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Police Behavior & Response to Criticism [Jul. 14th, 2016|10:53 pm]
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In the aftermath of several police killings of black men in questionable circumstances, the overreaction to peaceful protests against same (in Baton Rouge and other localities) and the subsequent widespread public criticism (including on social media), and the shooting of several police officers in Dallas after a peaceful demonstration,  many police departments have begun arresting people who post anti-police comments on social media.  Others (including a NYC police commissioner) have called for "dialling down the rhetoric" of criticism of police.  These are tactics that will not succeed in lowering the tension between police and those who criticize them (black OR white) and will instead make an already bad situation worse.  Here's why.
Police misconduct antagonizes not merely those directly harmed, but other citizens as well.  When police act like gangs of thugs, when they act dishonestly, when they hurt and kill innocent people, when they are not protecting, not serving, but harming citizens--and particularly when they then position themselves as victimized innocents and make excuses--they create the very antagonism they are now complaining about.   When they then attack those who are critical of their misconduct, they harden the attitude of citizens who see--not protectors at all--but predators out of control. 

I am not saying citizens should kill police or threaten the families of police.  But I am saying that what police have been doing, the face they are showing to us, citizens, is harmful not only to us, but to them.   Things are bad enough now that citizens alone--those who want peace (and protection from predators)  cannot accomplish the needed changes themselves.   Nor can police just vaguely admit to "a few bad apples"  and think that covers the rest of them with glory.  The rhetoric that needs to be "dialled down" is the rhetoric of police, the persecution by police of racial minorities, protestors, and activists who are exercising their legal, Constitutionally guaranteed right to disagree, to protest bad behavior, and to criticize, the many excuses made for bad, harmful policing. 

I am opposed to violence against police officers for two reasons.  First, killing people (including police) is wrong.   Not just illegal (bad laws can make good things illegal, as some cities have made feeding the hungry illegal) but morally wrong.  But the second reason is this:  intentionally harming police officers only reinforces their paranoia and gives them the excuse to claim that they are the victims.  They already have highly emotional ceremonies celebrating the deaths of their fellows who are killed "in the line of duty," with pomp and circumstance and dramatic speeches about their "ultimate sacrifice" and their "putting their lives on the line."   These ceremonies, which are always featured on the media, intensify and perpetuate their sense of being special, braver and better than anyone else, and also saintly victims.   Anything non-police do that increases this attitude is harmful.

Police need to realize that they now look like (in those black riot outfits, with their big armored vehicles and assault rifles and grenade launchers) like enemy troops, not the hometown policeman that many people my age grew up with.   They look scary, mean, unreasonable, unapproachable.  When they use foul language, threaten and posture and declare they have a right to "blow you away"--when they break down doors (too often of the wrong house), shoot the family pet,  throw a flash-bang grenade into a baby's crib (and then refuse to acknowledge their resposibilty for the baby's life-changing injuries), scream at people, throw them on the ground and punch and kick them, shoot without warning and after someone is down,  lie (until a videotape proves it) about a citizen attacking them,  sexually assault those in custody (and lie about that)...it is no wonder that many people who have not even been arrested see them as little more than thugs in a protection racket.  Of course they're not all like that (just like not all Christians hate gays, not all Muslims are terrorists, not all black men are criminals) but enough are--enough data are out there, to make the "friendly policeman on the corner" a very distant memory, almost a ghost.

Until police can see themselves as they are seen--until they can realize, admit, and hold themselves accountable for the harm they have done, and understand that this image of hulking enemy soldiers in black eager to beat up on and kill citizens will never accomplish what they claim to want--a better relationship with those they protect and serve--the situation cannot really improve.

There are two ways to accomplish this.  In some jurisdictions, police chiefs have changed their policies to emphasize peace-keeping, de-escalation rather than violent intervention, and have recruited officers who want to do community policing, want to work with a community, and be part of it, rather than glory-hounds who hope to star on a new COPS episode.  Police academies could do a much better job training officers in human-scale policing, in understanding that "protect and serve" does not mean "protect and serve people on the right side of the tracks" but *everyone*.  All races, all religions, all social and economic classes, all kinds of family.   That a missing black girl is as important as a missing white girl.   That the murder of a trans woman is the same--legally and in importance--as the murder of a straight white man.  That "takedowns" and door-bashing are not the high end of police work.  The high end is regaining trust from those who have been most mistreated, so that they will do their part in making the community safer for all.

But if police will not step up and clean their own dirty linen--get the bad apples out of policing permanently,  not let new bad apples in, hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior--then it will be necessary to change laws (and I think it will take both, to get it done in what's left of my lifetime.)    At the state and federal level, laws need to be changed to a) demilitarize the police--remove from them military equipment that should not be used in domestic policing.  Having such equipment is like having a gun--it tempts the owner to find a use for it (to justify having it.)   Moreover, it tempts police to think of themselves in a war setting--as soldiers with an enemy--rather than as police with citizens to protect.  And this very attitude creates a corresponding attitude of resentment and fear, rather than healthy respect, further polarizing the community.   SWAT teams, originally organized for very specific unusual situations, became a kind of status symbol for departments, and then (since they were rarely needed) new uses for them were thought up that had previously been handled perfectly well by ordinary police (or for that matter process servers.)  And they have become more aggressive, more eager to use violent means before attempting de-escalation in too many cases.

Laws--not local policy--should set standards for the use of lethal force, what constitutes police misconduct and unnecessary violence--and should require evidence other than an officer's word that the officer was justified in using it.   Right now many state laws protect police from the consequences of misconduct--are more lenient in how police behavior is judged than in how non-police behavior is judged.  (E.g. if an officer claims to have been in fear of his life lethal force may be justified--even if the person he killed was unarmed, in a wheelchair, a child, or merely opened the door at police demand.  But the same is not true of a woman in fear of her life from a battering husband or boyfriend: the burden of proof is higher for her.)   That needs to change; police officers should not be able to claim a lethal threat where non existed.  Laws should require independent investigation of all cases of police-involved shootings, with the local department barred from collecting evidence or interviewing witnesses (since it's clear that evidence can be tampered with by those with an interest in the case.)    Laws should set forth requirements for providing medical care for anyone injured by police (including those shot.  Leaving someone twitching in the street and not calling an ambulance is visible, obvious intent to be sure they're dead.  Very bad public appearance.

Since the police have shown extreme resistance to transparency (don't want to be filmed, don't want to be watched, inevitably claim that "the video doesn't show the whole story") while at the same time public recording has proven repeated dishonesty in reporting and bad behavior, the law should require police on duty should be officially observed (dashcams, bodycams)  and all such records should be made public.  I've heard police say that "you don't have anything to fear from surveillance if you're not guilty"...well, that should apply to police as well.   Failure of a dash-cam or body-cam should be treated in the same way as a criminal spraying paint on a store's security cam or breaking it, creating suspicion of guilt.   Confiscating or destroying a citizen's recording equipment, be it audio recorder, cellphone camera, other camera, etc.  should be illegal and punishable.  Arresting citizens for watching and recording police behavior is wrong--their right to do so has been upheld by the Supreme Court.   Does this make policing harder?  It makes bad policing harder.  It should not have any effect on good policing, the kind of policing that builds trust and cooperation in a community.

Power is a temptation.  Privilege is a temptation.  Police are given both power and privilege...and thus are tempted to abuse them both.  Some do--and will--abuse them both.   Abuse of police power and privilege does great harm (to the citizens first, but then to the police by backlash against them.)  Thus police need more watching so that abuse can be stopped in its tracks and punished if it's bad enough.  That is only fair.  And it is what we, the citizens, deserve: fair, impartial, knowledgeable, competent, fully adult peace officers who really are committed to serving and protecting entire communities: every race, every religion, every one.  If the police will not do it themselves, then it is up to us, as citizens, to be the guardians of the guardians, the watchdogs of the watchdogs.  And as a good shepherd will not tolerate a sheepdog who harms some of his sheep, citizens should not tolerate bad policing even if we are not the sheep who are bleeding or dead.


[User Picture]From: gifted
2016-07-15 04:22 am (UTC)
It's a damn shame our countries aren't run by people with exactly this way of thinking, instead of the prejudiced, ignorant and self-serving jokes that end up running them.
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[User Picture]From: theidolhands
2016-07-15 04:47 am (UTC)

part II

(First half marked as spam for linking to a news article)

I've always been a part of multi-cultural groups who all liked each other. It's sad to say things are different now. Tensions are high. People who don't bother to say, "How are you today", or ignore rl friends for years, are quick to preen themselves as "caring" for pointing fingers and condemning large groups of people based on shallow common traits, AND glorifying themselves for same (just different descriptions), despite any personal (or numerous) shortcomings unrelated to either group. Again, that's people. But...it was nicer when we all excused our shortcomings and all of us were misfits who supported each other instead of focusing on specific differences or trying to condemn and glorify.

However, I welcome, as do many, that those who judge get involved. Put your intellectual thoughts, and carefully structured posts from the comfort of home, and protests into action. Get out there. Look the people you want to help in the eye. Daily. For years. That's how change happens.

Because I know who wasn't wearing enough "armor" in Texas that day.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-07-15 12:53 pm (UTC)

Re: part II

Your first part got to me, if not to LJ because of the rule.

It's important to be specific--when you say "people" aren't saying hello to those in other cultures anymore...which people? Because where I live, we are. In a town with at least four races (white, black, Hispanic, and Asian) while there are those who don't, most of us do greet and chat with each other. As I do when I go to the city.

As for your argument that the best way to cure bad policing would be to join the police force...from other sources (including people who did exactly that) there are data indicating that joining any organization to change it--unless you can overwhelm it (which, given that police forces have limited openings each year) doesn't work if the existing culture (which has traction, inertia, otherwise known as "tradition" on its side) does not want to accept any change. To keep a job, the newcomer has to "fit in" and newcomers rarely affect policy until they've been in place for years--so they learn to be what they wanted to change, or they get out.

Income: for the nearest large city, Austin, the median annual Police Patrol Officer salary in Austin, TX is $50,757, as of June 24, 2016, with a range usually between $42,276-$59,900 not including bonus and benefit information and other factors that impact base pay. (Bonus and benefits add to that base.) East Austin's median income is $35,053; this has long been the location of most black and Hispanic residents. Austin as a whole has a higher median income, about $77,0000, as it is the political and tech center with both highly aid lobbyists & politicians and wealthy entrepreneurs. There's also a large homeless population in central Austin, much hated by the GOP legislators and the tourist-minded developers, whose income is very low. The contrast by neighborhood is stark. Gentrification in East Austin has already begun.

This puts the median police pay in Austin just below the median household income for the nation, and well above the median *individual* income ($28.000.) Since most families now rely on at least two incomes to reach the median household income, having a salary almost twice the nationwide median individual salary, suggests to me that in the nearest large city, police are not underpaid. They are also making substantially more than enlisted military personnel with less than 10 years in service, and more than all O-1s, all O-2s under 3 years service, and 0-3s under 2 years. And these are the people who can be called onto a real battlefield in foreign lands, who can be moved around at the pleasure of the DOD. Want stress? Try 12, 14, 18 month deployments away from family. (Yes there are benefits, as in police employment, and combat pay associated with some assignments in the military.)

Are some police underpaid? I'm sure some are. So are some military personnel (not generals...), some garbage collectors, some teachers, some farm workers, some of just about every occupation. That's not an excuse for a badly paid grocery clerk to beat up a customer who holds up the line, or a badly paid teacher to attack a student who forgot their homework, or a badly paid garbage collector to throw a trash can at a homeowner who dropped the wrong kind of trash in a recycle container.

I anticipate that we will never agree, so agreeing to disagree would be a good idea.

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[User Picture]From: theidolhands
2016-07-21 01:06 pm (UTC)

Re: part II

How strange because I'm a minority (in more than one way) where I joined and single-handedly did change things; you sure don't change things by giving up without trying. Yikes.

Austin and assuming a double-income is a huge assumption. Then again so was the rest of that part of the response.

It would be impossible to disagree with a person whose never wrong (my mother had a specific term for such a person actually) and so prone to give up so quickly. Hm. I'm not agreeing to disagree. These were insights and I stick to them for whomever, not exclusively yourself.
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[User Picture]From: kk1raven
2016-07-26 06:09 pm (UTC)

minorities and police departments

I don't know what the original response you're replying to said, but I think that more minorities joining their local police departments is a start on a cure for some of what is wrong. I don't think it is necessarily a quick cure, nor do I think it is a cure for anywhere close to everything that is wrong, but there are some things it would help. If the problem is that the police department as a whole is actively hostile towards one or more groups of citizens, then a few officers from those groups are unlikely to be able to quickly change that culture. I think a lot of police departments have more subtle problems then that though. Sometimes just having someone with a different viewpoint to point out the problems can make a difference. Sometimes getting to know a few members of a minority group can help humanize the group and make people (police officers in this case) realize they need to change their behavior. Having officers who understand minority cultures can help in some situations too. I think it is important that police departments at least somewhat reflect the citizenry they're policing, just as I think our lawmakers and our teachers should be drawn from across the range of our population.
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[User Picture]From: kengr
2016-07-15 10:45 am (UTC)
I mostly agree with you.

But there *is* are a couple of problems with making all body cam & dashcam footage public.

First, it invades the privacy of everyone the cop talks to or stops. I can think of a lot of bosses who'd cheerfully fire you if there was dashcam footage of you getting stopped by a cop. and if you belong to a gang it could be worth your *life* to have been talking to a cop even if it was unavoidable and "innocent".

Second there are things where the police *do* need to not have stuff publicly available. Talking to informants is obvious. But interviewing witnesses is another, and probably others I've not thought of.

But we can't let the police decide who gets to see what either. And if politics gets involved...

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-07-16 08:52 pm (UTC)
I think--and I could be wrong--that the tech may enable the cultural shift simply by forcing more transparency. If you do not know what happened, are are culturally conditioned to trust law enforcement, you are less likely to shift your opinion until you see proof of the problem.
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[User Picture]From: fatcook
2016-07-15 03:13 pm (UTC)
Elegantly said.

This cancer has been in the police for a very long time.

I'm old enough to remember the riots that happened after the Rodney King trial. I watched the verdict being announced in a state of complete and utter shock. I simply could not believe that those men had been found 'innocent'. Did the jury not see the same video I did? (They did, but decided to ignore it.) Clearing the patient of this cancer is going to be neither simple or easy. I'm afraid that a lot of home truths are going to have to be rubbed in this country's face before change actually happens on a large scale.
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From: (Anonymous)
2016-07-16 10:40 pm (UTC)


Just a quickie head nod. (Hoping your note function works.
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[User Picture]From: alex_antonin
2016-07-19 03:07 am (UTC)
The thing to keep in mind is that the US isn't free, and hasn't been for decades or longer. It has become a police state, a plutocratic olligarchy disguised as a democracy. We need to uproot the entire power structure and oust everyone in it (violently if necessary), repeal Citizens United, make massive overhauls to the system to get rid of the corrupting influence of money in politics (partly by making lobbying illegal and making it so anybody in office caught taking lobbying money is immediately fired, partly by setting up something so that you don't have to be a multibillionaire to run for office, maybe even making it illegal for millionaires and beyond to even run for office), ban military equipment (riot gear, military grade weapons, etc), fire every damn cop in the country, then put laws in place to weed out the bad apples (racists, sexists, psychopaths, and power trippers, among others) during hiring before starting to restaff police stations around the country, have a war crimes tribunal for Bush and Cheney (and probably every President for the last 30 years, too; or at least the Republicans), come up with some way to make third parties actually have an equal chance of winning, and modeling our voting system off Australia's - so that you don't just have the ability to vote *for* someone, you can also vote "no" on the people you don't want in office. (I know I for one would vote "no" on both Trump AND Clinton if I could.) Maybe also require that people who get elected to office can make no more than whatever the minimum wage is, and/or rely on food stamps to feed themselves, at least for a year or two. Oh, and make diversity requirements for the SCOTUS so it isn't just a bunch of old white men all the time. For that matter, diversity requirements in all levels of government; a government of/by/for the people should reflect the diversity of the people.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-07-21 03:36 am (UTC)

So...an autistic man leaves a group home, holding a toy truck, and is followed by a staff member. Someone calls the police to say that an armed man is threatening suicide (someone who can't tell a toy truck from even a toy gun, let alone a real one.)

The staff member catches up with the unhappy autistic man (and since our son was in a group home for almost a year, and unhappy there, I can understand someone wanting to get out, if just for a few hours...a group home is stifling--no way to get some alone time if you need it.) He is talking to him when police arrive, guns drawn of course. Staff member puts his hands up, talks to police, explains situation as he tries to calm down the autistic man who is (naturally) scared and jittery. Still holding the toy truck. A truck, dammit.

And so one of the cops shoots the staff member, who falls over, hands still up. The cop who shot him, when asked why he shot, says "I don't know."

I do. He was tense, he was anxious, and he had a gun in his hand. Holding a loaded weapon, just by itself, increases one's sense of risk--increases tension. Pointing it at a target increases tension again. How do you discharge tension when you're holding a gun pointed at something or someone? You pull the trigger. There. Loud bang, something falls over, tension less. Having zero fire discipline and zero situational judgment just about ensures this will happen. That officer shouldn't be in the police and shouldn't own a firearm, because any time he picks it up he will feel tense and the easy out will happen.

But then what...then the officers rush over and *handcuff the innocent, unarmed man they shot, and roll him over face down, while he bleeds into the pavement.

It is necessary to mention that the unarmed man they shot, the man holding up his hands in plain sight, who was trying to help a developmentally disabled and unarmed man holding a toy truck, was black? No, I didn't think so.
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[User Picture]From: kk1raven
2016-07-26 06:00 pm (UTC)
I agree with most of what you say. One of the things that I think needs to happen is that the police union needs to stop helping the bad eggs keep their jobs. The police where I live mostly do a good job as far as I know. They're over-worked and under-funded which means they don't do as much as I'd like, but they try their best. They have a few bad eggs though, and those officers need to go. They tried to get rid of one of them who was involved in multiple incidents involving accusations of excessive force but the union wasn't having it and took them to court, demanding that he get his job back. Another bad egg recently got himself arrested for pulling a woman over for failing to use a turn signal when parking then assaulting her and trying to destroy her phone because her daughter used it to record his behavior. He hauled the woman and her boyfriend off to jail on trumped up charges, all of which were dismissed after investigation by the DA's office which then arrested the officer. A local judge dismissed the charges against him. The DA's office has refiled them, saying the judge made a mistake. Time will tell what happens. You can bet that the union will support the officer until and perhaps even after he's convicted though.

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