Saturday, October 24, 2015

Why does James Comey hate cops?

"A hunky Baltimore police officer has been inundated with marriage proposals after a photo of him cuddling a stray kitten he rescued and then adopted went viral....  The image [of Jon Boyer with friend] received more than 4,000 likes and several hundred comments praising his selfless work -- and handsome looks." (Daily Mail) How many politicians got on his case for this unseemly publicity?
We're accustomed to various privately funded agents of fascism—the heads of police benevolent associations, the radio-talk Ciceros—issuing blackmail threats on behalf of the police, to the effect that if the behavior of cops is subjected to some kind of public scrutiny cops will just refuse to protect us.

And I generally discount it, because I believe the responsible figures who tell me that the vast majority of police officers are serious and dutiful and good people who would never dream of conducting their work like a protection racket, and have no reason to fear seeing it exposed. At least I'd like to believe them, but it's somehow not very easy to find out how true that is.

But I get taken a little aback when the director of the FBI does it, as reported today:
Mr. Comey lent the prestige of the F.B.I., the nation’s most prominent law enforcement agency, to a theory that is far from settled: that the increased attention on the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals. But he acknowledged that there is so far no data to back up his assertion and that it may be just one of many factors that are contributing to the rise in crime, like cheaper drugs and an increase in criminals who are being released from prison.
“I don’t know whether that explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year,” Mr. Comey said in a speech at the University of Chicago Law School....
Really? Even though that "rise in crime" is fictionalas FBI reports make clear? And even though logically it's a bit of a stretch to move from "there's no evidence this effect exists" to "therefore it may not be the only factor"?

As a matter of fact, rates on specific violent crimes, notably homicide, are somewhat up in a few cities, such as Oakland or Washington, even though total shootings continue to decline in those cities as well, and the Times article notes that. If there's an empirically observable phenomenon there that demands a causal explanation there, it's the way murderers appear to have gotten more efficient, killing more people with fewer bullets. What's going on with that? Are they out on the range practicing? Are they buying better quality ammunition?

Are they using more lethal weapons that are legally hard or impossible to obtain in Washington or Oakland, maybe smuggled from states with laxer laws like Virginia and Arizona, because Congress refuses to contemplate stricter federal gun control, perchance? Because when I think "chill wind", I generally think "Republican".
Mr. Comey said that he had been told by many police leaders that officers who would normally stop to question suspicious people are opting to stay in their patrol cars for fear of having their encounters become worldwide video sensations. That hesitancy has led to missed opportunities to apprehend suspects, he said, and has decreased the police presence on the streets of the country’s most violent cities.
“I’ve been told by a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video,” Mr. Comey said, adding that many leaders and officers whom he had spoken to said they were afraid to address the issue publicly.
You notice he says "leader", not "chief" or "commissioner". Wouldn't be surprised if he was talking about a PBA head.

But you know the theory of how we should accept certain levels of surveillance in our lives, because if we're not doing anything wrong we have nothing to fear? That's obviously a stupid argument, because we could have all kinds of reasons for not wishing to be watched, in our private lives, and it's really nobody's business what the reasons are, either, because it is, precisely, private.

By the same token, it does apply to police officers on duty: that's a public position. A cop on duty shouldn't be doing anything that will get him or her in trouble if it's on video. (It's not the virality of the video that counts, a video of cops rescuing a kitten out of a tree or what have you is certainly going to go viral without giving them career problems. It's only when you get caught being unprofessional or abusive.)
“Our officers are very, very sensitive to the climate right now, but I haven’t seen any evidence to say our officers aren’t doing their jobs,” [Oakland police chief Sean] Whent said. In Washington, homicides are also up, but violent crime and crime over all are down, said Lt. Sean Conboy, a police spokesman. “Trying to correlate it to a Ferguson effect, I don’t believe is appropriate,” Lieutenant Conboy said.
That's what I would be happy to expect of the cops. If Comey imagines they will literally stay in the car and let some crime occur because they can't trust themselves to behave in an acceptable way, he's really insulting them. Glad there's no evidence that it's happening, but he really needs to watch himself, because there is some evidence he's an idiot.

Via Look Here 3.
On the same page as Emptywheel here, that doesn't happen every day. Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.


Ten Bears said...

I have issues with this notion the cops are "protecting" me. They do not, nor have they ever. Me, or my family. More like an armed gang roaming the countryside terrorising the population. Bummer about the broad brush, but it's not up to me to police their public appearance.

Jim Parrett said...

After over 20 years in the USA, it took two years for the fear of police to dissipate upon returning to Canada. It wasn't the criminals that scared me, its was the cops. In a somewhat related matter not covered by the media is this fascinating story: an African American is seeking refugee status in Canada because of his fear that he will be killed by US cops.

kate said...

Thanks for using the 'kitten robbery' photo from my blog (lookhere3.wp) & crediting, although not my own creation--original credit long-lost to the web.

Ken_L said...

I'm fortunate enough to live in a country where "aggressive" cops have short careers, and anything that discourages police aggression would generally be regarded as a good thing. Private ownership of firearms is also tightly controlled, and hardly anyone has access to a handgun. The two facts may not be unrelated.

Yastreblyansky said...

Ten Bears and Jim and Ken: Yes to all.

Kate: Thanks! I make a big effort to credit images I use and I sometimes wonder if anybody notices. Even if it's not your own you curated it.

Chelsea: If I ever need a personal injury lawyer in San Antonio I'll definitely be looking out for one who digs kittens.

Yastreblyansky said...

Update: A follow-up at my place addresses some of the issues that are neglected here.

HannahWinslett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.