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by Peter Moskos

August 28, 2013

This is a big deal

This is far more radical than anything Judge Scheindlin ruled in her well publicized stop and frisk decision.
In a 3-2 decision (People v. Johnson is not long and worth reading in its entirety) the court managed to rule the following unconstitutional:
In a New York City Housing Authority building, which the testifying officer characterized as a "drug-prone" location, the officer observed defendant descending the stairs to the lobby. Upon seeing the police, defendant "froze," "jerked back," and appeared "as if he was going to go back up the stairs," although he never retreated up the stairs. The officer asked defendant to come downstairs, and defendant complied. The officer inquired whether defendant lived in the building, and defendant replied in the affirmative, whereupon the officer asked defendant to produce identification. Defendant immediately clarified that he was visiting his girlfriend, who lived in the building, and informed the officer that his identification was located in his pocket. As defendant moved his hands to retrieve it, the officer's partner grabbed defendant's left arm and pulled his hand behind his back, revealing a handgun inside defendant's coat pocket. The officer seized the gun and placed defendant under arrest.
Seems like good policing to me. This is from the dissent:
Defendant initially told the officers that he lived there. However, when asked for identification, he began to stutter, and changed his story to say that he was visiting his girlfriend. Although defendant stated that he had his identification in his pocket, he began moving his hands "all over the place, especially around his chest area," which the officers interpreted to be threatening and indicative of possession of a weapon. To "take control of the situation" before it could "get out of hand," an officer grabbed defendant's left arm and brought it behind defendant's back, which caused defendant's open jacket to open up further and reveal a silver pistol in the netted interior coat pocket. One officer removed the pistol from the pocket, and another handcuffed defendant.
You can also read the New York Times article.

What are police officers now allowed to do? Where exactly in this arrest did police overstep their bounds? I don't get it. The court said it had a problem not with subsequent stop and frisk, but with the initial questioning!? I cannot fathom (maybe somebody can explain to me) why this isn't covered under what is known as the "common-law right of inquiry." See, for instance, People v. Moore, which limited but defined that right.

I don't see how to downplay this decision and say it's no big deal (which is my usual reaction). If you were trying to get police to stop policing, telling officers they don't have the right to question suspicious (and, in the end, armed) suspects seems like the ideal way to do so.

August 27, 2013

IRB: The Censorship You've Never Heard Of

Unless you're an academic, of course. From Commentary and worth reading in its entirely (if you care about this sort of thing):
Since the 1970s, the government has overseen the establishment of bodies called Institutional Review Boards, and these “IRBs” have suppressed vast amounts of talking, printing, and publishing—even mere reading and analyzing—for hundreds of thousands of Americans. This is utterly unconstitutional, and in stifling research and its publication, it has proved deadly.


[thanks to the Institutional Review Blog]

August 26, 2013

"Police work is a thinking person's game"

It's worth highlighting this excellent comment to a previous post, from a anonymous police officer. You can file this under "if you don't work, you can't get in trouble."
What I've learned over my career, and what has frustrated me as a life-long progressively inclined citizen, is that despite all common sense and evidence to the contrary, well-meaning liberal types are stubbornly attached to this outdated narrative of white officers maliciously and illegally harassing innocent black men "doing nothing." As you just articulated, police work is a thinking person's game. Unfortunately the critics are often so blinded by ideology that to educate themselves on very basic police procedures which may illustrate, like you stated, that for professionals it's not all about race.

The real harm from this refusal to engage maturely with the subject matter is the effect this political pressure has on departments, and by extension the most vulnerable communities. I see officers putting blinders on and avoiding perfectly justified stops (not even grey area sophisticated, I'm talking straight probably cause) for fear of allegations of racism. It's more trouble to deal with the subsequent complaints that now accompanies meaningful proactive police work than to do the bare minimum. And of course, the crime rate sky rockets because the suspects are emboldened by de-policing and ideological cover. So once again, it's folks in the poor and predominately black neighborhoods, where the well-meaning liberal types don't have to live, that suffer.
It's too easy to be for "police accountability," whatever that means. Good intentions aren't enough. Hell, even I'm for police accountability at some very large level. But any "accountability" needs to result in better, not worse, policing. That may sound obvious, but it's not.

I'm curious to see how things are going to work out in NYC with potentially two new levels of "accountability" that will just happen to coincide with a new mayor and new police chief who will have to reap what Bloomberg and Kelly sowed. It is not inevitable that crime will go up! But next year the NYPD will have to choose to do right and continue to improve and police (and stop stops for stops' sake!) or curl-up into a ball and disengage.

If you create a system where an officer can get banged or sued for doing his or her job, don't be surprised when officers say, "I want to get promoted. I want to keep my pension. I'm not getting out of this car unless someone calls 911." Individual actors still act rationally in irrational systems. So-called accountability can all too easily lead to bureaucratic paralysis (for exactly how, see "the Anticorruption Project and the Pathologies of Bureaucracy" in Chapters 10 and 11 of Anechiarico and Jacobs's The Pursuit of Absolute Integrity.)

August 23, 2013

Since money grows on trees, why not?

New York City paid $167,731 for each prisoner last year. That's insane. Crazy high. And much higher than even the highest estimates I had heard. The New York Times reports "83 percent of the cost per prisoner came from wages, benefits for staff and pension costs." That means it's not going down anytime soon. Rikers Island is overstaffed (despite what Norman Seabrook says).

New York State averages $60,000 per prisoner. The national average cost is estimated to be over $31,000 per inmate.

August 22, 2013

"Council Overrules Bloomberg on Police Monitor and Profiling Suits"

So reports the Times. I would not have voted for this because it's perceived as anti-police, but once again, I say that Ray Kelly get what they had coming. You do work for the city, and you've shown nothing but scorn for those who try and make the NYPD better. The chickens coming home to roost and all that.

If the NYPD weren't so goddamned tone-def and oblivious -- not just oblivious but actively hostile to any constructive criticism and to the non-criminal residents (and academic researchers) of they city they work for -- this never would have happened.

For instance, quotas are illegal. They have been and continue to be. So the police brass invented the term "productivity goals" to hide a quota by any other name. But the rank-and-file officers aren't dumb. They know a quota when they get f*cked by one. Instead of being semantically clever the NYPD could have simply stopped using UF-250s as signs of "productivity."

I do hope this doesn't mark the turning point to the rise in crime. The shame is that if crime does go up, those who debated this law won't look changes in police practice but rather focus on all so-called "root causes" that have less to do with crime than any sociologists wants to admit.

If police stop policing, it would be horrible. And Ray Kelly will be out, so he won't be around to take the blame for the consequences of his actions. There's nothing in this law that lessons effective policing. It wasn't easy to get more police to start being real police in the 1990s. I suspect it will be much easier to get cops to stop working next year.

Of course crime doesn't have to go up. It's not inevitable. Stops can go down and crime can stay down. It happened last year (the NYPD gets kind of schizo explaining this seeming contradiction) because the stops that weren't made last year were probably not the ones based on honest police-honed suspicion.

If the NYPD weren't so damned closed to the city around them -- if the NYPD had simply stopped making so many stops and marijuana arrests before the shit hit the fan -- this never would happened. The NYPD can blame liberals in the city council. But really, they had it coming.

Sorry about the shooting, Brian, but it's not profiling if it's the totality of the circumstances

A few posts ago I linked to nice article by Brian Beutler. He explains very well how he didn't succumb to the "ecological fallacy" (of assuming what is true for the individual is true for the group, or vice versa) even after being held up and shot. I particularly like the line, "Everyone who’s ever shot me was black and wearing a hoodie. There just aren’t any reasonable inferences to draw from that fact."

But I've since heard Beutler on the radio (On Point with Tom Ashbrook, but I can't find the link to the segment). What I heard makes me think Beutler doesn't understand policing. And to say (I'm paraphrasing here) "I've been shot by two blacks guy and still don't think police should have stopped my shooters" is like a left-wing equivalent to the right-wing mindlessness of wrapping yourself in the flag and saying "September 11th!" whenever somebody considers that it may not be right for the US to kill or capture and imprison and/or torture some innocent person.

Beutler said that these two guys, the ones who shot him, were doing nothing that he and his friend weren't doing that night. So police had no reason to stop them. And if they had, it would have been racial profiling. But of course the two criminals were doing something that Beutler and his friend were not doing. The two black guys wearing hoodies were carrying a loaded gun and looking for people to mug. This intention matters because, as any street cop can tell you, it changes your behavior.

Cops are trained and have experience noticing things. I'm not talking about some vague "leave crime to the professionals" bullshit. I'm talking about concrete behavior that would give observant police officers reasonable suspicion to suspect and stop these thugs before Beutler got shot. That really is what we train and pay police to do.

Beutler, I assume, was going from point A to B. The criminals may have walking around the block, or back and forth on one block. The cops might have known of previous armed robberies in the area the past few days and been looking for two young black men who actually did match the description... or were the actually criminals pictures in a previous robbery.

A cop could have noticed the walking that is characteristic of a man carrying a gun in his pants: a sheltering hand, a favoring gait, a possessive pat, or a heavy weight in the pocket. A good police officer would also notice that the two criminals were very alert to their surroundings, their heads jerking in all directions while they walked with a practiced nonchalance that doesn't coincide with said hyper-vigilance. Or maybe the cop just know these two from a previous arrest.

Now none of these reasons alone may give police reason to stop a person (though a few of them would). But my point is a good cop could see many suspicious aspects of criminal behavior that a dumb-ass politically correct liberal would be oblivious to.

At some point the "totality of the circumstances" (Illinois v. Gates) allows a cop to build a case for the reasonable suspicion needed to make a legal stop. Had a good cop been there and done this, he could have preventing the the shooting of Beutler. The only thanks he may have received from Beutler was being called racist: "Why didn't you stop us, the white guys. I was doing the same thing they were."

But no, Brian, you weren't. And this is key: The criminals weren't (hypothetically) stopped because they were black. They were stopped because their behavior was suspicious in a way that would lead a reasonable police officer to suspect that they were about to mug somebody. Just because all you see is race may say more about you than it does about police.

August 19, 2013

We Got Another Kingpin! (12)

That's two in one month and it makes an even dozen.

"Eduardo Arellano Felix is to serve 15 years in jail, after pleading guilty to charges of money laundering," says the BBC. Though I don't know if this should really count since he's been in jail since 2008, and his nickname, "The Doctor," is kinda lame. But I'm still chalking him up because, well, he was a kingpin (or at least the accountant for one).

Check out the others.

Eduardo was the last of four brothers who ran the Mexican drug cartel known as the Arellano-Felix Organization. With all these kingpins gone, we can look back to the turning point in the drug war. Though today it's hard to conceive of how violent Mexico once was, back before we won the war on drugs.

Busting the Polygraph Busters

The feds are really going after people who tell how and why lie detector tests are flawed?! Does anybody know what the actual crime these people are being charged with?

I always tell my students that anybody who ever has to take a polygraph test buy and read Doug Williams's manual on why the test is flawed and how to pass it. I did. I passed. Best $20 you could possible spend (and cheaper than what I paid for it, I think).

Lie detectors are, and I can't say this too strongly, bullshit. That's why they're not admissible in court. That's why employers can't give them to you as a condition of employment (the government naturally exempted themselves). You don't take the test for the NYPD, but you do for the feds and Baltimore (at least in 1999).

The basic problem with the lie detector test is this -- brace yourself here: the lie detector test does not know if you are lying. How could it? And if you think about it, that's a pretty major flaw for a lie detector test. Results are based on a pseudo-science that may or may not be more reliable than phrenology.

Here's why it matters -- and pay attention -- you can easily tell the truth and fail a polygraph test (and vice versa). That's why you should never go into a lie detector test unprepared. If you're taking the test, you need to pass. You can't leave it to chance and the mindset of some idiot who makes a living administering a flawed test.

[There's one situation where a lie detector test is useful: if one person knows the specifics of a crime, those details could be used to indicate who was involved and who wasn't. But this isn't how the test is used as a condition for employment in law enforcement.]

This American Life did a nice segment on the polygraph back in 2005. Definitely worth listening to, if you care about such matters. It doesn't tell you how to pass the test (use Doug Williams for that), but This American Life does illustrate the absurdity of the the test and the pitfalls of failing!

Stop & Frisk: They Had It Coming

A (cop) friend in Baltimore asked me with regard to stop and frisk: "What the hell is going on?" I emailed back:
You know, leaving aside the decision was entirely predicable based on the judge not exactly being a friend of police, her decision is actually kind of mild. All she f*cking asks is for cops to stop making illegal stops. It's really not too much to ask for.

The idea that cops can stop and search (because we both know how frisks can turn into searches) somebody and not even have/be able to articulate reasonable suspicion is absurd (because we both know how easy it is to articulate reasonable suspicion). They have these stupid forms in NYC (called UF-250s) and all the officer has to do is check a box -- no writing required, because the forms were made to be idiot proof, which helps turn some cops into idiots -- saying "furtive gesture" or something. It is a little absurd.

A few months ago she instructed politely, and the police department ignored her. The NYPD got what they were asking for. They refuse to rational engage/debate even with people who don't hate cops. So now they get some smart-ass judge telling them what to do. Kelly had it coming.

I think the NYPD could reduce stop and frisks by 75% without any impact on crime -- because probably 75% are quota driven and not based on valid suspicion, but instead are based on the end of the work period, not having 5 UF-250s that month, and worried that the sgt will chew you a new asshole. So you stop the first young guy in baggy jeans that walks by (who happens to be black).

What worries me is what will happen if the cops stop doing that last 25%, the stop and frisks that are actually based on reasonable suspicion. Then shootings will go up.
I still haven't gotten my head around the federal monitor, however. And I'm kind of excited about the pilot camera program. I can't imagine it will work well, but if it does it should help police tremendously, despite what police fear. Ten years ago I was against cameras (I think), but technology has moved forward. Cameras are there whether cops like or not. So it's good to have a camera with a police POV.

[Update: this is worth reading, by John Timoney. On the plus side (though he presents it as a negative) look at all the overtime cops are likely to get!]

Related, there's an excellent piece in Salon by Brian Beutler, "What I learned from getting shot." Walking down the street in D.C., Beutler was held up by two black guys in hoodies and then shot three times. He was very lucky to live:
I didn’t buy a gun, though several well-wishers seemed to think that night would’ve ended better if I’d been armed and had initiated a saloon-style shootout in the middle of the street. Other well-wishers wondered — let’s not sugarcoat it — if the experience had turned me into a racist.

Those emails were easy to respond to.

[Kal] Penn got in trouble for touting the supposed merits of New York’s stop-and-frisk policy. To the objection that the policy disproportionately targets blacks and Latinos, he responded, “And who, sadly, commits & are victims of the most crimes?”

But that’s a non sequitur. A false rationale. Take people’s fear out of the equation and the logical artifice collapses. Canadians are highly overrepresented in the field of professional ice hockey, but it would be ridiculous for anyone to walk around Alberta presumptively asking strangers on the street for autographs. When you treat everyone as a suspect, you get a lot of false positives. That’s why above and beyond the obvious injustice of it, stop and frisk isn’t wise policy. Minorities might commit most of the crime in U.S. cities, and be the likeliest victims of it, and that’s a problem with a lot of causes that should be addressed in a lot of ways. But crime is pretty rare. Not rare like being a professional hockey player is rare. But rare. Most people, white or minority, don’t do it at all.
...
Everyone who’s ever shot me was black and wearing a hoodie. There just aren’t any reasonable inferences to draw from that fact.

And file this under Right Wing Lies (VIII). There's an ad in the Greek-American paper, the National Herald, for John Catsimatidis. He's a Republican running for mayor. The ad shouts: "DON'T BLINDFOLD OUR POLICE!" And there's even a picture of a ranking officer violating rules by mis-wearing a uniform for a political ad (those are two separate violations). The ad is about The Community Safety Act, a not very significant anti-profiling bill passed by the New York City Council. Catsimatidis says, and it's presented as a quote:
The Community Safety Act is nuts
and should be called the Community UNSAFETY Act.
If somebody robs a bank in your neighborhood,
You can't say if the suspect is ASIAN, BLACK, WHITE, or HISPANIC.
You can't say if the person is MALE or FEMALE.
You can't say if the person is 20 OR 60 YEARS OLD.
THIS MAKES NO COMMON SENSE.
Leave Law Enforcement up to COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY
and the professionals of the NYPD
The problem, and I bet you can see where I'm going with this, is that those statements are bald-faced lies. The law is about police profiling. Of course you can describe a suspect. Shame on Cats, the lying Greek.

But I can picture Greek grandmother in my neighborhood. She always suspected those Democrats loved crime and supported criminals. And now she knows it to be true because she read Yannis say it in the Herald.

August 3, 2013

Amsterdam Police Gay Pride

People are always tickled to see the police boat representing at the annual Amsterdam gay pride boat parade.




What's unusual about this photo isn't that hundreds of thousands (including every straight family I know) turn out for the gay pride parade in Amsterdam, it's that there's a blue sky.

No city is as beautiful as Amsterdam in the sun with little puffy clouds. It happens at least twenty times a year. 

(Photo by Pep Rosenfeld, copied from facebook)

August 1, 2013

Now This News

Short video on the problem of opiate painkillers. I get my two-cents in at about three minutes in.

Ironically, I may have been or Percocet while being interviewed!