Sunday, January 18, 2015

Police preying on the people

A couple of Philadelphia reporters won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for what amounts to a local case study of the police misbehavior that Radley Balko explores in The Rise of the Warrior Cop. The book that came out of their investigations, Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love by Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker is a terrific companion volume to Balko's, a quick read, and a reminder that shoe leather journalism can bring to life realities that sociological and analytical journalism merely describe.

A terrified police informant turned up in the city room of the Philadelphia Daily News, the city's screaming tabloid, with a story of working for a narcotics cop who sent him to set up acquaintances with drug buys -- and paid him with rental living quarters. Uh-oh ... the two women chased down this improbable tale, verifying its truth. They then started hearing that the same squad was raiding corner stores owned by immigrants, stealing merchandise, trashing their alarm systems, and dropping phony charges on the proprietors. Uh-oh ... so that's why the cops always had candy bars to pass out to street regulars from whom they wanted something. Once these stories hit the news, women began to tell them horror stories of being molested by a particular member of the narco squad who had a thing for baring and fondling the breasts of unfortunate females held in proximity to drug raids.

Unlike Balko, Ruderman and Laker make it abundantly clear that the reason these corrupt cops could get away with this behavior for years was that Philadelphia authorities neither believed nor cared about abuse of African Americans and other residents of color. The cops were white and they wouldn't have thought of trying this stuff in white communities. (The reporters were also white.)

Balko writes that J. Edgar Hoover always refused to commit his beloved F.B.I. to rooting out drug commerce.

[He] knew the issue was a loser and tended to lure law enforcement into corruption.

It would be hard to imagine a more concrete, thorough indictment of how the "War on Drugs" makes police into yet another predatory gang running wild where they can than Ruderman and Laker offer here.


Rain Trueax said...

Not all police behave this way. It comes from not enough oversight and power run amok. The same thing has happened to Native American women where nobody cared because of their race. In my opinion, we need police, but we should be keeping an eye on them and have those outside the agency who listen to reports of abuse and investigate it.

Years back I was talking to a guy who worked as a handyman for us and others. He said the worst corruption you will ever see is in small town government where you have to pay someone off to get a job.

The lesson is we need small town government and police but we also need to pay attention and too often we have not. It can even be dangerous to actually look into such things which is why it should be a lot of people doing it.

Without a viable police force, we will have anarchy; so we need to care. If the police get tired of doing a dangerous job (which it can be) and a lot of them quit, who wins with that?

I've written several fictional books where the heroes were in law enforcement. They were all written some years back and even then the police felt they often cannot win for being found fault of whatever they do. They go into a dangerous situation and use their gun too quickly, they are blamed. Not quickly enough and they can end up dead.

That doesn't excuse the bad apples like in that story. There are too many such stories across the country, but the question is what happens next? What do we do about it? Just find fault? Pay better wages to draw in better quality people? More live-cams? There already are those who are responsible for looking at each incident where violence was used... but are they also into it?

I guess my main concern now is that tearing apart the agencies that are responsible for going in when the rest of us run out isn't really going to solve the problem. And the hate some have for the police isn't always wrong but where will it get us when it's all that is constantly offered?

janinsanfran said...

Hi Rain -- I do agree we need some force that fulfills the police function. I've come to agree with Balko that, as evidenced in examples such as this book, the Drug War leads to worse outcomes than the original impetus.

Much of the time, what this society needs is better means by which to deal with people whose mental balance has gone awry. Police are profoundly unprepared for this too often, and even with the best intentions, they don't have solutions. Then we lock up crazy people and the situation just gets worse and more cruel to all. I've seen estimates that as much as one third of the population of jails have mental health issues.

Rain Trueax said...

I agree, Jan. I came across this article after reading your blog-- body cam story. I didn't watch the cam as it's just too upsetting but it's the situation police face constantly. It does not though mean some don't pillage instead of help. I'd hate to have one of my kids be a police officer or my husband. And yet we need them. I think we have been too oblivious and easily distracted.

We voted to legalize pot in Oregon. And that where we've never used it and don't intend to start. It just didn't make sense to have it illegal when alcohol is readily available and can be more of a problem. But unfortunately the questions don't end with pot as what about the rest of the drugs? And if the fed decides to block the states, we are right back to making profits big for the corporate prison system we have gotten ourselves into when that seems the worst solution to the problem.

Dhivajri said...

Don't know if you heard this similar crazy story about the ATF on TAL (or elsewhere). Shocking/not shocking:

janinsanfran said...

FYI, Dhivajri's link is fascinating. The Achohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau of the US government apparently commonly uses their authority to act like frat boys and ruin vulnerable peoples' lives. The story told at the link tracks completely with what Balko reports and the Philly situation.

Perhaps the rarity is when cops are not just a variant on any other criminal gang.

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