Flutterby™! : Police credibility

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Police credibility

2009-07-29 20:19:36.787221+00 by Dan Lyke 7 comments

Eric's entry on Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research director Henry Louis Gates Jr single-handedly setting back the cause of equality for Americans of African ancestry by several decades got me back to pondering issues of police relations, and why I was even for a moment willing to assume that a Harvard professor was more credible than a police officer.

(Bonus link: Cambridge Police Profiling Still A Grim Reality For Harvard Faculty Assholes)

Recently someone commented to me that the Petaluma Police Department home page had "all sorts of 'Cops' pictures". I went there, and... well... you can see a sample over there on the right. I freely concede that that's what many people sign up to be cops to do, that there are people who are adrenaline junkies and this is a career that allows them to live out those experiences, but...

Exhibit two is this Facebook ad. I mean, egads, if being attracted to an ad like that isn't already an immediate disqualification for working as a police officer, it bloody well should be.

To be fair to the Petaluma police, they do also have other pictures in their slideshow, pictures like this one (scaled down a bit because I'm poaching it without express permission, and I believe this is fair use, but its fairer use if I'm really excerpting and not grabbing full-res everything):

There are a few others, too, of cops smiling, having conversations with people, or securing accident scenes, that sort of thing.

I think we need a cultural shift where we end up with far more of that sort of image of police work. Less of the guns drawn power trip, more of the mentoring and talking. And if we can get that, then the next time some Harvard professor loses his shit (okay, is tired from traveling and his front door is jammed because someone broke into it) then we'll be likely to give the police officer who responds to the passerby concerned that someone's forcing entry to a house the benefit of the doubt.

[ related topics: Photography Political Correctness moron Sociology Law Enforcement Guns Race ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-07-29 21:47:28.515069+00 by: jeff [edit history]

Dan--I believe that police credibility, public perception, and the EXPECTED and CONDITIONED societal roles for police officers are LARGELY driven by our mass media. It's important to note the "expected and conditioned" societal component here.

How much "guns drawn" violence have you seen on TV lately? How much "non-violent" public safety service have you seen on TV lately?

It's at least partly a reflection of our society being shaped by the few who spin and control mass societal content delivery.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-07-29 22:50:57.40666+00 by: JT

Police do the right thing 10,000 times a day, and the wrong thing probably 20. Which of these things get on the news? The perception isn't the fault of the officers, it's not the fault of the departments themselves. These are one of the occasions where it falls directly into the lap of the media.

When's the last time you saw a story of "Policeman returns lost child to parents" or "Police woman enters burning house to rescue family before Fire Department shows up".

You don't. It's not exciting. It's not lascivious. It's not even newsworthy. Who cares if cops do their jobs... the media only shows when cops don't do their jobs (or when the president gets involved)

#Comment Re: made: 2009-07-29 23:30:16.715497+00 by: Dan Lyke

I posted the screen cap from the Petaluma PD because that wasn't an external portrayal, that department has direct control over what shows up on that page (I've talked to the guy who shares the folders). And the facebook ad isn't directly controlled by any police department, but I'll have to grab some pictures of the CHP or Oakland PD recruting materials; they're often no better.

But your point stands, this is a larger cultural issue that feeds back on itself. In the Gates situation the officer basically backed out of the house, out of Gates's territory, in order to diffuse any territorial issues, and I saw commenters on forums generally populated by white upper middle class folks accuse him of "luring Gates out". That speaks to a deep mistrust that isn't a good thing for or culture, whether or not it reflects reality, and I hope that the vindication of the officer's actions continues to get play.

I also think we need more "cop did the right thing" stories, but I don't know where to turn for them (though this conversation makes me conscious that I should seek 'em out for Flutterby to Truro balance out my tendency to post abuses of power). I think if the Petaluma PD dropped every picture of drawn guns or handcuffed suspects from their web page then *they* would be helping write that narrative, and that would be a tremendous step in the right direction.

I do need to go make some friends down there on two issues (an RSS feed of incident reports would be super cool, and we have a Neighborhood Watch sign on a telephone pole that nobody knows anything about, I want to resurrect that), I'll try to find a place to introduce this issue too.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-07-30 15:17:58.707038+00 by: jeff

Dan--I think it would be a great experience to get to know some of these people at a personal level. I think you'd be able to draw more specific conclusions then.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-07-30 15:30:00.844356+00 by: m


"Police do the right thing 10,000 times a day, and the wrong thing probably 20."

I would strongly disagree with your numbers, but that doesn't even matter. When I look at the police, I see a class of individuals that holds itself above the laws that the rest of us have to follow. They have the armaments as well as the political and legal power to get away with murder and lesser crimes.

As a mere "citizen" it is almost impossible for me to obtain redress if I have been mistreated by a police officer. The law is stacked against me. Unless there is a clear video or audio of the incident I don't stand a chance. And in some states, having audio of police mistreating me is a felony -- not for the cops, but for me. But it is not just the law, it is also the well oiled PR departments of both police departments and police unions. No matter what the behavior on the part of the police, and that includes robbery, rape, sodomy, murder and assault, the victim of the police is blamed.

It is the so called "blue wall of silence" that is the wrong thing that is done daily, continuously, in conspiracy and in cold premeditation by an overwhelming majority of officers. The ones who know first hand, or have to know by means that would be used to arrest "civilians", that other cops are dirty. When cops stage mass riots to protect other cops who are guilty of unpardonable crimes like the sodomization of Abner Louima, I have a right to want a change to the power balance. Louima was reviled by both the NYC government, the NYPD and the NYPD unions. There are too many of these cases, large abd small, to not know such practices are prevalent.

It is not the crime, it is the cover up. The willingness of police to say that the law doesn't apply to other police. That no matter how egregious or obvious the offense against the victim is, the "Blue Shield" will do all it can to protect the guilty.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-07-31 14:58:56.639141+00 by: JT

Honestly, I spent more than 10 years in police work. I never ran into any situation where the "Blue Wall" was protecting someone. Of course, the only two places where it's actually known for existing is Chicago PD and NYPD, neither of which I've worked for. I had complaints filed against me that were properly investigated by internal affairs, I had civil lawsuits filed against me which none were in the plaintiff's favor, and even got charged with rape by a female prisoner where I was found innocent. (Long story, never happened) But in no instance was there a big coverup or a mass conspiracy by the police department to band around me and help. Everything was always handled ethically and properly.

Assuming all police departments are dirty because of what you see in movies or read about specific situations is just plain prejudice, and it's the precise attitude which is leading into the situation at the forefront of this thread. There is no blue wall of silence in any police department I've ever worked for, and I'm assuming I've worked for exactly three more police departments than most people here.

In 2004 there were 836,787 policemen on duty in the united states. Let's assume on average they got 4 calls each per shift per day (I averaged between 10 and 15) that would make 1,221,709,020 calls in 2004. How many horrible incidents to you remember from 2004 out of all those police calls? And out of all you can name or even research, how many of them are compared to the total number of estimated calls?

#Comment Re: made: 2009-07-31 18:51:30.090812+00 by: m


I have no doubt that there are locales in the US where there is an appropriate balance between the community and its police force. Where the political powers and enforcement management understand and insist that policing authority exists to serve and protect.

I have no doubts that those who should be jailed will OFTEN, FREQUENTLY lie about how they were mistreated by police not only for their own benefit, or for status within amongst their peers, or because they are just congenital liars and will say anything as long as it is not the truth.

BUT I worked in municipal government. I heard police say things which were not so (yep, actual lying). I was present when police attempted to intimidate my lab director into manufacturing evidence. I have personally observed multiple cases of police misbehavior in court, where everyone knew the police had perjured themselves under oath, but nothing happened other than the case being thrown out. The defendants may have been happy with the result, but I wasn't. From within my profession I had a large number of reliable reports of police and jail misconduct by insiders who were known to me that I trusted, and who had nothing to gain other than shedding their disgust at the perversion of law.

In NC a roommate regularly lent out his bedroom to a cop for afternoon whoopie, this favor eventually saved him from a DWI. The cop ran the city vice squad. Once I low crawled out the front door for fear of being shot because the cop and his "friend" were drunk and waving their pistols around in my living room. The cop liked to revile us with his stories of misdeeds. Some of them were probably the braggadocio of an alcoholic, but I don't believe all of them were. Blue Wall hell, it was a Blue Fortress.

In the late '60s I had a very brief fling with pot and some hallucinogens. Brief enough so that I only actually bought pot from one dealer -- he was an assistant district attorney who I met through my father. I only speak of that now because it is certainly way beyond any statute of limitations, and the one time ADA is deceased. That was kind of funny, but there are other things that I have run across that are not so funny.

I don't get my opinions from movies or television because I don't care much for the common culture. I get them from the widest variety of news sources that the net allows and filter them through my personal experience and attempt to be as impartial as possible. By nature and profession I tend to be more an observer of cultural behavior, rather than a participant in alliance with any group.

Smoozing about statistics of 10^9 calls with 10^6 cops on duty is just that. All the talk about good cops, is just a shield for the bad ones. The good cops don't make up for the bad ones. No more than the good Samaritans make up for criminals. If they did, we would not need jails.