About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

September 9, 2009

Deep Undercover

Kristina Goetz of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has this story about an officer doing "deep undercover."
She also had to restrain her police instincts to break up a fight at a convenience store or call social services if she saw a dealer hit his child because being caught would compromise the larger goal.
And what larger goal was more important than preventing physical child abuse? I would sue the police department if I were an assault victim and a police officer present did nothing.

But such is the nature of the war on drugs. Locking up a drug dealer (not preventing drug use) is more important than preventing injury or the beating of a child.

All the evils she saw? Those weren't caused by drugs. They were caused by bad people in bad conditions. And people who commit bad crimes should get locked up.

So let me get this right. All the crimes you saw, the poverty, the desperation, the tricks, the violence, the child abuse? You saw people in f*cked up situations doing bad sh*t. And you were a police officer and you let it happen? You let all that slide because you were fighting some bigger fight? You rationalized that you needed to let some crimes slide so that you could go "up the ladder" and maybe even lock up some "kingpins" and win the war on drugs?

Did you?

In a year's time, this officer's work "resulted in more that 280 arrests -- from low-level drug peddlers to big-name dealers." And is Memphis safer? Have murders gone down? Has drug use gone down? By being "deep undercover," you ignored your oath as a police officer to defend the laws and the Constitution of our land.

Look, it's not like this officer didn't give her all. So did LEAP founder Jack Cole. They just gave it for the wrong reasons. Like Jack Cole, perhaps she too will speak out against the war on drugs. Maybe she'll wonder if some of the people she locked up weren't really that bad. Maybe she'll feel bad that some people are in prison because they were in bad situations and they trusted her. They thought she was their friend. And for all I know, she might have been their friend. And then she ratted them out.

That would be a heavy weight on my shoulders.


Anonymous said...

Throwing a police officer under the bus to promote your own pro-legalization agenda? How about considering that this officer may have been ordered not to compromise the investigation? Rather, you go right to accusing this officer of ladder-climbing. What a douchebag move on your part.

PCM said...

Local police officers should not be deep-undercover. They should not have to face those moral dilemmas and they should not be ordered to ignore physical child abuse. It is probably not legal. It is certainly not ethical.

Police officers do not have to follow illegal orders. At some point, every police officer should know where to draw the line. I would say watching a child be beat crosses that line.

Would I ever support deep undercover? Yes. But I'd prefer to leave it up the FBI. I would support deep undercover against a hard-to-infiltrate terrorist ring. And I would get a kick if it were used against rich people and white-collar criminals for a change.

But for local police fighting the war on drugs? Never. It's wrong. It's not fair to people living in a free society (including but not limited to issues of entrapment). And it's not fair to police officers individually or collectively.

PCM said...

From a comment by Christians Against Prohibition on a reprint of my blog post:

This speaks to me of a number of issues, like the wrong-headed notion that the ends justify the means.

I will write today about my own experiences in a similar situation.

And a few other strong statements I'll keep to myself.

Simple "Golden Rule" question… how would she feel if it was her kid or sister being beaten up and another person sworn to uphold peace, justice, etc… stood by and watched, or even egged it on, in order to give the appearance of being on the side of the abuser?

To me all of this speaks the enormous need to redefine our country's laws and "straighten the crooked." Our country's laws, in computer speak, are "spaghetti code." A dastardly and byzantine rats nest of endless patches on top of patches on top of patches. It's time for Occam's razor to do some serious surgery, maybe we'll rediscover our Founding Document under all those parasitic "laws."

Marc S. said...

Anon, do you really want to use the Nuremberg Defense?

PCM said...

In the early days of American policing (1845-1860), there was a lot of debate and battle about getting police officers into police uniforms. Police unsuccessfully resisted uniforms.

I think police wear uniforms for good reasons.

"Deep undercover" is another term for "secret police." It was a tool used by communist regimes.

I'm sure the East German Stasi individually weren't evil people. But they did evil things working for a evil system.

Secret police are a sign of totalitarianism. I think we should be very leery about going down that road. Maybe for special cases it's necessary. But it should not be standard operating procedure for police work in a democratic society.

David Bratzer said...

Thanks for sharing these two posts on the new blog - much appreciated. My own take is that if there is going to be undercover work, it should shift to activities that are not going to add to the unintended consequences of prohibition.

Instead of buying drugs, why not buy stolen property? Help a victim get their stuff back.

Instead buying drugs, why not buy guns? Improve public safety rather than destabilize it.