You are viewing extempore

Feb. 18th, 2008 @ 07:34 am the police vs. the people
Note that I wrote the subject line only with contrast in mind, but it works equally well with another definition of "versus", which summarizes my view of the situation.

First let me say that if it sounds in this blog like I'm biased against cops, that's because I am, and hugely so. If you find that hard to understand, put yourself in my shoes for a while. I've never (as an adult anyway) taken any action I think should be against the law. By the standards of my own system of ethics (which is if anything overdeveloped) I have always been a model citizen. Yet I am constantly in violation of the law. For most of my life the primary threat I've had to deal with has been the police.

The great majority of criminals are not out to harm you physically or in an ongoing fashion. They just want your money and property, and anything else is a means to that end. It sucks when that happens, but you deal with it and life goes on. In sharp contrast, the police aren't happy with my money and property, although they'll happily take that too. They also demand my freedom for an indeterminate time, but that's not nearly enough: your newly minted criminal record will do its best to ruin the rest of your life. Certainly it's not going to improve it.

"So what," you might say. "You'll sure be glad if there's a cop around when you need one." Not that there's likely to be, but do you think that makes me more favorably inclined toward the police? Of course it doesn't - it has the opposite effect. I pay these sick taxes so I can finance the salaries of people who keep me under constant threat, and on top of that I'm completely at their mercy if I'm ever victimized. And you can't call the cops when your illegal possessions are stolen, so you're banished to an extralegal universe where there is no structured way to settle disputes. Let me tell you, this sucks.

One morning in college, my next-door neighbors woke up and discovered a large quantity of their illegal possessions had disappeared the night before. There is no feeling quite like the mutual suspicion that envelops everyone when something like that happens, mixed with the uncertainty about what each person might do. Suddenly people who you had thought of as friends are at best acquaintances. You can buy insurance against your regular possessions vanishing, but there is no insurance against this outcome except firearms and the will to use them. And since the police-enforced black market multiplies the value of all illegal possessions by a large multiple, people tend to assess their loss in financial terms, and to react proportionally.

This isn't what I'd meant to write about at all when I started this post - I intended it to be a brief lead-in to something more about police. But that's all the time I have for this morning so I'll get to the main point on another day. So this is all to provide some context: if day after day after day, for thousands of days on end, one uniformed group is constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to steal your freedom - for, in your opinion, NOTHING - see how fondly you feel about that group by the end, regardless of any other virtues they may possess.
About this Entry
[User Picture Icon]
From:facet_squared
Date:February 18th, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
wow, i really wish i could use this for my criminal justice class. i have to do a presentation on polica bias. very well done, sir.
[User Picture Icon]
From:facet_squared
Date:February 18th, 2008 04:24 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
or...police bias.
[User Picture Icon]
From:emagnetism
Date:February 18th, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC)

interesting

(Permanent Link)
this fascinates me. I think a lot of the problems you describe are inevitable when you dont agree to play by the same rules as everyone else. (smug overtone NOT intended) but I wonder if this is not inherent to societies in general. To wit, which of these assumptions do you disagree with:

- a civilized society requires third party mediation of disputes. (two people who intractably disagree should not have to settle it themselves, as this leads inevitably to violence.)
- the rules on which third party must act should be delineated publicly (laws should be written. I'll happily agree a number of US laws should be different)
- a legal system requires an enforcement arm.
- people who resolutely disagree with laws will forever be antagonized by those who enforce them.
- the nature of policework makes a balanced psychology impossible for someone to be a cop for a long time.
From:pokarpokarpokar
Date:February 18th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
as an overtly amoral but decidedly ethical man, i agree with you completely.

i have 0 love fo popo.

the cardinal sin for an officer of the peace isn't killing or imprisoning an innocent man: it's "allowing" one of their own to catch a bullet through the absense of hyper-paranoid vigilence or an unusual desire to release hollow points. bucking down an unarmed man gets them administrative leave, but failing to meet an absurd standard of paranoid vigilence in preparation of the unexpected and highly unlikely is what gets them ostracized and booted off the force.

buck down some kid with a cellphone and it's "oops my bad, i guess - let's hit a copbar."

what we are faced with is a battlefield mentality where police are constantly at war with ... nobody. criminal or not, we're all civilians for nobody is at war with the police, because it's not in anybody's interest to be at war with the police. civilians as the enemy or, at best, a pool from which potential enemies arise?

kevlar. 24 round clips. paranoia. keep my buddy alive at all costs, even if it means bucking down an unarmed civilian. me me me. us us us. g'day ma'am. eyeball the negro hard cuz he might be carrying. pull him over. harrass him.

disgusting.
[User Picture Icon]
From:jonsan
Date:February 18th, 2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
For those not keeping track, I am a police officer.

I work with some folks who have whole-heartedly bought into the us-vs-them mentality that tends to infect police officers. The same ideology also tends to infect criminals (big and small), and this post is a pretty good example.

The war on drugs is stupid and I believe my time enforcing those laws is, usually but not always, time wasted. It's a part of the job, and a necessary stepping stone to allow me to work in the specific areas of law enforcement to which I aspire.

I decided to do my best within a flawed system in the interest of exerting lawful authority in the most positive and productive way that I can. Sometimes I lock people up because they are carrying drugs on them, and I usually don't feel proud in those moments, but at least I know my larger efforts within my profession are worthwhile.

What are you doing, besides writing commentary on the internet, to change or influence the system you despise? I don't mean that as snark, I am sincerely asking.

When I interact with someone breaking the law, I do everything I can to keep in mind that they are a human being with a life just as rich in history and motivation as mine. That can be a difficult perspective to maintain given the attitude most people level at anyone wearing a badge. Still, I do my best to treat everyone how I would want one of my family members treated in a comparable situation. I certainly wish more of the folks on the business end of the legal system would remember that police officers are human beings, and don't deserve to be dehumanized (see the post below re: cops vs negros and shooting people with mp3s).

Your attitude about police would keep me from reading your blog, but I feel the same disappointment in you as I do those officers who think that everyone they interact with on duty is a scumbag.
[User Picture Icon]
From:jonsan
Date:February 18th, 2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
Last sentence should read: "Your attitude about police wouldn't keep me from reading your blog, but I feel the same disappointment in you as I do those officers who think that everyone they interact with on duty is a scumbag."
[User Picture Icon]
From:extempore
Date:February 18th, 2008 07:52 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
What are you doing, besides writing commentary on the internet, to change or influence the system you despise?

We ostensibly live under some kind of democratic government, right? So maybe opening the occasional pair of eyes by writing on the tubes ought to count as doing something. Other than that I'm not doing jack because I don't believe the system can be reformed from within and I'm sure you wouldn't want me to admit it if I were working to reform it from without.

In the specific case of drug policy reform, the last few decades are littered with the bodies (figuratively speaking) of everyone who wasted their life on that cause. The drug war is immensely profitable for everyone but the people upon whose shattered bodies it is built, and those people don't get a vote - they are criminals after all.
[User Picture Icon]
From:mojolang
Date:February 19th, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
Surely you cannot mean that NO course of activism should be taken. And did these people really WASTE their life? Plenty of people in totalitarian countries "wasted" their lives on the cause of free speech only to finally achieve justice. You can say wasted now, but in hindsight, if some of this shit gets overturned, cannot these people be pointed to as the courageous few who moved the cause forward?

[User Picture Icon]
From:extempore
Date:February 18th, 2008 07:59 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
Your attitude about police would keep me from reading your blog, but I feel the same disappointment in you as I do those officers who think that everyone they interact with on duty is a scumbag.

I think it's worth noting exactly what I said, which is that I'm hugely biased against the cops, and for good reason. It doesn't mean I don't think there are cops who are wonderful human beings. I would note that the present laws of this country effectively insure that a steadily lower quality of person is attracted to law enforcement. You may be willing to enforce drug laws so you can eventually do the kind of work you'd like to do, but plenty of people wouldn't make the same choice. (I'm not saying it's impossible that one could make the choice you did and still be a reasonably ethical human being, but I sure as hell couldn't do it no matter what good I thought I was doing in other areas.)
[User Picture Icon]
From:extempore
Date:February 18th, 2008 08:03 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
And since I can always count on geary to pop in with his whole insure/ensure thing: be advised that one of the secondary meanings of "insure" is "ensure". The style manual might not fully endorse this usage but it's not wrong. So there.
[User Picture Icon]
From:jonsan
Date:February 18th, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
"I'm hugely biased against the cops, and for good reason"

What's your good reason? Any why is your bias not just intellectually lazy (as I believe it to be)?

Also, I won't keep spamming this thread. I obviously have some personal interest in these issues, but only because it is relevant to my life and not because I am deeply offended.
[User Picture Icon]
From:bubbaprog
Date:February 18th, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
This is contrary to a line of libertarian thought, but here is what I truly believe:

The quality of our law enforcement officers has decreased considerably compared to 75 or so years ago. There are other public positions that have shared a similar decline; teachers is an example.

The reason for this is that the job's incentives have failed to keep up with the job's disincentives. It's more dangerous to be a law enforcement officer now; there are more laws to enforce, more BS to deal with, and an increasingly hostile public. People who have a drive to engage in law enforcement for morally good reasons have significant incentive to seek other work that pays better or provides fewer disincentives -- people who would be officers for idealistic reasons would tend to be more educated or otherwise suitable for work in other industry.

Thus, given the pay level that is not an incentive for "good" people to become cops, the only people who enter law enforcement are those who find other incentives beyond money in doing the job, and I don't mean the ideological kind, I mean the more primal ones.

The decline in the quality of the police officer leads to more public hostility toward them, and the cybernetic process loops back to the beginning.

Thus, I would argue that police officers should be very highly-paid members of society. We should vastly increase demand among job-seekers to make the position more competitive. The more competitive a job, the higher the qualifications that can be implemented as a barrier to it. A very specific set of physical and psychological skills make up the repertoire of a law enforcement officer (and a teacher, and many other jobs). We currently create new standards to determine quality (insert occupation here) without increasing the incentive for individuals to seek that job in the first place. And it is ridiculous to say that money is not a prime, incentive for someone to seek a given career.

In other words, we have created a false cultural metaphor that desire leads to skillful action. Desire cannot make me an NBA basketball player, as I am 6' 145 and lack a crossover dribble. Similarly, desire to be a law enforcement officer does not equip one with the unique skillset to perform WELL as a law enforcement officer.

Thus, we must make that occupation desirable enough (through vastly increasing its compensation) to attract individuals who DO possess that unique skillset to seek employment as law enforcement officers instead of going to law school, or becoming an accountant, or any of a myriad of jobs that pay better and are less dangerous than law enforcement.
[User Picture Icon]
From:patrissimo
Date:February 18th, 2008 09:07 pm (UTC)

Re: interesting

(Permanent Link)
What are you doing, besides writing commentary on the internet, to change or influence the system you despise? I don't mean that as snark, I am sincerely asking.

The problem is that the system is set up so that individuals can do very little to change it. Which means that the rational thing to do is to keep your head down and focus on your life and family, as Paul is doing. I understand that a lot of people see this as an excuse, and believe that if you don't try to change the system, you shouldn't complain about it. But I strongly disagree with that viewpoint.

Anyway, I feel much like Paul, and I am actively trying to change things by enabling people to experiment with alternate governing systems on a smaller scale:

http://patrifriedman.com/projects/socs/commented/drawer/dynamic_geography.html
http://seastead.org/

It sounds like you are a great cop. It's unfortunate that we live in a system where people like you have to enforce so many immoral laws.
[User Picture Icon]
From:luckylefty
Date:February 18th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
What you're saying seems to me to be "The laws of this country are not exactly what I think they should be; therefore, police are scum".

You think the laws are different from what they should be. So do I. The laws I think we should have are also different from the laws you think we should have, though we have many areas of agreement on how the current laws should be changed.

So short of "Democracy should be abolished, and extempore should be established as dictator", what should we do? Of course we should fight to elect better people who should repeal the bad laws. But until then, what should happen?

Should we abolish the police, and have everyone individually enforce whatever they think the laws should be?

Should we instruct the police that they are do ignore the law, and each individually enforce only what they think the law should be?

Or should we have the police enforce the laws as they are, imperfect as they are?

I can't see any solution better than the last of these; if you do, I'd like to hear it.

I think this is a case of "democracy is a lousy system; it's just better than all the others".
[User Picture Icon]
From:extempore
Date:February 18th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
What you're saying seems to me to be "The laws of this country are not exactly what I think they should be; therefore, police are scum".

If that's your honest best effort at paraphrasing, then I do not care to address your points.
From:wealthandtaste
Date:February 18th, 2008 09:29 pm (UTC)

quarter of a billion murdered = safe

(Permanent Link)
What a sad product of Statist schooling, unable to imagine a world without constant theft, murder and deceit.

The 262 million people murdered by their governments in the 20th century alone may disagree with you that Anarchism is preferable to a State.

http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM
From:invsbl
Date:February 18th, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
You got to catch the little fish to get to get to the big ones.
From:wealthandtaste
Date:February 18th, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC)

boot stepping on a human face forever

(Permanent Link)
"You got to catch the little fish to get to get to the big ones."

What a positively absurd statement. One could substitute the following in without a change in meaning. "You have to ruin lots of lives while creating a monopolistic Orwellian police state ruled by a class of corrupt thugs in order to protect us from a monopolistic Orwellian police state ruled by a class of corrupt thugs."
From:directcodeword
Date:February 18th, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)

look on the bright side

(Permanent Link)
...i'm not a fan of dickhead cops, but if they don't enforce the laws who is going to? considering the average level of intelligence in society, the options of 1) no laws, or 2) selective enforcement of imperfect laws aren't even close to realistic...the moderator here dismisses the argument that cops shouldn't be held responisible for the laws they enforce by attacking their decision to enforce them...this would make sense if the purpose of his argument was to attack only the cops themselves, but clearly his disdain is aimed at the laws the cops enforce so his argument fails, but nice try...you should take consolace in the fact that, for the most part, the police in this country aren't very corrupt and actually do make efforts to follow the letter of the law and their duties under it...this is untrue in most other countries and i take moderate amusement imagining your level of consternation if the police were culpable of more injustice than merely enforcing laws you don't like...

...as a side note of having no legal protection of contraband, that is the risk one assumes when they enter the black market - typically justified by their profit margin...if the risk is too much to handle you either have to 1) not make the risky investment, or 2) be smarter than the people who want to dispossess you of your contraband...the final option, one which you for some strange reason don't believe in, is take steps to legalize the contraband...
From:bertuzzi_44
Date:February 18th, 2008 10:15 pm (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
I was reading the Toronto Star today, and there was a nice buried lede:

"`PUT DOWN THE KNIFE!'
Man shot by police dies in hospital

SIU investigates after `altercation' following theft of food ends in death of intoxicated man


Feb 18, 2008 04:30 AM
Robyn Doolittle
Staff Reporter

A knife-wielding man shot by police in a mid-town park Saturday night has died in hospital.

Witnesses said the man, believed to be in his 20s, was walking through Oriole Park around 8:30 p.m. after allegedly stealing fruit from a nearby grocery store when he was confronted by police.

Police had been called after a man with a knife entered the D&Y Market, on Yonge St. north of Davisville Ave. An employee said the man was obviously drunk and stole a few lemons.

"I chased after him and said `I want my stuff back. I'll call the police,'" he said yesterday afternoon.

The man pulled out a 10-centimentre blade and said, "No, don't call the cops," then ran away, the employee said.

"I was sad to hear he'd been killed. It's very sad," said the employee.

After taking the lemons, the man headed west toward Oriole Park, where he was seen stumbling around, singing and asking passersby for change.

An altercation occurred, Insp. Chris Fernandes said at a news conference after the shooting.

A witness who was walking by said he heard two officers scream, "Put down the knife! Put down the knife!" before four shots were fired and the man fell to the ground. He died in hospital Saturday night.

Two officers went to hospital with minor injuries.

Since the Special Investigations Unit, which probes police shootings of civilians, has taken over the case, Toronto police could not comment on the condition of the injured officers yesterday."





I can't come up with a scenario where these police officer's lives were in immediate danger in such a way that this person "had" to be shot 4 times. Pepper sprayed? Sure. Tasered? Maybe. But he's dead, and that strikes at the reason that I don't trust police (and Paul has made this point elsewhere) because we are at their complete mercy. I'm sure I'll hear about the above story again in a decade, once an inquest has been completed, and both officers are cleared for using "reasonable force".

Jonsan, since you claim to be "real" police, could average citizens then count on you to report any and all acts of corruption/brutality/injustice by fellow officers as dutifully as you arrest someone with two grams of marijuana, or would being a pariah in the department jeopardize the greater good you feel you will do in the future with the job you aspire to do in the department.

The public has really only two defenses against bad cops: 1/10000 Serpico's, and video evidence of impropriety. If, as some here are suggesting, that police have to follow the rigid definitions of the law and arrest people for every drug possession/petty crime, why then do we accept "police silence" when their own are under investigation?


[User Picture Icon]
From:extempore
Date:February 19th, 2008 01:21 am (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
The public has really only two defenses against bad cops: 1/10000 Serpico's, and video evidence of impropriety.

And of course the police are doing their best to make videotaping them a crime, and often treat people as if it is a crime even when it is not. Is there any argument in the world why people should not have the absolute right to videotape on-duty police officers at all times?

Everything to do with the cops should always be videotaped by the cops themselves whenever technologically feasible - every interrogation, every interaction with the public, every traffic stop, every single thing. That is a very small price to pay for having a state monopoly on the use of force.
[User Picture Icon]
From:jonsan
Date:February 19th, 2008 01:44 am (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
I can give you quite a few scenarios where shooting that person would be absolutely appropriate, but I am getting the sense that many of the folks involved in this thread would say that I should allow that man to stab me with his 10cm blade in order to avoid killing him.

In terms of reporting on fellow officers, that can honestly be a difficult call depending on the situation. I will say that the department I work for has a zero tolerance policy for excessive force and corruption. There are a number of cautionary tales that start with "he no longer works here", and the officers I work with view criminal cops as worse than criminal citizens. There will be corrupt cops, and there will be good cops who make bad decisions that ruin their careers, and even land them in prison. Such is life.

In my neck of the woods, the era of the unrelenting blue brotherhood has been over for a while. Maybe y'all live in an area where the cops are routinely beating and shooting innocent people, but when police do terrible stuff in my area, they go to jail. And, hard as it may be for you to believe, the other officers are glad to see them go.

[User Picture Icon]
From:jonsan
Date:February 19th, 2008 02:00 am (UTC)

and also...

(Permanent Link)
"as you arrest someone with two grams of marijuana"

Haven't you ever seen Super Troopers? Usually when we bust someone for having weed, we let them go and then sit around smoking it watching foreign cartoons.
[User Picture Icon]
From:hgfalling
Date:February 19th, 2008 01:28 am (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
If the laws were changed such that the police wouldn't bother you about your illegal possessions any more, because they weren't illegal, would you like cops more?
[User Picture Icon]
From:extempore
Date:February 19th, 2008 01:35 am (UTC)
(Permanent Link)
Not sure if there's a trick question in there that I'm overlooking, but absolutely! I think that fighting real crime is a noble and courageous profession. If that's what cops did they would have only my admiration.

Of course the laws against my personal illegal possessions (not that I have any) are hardly the only unjust laws, so we might have to talk about other stuff. I just think the drug war has perverted police work, the justice system, the prison system, the legal system, and every other system to such a tragic extent that it's hard to stay hip to all the other varieties of injustice.