Monday Morning Thoughts: Obama To Demilitarize the Police?

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The New York Times is reporting that President Obama today will “ban the federal provision of some types of military-style equipment to local police departments and sharply restrict the availability of others, administration officials said.”

In January, a federal task force concluded that police departments should not be able to use federal funds to acquire military-style weapons such as armored vehicles, firearms and ammunition, as well as camouflage uniforms.

The President will promote this new policy during a visit to Camden, New Jersey. The Times reports, “The city, racked by poverty and crime, has become a national model for better relations between the police and citizens after replacing its beleaguered police force with a county-run system that prioritizes community ties.

“Mr. Obama is expected to hold up Camden as a counterpoint to places like Ferguson, where the killing of a young black man by a white police officer last summer and the violent protests that followed exposed long-simmering hostility between law enforcement agencies and minorities in cities around the country.”

On Monday also will be a report from a policing task force the President formed last year in response to events in Ferguson. The report contains dozens of recommendations for agencies throughout the country and calls for law enforcement agencies to “embrace a guardian — rather than a warrior — mind-set to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public.”

The key in Ferguson was not the police shooting or the uprising, but rather the police response to the unrest that led to fears about the militarization of the police and the undermining of trust. It was that backdrop that Davis reacted to after receiving the MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) last August.

In addition to prohibiting certain equipment, the President will also greatly restrict other military-style police items, such as wheeled armored vehicles, pyrotechnics, battering rams and riot gear, and will require more stringent requirements for training and information collection for departments that acquire them.

“We are, without a doubt, sitting at a defining moment in American policing,” Ronald L. Davis, the director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Department of Justice, told reporters in a conference call organized by the White House. “We have a unique opportunity to redefine policing in our democracy, to ensure that public safety becomes more than the absence of crime, but it must also include a presence for justice.”

Transparency on Police and In-Custody Deaths

In this weekend’s Sacramento Bee, Dave Maass, a former staff writer at the San Diego City Beat, writes, “It took three weeks for the people of Maryland to learn that Freddie Gray’s death from a spinal injury while confined inside a police van had been ruled a homicide. That wait helped fuel riots in the streets.”

He calls on his experience investigating the San Diego jails to call for the “public and Legislature to ask whether law enforcement agencies can be more transparent about deaths in their custody.”

In 2014, 679 people died in custody in California. 150 of those deaths occurred during the arrest process, including 88 who were shot and killed by police. Another 70 committed suicide in jails and prisons. Also, and perhaps most alarmingly, there were 150 cases where the cause of death is still listed as pending.

Mr. Maass argues:

“On paper, the status quo looks pretty good. Any time a person dies in police custody or in a jail or prison, state law sets a 10-day deadline for the agency in charge to submit ‘all facts’ in its possession to the state Attorney General’s Office. The law explicitly states that these filings are public record.

“But as a journalist who spent more than three years investigating the San Diego County jail system – which at one time had one of the highest death rates among California’s largest jails – I’ve seen how this law has been allowed to atrophy to the point where agencies hardly take it seriously.

“One would expect that ‘all facts’ would include, at the very least, a brief written narrative of the circumstances surrounding the detainee’s death. One would expect that these records would be available on exactly the 10th day after the death.

“In reality, the state attorney general has reduced these reporting requirements to a single sheet of paper with a series of check-mark boxes that provide only the most basic information. It can take weeks, if not months, to get the data under the California Public Records Act.”

Mr. Maas also find that, even when the data arrives, “you find that there’s little to no auditing. It has been 10 years since the Attorney General’s Office analyzed the death data; that four-page report concluded that in-custody deaths were on a steep rise, but ‘due to limited resources,’ the agency wasn’t able to dig further.”

He has figured out ways to dig deeper, but he writes, “Investigative reporters know the tricks to get these records, but families do not. Time and time again, I’ve spoken to relatives who were told literally nothing about how their loved ones died.”

Mr. Maas argues for the prioritization of death-in-custody transparency. He writes, “Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s Assembly Bill 619 is a start. The bill adds new categories of information that law enforcement agencies will be required to produce, and orders the attorney general to issue an annual report and to begin publishing the data online. This is especially important since the Attorney General’s Office says it will not be collecting as much arrest-related death information this year due to a change in federal reporting requirements.”

The Blue Wall of Silence

There was an interesting piece this past week in BuzzFeed, where they talked to former Baltimore police detective Joe Crystal, an up-and-coming police officer – until he watched a fellow officer beat up a handcuffed suspect. After breaking ranks, and reporting the assault, he was run out of town with his career ruined.

Mr. Crystal witnessed the incident on October 27, 2011, and three years later he resigned from the police department. As BuzzFeed described, “he witnessed an off-duty cop brutally beat a handcuffed suspect, saw a detective cover it up with a police report full of lies, and watched his sergeant approve the whole thing.”

He was supposed to keep his mouth shut, but he didn’t. As they write, “He broke the ‘blue wall of silence’ and blew the whistle on his colleagues, and the way many of his fellow officers saw it, he had sided with a small-time criminal over his brothers in blue. The harassment and the threats followed. His career as a Baltimore police officer crumbled. Police in Baltimore have rallied around cops who have killed or beaten suspects, cops facing criminal charges, and cops who turn a blind eye to misconduct. But one thing some Baltimore police couldn’t tolerate was a ‘snitch.’”

The BuzzFeed article is a long and fascinating article, that sees Mr. Crystal return to Baltimore during the unrest.

He became a poster child for why police do not “snitch.” He was subjected to harassment. He turned to the police union, but it did little to help him.

When he tried to transfer to another unit, he was told that he could not “because he had snitched.” BuzzFeed writes, “Crystal had crossed the blue wall of silence, a code among officers remarkably similar to that of the outlaws they arrest. The problem was not just that he had broken code, the lieutenant was suggesting, but that other officers could no longer trust him.”

Mr. Crystal testified against his fellow officers – one was convicted of misconduct and sentenced to probation, while the other was convicted of assault and obstruction of justice and served 45 days in jail.

The trial put Mr. Crystal’s experience in the spotlight. But things did not improve and on September 3, 2014, Mr. Crystal resigned from the Baltimore City Police Department while the two officers, who had been convicted of crimes six months earlier, remained on the force.

BuzzFeed writes, “Not all — perhaps not even most — officers within the department disapproved of what Crystal had done. Sgt. Lisa Robinson told the Baltimore Sun in May that she hoped the Department of Justice review of the BPD, which came in response to Freddie Gray’s death, would look into ‘the “stop snitching” culture that is prevalent on the streets of Baltimore as well as within the Baltimore Police Department.'”

Furthermore, “Crystal had become a cautionary tale within the Baltimore police force.” However, “To many on the outside, though, he had become a symbol of the integrity that every officer should strive for. In December, Crystal filed a lawsuit against the department on charges that it violated whistleblower protection laws, and national news programs picked up the story. ‘Hero cop,’ one news anchor dubbed him.”

The article notes, “Freddie Gray’s death brought more attention to Crystal’s experience, and he did more cable news rounds in the days following the riot. During a town hall at Morgan State University, the moderator asked what people wanted to see changed in the police department.”

The article continues, “‘I’m just gonna mention one name: Detective Joe Crystal,’ said a man in the audience. ‘The administration did not support him, the Fraternal Order of Police did not support him. … If we can’t protect police officers, how are citizens gonna…’  but the applause drowned out the rest of his answer.”

The article notes, “The public support, however, didn’t do much to help Crystal’s career. None of the big city police departments he reached out to responded. “

Defenders of the police argue that there are a few bad apples in a police department. That is probably true. The problem is that the culture is such that no one will defend the good police officers – the Joe Crystal story sounds eerily similar to the story of Frank Serpico from 40 years ago in New York.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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46 Comments

  1. TrueBlueDevil

    – The Obama Administration is worried about the militarization of the police, but they’re the one’s that transferred almost half a billion dollars in military equipment to local departments in 2013. My gut tells me if that a investigative report does some digging, we will see that this is part of the Obama Administration downsizing the military. He has had multiple budget cuts, he’s reducing force size, and he’s probably also reducing the equipment the military has at hand.

    – Homeland Security sees rising threats, and the recent ISIS terrorist attack in Texas with two terrorists in full body armor is one example of the potential future of some conflicts here. Thank goodness they ran into a good-old-boy with expert marksmanship. Our own agencies say there are thousands of terrorist cells here, and there is an ISIS cell across the Mexican (open, porous) border.

    – The “events” and “uprising” in Ferguson could also be called “riots”, spurred by a citizen attempting to kill an officer, decades of failed Liberal policies, and George Soros funded groups pimping the crime for their political gain. I’ve read that truancy rates are over 50% in Baltimore, I wouldn’t be surprised by similar numbers in Ferguson.

    – The riots in Baltimore were directly fueled by incompetent city leadership which said “let them destroy things, give them room”, resulting in the tragic loss of 200+ business. Add in the Left’s hyping anti-police sentiment with Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, and elsewhere, and the anti-police rhetoric of Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, George Soros, and others on the Left. Social media adds another new component to the lawless behavior.

    – California Reporting. Democrats have run the state for decades, so they control were the monies go. Bill Lockyear (1999), Jerry Brown, and Kamala Harris are all Dems. I agree the lack of reports, time delays, and lack of details sounds troubling. In 2015 shouldn’t this all be online and public information? Our education proposition which funnels a 80% of new funds to education also plays a role here, along with public pensions zapping budgets.

     

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      i was about to respond to the article when i read this.  overall i think obama is too little too late on demilitarizing the police.  he needed to take this issue more seriously in 2009 as opposed to ramping up existing policies that allowed small departments to get severe armaents.

      so i actually agree with the first part of your first bullet.  the second part is utter nonsense and has nothing to do with the issue of militarization of police.  the second point is nonsense as well.  i wish people could stay on topic here.  it’s increasingly irritating.

      the problem in baltimore is typical of most cities – poverty and violence were treated with an increasingly heavy-handed police response that ended up alienating the very peeople that it was intended to help.  yes, baltimore’s crime rate fell but it fell largely in conjunction with the decline in crime nationally.

      the riots in baltimore are due more to the pent up frustration on the part of the citizens about the treatment of police.

    2. PhilColeman

      “Thank goodness they ran into a good-old-boy with expert marksmanship.”

      I want to comment on just this extract, and relate it to the point advanced by the article, the issue of militarization of local police. The “good old boy” term was probably meant to just a cutesy phrase, but it is stereotypical for the Southern Culture. And it never intended to be flattering. He certainly was an incredibly good shot, out-gunned, out-numbered, but he was the last man standing. So, why don’t we just call him a very courageous police officer who doubtlessly saved a few lives. To me, that seems a more fair and accurate description of the man.

      This courageous police officer who prevented a potential massacre, two relevant points must be raised, because no one else has. First, notice how soon he was forgotten after his less than “15 minutes of fame.” He should receive a ticker-tape parade down Broadway, but I bet nobody out there even knows his name. If we are going to scrutinize every police shooting and look for every flaw and misjudgment, where is the public opinion verdict and reaction on this one?

      Point Two. It’s on point. This officer did not have a grenade launcher, an assault rife, nor was he wearing camos. He had a regular police vehicle, not an armored vehicle. He faced two heavily armed adversaries with the intent to kill and having the element of surprise. With all that, the garden-variety police officer assigned to traffic control carried the day. Maybe, just maybe, all this military stuff is not really needed after all.

       

       

       

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Spot on, Mr. Coleman. And yes I meant it as a cute name.

        The mainstream media will avoid this story because it does not fit there narrative on many levels.

        1. We have Islamic terrorists committing a terrorist act here, on our soil. They easily could have killed dozens of people if not for this marksman, a 60-year-old officer who advanced into an extremely dangerous situation.

        2. We have a weapon saving lives, by a heroic police officer, in Texas.

        3. I believe one or both shooters may be “men of color”, another item the media doesn’t like to feature.

        4. The largely liberal media doesn’t like the above 3 items, plus many others. But they fell all over criminal Michael Brown, and still do.

        It may also be that the officer and / or department don’t want attention, and that this officer has personal concerns that he doesn’t want to be a target, or more of a target, than he already is. Texans know ISIS is across the border, and they know how porous the border is. He may be a modest man who wants to live his life in peace.

  2. Davis Progressive

    i think the police militerization while a welcome change is really too little too late.  obama does not have a good record on civil liberties, he was late arriving on this issue, and he is doing so in his second term when he does not need to expend any political capital.

    the last story is the most interesting because it shows once again the barrier to police reform – it’s not that we only have a few bad police officers, we have a whole culture to change.

    1. Frankly

      While we are at it, let’s clean up all the corrupt lawyers and corrupt politicians that do so much damage to individuals and society as a whole.  In fact, if I was to prioritize reform needs to help make the country a better place, I would focus on lawyers and politicians as the first priority.  Second, I would focus on journalists.  Cops would be down the list quite a bit.

      1. Davis Progressive

        i happen to believe that the system is the problem, not the individuals and i would extend that to most of your list, however, i would put prosecutors (most of them) and the police far higher on the list.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i’m not interesting so much in reducing the need for law enforcement (although drug laws i’d like to do away with), but i want to change is the way law enforcement acts.

  3. DanH

    In ancient Greece the police were slaves owned by the public. In ancient Rome the police were truly militarized and were in fact a local branch of the military.

    In the US lately demilitarizing the police means taking military-looking tools away from the police. The fact that these tools do nothing without a human operator is not important. Lets just hate and avoid the military-looking stuff. That will fix the Ferguson problem.

    If you want to demilitarize the police then prohibit anyone with a military history from serving in the police. This is going to go over big with any political group because it means denying employment for veterans. It’s hard to wave the flag for the vets who served our country well while keeping them unemployed.

    Yes, an increasing number of vets are finding employment as police officers. Do we have a scapegoat, yet?

    Military to Police Force: A Natural Transition?

     

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      i disagree.  if you read radley balko’s book – the weapons/ equipment are only a tip of the iceberg.  the big complaint is the combination of that equipment with new, aggressive tactics and in particular dynamic entries.  again, obama is only treating one small subset of the problem but it also sends the message that the problem is the equipment rather than the tactics with the equipment.

    2. Tia Will

      DanH

      In the US lately demilitarizing the police means taking military-looking tools away from the police. The fact that these tools do nothing without a human operator is not important. Lets just hate and avoid the military-looking stuff. That will fix the Ferguson problem.”

      I do not see anyone claiming that merely removing gear that is “military-looking” is a panacea. I do see people recommending removing the military weaponry as part of a much broader approach which includes a focus on community policing, the use of de-escalation where possible, and changing the entire police culture back to one of protection of rather than subjugation of entire communities.

  4. Frankly

    A media-enflamed democracy is prone to over-steer and under-steer in a constant attempt to placate emotions.  Today the media enflames our emotions about law enforcement tactics.   We will of course emasculate law enforcement and then the media will enflame emotions over the resulting increase in crime.  Then we will again strengthen law enforcement.

    It will continue like this until?

    Unless we develop emotional intelligence and stop over and under-steering and instead constantly tweak and optimize.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “A media-enflamed democracy”

      you like creating straw-men.  the problem is that you really don’t understand that most of the country pays no attention to your boogeymen.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        I know younger citizens are easier bamboozled, but not as many mature voters are so naive. They’ve seen the riots before, they see the press stirring the flames.

        They ride a story until they have a new pony to ride.

      2. Frankly

        In 2011, 40% of African-American males 15-34 who died were murdered, according to the CDC, compared to just 3.8 percent of white males who died. Overall, 14 percent of all men 15-34 who died in 2011 were murdered.

        You don’t think the media could give this attention like they have the few recent cop killings and start a national dialog and enflame a call to action?

        How do we prioritize the list of things we should work on?

        We don’t.  What gets priority depends on the public emotional reaction.  And the media enflames emotions to get the reaction.

        And the media is connected to the political machine more than ever.   It is not so much that the media is just chasing stories for coin.  Today, the media has a strong symbiotic relationship with politicians – primarily Democrat – to help each other out.  Politicians leave politics to work in the media.  Media people become political advisors.

        It is all wag the dog… and it has become a very big and bad dog.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i can imagine the argument in 1972 – there were a lot of burglaries and break-ins in Washington DC, why did they focus on the one at the Watergate Hotel?

    2. Biddlin

      “A media-enflamed democracy”
      A Media Inflamed Democracy- A plea for emotional intelligence.
      Spell it right and that’s a great book title to peddle on some of your favourite web sites, Frankly.  Glenn Beck would eat that up. Self publishing was made for you and you for it!

      ;>)/

    3. Tia Will

      Frankly

      Today the media enflames our emotions about law enforcement tactics.”

      You mean the way that the media coverage of our “law and order” politicians fueled fear over Wille Horton thus sparking a generations long over steer in terms of fear that every person who had ever been convicted of a crime was going to rape and pillage and therefore should be encarcerated for ever longer periods of time.  That kind of “over steering” ?

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        That was merely one issue, we had had a dramatic increase in crime, including New York having over 1,000 murders a year. War zones in our own cities. It was the utterly random murder of people stepping outside their home to receive a pizza, or getting Chinese food that troubled so many. New policies in NY now has the murder rate down to approximately 400 murders a year, far below where Oakland is proportionally. Philadelphia earned the name Kill-adelphia.

        Crack cocaine ushered in an especially violent new wave of crime.

        Liberal lawyers and judges letting out career criminals who had raped, murdered, of committed other violent acts because they now were “reformed” or because they had a rough childhood angered many voters.

        I don’t see that as over steering, I see it as common sense. I just read about a convicted criminal on the Central Coast who raped a 16-year-old handicapped child, and he will only serve one year in jail. It is those kinds of crimes that spurred change, yet still we have the soft-on-crime system and lawyers in California.

        http://calcoastnews.com/2015/05/los-osos-man-avoids-prison-time-for-rape-of-disabled-teen/

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          Great example, DP!

          He knew he had epilepsy, he knew he had frequent debilitating attacks, he could have taken the bus or found another mode of transportation, or found a job closer to home, but he chose a method of transportation which put others in danger.

  5. Tia Will

    TBD

    we had had a dramatic increase in crime,”

    I agree that Willie Horton was merely one issue. However, the media on both sides tend to report sensationally and tend to ignore the nuances. Yes, we had an increase in crime……and now we have had a decrease in crime. Where one has to be very careful, and where neither the ideologically driven components of our media and citizenry are not very careful, is in the adoption of simplistic explanations for why either the increase or the decrease has occurred. Expressions such as “soft on crime” do not lead to any admission that changes in social patterns are almost always multifactorial instead of based on any “black and white” view of complex situations no matter how much more satisfying that may be.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      I am also reluctant to endorse some narrative that crime is down across the board. I sometimes frequent local barrios for the best and cheapest taco truck / taqueria fare, and I see and hear stories of crime which goes unreported, just as some crime in the black community is ignored. Likewise, I know several people in San Francisco who have had “rag tops” cut numerous times, and other “small” crimes which they refuse to report as they know there will be no justice. It’s not worth their time or hassle.

      Yes, murder rates are down in many cities, not all. I agree there are multiple factors, I read a compelling, complex study which argues that the reduction in lead in the environment has been a huge factor here. But we had countless cases of hardened vicious criminals being treated with kid gloves, hence the correction.

      BTW, do you think a man convicted of raping a handicapped child should only serve one year in jail? I say a dozen years is a good start, plus hard labor.

      1. Davis Progressive

        “I am also reluctant to endorse some narrative that crime is down across the board. ”

        you act like crime was never unreported in the past.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          No, I acknowledge when we bring in millions of new people with a different culture and ideas about law enforcement and gang affiliation.

          I also don’t recall in the 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s a credo which said “Snitches get Stitches B–ches”, which is now heard in rap lyrics, and repeated by children in schools and neighborhoods. That’s a powerful message.

        2. Davis Progressive

          you may not recall that from the 60s, but i do.  there was a very real fear in the 1960s that the fbi had infiltrated various groups.  but anti-snitching culture arose much earlier than that, in organized crime.  you’re talking about a culture that has been around at least 50 years and probably longer.  the lyric you cite is nearly 20 years old.  the outlaw west 150 years ago was just as anti-law enforcement.  it has nothing to do with people from different cultures and ideals.

        3. Davis Progressive

          didn’t say they did.  in fact that’s one of the points several of us have been making about trust in the police.  however, it seems unlikely that they are reporting fewer crimes now than in 1990.  and far less likely that it accounts for a measurable drop in the crime rate.  moreover, we can track certain types of crimes that aren’t going to suffer from lack of reporting – like homicides – and see that those have dropped over time around the same rate if not faster than the lesser crimes likely to go unreported.  all that adds up to pretty solid data.

        4. Alan Miller

          but anti-snitching culture arose much earlier than that, in organized crime.

          Or 4 million years ago when the first humans walked the earth, and little Zog got pounded by his big sister when he told dad that she ate the entire supply of the family Triceratops jerky.

  6. Davis Progressive

    “do you think a man convicted of raping a handicapped child should only serve one year in jail?”

    do you think a guy convicted of stealing a $3.99 bag of shredded cheese from the woodland nugget should serve 7 years?

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Next time you want to argue these one-off extreme cases, please provide the names and links so I can easily cite the information you purposefully omit.

      The criminal you cite is a career criminal who will probably get out with parole after 3 years. Did he commit this crime with a gun or knife, did he threaten anyone, is he part of a gang? There are lots of factors to consider.

      “Robert Ferguson, who prosecutors say has a nearly 30-year record of convictions for burglary and other offences, avoided a life sentence under the state’s controversial “three strikes” law after a psychological evaluation deemed him bipolar and unable to control his impulses to steal, the Sacramento Bee reported.”

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/mar/03/california-eight-years-stealing-cheese

       

       

      1. Miwok

        So they let him back out to steal some more? Sorry I cannot understand why you think this guy will change. Whether he controls it or not is irrelevant to me. Let’s get him a plane ticket to somewhere the skills can be used, or lock him up.

        Every kids who is on drugs or has a problem to explain the crime should not be let out. Schizophrenics come to mind. I know a few, and steer a wide berth. I don’t want to date them, be friends, with them, or marry and have children with them. I assume you folks don’t either, and you want them to be safe, whether in or out of prison? I will not be a target for them..

        1. Davis Progressive

          the guy is mentally ill from my understanding.  so you’re going to spend about $350,000, probably more, to prevent a $3.99 crime?  is that really cost-effective? i believe he had the money in his pocket and had purchased other products, but not the cheese.

  7. TrueBlueDevil

    We just had the police and various law enforcement agencies help shut down a huge brawl and shootings conducted by multiple biker gangs in Texas … time will tell how many of the 9 dead were killed by law enforcement. They apparently protected a lot of innocent lives.

  8. Davis Progressive

    response to tbd: the vanguard broke that story.  i’m well aware of the facts involved.  its still 7 years for stealing cheese. in fact, it was so egregious that there have been two major propositions passed since then that would prohibit it counting as a third strike (they originally tried to get life but the judge struck it down to a second strike).

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