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The Police Beat: Shot in the back

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 15 years ago, in 2009, on the World Wide Web.

Detective Jeremy Hendricks. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Las Vegas, Nevada. Here in Vegas, Jeremy Hendricks, a cop working for the Las Vegas city government’s police force, shot John Paul Hambleton in the back while Hambleton was running away. Hendricks was questioning Hambleton (who was 32) about an alleged sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl; Hambleton decided to leave. Hambleton was not under arrest; he was not accused of a violent crime; he also was completely unarmed. But Detective Jeremy Hendricks wasn’t done with him, and, seeing how running away from a cop is apparently treated as a capital offense in this country, Hendricks started out by tasering Hambleton twice. Then he tried to force Hambleton down on the ground. Hambleton managed to get away Hendricks’ taser, and then started to run away again, so Detective Jeremy Hendricks shot him in the back. Hendricks claimed in court that Hambleton turned around and pointed the taser at him. If so, nobody else who saw what happened — not Hendricks’s own partner, not four non-cop witnesses who watched what was happening — ever saw Hambleton turn around or point the taser at Detective Jeremy Hendricks. But thanks to the magic split second, which absolves all sins and justifies all cop shootings in the eyes of the Law, somehow, this supposedly belligerent Suspect Individual who supposedly was threatening Detective Jeremy Hendricks’ sacred hide with a taser shock, ended up getting shot in the back anyway. Oops.

If you tore off chasing after someone, and then shot him in the back and killed him, allegedly in order to avoid the alleged threat of a less lethal taser shock, which threat, if it even existed, was solely the product of a confrontation that you yourself had created and escalated, then you would probably be in jail for years. Of course, Detective Jeremy Hendricks is a cop, working for the local government’s police force, so the local government’s coroner’s inquest ruled last month that he was justified in shooting a fleeing suspect in the back.

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  1. Marc

    Once a Taser cartridge has been fired, the cartridge containing the probes and CO2 propellant needs to be changed in order to fire again (note i said fire, not discharge, they can continue to shock the person the probes are attached to until the battery is dead).

    The worst you can do with a taser that has already been fired is a “drive stun” in which you have to remove the cartridge (fired or otherwise) then press and hold the device in contact with the subject. When attached to the leads, the electrical current effectively disables you (which would have been a concern for the officer), but that is hardly true for a drive stun as the current has to arc maybe an inch as opposed to a foot or more. It effects a rather small area of muscle and while painful, is hardly disabling and one is still quite capable of fighting.

    If Hambleton had not removed the probes from himself or the cartridge from the taser, he would have ended up shocking himself if he pulled the trigger. If the cartridge was removed then the only option would have been to drive stun, which is no threat from anything but contact distance and hardly a threat to a trained individual then.

  2. Gabriel

    Yes, running from a cop is a capital offense in this country. It’s not written in any law book, and so conveniently cannot be challenged. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that Private Defense Agencies would really be any different. If they were in territory controlled by themselves or noone then there would be noone to stop them, and if it were in another Agency’s territory then they would make reciprocal agreements to the effect that “we can chase down and shoot anybody we want in each other’s territory”.

  3. Rad Geek


    Why do you think that private defense agencies will have geographically-defined territory that they control exclusively? Part of the point of a private defense agency is that it’s not a territorial monopolist.

    Of course, as long as there is a limited number of defense agencies, there will be an incentive for them to cartelize in defense of their professional self-interest, which might include a lot of latitude for their hired muscle. But that kind of abusive cartel is going to tend to be unstable when any group of people can withdraw their payments from existing agencies in the cartel, and when they can start up new associations that aren’t signatories to the deal. (Which, if there’s a demand for it, can not only protect their members from ordinary street crime, but can also protect them from abusive acts by members of their cartel.)

    If you expect private defense agencies to each be controlling some patch of more or less contiguous territory, then it’s true that would tend to put some pretty significant limits on the capacity of people to exit existing agencies and to start up new ones. (There’s only so much space, and only so many ways to carve it up.) But since private defense agencies don’t need to be territorially-based, I don’t see how they face the kind of geographically-imposed limitations that states do.

  4. Darian

    Militia-style community defense organizations can substitute for professionals or keep them in line.

    I don’t see why anything close to the paramilitary patrol officers of the state would be in high demand in anarchy. A few here and there to keep an eye on things and direct traffic sure, but who wants to smash the state just to have cops crawling all over their neighborhood? Without regulations locking people out of the economy there would probably be less incentive to crime anyway.

  5. Gabriel

    Considering the free-rider problem it’s difficult for me to imagine PDA’s that were not contiguous. However, supposing they were, you’re right that recognized abuse depends on how willing people are to start up new agencies and how easy it is to withdraw from the old ones. Obviously, the current system does not allow people like Hendricks to even be reprimanded, much less fired, and that would go a long way to curbing the abuses.

    But abuses could be approved by some and not by others, or be hidden. For example, a private cop might say “I chased down suspect X because I thought he matched the description of a serial killer in the area” or some such excuse. In other words, right now the plausible magic words that justify their actions are “I thought my life was in danger”, and the PDA might have similar magic words (“If we let crooks escape we’ll have to raise our premiums”).

  6. Bob Kaercher

    Gabriel: If a PDA cop kills an innocent person in error—-regardless of who he claims he “thought” he was shooting at—-he’d be fired and the PDA would have to settle with the victim’s heirs and the private dick would have a hard time finding work elsewhere, not to mention the myriad penalties that could potentially be inflicted on him in the process of forcing him to make restitution to the victim’s next of kin.

    Otherwise the PDA in question would have to shut down for lack of customers, which is why there would be much more incentive than there is under the present statist protection racket model against such abuses in the first place.

    Killing peaceful innocent people is quite bad for business, you see.

    (Darian’s also got a good point about the voluntary militias. I see no reason to assume that PDAs would be the only available option for protection in a government-free society.)

  7. Rad Geek


    I’m not persuaded that there’s a very strong free-rider concern about non-territorial private defense associations, even if we presume that these are all for-profit firms, and rule out alternatives like neighborhood watches or go-it-alone self-defense. I think that worries about free-rider problems tend to exaggerate the importance of regular patrols (which is the only really non-excludable defense service; emergency response, posted guards, investigation after the fact, mediation, recovering arbitrator-validated claims, etc. are all clearly excludable private goods).

    They also tend to neglect the already-existing real world ways in which those who do need or want patrols can get them while sidestepping free-rider problems. (E.g., here in Vegas, several private security companies provide nighttime security patrols for apartment complexes; the way they avoid free rider problems is simply by dealing with the apartment manager for the whole complex, who then advertises it as a benefit of living in the complex, rather than trying to make contracts with every single tenant. Of course, that’s contiguous territory in a sense, but of course each company has these little apartment-complex-sized blocks that they patrol scattered all around the city in a patchwork, rather than each company having a large contiguous bloc of turf to fortify. (Thus making it really easy for the manager of the complex to terminate the contract and call in any of several other firms in the city to provide the patrol, if the current patrol agent started doing things like, oh, lighting up tenants, which would hurt the landlord’s bottom line.) There’s nothing really special that I can see about sending a patrol car out to a neighborhood that makes it all that much different from dispatching a taxicab or a pizza delivery car, and I think no real reason why you’d expect for-profit private defense associations to spontaneously consolidate their patrol operations into territorial power-bases around a center, rather than fragmenting them out into a patchwork of patrol circuits that tend not to get larger than about a city block, or, at the extreme, a large subdivision. Which I can’t see offering anything like the kind of market power that they’d need in order to be able to get together and preserve the kind of cartel that you’re worried about.

    (Of course, there might be other problems, which, if present, would encourage territorial consolidation — like extreme disparities in firepower, or extremely centralized patterns of land ownership, or cultural problems that tend to make people more likely to tolerate abuse or less likely to enter into new associations that would check the abuse — but I don’t think that the problem is basic to the notion of for-profit free market defense.)

    All that said, I agree pretty strongly with Darian that there’s not likely to be a very strong market for professional uniformed patrols in the first place, and to the extent that there just won’t be a market for armed professionals in clown suits, there just won’t be a problem. Professionalized patrols solve a few potential problems (e.g. if you live in a neighborhood where there’s a high risk of burglary, patrols can help), but most of the reason that that sort of thing is so pervasive now is because the state uses it as a means of extracting revenue (through traffic tickets and the like) and in order to make it easier for the state to maintain unchallenged command and control over the use of public space (which is as much a matter of socioeconomic cleansing and the suppression of victimless crimes as it is a matter of doing anything in particular about real people’s safety).

    But abuses could be approved by some and not by others, or be hidden. For example, a private cop might say “I chased down suspect X because I thought he matched the description of a serial killer in the area” or some such excuse. In other words, right now the plausible magic words that justify their actions are “I thought my life was in danger”, and the PDA might have similar magic words (“If we let crooks escape we’ll have to raise our premiums”).

    Well, I certainly agree with you that merely privatizing defense doesn’t automatically take care of all the problems of abusive security agents. If our culture is such that a lot of people are willing to tolerate abusive private cops, and if the chosen targets of abusive private cops aren’t able to effectively resist, then you may well see abusive private cops. Which is part of the reason that I think it’s important for anarchists to promote not only statelessness, but also anti-authoritarianism more broadly, and skepticism towards professionalized enforcers’ claims of prerogative, in particular. But the important thing about anarchy is that if such a culture emerges then folks with those ideas are free to provide an effective check on would-be abusive enforcers — by means of boycott, by means of organized resistance, and by means of seeking compensation for damages. Whereas under the state, it doesn’t matter how many people hate what the government police are doing; the cops stay paid anyway, and there is no effective outside party to check their abuses or to uphold their victims’ claims against them. Anarchy doesn’t guarantee boycotts or effective outside parties to provide a recourse — but it does make them possible, whereas the state categorically excludes them.

  8. JOR

    Well, my understanding of the free rider problems associated with defense is that when you catch and “deal with”, say, violent rapists or robbers or the like, then you make the area a bit safer even for people who aren’t paying you to do that.

    Which if you think about it, is true but kind of a silly thing to bring up as a problem. By that standard, everyone is a free rider on all sorts of things that everyone does as a matter of course. I’m a free rider on (most people’s) quite good modern hygiene habits; people all around me smell nice and I don’t even pay them to do it. There oughtta be a law.

  9. Rad Geek


    There are a few alleged free rider problems with free market defense services — the one you mention is one of them, but I think it’s an especially weak worry, for more or less the reasons that you mention. But in any case, that kind of worry, if one accepted as a problem, might motivate the view that a free market would tend to under-provide defense services as a general thing (according to standard public goods arguments), and hence (for people who accept that kind of consequentialist argument, which I don’t) might motivate an economistic argument for coercive funding of defense. But it wouldn’t specifically predict any kind of geographical consolidation of territory, unless there’s some reason why territorial monopoly has to be linked with coercive taxation. Historically, they have often gone together, but conceptually, I don’t see any reason why they’d have to.

    On the other hand, another common free-rider worry — I presume the one that Gabriel was referring to — does, if you accept the argument, specifically suggest territorial consolidation. That worry has to do with the way that patrols, or their military equivalent, the fortification of borders, supposedly work. Not because of the positive externalities of removing the general threat of criminals from the population, but rather because securing an area through patrols and perimeters is supposed to have the effect of securing a geographical area that encompasses a bunch of people all at once. The idea here is that you cannot effectively protect one individual client without also protecting everyone in the vicinity, whether they paid for the service or not: a visible patrol car or an attentive foot patroller will supposedly scare away malefactors whether or not they are targeting the patroller’s client; a line of fortifications will supposedly protect everyone inside of it from marauders or invaders, whether or not they paid for it, since there is no way to let the invaders through only to attack the property of non-clients. So the idea here is that the only way to make these sorts of arrangements economically efficient is to chunk the services into contiguous patches of territory — so that you’ll only patrol if more or less everyone in the neighborhood signs on a contract; so that you’ll only do military deense if more or less everyone in the city or county or whatever signs on for it at once. To the extent that market processes in the defense market are shaped by these kind of geographical worries, you’d expect to see even free market defense agencies operating from territorial power-bases, simply because that is (again, to the extent that you grant the worry) the only way for them to do business without bleeding money on free-riders. Which, if true, might well lead to the kind of problems that Gabriel is worried about, since monopolistic territorial power-bases are conducive to a fair amount of abuse.

    But, like I said above, I’m not much impressed with the worry. Partly because it overestimates the actual importance of patrolling, and especially of fortification of frontiers, to ordinary people’s real safety needs. Partly because the actual size of the geographical chunks are so actually so small, and people are mobile enough, that you could reasonably expect patchwork configurations in any reasonably sized population center, rather than big contiguous swaths of territory, unless there is some other problem with factors that don’t have much to do with the defense market per se. And partly because I doubt that professionalized uniformed security agents are likely to be a very big part of ordinary people’s defense arrangements in a freed market anyway.

  10. Discussed at attackthesystem.com

    Attack the System » Blog Archive » Updated News Digest September 20, 2009:

    […] Shot in the Back: Murder at the Hands of the PIGS from Rad Geek […]

— 2011 —

  1. Bergman

    Here’s something to ponder…

    You won’t find any law granting police their enforcement powers anywhere in the law books. You’ll find all kinds of exemptions to laws for active duty police (such as carrying handguns into courthouses, or authority to break speed limits if they have their patrol car’s red & blue lights on), but the actual law that empowers a police officer is the Militia Act.

    Police are active duty Militia. According to legal dictionaries as of the late 1780s and early 1790s, the term well-regulated militia is quite clearly defined. Specifically, a body of citizens that are eligible to vote, not felons, not certified insane, within a certain age range, who possess weapons, hold drills, and have officers that they obey. The original wording specified male citizens, but that’s been amended somewhat by anti-discrimination laws. There is no other legal requirement to be a well-regulated militia, though case law and the courts have generally narrowed it, the original wording still stands, and it’s a Constitutional wording (the same reasoning that states the national guard is the only legitimate militia would also state, if applied to the same wording in the first amendment, that only a government-owned newspaper would qualify as the media).

    Technically, all you need for a trained but inactive body of militia to transition into active militia is for an elected official to swear them in. The swearing-in only applies to the official’s region of jurisdiction (neighborhood, town, county, state or nation). A town mayor could call up militia, for example, but that militia would only have official authority inside the city limits. It does offer some fascinating Constitutional law possibilities, however, if your county elects a county dog catcher. Active militia is active militia; An active militia man (or woman) has the same legal authority to be armed as your bog standard police officer, and all the same enforcement powers, so long as they remain active (all it takes to deactivate them is a signed, written order from another elected official with equal or greater authority over the region they’re active in; This also means that the top elected official in a given area just needs a pen and a cocktail napkin to fire the entire police force).

    Don’t like the police in your area? Are they corrupt or neo-fascist? It’s actually easier than most people think to replace them, and/or provide alternatives. All it takes is one elected official, and a pen. Even if they get deactivated right away, the deactivation is not with prejudice (they can be reactivated over and over provided the official can express a lawful need for militia) and such a deactivation tends to move at the speed of bureaucracy.

    • Rad Geek


      It’s actually easier than most people think to replace them, and/or provide alternatives. All it takes is one elected official, and a pen.

      Well, the pen will be easy enough to find.

      But what incentive does even one elected official have to take direct legal action against police power? (It is largely because of elected officials that police powers are what they are today; because it is uncontested police power that secures their political position and enact their social plans.) What incentive do statist courts have to accept your interpretation of legal precedent as regards the role of the militia and civil authority, if it should (as it certainly would) result in a court conflict? You may well be correct about the historical precedent, but it would hardly be the first time that statist courts have ignored historical precedent in order to uphold monopoly police power.

      I certainly agree with you that grassroots alternatives and organizing are necessary to check the police power. But the way I see it is that what’s needed are not primarily legal institutions, but rather new social institutions — groups or networks that aim to help people defend themselves from crime on a grassroots/neighborhood level, without involving the law (except insofar as they help people defend themselves from the law); and groups or networks that aim to hold police officers in particular socially accountable for the crimes they commit. I don’t think that either kind of grassroots organization is ever likely to be legalized. But they don’t necessarily need legal backing in order to be effective (since they are not dependent on legal means); whereas a legally-backed active militia police force, if it were created without these kind of civil-society checks in place, would still be an armed force at the command of, and only answering to, local government; and the same dynamics that were at work in the old armed force would quickly make them just as unaccountable and just as abusive, as the old bog-standard police officers.

      Support your local CopWatch.

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