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Posts tagged POLICE The Law Enforcement Magazine

Priority number one

Here’s a couple passages from a recent article in POLICE: The Law Enforcement Magazine on big police manhunts. It’s interesting partly because it has something to do with topics that have come up here before (note the tactics mentioned at the end). But also for other reasons. In the original article, the two sections are separated by a good 6 paragraphs; I’ve cut those out here, because it’s more interesting when you look at the statements side-by-side.

Law enforcement exists to keep society safe from criminals, which means apprehending and arresting those who would do harm.

. . .

Normal policing grinds to a near halt as all LE resources from entire regions focus on catching cop killers. This means massive searches of areas and buildings, saturation patrol, vehicle and pedestrian stops, stakeouts, checkpoints, and roadblocks.

— Robert O’Brien, POLICE: The Law Enforcement Magazine (2009-03-18): Police Manhunts. Emphasis mine.

I don’t have any complaint about these passages, at a factual level. I think it’s pretty much an accurate summary of how government police operate in that kind of situation. And, granting that it is accurate, what does that tell you about priorities in government policing? Just who and what are government police really working to protect from harm?

Is it you? Me? Society? Or somebody, and something, else?

Sidebar. If you click through to the article, you may note that there is one weak attempt, along the way, to justifying priorities like these with reference to the safety of ordinary people, outside of the government police force: Anyone willing to kill or shoot police won’t hesitate to kill anyone else–especially cops. But then there’s that especially there at the end of the sentence. Not a not just; not a not a besides; an especially. What work is that especially supposed to be doing here? Why isn’t the threat to anyone else enough of a reason? The first half of the claim doesn’t make a lot of sense — cop killers typically kill cops because of the specific threat of arrest that cops pose, and that anyone else doesn’t pose. But even if we granted it, what part of the claim is really doing the work of setting the priorities here? The alleged threat to just folks, or the threat to especially cops? And what does that tell you about government policing?

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Cops are here to protect you. (#8)

Government cops protect you by dragging a bunch of unarmed young Black men out of a train and lining them up against the wall — in response to an alleged fistfight — and then forcing one of them down to the ground and shooting him in the back. While he is lying prone on the ground, surrounded, and physically restrained both by the shooter and by a gang of other heavily-armed uniformed cops.

Then government cops protect you from being tainted by knowledge of the incident by rounding up everyone in the crowd that they can get their hands on and seizing the cellphones they had been using to take videos. You have only seen these videos because some dastardly criminals hopped back on the train before the cops could grab them, and then set out to taint us all with the truth.

The cop in the video is a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop named Johannes Mehserle. His victim, Oscar Grant, was either shot in the back when he was already handcuffed, or handcuffed by Officer Johannes Mehserle after he had been shot in back, depending on which witness accounts you listen to. I’m not sure which is worse. In any case, no-one has produced any reason whatsoever why Oscar Grant — who was unarmed, who was clearly showing his hands just before he was forced down and shot, who was forced down on his back, who was being searched and held down by two cops, with a third standing by and a gang of other cops standing around only a few feet away — could pose any credible physical threat to anybody at all, let alone the sort of physical threat that would justify standing up and drawing a gun on him.

We are told that (of course, of course) it’s a terrible tragedy what happened, and we should feel in our hearts for all the people who suffered so much because of this incident, but Officer Johannes Mehserle didn’t really mean to shoot Oscar Grant in the back. Maybe he pulled his gun and pointed it directly at a completely helpless victim who was clearly unarmed and under the complete physical control of the police, and then — oops — slipped and fired his gun into an unarmed man’s back by accident. Maybe he meant to pull out his taser so that he could torture a completely helpless man lying prone on the ground who clearly posed no physical threat to anybody with powerful electric shocks, but — oops — he just got so freaked out by The Situation that he couldn’t tell his hay-foot from his straw-foot and he accidentally whipped out his handgun instead, from a holster on the opposite side of his belt, even though it’s a completely different size and shape and weight, and then pulled the trigger and shot an unarmed man with a bullet instead. And, of course, none of this means a goddamned thing.

As I have said, and at the risk of controversy I will repeat: it doesn't matter if Mehserle meant to pull the trigger. He had already assumed the role of sole arbiter over the life or death of Oscar Grant. He had already decided that Grant, by virtue of his skin color and appearance, was worth less than other citizens. And rather than acquitting the officer, all of the psychological analyses and possible explanations of the shooting that have been trotted-out in the press, and all the discussion of the irrelevant elements of Grant's criminal history, have only proven this fundamental point.

If a young black or Latino male pulls a gun and someone winds up dead, intention is never the issue, and first-degree murder charges are on the agenda, as well as likely murder charges for anyone of the wrong color standing nearby. If we reverse the current situation, and the gun is in Oscar Grant's hand, then racist voices would be squealing for the death penalty regardless of intention. And yet when it's a cop pulling the trigger, all the media and public opinion resources are deployed to justify, understand, and empathize with this unconscionable act. One side is automatically condemned; the other automatically excused.

— George Ciccariello-Maher, CounterPunch (2009-01-09): Oakland’s Not For Burning?

Of course, there are two kinds of privileges: sometimes the problem is that a select class of people get consideration that everybody ought to be getting, but other people, not in the privileged class, are unjustly denied. And sometimes the problem is that a select class of people get special consideration that nobody ought to be getting, no matter their social class. Ciccariello-Maher doesn’t make it clear which kind he means, but in this case, the handwringing and We’ll never know chanting and endless excuse-making in the effort to convert manslaughter or murder into nothing more than another Oops, our bad is an example of the second kind. Given the observable facts of the case, there is nothing that could possibly have been going through Officer Johannes Mehserle’s head that could justify this execution-style shooting. If he went drawing his gun on an unarmed and prone and physically helpless man, who posed absolutely no credible threat to him or anyone else in the vicinity, and then, in the course of swinging his gun around, ended up firing it off, somehow, by accident, then he is guilty of criminally negligent homicide. If he planned to shock the hell out of someone who he had no reason to shock and ended up shooting him instead, by accident, then he is guilty of committing felony murder in the course of committing assault and battery. If he shot Oscar Grant intentionally, then, whatever may have been going on in his head about combs in Oscar Grant’s pocket or the folks in the crowd who were booing him from several feet away behind a line of other cops, or the hard, stressful life of a transit cop, then he is guilty of murder in the first.

And then we are told by self-righteous cops and their sado-fascist enablers that (of course, of course) it’s terrible what happened, and maybe Officer Johannes Mehserle overreacted, and zigged when he should have zagged, but really, we shouldn’t rush to judgment, and really, it’s not his fault, because, after all, there was a crowd of unarmed people several feet away, behind a line of other heavily-armed cops, yelling unkind words at him and making allegations as to the character of the police and watching what they were doing; maybe he became so confused and terrified by all this that, consummate professional though he may have been, he just lost all control of his rational faculties, and — oops — it just seemed like a good idea at the time to stand up and draw on an unarmed man being held down face-first on the ground in front of him. So it’s really the crowd’s fault:

We can wait for the official report on the shots fired but the earlier parts of those amatuer [sic] videos are also chilling for the hate-filled crowd reactions to what was, prior to the gunshot, a routine police encounter. We cannot long continue to police in a nation full of antagonists toward law and order. You can find it in videos all over the internet – crowds taunting, jeering, threatening, and obstructing police officers who are engaged in taming disorder.

— profshults (2009-01-07 10:04pm), comment on Tragedy [sic] at Fruitvale Station, at POLICE: The Law Enforcement Magazine

Well, great. Then let government cops quit. Please. As if anybody ever asked them to go around policing like that in this nation. When government cops go around like this, protecting the hell out of us all, then they need to be taunted, jeered, threatened and obstructed until they stop.

It's not entirely clear yet what happened during the incident, and it may never be. [Oscar Grant] was apparently not one of the initial group dragged off the train–one of the videos shows him unrestrained and standing up, trying to intercede with the police. According to witnesses, he was trying to de-escalate the situation between the cops and his friends. This is not an isolated incident, not by a long shot. This kind of thing happens all the time: out-of-control police violence in response to non-violent communication. It happens to people of color, and to queer folks too. It happened to me and Jack a little more than a year ago, along with a group of colleagues and friends, for asking the police why they were making an arrest. An officer decided to pepper spray our group, without any real provocation. We're lucky, and privileged, that it wasn't a gun.

Who knows what's going through these cops' heads? Are they freaking out, paranoid, fearful, are they untrained, do they have no idea what to do? What really matters to me is that they've been given weapons to use, and they're wiling to use them at the slightest provocation, up to and including lethal force. What matters is that any questioning of their authority, whether you're holding a camera or trying to de-escalate a situation, is seen as a challenge that has to be put down, by taking your stuff away, or crowd-controlling you, or killing you. We should all be scared. Especially if you're part of a frequently-profiled community.

. . .

I want to stress one more thing. The news is reporting that the police felt outnumbered. This is exactly the same reason they gave for pepper-spraying the crowd that Jack and I were in. But let's be clear — it doesn't have anything to do with numbers. If it had been a quiet crowd ignoring the police and just sitting on the train, the numbers wouldn't matter. They felt outnumbered because a lot of people watching were demanding to know what was going on, yelling, and refusing to just mind their own business. People who were demanding to know what was happening, because they know that abuses happen far too often and take far too many lives, and that someone has to watch the watchers.

Unfortunately, to police this makes you the enemy, especially if you're making your voice heard, yelling, demanding to know what's going on. The police, whether because of training or inculcated philosophy or temperament, see this as a potential riot, and they escalate the situation.

— Holly @ feministe (2009-01-07): Execution style

The plain fact is that what we have here is one of two things. Either we have a professionalized system of violent control which tacitly permits and encourages cops to handle any confusing or stressful situation with an attempt to dominate everyone in the vicinity by means of threats and overwhelming force, including attempts to retaliate or terrify people into submission by using violence — up to and including lethal violence — against powerless people under their physical control. Or else we have a system of government policing which has clearly demonstrated that it can do nothing effectual to prevent this from happening, over and over again. In either case, it is unfit to exist.

Translation from cop-speak to English

The San Antonio police department recently adopted a perfectly reasonable policy restricting the use of tasers to situations in which there isn’t any risk that somebody will get killed. Here’s part of a reader’s comment in reply to the story about the policy in POLICE: The Law Enforcement Magazine:

I think the one officer at a time is a good policy, but to deny them the use of the Taser is WRONG! What are we supposed to do, go back to the baton or billy club? Once an officer is SCARED he will resort to whatever it takes to save him/herself.

–konaron @ 10/16/2008 8:04 PM

Translation: according to konaron, cops are a bunch of twitchy, trigger-happy cowards who will resort to any kind of violence, no matter how excessive, in order to save their own skins. Therefore police department policies should indulge their violence as far as possible, even if it means letting them kill people with their non-lethal weapons.

And I’m the one who’s supposed to be running down cops?

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No, seriously, I could swear the water in this pot is getting a little hotter… (#7)

Here's a cover with a photo of a cop in an ordinary blue duty uniform looking through the site of a huge assault rifle, pointed at a target off-camera.

Posturing macho warrior cops in Chicago, Miami, Palm Beach County, Montana, Johnson City, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. are all now starting to carry are all now starting to carry AR-15 or M4 assault rifles with them on ordinary street patrols, for all those tactical situations that they expect to find themselves in when they’re out there peace-making.

Now, in Phoenix, the police department is ordering more semiautomatic AR-15 rifles for patrol cops to tote on the streets. The goal is to make sure that there will be at least 3 cops carrying an AR-15 in every patrol squad.

More patrol officers on Phoenix streets will soon be carrying semi-automatic rifles, a move that officials say will provide a better match for criminals and more accurate tool in high-risk encounters.

… Phoenix council members on Wednesday approved a request for the police department to purchase 60 Bushmaster .223-caliber rifles from Clyde Armory at a cost of $44,813.28. Officials anticipate having the order fulfilled in time for the first set of 20 officers to train with the rifles in early November.

There are currently 60 rifles assigned to patrol officers. Once the additional 60 are implemented, each squad will have access to a rifle. The eventual goal is to have three per squad, said Sgt. Andy Hill, a Phoenix police spokesman.

Special units have used the high-powered gun for years, and some patrol officers have been carrying them since 1999.

— Lindsey Collom, The Arizona Republic (2008-10-02): Police Department to get more rifles

Meanwhile, cop press outlets like POLICE: The Law Enforcement Magazine continually run stories proclaiming that there aren’t enough cops swarming the city streets, and print demonstrably false claims about violent crime rates–for example:

Consider the widespread belief that violent crime rates are dropping in America. This stanza of the sociologists' catechism is backed up by the statistic that the murder rate is declining. . . . But as recently pointed out by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his keynote speeches at TREXPO West, we actually live in the most criminally violent period in American history. The murder rate is down, not because Americans have stopped trying to kill each other but because emergency medicine has advanced far enough to keep the victims of deadly assaults alive when just years before they would have died.

The claim about violent crime rates is demonstrably false; the attempt to explain away declining murder rates is pure bullshit. If you check the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports data from 1992 to 2007, you’ll find that total violent crime rates per 100,000 have fallen every single year for the past 15 years, except for small upticks in 2005 and 2006. (Small enough that the rate never even reached where it had been in 2003.) Absolute numbers of violent crimes reported decreased every year except for 2001, 2005, and 2006, in spite of continuous increases in total population. The total numbers include not only murder, but also robbery, rape, and all forms of aggravated assault, with attempted murders being counted under the aggravated assault category, so advances in ER procedures and technology make no difference at all. And you see roughly the same trends when you break the figures down by each category. In other words, this is a complete lie which could have been proven false by spending a couple minutes perusing easily-read tables on the FBI’s own website. The interesting question, then, is what kind of purpose it serves for heavily-armed government cops — who are stocking up on assault rifles and tanks, cordoning off whole neighborhoods, training themselves in warrior mindset, and calling for a surge by inner-city police forces explicitly modeled on the military occupation of Iraq and funded by Department of Homeland Security — for these cops, I say, to go around trying very hard to convince each other, in spite of the evidence of their senses, that we actually live in the most criminally violent period in American history.

Do you feel safer now?

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How cops see themselves

A few days ago I wrote a post that referenced a story in POLICE: The Law Enforcement Magazine. POLICE is a glossy journal of blue thug culture, which includes charming pieces like America Needs a Surge Against Gangs, How to Justify Officer Safety Searches, Working Informants. Here is a collage of cover photos from the past two years of POLICE.

Here's a cover with a photo of an armed cop standing next to a National Guard soldier with a flag in the background, captioned "Standing Guard" Here's a cover with a photo of two armored SWAT police coming around the corner, with the one in front pointing a huge shotgun obliquely towards the camera. Here's a cover with a photo of a cop aiming a gun at the target on a training range. Here's a cover with a photo of heavily armed SWAT police standing in the door of a huge armored vehicle, aiming a shotgun obliquely at the camera, with the headline "Heavy Metal Thunder: Armored Vehicles Give SWAT the Winning Edge" Here's a cover with a photo of a cop standing in darkness, pointing a lit-up handgun obliquely at the camera. Here's a cover with a photo of a heavily armed SWAT police, with a helmet and body armor, charging directly at the camera with a shotgun pointed directly at the camera, with the headline "SWAT Saves Lives". Here's a cover of a patrol cop's rear end and gun holster, with the cop about to pull the handgun out of the holster. Here's a cover with a photo of a gang of heavily armored SWAT police, with face-plated riot helmets and heavy body armor, forcing a prisoner in an orange jump suit to the ground, captioned "SWAT behind bars". Here's a cover with a photo of a cop in an ordinary blue duty uniform looking through the site of a huge assault rifle, pointed at a target off-camera. Here's a cover with a photo of an armored SWAT police firing a huge TASER shotgun obliquely at the camera, with the shock-delivery projectile actually flying out towards the viewer. Here's a cover with a photo of a patrol officer crouched in combat posture behind a huge SUV with police markings, with her handgun drawn and pointed at a target off-camera to the left. Here's a cover with a photo of an armored SWAT police charging towards the camera, holding an assault rifle that's currently pointed at the ground. Here's a cover with a photo of a line of about 5 or 6 armored SWAT police in body armor and helmets, coming around the corner of a yellow school bus, with the caption "Are Terrorists Targeting Our Schools?" Here's a cover with a photo of a SWAT police in body armor, wearing sunglasses and squared off facing the camera, with a large assault rifle in his hands.

This is a selective collage–but the selection includes the majority of the covers POLICE has printed over the past two years. That’s the way that a magazine staffed and written almost entirely by current or former police, and written for an audience of professional police, on the subject of policing, has chosen to brand itself and its contents for its prospective audience. What do you think that says about the way government cops see themselves these days? What sort of model do you suppose images like these suggest for police to use to understand the ethics and the attitude that they need to adopt in their professional lives? What do you think that a publication like this encourages them to think of when they think of what their job is all about, and what kind of posture they should adopt when they deal with non-police — with people like you and me and our neighbors — on the street or in our homes?

Do you feel safer now?

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