Tag Archives: police

The Subtleties of Electrocution

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.

Read the story

‘I’m trying to tell white people: They’re coming for you, too, bro’

The Daily Beast‘s Harry Siegel tells the story of “an old friend of an old friend of” his, Louis Trumanti, an Italian-American plumbing surveyor from Queens, New York, who lives in Westchester with his Hungarian immigrant wife and toddler son. Trumanti, Siegel writes, is “a good-natured if foul-mouthed 37-year-old” Bernie Sanders supporter who etches his son Marco’s name behind the walls of the high-end Manhattan buildings he surveys.

He’s also suing the local police department where he lives in Westchester after they broke his back when his wife called 911 a year ago, afraid he was having a heart attack.

“This cop is telling me: ‘Yeah you beat your wife up. Is that the kind of man you are?’’

“I’m crying. I mean, I’ve never laid a hand on my wife. I had a great day. We had dinner and I played Call of Duty and fell asleep on the couch. Went into our bed and held my wife and fell back asleep. Wake up and there are the police taking me down—boom!—and telling me I beat my wife.

“I’m licking my lips and someone tells me to fucking stop so I do and I feel nauseous. Then tells me not to throw up, or it’s going to a big problem. They put a bag over my mouth.

“I’m crying. Is this who I am? Last thing I knew, I was falling asleep.”

Read the story

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.

Read the story

David Brown’s Quiet Resilience

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…

The Elements of Bureaucratic Style

Colin Dickey | Longreads | April 2017 | 12 minutes | 3000 words

On Monday night, Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, sent an internal email to his staff regarding the incident on Flight 3411 in which members of Chicago Aviation Security forcibly removed a customer who refused to give up his seat when asked. In the note, Munoz offered an explanation of events and a defense of both his employees and law enforcement. The email ended up on Twitter where its contents were roundly excoriated.

Munoz’s email is, in its own way, a work of art; a triumph of the willingness to pass the buck. It misstates objective facts and shifts responsibility onto the passenger, David Dao, who ended up bloody and dazed after the encounter.

As you will read, the situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers was politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Officers to help.

What struck me as I read the email is how a careful and consistent use of syntax, grammar, and diction is marshaled to make a series of points both subtle and unsubtle. On Twitter, I referred to it as a “master class in the use of the passive voice to avoid responsibility,” and followed with a few tweets that highlighted its use of language to shift the blame on to the victim.

Read more…

The Case for More Female Cops

Sarah Smarsh | Longreads | July 2016 | 20 minutes (4,886 words)

 

Betty was in the bathroom dyeing her platinum hair black while the kids played with her teenage sister down the hall. Betty had recently left Bob. He’d beaten her, which was officially a crime, but there wasn’t any use in calling the cops. A hometown boy and typesetter for the Limon Leader, Bob knew everybody in their small Colorado burg on the plains, from the police station to the butcher. Betty, my future grandma, was a 23-year-old outsider from Wichita—a social challenge likely not helped by her unapologetic wearing of miniskirts in 1968.

Two years prior, Betty had blown into Limon, 90 miles west of the Kansas border, with her four-year-old daughter, Jeannie, and a pair of go-go boots. Her mom, Dorothy, and little sisters, Polly and Pud (as in “puddin’”) were along, too. Betty and Dorothy both had just washed their hands of Kansas men. Back in Wichita, Dorothy’s third husband, Joe, had strangled her. Betty’s jealous first husband, my biological grandfather, routinely beat her up and, Betty suspected, had paid someone to throw gasoline on her male friend’s face and set it on fire. So Betty and Dorothy piled the kids in a jalopy and headed west, destination unknown, to start over.

“Why Limon?” I asked her once.

“It was where our car broke down,” Betty said with a shrug.

Betty and her daughter Jeannie at City Park in Denver in the mid-1960s, when she worked as a highway-diner waitress in Limon, Colorado. (Courtesy of Sarah Smarsh)

Betty and her daughter Jeannie at City Park in Denver in the mid-1960s, when she worked as a highway-diner waitress in Limon, Colorado. (Courtesy of Sarah Smarsh)

Betty and Dorothy took jobs working in diners along the highway that cut through town. Betty waited tables, her mom cooked specials. Before too long, Betty hooked up with a customer named Bob. Then she got pregnant. She drove past the chapel the first time and left him at the aisle, but on the second try they got married. She gave birth to a son, Bo. Then Bob hit her and snapped his belt at Jeannie one too many times. After just a couple years of marriage, she moved out and filed for divorce.

Now Betty had a 6-year-old daughter with a dangerous Kansas man, a 2-year-old son with a dangerous Colorado man, and a divorce decree pending at the courthouse. Custody of their child, Bob had assured her, would go to him. He’d make sure the judge knew what kind of woman she was.

She had the dye worked into her hair when the phone rang. A voice warned that Bob was on his way over, and he was mad. There wasn’t time for Betty to rinse her hair. She wrapped a towel around her head. Dark dye dripped down her neck as she and Pud put the kids in the car. They rolled through town until the road turned into a highway.

Then, sirens and flashing red lights. Read more…

How a Local Police Chief Took on the Drug War

After 25 years of fighting a losing war on drugs and with a heroin epidemic raging in his home state of Massachusetts, Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello decided to take matters into his own hands. He opened his police station’s doors to any addict seeking help, promising to get them into treatment. Writing for Boston Magazine, Chris Sweeney delves deeply into Campanello’s work, and the unlikely success of his initiative: in just three short months, 145 individuals have already come to Campanello seeking help. But first, the story of the Facebook post that started it all:

Campanello, heavyset with jowls and thinning hair, knew his limitations: just a small-town cop with a tiny budget and no power to enact laws. So on the morning of May 4, he logged into the biggest platform he had—the Gloucester Police Department’s Facebook account—and, for the first time, began typing out his defiant approach. Starting June 1, he wrote, “Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged.” Instead, he and his officers would help them get medical care. It didn’t matter what insurance you had, or whether you had insurance at all—Campanello promised to shred the red tape that entangled so many who sought treatment. “I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether or not they have insurance,” he concluded in the post. “The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life.”

He read the message over for typos, floated the cursor over the “Post” button, and clicked his mouse at 10:55 a.m. It instantly went viral, shared by more than 30,000 people, “liked” by 33,000, and viewed more than 2 million times.

Read the story

The Art of Running from the Police

Alice Goffman | On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City | University of Chicago Press | May 2014 | 45 minutes (12,478 words)

 

Below is a chapter excerpted from On the Run, by sociologist Alice Goffman, as recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky. Goffman spent six years living in a neighborhood in Philadelphia. In her groundbreaking book, she explains how the young black men in her neighborhood are ensnared in a Kafkaesque legal system which makes running from the police their only option, and how these men have made running into an art. Read more…

The Cost

Rilla Askew | 2014 | 21 minutes (5,065 words)

 

Download .mobi (Kindle) Download .epub (iBooks)

 
When my godson Trey was a toddler growing up in Brooklyn, every white woman who saw him fell in love with him. He was a beautiful child, sweet natured, affectionate, with cocoa-colored skin and a thousand-watt smile. I remember sitting with him and his mom in a pizzeria one day, watching as he played peekaboo with two white ladies at a nearby booth. “What a little doll!” the ladies cooed. “Isn’t he adorable?”

I told Marilyn I dreaded the day he would run up against some white person’s prejudice. “His feelings are going to be hurt,” I said. “He won’t know it’s about this country’s race history, he’ll think it’s about him. Because so far in his young life every white person he’s ever met has adored him.” Marilyn nodded, but her closed expression seemed to say I was talking about things I didn’t really understand. Read more…

The Technology of ‘Nonlethal’ Weapons and Crowd Control

What the “protesters” had come up against was the Active Denial System, a weapon, we were told, that “could change the rules of war and save huge numbers of lives in Iraq.” Active denial works like a giant, open-air microwave oven, using a beam of electromagnetic radiation to heat the skin of its targets to 130 degrees and force anyone in its path to flee in pain — but without injury, officials insist, making it one of the few weapons in military history to be promoted as harmless to its targets. The Pentagon claims that 11,000 tests on humans have resulted in but two cases of seconddegree burns, a “safety” record that has put active denial at the forefront of an international arms-development effort involving an astonishing range of technologies: electrical weapons that shock and stun; laser weapons that cause dizziness or temporary blindness; acoustic weapons that deafen and nauseate; chemical weapons that irritate, incapacitate, or sedate; projectile weapons that knock down, bruise, and disable; and an assortment of nets, foams, and sprays that obstruct or immobilize. “Non-lethal” is the Pentagon’s approved term for these weapons, but their manufacturers also use the terms “soft kill,” “less-lethal,” “limited effects,” “low collateral damage,” and “compliance.” The weapons are intended primarily for use against unarmed or primitively armed civilians; they are designed to control crowds, clear buildings and streets, subdue and restrain individuals, and secure borders. The result is what appears to be the first arms race in which the opponent is the general population.

-Ando Arike, in Harper’s (2010), on the history of “nonlethal” weapons used in crowd control.

Read the story

Photo: katerkate, Flickr