Questioning the Bad-Apple View of Policing

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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106 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    The few bad apples thing is a red herring. The issue isn’t the number of good cops and bad cops, its what constitutes a bad cop and how often they get away with it. We know that police officers often stand by each other and that cops usually get away with their more wild actions. We also know that police often ignore the civil liberties of people in custody and do things to coerce confessions. This is definitely a bad cop action even if it is different from shooting people. Most police officers probably go through out their career without doing either but they turn a blind eye towards cops that do. That is the problem.Report

  2. Saul Degraw says:

    There are probably way too many angles and ways to look at this issue.

    I remember listening to a TAL (probably) story several years ago and they were interviewing a cop about how he started to take bribes. The cop said that as a rookie, he originally refused to take bribes and other forms of kickbacks and corruption. His superiors responded by sending him to the most dangerous and violent area to patrol and making him walk the beat instead of giving him a patrol car. Said officer quickly learned to take bribes.

    There is also the training issue and how to handle a variety of complaints. At the end of March, I saw an incident between a man who was potentially mentally ill and/or homeless and/or intoxicated and a cop. The man was just sitting against the wall of a store* and sulking. A patrol car pulled up and a cop got out and tried to be friendly and say “Hey man, what’s wrong?” or something like that. The sitting man made a gesture of “go away”. The gesture reminded me of a child having a tantrum and sulking while upset. The cop immediately said something like “Hey man, why do you have to be an asshole”. I didn’t see the rest but it occurred to me that the cop immediately escalated the situation and did so in an unnecessary manner.

    The other issue is that perhaps most cops are good cops but they are all too willing to use the thin blue line and defend bad apples in their departments and prevent said officers from being accountable for their actions.Report

  3. zic says:

    People are complicated. The man who molested me also helped a lot of people, he was beloved by our community. People do both good and bad things.

    Every cop who sees another cross the line knows that that there but for the grace of god. . . I’d expect them to cover each other’s asses; that this would be the rule, not the exception. The loyalty is to the unit, not to the civilian population the unit’s sworn to protect. I’d posit this is partly the result of militarization; first defenders fighting an enemy instead of stewards of public peace; combined with old-fashioned class/race/sexism.

    And remember that cops overreact to some stuff; but under-react and ignore other crimes, see Jon Krakauer’s new book or the Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C.’s Pulitzer for examples. We over-police race and youth, we under-police crimes against women.Report

    • Kim in reply to zic says:

      Oh, that depends. Campus police are pretty famous for “overpolicing” crimes against women… in order to get them to shut the hell up, that is. Nothing like a police officer telling you “you didn’t know what happened”Report

    • j r in reply to zic says:

      We over-police race and youth, we under-police crimes against women.

      That doesn’t quite add up. Whatever the number of women who are killed by partners or former partners, the number of men killed in homicides is much greater. And the overwhelming number of men killed in homicides are killed in drug and gang related incidents. Does that mean that we are under-poling drugs and gangs? Probably not; in fact, you say as much.

      More likely is that “over-policing” and “under-policing” are not quite the right framework from which to be thinking about these issues.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        Overpolicing is when you stalk the black senior citizen in the liquor store, ignoring the college age white kids — who are WAY more likely to steal.
        Overpolicing is a decent framework for understanding some low-level AA frustration, but not terribly relevant to homicide…Report

        • zic in reply to Kim says:

          I agree with both of you, @kim and @j-r

          I’m struggling to figure out the right framework for expressing the imbalances.Report

          • Guy in reply to zic says:

            Maybe they’re slightly different phenomena: we tend to over-police minorities and young people as classes, but under-police crimes that are typically regarded as women’s issues, like domestic abuse or sexual assault.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to j r says:

        I think the problem is one of confusing crime prevention with crime investigation.Report

        • DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          And once again I will tell the story of how cops in my small town work:

          There is a bar in town where there is, essentially, two street you can leave via, thanks to our goofy one-way streets. You have to follow one street for a block, then you get an option of two streets for a few blocks.

          After the Friday and Saturday shows at the nearby theatre I volunteer at, this bar is often frequented by groups from the theatre. As we don’t get there until 11 or so, we usually don’t leave there until 1. Unlike most people leaving bars at 1 on Friday or Saturday, we usually aren’t drunk, at least not drunk off our ass…but everyone else is.

          And something like half the time (We compare notes the next day at the theatre), on the way out, at least one direction has a cop car parked by one of those roads, presumably waiting for people driving erratically enough to pull them over…or just pulling people over for nothing, or following them for no reason. (I was once followed all the way to my house.)

          Which seems entirely reasonable, until we started asking the obvious question: That bar literally has one exit, and it’s not like a huge mass of people leave at once. So why doesn’t the cop just stand *there*, and watch for drunk people, and attempt to *keep them* from driving drunk?

          ‘You look drunk. You have three options…you can either not drive, you can take a breathalizer now and convince me you’re not drunk…or you can get in your car and drive out onto the road, at which point I will immediately pull you over and make you take a breathalizer and arrest you for DUI.’

          The answer, of course, is obvious: The police are not attempting to stop crime. They’re attempting to *arrest people*.Report

  4. Kim says:

    Every place is different.
    Some places you have particular squads that are corrupt as anything (Vice should ring a bell)…
    Other places your corruption is enforced by desperate governments “here’s your quota. Get it or Lennie gets fired… and Lennie’s got kids”

    Certainly loyalty is a difficult thing from the getgo.Report

  5. Will H. says:

    From what I have seen, this is absolutely right.
    Not all, but most all cops will gladly revert to criminality if they believe they are dealing with “criminals.”

    What’s even worse is that the public is so concerned with “crime” that many of them see this as fully justified.
    (a recent Pew Research poll shows something like 57% of people responding saying that “crime” is one of the most important issues that Congress can address.)
    I remember seeing Jennifer Thompson talking about when the DNA tests came back to show that Ronald Cotton was not the rapist. People came to her to say that she should not concern herself with seeing an innocent man go free because it was likely that he committed some other crime, and thus deserved to be wrongfully incarcerated.

    There is a wide-spread failure in the public to understand that criminality in government is criminal conduct.

    Unless it has to do with a bj or something.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Will H. says:

      This is pretty spot on. Crime is going down but people still act like it is NYC in 1981. There is also the issue that maybe it is only a minority of the population that believes “It is better for a hundred guilty men to go free than for one innocent person to stay in prison” Perhaps many people just think otherwise and are highly punitive.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I wonder how much of it is that it takes a long time for people to adjust to the new set of statistics. You and I were both born about the same time–during that crime peak. We were kids when people were expecting the whole world to become a crime-ridden hell and we were raised steeped in that culture. Now our generation has reached adulthood and we’re likely going to be applying everything we learned from our parents during those years. We *should* be looking at numbers to decide what’s important, but the things that our parents thought were important when we were 7 years old still resonate very strongly with us.

        I suppose the other key problem is that every generation has always said, “Things aren’t like they were when I was a kid.” That’s true, but not for the reasons the remember it. You were carefree when you were a kid, but that’s because you were a kid. It’s not because there was nothing to worry about when you were a kid. Adults just did most of the worrying for you.Report

        • zic in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

          I think it’s an exposure problem. The same crime stories are looped repeatedly; and they rarely include context of how common the crime is; yet the crime story is a story because it’s unusual.

          If I were to change anything about the news, it would be to include “how much” with who, what, where, when, and why. Context on just how common or uncommon this event actually is.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Troublesome Frog says:


          Roger Ebert had a great essay about all the problems of “things aren’t like they were when I was a kid” nostalgia and brought it up at various times. One thing that he wrote in an essay was that when he was a young undergrad, police used to go searching at local motels and take down the license plates of students who were there to have sex. They would then report these students to the University because this was a big no. So there was a shocking amount of puritanicalism.

          I have anecdotal evidence for our generation as parents. I see a lot of people firmly on the side of free-range parenting but they do so through the nostalgia of “things were better when I was a kid” and they will also post every single Amber Alert there is in the world to social media. So walkability and independence are important but stranger danger is still a concern.Report

    • Pyre in reply to Will H. says:

      That’s mostly just a case of The CNN Effect.Report

  6. Burt Likko says:

    James K turned me on to a video yesterday about deconstructing superhero narratives. One of the proffered definitions of “superhero” was “a person with enhanced abilities to effect agency.” Well, that’s a cop, right? Cops are delegated the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force — it is cops and soldiers who actually use force in the name of the state. They get to carry guns, they get to decide when to use them. They get to drive the way they want, ostensibly in fulfillment of their duties. They wear special costumes to tell us who they are and to brandish their authority and potential for dispensing violence. They are culturally endowed with respect and a presumption of veracity and trustworthiness arising from further presumptions of special training, special experience, and personal disinterest in the particular situations they become professionally involved with resolving. They are equipped with weapons and armor in ways that most people are not. These may not be “super powers” in the same way that flying or super strength or shooting laser beams out of your eyes would be “super powers” in a comic book universe, but they are enhanced abilities not enjoyed by civilians.

    Add into that the strong cultural identification of police and ‘the law.’ For a lot of people, the police are the law. They dispense and enforce law wherever they go. People see police and instantly begin to change their behavior — they slow down their cars, they stand up straighter, they stop talking. They do this out of fear of being observed to be engaged in wrongful conduct. “Law,” of course, equals “good” in the minds of most people most of the time, and cops are not immune from this. So cops are, by definition, a special cadre of people somehow lifted to elite status and empowered to act for the public good. Indeed, the desire to act for the public good is probably why a lot of people want to be cops in the first place: it’s not just a job, it’s a calling, a form of public service.

    Add into that the fact that a lot of cops have high school educations and are of average but not above average intelligence. (Clearly, there are some really smart cops out there, no one would dispute that. Also some dim ones.) They are also embedded within a hierarchical culture that borrows elements of command lines from the military. Consequently, we can’t expect them to be deeply introspective and reflective, to drill down into obscure philosophy to understand what makes actions right or wrong, or to spend a lot of time critically evaluating instruction given to them by authority. These people have to be taught a great deal of law, which is sometimes very complex, in ways that they can absorb and understand and enforce. They get told that they are on the side of moral right and justice, that they can act in ways that other people cannot, that they are elite and a special community unto themselves, that their mission is to keep the peace and enforce the law and to separate the bad guys from the good citizens.

    Finally, they really do see people behaving badly. The job inherently involves seeing people do bad things and seeing the effects of those bad things on innocent people. A good person wants to help innocents who have been hurt, a good person wants to see bad people who hurt other people punished, restrained, and corrected.

    From there, it isn’t difficult to see how some very short steps to some moral short cuts to arriving at a morally good end result can be tempting. Steps that take only a moment or two to execute. Steps that you know are calculated to separate the bad people and the harm they do from the innocent people who did not ask to be hared. Steps that you know are going to be ignored, because they are going to be within that cloak of veracity and trust that you don along with the uniform. So the evidence fell to the floor because you saw the perp drop it. It isn’t going to hurt the case if that evidence gets moved right to the perp’s feet before he comes to. No one will see. Move it, right now, and in a few seconds it’ll be easy for your brother and sister cops to say that they saw the evidence right there by his feet too — and it’s evidence you know he had in the first place, because you saw him drop it. Let’s put this bad guy away: it’s the right thing to do.

    A few well-intentioned steps like that and next thing you know, you’re pulling some dirtbag off horseback and beating him up for the helicopter cameras. The superhero has become a supervillain.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Burt Likko says:

      That all rings true, but there is also the policy aspect of it.
      To be fair, cops are often, as a matter of policy, put in positions or situations that they are not well-prepared to deal with, either personally or by training.
      Then there is the aspect of job creep, which Zic mentions below.
      All of which, to me, points to the need for mental health services; rigorous screenings, etc.Report

    • James K in reply to Burt Likko says:


      I agree with everything in your post, but I can’t help but fell you’re over-explaining it. History teaches us that power without accountability is morally corrosive – power corrupts after all. Considering how much power the police have, and how little accountability police in the US seem to have, it would be miraculous if abuses of power weren’t widespread.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Burt Likko: They are also embedded within a hierarchical culture that borrows elements of command lines from the military.

      Of course, unlike the military, they are not subject to a body of law that places upon them greater constraints & responsibilities, such as the UCMJ does. As a matter of fact, they are granted special rights beyond what a civilian has, much less the members of the military they borrow heavily from.Report

  7. zic says:

    I question the WOT, Homeland Security, and militarization of police forces. Are we, the public, each the enemy, and cops serving in a war zone?

    If this is so (and I don’t know, I’m wondering,) it seems at odds with soldiers I’ve spoken with how they’ve felt serving in war zones; a perversion of how the members of the military view potential hostiles in encounters; they seem far more aware of the threat they present to non-combatants. I wonder if we hold higher standards of the soldier in the battle field than we do of the cop on the street.Report

    • Pyre in reply to zic says:


      Pissing off random citizens of your country is one thing.

      Pissing off other countries, especially in a world where everyone is interconnected politically and economically, is a far more serious matter.Report

    • Glyph in reply to zic says:

      zic: I wonder if we hold higher standards of the soldier in the battle field than we do of the cop on the street.

      In comments on Kazzy’s “Why?” post, I touched on this too, that modern US cops seem to sometimes embody all the worst possibilities of being soldiers but not the best, and wondering if the solution to recent police excesses is, perversely, not to make the police less like the military, but somehow more like it in terms of discipline and abrogation of cops’ normal rights as citizens, so that there will be consequences for cops that are not following strictly-enforced ROEs.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        Put another way, we seem to have given our police the weapons and powers of our military but not its discipline and culture, and we need to reverse that equation somehow.Report

        • ACIS in reply to Glyph says:

          The military has its own version of the Blue Code of Silence and Testilying. I wouldn’t call military culture and cop culture all that different.

          • zic in reply to ACIS says:

            Nobody’s denying the military doesn’t have a code of silence, too; all cultures have to some degree. We are all expert at looking away to protect those with whom we’re aligned.

            But this is a statistical problem; really. One that could be examined by comparing the results of investigations and discipline rates, I think — or at least partly illuminated by such a comparison, at any rate. I don’t recall hearing about nearly as many police-discipline actions for wrongdoing as I do military discipline actions, for instance. But the responses to wrongdoing could be easily compared and contrasted; as can the training for dealing with civilians and non-combatants and subduing detainees.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to ACIS says:


            Not sure how that video is related to military conduct.

            That said, military units may have codes of silence, etc, but they also have to contend with bodies such as JAG/CID/NCIS/etc while living under the UCMJ.

            It’s a much different world, where it’s tougher to get away with bad behavior, and should you be caught, it’s a rare day when all you get is a slap on the wrist.Report

        • Notme in reply to Glyph says:


          We dont arm our police like we do the army at all. Every solder in the army except for senior officers and senior enlisted gets a rifle, the others get pistols. Not to mention ive never seen any cops with light machine guns.Report

          • Chris in reply to Notme says:

            You’ve never been near the Mexican border, eh?Report

            • Notme in reply to Chris says:

              If you want to dicuss specific PDs thats fine. Glyph made a gereral statement and i responded accordingly. PDs near the border may very need rifles to deal with all the illegals and drug traffickers. Even then i doubt they carry machine guns.Report

              • zic in reply to Notme says:

                Don’t worry, notme, at least the cops are getting tanks and their tactical-response fanboys.Report

              • Notme in reply to zic says:


                It is sad to see that you have to refer to an article from Time that isnt factually correct. Nothing mentioned in that article is a tank, despite the hyperbole in the title. MRAPs arent tanks and never have been. They are really just a large unarmed blast proof suv.Report

              • zic in reply to Notme says:

                It’s all in the frame, not the skin, notme.Report

              • Notme in reply to zic says:


                Not sure what you are trying to say but a caimen isnt a tank either. Only a m1A abrams is a tank.Report

              • zic in reply to Notme says:

                I’m trying to say that there was a shift in policing after 9/11.

                The national guard was continuously called into active duty, leaving much of their civil defense capacity weakened. To fill in that need, the coverage for response was recalculated and shifted to police and other first-responders; including the need to do crowd control and protection for bringing people into live-fire situations (like a mall takeover, as happened in Africa recently.)

                It’s not a question that this homeland protection shifted from the National Guard; and first-responder groups compete for equipment, and that equipment is used regionally, with specific departments providing specific skills over a regional area.

                What I’m questioning here is if the kind of training they receive has changed the ethos of day-to-day interactions with the general public.

                That is a valid question to ask. So quite trying to needle prick things; they are what they are, and I’d think you’d be as interested in soldier cops as anyone. Because that’s verging on police state, and that’s a big bogey man for conservatives; why they need to keep their guns under the 2nd.

                Forgive me if I’m presuming, but your arguments here seem shortsighted and knee-jerk attack the liberals, and to be harming your actual heart-felt issues.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Notme says:

                @ Notme
                Do you have an imparted interest in someone who is a police(wo)man that may bias your vantage point, or is most of your position coming from a personal preference in how police should be viewed?

                Most days I’m good for a dust-up with liberalish folk, but you have particular hardpoints when it comes to police.

                I don’t say this in any derogatory fashion, just as mere observation.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Notme says:

                Eh, if you’d prefer I said “equipment” rather than “weapons”, it doesn’t really change what I was trying to get at, what with the Bearcats and APCs and SWAT teams and stuff.

                Or I can remove “equipment” from the equation entirely, and just say something like “siege/wartime mentality”.

                My general point is, it does sometimes seem as though our cops think they can Abu Ghraib anybody they like, except no one ever seems to get in trouble for it.Report

              • Chris in reply to Notme says:

                ive never seen any cops with light machine guns. is not a general statement?

                The cops down there have some pretty impressive firepower. And the national guard even more, of course.Report

              • Notme in reply to Chris says:


                You would have us believe that there are local cops near the border that go about their duties with a m249 or a m240B machine gun? I call bs.Report

              • Chris in reply to Notme says:


                Look up DPS machine gun, and I’m sure you’ll find a bunch of pretty pictures. Hell, they have machine gun-armed gunboats.Report

    • Will H. in reply to zic says:

      Are we, the public, each the enemy, and cops serving in a war zone?

      The big difference between your view and my view on this is that I have sat in criminal justice classes taught by a police detective and a police commissioner; i.e., I no longer wonder.

      Actually, the commissioner committed two gross breaches of confidentiality publicly in class.
      There were complaints, sure, but I seriously doubt if anything material was done.
      That’s a big part of the reason I transferred this semester.
      It looked to me like, for all the world, the guy was actually training people in how to break the rules (ethics provisions, or however you want to look at it) and get away with it. In case you’re wondering, knowing the right people is a big part of it. Selecting the right people for wrongful treatment is another big part of it. Gross misstatement of fact is another key element.
      I really don’t even like thinking about that incident.Report

      • zic in reply to Will H. says:

        Thanks, that’s a lot to think on, @will-h

        I’ve actually had a lot of trouble finding out what and how law officers are trained; it’s not a clear, public-knowledge set of requirements. We’re expected to treat police at professional standards, but it’s not all that clear (that I can see,) what those standards are.

        If I’m missing something obvious, some obvious website that explains it, feel free to point it out. Because I have been looking, on and off, for a while. Most of it seems beyond paywall, the BOCA codes.Report

        • Will H. in reply to zic says:

          Cops (even 911 dispatchers) have to have a certain amount of college credits to be eligible for hire. When new positions are approved, the commission accepts applications. If hired, they are sent to the police academy for six weeks.
          Geographically proximate police departments share an academy.

          I was able to come up with this fairly quickly:

          Must be 21 years of age by date of the written exam; or 20 years of age for applicants who have successfully completed 2 years (60) hours of law enforcement studies at an accredited college. Cannot have attained the age 36 by date of entrance into eligibility pool. Exceptions are made for candidates with prior municipal police experience. Contact the Human Resources Department for additional information.

          Graduation from high school or GED equivalent; Prefer candidates with Associate’s Degree or hours toward Bachelor’s Degree.

          Standard stuff there.
          Take a look at your local junior college to see what an associates in criminal justice entails. I’ll bet they have several certificate programs that might be helpful to your search.Report

  8. Chris says:

    I think I’ve mentioned before that I have an acquaintance, with whom I talk a few times a week, who is an ex-cop. He worked in San Antonio and San Marcos (a town about halfway between San Antonio and Austin, and home to a large state university), and on a multi-agency drug task force, and retired after more than two decades. He’s an OK guy, I suppose, pretty much like everyone, until he starts talking shop, at which point he talks about the people with whom he dealt in a way that never fails to take me aback.

    I think a combination of who chooses to become a cop, and the specifics of the job, from the power it entails to the situations in which they find themselves, makes cops not good or bad, but just off relative to how people should view and interact with those around them.Report

    • Kim in reply to Chris says:

      Yeah, there’s gotta be some serious psychological bruising…
      Also, even the good cops say, “we see people at their worst.”
      Give people enough of that as a steady diet, and you ought not to wonder at them being a bit off in terms of risk assessment.Report

  9. Joe Sal says:

    I’ve said a lot about this stuff before. I still think it’s easy to see where it’s going.Report

  10. ACIS says:

    They’re almost all bad apples. Either they’re actively bad or they’re looking the other way.

  11. Jaybird says:

    Speaking of oldies but goodies, here is a video of a police officer telling the person filming him “Don’t make me fear for my safety.”

    This strikes me as unsustainable.Report

  12. DensityDuck says:

    The solution to “lots of bad apples” is the same as the solution to “a few bad apples”, though. (namely: get rid of the bad apples.)

    It’s a different solution from “what if apples are actually poisonous?”Report

    • Joe Sal in reply to zic says:

      That’s where my link was directed, it looks real bad on several levels.Report

    • Troublesome Frog in reply to zic says:

      It was inspiring the way the good apples saw that bad apple assaulting that woman and stealing her property and stepped in.

      Oh, wait.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        Is it illegal in that state to video cops in their natural habitat?

        Even if it isn’t, is it legal to assault her and destroy her property?

        Anyone, anyone? Bueller?Report

        • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

          This is CA, @stillwater

          Ok So Can I Record Cops?
          In California, it is well settled law that yes, you can record cops, but only while they are on duty, and you can’t interfere with their official duties. Otherwise, they are private citizens, subject to the same protections above, as anyone else. Other jurisdictions agree. The First Court of Appeals stated that is ok for the general public to video-tape public servant, eg, police officers, while they are working. This decision took place after cops were piecemeal arresting citizens who were recording them and the stories were run on television news channels.


          • Stillwater in reply to zic says:

            Michael Cain prolly knows more about this than I do ( ….. ) but not too long ago there was yet Another Push for a citizen review of cop activities in Denver. Just about everyone within the gummint establishment opposed the proposal, the cops most strenuously on thru DAs and whatnot ending in the Mayor and state CCers who opposed it more mildly but opposed it nonetheless. I remember that politicking. From my pov, there was not a single argument upon which opposition to the proposal made any sense. Even the most cynical (and most persuasive!) – that the review board would become politicized – seemed to me at worst an equalization of the already entrenched political interests expressed by the Copdom/DA nexus.

            From a purely democratic pov, opposing the creation of a citizens review of cop-ness seemed like a no brainer. Opposing it seemed to me anti-democratic. But not enough people seemed to care about that issue. Which makes me even more cynical about Americans!

            Highest incarceration rate and all that.Report

            • Denver recently expanded the reach of its Office of the Independent Monitor. The stated reason for police and prosecutors opposing some of the provisions was that it gave the Monitor broad access to police records in ongoing/open criminal investigations only peripherally associated with the police conduct incident.

              The General Assembly is hearing several bills aimed at police conduct. The one most likely to pass reiterates the First Amendment right to make recordings of police in public places, subject to restrictions that boil down to “you can’t harass them or get in their way.” The push to put it in statute is basically due to a handful of recent incidents where officers violated existing department regulations.Report

    • Will H. in reply to zic says:

      It’s hard to say if that’s a legitimate violation of rights or not.
      I’m going with not.

      The reason goes back to sec. 1983 & Millbrook v. United States (when the voluntary forfeiture of U.S. sovereign immunity for law enforcement officers under the Federal Tort Claims Act extended beyond the three acts enumerated in Poole, and it became unlawful for a federal law enforcement officer to commit forcible rape on the clock).

      Sec. 1983 (the sad remnants of the Civil Rights Act of 1871; the better part of it, anyway . . . ) is applicable to persons acting under color of state law. These are federal officers.
      However, U.S. Marshals are not law enforcement officers– they’re officers of the court. Historically, the role of the marshals was to serve summonses & subpoenas. I think it was part of the massive Rules changes of 1994 where they decided the US Marshals were overworked, and decided to allow service by mail, modeled after the provisions already in effect in California. I believe that would be in the committee comments to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4.
      Additionally, I’ve seen caselaw where court security officers (CSO’s) were exempted from provisions applicable to “law enforcement officers,” due to the fact that they truly have no law enforcement role.
      That said, Millbrook dealt with corrections officers, who do not general patrol the public-at-large.
      That’s the civil side of things.

      On the criminal end, such acts may be covered by the criminal civil rights statutes; 18 USC 241, 242, & 245.

      Short answer:
      Good question.Report

  13. Jesse Ewiak says:

    The problem isn’t so much a few bad apples or a lot of bad apples, it’s what those bad apples result in. A few bad apples at Target just means it takes longer to buy some jeans. A few bad apples at the DMV means you waste an afternoon. Hell, even a few bad apples on the police force in large portions of the Western world might mean you’re unjustly stuck in jail. A few bad apples when it comes to the American police department means people, usually poor and non-white, die.Report

  14. zic says:

    So NYT reports Michele Leonhart, head of DEA is stepping down after hearings over nine-officers sex parties paid for by drug cartels.

    After the hearing, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, pointedly refused last week to defend Ms. Leonhart or say that the president had confidence in her. He said only that the allegations against the D.E.A. agents were “troubling” and that Mr. Obama had “high expectations” for everyone serving in his administration.

    It was not the first time that Ms. Leonhart had been at odds with Mr. Obama, who nominated her to head the D.E.A. in 2010 after a 30-year career at the agency. During a closed-door speech to law enforcement officials last year, she reportedly criticized the president for having said in an interview with The New Yorker that marijuana was no more dangerous than alcohol.

    Even as Mr. Obama has expressed guarded support for allowing states including Colorado and Washington to experiment with legalizing marijuana, Ms. Leonhart has remained a staunch opponent. She refused during a 2012 hearing on Capitol Hill to say whether she believed that marijuana was less dangerous than crack cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin, saying that “all illegal drugs are bad.”


    • Kolohe in reply to zic says:

      She was a holdover from the Bush administration (this administration still have a few in senior positions)

    • dragonfrog in reply to zic says:

      Oi. Years of using NSA feeds to fabricate evidence, defying congress, ignoring science – annoying perhaps, but it can be tolerated.

      But one incident of improper sexy sex, and that’s a bridge too far.Report

      • Glyph in reply to dragonfrog says:

        I dunno, I am all for legalizing drugs and prostitution, but I can’t imagine that anything good comes from letting the drug cartels purchase prostitutes’ services for DEA agents. That seems like it just leads to further corruption, as the agents can now be even more compromised via blackmail or whatever.Report

        • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

          To expand, it’s not so much the prostitutes that are the real problem (though that provides the sexy scandalous hook and extra blackmail opportunities); it’s who is picking up the tab and for whom that indicates potential compromising. If they were Zetas bowling parties it would be just about as bad.Report

          • aaron david in reply to Glyph says:

            This is pretty much my take on it. Much like @glyph I am indifferent to drugs and prostitutes, but what we are taking about here is essentially bribery.Report

          • dragonfrog in reply to Glyph says:

            @glyph @aaron-david I agree with you that it would be ethically as bad, had these been bowling parties with the Zetas. But that wasn’t what I was getting at with my comment – my meaning was that it wasn’t the ethics that got the head of the DEA fired, it was that the particular ethical lapses were the kind that make the front page of tabloid newspapers.

            I don’t think a Zetas-DEA bowling party would have gotten the head of the DEA fired. I also think either thing is ethically as bad as things the DEA has been doing for years and earning at most mild censure – a few of which I listed above; many others exist.Report

    • Troublesome Frog in reply to zic says:

      Well, even though abuse of authority is tolerated, we can take some comfort in the fact that straight up corruption and graft does still sometimes get noticed.Report

  15. Stillwater says:

    Consider instead that maybe most police officers are nice and helpful when you are polite and they are not threatened.

    I get what you’re saying, but I’d take a broader view of what constitutes “threatened” than you perhaps do. I think it includes not only a bunch of fears but also a bunch of permissions which are inconsistent – almost definitionally – with the role cops are supposed to play in our society.

    In other words, the role determined internally by cop culture is radically different than the civil role cops are actually paid to play.

    Unless it isn’t, acourse.Report

    • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

      anything you say can and will be used against you.

      Being nice and helpful does not necessarily get you any favors. Letting the good officer search your car is often not a wise idea. As the highest court so ruled today, in fact.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to zic says:

        Hey, we’re all guilty of somethin, right? Cops are just tryin to root out the evildoers. “You’re good to go.”

        Highest incarceration rate in the world, yo!Report

  16. Damon says:

    And while we’re on the subject of “cop issues’, what about DAs.

    Read this. And if even 10% of this is true, there’s lots of folks that deserve to be in jail: cops, DAs, Judges.Report

  17. Rufus F. says:

    I used to work with a guy right out of high school as a grocery stock boy who could be nicely considered socially awkward. Another wording would be creepy as hell. Think Vincent d’Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket. He used to get a glazed look in the eyes when talking about how he was going up for the police force in the near future and how he was going to be able to kick anyone’s ass he wanted to. He had a lot of anger. I think types like that aim to be on the force in the same way that child molesters are attracted to positions that will allow them access to children.Report

    • Troublesome Frog in reply to Rufus F. says:

      I pity the people who have to screen the candidates for that job. Given the number of weirdos whose ideal life would be a steady paycheck, good benefits, a gun and the right to bully people without any consequences, there has to be very little signal in a huge pile of noise in that applicant pool. Probably half the guys I knew who were on my, “Should absolutely never be a cop” list in high school ended up applying to be cops. Most of them were weeded out, but the sheer volume of crazies is impossible to fully screen.Report