Tag Archives: law enforcement

‘What Do You Say To People Who Think They Have Nothing to Hide?’

Hawa Allan Longreads | September 2017 | 3580 words (15 minutes)

“Big Brother” has become shorthand for the inescapable gaze of governmental authority, first defined by George Orwell in his novel 1984. Everywhere yet nowhere, Big Brother is all-seeing and all-knowing, surveilling not just every person’s movement, but every thought. Where Orwell referred to illicit states of mind as “thoughtcrimes,” Philip K. Dick called them “precrimes” in his 1956 short story “The Minority Report,” in which a futuristic police force arrests subjects for crimes long before they are committed. While Big Brother has become common parlance, the precrime unit illustrated by Dick is a more apt portrayal of the tools authorities have at hand to enforce the law, and commercial entities use to market their goods, in our digital age.

I reached out to Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project for a sober assessment of how the current state of governmental surveillance compares to the dystopian futures imagined by Orwell and Dick. When Target can determine if teenager is pregnant before her parents know, does the end of our anonymity as consumers mean the end of our rights to privacy as citizens?

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The Subtleties of Electrocution

Danny Lawson/PA Wire URN:7474636 (Press Association via AP Images)

Reuters reporters took an exhaustive look at Taser use by U.S. police officers, documenting 1000-plus incidents in which people — often people with mental or physical illnesses, or substance abuse issues — died following a tasing. In half the cases, the person was shocked after they or a loved one actually called for help. Of course, Axon Enterprise (the rebranded Taser International) stands behind the safety of its product, throwing the nation’s medical examiners under the bus in the process.

Taser says these tallies give an exaggerated picture of the weapons’ hazards because they suggest Tasers caused all those deaths, when most involved other types of police force as well. The devices have saved tens of thousands of lives, the company says. All weapons carry risks, said Steve Tuttle, the company’s vice president for communications, but Tasers are “the safest force option available to law enforcement.”

Tuttle also said the autopsy results collected by Reuters are unreliable because they were not “peer reviewed” – a standard for studies published in medical journals, although not applicable in courts of law. The medical examiners and pathologists around the country who decided the official cause of death in those cases may not understand the weapons’ physiological effects, he said, and may be “over-listing” potential factors in their rulings to avoid being criticized for possible omissions.

“Ultimately, Taser is not responsible for educating every medical examiner on the subtleties of electrocution,” Tuttle said.

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These Law Enforcement Officers Wield Handguns and Vet Supplies

Health certificates, bovine bullet wounds, viral outbreaks, livestock animal abuse — these are just a few of the issues facing Nevada’s specially trained team for agricultural crime. They’re armed with guns and veterinarian supplies. They cover huge rural areas larger than some eastern states, and they call themselves “cow cops.” Tay Wiles shares their story at High Country News. Will someone make a Netflix series out of them, please?

All these shootings were a reminder of the vulnerability of northern Nevada’s ranches. They are some of the largest in the nation, requiring so much space for forage that there’s no way to strictly monitor where the cows go, what they do and whom they encounter. “Off the top of my head, it’s happened at least once to all of our friends,” Dave Stix Jr., president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, said of the shootings. “Shit, you might was well start at the top of the list of all of our members — guarantee they’ve all had one killed or maimed.”

With their proximity to Elko, Jon Griggs and Mitch Heguy’s ranches are particularly vulnerable to mischief. Heguy became increasingly paranoid about who was driving by his property — found himself writing down license plate numbers of vehicles he didn’t recognize. “We leave the access (to BLM land) through our private land open,” he said. “We don’t lock it up, but we could.” Most visitors coming and going are relatively harmless. Griggs once found a group of dirt bikers tearing up a remote area of his rangeland. When he asked if they knew where they were, the bikers said, “Oh, we thought we were just out in the hills.”

But the shootings were different, something menacing. By the summer of 2015, the reward was up to $28,700. Wright and his team had only been able to verify that about 25 of the dead animals had been shot; infection can make it difficult to determine the cause of death, and the spray of a shotgun can make an infected bullet wound hard to differentiate from something like pigeon fever. Wright had told the press his team identified “persons of interest” in the case, but they led nowhere. The case was cold.

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David Brown’s Quiet Resilience

(Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images)

David Gambacorta | Longreads | June 2017 | 15 minutes (3,755 words)

David Brown was a few months into his tenure as the head of the Dallas Police Department when his cell phone started to hum on a Sunday morning.

He’d been on the job long enough to know the drill: At any given moment, a phone call could be the harbinger of an administrative headache, a tactical crisis, or some gut-wrenching tragedy. But he resisted the reflexive urge to answer.

Brown was standing in a pew at the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church. A low-slung building with a sharply pitched roof, the church and its weekly service was his temporary refuge from a chaotic world. He actually considered turning away from his faith once, when he was a younger man and inconsolable over the murder of a former partner, a blow that nearly drove him to quit the police force altogether.

But Brown came to understand loss, the way it coursed through and connected everyone around him like an unseen river. Such lessons had been present in his life from an early age. Brown was born at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1960, three years before a team of trauma doctors there tried in vain to revive President John F. Kennedy after an assassin’s bullet had exploded through his skull. The very place that had given Brown life became synonymous with the death of a country’s tenuous sense of innocence.

He checked his phone when he left the Sunday service. It was hot outside; the temperature would touch 100 degrees that day. A voice message from the chief of a small-town police department 16 miles outside of Dallas was waiting. It was about Brown’s 27-year-old son, D.J., who suffered from adult-onset bipolar disorder.

D.J.’s behavior had turned erratic that morning, prompting his girlfriend to call 911. But everything was fine now, the chief calmly assured Brown. He tried to get in touch with D.J., but thought better of rushing to him; maybe his son just needed some time to cool down. A few hours later, Brown’s phone started rattling again. This time, it was a no-nonsense detective who took his breath away with just a few words: D.J. was dead.

He’d shot and killed an innocent passerby and a local police officer, the detective explained, and then engaged in a shootout with other cops. D.J. was cut down by police gunfire. The news hit Brown like a sledgehammer to the spine.

It was June 20, 2010. Father’s Day.

The grief could have broken a lesser man, could have swallowed him whole. But Brown clung to his faith, and he somehow endured. What he didn’t know then was that more sorrow was waiting for him down the road, the kind that would draw the world’s attention to Dallas like it was 1963 all over again. And Brown, a quiet, contemplative man who never imagined he’d be a police chief, would emerge from all of the darkness as the embodiment of grace—and the unlikely face of law enforcement in America. Read more…

In the 1970s, It Was The Police That Made Made Detroit’s Streets Deadly

A police officer in Detroit, Michigan during the race riots of 1967. (AP Photo)

A man named Carl Ingram told the council that police officers had forced his fiancée to strip during an illegal search on December 7. “There ain’t no man hiding in her clothes!” he said. “If I had had a gun, I sure enough would have used it.” John Reynolds, the chair of a city task force dedicated to improving police-community relations, testified that his son had been stopped and beaten by police on New Year’s Eve. Kenneth Cockrel called on Mayor Gribbs to remove Nichols from his post and shut down STRESS.

But as with more recent debates over initiatives like stop and frisk, police brass countered with reams of crime statistics. The purpose of STRESS was to reduce robberies, they insisted, and the unit had been a resounding success. During their first year on the job, STRESS officers made 2,496 arrests and seized 600 guns. Robberies were down for the first time in a decade—by nearly 30 percent in two years.

Officers, meanwhile, discovered that killing unarmed civilians was a badge of honor within the department. “I was still lauded for what I was doing, even after the community started to get heavy on STRESS,” Peterson recalled. “They were happy with me. Whenever I shot someone, I would have to go to headquarters to fill out a report and the guys would cheer me when I walked in. The brass… went out of its way to encourage me. I was a proud boy, you know? I was the fair-haired boy—as long as everything worked their way. Who doesn’t like to be the fair-haired boy? Who doesn’t like applause?”

In The New RepublicMark Binelli describes the years when Detroit’s black community had to not only deal with street crime, but also the police’s special street crime unit, which terrorized the innocent, murdered the unarmed, and undermined the very meaning of law and order.

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How to Friend Request Your Way Into a Cyber Posse of Unwitting Informants

The set-up was like something out of a movie—Four California Highway Patrol officers with little to no undercover experience decide to pose as Vegas players to take down motorcycle thieves in LA. Southern California’s street bike culture had made motorcycle theft a major problem in recent years, and so the officers would need to infiltrate the scene in order to pull off their sting. This is where things got tricky. Writing about the operation in Los Angeles Magazine, Greg Nichols details the creative way one of the officers gained credibility in the biker community:

With the team members in place, they set to work finding a second suspect. Scores of thieves were scooping up sport bikes around Los Angeles, but that didn’t make them easy to locate. Combing through Craigslist and eBay, the investigators scanned for ads containing suspicious language. Watson asked insurance companies to provide bike parts. Looking for leads, he and Clifford wrapped their inventory in cellophane, stepped into character, and went around to local motorcycle shops offering tidbits for sale or trade. Watson, always animated, did most of the talking. Clifford was younger, a good kid from a small town in Northern California. He was stiff at first, and cusswords tumbled out of his mouth with the overenunciated eagerness of a parent using slang. Incredulous shop owners sized up the short-haired white boys bearing gift-wrapped parts and said no thanks. The CHP had sprung for fake business cards, which the investigators passed out all over town, but nobody seemed eager to follow up with them.

Then Watson realized he had a teenager’s gift for social media. His humor and goofiness played well online. Watson joined motorcycle forums and set up a Facebook account to get close to club members. Men were slow to respond, but women seemed happy to accept his friend requests. The more female friends he acquired, the more the male bikers warmed to him. Soon he had a cyberposse of unwitting informants. Using those contacts, and cross-referencing frequent posters on Craigslist and eBay, the team discovered a likely suspect. When Clifford called about a Suzuki GSXR posted on Craigslist, the man introduced himself as Biscuit.

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