“The police are worthless. I don’t know what we’re paying them for.”
That familiar, despairing lament was voiced by a friend here in Payette after his family had lost $20,000 worth of property a burglary. The crime was solved before the police intervened: Some of the pilfered property was still in possession of the suspects, who admitted that it didn’t belong to them. Working on their own initiative, my friend and his adult daughter — the primary victim — tracked down more of the stolen goods at local yard sales and garage sales.
A phone call to the Payette PD led to a visit by an officer who was courteous, professional, and who provided no practical help of any kind. He did arrest one suspect, a mentally deficient man who readily admitted to the officer that he had taken the property because an unspecified “they” had told him it was “all right” to do so.
Neither the responding officer, nor the colleague who took over the case when the first officer went on vacation, expended any effort to identify who “they” were, or to press charges against the accomplices. The case was closed with the arrest of a solitary man — a registered sex offender — who “became somewhat upset [because] he was the only one who was going to be in trouble for the thefts that occurred, because he was honest,” as an investigative report summarized.
“The police wouldn’t bother to fingerprint my stolen property,” Elizabeth Puckett, the owner of the property, recounted to me. “When I asked why, the officer said, `Well, we’re not CSI.’” It shouldn’t be assumed that the Payette PD is consistently insouciant about the collection of forensic evidence. A few years ago, Puckett recalls, she received a visit from the Animal Control officer (an official with whom I’ve had some experience) after the department received a report that “we had a dog that looked like a pit bull.”
A county ordinance enacted several years ago during a spasm of civic alarm forbids residents to “own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport, buy or sell” pit bulls or “dangerous dogs” displaying pit bull characteristics. Those who owned such dogs prior to enactment of the ban were required to register them with the police (who were exempt from the ordinance, of course), “keep $1 million liability insurance, have a microchip ID … implanted in the dog, and pay an annual pit bull license fee.” Dogs owned by people not in compliance with the edict “are subject to impoundment and destruction.”
“The officer told us that if we were going to keep it we would have to have a blood test,” Elizabeth recalled. “So I would have had to pay $100 for a blood test, and still could lose the dog if it displayed the wrong `characteristics.’ So I just let the dog go.”
The same Payette Police Department that couldn’t help Elizabeth recover her stolen property was diligent intaking her property, even though she had done no injury to anybody else. This is because the Payette PD, like every other agency of its kind, is involved in law enforcement, rather than the protection of persons and property. It defines its role in terms of what its officers can do to people, rather than what they are required to do for people.
No, Police Don’t Work for You
When a disgusted citizen tells an abusive police officer that he pays the officer’s salary, the victim is committing a category error. Those of us who constitute the productive sector don’t pay the police; they are paid by the people who plunder our property at gunpoint. Once it is understood that police employed by the people who commit aggression against our property, we shouldn’t be surprised that police are of practically no value in terms of protecting property against criminal aggression. Police are properly seen as retail-level distributors of violence on behalf of the coercion cartel.
Law enforcement is a “product” we are forced to buy, and severely punished — through summary application of torture, or even by death — if we refuse. Since law enforcement operates as a monopoly, rather than through the market, there is no legitimate pricing mechanism to guide rational allocation of resources, and no way to measure “customer” satisfaction — although using the term “customer” in this context is a bit like using the term “girlfriend” to describe a rape victim.
Indeed, the institutional response of law enforcement to public dissatisfaction is to expand and escalate the behavior that inspired the discontent, and treat persistent criticism as evidence of criminal intent. Witness recent developments in Albuquerque, where outrage over serial police homicides — including the death squad-style murder last March of James Boyd, an unarmed homeless man — generated a substantial organized protest movement.
After infuriated protesters took control of a city council meeting to place the defiant APD Chief Gorden Eden “on trial,” the city government’s reaction was not to cashier the official who had instigated the outrage, but rather to impose new restrictions on citizen participation in city council meetings.
When protesters held a subsequent public “mock trial” of Chief Eden at a peaceful public demonstration, the gathering was infiltrated by a several undercover police officers, including a detective who had shot a 20-year-old in the stomach during a drug sting in 2010. As public frustration and discontent continue to rise in Albuquerque, the APD has responded to the growing dissatisfaction of its “clientele” by spending $350,000 to purchase 350 AR-15 rifles — the same type that were used to slaughter Boyd in the foothills outside the city just a few weeks earlier.
The Albuquerque Police Department, like dozens of others nation-wide, has displayed what the Justice Department calls a “pattern and practice” of excessive force. If it were a private corporation, it would be the target of lawsuits and, most likely, criminal prosecution. Unlike a private entity, however, a police department is protected by the fiction of “sovereign immunity,” and its employees are shielded from personal accountability through “qualified immunity.”
While exceptionally corrupt police departments are occasionally disbanded, their “markets” are quickly captured by other agencies that will provide the same “service.” Individual police officers who distinguish themselves through abusive and criminal behavior — which, given the competition, is a significant accomplishment — sometimes find themselves briefly unemployed. However, they often become “gypsy cops” and find employment elsewhere as state-licensed purveyors of violence.
“Operational Security” rather than Accountability
One fact not adequately understood by the public is that even geographically local police departments are not locally accountable. Police chiefs are not elected officials; they are appointed by the municipal corporation that employs them. Police departments describe themselves as public agencies for the purpose of “qualified immunity.” However, as the recent ACLU report on police militarization revealed, an increasing number of police agencies are claiming to be “private corporations” exempt from open records laws.
This isn’t the only tactic employed by police agencies to impede transparency and accountability to the public supposedly “served” by them.
I recently filed a public records request with the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office regarding the disposal of a huge quantity of marijuana that had been seized by a nearby multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force. Undersheriff Travis Johnson informed me that he could provide “photo documentation” of the marijuana being buried at a local landfill. “The cost to produce those records will be one hour of labor at $48.11 and one CD at $10 for a total of $58.11,” according to Johnson.
Both the “labor” and materials involved in fulfilling that records request have already been paid for. The information — which, interestingly, was not provided to the defense as discovery during a recently-concluded trial — should be easy to find. All that is necessary would be for a MCSO functionary to insert a CD into a computer and click a mouse. A single CD — assuming that Malheur County buys them in bulk — would cost less than twenty cents. The market rate for an hour of labor by a “copy specialist” is less than nine dollars. The amount cited to me by Undersheriff Johnson reflects the price structure of a monopoly, which in this case is trying to impede public scrutiny of its actions by making it cost-prohibitive to pursue public records requests.
Opacity of this kind is hardly compatible with a “public service” agency. It is entirely appropriate, however, for an entity that sees the public as hostile and thus makes “operational security” a priority.
Even before “local” police agencies were effectively satellitized by the federal government they were paramilitary bodies designed to operate as occupation forces, rather than as a protective service. In creating his London Metropolitan Police, Robert Peel adapted the model he had employed in creating the “Peace Preservation Force,” a specialized unit within the 20,000-man military contingent Peel had commanded as military governor of occupied Ireland.
Peel’s Militaristic Model
Writing in the December 1961 Journal of Modern History, Galen Broekker observed that when Peel was appointed governor in 1814, his objective in creating the Peace Preservation Force was “`pacifying’ a recalcitrant population.” For several years prior to Peel’s appointment, rural insurgents called “banditti” had been fighting among themselves and occasionally attacking British outposts. Of much greater concern to occupation authorities, however, was evidence of involvement by “respectable people” in “insurrectionary activity of a political nature.”
At the time of Peel’s arrival, the crime rate in Ireland wasn’t particularly high, so he took advantage of a “lull” to “muster the forces of authority in anticipation of the inevitable trouble to come” as English authorities took aggressive action to stamp out separatism. The “Peace Preservation Force” — which was the prototype for every modern police agency — wasn’t designed to protect person and property from criminal aggression, but rather to protect a political elite. This is why Peel’s London Metropolitan Police Force was initially greeted with hostility by conservatives in the British Parliament and the public at large, who often referred to officers as “Blue Locusts.” Within a decade, however, Peel’s model was firmly entrenched in London, and migrated across the Atlantic to New York City.
As evangelists of “Manifest Destiny” carved their bloody path to the Pacific, an Americanized version of Peel’s police concept was among the chief tenets of their gospel of government-imposed “civilization.” It wasn’t until the early 1970s, however, that the latent militarism of the police was given expression when the Nixon administration declared “war” on drugs. This led to the proliferation of SWAT teams, which were modelled after counter-insurgency units organized by the CIA as part of its Phoenix Program in Vietnam.
Declining Crime, Escalating Police Militarism
Beginning in the 1970s, the official rhetoric of law enforcement became overtly martial, a tendency that has grown in crescendo. However, by most measures, violent crime has been in decline for five decades. A similar trend is visible regarding on-the-jo b police fatalities. Joseph McNamara, former NYPD Deputy Inspector, points out that police “work” is actually much safer today than it has been in a half-century or more. Law enforcement is not found in the top ten “most dangerous occupations” in the annual list compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Yet police insist that the United States “has become a war zone,” in the words of Sheriff Michael Gayer of Indiana’s Pulaski County. This is entirely true — but only in the sense that the police consider themselves at war with the public, and have fully embraced a mindset compatible with their role as an occupying army.
As was the case when Peel created his “Peace Preservation Force” in Ireland two centuries ago, the Power Elite has been relentlessly expanding its domestic army of occupation and indoctrinating those enlisted therein to see the public as its enemy — ” in anticipation of the inevitable trouble to come.”
Just a few weeks ago, the House of Representatives recently rejected, by a dramatic margin, an amendment to a military spending bill proposed by Florida Democratic Representative Alan Grayson that would have placed theoretical limits on the transfer of war-fighting assets to local police departments. Mind you, that measure would not have shut down the Pentagon’s pipeline to the police; it would have forbidden future transfers of high-capacity weaponry, including armed drones, armored vehicles, grenade launchers, “toxicological agents,… guided missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, torpedoes, bombs, mines, or nuclear weapons.”
The amendment was rejected by a vote of 355 to 62 — which means that 355 members of the House of Representatives, the branch of the federal legislature supposedly most accountable to the people, are on record refusing to rule out the transfer of nuclear weapons to your “local” police agency. Some of the most outspoken critics of Grayson’s amendment waxed indignant in condemning critics of the ongoing militarization of the police.
“This is absolutely ludicrous to think that the equipment that is utilized by law enforcement is utilized for any reason except for public safety interests, and it happens across this nation every day in a responsible way,” harrumphed Florida Republican Representative Rich Nugent, a former sheriff. Nugent is correct about one thing: Military-grade hardware and war-fighting tactics are used by police “every day”: On average, there are 124 SWAT deployments every day, nearly all of them carried out as drug enforcement raids or to enforce routine search warrants. Many, if not most, of those raids are carried out after sunset or before the dawn.
There is no country on earth where citizens are more likely to experience the “midnight knock” than the United States of America. That fact surely reflects the interests of those who want to monopolize power, rather than a market demand for “security.”
As part of the Obama administration’s “stimulus” package in 2009, the Justice Department increased spending on its Byrne grant and COPS programs — two major conduits for local law enforcement subsidies —by more than $4 billion. At the same time, the Pentagon expanded its 1033 program, through which military-grade hardware and vehicles are provided, on concessionary terms, to local police. The predictable, and subsequently observed, impact of this example of police state Keynesianism was a dramatic escalation in police militancy toward the public. But these federally created distortions in the “security” market have created other, less visible burdens on the public as well.
The police department in Nampa, Idaho, a city of about 80,000 people with a crime rate well below the national average, was one of more than 400 to receive a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicle through the Pentagon’s 1033 program. Over the past two years, the Nampa PD also purchased a new fleet of Ford Taurus Police Interceptor patrol vehicles. However, in June Chief Craig Kingsbury went to the City Council to ask for funding to purchase a dozen additional SUV patrol vehicles because the Interceptors “aren’t popular with many of the department’s officers — they’re cramped and uncomfortable for long patrols,” reported the Idaho Press-Tribune.
In the hierarchy of public concerns, “officer comfort” apparently resides very close to the sacred imperative of “officer safety.” Rather than requiring his subordinates to adapt to their vehicles in order to serve their “customers” better, Kingsbury insists on getting another $441,000 in plundered funds to serve the creature comfort of Nampa’s costumed tax-feeders.
Question: If the need for new patrol vehicles is so acute, why doesn’t the Nampa PD sell off its spanking-new MRAP, which has a listed market value of about $500,000? Like hundreds of other departments, the Nampa PD got the MRAP not because of an actual need, but because the Pentagon was willing to give it to them at practically no expense. If we were to assume that the SUV patrol vehicles are a “necessity,” the MRAP should be regarded as a luxury and liquidated as such. That’s how a market-based enterprise would operate, in any case.
However, the only market for MRAPs consists of other police departments that can get them from the Pentagon at negligible expense. Even if the people running the Nampa PD were sufficiently rational and mature to sell off their dangerous new toy, they wouldn’t find a buyer. Unless austerity is somehow imposed on the Nampa PD, the city’s tax victims will eventually be forced to pay nearly the entire price of the “free” MRAP that was provided to the department — a vehicle that has no conceivable use other than providing “force protection” during SWAT raids of the kind that have become commonplace.
Predation, not protection
Like most other police agencies, the Nampa PD devours roughly half the municipal budget, and much of that expense is devoted to salaries. In 2010, seven of the ten highest-paid municipal positions in Nampa were filled by “public safety” officials, only one of whom — Fire Chief Karl Malott — was not a police officer. Coming in at number four on that list was Corporal (now Sergeant) Jason Cantrell, who received $104,173 in total compensation — nearly as much as then-Chief Bill Augsburger. Another corporal, Chadrick Shepard, finished at ninth place on the list with an annual haul of $93,559.
The median salary for a Nampa patrol officer is $50,214 — about $4,000 more than Idaho’s median household income, and roughly $14,000 more than the typical household income in the city supposedly “served” by that police department. A “parking and compliance officer” for the Nampa PD — that is, a state functionary who writes parking tickets — can expect a starting salary of $13.50 an hour. By way of contrast, an entry-level “security officer” employed by Secure Solutions to provide protection for private and commercial property in neighboring Boise is offered $10.00 an hour.
These disparities in compensation are not the product of natural market forces, because police and private security officers are not serving the same market: The later protect property, the former protect those who prey upon it. Even in the era of the all-encompassing Homeland Security State,privately employed security officers outnumber government-employed cops by at least three to one.
If government law enforcement agencies performed the advertised function of “protecting and serving” property rights, it wouldn’t be necessary for property owners to pay for their own security services. It has been known for decades — specifically, since the Police Foundation’s year-long study of the impact of “preventive patrols” on crime rates in the early 1970s — that government law enforcement patrols do nothing to reduce or deter property crimes, such as “burglaries, auto thefts, larcenies … robberies, or vandalism.” Private security services, such as Detroit’s Threat Management Center, provide much better protection — as do armed citizens, as Detroit’s Police Chief James Craig has admitted.
Once again, this isn’t surprising: Government-employed police have no enforceable duty to protect persons and property, even those to whom they have made explicit promises of individual protection. In fact, citizens are expected to protect the police — and some have found themselves being sued by officers who accused them of failing to provide that protection.
New York City was the first jurisdiction to adopt Peel’s model of paramilitary policing. Three years ago, NYPD officer Terrance Howell, who had been sent to find a deranged slasher-killer named Maxim Gelman, who had murdered three people, watched from the operator’s booth of a subway car while a martial arts expert named Joseph Lozito tackled and subdued the suspect. As Gelman slashed at the back of Lozito’s head, the desperate, bleeding man pleaded for help from Officer Howell, who did nothing to intervene. It was not until after Lozito had pinned Gelman to the floor and disarmed him that Howell emerged from his secure location and told Lozito, “You can get up now.”
Howell, the “hero cop” who was photographed triumphantly escorting Gelman in handcuffs, admitted to a member of a grand jury that he had hid from the suspect out of fear for his safety. After Lozito filed a tort claim for negligence, city attorney David Santoro explained that “Under well-established law, the police are not liable for such incidents” because police have “no special duty” to protect any individual citizen – even one who is literally bleeding to death a few feet away as he heroically subdues a psychotic murderer.
“Next time you hear people call cops trigger-happy or complain about their overtime and pensions, think of Police Officer Terrance Howell,”pontificated the New York Daily News in a reflexive paean to the police after Gelman’s arrest.
Ironically, that is a very good suggestion. Here is a better one: Next time you are told that police protect the public, remember Joseph Lozito.
Where protection of property is concerned, police are much worse than useless. Their job is to enforce the will of the predatory class that employs them, which is why we would be safer without them.