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by Peter Moskos

October 31, 2013

Shira Scheindlin Stop & Frisk Smackdown

I'm in beautiful Sydney. Spring is in the air and the birds make funny sounds just to remind me that I'm on the other side of the planet. Despite my focus on the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, I couldn't help but notice that everything Judge Scheindlin decided regarding stop and frisk has been put on hold! The New York Times reports:
A federal appeals court on Thursday halted a sweeping set of changes to the New York Police Department’s policy of stopping and frisking people on the street, and, in strikingly personal terms, criticized the trial judge’s conduct in the litigation and removed her from the case.
“In taking these actions, we intimate no view on the substance or merits of the pending appeals,” the two-page order stated.
In its ruling, the panel ... criticiz[ed] the judge for improperly applying a “related-case rule” to bring the stop-and-frisk case under her purview.  
This is a fair smackdown of the judge. For a judge with a strong opinion on a case to make sure she gets a case so that her decision becomes law of the land makes a mockery of the concept of an independent judiciary. I mean, we all knew how she was going to rule.

In an age of political cynicism, I'm actually thrilled to see that such shenanigans are not the way the system is supposed to work. And the system self corrected. (though it seems like this should have been decided before she heard the whole case.)

I might be the only person in the world who agrees with this reprimand and (most of) her original decision. (And I still hope the cameras on cops pilot program proceeds.)

Terry v. Ohio. Happy 50th Anniverary, Detective McFadden!

Fifty years ago today on the streets of downtown Cleveland, Detective Martin McFadden, plain-clothed and without a walkie-talkie (two-way radios didn't become standard for another decade) stopped and arrested John Terry and two other guys after observing them casing a storefront for United Airlines.

This arrest lead to the landmark 1968 Supreme Court Case of Terry v. Ohio (the two poor other guys unremembered). In an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court made perhaps the most pro-police decision of the 20th century.

I love the the original police report filed by Detective McFadden. Sure, the report is filled with typos and corrections (and "colored" was just the polite term back then), but it's a great police report. Who would have imagined that not only would we remember it fifty years later, but that it would be taught in college courses?

Detective McFadden wrote perhaps the best arrest report/statement of probable cause I've ever read. He doesn't just say he was suspicious of these two guys. He explains, in great and explicit detail -- ie: he articulates the totality of the circumstances -- just what made him suspicious. He builds a scene of three men about to rob a business. McFadden paints a picture.

Why, after reading this report, how could one not be suspicious of the actions of these three gentleman?

Then, and without backup or a radio, Detective McFadden pushes these guys against a wall, pats them down, and finds two illegal guns. Finally, the good officer gets somebody in the store to call police.

Talk about "real police"!

But here's the problem: Detective McFadden did not have "probable cause" to think these guys were armed. And how can you search somebody without probable cause? The Fourth Amendment is pretty clear about this matter. But it certain makes sense, as a police officer stopping these guys, to fear that they might be armed and to check and make sure they're not, or disarm them if they are. But the case went to court, asking if the gun seizure was constitutional and legal even without probable cause or a warrant?

The Court said yes.

In doing so, the Supreme Court invented the concept of "reasonable suspicion" in which an officer may pat down the outer clothing of a suspect for weapons in order to ensure the officer's safety. It's hard -- actually impossible -- to imagine policing without Terry v. Ohio.

The Court concluded, in affirming a lower court's decision:
Purely for his own protection, the court held, the officer had the right to pat down the outer clothing of these men, who he had reasonable cause to believe might be armed. The court distinguished between an investigatory 'stop' and an arrest, and between a 'frisk' of the outer clothing for weapons and a full-blown search for evidence of crime. The frisk, it held, was essential to the proper performance of the officer's investigatory duties, for without it 'the answer to the police officer may be a bullet, and a loaded pistol discovered during the frisk is admissible.'
And yet it's important to remember the words of the lone dissenting judge, Justice Douglas, in this eight-to-one affirmation:
The opinion of the Court disclaims the existence of 'probable cause.' If loitering were in issue and that was the offense charged, there would be 'probable cause' shown. But the crime here is carrying concealed weapons; and there is no basis for concluding that the officer had 'probable cause' for believing that that crime was being committed. Had a warrant been sought, a magistrate would, therefore, have been unauthorized to issue one, for he can act only if there is a showing of 'probable cause.' We hold today that the police have greater authority to make a 'seizure' and conduct a 'search' than a judge has to authorize such action. We have said precisely the opposite over and over again.
To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path. Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern forms of lawlessness. But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment....

There have been powerful hydraulic pressures throughout our history that bear heavily on the Court to water down constitutional guarantees and give the police the upper hand. That hydraulic pressure has probably never been greater than it is today.

Yet if the individual is no longer to be sovereign, if the police can pick him up whenever they do not like the cut of his jib [his style], if they can 'seize' and 'search' him in their discretion, we enter a new regime. The decision to enter it should be made only after a full debate by the people of this country.
Happy 50th Anniversary!

October 25, 2013

Waltzing Matilda

Should you just happen to be in Sydney next week, wonder over to the Opera House and check out the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. I'll be there, spreading dangerous thoughts about flogging and the war on drugs.

Did I mention they're flying me over there all fancy? Like in business class? Classy, those Aussies are!

It should be a blast.

October 19, 2013

And no thanks to the PBA

The PBA is the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. One of the two police unions (I was FOP, which for some reason I still think is slightly better in actually caring about public safety).

A representative of the PBA recently came to roll calls in New York City and told police officers to stop stopping anybody. If crime does go up, don't expect the union to hold itself accountable.

October 17, 2013

The Intellegence of the NYPD's Demographics Unit

I am a day late and a dollar short on this, because these AP reports on the NYPD Intelligence Division "Demographics Unit" came out in 2011 and 2012 (mostly when I was out of the country). The reports are from 2006, but only now am I fully appreciating them. Here's New York Magazine's more recent take on the whole operation. Of course the NYPD has a long tradition of mapping "seditious ethnic groups," so it's not exactly earth-shattering news. (Less traditional is spying on student organization at my school.)

The NYPD went out and collected (very basic) information on groups of Muslim immigrants. Here are the reports on those from Egypt, Syria, and Albania. Some, myself included, might say that the NYPD should know where different groups hang out. Indeed, at a very basic level this should be considered very basic police knowledge. Too bad they get it wrong.

Any actual beat officer would know this information. Just as people who live in the neighborhood do. But apparently the NYPD lacks day-to-day knowledge of the communities they serve and protect, so they have to rely on undercover officers to "rake" the community. This is wrong. As is much of the information the NYPD gathered.

I could have told the NYPD information about the locations in my neighborhood (including a place near me they missed because it's a few blocks away from where "they" usually hang out).

The report expressly says it excluded Egyptian Christians from surveillance. So it's explicitly a religious witch hunt, but the dumb "intel" officers include a lot of Christian places by mistake. Apparently the "rakers" who are supposed to keep us safe from Muslim extremists can't tell the difference between Christians and Muslims. They all look Arab, I suppose.

And the facts about the country in question are so mindlessly copied from the web that we get to read about the "richness of the annual Nile river flood." I'm surprised there wasn't clip art of the pyramids.

Naturally the first place I looked up was the place I know best: Kabab Cafe. The owner, Ali, is a friend of mine.

I can tell you a lot about Kabab Cafe, but I'm not a trained and active "intel" officer. So what did the NYPD's Demographics Unit come up with? For starters, they misspelled the name of the restaurant. It's Kabab with two A's. And they got the address wrong. It's located at 25-12 Steinway. Good work, guys. Maybe next time check out a Zagat Guide.

The "ethnic groups" that might be found at said location of interest? "Egyptian, Palestinians, Syrians, Moroccans, and Lebanese." That's also wrong. Ali does draw a diverse crowd, but his place is not an Arab hangout. Truth be told, at $30 to $50 per person, this place is kind of pricey for Queens. If I had to categorize, I'd say those who dine at Kabab Cafe are predominantly "hipsters" and "Jews."

And the "local flyers and community events posted inside"? No. Not there. Unless you think that's what the anti-Mubarak poster is.

The NYPD lists my friend as an "Egyptian male." That's arguably correct, even though he's non-religious and has been an American citizen longer than I've been alive.

It's amazing that so much incorrect information can be packed into just 35 words of "intel"!

But that's not all. The business is listed as a "take-out restaurant," which happens to be wrong. If you ask politely Ali will do take-out, but it's not really his gig.

You'd learn a lot more reading about his restaurant in the New York Times or New York Magazine. Or perhaps you saw Ali on TV, as he was featured in Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern's TV show . He also starred in an episode of Jammie Oliver's American Road Trip (an episode that also features my wife, just braggin').

Across Steinway Street is another place, listed as "Egyptian Cafe." My wife tells me that's not the name of the place, which is clearly written in Arabic. But my wife reads Arabic, which apparently the "rakers" didn't (though maybe they did, in which case they're just really really stupid). Also, this Queens location is listed as being in Brooklyn.

Why is Kabab Cafe a "location of interest"? Naturally, "detectives gravitated toward the best food." I would. New York reported:
It nagged [Lieutenant] Berdecia to see his talented detectives sitting around eating kebabs and buying pastries, hoping to stumble onto something. If it was worth writing up a report, it was worth conducting an investigation. “It irritated me to send a lot of second-grade detectives and first-grade detectives to sit in coffee shops with nothing going on. If we hear something, then let’s do more proactive police work. Let’s run plates. Let’s follow guys.” But as the years passed under Berdecia’s supervision, the Demographics Unit never built a single case. “It was a bunch of bullshit,” Berdecia said.
Now of course my friend isn't a terrorist, and he's got nothing to hide. So no harm done, right? Except the information gathered by the NYPD is completely and comically wrong. And that is potentially harmful.

So I don't know what bothers me more, that the NYPD spies on people solely on their perceived religion and nothing else, or that the NYPD has done so with such complete and total incompetence. I mean, how can I focus on the morality and constitutionality of the Demographics Unit if they can't even spell the names right and write down the correct address?!

But short of some fact checking (have they heard of google?), this police work should not be done undercover. No police work should be done undercover unless it has to be. Not only does does a uniform or badge make the difference between honest police work and a secret state security apparatus, but undercover officers are less effective. If you want basic information, you need a beat cop (or a resident) who has an eye, an ear, and half a brain.

But how, you might say, would police discover terrorist plots while walking the beat in uniform? Good question. First, good people might actually talk to police, if only they saw police to talk to. This is how the NYPD foiled the 1997 subway bombing that wasn't. People snitch. This is how most big arrests are made. And it's a bit harder to feel the love if you're being spied on, which is what you call secret police work based on no actual suspicion of criminal wrong doing.

Second, the secret Demographic Unit didn't uncover any plots. The latter point is important -- perhaps not a moral and constitutional level -- but certainly an operational and police level.

The only actual "intel" from this report seems to be which of these places believed to be run by or cater to Muslims watch Arabic-language Al-Jezeera news on TV. Well, I hate to break it to you Fox News believers, but Al-Jezeera is an actual news channel. And truth be told, it's a pretty good one.

Just because Al-Jezeera has an Arabic name does not mean it is a terrorist organization. That might be the real take-home lesson.

Baby Hope

Good work by the NYPD:
October 14th, 2013


On July 23rd, 1991, twenty-two years ago, the body of a four-year-old girl was found in a cooler off the Henry Hudson Parkway. She had been starved and sexually assaulted. Despite a citywide appeal, the 34th Precinct Detective Squad was unable to locate her relatives. All leads were soon exhausted without even learning her name. Using their own funds, the squad bought her a burial plot and a headstone. On the day she was buried, they Christened her Baby Hope.

As life in a city of eight million people went on, the men and women responsible for Baby Hope’s memory never forgot about her. At the time, Assistant Chief Joseph Reznick was the 34th Precinct Detective Squad commander. No matter where his career took him, he would return to Baby Hope’s grave each year to collect evidence from the flowers and memorials left there. Each year, investigators would canvass neighborhoods in an attempt to locate witnesses or her relatives. In 2006, her body was exhumed to profile her DNA. Whenever he spoke to new detectives and executives, the chief would remind them that so long as Baby Hope’s case was unsolved, we could not consider our work done. The effort spanned careers and lifetimes.

On Saturday, October 12th, 2013, a man was arrested for the murder of Baby Hope. The case broke when a CrimeStoppers tip led to a witness who wanted to share what she knew after years of silence. What followed was the culmination a careful and thorough investigation, the type that our detectives are known for. It pointed towards one person: Baby Hope’s cousin. The suspect, 51, was apprehended at his job as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Greenwich Village. He went on to make statements to detectives implicating himself in the murder.

Please take a moment to reflect on what Baby Hope’s case signifies. The promise to deliver justice to New Yorkers is only as good as the men and the women who keep it. As long as our leaders are relentlessness, our detectives have patience and compassion, and the Department perseveres with even its oldest cases, there can be hope for justice. NYPD detectives have once again lived up to their reputation as being “The Greatest Detectives in the World.” Twenty-two years later, a man will be held to account for the rape and murder of one of our city’s youngest and most helpless victims, a child abandoned by her own family. Her name, we have learned, was Anjelica Castillo.

October 5, 2013

Can you say "Contagion Shooting"?

They then opened fire. The authorities would not estimate how many rounds were discharged. Mr. Gainer, the sergeant-at-arms, said he believed that five to seven officers had fired.

Possible Clues in Fatal Chase, but No Motive -- Miriam Carey Was in Car When Police Fired, Official Says

Union Effin' Power!

Do Carnegie Hall stage hands really make $400,000 a year? I first thought this was some urban right-wing anti-labor myth (I was all ready to file this under "right-wing lies").

But actually, well, they do. (Or at least close to it.) Holy sh*t!

Susan Adams of Forbes wrote this great piece explaining the why.

In short, why do they make so much money? For the same reason dogs lick their... boo-yah: Because they can!

Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director pulled in $1,113,571. Why not complain about that?

These aren't government employees. You don't pay their salary (unless you're a patron of Carnegie Hall). So just what makes you so upset? These are skilled private workers. And, unlike some manual labor, actually, no, you cannot do their job.

Think of it this way: why is it OK for baseball players and executives to make as much as they can... but as soon as people who actually work and sweat for a living make as much as they can, people start bitching.

John Hammergren. Ever heard of him? Me neither. But he was paid $131 million last year. His net income was more than $1 billion! What the f*ck?! Michael Fascitelli? Doesn't ring a bell. And he lost his shareholders money last year while being "compensated" $64 million (his net income? $830 million). George Paz? Maybe him I should know him. Because he's the CEO of Express Scripts. That's the annoying company that makes me mail-order my asthma medicine and charges me too much for the inconvenience. This is the kind of medicine, like most medicine, that is cheaper when I buy it without "insurance" while traveling in foreign countries. Mr. Paz also lost money for his shareholders last year. Meanwhile his "compensation" was $51.5 million (with a net income of $1.29 billion). About $1,000 of that is mine, motherf*cker!

So more power to the Local One for making buko dough! Don't be a hater just because you're jealous. Just tax the high-earning SOBs! And if you want to make more money for your work (and who doesn't?), perhaps you should start supporting rather than breaking your local unions.

And, just for the record, the stage hands were not striking over money. They were striking to defend the strength of the union that has given them so much power. And, in my humble opinion, the settlement seems fair.