In case you were questioning the consensus of “fuck the police”

It isn’t a polite sentiment, but if cops don’t enjoy the rudeness, they might start by doing their fucking jobs as commissioned under the law and refraining from jackbooted totalitarianism and harebrained reality TV melodrama under color of authority. Then citizens would have credible reasons to show them some magnanimity.

1) Residents of Harlem were begging the NYPD to reach out to their neighborhood’s vulnerable, impulsive teenagers and negotiate them out of their cycle of retaliatory street violence. Instead, the NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office used a social media dragnet to sweep up indirect parties to the violence on overbroad “conspiracy” grounds and abrogate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution. With the complicity of a Kafkaesque judge, they kept one defendant in jail on Riker’s Island for a year and a half while deliberately delaying his trial and withholding evidence from his defense counsel in an effort to force him to accept a plea bargain for a twenty-year prison sentence. The defendant was finally released on bail after his attorney filed a motion for a speedy trial, and the charges against him were dropped several months later.

2) The road to hell is paved with the idiotic good intentions of civil servants who should know better, and maybe not so much with pavement since the local authorities are devoting personnel to bogus Secret Santa police stops. The Jackson County, MO, Sheriff’s Department has been deploying patrol deputies to pull over motorists who look like they’re poor, hand them several hundred dollars, and give Steve Hartman a four-hour human-interest erection. It’s a mashup of Publishers Clearing House and Andy Griffith, except for the matter of its involving real deputies with real guns, real cruisers, and real arrest powers. In other words, they’re being dispatched on county time to drive around Kansas City scaring the shit out of people, then telling them that they were just punked and Secret Santa wanted them to have this money.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department needs to be sued over these stunts. I don’t see the least bit of malice in this scheme or have any reason to believe that any law enforcement agency in the Kansas City area is troubled by Missouri standards, but none of this really matters. What these cops are doing is so fucking reckless and shows such atrocious judgment that it absolutely should result in the deputies involved being summoned for depositions, their agency being forced into a public settlement and admission of liability for bad practices, and an injunction against the execution of similar traffic stops in the future. Ideally, this injunction would be a blanket injunction applying to all law enforcement agencies statewide, or better yet, nationwide, although there would be problems with jurisdiction, standing, and maybe, unfortunately, prior restraint for an injunction not narrowly applied to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.

The problem here is not with the Secret Santa tradition. The problem is quite simply with the bogus traffic stops by sworn, armed law enforcement officers. There is no justification for bogus traffic stops. That’s all there is to it. The positive outcome of the recipients getting cash to buy their children Christmas presents cannot be entered into the legal calculus. This is a situation in which process matters. These are law enforcement officers. They need to be held to a higher standard than that in the performance of their official duties.

Nothing about Secret Santa programs requires peace officers to effect bogus traffic stops. The JCSD program is just one exceptionally horrible way to find Secret Santa recipients out of a host of options that are mostly quite ethical and reasonable. It’s also one of the worst ways the Sheriff’s Department could have gone about holiday season community outreach. My mom made the astute suggestion that the department could instead host an open house with free refreshments. An open house probably would have attracted far more people than the deputies reached with their bogus traffic stops, and it wouldn’t have involved the least element of coercion.

And of course they had to invite Steve Hartman along. Steve Hartman is a treacly, smarmy, sentimentality-whoring piece of shit. He thinks bogus traffic stops are cute as long as they involve some heartwarming surprise at the end, like a fistful of cash money. Aww, wasn’t that so cute that these poors got punked by the cops and given holiday money instead of a citation! No, it wasn’t cute; it was a blatant violation of basic patrol protocol. Idiotic protocol violations by sworn law enforcement officers are not fucking cute. This stunt was so stupid and lawless that any police academy recruit who suggests such a thing should be yelled at by the loudest sergeant in the joint about responsibility and good judgment and how an unsuspecting member of the public would feel on the receiving end of an unexplained traffic stop until he’s bowing like a Japanese industrial executive in the aftermath of a defective product scandal. Of course, every cop who’s out attention-whoring for Steve Hartman and his video crew is one less cop who’s available to yell some sense into the denser cohorts at the academy.

It’s also one less cop who’s available to reach out to Kansas City’s truly down-and-out, some of whom were found raising babies in an underground dirt warren last year. The police apparently did a good job of placing the evicted residents of the warren with social services when they demolished it last year, but there’s no telling what other poverty horror shows they’re missing while they’re busy with departmental attention-whoring missions on national TV. These aren’t bad cops; the ones Hartman showed actually looked pretty damn well suited to the job. It’s just a rotten shame that they got roped into such a wildly inappropriate and legally edgy stunt.

Jim Crow Facebook dragnets and televised Horatio Alger flashing blue light specials: isn’t it a great country, America!

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2 thoughts on “In case you were questioning the consensus of “fuck the police”

  1. Well, you make a good point. I mean a really good point, but let me explain this phenomenon a bit more for you.

    Among some police the cynicism runs so deep that they view the entire enterprise as something of a game, in which – to their credit – they don’t want anyone to get really hurt. So most of what they do is public theater anyway. In public they arrest people and charge them and refer to them as scumbags and lowlifes and stage perp-walks, and when the cameras are off they treat them like pals and are basically decent if not even kind to them.

    I guess the viewpoint is that hey, this morality play pays the bills, gives us jobs, and the accused gets accommodations and three squares and if he really behaves himself he can get through this and we’ll take care of him on the other end. And it’s not uncommon to find that cops have helped people they arrested get jobs, sometimes even in the quasi law enforcement business in some support role.

    (None of this applies to the really, really bad men of course. But jails and prisons are mainly full of the hapless, not the evil.)

    So that whole mindset is where this idea of prank official stops comes from. There’s this belief that we’re all players in this game and everything will be fine if you just go along.

    Fundamentally you’re right, of course. But I wouldn’t lower the boom on a department or the deputies over this. Some re-training, maybe.

    • That’s a very interesting point about police cynicism. An acquaintance of mine with family on the Jersey City police force used to make comments vaguely to the same effect. I assumed that it was pretty much just a Northeastern thing, maybe extending to crooked Midwestern cities like Chicago, because it seemed to correlate with or even be a function of police involvement with organized crime. Granted, I was mainly reading tea leaves; I’ve only come across a few solid firsthand or secondhand accounts about this sort of thing.

      I actually have a conflicted gut feeling about the Kansas City thing. The deputy that Steve Hartman shadowed on these bogus stops didn’t even look cynical to me. He was a guileless-looking big teddy bear type. Had he pulled me over for a legitimate traffic stop, I probably would have been at ease or close to it from the moment he greeted me. But there’s still this whopping huge problem with the process he and his department were following. It was just one of these holy shit moments. It indicates that they’re transmitting utterly musheaded social and legal norms concerning police power and discipline standards to the public.

      There’s probably a pretty serious equal protection problem inherent in this scheme, too, insofar as police would probably be much more hesitant to pull such a stunt in a wealthy and prominent neighborhood whose residents might call the sheriff or chief directly and make it stop forthwith. There are obviously many other equal protection violations by the police, often much worse than these Secret Santa stops, but these stops are so flagrant and gratuitous (especially since a TV crew was riding along) that they seem like a pretty good place to start imposing hard behavioral standards. I can see mitigating factors for cops pulling stunts like this on people who have gone into lives of crime, but there has to be some kind of oversight in place to make sure they’re picking on people their own size.

      Or something like that. I just can’t brook the servility that this sort of behavior inculcates in the public.

      Maybe I’m being a spoilsport about these things. It just seems that arrest powers and the like are something that cops should not be allowed to make light of while on duty or doing anything that could lead people to believe that they’re on duty. Earlier this year I witnessed a police spectacle in San Diego that I found rather offensive and more than a bit disturbing in its implications. Two men who appeared to be real San Diego police officers were out on the main drag in the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego’s main drinking district, decked out in what looked like a vintage uniform from the 1950’s, pretending to arrest clubgoers while their friends took photographs. My immediate reaction was, no, cops who are acting under official or official-looking auspices simply CANNOT be allowed to make a joke of their bodily power over private citizens. It doesn’t matter if they’re surrounded by private citizens who find the whole thing hilarious; it inherently shows a reckless disregard for the dangerous nature of their own powers as peace officers.

      It was very specifically the appearance of brute force that bothered me. There was another incident I read about in San Diego where police on crowd control duty arrested a man for being a big nuisance at a sports game, and afterwards, at his insistence, they posed for a photograph with him. He wanted to show his roommate, an LAPD officer, how well the SDPD had treated him; it sounded like he thought this would a brilliant sick burn on the roommate and his agency. In this picture, the arrestee was beaming, and one of the cops standing next to him had a sort of what-the-fuck-did-I-just-get-into look on his face.

      The key thing, as I saw it, was that nothing about the picture looked the least bit menacing or dismissive of the inherently dangerous nature of police powers. They weren’t pretending to slam dipshits against the back of their cruiser and place them under arrest for the benefit of the dissolute affluent; they were giving one of their actual arrestees a souvenir because he wouldn’t stop bugging them for one.

      To be fair, I find public improprieties like that more annoying than usual when they involve the SDPD because I once applied to be a San Diego police officer. It’s fair enough that I didn’t make the cut, but I’d hope that I didn’t submit to all the creepy, intrusive questions that we were asked during the background investigation process just to see officers who did make the cut go around on simulacrum power trips and making the department look violent and trashy in the process.

      This is probably an eccentric opinion, but I’m much less bothered by some of the drunk driving scandals that have recently hit the SDPD because they basically just involve human weakness and there’s almost always a mea culpa afterwards. In one case, a detective was arrested after she was found asleep and intoxicated in her cruiser, having gotten drunk at an early afternoon official event on alcohol that had been served under police auspices. But for both the detective and the event organizers, it was a lapse of judgment that really didn’t have any bearing on police powers. I don’t even think the detective was really being irresponsible, since she was parked and trying to sleep it off when patrol rolled up on her, and fatigue is a serious problem for police officers in general. Nothing about the episode involved the thoroughgoing idiocy of placing posh drunks under mock arrest in the Gaslamp Quarter. Shit, it happened in Balboa Park, so it had to be classier than anything in the Gaslamp.

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