By Nathan Barton
It seems to me that in the past couple of months we have seen a huge ramp up in reports of “rogue cops” stealing and killing and beating and otherwise behaving like the criminals that they are supposed to be “protecting” us from. Several other people have noticed and commented on the same thing.
It could be that this is a cyclic sort of thing, or that we are hearing more about this kind of behavior due to the alternative press and the better technology of the 2010s versus that of 1990 or 1970. And we’ve always had corrupt cops and sheriffs and the like, going back to the days of King Richard I and Prince John and before. But I do wonder. The level of brazenness and scope of this behavior seems to be growing.
For instance, in King City, California, a farming town, cops have been stealing the automobiles of poor “Latino” people in town. In San Francisco, six police were indicted for violating rights, stealing and selling pot. Just this week. In New Jersey, two Elizabeth cops are pleading guilt of stealing by deception in a scheme involving the cops getting paid for jobs that they never worked an hour on. MORE NYC cops and firefighers were charged with disability fraud in a growing pension scandal: several hundred now.
But simple theft and fraud is not the worst, by any means. The Blaze reports on a man accused of fleeing and resisting arrest, but the dashcam that finally came to light showed cops beating him for no reason. In California’s Bay Area, there are too many stories in the past 2-3 years of cops gunning down innocent teens after mistaking toys for guns or just plain “making a mistake” that it is hard to find information about recent killings. Police brutality reports rapes, pimping, beatings, breaking of necks and more, to the tune of several dozen incidents a month. Last week, police intervened in a woman and her daughter having a fight outside a theatre in Oklahoma by beating the husband/father to death, in front of them. Another site, “Photography is not a crime,” records a dozen incidents in the past week in which cops have pulled guns or beaten or arrested people just for recording video of them in action. Even when the video vindicates the cop’s actions against a criminal or suspect.
Humans are not the only victims of cops: dogs and cats and other animals are killed, seemingly more and more frequently by cops; sometimes claiming they feared the animals. And sometimes apparently with a great deal of glee at doing so.
And the killing by cops continues, or at least their attempts to kill people: Political Outpost discusses a 70-year-old man gunned down by cops because he was reaching for his cane in the back of his pickup. Last week a teen was killed because he came to his door with a Wii controller. A few days ago, it was decided that no charges would be filed for the killing, execution style, of a Michigan homeless man waving a knife but twenty-thirty feet away from a half-dozen cops, in a hail of bullets. Despite videos showing no reason for the killing: OR for the poor marksmanship: only 11 of 47 shots actually hit the man. It sounds (on the audio) like automatic gunfire.
How many more incidents like these I’ve described are happening every day, somewhere – or several some-wheres – in the nation? Then either not covered by the press, or covered up by the press and the agencies? And how many of those beatings and deaths would NOT have happened if police had a different attitude? And if therefore the people these police are interacting with had a different attitude?
With people like this serving in our vaunted “law enforcement” services, why do we worry about criminals NOT in uniform? It is a question that many people are asking. Even in rural areas, not just in the “combat zones” of inner urban areas, the people in uniform seem to be sliding into a criminal mindset, an “us-versus-them” attitude that leads to violence and often death with no real justification. At the same time as police deaths and injuries are down, and national homicide rates continue to drop over several decades, the killing by police bucks that trend.
There IS a solution to this, or rather, several.
First, look at who we hire as cops, who we allow to work in these “dangerous” positions. Remember, these are not private jobs: these are government. It is not damaging to liberty to require physical, mental (psychological), AND moral testing: you don’t want a wife-beater or a child-molester as a cop; and you don’t want someone who cheats on their wife or stole from his employer or cheated on his school work, either. And most ex-military are NOT the kind of people (based on experience and training) that you want for cops: definitely not infantry or armor or special forces types. (Maybe Military Police or USAF Security Police. Maybe.) You don’t want people who have ever shown any cruelty to animals. And you have to avoid the power-hungry, the egotistical, and the quick-tempered.
Second, we need to train them better. Part of it is to teach the cops to do the same things that they supposedly want the public to do: be respectful, don’t escalate things, don’t assume the worst, use nonlethal weapons and less than lethal force, and even back off. But the very first part of the teaching is about humans: about liberty and rights and understanding the Constitutions (state and federal) and what tyranny means.
Third, we need to track them better. Just as there are statewide databases of traffic violators and sexual offenders, there should be statewide databases of crooked, corrupt, brutal, and dishonest cops. So that ANY town or county or city hiring can be forced to see the past record. Not just the criminal court cases but the “internal investigations” and the citizen (and other) complaints. And I might go so far as “three strikes and you’re out,” for ANY “petty offense” much less misdemeanor or felony. And that would include “false statements on official documents” and EVERY traffic and other offense that someone NOT in uniform is subject to. And by out, I mean BANNED for life: no more police service OR ANY employment in a government agency OR in political office (especially NOT dogcatcher).
Fourth, we need to have a corps of dedicated volunteers, that slow down and stop and watch ANY time there is an interaction between a cop and anyone else, day or night, rural or urban. Who will, indeed, watch the watchers? (A friend thinks that mandating wearing cameras for ALL cops on patrol might be a possible solution; a study in Rialto, California in their police department shows great promise. But at the same time, there are dozens of cases of cops knowing they were being taped doing the same stupid, thuggish things.)
“But, Nathan, this is all pie in the sky; all utopian, we can’t possibly do or afford this…” And you are right. This IS impossible: people are not angels. People do dumb, stupid, idiotic things. Power corrupts. These ideas are Band-aids on a cancer victim.
So what can we do? See Part II for thoughts on that.