Flutterby™! : Norm Stamper on the flaws of paramilitary policing

Next unread comment / Catchup all unread comments User Account Info | Logout | XML/Pilot/etc versions | Long version (with comments) | Weblog archives | Site Map | | Browse Topics

Norm Stamper on the flaws of paramilitary policing

2011-11-21 15:11:57.115755+00 by Dan Lyke 3 comments

Former Chief of the Seattle Police Department Norm Stamper: Paramilitary Policing From Seattle to Occupy Wall Street:

Much of the problem is rooted in a rigid command-and-control hierarchy based on the military model. American police forces are beholden to archaic internal systems of authority whose rules emphasize bureaucratic regulations over conduct on the streets. An officer’s hair length, the shine on his shoes and the condition of his car are more important than whether he treats a burglary victim or a sex worker with dignity and respect. In the interest of “discipline,” too many police bosses treat their frontline officers as dependent children, which helps explain why many of them behave more like juvenile delinquents than mature, competent professionals. It also helps to explain why persistent, patterned misconduct, including racism, sexism, homophobia, brutality, perjury and corruption, do not go away, no matter how many blue-ribbon panels are commissioned or how much training is provided.

[ related topics: Children and growing up Erotic Sexual Culture Law Enforcement Automobiles Shoes Race Seattle Economics ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2011-11-21 21:37:15.664078+00 by: JT

He doesn't seem to take into account that a large portion of police are comprised of veterans. The sexism, racism, etc that he speaks of probably stems from the left over nuances from the military. I have heard pretty nasty things that have actually surprised me coming from higher ranking career military people lately.

The same grooming standards and equipment tracking ideals come from the military as well. I actually had a friend who didn't get promoted because one of the patches on his uniform was about 1/16th of an inch too close to the seam. Another didn't get promoted because he didn't have a service stripe which had been awarded to him within a few days of the board and hadn't had time to sew it on his uniform yet.

Overall the problem isn't with the police departments, it's with a few individuals. I'd say 95% of cops are out there making a difference, putting their lives on the line to protect people they don't even know. It takes a special kind of person to run towards gunshots instead of cowering in fear and place their own life on the line to help loved ones and perfect strangers the same. That same aspect has to exist in policemen and soldiers as well, or else we would end up with average normal people running away from trouble instead of toward it.

Without the bravado and sense of being Johnny Badass in every situation, a policeman would lack the confidence to stand up to a group of people fighting on his own, or a much larger group of protesters to carry out orders to remove them, or even stand up to a spousal abuser bigger than he is to try to affect an arrest. This attitude and confidence level is crucial toward the survival and ability to overcome some pretty ridiculous odds at times for people in this situation, however it's what the media and others refer to as the juvenile delinquents or "John Law" attitude that most cops have. Without that type of personality, that person wouldn't physically survive some situations, and wouldn't be able to mentally cope with a lot more, which would burn most people out in almost no time.

The other 5%, probably 4% are lazy and just avoid responsibility anyway, and the remaining 1% are the ones that attract the media attention for brutality and corruption. I've never heard a story on the news about how Officer Bobby Smith wrote tickets to three speeders today and arrested someone for misdemeanor marijuana possession and went home to his wife and kids. I haven't seen on the news where Officer Jimmy Williams arrested someone for domestic violence and a DUI and did nothing wrong for that day. The only thing the media portrays is the negative... as always. There's no shock value in the vast majority of people that properly do their job, don't violate civil rights, show no tendency for corruption or brutality, and have to take the heat from everyone who hears these stories and thinks that they're part of the same group.

#Comment Re: made: 2011-11-21 22:09:28.167713+00 by: Dan Lyke

The problem I have with the "5% of the guys giving the other 95% a bad name" theory is that when the truly egregious behavior is exposed, rather than hanging the guy out to dry it seems like the 95% close ranks around him.

I think there are two theories which support the closed ranks. One is that the 95% are corrupt, and as much as I'm tempted to believe this about, say, the NY or LA or Oakland PD, I think that's facile and wrong. The other, and I think better, explanation, is that this is a failure of policy, and the 5% guy was caught between bad policies, bad equipment design (ala Mehserle and the taser), and wrong-headed training.

It seems to me that most of the uses of tasers and pepper spray we see (and I freely concede that those are only the most egregious incidents) aren't about compliance, they're about extrajudicial punishment. They're the electrical or chemical equivalent of the ten extra strokes with the baton once the subject is incapacitated. Except that because there are no bruises, without video there's no accountability.

That is completely a failure of command. If those weapons are truly the alternative to lethal force that they're sold to us civilians as, then the administrative leave and mountains of paperwork that you'd see after firing a gun at a suspect would also occur after use of electric or chemical weapons.

It may be that what I want is entirely impossible. That you need a certain level of whatever-it-is to deal with the violent drunk or the domestic violence perpetrator, and that what happens outside of that, beating up NY State Supreme Court justices, pepper spraying students at sit-ins, tasering grandmothers, is an acceptable level of collateral damage.

It may similarly be that the asshole behavior we see from cops, the last two times I've been pulled over were clearly cops trolling for something they did not find but were trying their damnedest to provoke me into something so they could find it, is necessary to suss out the people who do have something to hide.

But both of those models create an "us vs them" thing that feels completely wrong and unnecessary to me, and I'd much rather see policing work in such a way that when I see cops in my neighborhood I welcome them, rather than wondering which neighbor we need to close ranks around.

#Comment Re: made: 2011-11-22 14:38:42.065073+00 by: JT

In the end, the police are actually the people who work for you. They have to be held accountable to someone and aren't the complete and separate institution that most people believe they are. City council meetings are usually the best place to have issues addressed with municipal agencies, and county board meetings for problems with sheriff's offices. The accountability of these departments still falls on the shoulders of elected officials, and issues that you have with the groups in your area or the individuals that you deal with should be addressed using these channels.

Police can close ranks around themselves, however documented information isn't deniable. Gathering reports, speaking to internal affairs, contacting your councilman or alderman creates that paper trail, and that paper trail is what gets rid of bad policemen. I'll guarantee that I was probably one of the better and most moral cops you could possibly imagine, but I was also sued multiple times and even accused of violently raping a woman at one point. (during the 15 minutes it took me to make an 18 minute trip to the local jail after arresting her for DUI) There is a lot of abuse of the system on the side of police departments, a lot of unfounded complaints, and a big number of frivolous and unfounded lawsuits, and the police close ranks because it's something we see every day, whether the media latches on or not.

Valid complaints are hard to separate from frivolity, but a citizen who is willing to take a public stand in front of a board and usually the local public access media who airs it and say "I feel wronged and this is why..." holds a lot more water than the 174th lawsuit of the year when 172 of those are probably bs and the others get swept under the rug because they're grouped with everything else.

Use the proper channels please, clean up your local police departments, the police work for you, they have to answer to the taxpayers and the people who elect the individuals that are held responsible for their actions. Complaining to people and holding protests aren't going to get much done. using the proper channels will accomplish a lot more.