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by Peter Moskos

June 26, 2009

C.I. vs. Criminal Bribery: Ethics

In answer to the comment section on the ethics of not helping law enforcement, my friend writes:
1. We expect that a customer has the same right to privacy that he enjoys in his home. It's that simple. Plus, heck from a transaction perspective... it is the same as renting an apt or an office.

2. We actually do screen our customers more closely than any hotel (for example) in this city.

3. We do ask customers to sign a form that, basically, states that they're going to comply with any and all laws.

4. If the authorities want access to any information about a customer at all... they need a warrant/subpoena. It's that simple. No gray. I don't care if it's just your address or video footage of you in our building.

5. Most often the 'man' wants us to provide access to a customer's room... which we can't do. We don't have keys. They want this done without a warrant.

6. Or, they want to provide a name and then want us to acknowledge if the person is renting and then provide the person's contact information, visitation information, etc. We typically will acknowledge if someone's a customer, in particular if the 'man' has something that links the person to us... but that's it.

7. Or, they want to bring a K9 unit to sniff outside the person's unit so they can try to get a warrant that way. Again, my answer is no.


Marc S. said...

right on. I'd rent space from you any day. I wish everyone had this much respect for their customers, their privacy and the law.

About #7, i can't wait until this practice is challenged in court.

Anonymous said...

Peter, in response to your friend's points:

1. If you are renting a dwelling to the customer I agree. If you are renting storage space, I think there is a little less of an expectation of privacy.

2. I'm not sure what your screening consists of. If the "man" is constantly breathing down your neck though, you are either renting indiscriminately or are in a business that is being abused by those involved in illegal activity. Self-storage comes to mind.

3. What are the consequences of ignoring that form once it is signed. None. I'm not saying that you should be handing out punishment, but the form is obviously something your lawyer came up with to guard the business against legal responsibility. It doesn't make you a model citizen.

4. If that is your policy, then you are within your rights. Many business owners don't see the harm in letting the police know about their customers if the police clearly and convincingly explain a little about their suspicions.

5. Although I think there is a lower expectation of privacy in a storage facility than a dwelling, any cop asking you to open someone's storage room for them is crazy. You would be acting as their agent and thus any evidence gained is not admissible. If they are expecting you to remain quiet about it, they're even more crazy. Ridiculous requests like this make people reluctant to be as helpful as they can be. I apologize for their behavior.

6. Well, I would thank you for at least acknowledging the guy is a customer. You are not legally required to withold the contact and visitation information, but it is your decision.
I don't see why you think that giving the police an idea when someone comes to access his storage area is such an invasion of that person's privacy, though. The cops can just sit in front of your place of business and wait for him/her to show up. It just makes the "man's" life easier and helps in his investigation. If your intention is to make the "man" work for his bone, then by all means do it, but don't claim you are a helpful citizen.

7. What damage to the person can come of a dog sniffing outside his unit. Can the dog tell the cops that the renter wears women's underwear? The dog can only tell if there are drugs in the unit. If the dog doesn't smell drugs, then all the cops can do is keep on walking.

Peter, your friend has obviously had some bad experiences with the police, and he feels strongly about his rights. Great. But society has decided to punish people who are in possession of certain substances. This is what the cops are trying to do. I completely disagree with threatening uninvolved people in any way to get their cooperation. Explaining the situation always works best. Is your friend's assistance to the police based on his agreement or disagreement with the laws they are enforcing at that particular time? We could probably go through different scenarios, but if it were a terrorism or murder case that the "man" was bugging him about would he be more helpful?

PCM said...

First let me apologize for introducing the phrase, "The Man," into this discussion! That was my choice of words, not my friend's. I think my friend was using it just to make fun of me.

I do wonder about the terrorism or murder case. I hope my friend would be a bit more cooperative, but I don't know. Generally I think we're dealing with drugs and counterfeit goods. Something I don't stay up at night worrying about.

I too think #7 (the dogs) would be the least worrisome generally.... Unless of course you actively don't support the war on the drugs.

I think the real problem does indeed come from numerous past experiences with police. Over the course of years. This is by no means the first time my friend has told me stories--though this was the first one involving a bribe, which made it more interesting.

My friend has spoken to police. Employed former police officer (not me) have spoken with police. And yet some police keep trying, again and again, to get my friend to do things he won't do and the police can't legally do (see your point number 5 above).

And don't apologize for the bad actions of other police. It's not your fault... unless of course you were part of it. But I doubt that. And I guess it's nice when anybody apologizes. But I'm not apologizing for bad police behavior.

My friend doesn't mind it when the heat is directed toward him or her, but my friend does resent it when police harass his or her employees. The employees, often based on personal experience, take arrest threats on B.S. charges quite seriously!

The police can't act like assholes half the time and then expect good relations the other half of the time. That good cop/bad cop shit don't work on non-criminals. That's what asshole cop doesn't realize.

And I don't mean to imply that most police are assholes. I know they're not. Most police are good and just. I just wish that the police who are assholes would realize that they're not the biggest, baddest, best po-lice in town, doing all the shit that needs to be done but lesser men don't dare do. In fact, asshole police fuck it up for everybody. That's the real shame.

Anonymous said...

Not to get too far afield here, but I apologize for the actions of some fellow cops because it seems that sometimes cops will only listen to each other when they are dealing improperly with regular working people. If a cop is really threatening a desk clerk with arrest for not opening a rented room for inspection (barring emergency circumstances) that cop needs to be spoken to. I find it a somewhat unbelievable scenario, but if true it means that the guy has learned his trade the wrong way. After the fancy book learning is over, learning how to be a cop is kind of absorbed from seeing what other cops do, in this case obviously this guy hasn't had good examples. Or maybe he's just a nut, there are a few of those running around. Either way, I apologize because it is bad for everyone when people distrust us.
If you don't mind, from now on I will refer to myself as "the man". Kidding.

PCM said...

There were a couple of people who went by the nickname of "Man" where I worked. But suffice it to say, none of them were cops.

Anonymous said...

The acts that bribery statues cover would be wrong or illegal even if there was no bribe, and they were done out of love, favoritism, or from fear of reprisal.

I cannot think of one instance in which something that was done as the result of a bribe would have been just fine if there was no money exchanged. Except this one here, where a man who collects info about drug kingpins and hands it over to the police would be a hero if it did it for free, and a criminal if the DEA payed him for it.

Somebody here needs to consult an actual attorney familiar with the case law for bribery. It doesn't seem to hold in this instance.

PCM said...

Any lawyers out there?

Because I'd be damned if this didn't meet the definition of commercial bribery since it sure as hell meets the letter of the law! I mean the letter of the law is like a verbose description of exactly what happened. How could it not quality?

But I'm no lawyer and I have no idea what legal precedent is on this matter. The law certainly does work in mysterious ways.

It's interesting the idea that what you do would have to be illegal without money involved before it would be considered a bribe with money. If it were already illegal, and the money didn't matter, then even why laws against bribery?

Anonymous said...

The cop who lets you go because you're hot is committing official misconduct, but you, the hottie, are not culpable in this wrong act simply for being enticingly hot. Were you to give the cop money for the same end, the act would still be wrong, and you'd be hit with bribery as well.