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by Peter Moskos

April 25, 2015

Things getting ugly in Baltimore

Battles are going in Baltimore. Link to tweets from the Sun. In the long run, police are going to win this. It's just a question of how many people get hurt in the process.

This breaks my heart. Not just for the people I know at risk, but also for Baltimore. I love Baltimore.

"At Supreme Court, Eric Holder’s Justice Dept. Routinely Backs Officers’ Use of Force"

This New York Times story is interesting. And these facts (which were new to me) are unknown or ignored by conservative police officers, who have somehow decided that the DOJ hates cops.

[hat tip to a reader]

April 24, 2015

Well done, hon!

Things went well in Baltimore last night. So far, knock on wood, nobody else has gotten seriously hurt.

Compare this with police tactics in Ferguson. But Baltimore is better than Ferguson. And the BPD is better than the FPD. What we have not seen are flash-bang grenades. No tear gas. No gun shots (except for the "normal" Baltimore homicides). No riots. No fires. No looting.

Nothing is easy. But a bit of police restraint has gone a long way to keeping the peace. So kudos to all the brave Baltimore City police officers for a job well done.

Seeing all those cops lined up last night at the Western District WITHOUT riot gear -- looking like human beings, not being provocative, taking shit (and a few bottles), looking bored, and being professional about it -- it made me proud to have been a Baltimore cop.
[photo from CNN]

The whole no riot gear thing is interesting. I heard former commissioner Hamm say on CNN that he he didn't like that, tactically. "Somebody may get hurt." He was right. But in this case it worked. Yes, it was just luck. I'm saying this in hindsight. But luck matters.

So what if police had been decked out in riot gear? Sure shields and helmets give you needed protection against rocks and bottles. They also dehumanize police officers and provide a target for people throwing things. What if some SWAT-like team was there, looking bad-ass? (Is it still "QRT" or have they have they been rebranded?) Throw in an armored personnel carrier with a turreted machine parked right out front. Well, think of the message that would send! Now we've got a party!

[not Baltimore]

And then somebody throws a bottle. Or maybe lights a fire. And police respond with tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades (the latter makes no sense at all, but anyway)? And then there's a baton charge. What if in that melee police get hurt? Seriously hurt. Well then those injuries would justify the military-like action.

But that's not what happened. Give credit where credit is due. And the Baltimore police last night deserve credit. Everybody went home. This didn't "just happen." These are choices made.

Look, it's not easy to say, "Men, women, go out there and stand there like targets. If anybody throws anything at you, duck and dodge. Pray for the best." But sometimes that is the job of police. Sometimes that is what you have to do to make sure nobody else, officers include, get seriously hurt. Also, ranking officers were there. That matters. (I did not see the mayor. Where was she? Was she at a more pressing meeting?)

Police exercised restraint. Police respected the right of people to protest. The police were professional and brave. Nobody knew how this was going to turn out. Imagine kissing your family goodbye that night before going to work, to stand in a line, in front of a police station, facing angry protesters throwing things at you. Shit is going down. "See you later, honey"! [smooch] It's not just another day at the office.

I didn't post this last night because I didn't want to sound foolish if the Western burnt down and people were killed. One guy with a gun even a rock and good aim could have changed (and still could change) everything. But so far so good.

April 23, 2015

Baltimore Police Wagon (circa 2001)

BPD says they can't make a wagon available to reporters? (Not the wagon but any wagon?) I hope this baby has been retired, but you never know. What you can't see are the middle-facing bench seats fitted with seat belts.



Officers arrest somebody and call for a wagon (90 or 91). Sector cars in Baltimore City are not "cage cars" so you can't transport prisoners in them. The wagon (perhaps driven by a paunchy officer with a few decades on the job) shows up. You give your prisoner to the wagonman (or woman). If you used metal cuffs (as you would unless you planned on making an arrest and brought plastic flex cuffs), you get your cuffs back. The prisoner gets re-cuffed and re-searched by the wagonman taking custody. Every time custody of a prisoner changes hands, the prisoner is searched.

The prisoner is then put in the wagon, selt-belted in, and taken to the district for questioning or to (state-run) central booking. Other prisoners may be picked up en-route by the wagon, as needed. On all transports, mileage of the vehicle is called into KGA at the start and end of trip (with a time stamp given by dispatch).

If the suspect is injured, you would call for an ambo to take the prisoner to the hospital. Central booking won't take people in need of medical care. If I thought a prisoner wasn't really hurt but said they wanted to go to the hospital (happens a lot), I would informs them of how we'd both be stuck at Hopkins Hospital for hours and how this would only delay their processing and eventual release from CBIF (all of which is true).

There is no "fast track" at the hospital for police and their prisoners. Often they'd say, "fuck it; take me to jail." Sometimes I would give a little primer about what not to say to the intake person at CBIF ("my head hurts" "my chest hurts") because CBIF could decide not accept a person without a doctor's note. You certain might negotiate their need for hospital attention (read: sitting in the ER waiting room for hours for a 5-minute cursory exam). But if a prisoners insisted on going to a hospital, you don't refuse medical treatment. You take him there. In the end if was their call.

[Apparently there's now a metal barrier in the middle of the van.]

April 22, 2015

"All types come out of the woodwork"

I always welcome intelligent comments from police officers. Here is an email (lightly edited) from a retired sergeant about police-involved shootings in general. I always appreciate thoughtful comments from police officers. I don't necessarily agree with everything he writes (but I don't need to). It's a well stated opinion based on experience.

When it comes to police issues, we don't hear from police officers enough. If you want to understand police, you need to listen to police. I reprint this with his permission:
What irritates me in this brouhaha about police shootings of unarmed people, specifically black males, is that no one as far as I can determine has said anything about the fact that the recent shooting incidents were not egregious examples of trigger happy cops simply deciding to gratuitously confront someone for the hell of it. In reality they are examples of an officer doing his duty and either conducting an investigation, responding to a call for service, or responding to an on-view situation.

For whatever reason, doing the job went south fast, but the shootings were not examples of some psychopathic cop who decided he was going to whack somebody that day to break up a boring day, or have I missed something? Plus, lo and behold, the deceased were not "innocents," for a few had rap sheets to make a mother cry. Did they deserve to be killed? I can only answer that question the way I answered it when I was peppered by friends about my police experiences, especially when I would relate those of the "hairy" kind where justification for using my service weapon was a no-brainier, even if I didn't see a weapon. Some of my friends would say they would have shot the person. My seemingly high-minded response was simply to say that I wasn't raised to be an assassin, but I meant it.

...I joined the force in 1973 at age 29. Prior to this defining life experience, I did 4 years in the Marine Corps, got a BA in American History under the Vietnam era G.I. Bill program, did one year of graduate work in American History and jumped at the Police Agent Program that the [department] initiated to attract clowns like me: college graduates. My wife thought I was nuts, but she relented and continued her graduate work. Why I didn't bag the whole thing after 6 months on the street is a question I am still trying to answer after 40 years of pondering.

As you realize, no matter what position you take on policing in this country, all types come out of the woodwork -- me include -- as well as [others]. In my view the average American harbors an ambivalent attitude about American law enforcement, either loving us or hating us depending who is getting the shitty stick shoved up the ass. I can attest to the fact that even good cops can be real knuckle heads when they can't control their tempers and act professionally, sometimes with tragic results. And cops, or wannabe cops, take any kind of perceived criticisms as an unjustifiable assault on their person. So it goes.
As to more recent events in Baltimore:
Again my point being reinforced by what happened: a seemingly legitimate police action that went South for whatever reason, with two supervisors at the scene to boot, a Sgt. and a Lt. This is a head shaker.
...
Guys always take off.... They did for me when I worked [there]. The deceased ... had a respectable rap sheet, so he was no cherry. However, capital punishment doesn't apply to drug crimes, unless you live in garden spots like Iran or Saudi Arabia.

This doesn't look good for the Agency, especially with supervision at the scene. What a fucking mess.
[No comments on this one because because it's somebody else's opinion.]

99 problems but this is no longer one

The Supreme Court ruled in Rodriguez v. United States (2015) that K9s cannot be used in traffic stops (without cause) if it delays the driver. Period. Previously, the law of the land was that the driver couldn't be delayed too much. But it wasn't clear how much was too much. Waiting for a K9 unit was too much. But if the dog was already there, then it was considered OK. No longer.

Both as a constitutional issue and a strike against the war on the drugs, I think this decision is eminently reasonable. I'm never liked fishing for drugs. And telling otherwise innocent people to wait while dogs sniff around is like a police state. (And besides, we should be skeptical of probably cause based on a dog. I've never seen a dog put on the stand?)

K9s can be really useful to police. To search large buildings, for instance. (Another break-in at the Monument Street Market?) And the threat of calling in the dogs is useful in getting some idiot to come out of his hole he crawled into.

Post Rodriguez, to search with a dog without cause means you'd have to have another officer doing the traffic stop part while the K9 does his business at the same time. This won't change policing too much, since there aren't too many K9 units anyway. But it does make me wonder what those K9 units are going to do when they're not needed for real police work. I guess they can still give traffic tickets. But it makes the dog kind of superfluous.

I also think it's important to point out that this will (slightly) increase officer safety. The police academy is filled with videos of cops getting attacked and killed when they start asking to search a vehicle for drugs. Now one could argue that finding and arresting criminals is part of the job, but if your primary concern is officer safety, the safest thing to do in a traffic stop is give a ticket and let the car drive away.

April 21, 2015

The latest from Baltimore: Freddie Gray

Things are tense for police after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore Police custody.

I got no clue what happened. And I'm not going to say much till I do.

Keep in mind that Baltimore cops don't know what happened. But boy is this turning into quote a jackpot. A man died in police custody. Of a broken spine. Shit is hitting the fan. Six cops have been suspended (with pay).

It's slowly becoming national news (which is rare, when it comes to Baltimore police issues).

What we do know is that last Sunday morning police in the Western approached a group of people. A guy takes off running. Cops chase. Bike cops catch and arrest the guy, Freddie Gray for carrying a small knife. He gets put in a wagon. When Gray comes out of the wagon, he's seriously injured. He dies a week later.

From the New York Times:
“We have no evidence — physical, video or statements — of any use of force,” the deputy police commissioner, Jerry Rodriguez, said at the news conference. “He did suffer a very tragic injury to his spinal cord, which resulted in his death. What we don’t know, and what we need to get to, is how that injury occurred.”

Mr. Gray died Sunday, a week after his arrest. Witnesses captured parts of his encounter with the police on a cellphone video, in which screams can be heard as officers drag him into a transport van. An autopsy showed no wounds, except for the severed spinal cord, and the videos do not show the police acting forcefully.
...
On the way to the station, the van made at least two stops — including one in which Mr. Gray was taken out and placed in leg shackles after the driver complained he was “acting irate in the back,” Mr. Rodriguez said. After Mr. Gray arrived at Baltimore’s Western District station, police officers called medics, who took him to a hospital.
From the Sun:
"When he was placed inside that van, he was able to talk, he was upset," Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said. "And when Mr. Gray was taken out of the van, he could not talk, he could not breathe."

Police said they used no undue force when arresting Gray and can find no evidence from cellphone and city surveillance videos that officers brutalized Gray. They said an autopsy shows no indication that force was used.
But you need force from somewhere to be injured the way Gray was fatally injured. It is the responsibility of the wagonman (or woman) to make sure prisoners are safe and strapped down during transport.

It seems we have what started as a case of "felony running." Running from police is not a a crime. But fleeing from police does give police reasonable suspicion to stop (Illinois v. Wardlow, 2000). We used to make fun of cops who caught a "felony runner." That would happen when somebody takes off. You chase them! It's natural. You're a cop. You catch them... and then you realize they haven't actually committed a crime. You search (I mean frisk) them hoping to find something. Anything. But if you don't, you have to let them go. You can't even get them for loitering. They weren't loitering if they ran. Now I wouldn't chase people just for running. But I could have, if I liked running more.

The court vague said you need something other than running, but that something can be almost anything including "high crime area" or "drug corner." So I'm willing to say the approach, the chase, the stop, the frisk, the search, and the arrest were all legal.

I'm not saying this is the case here, but just FYI, it is not uncommon in Baltimore for corner boys to assign one person to be a "runner," just to get police off on a wild goose chase. That could be some young kid. It could be a junkie.

Police pull up. Somebody runs. You can chase him. Or you can let him run. Personally, I'd prefer to grab the second guy who tried to get away, figuring he would be more likely to have the stash or a gun.

Now in this case Gray did have a small knife, for which he was arrested. (If you make cops chase you, they can be damn sure they will, as they should, lock you up for any legal reason.)

Meanwhile angry people think the police and politicians are covering things up. And yet most police officers also don't trust the department and politicians. I wrote about race and police attitudes towards the discipline process back in 2008 in "Two Shades of Blue." The idea is that the powers-that-be -- and Baltimore has a black mayor and black police commissioner -- will punish police officers, guilty or not, to placate the public. I assume that among the six suspended officers are those who made the arrest (I don't know if that's true). And yet the department has already said that things were OK when they handed off the prisoner. I hope they enjoy their paid days off.

Personally, it's worth noting my surprise that these Western officers were doing any work at all on a Sunday morning. That is not generally how we rolled in the Eastern. Maybe it's just because it's spring. And you it's spring in Baltimore because the bikes are in bloom.

April 19, 2015

Too far a gap to bridge?

I lose hope when, on one hand, the South Carolina F.O.P uses the term, "professional race agitators" in a press release. As a former dues-paying member, I will gladly offer my editing service gratis to any FOP newsletter. Seriously. If your goal is P.R. and you're talking about "the recent tragedy." Do not use the term "professional race agitators" in the same press release. Just don't. Trust me on this one. (Al Baker's story in the Times.)

On the other hand, people in Baltimore are protesting a man who remains in a coma after being injured during an arrest. Meanwhile, Baltimore being Baltimore, police shot somebody near the protest who had a loaded gun (the fourth BPD-involved shooting in 2015). And one group of anti-police protesters is idiotic enough to ask in a tweet, "how could [police] know it was loaded?"

See, when police have to explain why they shot a criminal with a loaded gun, it doesn't make you want to engage. It makes you want to go to local F.O.P. bar, drink too much, and talk about "professional race agitators."

[Meanwhile, just FYI, 11 people were shot in the last 24 hours in NYC.]

April 18, 2015

Occupy the Corner

Protests in Baltimore against violence. From the Baltimore Sun:
"Occupy the Corner," as it was called, was the opening salvo in another year of community outreach arranged by the anti-violence group known as 300 Men March. As they have for the past two years, members plan to gather every Friday evening into the fall to walk the streets as a group and engage residents young and old in an effort to make neighborhoods safer.
...
"There are a lot of people who want to do something about the violence but don't necessarily have the outlet," Bahar said before Friday's event. "That's why we created 'Occupy the Corner' — to give people an outlet, not against police violence but more specifically the day-to-day violence happening in the communities, of young folks gunning other folks down."

City Councilman Brandon Scott joined the sign-wavers, saying he hopes it will help reclaim the Penn North neighborhood from drug dealing.

"When we are engaged in our communities, we have less violence," Scott said. Last year, the group focused its efforts in the Belair-Edison community in Northeast Baltimore, Scott said, because there had been a spate of homicides there. During the months of activity there, he added, the number of killings dropped.

Scott also drew a distinction between the anti-violence efforts of 300 Men March and the protests against police violence.

"Both issues are valid," he said, adding that he may very well join the rally Saturday, too. But complaints about police misconduct are no excuse, he added, for failing to take personal responsibility for what goes on in the community.
...
"This is very good, but it's only symbolic,'' said Field, 63, who leads African-American heritage tours. "As soon as the 300 crowd came, the evil folk left," he said. But he added that "five minutes after they leave, it's going to be a drug corner."
If you really think that people (black people in particular) only care about violence when it comes from police, you're either woefully uninformed or willfully ignorant.

April 17, 2015

Here's what's up in Oklahoma

This is an email I received from (someone I believe is) an Oklahoma Police officer. He answered my question -- why does Oklahoma lead the nation in people killed by police? -- very well. It's knowledge I don't have, and I can't say it better myself. He agreed to let me reprint it here, anonymously:
To clarify, the reserve academy is 240 hours (nights and weekends), the full time academy is 600 hours (increased to 600 4-5 years ago). Reserves are limited to the number of hours they may work. When I started in ____ the reserve academy was 168 (min hours, most add additional training to it) and I think full time was 320. A few years before that it was less and less.

They have increased training greatly over the last 15-20 years. The main reason it has taken so long to increase the hours and why it isn't as high as the national average is that most departments can't afford to have an officer tied up at the academy for more time. Most have a difficult time making it while they are gone as it is, due to a lack of manpower. The only area where the standards in OK exceed standards is firearms. They made the qualification course easier 3-4 years ago, but it's still difficult. (Before they used to start at 50 yards, now they have eliminated those and added more at 25 yards).

As for the reason for more shootings by officers and other issues in general, there are many things that contribute.

1) OK is a "conservative" state. They continually increase penalties while at the same time cutting budgets, causing less personnel, less continuing education opportunities, increased early release of inmates (I think the last news article I read on our prisons stated at they are only about 60% staffed). In my opinion, the ones on parole are far from adequately supervised. There is also, in my opinion, a lack of mental health services.

2) Pay. No one wants to say it, but low pay contributes to they quality of officers. You get some that do it for the right reasons, then some that never should be officers. It's hard for most agencies to find suitable officers. With the exception of a handful of agencies in the metro areas and the OK Highway Patrol, I would estimate the average salary as 30K. Some smaller agencies in our area start at just above minimum wage. Some small towns have one full time and actually pay one or two reserves (many end up going to the full time academy and becoming full time at some point).

3) Low number of officers per square mile outside of OKC, Tulsa, Norman, and Lawton. There are no agencies outside of the metro areas that I know of they have more than one officer per unit. In many areas, the nearest backup may be 15-20 miles away. (More likely to fight or attack a solo officer.) It's not that these areas are not populated, just not as densely populated. The tax bases do not generate enough to hire additional officers.

4) Meth and prescription drugs, abused everywhere, but sadly more so in OK. Leads to increases crime and violence in general

5) Suicide by cop. This seems to be happening more in OK. A few weeks ago I was involved in a pursuit and shootout with a man who had murdered his brother and told some people he wouldn't be taken alive. As a result of his actions, a state trooper was injured by glass flying into his eye when a bullet from the suspect struck his windshield. The suspect was shot and killed. The same night one of the troopers that came to assist with that stopped a car and the driver pulled a pistol and started shooting at him, causing the trooper to retreat to his car and return fire. The suspect then exited his vehicle and shot himself in the head. The last I heard no one was able to determine why the man did it.

6) Change in our society. I used to think my elders didn't know what they were talking about when they spoke of changes, but I have noticed them myself over my 35 years of life, especially the last 10. With newer generations, ethics and personal responsibility seems to have declined. Children are doing things in school now that we would have never done or even thought about doing. Some (sadly some of my own family) have no respect for themselves or anything else. (I'm not sure if this is everywhere or just in our region.). We also have a high percentage of our population on various forms of welfare and large economically depressed areas (not that this makes someone a criminal).

7) Broken juvenile justice system and some parent that just don't care. In OK, they can do nearly anything without consequences, and they know it. By the time they turn 18 is too late and they continue to be criminals.

8) Drug trafficking and cartels. I-35 , I-40, and I-44. Besides local drug manufactures, large amounts are brought through our state. (Same is true for AZ, NM, and TX).

9) EVERYONE in OK is armed. I personally do not have an issue with it. I purchased my first firearm, a Colt single action .22, from an elderly neighbor when I was 9 years old. I have collected and enjoyed shooting ever since, both competitively and recreational. In OK, I would estimate that over 50% of the population have weapons and many hunt. It is legal for citizens to own suppressors, machine guns, and short barreled rifles (with appropriate paperwork and ATF tax stamp). The vast majority of gun owners are very responsible, however, with increased gun ownership, there is naturally going to be increased issues involving firearms. Same is true with alcohol (our state had a huge problem with DUI), fattening foods, and smoking.

All of this sounds bad, but Oklahoma is actually a good state to live in, it just had some issues like anywhere else.

April 16, 2015

Well done, NYPD. What's your secret?

It's late. It's 5AM. I need to go to bed. But check this out.

This is based on these data from May 2013 to April 2014. I believe it's similar to (but a bit messier than) killedbypolice.net. But it's got city and county data, which isn't at killedbypolice.net.

The national average, the rate of people killed by police (as they define it, which is pretty loose, but OK) is 0.36 per 100,000. This is over the past 23 months. That's roughly 1,135 killed per year.

Now we already know that the rate of being killed by police is a hell of a lot higher in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona (0.8) -- five times higher -- than it is in New Jersey, Michigan, and New York (0.15).

But states are big and have hundreds of police departments. I want to break it down by city. The rate in California is twice the national average. I don't think San Francisco police are shooting a lot of people. So who is?

Well, Bakersfield (rate = 2.1, which includes killing in the city killings both by the Bakersfield PD and the Kern County Sheriff Dept.), Salinas (2.0), Stockton (1.4), Fresno (1.1), and Santa Ana (0.9) come to mind. These are crazy high rates.

Super high seem to be Kansas City, MO (rate = 2.0), Oklahoma City (1.7), St Louis (1.5), Tulsa (1.4), Phoenix (1.2), and Albuquerque (1.1). Remember all these figures are rough. So I don't mean to rank order, but I do mean to group these cities together.

Bakersfield? Salinas? Maybe it's been a bad two years, but there are only 363,000 people who live in Bakersfield. Between 2012 and 2013, the NYPD killed 21 people. And in the past 23 months 15(!) people have bit the dust in Bakersfield? Do correct me if I'm wrong. The stats may be a fluke. Or maybe it was a bad two years. Or maybe the numbers are wrong. But it's still a hell of a red flag!

The rate in Los Angeles 0.5. That's not quite twice the national average... but it's one-forth of Bakersfield and Salinas. Baltimore's rate is 0.9. Chicago comes in at 0.6.

The NYPD? The big bad NYPD? The killers of Diallo, Gurley, Bell, Garner, and so many other?

Zero-point-one-three. The rate of people killed by police in one-third the national average. Think is amazing.

Put another way, Chicagoans are 5 times as likely to be killed by police. Baltimoreans 7 times as likely. And Bakersfield? Lovely Bakersfield? In the streets of Bakersfield you're 16 times more likely to be killed by police than you are in New York City.

Think of this, too, as my NYPD friends do. Shootings by NYPD may be tragic, but compared to the rest of the nation, they really do seem to fall in the category of isolated incidents. Whatever the NYPD is doing to shoot so few people seems to be a case of best practices. Maybe the focus should be not to criticize the NYPD but to learn from it. The systemic problems seem to be out west. And maybe people who want to protest police shootings should protest police who really are shooting too many people.

Go west, young man, go west. There is health in the country, and room away from our crowds of idlers and imbeciles.

It's after 6:00 AM. Good night.

[I want to emphasize these results are primarily, not double-checked, and based on unverified data. But the even as just ballpark figures, the differences are too dramatic to ignore.]

"If I had a hammer... I'd hammer out justice."

This is the second paragraph of an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates:
When Walter Scott fled from the North Charleston police, he was not merely fleeing Thomas Slager, he was attempting to flee incarceration. He was doing this because we have decided that the criminal-justice system is the best tool for dealing with men who can't, or won't, support their children at a level that we deem satisfactory. Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, "You deal with this."
Nothing against women's rights advocates, but I haven't heard anybody question the logic of passing laws that lock people up for failure to pay child support. (And while I'm at it, can I just mention that mandatory domestic violence laws are racist, do not work, and have have hurt countless men and women.)

This is the first paragraph. It's just as good:
There is a tendency, when examining police shootings, to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy. One interrogates the actions of the officer in the moment trying to discern their mind-state. We ask ourselves, "Were they justified in shooting?" But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, "Were we justified in sending them?" At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems--homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one's children, mental illness--are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can't be every place.
And this if from the end:
Police officers fight crime. Police officers are neither case-workers, nor teachers, nor mental-health professionals, nor drug counselors.
I'm pretty sure Ta-Nehisi Coates isn't trying to be pro-cop, but that's the kind of line that will get carried off on cops' shoulders at a police convention!

That last paragraph goes on:
The problem of restoring police authority is not really a problem of police authority, but a problem of democratic authority. It is what happens when you decide to solve all your problems with a hammer. To ask, at this late date, why the police seem to have lost their minds is to ask why our hammers are so bad at installing air-conditioners. More it is to ignore the state of the house all around us. A reform that begins with the officer on the beat is not reform at all. It's avoidance. It's a continuance of the American preference for considering the actions of bad individuals, as opposed to the function and intention of systems.
There's more. And you should read the whole thing. But that is my good-parts version.

April 15, 2015

Why are Christians so violent?

I know that headline is unfair clickbait, but there are many things that could be said about this video. Here's a Daily News story.



I think it's interesting primarily to show what can happen when officers fail to gain control of a situation: a mess. A lethal mess. A cop gets shot. Two of the fighting Graver family get shot, one fatally.

Tactically, clearly mistakes were made, but it's hard to second guess. It's rare to find a group that is so willing and able to fight cops. Still, in terms of "things that could have gone better," one place to look is that fight only started after the cops arrived on scene. That could be a place for improvement. Once the brawl is on, well this is why you always want a fight to be two, three, or four police to one. What a mess. What part of "get on the ground" don't they understand.

April 14, 2015

Killed by Police (3 of 3): Cutting the number in half

[See my previous posts 1 and 2.]

It's not unreasonable to believe -- even when one knows the vast majority of police-involved shootings to be justified -- that three police-involved homicides per day is perhaps two too many. Can the number of police-involved killings be reduced without placing officer's lives in danger? Of course. We know this because some departments shoot a hell of lot more people than other departments.

If California could reduce their rate of police-involved shootings down to the rate that already exists in the state of New York? 135 people a year would by killed by police. And that's just in California alone.

Police in some states are much more likely to pull the trigger than in other states. Now this does not take crime and violence against police into account, which would in an ideal world. But the differences are still incredibly stark. And since we're looked it states rather than cities, I mean, it's not like cities in New York, New Jersey, and Michigan normally come to mind as epitomizing peace, love, and non-violence.

[It's worth warning and repeating that all this assumes the data is valid enough. I am assuming that. But I may be wrong.]

Oklahoma has a police-involved homicide rate of 0.78. That's higher than the overall homicide rate in Sweden. Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona all have rates of police-involved killings that are twice the national average (0.36) and four to five times higher than Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, New Jersey, Michigan, and New York.

My guess is the differences have to do with better training, more police officers per capita, less public tolerance of police-involved killings, higher police standards and pay, and differences in police culture.

But really, in terms of police training and standards, there's no reason to think we couldn't bring all states in line with the best states. And if police across the nation killed just as often as police in those least trigger-happy six states currently do? That would cut the national rate of police-involved killings by half and save 500 lives a year. This would also save 500 cops a year from having to shoot and kill somebody. Police lives matter, too.

"Who gave this reserve cop a gun?"

Uh, it's his own gun. But headline aside (writers don't write the headline), I like to think I make some good points in this CNN piece about Robert Bates, the Tulsa County "reserve deputy" who thought his gun was a Taser and shot and killed a criminal.

"You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!" Not.

A 73-year old man, Robert C. Bates, liked to play cops and robbers. He thought he was going to get to Tase a bad guy. But instead of holding his Taser, Bob was holding his personal gun. Bang. You're dead. Oops.

Bates wasn't a real cop. He was a "reserve deputy sheriff," which isn't necessarily a bad concept, within reason. But this isn't reasonable. Bates paid to play. He gave money to the Tulsa County sheriff's election campaign. Maybe he could have been a deputy sheriff without donating money. But he gave cars to the undercover unit to which he had access. And now, irony of ironies, Bates might be convicted based on the evidence provided by the very eye-glass cameras he perhaps gave to the department!

Bates didn't even have good reason to even Tase Eric Harris. Cops were on scene. Harris wasn't getting the upper hand. He wasn't going anywhere. Despite what Bates later said, I do not think Bates thought Harris was armed. I say this because Harris was flying. Booking. Like a man who does not have a gun in his waistband. His arms were pumping, not going to his dip. Not in what I saw. And this is very much contrary to what supposedly "independent consultant" Sgt. Jim Clark claimed while defending Bates after being paid to investigate the shooting.

[And Kudos to the cop who tackled Bates. Good job. He was a fast runner and knew exactly where to tell the driver to stop the car, though the driver was a bit slow in doing so.]

"This horrible situation is going to be about what a corrupt sheriff's office does after a bad shooting," said Daniel Smolen, said a lawyer for the SOB who was shot.

I think Smolen may be right.... wait. Did I just speak bad of the dead? Yeah. And I say this without at all saying the shooting was justified. And I'm certainly not defending an elected sheriff who allowed the guy to be on the scene with a gun. But what a bastard Harris was: Violence. Drugs. Guns. Robbery. Assault on cops. Escape from prison(?!). The whole nine yards. A real life of crime.

I mention this in relation to my Washington Post article in which I describe how cops were so bothered about the shooting of Walter Scott. That one was different. This was a tragedy. A fuck up. And blame can and should be placed. But if you want cops to shed a tear over the death of Eric Harris, you're going to be waiting a long time. Harris was a harbinger of violence and doom.

[Having watched the whole unedited video in the CNN office today, it's unfair to just air the part where cops say bad things to Harris. One line -- "fuck your breath" -- out of context is just a gotcha moment. The media should also show Harris yelling at the cops. Now granted, Harris has just been shot. Maybe you wouldn't like the line even in context, but the context matters. Harris, on the ground after a dangerous chase, is yelling about how he "didn't do shit." This is a man who had just ran from police after selling an illegal gun to an undercover cop. My actual thought when I heard his protests of innocence was, "fuck you!" Though I did manage to just think this and not blurt it out in the middle of a newsroom. I also didn't just have to chase, catch, and restrain this jerk. This situation, to paraphrase Jay-Z, has 99 problems, but the cops' words ain't one.]

Maybe it's because as a police officer you're around of lot of death and even a lot of people murdered. So perhaps it's inevitable to rank order the value of life. It's one way you cope with dealing with a lot of death. An innocent kid is worth more than a guilty adult. A robbery victim's life is worth more than the robber's life. Somebody who could have prevented his own death by complying with lawful orders deserves less sympathy than somebody who didn't run. The death of a guy killed after some minor vehicle violation is more tragic than a long-time felon who dies after running and selling undercover cops a gun. Somebody killed with intent is different than somebody killed in an accident. And both of those deaths would be different than somebody who happens to die as a result of less-lethal force.

So Bates had a Taser. And I think Bates wanted to use his toy. Oh, boy! I suspect moments like this were exactly why Bates had given so much to the Tulsa County Sheriff. He wanted to play cop. Bates and the Tulsa County Sheriff's Department have made a mockery out of professional policing. Clearly Bates should not have have had a gun and a Taser.

Let us not start to consider "slip and capture" (a term I had forgotten before today) justification for using a gun instead of a Taser. Yeah, apparently it is possible to hold and fire a gun that you think is a Taser. "Slip and capture" reminds me of the invented concept "excited delirium," which to some people means it's OK when people die after getting tased. Just because you give something a name doesn't make it real, or defensible. At best, "slip an capture" is a description. Bates, from everything he said before and after firing one round, obviously did not intend to shoot and kill Harris. But that doesn't make it OK. And with proper training you don't do it.

And it's interesting to note that both in this case and the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina (and the shooting of Oscar Grant on the Fruitvale BART platform), that these victims would be alive if the cops (or, "cop" in the Oklahoma case) had not been armed with a Taser. I've never been a big Taser fan. I wonder if this is something to consider. There's particularly irony in people being killed because officers have less-lethal weaponry. (Not running from cops is also a wise preservation strategy, though that didn't help Grant.)

Finally, let me observe that I don't know much about Oklahoma except a song (and the history and meaning of "Sooner"). But maybe Oklahoma is not "doin' fine."

Oklahoma (together with fair New Mexico) has the highest rate of police-involved killing in the nation! The rate at which people are being killed by police in Oklahoma is twice the national average and five times the rate in New York or Michigan. Five times higher? That's a big difference. It's also the subject of my next post.

Bad Taser Judgement from Officer Slager

This is from back in 2014. This is not a good use of a Taser. It actually makes cuffing him harder. The two really hard parts -- getting a guy out of a car and getting hands out from under a resisting person -- are done.

This the guy is still resisting, so it's probably legal and departmentally justified. But it's morally and tactically wrong. He was seconds away from being cuffed.

I also just heard some rumor regarding the S.C. shooting (and I don't know if it's true) that Slager somehow ended up with a taser dart in himself. I only this mention because even if Scott had Tased Officer Slager, it doesn't matter. And I don't think that did happened Based on the video, if a dart did end up in Slager's leg, it seem more he somehow tased himself. But it's irrelevant because it doesn't change the issue about pulling the trigger on a man who was not a threat at the time you pulled the trigger. I'm curious about what led up to the shooting, naturally, but it doesn't matter. Slager was dead wrong.

Videotaping police isn't quite as legal as you thought

Honestly, my eyes glazed over a little bit reading (most) of this. But you should still read it. In much of the country, it's still kind of a legal gray area about whether or not you can record police.

I did an L.A. radio show a while back and a cop called in with a very insightful comment: older cops are still bothered by people filming them or taking their picture. Younger cops think it's pretty normal for people to be holding up their phone when something interesting in happening.

Regardless, the advice I would give to police officers is that it will undoubtedly be legal and protected in the future. So stop fighting it and get used to it.

April 12, 2015

Killed by Police (2 of 3): Race

[See parts 1 and 3.]

Using the data from killedbypolice.net, I looked at the race of those killed by police. Though before I give you these numbers, ask yourself this question: what percent of those whom cops kill do you think are white, black, and hispanic. Forgive the callousness, but we're talking numbers. And this figure will get to the core of the notion that cops are "gunning for" or "hunting" black men.

Given that blacks are 13 percent of the population and whites about 65 percent, what percentage would expect to see among those killed by police? Presumably police are more likely to shoot a murderer than an average Joe. So I wouldn't think it's reasonable to expect to find that blacks would be just 13 percent of those killed by police. What percentage would you expect to see. What percentage would mean there isn't a problem of police shooting African Americans in particular (as opposed to police just shooting too much in general)?

Presumably police are (and should be) more likely to kill those who are willing or trying to kill other people. Nationwide, blacks are also about 50 percent of murder victims (and thus presumably murder perpetrators, since most homicides are intra-racial). Over the past 10 years, according to FBI data that looks at those who have feloniously killed a police officer, whites are 53 percent and blacks are 44 percent.



[For various reasons, none particularly good, FBI data seems to lumps all hispanics into the white category. The data at killedbypolice.net counts hispanics as separate. But it means that hispanics are invisible in the FBI data but counted in killedbypolice data. And I'm using both. So consider this a fair warning about comparing numbers and figures from different data sets.]

One would hope that the racial breakdown of police-involved homicides would be not out-of-wack with the racial breakdown of those who kill police. This indeed seems to be the case: 48 percent if those killed by police are white, 30 percent are black, and 18 percent hispanic (the doesn't-add-up-to-100-percent bit consists of Asian, Indian, Pacific Islander, and other.)



Though if you're so inclined, you could spin the same data this way:



Now the data doesn't indicate which shootings are justified (the vast majority) and which are cold-blooded murder (not many, but some). And maybe that would vary by race. I don't know, but I doubt it.

Still, per capita, blacks are 3.5 times more likely than white men to die at the hands of police. This is now adjusted for population, and only includes men.



Keep in mind the homicide rate for the entire country of Canada is 1.6. So a homicide rate of 1.3 for black men just killed by police (!) is very high.

While is a very damning figure for our country, it's not necessarily damning for police. There is a 6:1 (per capita) black-to-white homicide rate disparity and a 4:1 black-to-white disparity (per capita) among those who felonious kill police officers. Given disparate rates of violence, it would be naive to expect equal rates among those killed by police.

If one adjusts for the racial disparity in the homicide rate or the rate at which police are feloniously killed, whites are actually more likely to be killed by police than blacks.

Adjusted for the homicide rate, whites are 1.7 times more likely than blacks die at the hands of police. Adjusted for the racial disparity at which police are feloniously killed, whites are 1.3 times more likely than blacks to die at the hands of police.

Though it goes against the all-cops-are-racist narrative, it's not inconceivable that a white person is actually more likely to be shot by police given an equal threat level. I've gone into these reasons before, but two I want to highlight are 1) cops in more minority cities face more political fallout when they shoot, and thus receive better training and are less inclined to shoot, and 2) since cops in more dangerous neighborhoods are more used to danger; so other things being equal (though they rarely are), police in high-crime minority areas are less afraid and thus less likely to shoot. Based on experience, I suspect that police in high-crime areas deserve more credit than they get for not shooting. Some of the bad shootings I've seen recently... I can't imagine a cop in Baltimore being so damn scared for no good reason.

So I'm saying that a guy with a gun in the ghetto might actually be less likely to be shot by a cop more used to guns in the ghetto. But a gun makes a sudden movement in a neighborhood with a cop who has never faced danger in the face? Boom.

A black man is 16 more likely to be killed by a cop than kill a cop. A white man is 20 times more likely.

All this said, one should keep all this morbidity in perspective. The odds that any given black man will shoot and kill a police officer in any given year is slim to none, about one in a million. The odds for any given white man? One in four million. The odds that a black man will be shot and killed by a police officer is about 1 in 60,000. For a white man those odds are 1 in 200,000.

But the odds that any given police officer will have to shoot and kill somebody this year? 1 in 1,000. That is not negligible. Add when one adds in the times a cop was afraid for life and didn't shoot? Or a officer did shoot and missed? Or shot and wounded? And then you multiply that by 20 years? Those are odds most people would not accept in a job description.

[part 3]

#



Those last figures are based very roughly on 1 million cops, 1,000 killed by police, 20 million black men, 333 killed by police, 100 million white men, 500 killed by police. For everything else, feel free to check my math and excel formulas, if you can make sense of this:

For reference, the top-left cell is Row 13, column A. Annual rate =SUM((B14/2)*(24/23)). Rate: =SUM(C14/(E14/100000)). Rate LE killed by= =SUM(F14/(E14/100000)). Final rate: =SUM(D14/G14). Hom rate: =SUM(J14/(E14/100000)). Killed by adj by hom rate: =SUM(D14/K14).

April 11, 2015

"‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie"

I thought we all knew this by now, but apparently some people missed the memo. Responding to my Washington Post op-ed, a few people see rather upset that I wrote:
In Ferguson, as the Justice Department made very clear, all credible evidence supported officer Darren Wilson’s account of a justified, legal and necessary shooting. Brown robbed a store, fought for the police officer’s gun and then physically charged the cop.
People, this isn't debatable any more.

If you still don't want to believe this and won't read the DOJ report, read my summary or a very brave piece by The Post's Jonathan Capehart:
"Hands up, don’t shoot" became the mantra of a movement. But it was wrong, built on a lie.
...
It is imperative that we continue marching for and giving voice to those killed in racially charged incidents at the hands of police and others. But we must never allow ourselves to march under the banner of a false narrative on behalf of someone who would otherwise offend our sense of right and wrong. And when we discover that we have, we must acknowledge it, admit our error and keep on marching. That’s what I’ve done here.
Or John Maynard Keynes or Paul Samuelson may or may not have said: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?"

April 10, 2015

Killed by Police (1 of 3): New Data!

Two years ago a somewhat shadowy person or group began compiling all media accounts of people killed by police. It's at www.killedbypolice.net. Best I can tell, he/she/it/they do a pretty good job.

According to the site: "Corporate news reports of people killed by nonmilitary law enforcement officers, whether in the line of duty or not, and regardless of reason or method. Inclusion implies neither wrongdoing nor justification on the part of the person killed or the officer involved. The post merely documents the occurrence of a death."

Not that this list is perfect. Certainly there might be some police-involved homicides that don't make the local paper or TV news broadcast. But there can't be too many. From May 2, 2013 to April 8, 2015, there have been 2,177 documented cases of people dying or being killed by police. (The vast majority are shot... but see died after being tased). And one cop killed his own family. Personally I wouldn't include off-duty and not job related, but that's a minor quibble, statistically.

The compiled data is impressive both in its thoroughness and documented nature. And compared to only other data we have, such as the crappy UCR data on justifiable police-involved homicides, this killed-by-police list is gold. It's the first time -- ever -- we can start looking at who police are shooting.

So I played with the data. I refined it and shined it real nice and turned it into a proper SPSS file (and removed the few who weren't killed in the 50 states plus DC). I have everything from when the list started (May 2, 2013) to April 8, 2015. So it's just under two years of data. N = 2,177

So the first thing we learn, which we knew, is that the UCR is a vast undercount. But now we have some idea about how much: a bit more than 50 percent. [For the more statistically inclined, the missing UCR data, at least with regards to race, does seem to be mostly random (which is good), which means the UCR data might be OK for some analysis.]

So we learn that police in America kill about three people a day. Three police-involved deaths a day may seem like a lot. But is it? America is a big country. It doesn't seem like an epidemic. In a typical day, 38 Americans will be murdered, 90 will die in car crashes, 110 Americans will commit suicide, and 120 will overdose on drugs. Maybe we have to begrudgingly accept three police-involved killings a day as par for a violent nation. But maybe not.

I think we could rather easily cut the number of people killed by police in half. That would save the lives of around 500 people a year. But I'll get to that in the third and final post.

[Part 2]

"This one is different"

An op-ed of mine to appear in Sunday's Washington Post:
This one is different.

Walter Scott was killed — shot multiple times in the back — by North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael Slager last weekend. Scott, already running away, was no threat to the officer when the first shot was fired. He was even less of a threat when Slager paused and fired the eighth and final round.

To non-police, Scott’s death may look familiar: Not even a year after Eric Garner died during an arrest in Staten Island, N.Y., and Michael Brown died in a police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., here was another black man killed by police.

But to law enforcement officers observing the North Charleston tragedy, the case is nothing like “another Ferguson” — and that’s where the police perspective and the civilian perspective on these events diverge.
Click through to keep reading.

"Suspect is down," says the dispatcher

Here's video of the initial Walter Scott car stop. (Yes, his brake light was out.)

But what I love, which I suppose is kind minor in the grand scheme of thing, is how fucking amazing this drawling dispatcher is. She is bad-ass and calm.



"Shots fired. He grabbed your taser. Suspect is down," she drawls, almost yawning, like it happens ever day. But it doesn't. And that's how you want dispatchers to act. The last thing you want, and sometimes it happens, is a dispatcher losing control. She (sometimes he) holds the entire police department in her voice.

Somebody still needs to write the great book or make the great movie about dispatchers. They really are unsung underpaid heroes. So many lives depend on them.

April 9, 2015

"U.S. police shootings not simple as black and white"

Good article by Tom Blackwell in Canada's National Post:
“If we point to the officer and say, ‘You did something wrong,’ we all feel a lot better, and it’s concrete,” said Marcia McCormick, a criminal-law professor at St. Louis University. “But when the problem is the system — you have racism without racists…. It doesn’t seem as harmful, and [is] so abstract that we have a hard timing figuring out how to fix it.”
...
Factor in the differences in demographics — blacks make up just 13 per cent of the U.S. population — and that means African Americans were four times as likely to be killed by police.

Still, Moskos is not convinced that means black people are being disproportionately targeted, arguing that blacks are five times as likely as whites [per capita] to kill police officers, and that much of the policing in America focuses on black street crime.

“The narrative that cops are out gunning for unarmed black people is just not supported by the data,” he said. “Cops tend to shoot a lot of white people too, it just tends not to make the news.”

Moskos is worried that the focus on race is distracting attention from what he considers the real issues. Those include the “criminalization of poverty ” and the aggressive police enforcement of relatively minor offences, such as traffic violations and failure to make support payments, the transgression that relatives say made Scott run from police.
...
But the incident in South Carolina points to a concerning mentality, [Eugene O'Donnell] said. The officer appears to have taken steps to make his actions seem legal, until the video blew the story apart.

“It raises the question of whether there is not a culture in some parts of the country of, ‘We can do anything we want and get away with it,’ ” he said. “I worry that at least some of the many police forces in the country work in a culture like that.”

Even if blacks are not lopsided victims of police force, a larger issue emerged in Ferguson, and again at protests in North Charleston Wednesday: the widespread sense among law-abiding African Americans that they are in a sense harassed by officers.

April 8, 2015

"We got a dead guest"

It was an odd feeling to be made-up and mic'd and then walk off the set of a TV show.

I had just rushed (on a Citibike, no less) from AP's studios on 33rd and 10th (for Dutch TV) to midtown. It's a studio I'm very familiar with (though not the show). I was rushed on and given a seat before it became clear that the subject was not the S.C. police-involved shooting I signed up for, but the Boston Bomber verdict. I'm no lawyer. I wasn't there. I got nothing to say. Hell, I don't even care if the guy is given life or death.

You gotta know when to say no. So I wished them well, and they wished me well, and that was that. We weren't live yet (thank God).

Leaving, I heard a tech guy said into his mic, "we got a dead guest." That's a new phrase for me. He then looked at me sheepishly and say, "uh, not literally."