So, there are problems with what it is that police are charged to do, and with how they do it.
The Ferguson report (fantastic article at the Atlantic) shows that it’s not only racism that is the problem, although obviously that is a huge problem. What is not as obvious is that the racism, as well as the other policing issues we are currently experiencing, may follow somewhat directly from the directives our police force has been given.
Ferguson officials repeatedly behaved as if their priority is not improving public safety or protecting the rights of residents, but maximizing the revenue that flows into city coffers, sometimes going so far as to anticipate decreasing sales tax revenues and urging the police force to make up for the shortfall by ticketing more people. Often, those tickets for minor offenses then turned into arrest warrants.
Police officers were judged not only on the number of stops they made, but on the number of citations they issued. “Officers routinely conduct stops that have little relation to public safety and a questionable basis in law,” the report states. “Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter.” Some officers compete to see who can issue the most citations in a single stop.
In one email, the police chief, who also oversees the municipal court, brags to the city manager about how much revenue it is generating. Ignoring that conflict of interest is a recipe for a justice system that bleeds the powerless of their meager resources.
The police are supposed to protect the general public from crimes, presumably in a priority that includes the magnitude of harm done. This is their one and only job. When they become a revenue generating department, they can no longer effectively do their job. Period. They become the perpetrators of crimes, instead.
This leads to racism by some pretty simple psychology. Think of yourself as a cop. You’re the good guy (you want to be, you believe yourself to be, and, in theory, it’s definitional). Your job also requires you to raise money, by issuing tickets, and by arresting those in arrears. You know that you will have the best chance of raising money by ticketing those with the least money, because they are least able to defend themselves. This also causes you, personally, the least amount of trouble, as you will not have to make court appearances. You also know that if you ticket people who are less likely to receive notices (due to homelessness, or moving frequently,) then those people will run up larger fines. So you target those who are poor. In addition, since you are more often in poor neighborhoods responding to criminal complaints, it’s easier for you to issue tickets where you are. Example, from the article:
… a woman called FPD to report a domestic disturbance. By the time the police arrived, the woman’s boyfriend had left. The police looked through the house and saw indications that the boyfriend lived there. When the woman told police that only she and her brother were listed on the home’s occupancy permit, the officer placed the woman under arrest for the permit violation and she was jailed. In another instance, after a woman called police to report a domestic disturbance and was given a summons for an occupancy permit violation, she said, according to the officer’s report, that she “hated the Ferguson Police Department and will never call again, even if she is being killed.”
Here’s where the psychology comes in. You are the good guy, so whoever you target, in your mind, becomes the bad guy. If there are more black people who are poor, BOOM, racism.
The other problem with this extortion model of policing is that it leads to a “do whatever I say, I am always right” attitude. The police are no longer charged with protecting people, but with getting something from them. By force, again, definitionally. This leads to intimidation. Again, from Atlantic:
In June 2014, an African-American couple who had taken their children to play at the park allowed their small children to urinate in the bushes next to their parked car. An officer stopped them, threatened to cite them for allowing the children to “expose themselves,” and checked the father for warrants.
When the mother asked if the officer had to detain the father in front of the children, the officer turned to the father and said, “you’re going to jail because your wife keeps running her mouth.” The mother then began recording the officer on her cell phone. The officer became irate, declaring, “you don’t videotape me!” As the officer drove away with the father in custody for “parental neglect,” the mother drove after them, continuing to record. The officer then pulled over and arrested her for traffic violations. When the father asked the officer to show mercy, he responded, “no more mercy, since she wanted to videotape,” and declared “nobody videotapes me.” The officer then took the phone, which the couple’s daughter was holding. After posting bond, the couple found that the video had been deleted.
This is also seen in other police departments. Read this whole article from the burning platform, and also follow the link in that article.
The following story should send shivers down the spines of all decent, law-abiding American citizens. It’s also a great reminder of the primary reason it’s so wise to videotape interactions with police. Many of them turn out to be egregious liars.It’s the story of Army veteran, and Washington Parish, Louisiana resident Douglas Dendinger. A man who’s life was nearly intentionally ruined by group of cops and prosecutors upset that he had acted as a process server for a lawsuit filed by his nephew. The following should make you even more concerned than you already are about the American injustice system.
In order to help out his family and earn a quick $50, Dendinger agreed to act as a process server, giving a brutality lawsuit filed by his nephew to Chad Cassard as the former Bogalusa police officer exited the Washington Parish Courthouse.
The handoff went smoothly, but Dendinger said the reaction from Cassard, and a group of officers and attorneys clustered around him, turned his life upside down.
“It was like sticking a stick in a bee’s nest.” Dendinger, 47, recalled. “They started cursing me. They threw the summons at me. Right at my face, but it fell short. Vulgarities. I just didn’t know what to think. I was a little shocked.”
Not knowing what to make of the blow-up, a puzzled Dendinger drove home. That’s where things went from bad to worse.
“Within about 20 minutes, there were these bright lights shining through my windows. It was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I mean I knew immediately, a police car.”
“And that’s when the nightmare started,” he said. “I was arrested.”
He was booked with simple battery, along with two felonies: obstruction of justice and intimidating a witness, both of which carry a maximum of 20 years in prison. Because of a prior felony cocaine conviction, Dendinger calculated that he could be hit with 80 years behind bars as a multiple offender.
In a scene described in the lawsuit, Dendinger recounted a nervous night handcuffed to a rail at the Washington Parish Jail. He said he was jeered by officers, including Bogalusa Police Chief Joe Culpepper, who whistled the ominous theme song from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
After his family posted bail, he said he was hopeful that the matter would be exposed as a big misunderstanding. After all, he thought, a group of police officers and two St. Tammany prosecutors witnessed the event.
Supported by two of his prosecutors who were at the scene, Reed formally charged Dendinger. Both prosecutors, Julie Knight and Leigh Anne Wall, gave statements to the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office implicating Dendinger.
The case file that was handed to Reed and his office was bolstered by seven witness statements given to Washington Parish deputies, including the two from Reed’s prosecutors.
In her statement to deputies, contained in a police report, Knight stated, “We could hear the slap as he hit Cassard’s chest with an envelope of papers…This was done in a manner to threaten and intimidate everyone involved.”
Casssard, in his statement, told deputies, Dendinger “slapped me in the chest.”
Washington Parish court attorney Pamela Legendre said “it made such a noise,” she thought the officer “had been punched.”
Police Chief Culpepper gave a police statement that he witnessed the battery, but in a deposition he said, “I wasn’t out there.” But that didn’t stop Culpepper from characterizing Dendinger’s actions as “violence, force.”
There’s only one problem with all of these statements. They are complete fabrications.
When Dendinger saw the police report, he said his reaction was strong and immediate.
“I realized even more at that moment: These people are trying to hurt me.”
What the officers and attorneys did not know was that Dendinger had one critical piece of evidence on his side: grainy cell phone videos shot by his wife and nephew. Dendinger said he thought of recording the scene at the last minute as a way of showing he had completed the task of serving the summons.
In the end, the two videos may have saved Dendinger from decades in prison. From what can be seen on the clips, Dendinger never touches Cassard, who calmly takes the envelope and walks back into the courthouse, handing Wall the envelope.
“He’d still be in a world of trouble if he didn’t have that film,” said David Cressy, a friend of Dendinger who once served as a prosecutor under Reed. “It was him against all of them. They took advantage of that and said all sorts of fictitious things happened. And it didn’t happen. It would still be going like that had they not had the film.”