Ferguson Results: No Surprises.

There are some interesting things to consider with regard to the Department of Justice findings regarding the Ferguson Police Department and Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of a burglary suspect who assaulted him in an attempt to take the officer’s gun. First, no one should be surprised about the DOJ having found that Officer Wilson acted appropriately during the now infamous incident. In fact, if this current DOJ found that Wilson had done nothing wrong, this is about as close to affixing a royal seal to the official result as anyone could get from this administration.

There are two other findings that must be examined: The finding of bias policing and the finding of officers excessively enforcing “petty offenses” (minor traffic infractions, jaywalking, littering, etc.) for the explicit purpose of raising revenue.

Finding that a police department if full of racist brutes is what the current DOJ does and has done for the past six years. Sadly, it comprises much of what defines them as a government entity. So, this finding was no surprise either. In fact, last night on a news opinion program, Andrew McCarthy, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, talked about the DOJ findings. Presciently, back when the Ferguson case erupted, McCarthy predicted that the DOJ would clear Wilson and added that the DOJ would charge the entire police department with racial bias.

McCarthy offered this formula, which struck home since this is precisely what the DOJ did in Seattle:

1. Come to town based upon some high profile case that meets a selected narrative.

2. Find that you can’t sustain any local or federal charges against the officer.

3. Nevertheless, find the police department, generally, guilty of a “pattern and practice” of abusing minority rights.

4. Impose a federal consent decree on the law enforcement agency.

I felt a sense of vindication—not that I needed any—as I heard McCarthy say precisely what I’ve been saying and writing for the past few years. Does anyone seriously believe that the DOJ would find any law enforcement agency not guilty of racial bias–ever? Not with this administration.

Now, back to the issue of governments using cops as tax collectors. To put it bluntly: law enforcement for the express purpose of raising revenue is unethical. The DOJ’s allegations are that the Ferguson P.D. has engaged in no- to low-discretion enforcement policies with regard to issuing citations for minor traffic offenses and other petty civil violations. The DOJ routinely uses raw statistics to paint local cops as racist while intentionally ignoring other statistical and concrete realities. However, the sheer raw numbers of tickets issued in relation to the local populations, do seem to point to a revenue-centric enforcement policy. In this aspect, although, it pains me a bit, I have to side with the DOJ, as they seemed to have accidentally stumbled into getting an issue right.

I wrote a bit about using officers as tax collectors in my book, Is There a Problem, Officer? A Cop’s Inside Scoop on Avoiding Traffic Tickets.” I tackle this issue in greater depth in a project currently in progress. Here’s a preview:

“It’s amazing to me that police administrations around the country constantly talk about improving relations between their police officers and communities. All the while, they institute policies that do the exact opposite. These include, low- to no-tolerance petty infraction citation policies. Why do administrations do this so often? If I haven’t mentioned this before: when I got into police work, I was told by several crusty veterans that the highest degree of stress I’d experience on the job wouldn’t come from the blood, guts and vomit, or from dealing with stupid people or violent criminals. They said my worst stress would come from my own police and city administrations (add to that state and federal). After over twenty-one years on the streets all I can say is: they were so right.”

 There is a whole slough of reasons why this type of enforcement is bad for society, the damage it does to police-community relations being chief among them. However, people should also remember that when mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs issue such stringent enforcement policies, their officers have no choice but to comply or find themselves in violation and subject to discipline.

 It is important to remember: the cops don’t pass laws or institute department policies; they simply enforce them. It is also important for citizens to keep themselves apprised of the laws and policies politicians and officials pass in their names.

 

 

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