeting where each of the fourteen editors, from Editorial Director, down to lowliest editorial assistant, would, for an hour, pitch the books they wanted to buy that week; you had about a minute or two, usually.

I volunteered for the position because I knew that the person who makes the record has some effect on how it gets written.

And, yes, I wanted to be in a better position to push for the books I wanted to buy, or thought we should buy, no matter that it was extra work. The summary report I wrote was then distributed to everyone in the editorial department, and a number of folks beyond, as the record of What We Thought That Week of the pros and cons of various manuscripts/hardcovers being considered; sometimes discussions of a particular work could return two or three meetings in a row, though that sort of thing was strongly discouraged -- but happened. So that report would often be looked back to to point out what someone reportedly had opined at the time. Opinions, naturally, would vary. Sometimes strongly.

And in the long term, if someone argued strongly against buying something that turned into a best seller for someone else, that wasn't always such a great thing for you, though it was understood that no one is going to have anything close to a perfect record at that sort of thing.

What I didn't anticipate is that some time after I was given the position, the company hired a new Editorial Director to be slotted in over the Editor-In-Chief who was formerly in complete charge (under the overall publisher, who didn't attend the Editorial Meeting, but merely had ultimate veto power over what we'd bought, which she'd generally not bother paying attention to for anything under a million dollars or so), while technically not removing any of the E-I-C's power.

As a result, naturally, there began tremendous office politics as each fought for control of the editorial department, with the Editorial Director formally being in charge, but the E-I-C having been there a long time, having all the long-standing contacts and relationships, and various other tricks up her sleeve.

Neither was the most ethical or admirable person, in any sense, that I've ever met.

But as a result, I wound up in the middle of a push-me-pull-you game as I'd be forced to submit my draft summary memos to both of them, simultaneously, and then get back contradictory notes from each, instructing me to make changes contradicting what the other said should be written into the record.

I was very happy to unvolunteer for that particular job ASAP.

(It would have simplified things greatly, of course, if they'd simply fired the E-I-C, but they wanted to save face for various reasons, including holding onto her particular writers, and the publisher, and her main minion, were even more devious people. This sort of thing is not exactly unheard of in publishing, though it's not to say every house has this sort of thing go on, either.)

Anyway: records: they're written by people. People are unreliable narrators.

"...instructing me to make changes contradicting what the other said should be written into the record."

And, to be clear, neither of which necessarily bore a close resemblence to what was actually said.

chamblee54: The policeman had to make a decision on the spot. The people commenting on it are monday morning quarterbacks.

A decision about what?

Whether Professor Gates posed a credible threat to the officers person, or to others in the neighborhood, or the general maintenance of good order on the streets of Cambridge?

The policeman had to make a decision on the spot. The people commenting on it are monday morning quarterbacks.

Doesn't change the fact that he made a BAD decision.

And that's the point of civilian oversight--to point out the bad decisions so that those type don't get made again.

Or are you foolish enough to tolerate civil servants making bad decisions over and over and over again without learning anything from it?

Gary,

Presumably you'd let the "videotape" be used in a criminal prosecution. It would actually be really useful and reduce the burden on cops' note-taking.

"I'd love to see a world where people who are arrested for nothing can go through a simple administrative procedure and get a hundred bucks docked from a cop's pay when they can show that their arrest was a sham."

Given the impact that an arrest record could have on the rest of you life, $10,000 might be more appropriate.

Congressman McCotter, part-time birther and author of a House resolution to demand that Obama apologize to Jim the Cop, was on Hardball tonight. His pitch was that Congress must protest the abuse of power involved when a President comments unfavorably on the actions of a "private citizen" like Sergeant Crowley. He kept saying it over and over: "private citizen".

Predictably, Chris Matthews acted stupidly: he did NOT jump all over McCotter's sorry ass for mouthing such an Orwellian newspeak howler. Feh.

--TP

Cops live by the understanding that various witness accounts of an incident will not correspond, and will contradict one another. The only question is whether citizens at all levels apply that same understanding to police accounts of incidents.

And as for this particular incident, the fact that there are only two perspectives on this incident -- and one of those is a cop's, and the person who can give the other one got arrested by that cop -- should tell you all you need to know. The police aren't supposed to be causing incidents. It's not mission-consistent, shall we say.

Given the impact that an arrest record could have on the rest of you life, $10,000 might be more appropriate.

Then consider that Prof. Gates has almost literally nothing to worry about -- can you say tenure boys and girls. But he's in a far better position to sue if he wants to than any of the what, thousands at least, of people wrongly arrested every year (month? week?), given his access to top legal resources and the exposure his celebrity gives to the facts of the case. If you're an average Joe (or, more to the point, Juan or Ju-wan) and you get arrested for b.s., you're not suing the cops. Not happening, sorry. No matter how unfounded the arrest was -- and you're probably not getting the resulting bogus charge dismissed either, since the police can't have all kinds of arrests on the books without associated charges or with charges that were eventually dropped.

The very first clerical task I ever had was to write up the minutes of a meeting that had never taken place!

Just tonight I watched the episode of The Wire where Orlando is forced out of the ownership of the strip club. The crooked lawyer hands him a document and says:

"Sign here. It's backdated and has already been notarized."

"Presumably you'd let the 'videotape' be used in a criminal prosecution."

Yeah, that would half the point: protecting everyone involved, and the other half being finding wrongdoing by whomever.

"...and reduce the burden on cops' note-taking."

Speaking of that, I have yet another anecdote from a long life of odd jobs! (I've probably told this one before here; I probably told the last one before here, too; after a couple of years, I tend to forget which anecdotes I've told where.)

One such temp job, for about, I forget, six to eight months or so, sometime around 1980, give or take a year or two in either direction, I was the Subpoena/Summons Clerk for Seattle Municipal Courts. Which meant my job was to read the police report the cop filed, along with the ticket the cop wrote, and then decide on my own whom it was appropriate to write out a subpoena for to be a relevant witness to be forced, on pain of fine or jail, to show up in court and testify in the case, and then I did a bunch of other paperwork to get the case to proceed through the system.

And then write out the actual subpoena, and duly mail it off to the person.

And then wait for them to call up and ask questions and complain.

The main problem in this was the often indecipherable hand-writing of many of the cops, and the awful grasp of written English many had, and the weird cop-speak they'd use, which I learned through experience.

Then, naturally, I was a point of contact with the public when the subpoenaed person would, as some 60% did, call up to complain that they didn't have time to come in, and had a really good excuse for not showing up, and couldn't I please get them out of it, etc.

These were more often than not traffic accidents, or burglaries; we're talking municipal court, so no major felonies; just misdemeanors, ticketable offenses that were contested, and very minor felonies, but whatever wasn't being pled out. Which still added up to a busy day's work.

Fortunately, there was more or less no abuse of the system involved, save that occasionally I'd determine a cop had written up a ticket that simply couldn't be justified, and was given authority, after a while, by my superiors, to just round-file those. I only very rarely had a cop contest my decision, which I always got my superior to support, in pointing out that the report simply didn't remotely support the charged offense/ticket, and that that was their fault for the way they wrote it up. I only did this in cases where there was absolutely no ambiguity, of course. But in the course of, I dunno, something between one hundred and two hundred (best as my now very fuzzy memory of about thirty years ago recalls) cases per week, I'd usually toss 2-5 such police reports as unsupportable.

I say "no abuse of the system," save maybe that I also, incidentally, had complete access to the police computer, and the stock of paper court records on everyone arrested in King County, Seattle, for the past twenty years or so, which of course I never abused to look up people I knew.... (They've since, thankfully for people's privacy, put in controls to more or less limit, if not prevent, that from happening unnecessarily; this is why strict privacy laws are important; at the time, access to the police computer records was relatively open to anyone working in the criminal justice system.)

Anyway, to get back to the point of the comment, my experience was that cops were generally really bad at writing reports, and few were able to write very clear reports even when they tried. Just putting together a coherent sentence was difficult for many of them, let alone any attempt to slip some falsity in.

To be sure, that was thirty years ago; maybe they're more literate now.

To be sure, that was thirty years ago; maybe they're more literate now.

Since nobody else seems to be, I don't know why law enforcement officers would be any different.

I say that as someone who does a lot of editing both at work and as a volunteer. But since this is off topic, I won't expand into my usual rant on this subject. ;)

To be sure, that was thirty years ago; maybe they're more literate now.

Since nobody else seems to be, I don't know why law enforcement officers would be any different.

I might add that there were the occasional tickets that had to be tossed because what the cop wrote was literally incomprehensible. I'd have my supervisor verify that this was certifiable gibberish, and as it was the official record, nothing further could be done.

It was kinda funny, actually, and as I said, usually these were little more than, or in many cases simply were, parking tickets, and traffic accidents without major damage, and the like.

And occasionally some were perfectly clear, but the case itself was hilarious, such as how a car wound up on top of another car, after rolling down a hill by itself and taking a leap....


http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/broward/hollywood/sfl-hollywood-cops-fake-report-b072809,0,350771.story

ringthebell, you might (1) want to formulate a comment, instead of pasting in a URL, on the theory that by doing so you will be adding something; and (2) learn to hyperlink. Finding a decent page offering an explanation of the proper syntax was rather surprisingly harder than I expected, but this one looks reasonable.

German policemen (especially in the former GDR) were also considered not to be the brightest lights in the chandelier (to put it mildly). In Eastern Germany there was a special subgenre of jokes about the police.
Western Germany:
"What do the stripes on the policeman's sleeve mean?
One stripe: can read
Two stripes: can write
Three stripes: knows someone who can read and write"
Eastern Germany:
"Why do policemen always patrol in groups of three?
One can read, one can write and the third keeps an eye on the two inellectuals."

I always point to this guide to tags, Warren, simply because I found it long ago, and found it useful; the only HTML I know came from it; it's just a list of basic tags, in essence. So it's nice and simple.

When I was younger and had a much smarter mouth, I was told by several officers that they had no problem arresting me. I believe that making snarky comments to cops is translated as "resisting arrest."

I am not surprised things like this happens. I'm surprised anyone cares to notice.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad