Under a Gibbous Moon

The Mentality of a Police State

by on May.09, 2010, under News

Warning, this post is a bit long, has lots of information links, government statistics, and a video to boot.

Fûz over at WeckUpToThees! has put up a link to a very disturbing video as well as asked a very important question. Before I get ahead of myself you watch, then we’ll talk.

By the end of that video,  a pit bull and a corgi are dead, a seven year old boy is traumatized, a man is found to be in possession of a misdemeanor’s worth of marijuana, and two parents are charged with child endangerment.

The question that was presented deals with the police’s use of force and their general attitude toward the suspects with regards to Sir Robert Peel’s principles of policing. For those unfamiliar with them (like me), here they are:

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

This list, I believe, encompasses what policing should be and not what it has become. From the video, it is obvious that the SWAT team violated at least rule 4 and rule 6 was also quite probably violated.

The level of violence that was displayed against one family in the execution of a, as th police officers put it “narcotics search warrant”, was completely out of proportion. They way they treated the suspect during the arrest was unwarranted also. At about 1:30 a police officer kicks the suspect, who is on the ground, for failing to put his hands behind his back instead of behind his head. At around 2:20, the suspect, now handcuffed is pulled up off the ground by the shackles. In case you’re wondering if that is painful, clasp your hands behind your back and have someone jerk upwards. Go ahead, I’ll wait. See? At least six officer present and they could only spare one to jerk him to his feet.

Afterwards, despite his demands, they give him essentially no information as to what is going on. Search warrants are very specific. They state what is to be searched (i.e. the porch, the cabinet in the kitchen, the whole property) and what they are searching for (i.e. not just “narcotics”) and maybe Missouri is different but I believe he has the right to review the search warrant. I would say that their treatment of him post arrest is a clear violation of rule 7.

Do you think that anyone in that house, anyone they know (or anyone who watches the video for that matter) is going to have a warm fuzzy spot for the police? That would be rules 1 and 3.

Wow, by my count, in the space of five minutes, they managed to break 5 of the Peel’s Principles. I’m not going to say it’s a record but it does take effort.

What causes this type of behavior in police departments from Maine to California is what I like to call Thin Blue Line Syndrome. It’s the idea, that has gained significant momentum over the last three or four decades, that police officers are a special class of citizen, distinct and aloof from those they claim to serve.

I’m certain that we all know, or at least have read about police officers who look upon everyone else as a felony waiting to happen and yet at the same time will go to extraordinary lengths to cover up the wrong doings within their own ranks.

One source of this line of thought is the notion that everyday they gird their loins and go forth to patrol the mean streets, putting their life on the line for their fellow man. Of course their special. One thing I have found interesting about this is that at the same time you also hear how most police officers will never fire their weapon in the line of duty.

So in the spirit of Mythbusting, I wanted to find out how thin the blue line was. According to the most recent complete (2008)  Bureau of Labor Statistics for occupational fatalities, the average rate for workplace fatalities was 3.7 per 100,000 full time workers (pdf page 2). In that same year, the fatality rate for police officers was 16.3.

OK, seems quite a bit higher (for an interesting comparison, the fatality rate for security officers was 7.5), but wait, according to a further breakdown, of the 144 police officers killed in the line of duty, 33 were homicides. By comparison, 38 police officers were killed in driving related incidents.

The reason this is important is that driving is very dangerous. In 2008 driving related fatalities (pdf page 4) resulted in 23% of all workplace fatalities (with combined transportation coming in at 64%). So yes, driving on the job is dangerous. Other jobs which also have a major driving component have much higher fatality rates (truck driver 24.0 and taxi drivers 19.3 pdf page 19).

So if we focus on the times that police officers are killed in the line of duty we come up with a rate of 3.7 (33 deaths out of 883,600 police officers). This is exactly the same as the average fatality rate for the country as a whole. By the way, if we do the same for security officers, 46 homicides out of 1,086,000, we come up with 4.2. So yes, you are more likely to be killed on the job as a rent a cop than a real cop. Think about that next time you are at the mall.

The conclusion to this is, that in our rush to hero building, we have created our own monster. We have built up this myth that the police are urban soldiers and then are surprised when they treat us like the enemy.

Hat Tip: Hell and a Hand Basket

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