A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘United Police States of America’ tag

Counting People Killed by Law Enforcers isn’t Straight Forward

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How many people have been killed in the United States by law enforcers? That question is actually more complicated than it appears because there is a lot of questionable data being used to establish that number:

Over half of all police killings in 2015 were wrongly classified as not having been the result of interactions with officers, a new Harvard study based on Guardian data has found.

The finding is just the latest to show government databases seriously undercounting the number of people killed by police.

“Right now the data quality is bad and unacceptable,” said lead researcher Justin Feldman. “To effectively address the problem of law enforcement-related deaths, the public needs better data about who is being killed, where, and under what circumstances.”

Feldman used data from the Guardian’s 2015 investigation into police killings, The Counted, and compared it with data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS). That dataset, which is kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was found to have misclassified 55.2% of all police killings, with the errors occurring disproportionately in low-income jurisdictions.

This revelation isn’t new nor should it be surprising. Statistics is often an exercise in creating the conclusion and fitting the data to that conclusion. If, for example, the government wanted to make its law enforcers appear to be less lethal, it could massage the number of people killed by its officers by coming up with a creative definition of law enforcement interaction. And government agencies can’t even claim a monopoly on this practice. It seems that most individuals and organizations use statistics to prove an already established conclusion instead of using statistics to establish a conclusion.

Now we have at least two sets of statistics on the number of people killed by law enforcers. Which set of numbers is correct? Who knows. The government has an obvious motivation to massage the numbers so it appears that fewer people are killed by law enforcers but Feldman may be motivated to massage the numbers so it appears that more people are killed by law enforcers. Most people will likely pick the set that proves their conclusion and call it a day. And do you know what? I can’t blame somebody for choosing that strategy because realistically both sets of statistics are probably misleading in some manner.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 17th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Like You and Me, Only Better

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You know how I periodically rant about law enforcers being above the law? The Star Tribune is running a multiple part series on Minneapolis law enforcers who have been convicted of criminal offenses but still hold their job:

They are among hundreds of sworn officers in Minnesota who were convicted of criminal offenses in the past two decades yet kept their state law enforcement licenses, according to public records examined by the Star Tribune. Dozens of them are still on the job with a badge, a gun and the public’s trust that they will uphold the law.

The cases reveal a state licensing system that is failing repeatedly to hold officers accountable for reckless, sometimes violent, conduct.

In Minnesota, doctors and lawyers can lose their professional licenses for conduct that is unethical or unprofessional — even if they never break a law. Yet law enforcement officers can stay on the job for years even when a judge or jury finds them guilty of criminal behavior.

As the article notes, people in many fields have their licenses taken for far less than being found guilty of a criminal offense. Furthermore, those individuals don’t even hold the same authority as a law enforcer. A doctor generally isn’t in a position to shoot or kidnap you and they certainly aren’t in a position to shoot your family pets.

Why are law enforcers given so much leeway? To answer that question, we need to point out the primary purpose of law enforcers. The primary purpose of law enforcers is not to serve and protect. They’re revenue generators for the State first and foremost. In order to encourage law enforcers to generate as much revenue as possible they are given a lot of privileges. Departments are often given a share of the loot their officers bring in. When a law enforcer is accused of wrongdoing they are given a paid vacation instead of being left unpaid during the duration of the investigation. Officers who commit an act of violence are usually treated more kindly than you or I would be under the same circumstances. It should come as no surprise that law enforcers are also allowed to continue generating revenue for the State even if they have been found guilty of the very crimes they are supposed to uphold.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 3rd, 2017 at 10:00 am

When Being Arrested is Enough to Land You in Prison

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A man is currently sitting in prison because he was arrested. Mind you, he wasn’t found guilty of anything but being arrested violated a condition of his parole so he’s not rotting in a cage again:

In March 2016, a year after Smith’s arrest, prosecutors dismissed the other charge against Smith — the drug crime — after the man who claimed the package of pot pleaded guilty, court records show.

“Your case is dismissed,” a judge told Smith, according to the transcript. “That’s the end of that, so, for you.”

The problem: Smith’s arrest was a violation of his parole. Such violations can send him back to prison. It doesn’t matter that the charges were dropped. And the ultimate arbiter of whether Smith violated his parole isn’t the judge or prosecutor, but the Tennessee Board of Parole. And that group of seven people, all appointed by the governor, has decided to keep Smith in prison.

Just another day in the freest country on Earth.

The whole point of parole (ideally, not in practice though) is to release individuals who haven’t demonstrated themselves to be dangerous on the condition that they behave themselves. However, including the stipulation that a parolee avoid being arrested takes control away from them because, as we all know, a law enforcer can arrest you for any damned reason they please. As the old saying goes, you might avoid the charge but you won’t avoid the ride.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 22nd, 2017 at 11:00 am

Minneapolis Police Not Using Body Cameras

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The City of Minneapolis spent millions of dollars to equip its law enforcers with body cameras. It also created a policy of when its law enforcers are supposed to turn their body cameras on. That policy lacked any real consequences for officers who didn’t follow it. In an absolutely shocking turn of events, it turns out that Minneapolis law enforcers are willing to suffer the lack of consequences for not following the city’s policy:

Minneapolis police officers frequently fail to turn on their body-worn cameras, a City Council member said Monday, a day before the release of an audit detailing their use.

That was among findings of a two-month examination of the department’s body camera program, said Council Member Linea Palmisano, who reviewed the report over the weekend. It shows that most of the problems stem from a lack of accountability for officers who don’t activate their cameras when responding to calls or turn them off without explanation, she said.

“There’s some people who never have it on,” said Palmisano. “This is a very expensive program, and there isn’t oversight of this, and there isn’t governance.”

This is what happens when you put the foxes in charge of holding themselves accountable to the chickens. Body cameras have the potential to catch police officers behaving badly but that potential will remains unrealized so long as the officers wearing them get to decide when to turn them on. I feel pretty safe in saying that policy changes won’t make any difference. There is too much precedence for law enforcers disobeying policies and getting away with it.

Until the decision of when to turn on body cameras and control over any recorded video is taken away from law enforcers, those cameras will only serve to collect evidence against individuals who law enforcers want to see prosecuted.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 21st, 2017 at 10:30 am

Discarding the Veil of Legitimacy

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Since their inception, government law enforcers here in the United States have pretended to be servants of the people. That facade is finally being discarded as more law enforcers begin to show their true colors. For example, in the past law enforcers might respond to questions about arresting protesters by citing their duty to protect the community. Now, at least in St. Louis, their responses are almost indistinguishable from statements one might expect from nongovernmental criminal gangs:

Gov. Eric Greitens is eager to show he’s not like a former governor whom he accused of tolerating looting and arson in Ferguson. So much so that his Facebook post Sunday about vandalism in the Delmar Loop dropped any claim to formality.

“Our officers caught ’em, cuffed ’em, and threw ’em in jail,” it said. “They’re gonna wake up and face felony charges.”

On Sunday night, as police officers marched downtown, a Post-Dispatch photographer heard them chant a refrain most often heard at Ferguson protests: “Whose streets? Our streets.”

Later, after St. Louis police made more than 100 arrests downtown on Sunday night, Acting Chief Lawrence O’Toole’s words seemed meme-ready: “Police owned tonight.”

“Whose streets? Our streets.” In other words, the streets are our turf. “Police owned tonight.” Put another way, law enforcers won the fight against a rival gang.

The lack of professionalism is refreshing because it reveals law enforcers’ true colors. However, it’s also disconcerting because the thin veil of legitimacy is probably the only thing that has restrained the behavior of law enforcers in any way. If they’re no longer concerned about appearing legitimate, they may begin acting even more viciously.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 19th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Gun, Camera, What’s the Difference?

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Another day, another isolated incident. This isolated incident involves a law enforcer who apparently mistook a camera tripod for a gun:

A newspaper photographer from Ohio was shot Monday night by a sheriff’s deputy who apparently mistook his camera and tripod for a gun, and fired without a warning, the newspaper reported.

Andy Grimm, a photographer for the New Carlisle News, left the office at about 10 p.m. to take pictures of lightning when he came across a traffic stop and decided to take photos, according to the paper’s publisher, Dale Grimm.

“He said he got out, parked under a light in plain view of the deputy, with a press pass around his neck,” Grimm told The Washington Post. “He was setting up his camera, and he heard pops.”

Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Jake Shaw did not give any warnings before he fired, striking Andy Grimm on the side, according to the paper.

Did the officer mistake a tripod for a gun or was he simply not in the mood to be photographed and knew that the likelihood of him being punished for shooting an innocent person was practically zero? There’s no way to know for sure since law enforcers almost always get away with shooting innocent people with little or no punishment.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 6th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Utah Hospital Tries to Prohibition Cops from Further Abusing Its Nurses

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I’m sure you’ve already heard about the incident with Alex Wubbels. Some armed thugs came into her hospital and demanded to draw blood from an unconscious patient. She refused to allow the thugs to do so because the hospital’s policy is that blood can only be drawn from an unconscious individual if they are under arrest or if there is a court order. While the officers in question didn’t have enough evidence to arrest the unconscious person of interest, they apparently had enough evidence to arrest Wubbels… roughly. She paid a price for standing in the way of an officer’s power trip and that has resulted in the hospital prohibiting officers from interacting with its nurses:

The University of Utah Hospital, where a nurse was manhandled and arrested by police as she protected the legal rights of a patient, has imposed new restrictions on law enforcement, including barring officers from patient-care areas and from direct contact with nurses.

This may be a nice gesture but it will likely be unenforceable. The lack of accountability for law enforcers in this country means any restriction placed upon them by a private entity can be ignored. After all, who is going to enforce this policy? The good cops? Seeing as they stood by while their fellow officer kidnapped a nurse because she was doing her job I don’t have much faith that they do anything. Maybe the hospital itself will enforce the policy. Of course, any staff member who attempts to enforce the policy will receive the same treatment that Wubbels did.

The biggest problem with government monopolies is that individuals don’t get a choice of whether or not they want to participate. Participation is mandatory. If you refuse to participate, you are usually arrested and charged with a crime. I hope this changes someday but I don’t have a lot of hope that it will.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 5th, 2017 at 10:30 am

More Hero Things

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Let’s say that you’re a law enforcement officer and you’ve just pulled over a white individual because you suspect that they’re driving under the influence. Due to the reputation the people in your profession now have, the suspect is hysterical because they’re afraid that you’re going to murder them on the spot. How do you handle the situation? If you answered, by informing the suspect that law enforcers only murder black people, a promising career in law enforcement may be in your future:

On a Sunday night in the summer of 2016, a Georgia police officer pulled over a white woman he suspected was under the influence. Lieutenant Greg Abbott walked up to her car on the shoulder of an Atlanta highway and stopped at the passenger side window. Asked to take her hands off the steering wheel and pick up her cellphone, the woman refused, telling the officer she’d “seen way too many videos of cops—.” He cut her off.

“But you’re not black,” he told her. “Remember, we only shoot black people. Yeah, we only kill black people, right? All of the videos you’ve seen, have you seen the black people get killed? You have.”

And now you know why Officer Noor and his partner didn’t bother to turn on their dashcam or body cameras when they gunned down Justine Ruszczyk. If it weren’t for the dashcam recording, Officer Abbott wouldn’t have been caught in this embarrassing position.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 1st, 2017 at 10:30 am

Might as Well Have the Army Perform Domestic Policing

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The 1033 program, which allows government agencies to acquire surplus military equipment either for free or damn cheap, has become more controversial as the public’s trust in domestic law enforcement has dwindled. Obama, to his credit, attempted to curtail the program. But his efforts were undone by the new administration:

Mr. Sessions said that President Trump would sign an executive order on Monday fully restoring the military program, called 1033, and that the president was doing “all he can to restore law and order and support our police across America.”

Mr. Sessions has rolled back a number of Obama-era efforts toward police reform. In April, he ordered a sweeping review of federal agreements with dozens of law enforcement agencies, including consent decrees with troubled police departments nationwide.

Mr. Obama ordered a review of the Pentagon program in late 2014 after the police responded to protests with armored vehicles, snipers and riot gear. The images of police officers with military gear squaring off against protesters around the country angered community activists who said law enforcement agencies were reacting disproportionately.

In addition to the prohibitions on certain military surplus gear, he added restrictions on transferring some weapons and devices, including explosives, battering rams, riot helmets and shields.

The Pentagon said 126 tracked armored vehicles, 138 grenade launchers and 1,623 bayonets had been returned since Mr. Obama prohibited their transfer.

Not surprisingly, opinions on Trump’s decision are split down party lines. His opponents are up in arms over the return of militarization of law enforcement while his supporters are cheering the restoration to law and order that they perceive will come from this. But granting access to surplus military hardware isn’t the problem in of itself and this decision won’t restore law and order.

The motto commonly attribute to law enforcement is to serve and protect. Granted, the job of law enforcement is to enforce the law, not serve or protect, but let’s consider that motto. The ability to serve and protect members of a community depends heavily on those members trust in their protectors. If they don’t trust their protector, they are going to go out of their way to avoid them, which makes their protector’s task difficult.

Obama’s decision to curtail the 1033 program was more about signaling than anything else. It signaled the fact that he acknowledge the widening gap of mistrust between law enforcers and the communities they operate in. Demilitarizing law enforcers would likely go a long ways towards reducing that gap since part of the distrust people have in law enforcement is their heavy reliance on violence. While Obama’s order wasn’t enough to restore the public’s trust in law enforcement, it could have saved as the beginning of a strategy to do so. Trump’s decision to reverse Obama’s order eliminated that strategy altogether.

At this rate the public is going to see less and less of a difference between the police and military. At some point there really will be no difference except the military generally has more restrictions when it comes to utilizing violence.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 30th, 2017 at 10:30 am

A Return to Normal

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I wasn’t surprised when I read this:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is preparing to restore the flow of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies under a program that had been sharply curtailed amid an outcry over police use of armored vehicles and other war-fighting gear to confront protesters.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press indicate President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order undoing an Obama administration directive that restricted police agencies’ access to the gear that includes grenade launchers, bullet-proof vests, riot shields, firearms and ammunition.

Both political parties are in favor of expanding the power of government but the Democratic Party is at least honest about its intentions. The Republican Party likes to market itself as the party of smaller government but every time it gets into power its people find ways to expand government power further.

Reopening the floodgates of surplus military equipment to domestic law enforcement is only going to further expand the already expanding rift between them and the people living here. When you have forces that are widely seen as abusing the large amount of power they already possess, giving them even more power to abuse isn’t going to sit terribly well. Unfortunately, the State requires a strong force to subjugate the people it claims as citizens so any action taken to curtail that force will be temporary at best.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 29th, 2017 at 10:00 am