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policeCheck out the most recent Bad Cop Blotter:

On Friday, the district attorney’s office in Humboldt County, Nevada, agreed to return the $50,000 that had been seized from Tan Nguyen during a traffic stop on September 23, 2013. Nguyen had never been charged with a crime, much less convicted of anything—Humboldt County sheriff’s deputy Lee Dove pulled him over for allegedly going three miles over the speed limit, then searched his car without permission (though the cops claim consent was given) and found what Nguyen said was gambling winnings. The 37-year-old California resident’s luck clearly ran out when he was stopped by Dove, however, and according to his lawsuit, Nguyen was given a choice—give up his money or try to get home without his vehicle.

This wasn’t an isolated incident or a mistake on behalf of the cops. In a photo that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department put on Facebook (and has since deleted), Dove posed proudly with a police dog and the $50,000 he had seized. The officer, who is also accused of taking $13,800 and a handgun from another driver in a similarly flimsy traffic-stop scenario, is presumably feeling less puffed-up now. On Friday, the local district attorney’s office promised that that driver, Nguyen, and another person who had $2,400 taken, would get their cash back, and that forfeiture policy would be reevaluated.

Is it good that the DA is checking on these stories? Sure. Are these Nevada horror stories particularly surprising? Not if you know the bizarre state of asset-forfeiture laws.

The rest here

6-8-07-segway-policeBelow is my debut for Rare.us, the conservative/libertarian outlet. As is often the case, I rambled on about how cops have become soldiers, and how that is very bad indeed.

Knowing what 9/11 did to America, it would be easy to assume that an overeager desire to prevent another such tragedy is why our cops look and act more and more like the military these days.

Yet the drug war — first “declared” by Richard Nixon, then militarized by Ronald Reagan — and various laws that came out of the tough on drugs and crime panics of the ‘80s is why every small town seems to have a SWAT team today. Officer Friendly has been taken over by RoboCop.

Though the push-back against the drug war has begun at long last, thanks to successful legislation efforts in Colorado and Washington state, most legislators have yet to stare down the new face of the police themselves.

One rare exception is Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). On March 10, he co-authored a USA Today editorial in which he announced his plan to introduce legislation which would hinder the Pentagon’s 1033 program that allows police departments to acquire surplus military equipment.

But how much success will legislation have when it aims to restrict willing recipients from receiving tech that might just be destroyed? Not as much as it should.

Since 9/11, cops have been given more powers and privileges for fighting terrorism. The New York Police Department (NYPD) now performs a great deal of CIA-ish surveillance in the name of preventing another attack. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg even described the NYPD as his “private army.”

The rest here

 

401977_820298143983_859526031_nBelow is the second edition of “The War at Home” column. I tried to cram in a hasty lesson on the whys and the dangers of the militarized police in America.

Antiwar commenters are often yelling at me for being for open borders or for referring to Chelsea Manning as Chelsea Manning, but they may have a point about my final paragraph being misleading. Noted, commenters. Thanks for the lesson.

(I also should have headlined it “The Blurred Line Between Soldiers and Cops” because that so obviously sounds better. Ugh.)

Nevertheless, do check it out:

In a March 10 USA Today piece, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) expressed his desire to introduce legislation that would place limits on the Pentagon’s 1033 program which is used to supply police departments with gear that was once used on the streets of Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a long overdue “official” recognition that something terrible has happened to police departments in the US. Whether Johnson’s plan has a chance of getting anywhere remains to be seen. Because there are numerous firmly-stuck perverse incentives that lead to the state of policing today and which perpetuate it.

People who casually notice the more military-like qualities of American police would be forgiven for assuming their tactics, weapons, and menacing appearance are a result of post-9/11 fear. Though September 11 and subsequent scares and some real incidents such as the Boston Bombing have aggravated this problem – and there is a similar equipment grant program that comes from the Department of Homeland Security that Rep. Johnson should check on – the catalyst for our mutant police is narcotics prohibition.

Ronald Reagan’s literal drug war began in 1981 with the passage of the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Statute (10 USC 371-380). More loosened restrictions followed that allowed domestic assistance by the military to police in certain (usually drug) cases. It also set up a system where police departments could receive equipment through grants from the federal government. This lead to bizarre commando-style drug raids that sometimes included military helicopters, and even U-2 spy planes. (The flimsy accusation that the Branch Davidian sect had a meth lab was even the excuse for the presence of the Bradley Fighting Vehicles and other military hardware during the disastrous 1993 standoff outside Waco, TX.)

Richard Nixon had declared a “war on drugs” in 1971 and pushed some bad policies – including a DC “no-knock raids” law – with limited success. But the conflict became the monster we see today under Reagan. Those years rocketed the US’s prison population to its current inhumane level of more than 2 million people, and they lead to the normalization of camo-clad cops kicking in doors over reports of weed or other drugs. The spike in crime in the 1990s cemented this supposed need for eternally tough on crime measures from police and politicians. Policies such as mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders made it clear this was was a serious enough issue to warrant life in prison for repeat, nonviolent drug dealers.

The rest over here

From the latest Bad Cop Blotter:

21-jump-street-posterOn December 11, 2012, 17-year-old Jesse Snodgrass and a few of his fellow students were sitting in their classes in Chaparral High School in Riverside County, California, when they were arrested by armed cops. That raid, dubbed “Operation Glasshouse,” also extended to other schools in the district. At the end of that day, police had arrested 22 students and seized undisclosed amounts of weed, cocaine, pills, heroin, and LSD. The police considered it a great success. Snodgrass’s parents were horrified.

The March 14 issue of Rolling Stone has a detailed, disturbing account of how Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Zipperstein went undercover at Chaparral and subsequently pretended to befriend Snodgrass (who suffers from autism, bipolar disorder, Tourette’s, and anxiety) and insisted he sell him $20 of weed on two occasions. It only took the 22-year-old cop 60 text messages and weeks of pestering to bend the vulnerable and largely friendless teenager to his will, but when Zipperstein failed to convince Snodgrass to sell him some of his anti-anxiety medication, the deputy stopped pretending to be his friend.

Snodgrass’s parents weren’t informed of his December 11 arrest until the school mentioned he wasn’t there. He spent three days in juvenile lockup, where it had to be explained to him what was going on. Once a judge realized Snodgrass’s health issues, the teen got off with 20 hours of community service and a commitment to stay out of further trouble for six months. But he became withdrawn, blank, and depressed after his arrest and confinement, and Chaparral expelled him. The Temecula Valley Unified School District spent six days at an appeal hearing in February 2013 trying to make sure Jesse stayed gone. An actual human with the actual title of director of Child Welfare and Attendance, Michael Hubbard (one of the few people in the school administration who had known about Operation Glasshouse before the arrests) testified that Jesse knew right from wrong. Hubbard added that he didn’t think the stings were “coercion or entrapment for any of the kids.” That is, an undercover cop begging an autistic teen (who hadn’t ever sold weed before) for drugs was acceptable activity in a high school.

You can read the rest here

potLast Tuesday, during a hearing on legislation that would permit the use of recreational marijuana in Maryland, Annapolis police chief Michael Pristoop testified against the bill, in the process claiming that 37 people had overdosed on marijuana the day that pot became legal in Colorado. Pristoop was apparently getting his information from the Daily Currant, a notoriously shitty, unfunny “satire” website that put up a joke piece that “reported” that those people had died back in January.

State senator Jamie Raskin, the Democrat who sponsored the bill, immediately corrected Pristoop and told him that the Daily Currant is a comedy site. Pristoop said he would check on the error, but he was “holding on to information I was provided.” The next day Pristoop acknowledged he was wrong but said the general objection to legalization still stands. In other words, his opinion was based on lies, but he wasn’t changing it.

Now, Pristoop’s job requires that he enforce the drug laws, which in theory means that he should be more educated than the general public about what individual drugs can and can’t do. What’s disturbing is that he believed such a baseless story on faith—believed it enough to bring it up in a fancy hearing!—even though YOU CAN’T OVERDOSE ON MARIJUANA.

The rest of the Bad Cop Blotter over here

policeOn Valentine’s Day, two police officers in Euharlee, Georgia, showed up at the home of 17-year-old Christopher Roupe to serve a probation-violation warrant on his father. According to a lawyer representing Roupe’s family, immediately after the teenager opened the door, an unnamed female officer shot him fatally in the chest. The officer, who’s now on paid administrative leave, told the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is now handling the investigation, that Roupe pointed a gun at her. But it’s not at all clear that’s what happened. Neighbor Richard Yates, who was interviewed by local-news station WSBTV, thought that Roupe was actually holding a BB gun and “playing a game” with another kid. (Yates also said he saw the female officer crying after the incident.) Tia Howard, another neighbor, told WSBTV that “they said” the boy had a Wii controller when he was shot.

When I called him to ask about the incident, Euharlee police chief Terry J. Harget told me he had no comment or official statement except what had been given to TV stations last week. Harget added that he hoped the truth would come out and that the considered the event a tragedy, which it certainly is.

It’s not an isolated tragedy, though. Police mistake various harmless items—Wii remotes, combs,walletspagers—for guns all the time. Frequently, you’ll hear that a suspect was “reaching for his waistband,” a common excuse/cliché in police shootings that often makes the officers more justified in letting one fly than they were. And it’s not just confrontations with suspected criminals that end in gunfire—sometimes the police simply spot a teenager with a toy firearm, or a manholding a hose nozzle, or a homeless man with a stick, and open fire.

The rest of the Bad Cop Blotter here

Rollerblade_444692_1510740Here’s my latest Bad Cop Blotter, which I didn’t even realize was up until two days ago. I have had a post-Students for Liberty Conference virus. It’s either from all that freedom, or from being in Mordor for a whole weekend. Nevertheless, read:

On October 11, 2011, Florida Highway Patrol trooper Donna Jane Watts saw someone driving a Miami police cruiser way over the speed limit, so she attempted to stop him. The driver reportedly took seven minutes to pull over the cop car, making Watts even more antsy over whether she was dealing with someone who was taking a cruiser for a joyride at 120 miles per hour. It turned out that the driver was a uniformed, on-duty officer named Fausto Lopez, who apologized to Watts and said he was late for an off-duty job. Watts arrested him anyway. He was breaking the law.

Lopez was later fired, but according to the Associated Press, Watts was subjected to a campaign of harassment, prank calls, and anonymous threats from people she suspects were fellow officers. Police vehicles and unmarked cars idled near her house. Freaking out, she even did a public records request to confirm that, yes, the police were accessing information from her driver’s license—88 officers from 25 agencies had looked her up more than 200 times in one three-month period. She’s now suing the cops and departments involved for improperly accessing her info, though many of the cops who looked at her license have been reprimanded and the agencies involved say such searches are only illegal if the information gets sold. No matter what happens in court, this is a disturbing picture of the “thin blue line” of cops who don’t look kindly on an officer who goes after another officer.

The rest here

Photo via Flickr user Karen Neoh

Photo via Flickr user Karen Neoh

Here at The Stag Blog we love Philip Seymour Hoffman and mourn his passing. I also believe that legalized heroin would save lives, especially those of the less privileged addicts or sometime-users of the drug. The idea that anyone has to weigh the fear of arrest and prison with the fear of them or a friend overdosing is a horrifying one. Those laws need to be changed now, not a few more decades after the David Brookses of the world accept that their marijuana hypocrisy might be excessive.

The below VICE piece doesn’t even cover the (also important) point that some people can do heroin or other hard drugs and not become addicted (check out: Jacob Sullum’s phenomenal Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use) and that all of this should be a personal choice, and morally speaking it is one.

When people talk about ending the drug war, they usually mean “no one should go to prison for marijuana.” There’s no doubt the public has shifted its collective opinion on pot—currently, a majority of Americans believe it should be as legal, regulated, and taxed as tobacco and alcohol—and naturally, politicians are beginning to sense the way the wind is blowing. But elected officials, like people at large, are less gung-ho about legalizing the harder drugs.

First, let’s clarify that no one is recommending that we all follow Philip Seymour Hoffman’sexample and start shooting up. Heroin is awful. Don’t do heroin. It fucks up your life. But as the case of the fentanyl-cut heroin that has killed 22 people in Pittsburgh illustrates, the only thing worse than legal heroin is illegal heroin.

The rest here