The Police Through Their Own Eyes


Chris lives in Austin, TX, where he once shook Willie Nelson's hand.

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106 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming indeed”
    That second statement is a complete gob smacker. Dude is clueless about the chain of command and where authority resides. I referred to this in one of the others threads on this, but this sounds like a movie trope from a generic 80’s crime/ action movie: the tough and vigilant cops acting on what they know is best despite the always cowardly, wrong and inappropriate pols trying to muck things up. The Good Cop is going to buck authority and get stuff done because he is good and Right and has the noble force to see who is good and bad.Report

  2. Saul Degraw says:

    On the Slate political gabfest, one of the guest commentators remarked that police unions get away with a remarkable amount of shit. Stuff that no other union could ever dream of getting away with. No one would accept the Teachers Union threatening a work stoppage to prevent people from criticizing bad teachers. But we quake at the idea of cops threatening a work stoppage.

    I am not an anarchist. I believe there is room and a need for law enforcement in every country but I think many people do have a belief that a strong police are the only thing preventing us from slipping into total anarchy and this is wrong.

    Many people do want the police to be militarized. I think many people (but maybe not this time) are comforted by the signs of police in full armor and look at them as the forces of good and holiness come to restore order from chaos.Report

    • Anderson in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Re: police unions. Very good points. I feel every time I read about a governor reducing collective bargaining rights or lowering pension payments–Scott Walker of WI particularly comes to mind–I catch the caveat, “All public-sector unions EXCEPT police and fire.” Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but those two unions seem to have a bi-partisan alliance far beyond their public-sector brethren.

      While police presence and tactics (e.g. Compstat, Stop/Frisk) play a rule in curtailing crime–and undoubtedly fulfill a crucial role of government–I’m always amazed by the effects of non-police events on crime reduction. Phasing out lead, for example, or offering abortions, or limiting hard drug use. (the latter half of this essay goes over those reasons

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      We should not have police unions, period.

      Or at the very least, they should be severely limited in what they can & can not do.Report

      • Kim in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I’m fine with having a police union. Just like I’m fine with having laws that specifically single out the police to live in town.

        What got bad in my town was the police’s force on elections. Oh, boy you should have seen the FOP chief exploding at our new mayor (saying utterly impolitic things for someone you’re going to need to work with).Report

  3. j r says:

    This is another piece of evidence to support the idea that calling this the militarization of the police force is really a very big insult to the military.

    The idea that the military is subservient to civilian political authority is fairly strong among the brass. It’s not always adhered to, but it’s there nonetheless.Report

    • Chris in reply to j r says:

      I get what you’re saying, and I agree with the underlying point, but I think “militarization” is not meant to suggest that they are becoming more likely a military force in their professionalism, say, but in their equipment and tactics on the ground. And I don’t think it necessarily compares them to the military in their country. In fact, when I think of it, I think of them becoming more like the paramilitary forces that often operate fairly autonomously in some Latin American countries.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

      I have no problem changing it to “armedmobization”.Report

  4. Burt Likko says:

    Sometimes the military, either as a whole or a group of particular individuals within it, isn’t really all that happy with the mission given or orders given within that mission by political leaders.

    It’s one thing for the leaders of the military to say to the President or the Secretary of Defense or someone like that to say, in an appropriate circumstance (in particular out of earshot of subordinates), “Sir, do you really want to give us that order? Here’s what we think will happen if you do,” and having a discussion about what’s best. But it would be something else entirely for them to say “Sir, yes sir!” and then turn around and do precisely what they wanted to do regardless of the order. And so far as I can tell, that doesn’t happen at least not on any appreciable scale: both officers and enlisted personnel in the military do what they’re ordered to do whether they like it or not, whether they think it’s a good idea or not. And they understand the importance of having elected civilian political leadership being at the apex of the chain of command.

    If the police are going to dress up like soldiers, use soldiers’ weapons, and emulate soldiers’ tactics, then perhaps they need to also adopt the ethics of soldiers, both regarding when and how deadly force is to be used, and regarding the attitude of the guy with boots on the ground to civilian political leadership.

    But as we’re hearing again and again, and as I’ve heard from countless military people who’ve looked at the issue, the military does something fundamentally different than the police and it’s far too easy for someone without a deep understanding of why the military does something in a particular way to extract the wrong elements of the military’s methods and have them backfire in a terrible way when used in a police setting. E.g., a squad of SWAT officers pointing weapons at an unarmed civilian in a posture of surrender on a public street.Report

    • A conservative acquaintance irritates (terrifies?) me from time to time by suggesting that since the military oaths include “defend the Constitution”, the military has a role in determining whether actions by the civilian government pass Constitutional muster. This seems to be a fairly common opinion among the online crowd he hangs with, and “violating the Constitution in order to save it” doesn’t present any sort of problem for them.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:


        There are seemingly a lot of people who think our rights would not exist without the military/police in constant vigilance and action. In short, liberals can only complain about the police and military because their constitutional rights exist because of the police and military. Not because the Founders wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.Report

      • Without the military and police in existence, our rights would largely be meaningless, since rights are, by their very nature, checks against the power of people like the military and the police.Report

      • Citizen in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Liberals only have the right to talk and be shot at. That whole Bill of Rights thing isn’t working out.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Michael Cain says:

        The difference, as a veteran, is that while I served to defend the rights of my fellow Americans, I do not (& most of my fellow veterans do not) thank that you should somehow be subservient & obedient to my will.

        At most, I ask you to be respectful of the volunteers as you level criticism at the military.

        Another difference between the military & police (besides the UCMJ, and no military Union), is that service members recognize that as long as we wear the uniform, our lives are not entirely our own, and the authority of those legally above us in the chain of command can spend our lives as necessary to achieve the goals of command. As long as police enjoy the benefits of SCOTUS rulings saying that they have no duty to protect or place themselves in harms way, then they fall short of what it means to be in the military & should not be allowed to behave as such.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Cain says:

        violating the Constitution in order to save it” doesn’t present any sort of problem for them.

        This was a common right wing noise machine meme during the Clinton administration, went away in 2001, and returned in 2009. For some reason.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I spoke with a guy who got back from a deployment about this issue and he asked me whether cops cannot fire unless fired upon.

      I told him that, no, cops can fire first and his eyes widened in disbelief.

      So that’s a point of anecdata.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yeah, cops don’t exactly have ROE. Mostly because cops, by and large, aren’t shot at and frankly rarely need their guns at all. Ever. During an entire career.

        Honestly, I think the procedures involved when ANY cop fires a gun outside of a target range should be pretty darn stringent and unpleasant to the extreme, so the cop knows his career is on the line. Because if he really thinks it’s life or death, he’s not gonna care past the immediate problem — but anytime else, he’s not going to want to draw and deal with all the hassle.

        Tazers are almost as bad — a lot less likely to kill someone, but a LOT more likely to be deployed for reasons other than defense. (You know, disrespect, perceived disrespect, breathing while being black, etc.)

        I’m sticking with the same tune: Slap cameras on every on-duty cop, full audio and video, and make ‘missing’ or ‘distorted’ footage a crime. If your lifelog isn’t running, you’re not on duty and whatever you just did wasn’t done by cop but by civilian. No thin blue line to protect it, no state immunity, no nothing.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m with you up until the last part. There may be good-faith equipment malfunctions, stuff beyond the cop’s ability to do anything about or even beyond her awareness. We cloak officers with a degree of legal immunity for their actions for a set of good reasons — cops ought to have a degree of discretion in how they do their jobs and ought not be second-guessed for every decision they make — it’s when those reasons get abused that we get rightfully upset at the cops. There isn’t discretion to beat up a prisoner. There may be reason to believe a suspect in the field is dangerous and some force is necessary, and reasonable people might disagree, especially after the fact, about whether that judgment was made correctly or not.

        I could, however, see the exclusionary rule come in to play when a cop’s recording equipment is disabled somehow.

        And I could see that it’s the cop’s responsibility to check that her own equipment is working before taking the field, with some disciplinary issues in play if she fails to do so. “Subject to discipline” is sufficient for me.

        I could also see the equipment set up such that the cop lacks the ability to turn it off while she’s on duty. Cops need to use the restroom and deserve privacy while doing so, like everyone else, so that may be an issue with the no-turn-’em-off cameras and mikes, but perhaps someone more clever than me can figure out a way to deal with that issue in a way that makes it difficult for one of the “bad apples” to cheat and go “take a leak” while in fact what’s going on is a bit of roughhousing.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Jaybird says:


        As I said to zic on a previous thread, I’d be happy if police had to abide by the legal restrictions & endure the legal consequences of a shooting that civilians do.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:


        It’s pretty simple. Cop’s body cam missed part of the arrest or incident? It’s tossed. That’ll give incentives for police to invest in good equipment — and procedures for when it fails. Furthermore, don’t cops normally come in pairs? Having BOTH sets of equipment actually fail would require really, really poor IT practices.

        Frankly, what are the odds a cop’s equipment would legitimately fail during an activity in which it’s really needed (ie, during an arrest or disputed encounter with a citizen) And only his equipment, and that he’s acting solo and no other officer’s camera caught it?

        I don’t mind giving them the ability to go ‘off’ for lunch or the bathroom — heck, given them a big honking red button to switch it on and off. Just make sure the “Monitoring equipment switched off by officer” command is nice and logged on the remote servers, complete with a brief statement of why.

        I mean, consider a case — the officer turns off his camera, and an incident occurs, and there’s a question as to use of force (or abuse) — what’s the cop’s best answer? “I forgot I turned it off” (better hope he at LEAST scheduled a bathroom break before his abuse of power). It’s not like the accuser would know if the cop’s camera was off-line, so why would he make up a claim? (As far as any accuser knew, every moment was recorded — and he wouldn’t know differently until he filed suit or lodged a complaint).

        *shrug*. Yeah, I expect sometimes people might get away with things because some freak fluke had an officer truly forget to turn his equipment on after taking a whiz, or because a camera broke at an bad moment or someone’s case might get settled by default for abuse of force.

        I’m perfectly willing to accept that tradeoff in return for basically getting rid of corruption and abuse of power by cops (which should, frankly, reduce the city’s actual liability because they’re showing good faith by using such monitoring) and getting rid of issues like the one in Ferguson. It would have been OVER already if he’d been wearing a cam. Heck, if he’d had a dash cam with audio it might already be over.Report

      • El Muneco in reply to Jaybird says:

        +1 to everything here – I spent most of the “thinking” time on my evening run tonight on this exact topic…

        I wouldn’t be sad if it went in jury instructions, too – any time complete video of an arrest or interrogation is “not available”, it’s prima facie evidence against the state’s version of things.

        The other thing I came up with – and you all can probably, um, shoot lots of holes in it: any time an officer discharges a weapon (possibly even including off-duty incidents) that is not part of a previously sanctioned training exercise, it immediately opens up an incident report at the federal level. I’d even support putting the officer in question on unpaid administrative leave until the incident is resolved.

        Just knowing that there will be review by someone who isn’t predisposed to, um, whitewash everything will hopefully have a dampening effect on the culture. Which is, after all, the only place to root this behavior out.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        To the extent that cops aren’t ever in situations where a gun might be necessary, that’s a failure of what we want them to be doing. We want them to stop robberies, to clean up dangerous criminals, etc.

        I’m pretty certain that a good fraction of our local cops have been in a situation where a gun may be situationally necessary (someone has a knife, hostage situation, entering a trapped house) — bear in mind that plainclothes cops may see more guns pointed at them (and be in some amount of danger… possibly not much more than “average black man on street” (this is criminals misidentifying someone…) ).Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        To the extent that cops aren’t ever in situations where a gun might be necessary, that’s a failure of what we want them to be doing. We want them to stop robberies, to clean up dangerous criminals, etc.

        To the extent that cops aren’t ever in situations where a gun might be necessary, that’s a failure of what we want them to be doing. Bob Feller won the AL Cy Young in 1947.

        There, my second sentence is as related to the first as yours is.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:


        I’m telling you that, statistically, the vast majority of officers never have a reason to use their gun outside the range in their entire career. I believe most never even draw the thing outside the range.

        America simply isn’t that violent. I’ve got no problems with them having it they happen to be the rather rare example of a cop needing a gun, but images of cops carrying assault rifles and body armor — serious, America isn’t that violent. Most crimes aren’t violent in nature, and even then — most people surrender peacefully enough. It’s FAR more common for them to run than to try to fight back. (And heck, I suspect that if you took the ‘fight back’ crowd you’d find a preponderance of mental illness or people wasted on drugs or alcohol)Report

      • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

        Most officers may not draw their gun — they have nonlethal training, for god’s sake!
        This doesn’t mean that they aren’t in danger, or have times when a gun would potentially be necessary.

        There was a man wielding an axe in my local park, another guy who ambushed and killed 3 cops sent to arrest him, a man shooting up the local mental hospital, someone else wielding a knife (think some bystanders stopped him).

        And we haven’t even gotten into “drunken patron” territory (or drunken patron with knife).

        Let alone folks being paranoid in their methlabs.

        I’ve heard of Cops avoiding areas — marking them as red-zones where cops really don’t tred (not around here). Or they might just not want to deal with the headache that taking out a methlab causes.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

        I don’t think you’re reading what I wrote, because your response is utterly unrelated to what I said.

        I will break it down:

        1) Most cops will never use their guns.
        2) Most cops will never even need to draw them.
        3) Cops should still have guns for those rare occasions.
        4) Having every podunk town have assault rifles and armored vehicles given (1) and (2) is pretty ‘effing stupid.
        5) America simply isn’t as dangerous as many people, including and especially the idiots ordering military gear for a 5000 person town, think.

        You apparently think I’m against cops having guns. I’m not. I’m just pointing out that, of everything a cop does, 99.999999% of it doesn’t involve a gun or need to involve a gun, yet they seem to be turning to it more and more despite crime rates that have dropped like a stone.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

        To expand on morat’s remarks about turning off a (for purposes of this comment) shoulder-mounted video camera for bathroom breaks and such…

        This is not your grandfather’s video recording system. This is a dandy general-purpose computing device with a some special-purpose sensors. Possibilities… After five minutes, if the camera’s still off, have it emit a quiet but distinctive tone periodically as a reminder. Hell, have it whisper “Turn me back on, Dave.” Have the camera turn back on automatically after five minutes, and refuse to turn off again for 20. Don’t turn the camera off at all, but encrypt the video/audio streams and only internal affairs holds the decryption keys, along with a protocol so that encrypted portions of the streams aren’t decrypted except as part of an official inquiry.Report

    • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Note: When Bush wanted to attack Iran, brass pulled major strings to make sure it didn’t happen. But those are behind the scenes strings, that enhance the trust that the military can raise concerns on truly stupid ideas (as invading Iran would have been).Report

      • Barry in reply to Kim says:

        And in the end they either carried it out, or resigned. Only in the second case do they have the right to open their mouths in public.Report

  5. zic says:

    In other words, civil authorities outside of area police forces should not have access to police tactical details, that is, how they plan to handle the protests, unless those politicians agree to police terms about the handling of that information. What’s more, the fact that Dotson is listening to non-police civil authorities is a sign that he is grossly mishandling the situation. Any outside influence is not an elected government instructing its enforcement arm how to behave, as is the proper chain of authority, but mere “political interference” at a time of “public crisis” that can only be met by the police force acting on its independent will*.

    This sounds like an iteration of the policies that made just about everything having to do with the military classified during the wars; don’t whisper a word, lest you aid the enemy and all that. Local PDs want the benefit of state secrets, another example of the homeland army.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    Once they put on the uniform they become agents of The State. Since all crimes are crimes against The State, how can The State commit a crime against itself? It can’t. Therefore cops are incapable of committing crimes.Report

  7. James Hanley says:

    if Chief Dotson bends to the will of politicians

    As he should. And if he doesn’t, he should be dismissed from his office.

    What the statement is arguing can, quite judiciously, be described as fundamentally un-American.Report

    • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

      Definitely. I think this is one of the main things that the protesters are saying: what is going on here, which is a reflection on what is going on throughout our country, is fundamentally un-American. It’s not like this is a unique situation. Black communities all over the country know full well that the police believe they can act with impunity against black people, and any challenge to that order is met with violence. Because, for various reasons (Twitter!), this particular case has received a great deal of attention from white people, the St. Louis area police departments are doing a damn good job of demonstrating this reality to the world.Report

    • Notice how “elected Constitutional officers of the State of Missouri” become mere “politicians.”

      Although it may be accurate to suggest that “politicians” do not do a particularly good job of representing the will of the voters of the State of Missouri; but it is accurate to say that the result of the democratic process was that these “politicians” have been invested with the political power and legal authority to tell the Chief of Police what to do and expect that he will faithfully do as instructed.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to James Hanley says:

      It used to be something of a tradition for army and navy officers not to exercise their right to vote or belong to political parties in the United States. Many of them believed that they were supposed to follow the orders of the President as Commander-in-Chief or Congress under their war powers regardless of the political party of the politician giving them orders. Not voting was perceived as a way to remain neutral in politics.Report

  8. Dan Miller says:

    It seems that the “cops don’t go after cops” mentality is pervasive, and encompasses everything from “don’t write tickets for blocking traffic” to “cover up for homicide”. We desperately need to come up with a better way to do Internal Affairs policing. Maybe an entirely separate unit, outside the usual police chain of command and accountable directly to the mayor or other non-law-enforcement officials, rather than having the police investigate themselves? Perhaps with a budget that was directly proportional to the ordinary police budget?Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Dan Miller says:

      I recall Atlanta (I think) trying a Civilian Review Board, which was quickly sidelined & ignored & barely funded by the politicians, mainly because the police didn’t want it, and the DAs refused to pursue the boards recommendations.Report

    • Kim in reply to Dan Miller says:

      The FBI tends to do nicely, I’ve found.

      Note that the “cops don’t go after cops” largely ignores informal punishment, and general socialization. If the attitude in the precinct is “dude, lay off the aggression” — the rowdy cop is gonna hear about it until he shapes up.Report

  9. morat20 says:

    I’ve read a few posts pointing out that the police in question fund themselves off of tickets and fines. And the area is a mess of overlapping jurisdictions and every tiny little ‘city’ (suburbs, really) having their own cops and firefighters — so lots of pointless duplication and overlap.

    So you’ve got LOTS of cops who are being motivated to write lots of tickets and charge lots of crimes with fines. Speeding, moving violations, jaywalking, etc.

    Might have something to do with the toxic atmosphere.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to morat20 says:

      every tiny little ‘city’ (suburbs, really) having their own cops and firefighters — so lots of pointless duplication and overlap.

      Not necessarily so. This has been carefully studied.

      In the ’70s, consolidation was all the rage. School districts were consolidating (sometimes for the better, not always), and people were urging that police departments in urban areas should as well.

      There was some theory supporting this, along the lines of what you’re saying, waste and duplication (essentially, economies of scale arguments), as well as confusion among citizens about who had authority for what were. But there was also some theory opposed to it, particularly Tiebout sorting theory and a gains of scale critique that noted that such gains come from capital intensive activities, and not so much from labor intensive activities.

      So Indiana University’s Elinor Ostrom (future Economics Nobel winner, and–full disclosure–one of my mentors) studied the issue, which nobody actually had prior; everyone was making recommendations solely on theory. Her first study was a “most similar systems” design. She compared the Indianapolis/Marion County Police Department to the police department of one of the small cities that’s completely surrounded by Indianapolis/Marion County. She chose neighborhoods in the two that were immediately adjacent, separated only by a sign telling you which jurisdiction you were in, and that were demographically and socio-economically nearly identical. Asking people about their relations with the police and response times, she found that response times were shorter in the smaller community, and that the residents of the smaller community both had more favorable views of the police and were more likely to know a policeman by name.

      She also compared the use of resources, and found that the smaller community had a larger share of its police force on patrol, while Indianapolis had a much larger percentage working desk jobs. Overall, the smaller force was more efficient, and more in touch with its community. (Ferguson shows the latter is not inevitable, of course.)

      One of her students then pointed out that the neighborhoods she had studied were overwhelmingly white and middle class, and wondered if the findings would hold true in poor black neighborhoods. So she and the student repeated the study, comparing socio-economically similar–minority and poor–neighborhoods in Chicago and one of its suburbs (although in this case not adjacent). The findings were the same, including finding that the smaller town had a larger percentage of its police force actually working the street, with better community relations.

      In the areas where economies of scale did matter, crime labs, the smaller forces simply contracted with the larger force for crime lab work, rather than trying to have their own.

      None of that is to defend the Ferguson police in the slightest. Nor is it to say that smaller is always better. But it is to say that “pointless duplication and overlap” is less likely than we might expect to find, and that smaller forces are often more efficient. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ferguson police are in fact more efficient in their use of personnel than the St. Louis police. The problems that are evident are from another cause altogether.Report

      • morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        I think you glossed over the key point — specifically the bit that was about Ferguson — was that it was fee supported.

        Not just Ferguson’s PD, I don’t think — the county too. They had a direct incentive to write as many tickets as possible, find as many paying crimes as possible — for two separate police forces.

        Whether they were more efficient police forces by being split like that is an interesting discussion, but that’s not what some people are pointing out as a potential poison to community/police relationships.

        It’s the potential push for more arrests, more fines, more tickets — quotas, geared at what has to feel like harassment level. Not enough to put you in jail, but to extract from your wallet.

        Add in things like demographics, and a sick enough system would basically be a harassment tax on minorities.

        The fact that fee-based policing is an effective quota system, with all sorts of perverse incentives, might have something to do with a clearly poisonous relationship. It wasn’t like things were groovy until this incident — things were very obviously bad beforehand.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        the key point — specifically the bit that was about Ferguson — was that it was fee supported.

        Fee supported departments don’t have any necessary connection to duplication and overlap, and I was only responding to that part. I join you wholeheartedly in condemning the funding-by-fines approach. It’s a perfect case study in perverse incentives.Report

      • I would expect the greatest resistance to come from the “senior management” of these small cities. If five 20,000-population municipalities merged (their combined 100,000 being just smaller than the Denver suburb where I live), four mayors, four city managers, four police chiefs, and a whole bunch of city council members lose those positions. My suburb gets by just fine with a part-time council/mayor body the same size as Ferguson’s. The council and mayor positions are probably only part-time gigs (neither Ferguson’s web site nor their consolidated financial statement seem to say what the council members get paid), but there’s some number of them who like being “in charge” in some fashion, and that goes away.Report

    • James K in reply to morat20 says:

      @morat20 , @james-hanley

      Between your healthcare system, the way you contract private prisons, ticket-funded police and military grants to police I’m starting to wonder if your country isn’t run by a cabal of Dark Economists.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to James K says:

        I’ve said many times that if you assembled a team of economists and political scientists and gave them instructions to create the worst healthcare provisioning system they could while making it politically impossible to dismantle, they’d have had a hard time coming up with a better solution than we managed to build by accident. Now that you mention it, healthcare may not be the only place where that holds true.Report

      • James K in reply to James K says:


        Admittedly the political robustness aspect is less impressive than it looks, all policies will naturally develop a protective carapace over time.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James K says:

        We have to destroy the country to save it.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James K says:

        No, not Dark Economists, just idiots who can win popularity contests & think that means they are the smartest people in the room.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to James K says:

        We have to destroy the country to save it.

        Isn’t that my line?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James K says:

        Thumb wrestle for it?Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to James K says:

        No, I’m more the “destroy the country in order to save part of it” guy, I suppose.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James K says:


      • Murali in reply to James K says:

        I’m starting to wonder if your country isn’t run by a cabal of Dark Economists.

        This is an awesome line. I’m going to use it at the first opportunityReport

      • Murali in reply to James K says:

        No, not Dark Economists, just idiots who can win popularity contests & think that means they are the smartest people in the room.

        Isn’t this the definition of democracy?Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James K says:


        Everything before the ampersand is democracy, everything after is defined as “career politicians”.Report

      • Murali in reply to James K says:


        Are there democracies without career politicians? Or alternatively, can any democracy persist for any significant length in time without career politicians dominating the system?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to James K says:

        Hmm. Can capitalism persist for any significant length in time without the manipulation of money (as opposed to the production of goods) becoming its dominant feature?Report

      • j r in reply to James K says:

        Eh. Maybe it’s time to stop blaming all of this on economists and politicians and just admit that we are the problem that we’ve been searching for.

        To paraphrase Mencken, we’ve built a system that gives us what we want, and good and hard.Report

      • Murali in reply to James K says:


        Abolish limited liability in its current form*. It seems that automatically limiting the liability of corporations creates a sort of moral hazard where certain sorts of risky financial transactions are made which would not otherwise be because owners of capital can be certain that the state can prevent creditors from claiming all that they are entitled to from debtors.

        What is left would be a more efficient balance between industrial and financial sectors.

        *That doesn’t mean that corporations may not explicitly contract with customers to limit its liability as a precondition of selling to them their goods.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James K says:


        democracies without career politicians

        In theory, yes. The same could be said for career bureaucrats.

        can any democracy persist for any significant length in time without career politicians dominating the system?

        Perhaps that is a question @james-hanley could answer better. IMHO, yes, a democracy can persist without career politicians & bureaucrats. However, I doubt that it could be as powerful & dominating as the US has become without both of them. So it would work for small, quiet democracies, but the more the nation wants to be a major player, the more those entrenched positions are needed to maintain the higher level power structure.Report

      • Kim in reply to James K says:

        Yup. I’d mention names, but you apparently think they’re guilty before they’ve even had a trial. Nevermind that the Obama DoJ has quite a reputation for charging folks who “might have done it” without any evidence that they “did do it”.Report

  10. Kazzy says:

    I’m going to offer some very slight pushback, which I will them immediately walk back… So enjoy!

    I don’t think what you describe here is unique to police officers. A common rallying cry among teachers is that politicians should not be telling them what to teach. Health care professionals often malign governmental requirements that they feel negatively impact their work. Etc. So I don’t think it is uncommon for a professional group or organization to think that their work is specialized in such a way that outside agents can only serve to meddle. I’m coming to think that everyone would prefer their own industry to function in a technocratic way.

    THAT BEING SAID… the relationships between these different professions and the government varies, often greatly. As you say, the police are not mere public employees (like a public school teacher might be); they are agents of the state specifically tasked with enforcing laws that the legislature enacts. As such, the level of deference and/or interaction they should be expected to have with these outside bodies should be great.

    ALSO… they are armed and given (increasingly, it seems) wide latitude with how they wield those arms. I believe it was our founding father Spider-Man who taught us that with great power comes great responsibility.

    In a nutshell, it seems fairly human to me that cops would want to have as much autonomy as possible when it suits them. The problem is when we create a feedback loop wherein we honor that desire, thereby strengthening it, and leading us to where we are today.Report

    • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

      Yeah, as you note the relationship between the state and teachers, the state and medical professionals, and the state and the police are very different.

      Bringing politics into the curriculum is, for the most part, problematic because what we teach and how we teach should have a relationship to empirical findings about how children learn and the facts we want to teach. Granted, the goals of education and, to some extent, the sorts of subjects we teach are political questions, but facts and methods are not, at least generally (as I type this I can think of ways in which they are, and should be).

      Bringing politics into medical decisions, which should be entirely based on empirical findings, is even more problematic, except in certain unique cases (there are highly contentious questions in medical ethics that are, in their implications for practice, unavoidably political).

      The police, however, are the enforcement arm of the state. While there is empirical study of tactics, and these should be considered, the tactics used in a particular situation are dependent on the goals in that situation, and the goals of the police are always a matter of public policy, and therefore of politics. Cops complaining that politicians want them to do X, but don’t want them to use the most effective methods for achieving X, would be a valid complaint. Cops complaining that politicians are interfering by explicitly saying the goal isn’t X, and they should stop using methods designed to achieve X, is something else entirely, and it’s what we see here.

      It’s sort of like politicians interfering in school business when a school district decides that the public policy goals of education are irrelevant, and it’s going to pursue its own educational goals, government and students be damned.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Also, if teachers or schools are systematically failing a particular segment of their students, say black students, public officials pretty much have an obligation to step in, even if teachers complain.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:


        I’m not necessarily saying that any of these complaints should be acquiesced to (really, it should go on a case-by-case basis). I just meant to say that I think there is a generally universal belief that no one can tell X how to do their job better than other Xs.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Yeah, I suppose that’s true, though the fact that it comes in this context, and with what’s going on on the ground, makes it extremely disturbing in this case.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        I agree completely.Report

  11. zic says:

    I’m sure somebody else has linked it, but here’s the NYT’s interactive map of equipment local PDs have gotten from the military:

    Maracopa County in AZ is pretty frightening.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to zic says:

      Of course, Maricopa County, at 4M people and 9,200 square miles, has almost the population and considerably more area than the states of Connecticut and Delaware combined. A significant amount of that part of Arizona is rather rugged, and the authorities are regularly engaged in large-scale search-and-rescue operations. Notice the very large number of night-vision sets; if I’ve broken my leg hiking, I’d really like the the searchers to have as much night-vision gear as they can get. A mine-resistant ATV from DoD might not be ideal, but might be a lot cheaper than civilian vehicles capable of getting a team into position to clear a fire break. There are regularly rescue situations where a helicopter is the only way to reach the people in trouble.

      Just by a quick sweep over the counties in Connecticut and Delaware, they seem to have taken a comparable number of armored vehicles, and a whole lot more assault rifles and body armor.Report

      • One of the Phoenix television stations has raw video footage up of a helicopter rescue from this week. The helicopter in use is one of the models used by the US Coast Guard. N109FB is owned by the city of Phoenix, with its current flight certificate issued in 2005, but the FAA records aren’t any more precise than that.Report

  12. Kolohe says:

    A former police officer confirms that you should treat every police officer like a potentially dangerous and rabid animal.

    Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me.


  13. Patrick says:

    For the record, I got that link originally from @koloheReport

  14. Stillwater says:

    John Oliver’s take on Ferguson. Not too shabby for a Limey.Report

  15. Barry says:

    Chris: “At that point, it is the police’s job to enforce the law without interference from any outside group, be it the politicians who made the laws or the people who are subject to them.”

    I disagree, the viewpoint to which you are referring should be phrased as: ‘it’s the police’s job to enforce those laws they choose to, against those whom they select’.Report

  16. Barry says:

    Another: “‘violating the Constitution in order to save it’ doesn’t present any sort of problem for them.”

    Mike Schilling: “This was a common right wing noise machine meme during the Clinton administration, went away in 2001, and returned in 2009. For some reason.”

    Sunspots. Phases of the moon. Swampgas firelight reflecting off of weather balloons…Report

  17. Barry says:

    Burt: “There isn’t discretion to beat up a prisoner.”


  18. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Reason has an article up regarding the possibility that Brown actually beat Wilson before getting shot.

    If true, it changes everything & I’ll side with the officer that he had adequate justification to shoot.

    But this long after the event… This smacks of a hail mary pass by the PD/City. Now I want to see photos and other medical evidence of the officers beating, I want to see autopsy evidence from Brown showing that he was beating someone (busted knuckles/bruises/etc.).Report

    • To say that skepticism about this report is appropriate would be an understatement, to say the least, particularly under the circumstances. Even still, I would not say that the officer was justified other than at most in an initial shot – the one area where both the police account and witness accounts is lining up is that Brown was 30-35 feet away for most of the shots. The NYT story this morning also indicates that the police have confirmed that several shots were fired at Brown while he was running away, but that they missed, with Brown then turning around; the debate is whether, with a bullet already in his shoulder, he then sought to surrender or instead sought to charge the officer who was shooting him. I know which of those two scenarios sounds more plausible.

      What’s more, I think there’s still good reason to believe that the officer initiated the physical confrontation by seeking to grab Brown in some manner.Report

    • morat20 in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


      First, because if he’d been attacked they’d have claimed that FROM THE START and would have released photos of the cop right away. “Look, I was assaulted”. End of story. End of protests. Just a shot of the cop’s bruised face.

      What, they were sitting on it? For what? What possible reason could they have to sit on that, for weeks? “Let’s see a riot!”. *snort*. They’d have released the self-defense story from the get-go. Heck, if the cop had been a SMART corrupt cop he’d have just asked his partner to work him over a bit, give him a bit of an alibi.

      Second, I’ve seen the source of that ‘self-defense’ story (first came from a caller into a radio show, several days ago). According to that version, when told to get off the street, the dead kid tried to push the officer’s head back into the car, THEN tried to grab his gun, when it went off he ran thirty feat away, then proceeded to mock the cop and tell him “You won’t arrest me” and then charged him.

      That was the story told, on the radio, by someone’d who’d heard the cop’s own story. Because that….makes sense. Certainly a black guy in Ferguson, MO is going to be certain a cop won’t arrest him. What cop would DARE arrest a black man?

      Second, he apparently assaults the cop for no reason, then tries to grab his gun, then runs away. But not ALL the way. Just far enough that he’s no longer capable of assaulting the cop, but close enough to be shot easily with a handgun.

      No, I call BS. He wasn’t assaulted. And he didn’t think to claim he was assaulted (or take a few to the face from his partner to claim it) because he didn’t think his actions would be under any real scrutiny. But now that the Ferguson police can’t sweep this under the rug, he’s now trying for a story to explain his actions.

      Which is pretty tough, given that any self-defense story IMMEDIATELY brings up the question of “Why was ‘self-defense’ not part of the story coming out of the police office, and let’s see the photos. You documented it, right? And the body’s got skinned knuckles and bruises to prove it, right? EMT saw you, right?”

      Even Zimmerman had a bloody cut to show for it.

      Or does the Ferguson police department not bother to document physical assaults on police officers?Report

      • Murali in reply to morat20 says:

        In fact, if it is the case that he was admitted to hospital for injuries, it is likely to have been that he did *finally* ask his friend to work him over in order to improve his case.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to morat20 says:

        “Even Zimmerman had a bloody cut to show for it. ”

        And the photos of him beaten and bloody didn’t get widespread coverage until a couple of MONTHS after he shot Martin, and certainly quite far into the actual criminal trial over it. It’s not like the first thing we saw was George Zimmerman’s beat-up face.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to morat20 says:

        First, because if he’d been attacked they’d have claimed that FROM THE START and would have released photos of the cop right away.

        How long was it before we saw a picture of Zimmerman’s broken nose?

        I mean, I am *NOT* on the side of the cop here. At all. But I remember the picture of the broken nose coming out weeks later and I had no idea why they held that back for weeks. Incompetence, I guessed.

        Now, if they *DO* determine that there are non-officer fingerprints on the gun from Brown? That’ll kick this can down the road for a spell. But a short spell.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to morat20 says:


        Except Zimmerman was not in control of the information release at the start. It wasn’t until he started getting pilloried in the press that he got legal help & started to push back.

        The Ferguson cops have a pretty solid handle on what information they want to release.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      I know, this just reeks of justification after the fact, & after everything else that has been going on this (in my mind) rises to the level of “extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence”.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        There is video of Wilson after the shooting! It’s difficult to tell if he has marks from a scuffle, but it sure as hell doesn’t look like he was “nearly beaten unconscious,” as the Reason article reports. There’s no blood on his head, he’s not holding his head, he’s not even acting like he’s been hurt. What’s more, earlier in the week, the police were saying that he had a bump on his head. Now he has severe injuries. Ugh.

        Look, no one denies there was a scuffle. I wouldn’t be surprised if the door hit him in the head, or he was struck in the head during the scuffle, but “nearly beaten unconscious” contradicts what everyone, including the police, has said up to this point.Report

      • greginak in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Really really hard to believe they would wait this long to just now say he had serous injuries. If he was hurt as bad as claimed that would change a lot, but still why wait. And a fractured eye socket….so lets see the ER report and such. That should be completely easy to prove.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        He has to file a report, one would think. So why was it the police chief wasn’t listing all of this? Sure, don’t give his name. Sure, don’t show his picture.

        But why, exactly, are they sitting on the officer’s own report?

        Unless the self-defense claim in the report is…not compelling. I’m sure they’re busy amending it and back-dating it now, but it’s gonna be REALLY hard to explain how he was injured but somehow nobody thought to mention it for weeks. Or document it. Or tell anyone other than generically claiming self-defense with a strange lack of details — like how he was assaulted or injuries sustained or anything like that.Report

      • @morat20 in the original report (Slate?) about the man who was beaten in jail and then charged with felony destruction of public property for bleeding on the officers’ uniforms, the lawyer discovered reports are not put in the officer’s personnel files; they’re sent off and handled by City Hall, where they seem to vanish without trace.

        Any discussions about Wilson having a clean record is because the dirty stuff was never part of his record; he may have had one, he may have been a constant total prick, and it’s not in his record.Report