About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

December 31, 2014

Blue Flu (II): Arrest "only when you need to"

Conor Friedersdorf has a excellent piece in The Atlantic, "The NYPD's Insubordination—and Why the Right Should Oppose It." [And just for the record I did scoop the New York Post, albeit only be a few hours.] There's lot here that doesn't fit in our normal political divide. And I love that cognitive dissonance!

You've got union blue-collar workers, and the left that hate them. You've got union blue-collar workers, and the right says that says they can do no wrong. You've got an elected mayor cops (many non-residents) are saying doesn't represent the people of New York City (De-legitimize the mayor -- even though De Blasio got more votes than Bloomberg ever did). And you've a police union that other unions (mine included) do not like and insist is not a real union (de-legitimize the workers' voice). You've got some cops who would love to see crime go up, just to prove their anti-liberal political point. And these same cops aren't working too hard in the name of safety. Even though the worst thing for cop safety would be an increase in crime.

I love it when my head hurts!

And then you've got the Zero Tolerance vs. Broken Windows angle. This is important and will probably get lost in the shuffle. But right now the police are doing exactly what opponents of police (though they would prefer to be known as supporters of police reform...) have been advocating for years: having police do less. Because if you see police as overly aggressive tools (or, more extremely, state-sponsored tools of oppression) who do more harm than good, you welcome a police slowdown. If you think police have little or nothing to do with crime -- and many academics, generally those who hate Broken Windows, still believe this (it all goes back to root causes and society) -- there's no downside to fewer arrests and tickets. (Though I don't want to be too dismissive about fewer arrests and tickets. I'm all for police discretion and more informal enforcement of public order.)

A lot of what the NYPD has been doing the past decade or so is Zero Tolerance: write tickets, stop people, arrest people, no discretion. A lot of what police need to do is Broken Windows: problem solve, identify quality of life issues, reduce public fear, maintain public order, cite and arrest as a last resort.

If you, like me, think police matter, then you want the good without the bad. It's not easy, but it's certainly possible. You want police maintaining public order without stopping people without good causes. You want police discretion without police quotas (also known as "productivity goals"). You actually don't care so much about response time and are more interested in anything that gets police out of cars and dealing with the public -- good people and criminals alike.

So if cops stop making arrests that aren't absolutely necessary. That's fine with me. Arrests should never be a measure of police productivity! But if police stop policing.... well, that would be bad.

From Friedersdorf's piece, here's Scott Shackford from Reason.com:
Well, we can only hope the NYPD unions and de Blasio settle their differences soon so that the police can go back to arresting people for reasons other than "when they have to." The NYPD’s failure to arrest and cite people will also end up costing the city huge amounts of money that it won’t be able to seize from its citizens, which is likely the real point. That’s the "punishment" for the de Blasio administration for not supporting them. One has to wonder if they even understand, or care, that their "work stoppage" is giving police state critics exactly what they want-- less harsh enforcement of the city’s laws.
And here is Friedersdorf's take on that:
That's how some policing reformers see it. Others, like me, don't object to strictly enforcing laws against, say, public urination, traffic violations, or illegal parking, but would love it if the NYPD stopped frisking innocents without probable cause or even reasonable suspicion, needlessly escalating encounters with civilians, and (especially) killing unarmed people, goals that are perfectly compatible with data-driven policing that targets actual disorder. Keep squeegee men at bay–and leave innocent black and Hispanic men alone.
That last sentence there is good. And Friedersdorf concludes (read the whole thing):
The right should greet [pro-police rallies] with the skepticism they'd typically summon for a rally on behalf of government workers as they seek higher pay, new work rules, and more generous benefits. What's unfolding in New York City is, at its core, a public-employee union using overheated rhetoric and emotional appeals to rile public employees into insubordination. The implied threat to the city's elected leadership and electorate is clear: cede leverage to the police in the course of negotiating labor agreements or risk an armed, organized army rebelling against civilian control. Such tactics would infuriate the right if deployed by any bureaucracy save law enforcement opposing a left-of-center mayor.

It ought to infuriate them now. Instead, too many are permitting themselves to be baited into viewing discord in New York City through the distorting lens of the culture war, so much so that Al Sharpton's name keeps coming up as if he's at the center of all this. Poppycock. Credit savvy police union misdirection. They're turning conservatives into their useful idiots. If the NYPD succeeds in bullying De Blasio into submission, the most likely consequence will be a labor contract that cedes too much to union negotiators, whether unsustainable pensions of the sort that plague local finances all over the U.S., work rules that prevent police commanders from running the department efficiently, or arbitration rules that prevent the worst cops from being fired. Meanwhile, Al Sharpton will be fine no matter what happens. Will the law-and-order right remain blinded by tribalism or grasp the real stakes before it's too late? Look to National Review and City Journal before laying odds.

It's New Years Eve

Stay under cover and safe till all the bullets land.

December 29, 2014

Blue Flu

Word on the street is that NYPD summonses are down almost 95% and arrests by two-thirds since officers Ramos and Liu were killed (and the PBA was vocal with their opinion).

Let's see what impact this has on crime. It would be interesting if the answer were zero. But since I believe police matter, I don't think this is good.

But what I don't get -- along with the immoral nature of telling cops not to do their job -- is that the best assurance for police officer safety is low crime. Right now so many police officers (and unions) want crime to go up. Many police would be happy to see the city go to hell just to stick it to liberals in general and De Blasio in particular. I don't like that. More crime means more hurt cops. And I'm not willing to accept that.

All that said, I'm a quit sympathetic to cops actually "following the rules." The public doesn't realize how absurd so many rules are. Pick up a copy of the Patrol Guide ("General Orders" in Baltimore), if you can (it's heavy). Rules are not there for effective policing or crime prevention, but rather to arbitrarily punish cops when the department wants to get you. Rules don't tell police what to do. They're just all the ways you can get in trouble if you piss off the wrong person.

It's not fair to expect and ask cops to violate the rules some of the time (and I'm talking about rules, not laws). I'm for anything that brings together formal and informal rules. So yes, inspect those cars as required. Fill out all the paperwork. Wait for supervising officers to sign God knows what. But for God's sake, answer your calls!

December 27, 2014

RIP Officer Rafael Ramos

NYPD Officer Ramos was just buried. Here is Commissioner Bratton's
eulogy.

In honor of Officer Ramos, I'm reprinting some of what I've written about police funerals in Baltimore. I went to too many of them:
Twenty months in Baltimore wasn’t very long, but it was long enough to see five police officers killed in the line of duty. And there were other cops, friends of mine, who were hurt, shot, and lucky to live. A year after I quit the force, my friend and academy classmate became the first Baltimore policewoman killed in the line of duty, dying in a car crash on the way to back up another police officer.

Crystal Sheffield patrolled opposite me in the Western District. Occasionally I would switch my radio over to the Western District channel to see what she was up to. When she died, I returned to Baltimore, hitched a ride in a police car from the train station to the funeral, and stood in the cold rain at attention in my civilian clothes with my uniformed fellow officers. Police funerals are one of the few events that bring together law enforcement personnel. Funerals give meaning to that often clich├ęd concept of Blue Brotherhood. At an officer’s funeral, police-car lights flash as far as the eye can see. Thousands of police officers wearing white gloves and black bands on their badges stand at attention. Guns are fired in salute. Bagpipes are played. A flag is folded. The coffin is lowered into the ground.

At the end of a Baltimore police funeral, a dispatcher from headquarters calls for the fallen officer over all radio channels. The response, of course, is silence. After the third attempt the dispatcher states the officer is “10- 7.” Ten-seven is the rather unsentimental radio code for “out of service.” Ten-seven usually refers to a car, an officer handling a call, or an anonymous murder victim on the street. To hear your friend and colleague described as 10-7 is heartbreaking. In this way the few officers left working the streets know the burial is complete.

A few seconds later a routine drug call is dispatched or one bold officer reclaims the radio airwaves for some mundane police matter. A car stop. A warrant check. A request for a case number. The show goes on. Sometimes it just don’t make sense.

December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Especially to everybody who has to work today.

One of my friends wanted to work overtime. He said, "All I want for Christmas is a robbery collar!" Here's hoping Santa brings one right to him.

Stay safe.

December 24, 2014

Police Shooting Kids

Here I am on NPR's "Morning Edition" flapping my mouth about the shooting of Tamir Rice (Cleveland kid killed by police while holding a realistic-looking BB gun):
[Moskos] says mayors everywhere walk a tightrope between police and citizen outrage. He says the public needs to get more realistic about how the police work. And police need to be less tone deaf to how their actions can inflame the public. The fundamental challenge for mayors, Moskos says, is a willingness to make big changes when police shootings aren't warranted.
This also applies to NYC, by the way. But I really don't like hearing myself speak (seriously, I think my voice is kind of high and nasal). The voice I liked hearing came from the Cleveland mayor:
I do not want children to die at the hand of police officers. But at the same time, I don't want a policeman killed on the street because he was hesitating because he didn't know if he was going to be sued or fired. So I don't want that either.
Who's got a problem with that? [And yet I bet you -- and I really have no idea about him or Cleveland -- but I bet you that most Cleveland cops hate their mayor. Why? Because he's a liberal black mayor of Cleveland. But I really have no idea if he's hated, liberal, or even black. I can't even guarantee he's he mayor.] Now I was pretty clear about what I thought about the shooting of Tamir Rice (good shooting in the legal sense; horrible and shameful shooting in the I-live-in-America sense).

So if I had one word for police officers, who, for good reason, feel they need to defend officers in these situations (hell, I do), at least be enough of a human being to admit the obvious: "You know what, it's really horrible that a 12-year-old kid holding a non-lethal gun got shot and killed in America."

Just say what you're feeling. It would go a long way. And it's not anti-police to feel a bit for a 12-year-old shot dead by police.

And to those who can't fathom how police could shoot and kill a 12-year-kid, consider that this kid was holding a fucking gun! (Or at least something that no reasonable person could distinguish from a real bullet-firing gun.) And then consider of the words of the honorable mayor of Cleveland: "I don't want a policeman killed on the street because he was hesitating because he didn't know if he was going to be sued or fired."

December 23, 2014

De Blasio and Police (I)

I previously wrote about how liberals generally don't quite understand why some, police included, had problems with his over-paid Jersey-living shacked-up-with-a-cop-hating-felon wife's former chief of staff. De Blasio, like many non-working-class liberals, is pretty clueless about policing and police officers. Leonard Levitt said it on politico:
His words and his deeds don’t match... You had Noerdlinger’s son calling cops ‘pigs’ and de Blasio doesn’t think that’s inappropriate? What message are you sending? De Blasio says it’s just the union guys who are angry. It’s not. It’s everybody. I’ve been covering this for 25 years and I have never seen anything like it. … The mayor doesn’t have a clue.
From Levitt's column:
Let’s recall what de Blasio has done.

--He embraced the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the most polarizing figures in the city, whom the mayor has called “the most important civil rights leader in the country.”

--He refused to criticize Sharpton’s former spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger while serving as his wife’s $170,000-a-year chief of staff, despite her boyfriend’s and son’s social-media rants calling cops “pigs.”

--He greenlighted a $40 million settlement to five black men, who, although wrongly convicted of raping the Central Park jogger in 1989, were nonetheless beating up others in the park the night of her rape and perhaps beat her as well.

--He boasted of telling his son, Dante, that as a biracial teenager he must be wary in encounters with police.
There's also running for election being against quota-based stop, question, and frisk. Of course lost in the de Blasio hatred is the fact that de Blasio was right about stop and frisks. Quota-based stop, question, and frisk was wrong. And cops knew this. And cops didn't like being pressured to produce 250s! But because de Blasio spoke out against them as a liberal, he was perceived as anti-cop (it's a bit more complicated than than, of course). Cops also thought that, even wished that, crime would increase. No matter, now we have fewer stops and less crime. Win-win!

I don't think de Blasio hates cops. He wants better policing, like all of us. He comes from a liberal world and doesn't understand working class culture. He does understand African-American culture (which is also less anti-police than most police believe). He embraces liberal social and racial justice causes (which are also less anti-police than most police believe). But ultimately it's de Blasio's embrace of Sharpton, the boogey man of policing, that means he will never be forgiven, much less liked, by the majority of police officers.

December 22, 2014

Thinking beyond "the Thin Blue Line"

Read my whole piece at CNN:
Most citizens can be forgiven for going through their day without thinking of anarchy or barbarians storming the gates. But many police, especially in New York City, see themselves as a thin blue line besieged by both a liberal and criminal world, neither of which they particularly like or understand. Large protests, especially when they're anti-police, solidify this belief because police see firsthand just how thin their blue line actually is.

Police know they are outnumbered and sometimes outgunned, even while presenting a front of dominance and control.

December 21, 2014

"Right now there's nothing I'd rather be than a Brooklyn cop"

A friend (and former student) of mine, Officer Musorov, just posted this on facebook. You might see him on the streets of Crown Heights. He makes me proud!
"When the Rhetoric of scandal -- rogue cops, racist cops, and so on -- becomes the received idea, when we are so engrossed by exceptions that they seem like rules, we still send cops out, in ones and twos, into angry crowds, fighting families, and darkened alleys, though stripped of a measure of defense" -Edward Conlon

The above statement was written seven years ago, but it's just as true today as it ever was. I'm not going to blame anybody for what happened today, except the person that pulled that trigger. But when you have had weeks of people on the streets chanting that they want dead cops, it creates an atmosphere that leads to just that. Nobody should kid themselves and think that rhetoric like that cannot possibly harm us. Anywhere in this city, if somebody calls us, we will come. That's ALWAYS dangerous, but especially so when you have people literally calling for blood on the streets.

But anybody who thinks they can intimidate any of us should think again. We will still answer every call for service as we always have. I work with some of the greatest people ever, and right now there's nothing I'd rather be than a Brooklyn cop.

Thank you to everyone who extended their sympathies, and thank you to my extended family in the 71, who I know I can always count on.

NYPD vs. DeBlasio

Cops turning their back on Mayor DeBlasio.

December 20, 2014

Two Officers Down

Shot and killed. Ambushed in their car in Brooklyn. Earlier the killer shot his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore.

December 17, 2014

"If you point a gun at a police officer..."

I mention this article by Peter Katel in CQ Researcher (alas, behind a pay wall) because, along with lots of good stuff, there's a quote I wasn't expecting coming from my man Norm "a liberal critic of much police strategy" Stamper:
A video of the [Tamir Rice] shooting — showing a police car driving up next to the boy, who was shot two seconds later — demonstrates that the shooting never had to happen, Stamper concludes, saying the officer could have taken cover behind his car and evaluated the situation more calmly.

"A more mature, experienced, confident police officer would have better understood what he was facing,” Stamper says.

At the same time, he says Rice’s parents never should have let him outside with a replica pistol, and schools and police should ensure that children know an essential fact of life: No one seen to pose a mortal threat in the presence of police should expect to walk away, or even to survive.

“If you point a gun at a police officer, you have punched your ticket,” Stamper says. “I don’t care if it’s a toy gun.
Norm is right about a lot of things (like ending the drug war). Add this to the list.

High security walls may increase violent crime.

This is interesting, albeit about South Africa. But the basic idea is this:
Walls are actually making things worse. “No one can see what is happening in your home so no one can help,” she told the [South African] Daily News. They keep people from being each other’s natural lookout. And they are an even bigger barrier to social cohesion, in a country that needs it a lot.

Further, Marks told Quartz that high walls not only fail to curb crime, they attract criminals—once inside, the criminal is as isolated as the homeowner, free to do as they please.

The real Michael Brown

Yesterday I had a nice walk and dinner with a good group of cops who were to appear on CNN's Cops Under Fire about cops who have been involved in shootings. I also met Darren Wilson's lawyer. So I asked him a few things about Officer Wilson and Michael Brown.

The decisive evidence? Brown's actual skin on the slide and hammer of Wilson's gun -- pretty damning -- and blood on the street showing that Brown did indeed charge Wilson where Wilson said.

I also asked the lawyer about a picture and a video floating around the web that purport to show Michael Brown doing bad things. The picture is of Michael Brown with guns, drugs, and money. That *is* Michael Brown. [Correction, that is *not* Michael Brown.] The video of "Michael Brown" beating down a defenseless person is *not* Michael Brown.

What about "fruit of the poisened tree"?

From NPR:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that police officers don't necessarily violate a person's constitutional rights when they stop a car based on a mistaken understanding of the law.
The court said the officer made a "reasonable mistake." Hence it's not an unreasonable search and seizure.

The case involved drugs found after a traffic light for one broken brake light in a state where one broken brake light isn't a traffic violation.

How can police claim ignorance of the law as a defense?

Strange, I say. Eight of nine supreme court justices disagree with my take.

December 16, 2014

Pot is in the news

From the LA Times:
Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government's prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy.

The bill's passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.
Also, I think more significant, as as reported by USA Today:
Marijuana use among teens declined this year even as two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized the drug for recreational use, a national survey released Tuesday found.
Of course we can't be certain till we try it, but all evidence (seen in the US, Portugal, and the Netherlands) seems to show that ending prohibition does not increase drug use. This is a big deal because the effect of prohibition versus regulation (ie: legalization) on drug use really is the core issue related to people's support of the drug war.

If ending the drug war lowered drug use -- and it's a big "if" but it's certainly a possibility -- would you still support the war on drugs. Is the war on drugs worth fighting for it's own sake simply because drugs are wrong? Even if that same drug war causes more people to take and be harmed by drugs?

If you can't conceive of how ending the drug war could reduce drug use, consider these factors, in no particular order:
1) Kids love doing what they're not supposed to do.
2) Peer pressure is stronger when you're doing something illegal. To protect yourself, there's greater pressure to implicate everybody.
3) Drugs can be dangerous. Honest education is better at reducing harms than "just say no" and cracked eggs on a frying pan.
4) I've yet to meet anybody who says they would love to try heroin, if only it were legal and regulated. People do or don't take drugs for many reasons, the law seems pretty low on the list. 
5) Prohibition doesn't actually work. Drugs are not hard to get.



Baltimore Officer Down

From the Baltimore Sun:
Groman and another officer approached the car from the driver's side and another officer approached from the passenger's side, police say in charging documents. Officers directed the driver, Tavon Sullivan, to get out of the car, police say, and he sat on the sidewalk.

Police say Jones, sitting in the back seat, refused Groman's orders to exit. Groman told Jones to show his hands, which were in his jacket pocket and waistband, according to Maj. Stanley Branford, commander of the Homicide division, but Jones did not.

Police say Groman told Jones he would be tased if he didn't comply. Groman pulled out his Taser just as Jones pulled out a black Rossi .357-caliber revolver, police say in charging documents.

Detectives said Monday they do not know who fired first. No officers fired a gun, police said. After Groman was struck, police said, Jones ran out of the car and was chased by two officers.

Police say Jones ran into a backyard and was scaling a fence when an officer hit him with his Taser, allowing police to arrest him.
...
"We've had marches nationwide over the fact that we have lost lives in police custody," [Commissioner] Batts said. "I wonder if we'll have those same marches as officers are shot, too."
It's worth noting that 1) Yes, cops get shot at even in situation where the shooter has no realistic chance of getting away with it. 2) No officer fired a shot. And this includes even after the suspect shot an officer and was trying to run away. I mention this because if cops really were out there to murder black people, this would have been a fine chance to get away with a freebie. But that's not the way police officers think. 3) Had the officer drawn his gun instead of a the less-lethal Taser, well, who knows what would have happened? But the Taser didn't help keep Groman from being shot. 4) Had the officer drawn his gun, no doubt some people would be complaining about an officer drawing his gun for no good reason.

Officer Groman is expected to "recover." But as I've said before, you don't ever completely recover from something like this. My thoughts are with him

"Why aren't more Christians speaking out against Lindsey Blansett?"

Lindsey Blansett killed her 10-year-old son by stabbing him and bashing him a rock so he could "go to heaven" rather than face a life full of "suffering and pains." I haven't heard anybody blame Jesus Christ for this woman's actions. But I'd bet she was driven by her own mistaken perception of Christian ideology. I suspect that she considered herself a Christian. But Christians don't stab and bash their children with rocks. An effective shortcut to heaven? That, I can safely say, is a misreading of the Bible.

So where are the Christian priests condemning Blansett's actions? To date, I have seen no statement from Bartholomew, His Most Divine All-Holiness and Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek-Orthodox Church. Does this mean 23-million Greek Orthodox, myself included, secretly condone Blansett's actions? Of course not. Some times homicidal people are just crazy.

I mention this because it really is no different than blaming all Muslims (or Islam itself) when self-proclaimed "Islamic" terrorists kill people. We don't blame all Jews (or Judaism itself) for the actions of Baruch Goldstein. Nor do we blame Christianity for Lindsey Blansett. See, when you kill innocent people, you're not a good follower of any religion. That really should go without saying.


Merry Christmas!

December 14, 2014

"To say it's all the fault of racist cops is letting the system off the hook"

A quote from me in an interesting article by James Reinl in Al Jazeera. I go on to say:
"Some people honestly believe that cops don't shoot white people and don't give tickets to white people for minor issues. This view is demonstrably false," Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore lawman and academic at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Al Jazeera. "Let's get the facts right and then talk about injustice - because there's plenty [of injustice] out there, but police provide a [too] easy scapegoat."

Well done NYPD. Well done NYC.

Once again the NYPD shows it can get the job down and keep the city safe. All in all, went off pretty well yesterday. Some protestors were chanting: "What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!" And one police officer had his nose broken when he tried to stop a protester from throwing a garbage can down on others from the top deck of the Brooklyn Bridge. A crowd attacked two NYPD Lieutenants: "Amid the fracas, the protester who was throwing the garbage can escaped. But he left behind a bag containing three hammers and a black mask."

And that wasn't the only incident. But all in all, we should be happy that injuries were were few and minor. 

I did read one angry cop tweet about how pissed off he was at the mayor, who should "let the NYPD take control again." What an idiot. Like it would better for the city -- or safer for the NYPD -- if the police were told to bust heads and bum-rushed the crowd, 1968 Chicago style
 The way I look at it is that thousands protested peacefully, police policed professionally, and everybody got to go home. Most everything went off without major problems (unlike, as usual, Oakland).


LRAD: Long Range Accoustical Device

I was a little too generous in my previous post when I said we don't know harm this device causes. From a 2012 NYPD briefing on the LRAD (Long Range Acoustical Device) via the Gothamist
In addition to having "loudspeaker" capabilities, the device can also be used, in a special mode, to propel piercing sound at higher levels (as measured in decibels) than are considered safe to human ears. In this dangerous range (above 120 decibels), the device can cause damage to someone's hearing and may be painful. It is this technology that device was designed for a USS Cole attack-type scenario. ... The device could be used to send out sound at a dangerously high level causing attackers to turn away, or at least, to cause pain/hearing damage to try and repel the attack.
The LRAD devices ... were deployed during the RNC in 2004, for use as loudspeakers.... The device was used as a louspeaker to make announcements to the crowd of protesters, with mixed results. No injuries were sustained.
Again from the Gothamist:
While there might be situations where police have a legitimate use for the device, such as dispersing a large and violent group, [Alex Vitale] says this wasn’t such a situation. "LRADs should be used to avoid having to do a baton charge," Vitale says. "This was used to scatter already scattered protesters."
And these devices were tested by the NYPD, in an empty parking lot.

[Also (and correct me if I'm wrong) the decibel scale is logarithmic: going from 1 to 10 is a ten-fold increase while going from 1 to 20 is a 100-fold increase. But this is the amount of power or energy in sound, which goes up 10 times every time decibels go up 10 units. But the volume of this sound, the way sound is perceived by the human ear, roughly doubles for every 10 decibel increase. 120 decibels sounds twice as loud as 110 dB (as does 110 compared to 100 dB). So 120 decibels sounds something like 64-times as loud as 60 dB, which is volume of normal speech.]

In Test #1, spoken voice commands were given. 320 feet away, sound was measured at 102 dB. In Test #2, noise bursts were used, and sound was measured at 110 dB. Now 320 feet is a pretty long distance. It's the length of a football field. Or half the length of an NYC subway platform (yes, the NYC subway trains really are 600+ feet long).

The NYPD LRAD tests were done on cold windy winter day at the beach in The Bronx. Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, an urban canyon with hard sides, is less than 100-feet wide (including sidewalks). You can't get more than 40 or 50 feet from the center of the street. So... what were the results of the NYPD test at a distance of 50 feet? "Potential danger area. Not tested." In fact, nothing closer than 320 feet was tested. It might be dangerous.

This is a lawsuit waiting to happen. But the NYPD won't have to foot the bill. It's going to be paid for by me and other resident taxpayers.

December 13, 2014

I can't hear you!

In 2004, the NYPD bought two "long-range acoustic devices" ($35,000 per) and said, "that they would be used only for announcements, and that their shrill deterrent function would not be employed." I didn't believe that for a second. Because, as is always the case, if you give cops toys, they will play with them. Which is why you should be worried about military hardware going to police departments.

Well this is military hardware. And of course they have now been deployed against US civilians. By my account, it was first used by police against US civilians in 2009.

Look, maybe sound devices are an effective use of crowd control. Maybe it's better than tear gas and batons. I don't know. But first don't you think we might want to be learn if sound cannons cause about lasting permanent damage? We simply do not know because we didn't care. They were to be used again terrorists we don't give a damn about.


These weapons are a tool used to keep terrorist boats away from Navy ships, to prevent another attack like happened to the USS Cole.

All I can think of while watching this clip is science fiction movies that portray the US in a depressing distopian future.



So now -- without any public debate or decision-making by elected politicians -- equipment designed to defend our troops against terrorists abroad is being used by civilian police departments against the public, some of whom who are "interfering with vehicular traffic."

Taking the totality of the situation, I say "fuck 'vehicular traffic'."

December 12, 2014

"The Police-Community Divide"

Best 22 minutes you're going to hear about the current state of policing. My colleague David Kennedy on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show. I can't thing of anything he said that I don't agree with.

Recipe for Outrage

If you want to be outraged, I find the lack of more public protest over the police-involved killing of Akai Gurley odd. I mean, if you're looking for an honest victim killed by police for no reason at all, why not focus on an honest victim killed for no reason at all (instead of say, a guy who robbed a store and then, almost assuredly, attacked a cop)?

Gurley was a guy walking down some dark stairs where he lived (the Pink Homes, NYC public housing). Next thing you he's struck in center mass by a police officer's bullet and dead. Just like that. Boom. Game over.

Seems like a rookie cop couldn't open a door without accidentally firing his gun (either that or he was so scared of being in the project stairwell that he fired blindly). This is an obvious, blatant, unambiguous, fuckup. And yet compared to Brown and Garner, you hear very little about Akai Gurley. Not to say there's been no coverage of his death, but is it even national news?
 Just imagine: the aftermath of Gurley's killing has been so non-controversial that we haven't even yet seen any attempt to personally besmirch the victim! I mean, come on now, I'm sure Fox News can dig up some previous incident or facebook picture that portrays Gurley in an unflattering light.

So why the lack of more outrage? I can think of three reasons -- lessons, you might even say -- as to how to handle a bad police-involved shooting.

1) We'll never know all the details. But apparently Commissioner Bratton felt like he knew enough to say right away that police messed up:
Bill Bratton characterized the incident as an “unfortunate tragedy” and an accident. Officials said Liang was holding a flashlight in his right hand and a Glock 9-mm. in the other when he opened the door to the eighth-floor landing.
Here's what Commissioner Bratton did not say, "I'm not commenting until we know all the details. An investigation is underway. Until we know all the details, we need to let the justice system work. But let me add that Gurley was no alter boy."

2) Sharpton has been pretty quiet about this. From last week's NY Post:
[Sharpton] muscled his way into the arrangements — and even put out press releases promising to deliver the eulogy — without ever consulting the family or offering to foot the bill.
But Gurley’s relatives told Sharpton to stay away rather than turn the somber ceremonies into a spectacle.
...
“Who made you the spokesperson of our family? We just want to bury our nephew with dignity and respect.”
...
“How can you do a eulogy for someone you don’t even know? It’s heartbreaking,” she said. By late Friday, Sharpton accepted a rare defeat and backed off, though he blamed it on “confusion and division” within the Gurley family.
Well that lessons the Sharpton Effect. Say what you want about Sharpton, but he does get media attention. Sharpton gives voice to the tree that otherwise just falls in the woods. And without anger, a perceived cover up, or a tone-deaf police department, there's little news story. Tragic mistakes are just a one-day story in the news.

3) The officer wasn't white. This matters, though I'm not certain how much. Last I checked, Asians can be racist, too. And other police-involved shootings involving non-white officers have become issues because of the race of the victim (Sean Bell, for instance). But certainly an "officer of color" (as they say) removes some of the typical boilerplate narrative.

So you've got an unquestionably innocent guy, and instant apology, a non-white cop, no Al Sharpton, and a justice system that hasn't (yet) let the shooter completely off the hook. All you're left with is some disembodied, vague fear of a rookie cop. That fear is probably more racist than anything that happened in the Ferguson shooting or Eric Garner's choking, but because it's all in an officer's mind until the gun gets fired, there's not much story.
For public outrage -- and I wish there were some way of addressing issues of racial justice and politics without focusing on individual ambiguous police incidents -- but maybe you need ambiguity to create conflict and allow people to disagree and project their moral ideology.

So here's my recipe for outrage (feel free to substitute some of the ingredients):

Take one beefy white cop and combine with an ambiguous hands-on police situation, a stonewalled inquiry, and a glug of bureaucratic tom-foolery. Do not apologize. Set aside. Place Al Sharpton in front of media cameras while at the side of the victim's family. Stir in some militarized police over-response (to taste) and add a twist of judicial inaction. Let simmer till everything bubbles over. Do not remove from heat.

Prep time takes years. But this handy recipe can be prepared in one day. Serves thousands.



[thanks to ZLO]

Policing protests

Just a few examples of effective policing with regards to protesters. From Kriston Capps at Citylab:
In essence, Nashville's police department made a decision to treat the protests like a parade, an event at which the law enforcement role is to provide security, not confront danger.
 Police even shut down a highway for the protesters when protesters were going to walk on it:
Anderson further noted that arresting protesters one by one would have taken hours; instead, after about 25 minutes, police reopened the highway, and protesters continued on their way.
 In Richarond, California:
Police chief Chris Magnus went further: He actually joined protesters this week. When about 100 demonstrators assembled downtown on Tuesday, Magnus stood with them, in full police gear, carrying a sign reading #BlackLivesMatter. "I spoke with my command staff, and we agreed it would be nice to convey our commitment to peaceful protest and that black and brown lives do matter," Magnus told the Contra Costa Times.

In both cities the protests ended with no violence and a great PR coup for police officers.

You know, somewhat to my surprise, I'm actually like the new protest tactic of shutting down roads. When you're protesting you want to make a scene. If you want to protest, standing in a barricaded corral doesn't cut it. The question is what kind of scene. And breaking windows and burning shit is good for nobody. So let's let protesters shut down a road for a bit. What's the big deal?

Keeping roads open is a strange line-in-the-sand for police departments to draw. Sure it sucks to be stuck in a traffic jam for an hours. But so what? Traffic jams cause you to be stuck in traffic. Traffic accidents shut down roads and freeways. So does the occasional marathon. So do, I should point out, police funerals.