June 13, 2020

fruit of the poisonous tree

Some thoughts on the cops. Indirectly brought to you by my twitter feed, which has been screaming ABOLISH ALL POLICE for the past two weeks straight. (I really need to stop spending all day on twitter.) tl;dr I think police departments will always be problematic in ways that are difficult/impossible to fix through reform. But they're a necessary evil as long as we have violent criminals, which means forever.

1. Bad apples: Police departments are going to naturally attract/produce people who will abuse their power, for a couple of reasons.

1a. Certain kinds of people are going to be attracted to the job of cop. That includes bullies who like the idea of having a gun and a badge and the power of the state to back them up in their bullying. Not all cops are like this, but some always will be.

(aside: I used to know a cop at my parents' church. that dude loved being a cop. and he loved being part of the church leadership asshole brigade who used their positions to lord it over fellow church members who were low-income, minority, or just anyone they didn't like. coincidence hmm)

1b. Once cops are on the job (regardless of initial motivation), they're expected to be productive workers. For a cop, productivity is measured in terms of arrests, solving crimes, stuff like that. So for the unscrupulous, there will always be the temptation to cheat. Plant drugs on the gang member. Show a picture of the chief suspect to eyewitnesses before they view a lineup. Beat a suspect into confessing. (And then in the typewritten confession you make him sign, you include a line saying "I have been treated well, allowed to use the restroom, etc. and made this statement of my own free will" so that if he moves to suppress, you point to that line and the judge denies the motion. An easy day's work.)

2. Fruit of the poisonous tree: So can we just, like, fire all the bad cops and get better ones?

The problem is that police departments have a toxic culture of solidarity. Protect your brothers, the thin blue line, all of that. So even honest cops will often not rat out their abusive brethren, or if they do, they're ostracized, demoted, reassigned, harassed.

And that renders a lot of attempted reforms strikingly ineffective. Implicit bias training and de-escalation classes? Bad cops won't care. Policies regarding excessive use of force, banning chokeholds, stuff like that? Bad cops also won't care. They'll keep on doing what they do and their co-cops will largely stay silent. I mean, torturing suspects is also against policy (obviously) and you see how well that worked out for my local police department.

3. So, what to do about this tree? That's where I don't have a good answer.

3a. Defunding the police: I think reducing the role (and, concomitantly, the funding) of police departments is a great idea, but they still play a necessary role in society.

A lot of tasks currently performed by armed police officers could be performed just as well by social workers or unarmed state agents. For instance: A complaint about a neighbor burning leaves in their yard, or a raucous midnight party. Or a concerned mom worried that her mentally ill son will hurt himself and wanting someone to talk him down. Or a business owner who wants homeless guys to quit sleeping in his parking lot. None of these situations require the use of armed force, and introducing a bunch of armed officers to the mix can easily just make things worse.

But there are other situations that do require armed force. For instance: There's a drive-by shooting and multiple witnesses identify the shooter as a particular person from the neighborhood, and now police have to take an armed and dangerous suspect into custody. Or there's a call to a domestic violence incident where the aggressor is armed. Or there's a school shooting/mass shooting in progress. These are a minority of situations but they will always exist and we are always going to need armed police to deal with them.

3b. Stricter gun laws: These will not help much in the near future because there are already so many illegal guns out there. Like, you think any of these drive-by shooters have legally licensed firearms? looool. This is the criminal-side counterpart of "bad cops do not care about department policies on use of force."

3c. "Community policing": I hear this term bandied around a lot and I'm not entirely sure what it means, but I don't like it. I don't know a single one of my neighbors and am happy to keep it that way. I am certainly not calling random neighbors to help with my problems. Also, what if your neighbors are the problem? Like say you're the only black family in a white neighborhood and are facing threats/vandalism/etc.? (Granted, cops may not be helpful to you in that situation either...)

3d. Independent review: Now here's the good stuff. Police departments shouldn't be in charge of investigating themselves. Like duh they're not going to admit their own misconduct. Need some kind of independent review board. (And require bodycams! And if the cam was turned off, or the footage is "lost," there should be a presumption that it's negative to the police officer(s) in question that can only be overcome by clear and convincing evidence.) (And while you're at it, nerf qualified immunity.)

Gonna stop spinning my wheels here. Sadly nothing I have to say on this subject is nearly as catchy as ABOLISH THE POLICE, but that's just how it is.

Also I am writing this here to make sure I do it: NO MORE TWITTER FOR THE REST OF THE DAY

Written by Achaius

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Comments
JustMegawatt
Posted On Jun 14, 2020

Twitter can be such a toxic place, I don't like that site very much

Achaius
Posted On Jun 14, 2020

@JustMegawatt I like the art community; they're really supportive and there are tons of really talented people. But I've definitely been spending way too much time there lately, I just sit and scroll and another hour is gone.

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