Do You Trust the Police?

A question like the one in the headline might seem a bit far afield for a finance and economics blog, but with our government increasingly looking like a Mussolini-style corpocracy, the actions of local government increasingly interact in troubling ways with our financial system.

As we discussed a couple of days ago, the rise in civil forfeiture as a way for local police forces to increase their budgets has escalated as a direct result of the financial crisis (both falling tax revenues and plunges in pension fund assets played a big role in creating or worsening red ink, so that even the normally recession-resistant police forces were facing staffing and hours reductions in many locations). Police have also played a troubling role in the foreclosure crisis, refusing to treat bank breaking and entry (entering a home in advance of foreclosure in violation of the mortgage, or worse, entering the wrong home entirely) and vandalism (removing owner contents before an eviction is permissible) are treated as mere “civil” matters, when if you tried the same stunt with your neighbor’s home, you’d be in the slammer in no time.

In the wake of the civil forfeiture post (and our related post of how Google Glass might be used, like Russian dash-cams, to keep the police a smidge more honest), we’ve had readers flagging other fresh examples of questionable police conduct, such as 5 Apologies to the Cops Who Beat Me Up For No Reason (diptherio), Police restrain and hit woman and Florida teenager dies after police Taser (both from Mexico).

Since I live the most boring personal life imaginable, my interactions with the police types are limited to the every-thirty-five-year big speeding ticket, the TSA, and passport and customs officials (well take it back, I have a very long ago funny story when I went on a car ride in Harlem with a couple of black men who offered me a lift to try to find a kid on a bike who’d snagged my wallet out of my hand. The men who trundled up in the car knew the woman who’d run down the block ahead of me trying to apprehend or at least identify the robber, so they looked to be neighbors in that little corner of Harlem. The men dropped me back where I’d called 911 on a pay phone, this being in the pre-cell phone days. The cops had just arrived and drove me home and thought I was clearly insane to have take up an offer of local assistance).

I have heard bad stories about cops from cab drivers here (New York City and Bloomberg in particular has it in for cabbies for reasons I’ve never been able to fathom) and former DAs in other cities (for instance, that decades ago it was routine for cops to plant evidence and fabricate testimony in high profile cases if they couldn’t find a logical suspect fast enough). I’ve also heard some good stories about cops from local people and have seen them have to perform some unpleasant duties (like enforcing ridiculous cordons mandated by Presidential visits, the degree of lockdown and the diversions forced on locals who wind up on the wrong side of lines are insane, and the police stay patient with irate locals. I suspect they think the procedures are overkill, and even with all the overtime, they look none too happy about it). And then we have the really hair-raising media accounts, of paramilitary crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street and other dissident groups, of tasers and pepper spray and pain-inflicting zip handcuffs becoming appallingly routine.

I’ve noticed a shift in my reactions to police. While I generally assume they need to be handled with care, I’ve assumed in certain tame neighborhoods that they aren’t so bad (as in the local needs don’t call for much aggressive policing), such as my immediate ‘hood and coastal Maine.

But the other night, I saw a fire engine pulled up outside the local fire house. It had its lights on but no siren and wasn’t going anywhere. There was a cone next to it. I wasn’t paying much attention but it looked to have been deliberately parked close enough to the curb to allow traffic to pass.

I was walking towards the fire engine when I saw a cop stop a cab trying to go by the parked fire engine (I didn’t see any police car visible, so I’m not sure how he came to be there). He asked for the driver’s license and registration and told the driver in a normal conversational tone, “Park over there, this is going to take a long time.”

Now I have no idea what lead to this. I see a policeman taking a cabbie off duty (and remember, cabbies rent their vehicles, so this will force they guy into a loss regardless of what else cams out of this interaction). I realized later than with no information either way, no basis for knowing whether the cop was being completely proper or not, I assumed the cop was likely not in the right.

Maybe I’m just an outlier, but here I am, in one of the tamest spots (in terms of police likely to get rough with a resident going about their normal business) and my default assumption with my own police force has become not to trust them. That may have been what I believed on some deeper level before, but that view has now become more apparent to me.

This is what we’ve lost with all these police abuses. Blacks and other minorities no doubt think my reaction is ridiculous (where have you been?) and my vantage no doubt reflects growing up in small town America a long time ago and living in professional enclaves since then. But as I mentioned above, Maine, which is a poor state, still seems to have relatively civilized police. I suspect that results from the fact that the communities are all not large (as in the police still are accountable to the locals and know many of them) and heavy-handed policing would be bad for business (as in it would scare off tourists, a big source of income for a lot of Maine).

Nevertheless, I wonder if a state change is well underway. There’s a big difference between recognizing that police often abuse and scapegoat out groups (that those police actions are big, ugly manifestations of broader patterns of prejudice) and seeing increasingly that only the very rich and connected are safe from tinpot tyranny or worse.

How does this issue look to you? Do you trust the police or not? Or do you trust police in some locales and situations and not others?

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  1. MIWill

    No. I don’t think they want to be trusted anyway.

    That I previously tended to trust them involves some sort of brainwashing I’ve not finished pondering. A blue pill thing maybe.

    1. JGordon

      I agree with you 100%. I too use to trust the police, but thanks to the blue pill I tend to view anyone with a badge as a probable criminal. Now I know that there are good people in uniform out there; but the thing is that there are so many rotten ones that it’s best not to take chances. Record everything. Trust nothing they say. Always refuse searches and dialogue with them.

      1. Kim Kaufman

        I watched that video also, from a link in NC. It didn’t say how to politely refuse to talk to cops which might have been helpful. Not talking might enrage them also – with unpredictable results.

  2. salvo

    short answer: No

    Police works as a function of society: a repressive society organised on the principle of violence will always have a repressive violent police: Most people internalize the repressive structures they are exposed to. That’s what has been named the authoritarian character. It’s simply the principle of violence transferred within a societal hierarchy top-down. That’s how power reproduces itself.

    1. Beppo

      You’re quite right.

      As the middle class disintegrates and local government breaks down, more people who were otherwise exempt are now aware of and subject to the legacy of slave patrol policing, ie you are always guilty, and only an officer’s personal lack of capriciousness can save you.

  3. fatmoron

    No, I don’t trust the police. In my experience, the ranks of cops are often filled with the most detestable sorts of people I came across in my youth — bullies often enter the force because it gives them the same sense of power in adulthood that they had in youth. Also, the victims of bullies enter the force, to gain a sense of power that they never previously had.

    It just makes for a bad combination. It seems the day of the neighborhood cop who tried to keep the peace is over. Now we have the police(wo)man who needs to enforce the Law.

  4. skippy

    Does the object change or just the perception of it… with the advent of better optics…

    skippy… to my shame… I was one of the earliest helpers in militarizing this public office… not that is wasn’t full of thugs to start with… see history.

  5. IF

    I am cautious with police, as I don’t think there is an upside in interacting with them (but plenty of downside). That stated police in the US, but also other countries, have always treated me correct and with dignity. I have no reason to personally distrust them. It is more of a philosophically defensive position.

  6. Anonymous

    No – I don’t trust them.
    Forfeiture laws enable a fundamental conflict of interest, in addition to the power trip an individual officer may be on.

    Anyone that recalls Philip Zimbardo’s prison-guard experiment knows that power brings out the worst in many people. Police officers have too much power and I have little faith in the police as an institution to deal with that issue.

    London’s (UK) police force describes itself as “the biggest gang in town” and that how I see them: reluctant thugs. Be nice to them and don’t trust them one inch – you might get shafted. Not because they’re corrupt (there’s always bad apples), but because of too much power, too little counter balance, bad legislation and human nature. Police live in a world of people behaving badly, so their world view will suffer from severe cognitive biasses and will behave accordingly.

  7. YankeeFrank

    I don’t trust the police, but I respect their power and am very wary when dealing with them. I have had more than a few interactions with a variety of cops, from beat cops to cops in cars to detectives. The one thing they all seem to have in common is that they assess people in the most reductive, conservative ways imaginable. If you are dressed in a dumpy way, say because you’ve been doing some heavy work, or haven’t shaven in a few days, they treat you like they would treat a bum (which, of course, is no way to treat a bum). If you are black or hispanic, of course, you are a criminal. They judge the safety of a neighborhood by the ratio of whites to blacks/hispanics (this is in and around NYC), which in my experience is terribly flawed. I grew up in the Bronx, and saw and experienced more violence in the “safe” parts of Manhattan than in the deepest darkest sections of the Bronx.

    They also “testily” (testilie?) in a knee jerk fashion, I would say its second nature to them. They remember things exactly how it suits whatever charges have been levied.

    The funny thing is I’ve seen them be easily cowed into behaving with some respect by a well dressed attractive woman who acts haughty towards them, and I’ve seen them treat people with courtesy and respect if they deem them worthy of it.

    In short, they are serial liars who use all of the most stereotypical ways of assessing people, and while I imagine that works some of the time, its a terrible way to treat the populace, and leads to lots of unsolved crimes and wrongful prosecutions. And they are simply not that bright.

    So while they can have their uses, its best to stay the hell away from them unless you absolutely need them, and realize that if they suspect you of something, your best bet is to stay absolutely silent except to say that you don’t consent to any search and you want your lawyer. They are not your friend, and things won’t go better for you if you are helpful.

  8. Short Plank

    I’ve had very little to do with the police but that little has always been perfectly proper and by-the-book. However that may be because I don’t live in the US, and the police I did have to deal with are not armed as a matter of course.

    From outside, tho’, I do have to wonder about the militarisation of the police. The military is militarised because it lives in a military world – in and on closed-off camps 24/7 as are their wives, their children and almost exclusively their friends. Policemen live in the community, their wives and children are part of the community, when they’re not on duty they are part of the community themselves.

    Their ostensible job is to protect the community but if the community turns against them as seems to be the thrust of the posting and is certainly the flavour of the comments above, how else can police be expect to react except by withdrawing into itself and developing an ‘us-and-them’ attitude – and in a very real sense by becoming what is expected of them because why should they be anything else?

    Without a police force willing to be a tool of TPTB as described by Yves the banksters and corrupt local and national politicians would never have been able to have gained the sway over civil society that they have, but perhaps the poisoning of the once sacred relationship between the police and the community has been as much a fault of the community as of the police – and a very deliberate and engineered fault it has been, too.

    Winning the police back now is probably impossible in the absence of a conscious, concerted effort by both sides, but perhaps you should remember the moral of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Short Plank hits the nail on the head. Militarization of local police is directed and funded from Washington D.C. The fedgov provides the laws that lend themselves to SWAT team enforcement (the Controlled Substances Act, et al), fund the acquisition of heavy weaponry and training, and encourage military veterans (who regard all civilians as threats) to enter policing.

      The fedgov even subsidizes dragnet-style harassment, such as the annual ‘Click It or Ticket’ mulcting on Memorial Day. (Have you thanked your KongressKlown for picking your pocket again with local tickets?)

      Friendly Officer Mike from your childhood isn’t coming back till the fascist leviathan in Washington D.C. is put back in its place.

      1. Jerry

        I live in a very small upscale town in the Midwest. I read in the paper our police force has acquired license plate reading and storing capacity….part of the NSA I guess…

      2. Bruno Marr

        Yes. The Homeland Security umbrella has turned our once congenial/helpful Harbor Patrol into fault finding farts. Sitting in your car on the parking lot is cause for suspicion, if not rousting!

        When did my BMW become loitering? (It has great stereo!)

    2. nonclassical

      …laws have been changed-DEvolved to expand police (state) powers-now, 10 miles per hour over speed limit can be construed “reckless driving”, which in Washington State carries $850.00 fine. This is but one example of system of financial extortion, in terms of police powers.

      Having trained with and trained police, including Guantanamo Bay guard, and
      overseas G-9 anti-terrorism, I appreciate necessity of job-however, as this expands in ridiculous proportion to the even more ridiculous “terrorism” scare,
      (Adam Curtis-“The Power of Nightmares” quote-“There is no Al-Qaeda”) we see
      propaganda full tilt aimed at control of a disenfranchised population, currently being robbed of their democratic form of government.

      Drone companies are miniaturizing in secrecy, as we speak-drone surveillance will soon be tied into police surveillance…we are already living in surveillance-police state society-license plate readers-electrically alert police of license plate
      record of those in vicinity, soon to be tied to record of insurance company policy, to fine those without insurance who insist upon operating a vehicle without license or…

    3. anon y'mouse

      Their ostensible job is to protect the community but if the community turns against them as seems to be the thrust of the posting and is certainly the flavour of the comments above, how else can police be expect to react except by withdrawing into itself and developing an ‘us-and-them’ attitude – and in a very real sense by becoming what is expected of them because why should they be anything else?”

      they already have this view, without the “community” being against them. cops appear to have that inherent in donning the uniform, and taking their role as bulwark against malfeasance. cops have never really ‘lived’ in the same communities they police. most of them, by choice, live entirely outside of the geographical region if possible and at least outside of the immediate neighborhood. they view their job as coming down to the “bad” side of town to straighten things out because “those people” can’t get their act together.

      their mindset has always been like the old cops vs. robbers, or good guys with white hats. the only problem now is that the “them” has expanded to include potentially ALL of us.

      you need to live in the ghetto for awhile. then you’ll see how they come in on their white stallions (cruisers) and mete out “justice” to the miscreants, which are by definition all of the residents, there.

      1. Nathanael

        “if the community turns against them as seems to be the thrust of the posting and is certainly the flavour of the comments above, how else can police be expect to react ”

        They can be expected to resign. That’s what honorable people do.

        If they don’t resign, they need to be fired. A police department which has lost the trust of the community needs to be *dissolved*, everyone fired without pay or pension.

  9. Tim Mason

    Roger Graef, and American journalist who now lives in the UK, has been watching the police for a long time. One of the points he makes is that the police themselves don’t really trust the public. This defensiveness is one of the causes of the nasty ways in which they can behave. Several of his articles are to be found on the Guardian site – an this one in particular may go some way towards answering the question posed here : . He has also made several TV documentaries, with fly-on-the-wall techniques following police officers around on their daily business. His book, ‘Talking Blues: The Police in their own words’ is well worth a look, although, published in the late 80s, it is dated.

    1. Lord Koos

      I was listening to a call-in talk show a few years ago, discussing police behavior, when a cop called the show. He spoke of being disturbed by his police training program as in his view, police were being taught to view the public as their enemy rather than a potential ally. This is evident if you’ve ever had the experience, as I have, of trying to give a cop unsolicited help of any kind, or merely asking questions. The reaction is usually one of rejection, assuming that as a member of the public you: (a) have nothing helpful to offer, (b) are a nuisance, or (c) have no right to know what is happening in your own neighborhood.

  10. Skeptic

    A good, steadfast friend and agreeable neighbor here in our well protected condo tower asked me to post this on his behalf:

    TO: Nekkid Capitalists
    FROM: Jon Corzine

    SUBJECT: Can you trust the Police?

    Thanks for asking.

    On behalf of the (put your number here) Financial and Corporate Criminals here in the United States, I wish to say that, of course, you can trust the Police. The Prosecutors too.

    Have a good trading day.

  11. John Glover

    I lost my faith in the police many years ago, after my wife’s cousin became an NYC cop. I watched him transform from a fairly kind young man to a member of the boys in blue, telling stories about chasing “monkeys” through the streets. Between that and the fact that he saw nothing wrong with driving 120 mph on the thruway (if he was stopped all he had to do was flash his badge and they would let him go).

    On any given day in NYC I see at least one and usually more cop cars flash their lights and siren to go through a red light for no reason other than they can do it – once they cross the intersection the lights go off and off they go, with nary a care about the traffic snarls they’ve left behind them.

    My impression is that most cops think they are above the law, and are blind to the fact that when they act on that thought all they are doing is undermining it….

  12. AbyNormal

    No I Do Not.
    here’s an example of what im following (not too far from me):
    july 26th around 2:30am. metro Dekalb County/Atlanta GA Officers showed up at a residence to collect a fine. the brothers filmed it because of the aggressive shouting and they wouldn’t identify themselves/badge #s or why they were there.
    today, in a live interview, the police chief says the cops had every reason to be there, KNOWING the cops beat one of the boys & stood on the head of the other brother.

    a typical print read:
    Ten metro Atlanta law officers are in police custody, accused of using their guns, badges and authority to facilitate drug deals under orders of a street gang.

    An FBI SWAT team arrested the current and former cops Tuesday for taking payoffs — some as low as $700 — to protect cocaine deals taking place in crowded shopping centers and school parking lots. Five alleged accomplices also were arrested.
    the mother owed 1000.00 civil fee but had never heard of cops showing up in the middle of the night to collect fees.

    1. diptherio

      The po-po have their own code of omertà. No matter what a police officer does, his co-workers will never, ever, rat him/her out. To do so would guarantee ostracization.

      The best dramatic depiction of this dynamic I’ve seen is in the Wire. I think it’s in the first season: Prez, Herc, and Carver get drunk and rough up some poor people for no good reason, Prez doing serious damage to a young man. Lt. Daniels would love to throw all of them under the bus, but he knows that if he does that he’ll lose the respect of the other officers and never be able to command effectively again. So he chews them out and helps them lie.

      Just like the criminals they’re supposedly after, the cops hate nothing worse than a snitch.

      1. Nathanael

        This does mean that the sensible, decent police — knowing what happens to them if they do what Adrian Schoolcraft did and report the crimes of the other police — may instead decide to to what Christopher Dorner did.

        After all, Dorner brought at least one criminal police officer to justice by killing him. It doesn’t seem like it’s possible right now in Los Angeles to bring criminal police officers to justice in any other way than vigilantism — and that is a very, very big problem. Because it strongly encourages vigilantism.

      1. AbyNormal

        dead kennedy’s, police truck
        sam roberts, where have all the good people gone?
        foos, pretender
        jr.brown, highway patrol…(pick it baby)
        nuclear assault, search and seizure
        cypress hill, looking thru the eyes of a pig
        BoB shot the sheriff (not AbY)
        Jailbreak, Anthrax for ThinLizzy
        Animals, Nickleback (use ur imagination)
        springstein, american skin
        pantera, the badge
        Johnny Folsom Prison Blues Album

      2. nonclassical

        1969, Pat Gossen’s “The Floating Bridge” wrote, “Today’s Pig is Tomorrow’s Bacon”…revolutionary times;'s+Pig+is+Tomorrow's+Bacon&source=bl&ots=Vx35bC6XC1&sig=rmXet3wXNrumidXv16FjTrWseMg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=VRcFUpyiHsTAigKw9YDIBg&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Floating%20Bridge%20song%20%22Today's%20Pig%20is%20Tomorrow's%20Bacon&f=false

  13. LAS

    We certainly do NOT have a police state like Nazi Germany had. On the other hand, there are some mistakes being made.

    Stop & frisk, for example: arguement has been made that most criminals are minorities and that’s why cops need to continue targeting them disproportionately. This is likely untrue confusion in temporal order. This is observational selection bias, in which police find more of what they look for and less of what they don’t look for. Bill Black so often points out to us, white collar criminals (disproportionately white and prospering/influential) are not being investigated as they richly deserve to be.

    The number of persons who dare not speak truth to power although they see it are still disproportionately few. I guess we are all a little selfish in wanting to preserve our comfort.

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘We certainly do NOT have a police state like Nazi Germany had.’

      One perceives that you haven’t been arrested yet.

  14. Hugh

    We live in a kleptocracy. The police are just one of the more visible tools of social control of the kleptocrats. And the key word here is control. They no longer serve their communities. Or rather they see the service they perform as controlling communities, you know for our good. In this, they resemble Niebuhr’s hypocritical elites who identify their good with the general good. This is unsurprising since their view of the general good is transmitted to them by the elites, for whom they work.

    They are isolated from their communities sitting in their big, overpowered, overwired cars. They are isolated by their power, and their power to abuse it. They are isolated by the hierarchies in which they work and the sharp division they make betweeen themselves and “civilians”. Their primary allegiance is not to the law or their fellow citizens but the members of their professional clan, and in a more extended sense to the elites. Their current militarization simply exacerbates this isolation. We begin to see them, and they begin to act, like an occupying army.

    Under such conditions, the question is not do you trust the police, but how much do you distrust them?

    1. nonclassical

      ….”law” is already destitute, as NC addicts are aware…polizi base their rationale
      upon “order”…move along-nothing to see…(“Blade Runner”)

    2. davidgmills

      I see both the police and the military (as they seem to be morphing into one) as being the knights of our quickly approaching neo-feudalistic society. Just as the knights of feudal society were loyal to the nobility and were used to control the serfs, often with extreme brutality, our modern day knights seem to be attaching their loyalty to the ultra rich and powerful and seem intent on inflicting real pain on the rest of us.

      As a lawyer, I do not trust them at all, but then again I don’t have much trust in the justice system either. The justice system also seems to be aligning itself with the rich and powerful. Just witness all those Wall Street prosecutions.

  15. Expat

    The police are the dark side of the working class.

    Although they could side with workers and protect them from the ravages of capital (coming to the aid of abused workers in the workplace, arresting polluters, perp-walking Rove, the Kochs, Gates, Scalia, Buffet, Cheney, Dimond, etc.) they invariably guard the 1 percent, or if you live in the erstwhile democratic states of America, the .1%.

    In the US, the police have as a body been the mode by which the so-called Supreme Court has stripped civil liberties from citizens and why the plain language of the Bill of Rights is so full of judge-made qualifications.

    I would also argue that the additional favour police do for the .1% is that they maintain the US’s devastatingly high murder rate, which would likely drop to civilized levels were the police disarmed.

    Interestingly, winning the hearts and minds of the police is considered an essential piece of nonviolent revolution.

    1. Lexington

      Although they could side with workers and protect them from the ravages of capital (coming to the aid of abused workers in the workplace, arresting polluters, perp-walking Rove, the Kochs, Gates, Scalia, Buffet, Cheney, Dimond, etc.) they invariably guard the 1 percent, or if you live in the erstwhile democratic states of America, the .1%.

      The thing is the police are nothing without the 1%. The 1% control the political apparatus that determines their salaries, benefits, working conditions, and authority over fellow citizens. Conversely, the 1% need the police to protect them from the great unwashed as the gap between wealth and poverty grows ever wider in America and fuels rising militancy on the part of those who are losing out. Why do you think police and firefighters were specifically exempted from the pay cuts Scott Walker imposed on other public sector employees in Wisconsin? It’s a symbiotic relationship based on a common stake in the status quo – and both parties understand this implicitly.

      1. Jerry

        Yes and while old Scotties directs the police to arrest people singing in the Capitol building against Scotties as they exercise their first amend rights…..and even arrest those who are watching the singing….UGH so ugly!!

    2. Strangely Enough

      The murder rate would probably be more easily reduced by simply ending prohibition. Again.

      Getting guns out of the hands of cops will be even more difficult (read impossible) than getting them from the rest of us.

  16. from Mexico

    SHORT PLANK: “Their ostensible job is to protect the community but if the community turns against them as seems to be the thrust of the posting and is certainly the flavour of the comments above, how else can police be expect to react except by withdrawing into itself and developing an ‘us-and-them’ attitude – and in a very real sense by becoming what is expected of them because why should they be anything else?”

    TIM MASON: “One of the points he [Roger Graef] makes is that the police themselves don’t really trust the public. This defensiveness is one of the causes of the nasty ways in which they can behave.”

    Both of these comments are lacking in structural analysis. How is it possible to realistically analyze the police-public relationship when it is completely lifted out of the social, political, cultural and economic context in which it occurs?

    Folks like Eric Sterling and Christian Parenti spend a lot of time trying to flesh out this structure. Within this structure, race and class are so inextricably intertwined and mutually reinforcing that they become all but identical. Sterling places more emphasis on racial discrimination as the motivating force behind the buildup of the police empire:

    “Drug War Nixon Law & Order Racism”

    Parenti, on the other hand, even though he believes the police empire buildup began in the 1960s with Nixon’s War on Black and Brown People, nevertheless believes it shifted gears under Carter and Reagan and is now more of a War on Working People:

    Elsewhere Parenti has this to say:

    Overall, “Reaganomics” increased class and racial polarization, destroyed inner cities, sacked public education and public health services, created epidemic homelessness, increased exploitation of workers, and caused the intensified spatial concentration of a permanently unemployed class… By 1987 an estimated two million Americans were homeless. In fact, Reagan created whole new classes of poor and desperate people. It was in response to this social crisis, created by the elite response to the profit crisis, that a new wave of criminal justice crackdown began.

    –CHRISTIAN PARENTI, Lockdown America

    The UK, under Reagan’s twin neoliberal guru, Margaret Thatcher, followed a similar trajectory to the US. It is arguable, in the wake of the BlackBerry riots in the UK which took place in the summer of 2011 , that the police-public relationship in the UK is even more frayed than it is in the US. And anti-black and anti-immigrant racism raised its ugly head in a big way, making the UK look not a whole lot different than the US.

    One thing is almost certain, however, and that is as the ravages wrought by neoliberalism continue to rip society apart at the seams, the police-public relationship in both the UK and the US will continue to deteriorate.

    1. Tim Mason

      I think there are several different levels of analysis that you have to take into account. At one, perhaps basic, level, the police are the front line guardians of bourgeois order. But at another, they are also guardians of public order – and many of them see themselves in this light. This comes out in many of the interviews in Graef’s book, as it does in the plod-blogs (many of which have now been closed, on orders from on high. Here’s on of them having a last gasp –

      These two levels of functioning both supplement each other and get in each other’s way: the police needs the public in order to get anything done, but when they are openly used as a political arm – as they often are, of course, but usually the use is limited in time and place – they lose contact with the public, and become less efficient – and more brutally suspicious of those that their ideology leads them to believe that they serve.

      In the UK, the Thatcher years were critical. Heavy policing of areas with high numbers of recent immigrants came to a head in those years, but the role of the police at the time of protests against the Poll tax, and as strike-breakers against the miners, lead to the various forces being increasingly isolated and gang-like. That is where we are now.

      The point is not that there was once a ‘golden age’ when the copper might clip a little brigand’s ear while the neighbours cheered, but that the police are in twixt and between place which, as society becomes increasingly polarised, itself becomes less and less comfortable.

      But the police are just one more of those agencies of the state which look both ways. You could make similar observations about the teaching profession, the legal profession, the churches or the military, all of which play in the state arena (see Michael Mann’s essay here – ) In the end, you’re up against the same set of questions : is the state capable of benignity? Would it be better or worse if there were no state? Can it be reformed or should it be overthrown?

      1. Tim Mason

        Actually, the parallel with teachers is quite interesting. The English have looked upon teachers with some contempt ever since I can remember, but the divorce between the public and the teaching profession has become more bitter with the years, and with the increasing pressure on schools to “show results”. Just as individual police officers have found that they have less and less discretion, and face open hostility more and more often, so teachers have been caught between a number-crunching bureaucracy on the one hand and openly critical – sometimes violent – parents on the other. Just as the front-line police feel let down by their superiors and by politicians (read the blog I linked to earlier, or see Graef on the ‘canteen culture’), so teachers feel that they are hounded by administrators, and treated with little respect by succeeding minsters of education.

        When I first came to live in France, thirty years or so ago, the teachers were still regarded, to some extent, as professionals of some status. That has now completely gone, and they are as much a political football as their UK or US counterparts. Although part of this is simply another effect of diploma inflation, it’s also part of a wider movement by which ruling classes have brought the intermediary professions – teaching, policing, medicine and so on – into increasing fragility. Marx would have said proletarianization.

        So if you were to ask the question ‘Do you trust teachers … doctors … lawyers?’ instead of or alongside the question ‘Do you trust the police?’ you may have had very similar answers. The underlying processes are the same.

        1. Charles LeSeau

          I so love how societies that strive to make their citizens dumb can throw their ire at the people trying to make them informed. Wonder why?

          1. Tim Mason

            Unfortunately, schooling is not all about enlightenment, just as the police is not all about protecting the public (litote). Have a look, for example, at ‘Schooling in Capitalist America’ by Bowles and Gintis – the authors look back on it here : (They have since taken up more evolpsych positions than those they held at the time of writiing).

            As Sharon Hutchinson discovered in updating Evans-Pritchard’s research , the Nuer distinguish between the Left Hand and the Right Hand of the state, the latter offering gifts, the former death. It’s a perception which runs through much of the literature on the state, from Hobbes on through Tilly, Mann or Mark Abrahams. One may think that the state itself gives rise to agencies of the left and agencies of the right, but it’s not really the way it works: each of the institutions which play in the state arena has its bright side and its dark side. People are as justified in regarding the schooling system with suspicion as they are to so regard the police.

            The extent to which you can trust an agent of the state will depend on who you are, what are the circumstances in which you encounter the agent, and the general state of forces within the Whole Damn Mess. Working class children in inner city schools have minimal reasons to trust the schooling system – have a look at Paul Willis’s ‘Learning to Labour’ for a sketch of how it works. Or look at the stats that Bowles and Gintis cite.

  17. habenicht

    After reading stories of police abuse, it appears to me they have the same affliction that the corporate elites have: they are not held accountable for bad actions. There are simply no significant consequences to unnecessarily beating someone up, locking someone up, killing someone, etc. The absence of consequences for bad actions effectively ensures there will be bad actions.

    I think about how gullible I was when I was younger. At a jury duty selection twenty years ago, a question was asked if the panel trusted the word of a police officer more than an average person. I raised my hand and was sent home.

    These days, I think I would only trust the word of a police officer if at least one other layperson could verify their claims. With reports like these, police are looking more and more like a different brand of bad guy.

  18. timotheus

    I have a slightly different attitude having lived for a number of years under a military dictatorship where the police had essentially carte blanche to do whatever they wanted (although the really scary ones were not the uniformed cops but the political police/death squads). I think one has to look at them institutionally, by which I mean to look at what powers they are permitted under a given regime. Cops in that country completely lost whatever paltry powers they ever had to investigate crime because all they had to do was arrest some poor kid and beat a confession out of him. This was so totally SOP that they had no idea how to preserve a crime scene or gather evidence. Torture being commonplace, it was quickly adopted as a crime-solving tool, and I suspect that 20+ years later the damage is still not undone. When I was mugged one night and still bleeding, they drove me around pretending to look for the perps, then told me not to bother filing a report because it would be a big headache for both of us.

    That said, we are still far from that sorry situation although there are places where the procedures are comparable. But given that our state now sees us, its population, as a potential enemy, this attitude seeps into the ranks. I find that cops treat me differently depending on whether I am dressed for the office (begrudging politeness) or asking directions on my bicycle (sneers). If ever involved in ANY type of crime as either victim or witness, I would be extremely cautious and never agree to answer questions without a lawyer present.

    1. Banger

      As someone who has been on the “bad side” of the police early in my life I think I can say that they will and can do as they please without much constraint depending on the whether they live in the area of where they police or not. And things have gotten far worse in this country than when I was younger. As an older person I’m not treated badly by cops but I am very polite and always know that if they want to they can take me to some back room and work on me with whatever they want and nothing will ever happen to them even if they kill me.

  19. craazyman

    I used to until I started reading links here. especially that one from the lawyer who said never talk to police.

    Now I’m completely paranoid. But it’s not just police, it’s doctors, lawyers, scientists, (auto mechanics, but that’s not recent), university professors (totally untrustworthy in nearly all respects), landlords and politicians.

    The only professional class I trust is librarians. If society were sane, librarians would be in charge. Gentle ladies who move slowly and ask precise follow up questions to make sure they understand. That’s it. And the harshest penalty you face — if you’re the victim of a tragic misunderstanding and are falsely accused — is loss of the library card for a temporary period.

    1. anon y'mouse

      I wanted to become a librarian.

      until I learned that you need a master’s degree in order to make minimum wage, that there are no jobs because they are replacing all librarians with non-professional assistants (nothing wrong with that if that level of education is all that the job duties require, but why not pay a living wage?), that there is a backlog of past graduates who have been waiting for all of the decently-paid jobs, and that your master’s degree is considered a joke by the rest of the world.

      some of us can’t afford to pay such prices to become a librarian.

  20. Vicky

    Well, I grew up in the 70s in a small town and the police there routinely planted drugs on any teenager they saw as threatening. They also tended to stop and harass people for suspicious activities, such as jogging. The harassment of teens got so bad that local citizens passed an ordinance forbidding the police from ENTERING THEIR HOMES when parents were not there. I’m not kidding.

    Then in the 80s I moved to NYC, where I saw the police routinely shove and hassle the homeless, and do absolutely nothing to protect innocents like myself from the packs of drug dealers and prostitutes who had invaded the Upper West Side. Presumably they had more money to offer the police than we did.

    So I have never trusted the police, and never will. Now that they are a DHS militia who work for the banks? Maybe they’ll be a little more professional? But the policeman on the corner is NOT your friend. Never was.

  21. Patccmoi

    My tendency would be to say no, but I think this is actually a pretty bad thing. I live in Quebec in Canada, not in the US, so I things might be a bit different around here.

    Although I lived in Boston for 4 years and my only interactions with the police were pretty negative. Once a cop driving in the reverse lane on a road at high speed with no siren or lights on rammed into my wife and kids car at a crowded intersection where she was making a turn. Luckily nobody was hurt and the damage to the car was not too big, cop called me at work to explain the situation and apologize and said he was of course responsible for everything yadayadayada. Only so that then they denied that they had any responsibility whatsoever, filled all their reports saying that it was not their fault, and that if we wanted to see any insurance money we had to sue them, which took 3 years and we received only part of what it cost. I also saw cops at other times just driving like complete maniacs on the highway staying at less than 1 meter from cars in front of them not moving fast enough out of their way, again with no light/siren. And living in Dorchester, a poor black neighborhood, there was always cops patrolling everywhere and arresting people, which might be because they did something, I have no idea.

    Here again it seems like most of what I hear is Police abuse stories. There was TONS of them in Quebec with all the student protests that went on for nearly half of last year. But at the same time, all the policemen that I know personnally (have some in the family) are very nice people, truly taking their role seriously, very respectful of the law, and when there’s teens smoking pot on the street I saw them go and just make a speech to them and tell them that if they’re going to do it then just do it in their home or somewhere out of public view. They’re not trying to intimidate other people or power abuse.

    I think that this deteriorating relationship between the public and the police force is very bad for society as a whole. Unless proven otherwise, policemen are still very much a need for society (although likely not nearly as much as the media would make us think by showing an ever increasing amount of crime stories while all crime rate numbers are going down), cause sadly there IS people that will abuse others, even more so without some form of control over it.

    If the police and the general public become ‘against’ each other, well the policemen will defend only those that are ‘with’ them, which will be the very wealthy because THEY certainly need an active police force, and police brutality pretty much never happens to them. It seems like this process is well under way, and the media is only making it worse, so how is it going to be reversed?

    1. RanDomino

      “But at the same time, all the policemen that I know personnally (have some in the family) are very nice people, truly taking their role seriously, very respectful of the law”

      That’s part of the problem. Even the “good” ones are petty tyrants.

      1. Patccmoi

        Actually no, I don’t think that’s true. As I said above, the ‘good ones’ I know are not tyrants in any way, they will mostly warn people and explain to them the potential consequences of what they’re doing when they see minor infractions, and focus their job on actual theft/violence events.

        But I think that all the cops that are like that tend to just be ignored in the general talk because they’re basically just doing their job. You don’t talk about or remember people that tend to just do their job as much as people that are abusing or causing problems. But the overall ‘distrust’ of cops, which I actually considered justified, will also allienate the ‘good ones’ and risk to turn the whole thing in an ‘us against them’ scenario that can only be bad for everyone.

        1. anon y'mouse

          to that I ask you the same question:

          do you live in the ghetto?

          have you ever observed the behavior of your nice, orderly friendly police outside of the strictures of a white, middle class neighborhood?

          if you say no to both of those, then you have no idea whether your friend is a tyrant or not. just because they maintain some semblance of behavior/attitude towards humane interactons and true justice in that ideal environment means nothing when they go down to or interact with someone where they are free to take the gloves off.

      2. Nathanael

        The “good cops” I’ve met have been from *extremely* small police departments. As in, so small that there are fewer police than there are village board members overseeing them. This seems to create a culture of behaving themselves. :-)

  22. tpp

    No. I do not trust police in the US at all.

    Their training has gotten seriously off the rails during the last few years. They are trained to escalate conflict rather than de-escalate it, which is leading to an increased number of innocent and/or unarmed residents getting seriously hurt or killed.

    Their ever-increasing lust for military equipment combined with the above is INCREDIBLY disturbing.

  23. diptherio

    I live in a relatively small community (pop. 80,000) and the few interactions I’ve had with the police haven’t been bad. In fact, most of the cops here seem pretty cool. Of course, I’m white, male and can pass for middle class.

    But I used to live with a gay guy, and I heard from him that the force here is extremely homophobic (this was over ten years ago, so that might have changed; I think there is a lesbian on the force now). According to him, gay men couldn’t get any help from the police and he had stories of friends being mocked by officers after reporting an assault.

    I also had a girlfriend when I was 19 who had had so many bad interactions with the cops growing up here. They had screwed with her so badly when she was younger (and homeless off-and-on) that she would literally scream profanities at passing cop cars.

    Point being, I really think it depends on who you are. We’ve also had recent cases of a prisoner being pepper-sprayed while handcuffed to a chair as well as a criminal cabal of cop-poachers (cops who poached, not who got poached) in the Flathead.

    Do I personally trust the cops? Lets just say that seeing a cop never makes me feel more safe.

    1. diptherio

      To Serve and Deflect ~Missoula Independent

      Last year, investigators accused seven Lake County police officers of a range of dishonorable and criminal acts, including poaching, perjury, nepotism, ethics violations, false claims of military combat, and witness tampering and intimidation. The investigators moved to strip those officers of their badges.

      As of last week, all seven cases have been resolved. One officer lost his badge. Of the other six, complaints were dismissed against three cops, two were issued minor sanctions and one was given a lengthy suspension.

      The two primary investigators did not get off so easy. A Montana game warden and the director of the state agency that polices the police became the targets of smear campaigns that undermined their work exposing what the warden called a “culture of corruption” pervading law enforcement agencies in Lake County. Both left their positions—the warden was reassigned, while the director resigned under pressure.

  24. Charles LeSeau

    All I know is that you should not feel the same way around a police officer as you do about a wasp buzzing around your head.

  25. Dino Reno

    Try finding a cop when you really need one. Try filing a complaint. Try getting a cop to come to the scene of an accident. Try calling 911 and see how long it takes to get a unit to respond. When your life is threatened, when the chips are down, when your neighbor is out of control, don’t expect the calvary to come riding to your rescue. You are on your own. Your tax dollars are at work somewhere else. Maybe staging a commando style raid on the wrong address. Stopping and harassing a Mexican in the wrong part of town. Writing two dozen citations in an eight-hour shift. But despite all of this, remember they are all heroes and you are an ungrateful and worthless piece of shit.

    1. taunger

      Well, that’s more trust than I have at this point. I’ll do anything I can do avoid an interaction with the police. What if I forgot I’m wearing some random anarchist logo, or I’ve had a drink and the cop is a teetotaler, or . . .

      The fewer excuses and opportunities I can give them to harass me, the better.

  26. Paul Walker

    Law enforcement is the greatest armed criminal and toll collecting organization in any society. A primary reason tyrants always seek to control this vital segment first. (A terrific example can be found in the California Correctional Officers Union, the strongest political force in the state due to the segment of society it interfaces with in a closed and largely segregated social format)

    1. Ralph Pittman

      The short answer is no, and here’s why. I have a horrible commute into the Washington, D.C. area and decided a few years ago to rent an apartment in suburban Maryland. One night after midnight, the guy directly across the hall got into an argument with his girlfriend. She dialed 911 – then hung up. I’m in bed oblivious to it all until I was awakened by the sound of heals racing up the stairwell followed by banging on the door across the hall. “OPEN THE DOOR NOW!” As I came to my senses, I heard the cops yelling in the hallway, “GET ON THE GROUND.” Within maybe five seconds, I heard the squirt of pepper spray in the hallway twice, followed by a very brief tussle (I’m assuming to wrestle the perp to the ground) and the sound of a taser. The brutality of it all was stunning, and I was now stuck in my apartment with pepper spray wafting through my door. I couldn’t exit until they wheeled the guy off to the ambulance. There , he was treated for all of the nasty things that cops did to him. I looked out my window, T-shirt over my nose and coughing from the pepper spray, and I counted 22 cop cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck. I’m not kidding.

      I mention this otherwise routine story because I have no criminal record and zero interaction with cops. This late-night event made me feel as though I was a subject in a research study. What do you think about modern policing? My visceral response was (a) overklll and (b) didn’t you guys ever watch The Andy Griffith Show? Cops today are all about bringing massive force to bear, subduing the perp, and rolling on to the next call. If you don’t submit to their force, God help you. See Kenneth Chamberlain.

  27. Charles LeSeau

    One of the biggest wastes of time for me was calling a cop when I had a bicycle stolen out of my apartment at 24 years old. Naive of me. They walked right in without knocking and after about a minute they started rifling through our things, and made accusations that our place reeked of marijuana (it didn’t; we didn’t smoke pot), insulted me and my roommate, and ultimately were no help at all, just two partners trying hard to be annoying and intrusive to a victim – a total waste of an hour for a bike I never saw or heard about again.

    Two years later another bike got stolen and needless to say I didn’t even bother calling.

  28. Malmo

    This isn’t to defend the tactics and attitudes of the police, but I’ve had far more problems with my various bosses over the years than I’ve experienced with cops. Wonder if one power dynamic (worker subordination) influences the other? Probably. The point being, we are conditioned from birth to be docile, submissive and obedient creatures. Why would the police/citizen interplay be any different or any less perverse? In other words the interplay is an effect of life long conditioning, not a cause.

    1. anon y'mouse

      this conditioning to be docile and servile may actually be the cause of that wicked behavior once the former underling obtains any power.

      is this a shadow side/id of repressed rage against a social system that forces all to become powerless and accepting of our lot, so that when one finally does achieve some small piece of power, they turn into a tyrant?

      these questions should also be asked.

  29. JS

    NO, definitely NOT !

    Here’s my reasoning. For years I have parked my car in a Flushing, NY Municipal lot, and for years, day after day, cop after cop (not ticket agents. COPS), would give tickets for not displaying the parking receipt, even though this lot, where you must input the receipt number, did not require the receipt to be displayed. It never dawned on me that they would do this deliberately, knowing the ticket wasn’t valid. For years, every time I saw a cop giving this ticket to anyone I’d politely explain that it was invalid, and they’d thank me for informing them. I personally visited the precinct twice where they told me they’d address the problem. Finally a week after one cop thanked me for informing him of the rules, he was back giving the same tickets. Then I got “inside information” from a retired cop from that precinct, and finally realized this was not a lack of knowledge but rather an easy way to make their ticketing quotas in an immigrant community (Queens Chinatown), where many of the drivers wouldn’t challenge the tickets. (Mine were always dismissed after I went through the nuisance of sending in a defense.)

    Finally I wrote to 3 TV stations and the Mayors office, and months later, after one TV station aired a much broader story on ticketing offenses, this practice stopped, and the lot was converted to a “pay and display” parking lot.

    No cop was ever punished for this behavior.

    Now this may seem like quite a small thing, but what does it say when the standard practice of NYC police officers, those whose job it is to uphold the law, are deliberately giving out invalid tickets. For many cops I’m sure this is their worst offense, but for many it’s just the tip of the iceberg, or the starting point of a process that teaches them to be dishonest in much more significant ways.

    And then there’s the head of the policemen’s union. knowingly ON CAMERA, saying that police have the right to fix tickets for friends and family. WOW!

    Also, there are the ‘Courtesy cards” the police give to friends and family. Commit an offense, get caught, display your courtesy card, and be excused on the spot. It’s a well known, long standing practice. How can this possibly be acceptable?

    Go by the precinct and see all the cops personal vehicles illegally parked in that muni lot often even right in the entrance to the lot, narrowing it from 4 cars wide to 2! And this is considered acceptable! If I go to work I have to find a legitimate parking spot. Why are they any different? I’d have no objection to my tax dollars building them a lot above the precinct as special treatment for the nature of their work, but allowing them to break the very rules they are enforcing is bad practice. and it sends a horrible message to every new immigrant first learning American ways.

    There are many great cops, and they do a great service for the city, but how can it be ok for the enforcers of the rules to have standard operating procedures that break and/or circumvent the laws?


    1. JS

      A small point of clarification. You used to input the PARKING SPOT NUMBER, not the receipt number as I mistakenly wrote above. Only traffic cops could give parking tickets because they would plug in to the muni-meters which would print out a list of paid (or perhaps unpaid) spots

  30. Tony

    75% No, 25% Yes.

    Police are just like any other large group of people in that there will inevitably be a certain percentage of bad eggs in line with the rest of the general population, just like pedophile priests. Police are not deserving of any more or less general respect or trust because of what they do for a living than anybody else.

    I’ve known cops who I was happy to know on a personal level because they had no business being in that line of work and at least if they were going to be out of line and happened across me I’d be spared. I’ve also had multiple encounters with officers I don’t know who could have thrown the book at me or friends and family, but used common sense discretion to let situations come to an easier, more reasonable end and let people get the help they need.

    All that said, the institutional protection of bad cops and the militarization of what needs to be a professional community relationship has tipped the scales in the direction of not trusting them. Also, they are the default enforcement mechanism of unjust laws and corrupted power, whether they like it or not. Add in that the legal system is generally stacked against ‘the little guy’ and prosecutorial overreach and misconduct is nearly impossible to prevent or even curtail and I think one has to come to a strong conclusion they the police cannot be trusted.

  31. BITFU

    An interesting adjunct to this post might be a review of Jorge Castañeda’s Mañana Forever–a book modern Mexican society and culture.

    A particular theme in the book concerns the verticality of Government to the Individual with no civil society in between. According to Castañeda, Mexicans simply do not form lateral social bonds: they only form bonds upward and downward.

    As such, Mexican society is extremely difficult to organize; the ability of the society to effectively address major issues democratically are crippled.

    I’ve seen one reviewer liken all this to a point of Tocqueville: “They submit, it is true, to the whims of a clerk, but no sooner is force removed than they are glad to defy the law with the spirit of a defeated enemy. Thus one finds them ever wavering between servitude and license.”

    The relationship (tendentious as it may be) to this post is that as our own civil society is pushed to the periphery, it is supplanted by the power and force of a corrupted government that represents corporate/lobbyist interests instead of the body politic.

    The relationship with the police, then, disintegrates into the “servitude and license” of Tocqueville.

    So, look around you: Would you feel safe approaching a “Serve and Protect” Terminator replete with the cyborg-gear and his finger on the trigger to ask for directions? Hell no!

    The next time The Untouchables is on, watch how the Sean Connery character walks the beat. Talk about antiquated!

    Not anymore, though. Now we gots SWAT Teams enforcing pots busts. Drones. Civil forfeiture. An obliteration of privacy. Parallel Reconstruction. Tasers, tasers, everywhere. We gots us a Po Po that treats us peeps the same way prisons treat unruly prisoners—overwhelm with force. And the connection is lost.

    If it seems like there’s no sense of “community” anymore, it’s because there isn’t.

    “And when ‘FIVE-OH’ comes on the scene, you best mind ‘dem Ps and dem Qs…and when ‘dey gone, you gots to get what you can get, while you can get it.

    “You f*ck wit me, bitches, know ‘dis: snitches get stitches!”

    1. from Mexico

      The US is rapidly losing, or if this thread is any indication has already lost, something which Mexico never had.

      When it gets to the point where large segments of the population fear and distrust the police (and criminal justice system) more than they do the outright criminals and thugs, some serious social problems are brewing.

      1. Nathanael

        Large segments? Very large segments.

        For instance, every last person in Los Angeles, no exceptions. The LAPD and LA County Sherriff’s Department have such *spectacularly* bad repuations, and have had for *so* long, that NOBODY in the county trusts them more than the gangs. Who have been very well-behaved for decades.

        Which is one reason I’ve been watching LA for signs of the future of the US.

  32. Dee

    Trust the cops? Absolutely not, based on personal experience and that of family and friends. Pretend cops such as transit police and mall guards are no better.

    “They can’t help it. They’re exposed to the worst of human behavior” is not the reason for their thuggery. Give someone a uniform and a badge, and that person WILL morph into a living, breathing confirmation of Milgram’s experiments.

    Look for it to get worse as tax bases and society itself break down.

    1. JS


      Good point.. and a perfect reference to the Milgram experiments.

      But this is precisely why those in charge must set and enforce strict standards. In NY, Mayor Bloomberg put a stop to forged and copied window parking permits, and ticket fixing, but when challenged, acknowledged, albeit in somewhat cryptic language, that police courtesy cards are OK.

      I just can’t figure why the Mayor would support this horrible practice. Human behavior being what it is, as you so concisely described it, requires checks and balances. Where are they ?

      We see an analogous situation in the financial sector. The regulators stopped regulating, and human behavior being what it is, fraud became so prevalent that it finally caused a worldwide financial crisis. And still the regulators aren’t regulating. So we know another, bigger crisis will come. We just don’t know when.

  33. Jeff Martin

    My short answer would be negative; while I’m fully prepared to trust an individual police officer, should his/her interactions prove to be civil, and in accordance with law, custom, and normal civilized expectations, my default assumption is that police officers will violate all of these norms. I cannot profess, as an upper-middle-class white man, that I’ve borne the brunt of authoritarian policing, but I have had a sufficient number of negative interactions to engender suspicion.

    The first came when I was a sophomore in high school, newly licensed to drive, circa 1990, and had a VW GTI with a body kit and tinted windows; at least twice a week for as long as I owned that car, I would be stopped by the police on my way home from school, not for speeding, but merely because the officer thought that the car itself was suspicious – that the tinted windows signalled that I was running drugs or something. They would nose around the car for a couple of minutes, and then send me on my way.

    The second incident occurred during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at university. I was driving upstate to spend the weekend at a friend’s cabin, and, upon entering a passing zone, passed a slow-moving truck, completing the pass a few yards after the passing zone had closed. A police officer waiting near the unnaturally short passing zone observed this, pulled me over, and proceeded to search the car and my personal effects.

    The third incident occured in 2003, immediately following a accident in which I was involved. As I proceeded through an intersection on a green light, a driver on the cross street ran the light at 55 mph and broadsided me, causing my car to spin around and impact a vehicle on the opposite side of the intersection, as the driver waited to make a left turn. To foreshorten a tedious story, when I acquired a copy of the official accident report several weeks later, I realized that the statement attributed to me in the report differed radically from the statement I made to the officer who investigated the accident at the scene. For reasons that will forever remain unknown to me, he had altered my statement to render it consistent with whatever the driver of the impacting vehicle had claimed; this, in turn, essentially made it impossible for me to prevail in civil court against that driver, as I attempted to recover damages for the injuries I sustained.

    The fourth incident occured in 2006, as I was returning home after work; the car in front of me blasted through a speed trap, doing at least 40 in a 25, prompting an officer to bolt from his lurking place, falling in immediately behind me, flashing his lights to signal that I should pull over. I couldn’t pull over immediately, because I was passing by a steep embankment on a narrow, two-lane road, and would have damaged my car had I driven into the embankment; I pulled into the first driveway to allow the officer to pass, and backed out of the driveway when traffic permitted. Then, as I approached the next intersection, where the officer had pulled over the speeder, he glanced up at my car, and motioned me to the side, behind the other vehicle, eventually issuing me a ticket for failing to yield to a police officer, or rather, for failing to plow my little car into an embankment, so that he could nail a speeder 7 seconds sooner. This, after screaming at me for having the temerity to not want to demolish my car for his convenience.

    The fifth incident occurred in 2010, when, on my lunch break, I was en route to my boys’ preschool, and, needing to make a right turn from a line of heavy traffic, I drove on the shoulder for a mere 5 yards before the right-turn lane opened up. An officer passing by pulled me over and actually unholstered his gun while walking to my car.

    Finally, I’ve witnessed a surprising number of driving-while-black stops of professionals in luxury cars, and other profiling/harrassment stops. Both observation/inquiry and personal experience attest that a sizable percentage of the police officer corps have authoritarian personalities, likely nurtured and validated by the sort of training they now receive.

    1. JS


      Years ago I had a similar experience to your third incident. I had a green light and the cross street had a stuck, always-red light, that was, therefore, out of synch with the preceding light that usually changed at the same time. As a result, I was hit by a guy who, expecting a green light, never stopped. The impact spun my car around and he actually hit my car in three different places, righ-front, left-front, and rear!

      The police who responded, seeing the local dealer plates on the guys car, and finding that he was the son of the owner of this local Nissan dealership, no doubt expecting favorable treatment in return, asked him over and over again if he had stopped at the red light, until he finally picked up their cue, and changed his answer to yes.

      So why would I trust the police?

      Fortunately an off-duty fireman witnessed the accident so the truth prevailed.

  34. LeitrimNYC

    In the Irish-American neighborhood I grew up in, which straddles the Bronx and Yonkers, there are a lot of cops and firefighters. Some of the neighborhood guys I know who grew up to be NYC and Yonkers cops have more or less said that their job is to “beat up n!gg*rs.” This does not apply to all cops, obviously, but they talk about it with such casualness that it leads you to think that their superiors look the other way, since they could never openly allow such behavior.


    Of course I trust the Police…. I trust that they will lie, cheat, steal and even murder when they decide it’s convenient… Why wouldn’t you trust them…?

  36. Dikaios Logos

    No, not at all. I had LOTS of run-ins with cops in the ass-end of the former USSR (places like the Tsarnaev brothers former homes). This was during an output contraction much worse than the one we have seen in recent years in the west. I learned a few things from these experiences that actually apply to our present situation in the U.S.:

    1. Cops are in many cases of the same anti-social nature as criminals, but with less intelligence and more cowardice.

    2. Cops because they are anti-social and cowardly actively look for excuses to fuck with people.

    3. Cops are worse during an economic downturn: they tend to target the vulnerable and there are many more targets during a downturn. I discovered that cops ignored me if I was tidy and cleanshaven. A single day’s stuble attracted a lot of attention as it suggested destitution. Also, they use their power to ease their own economic problems: you were never, ever supposed to be on the street on Friday night in city in the former USSR as this is when they got their vodka money. The property seizures in the U.S. are quite similar, I believe.

    4. Their cowardice means that they are always profoundly respectful of power. They are always willing to butt heads for the “big man”– and you see these gratituous shows of power in the U.S. more and more, and yes they resemble the service I have seen given to dictators And of course the cops are usually too stupid to get that the powerful abuse them, too.

    In my fancy neighborhood where “the man” lives, cops are all business. Get just a little bit away from that and I shudder everytime they are near.

  37. tim s

    As long as a society legitimizes crimes against humanity, such as the Drug War and the class(?) war currently being waged by the corporations against the “people”, those who must enforce the current laws (at least the ones being recognized or emphasized) must be considered criminals when they enforce those laws.

    While there will be a fair number of psychopaths on the forces from the start, there will always be plenty of people who would otherwise be decent public citizens doing a job who are driven to be monsters to some extent since their jobs are to enforce crimes against humanity. Of course, the people who they interact with daily are the victims of such crimes and have the attitude to match.

    I’ve seen plenty of videos where the looks on SOME of the cops faces is one of shame.

    Even the recent post here with the female cop supposedly being dissuaded by the dashcam struck me as someone who was not necessarily a psychopath, but as someone who had been so damaged herself by the stress of her position as to be half mad already.

    Being a cop in our current system would be nearly impossible for someone who just wants to do an honorable job.

    So you have to ask yourself if you can trust someone who is very likely psychopathic/sociopathic or stressed out of their minds.

    No good for anyone (except for the god of destruction….)

  38. C

    In general I wish that I could. The problem as I see it is not policing per-se but management. For too long police have been treated as an abstract good and politicians, particularly mayors, have left them alone and even encouraged failed tactics rather than face a political backlash for being “weak on crime.” Thus a culture of self-protection and lawlessness has grown unchecked.

    The problem is not that police officers are bad but that the culture of “fighting crime” has in many respects supplanted “upholding and obeying the law.”

    Consider the ongoing British Scandal where an undercover police unit was infiltrating peaceful protest groups even forming long-term relationships with group members and fathering children in order to learn their secrets. This was done largely in the dark “for security reasons” and was kept even from the heads of the police forces.

    In the U.S. we have had undercover informants for a while and post-9/11 they began infiltrating peaceful groups in earnest. Before that they were busy during the Clinton years attacking environmentalists. With the new DEA scandal we are starting to see how the violent and sketchy tactics of “fighting crime” are coming home and are no longer confined to the poor neighborhoods. With the recent stop and frisk cases in New York we are also seeing how policing by the numbers was exploited for bad management which caused larger abuses.

    I’m sure that many if not most of the police officers involved know in their hearts that they are doing the right thing and locking up bad people. But that doesn’t mean they are right about that. We have laws not just for bad people but for misguided good ones.

    Thus I have a hard time extending blanket trust to the police but not because I believe that the police are bad but because I believe that they have been mismanaged.

  39. tim s

    Back when I was a cab driver, the consistently worst fares were:

    college frat boys
    off duty cops out partying

    the crackheads were the least irritating

  40. Brian

    In my little town, all the regular folk type officers have since retired or are invisible behind the desk. They have been replaced with young persons that no longer have a personality on display with their badge. I am informed performance enhancing drugs and testosterone has made a big change. After a community meeting, they began acting as though they were in charge of our lives and we got to experience our worst fears about police that swear to protect and serve, but no longer understand what it is to be a part of the community that hired them.
    Test them for drugs that cause personality changes. It is the difference between a peaceful assembly and a riot if they can dictate the terms of civilization that their job description does not include.

  41. shargash

    I had long hair back in the late 60s, early 70s. I haven’t trusted the police since my experiences then. Back then it was minorities and hippies that got the special treatment. Now it is everyone (except cops and the 1%).

  42. PTRio

    US police today are prone to having military backgrounds. Their military training (kill the enemy before he kills you)is often not conducive to the job they should be doing, it should not be a “friendly or enemy” distinction, with enemy being the default assumption. Police should be part community peacemakers and part crime stoppers. I trust those who are, and there are many, but I distrust those whose military training and background has given them such a rigidity and mindset they are inflexible and overly authoritarian.

    I spend a great deal of time in Rio de Janeiro, where armed drug traffickers are trusted more than police. There is an excellent NPR article on that very subject posted today. Nobody in Rio trusted police ten years ago. Several movies depicted the corruption and criminality of Rio police. But, with the coming major sporting events in Rio, an effort has been made to clean up the appearance of the police. Unfortunately, after only a few protest gatherings recently, the real Rio police attitude came back in the form of attacking peaceful protesters with pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets, not to mention infiltrating the protests with agents provocateurs, who themselves police, instigated acts of violence and property destruction.

  43. barrisj

    Years ago, in CA, the John Birch Society ran a “Support Your Local Police” campaign – complete with bumperstickers – as a reaction to “dirty effing hippies”, “dope-smoking radicals”, anti-war demonstrators, and all others representing a “threat” to orderly middle-class life and to “real” Merkan values. And as a reaction to Gideon, Miranda, and other “pro-criminal” rulings by the Supreme Court as well. The idea that the coppers be turned loose upon “anti-social elements” with a no-holds-barred approach gained much favour amongst “the silent majority” back in those years, as a bit of authoritarianism directed against The Other was fine, because, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about”. “Coddling criminals”, “handcuffing the police”, and other such slogans also facilitated the transition of police forces from rough-justice dispensers into pro-active enforcers of ruling-class prejudices and ethos, ready to be mobilised into heavily-armed Robocop goon-squads directed against those identified as “social misfits”, miscreants, or challengers to the established order. Indeed police training emphasized the “us v them” mindset, “warriors” doing battle with “the enemy”, i.e., the public, or “social deviants” amongst it. So now, a monster has been created, lacking accountability or restraint, whose use of military tactics for even the most trivial of busts is now accepted as the norm, and for which there is precious little redress should one get caught up in one of these assaults.
    “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it”.

    1. Charles LeSeau

      Ya, it’s amazing that the most fastidious criers of freedom are also the most blatantly authoritarian.

  44. nobody

    Hell no I don’t trust the police. I’ve seen people being violently assaulted, choked, and kidnapped off of the streets for no reason other than exercising the right to peaceably assemble. I’ve personally witnessed cops perjuring themselves in court. I’ve encountered people who were basically tortured after they were taken in to the station. One guy I know was picked up simply for being destitute, and before taking him to the police station the cops stopped somewhere along the way where they wouldn’t be seen to beat him quite savagely. Another guy I know got a felony conviction for supposedly assaulting a police officer — the cop fabricated the story. I’ve heard stories from reliable sources about homeless people being murdered by cops on a regular basis in parts of the US with impunity and zero publicity. In the city where I live there is a 10pm curfew for minors. It’s aggressively enforced in poor, minority neighborhoods and not enforced at all in the rest of the city.

    At one temp job I had one of my coworkers had been a cop in a small town. It had been his childhood dream. After being hired to a force of five he discovered that all of the others regularly beat people up for fun. He quit in disgust, and in consequence was working low-paid temp stints without benefits.

    If a friend reports on facebook that they have jury duty I tell them what I have seen, inform them about jury nullification, and encourage them not to believe any police testimony unless it is corroborated by independent witnesses.

    1. Nathanael

      I’d like to make a suggestion.

      If you ever get a friend who has GRAND jury duty, inform them of this:

      Grand juries have the right to indict anyone. Including the cops and the DA. They have the right to call whatever witnesses they like, and they have the right to throw the DA out of the room and seal proceedings against the DA. (Particularly useful when prosecuting the DA.)

      DAs and judges routinely lie to grand juries about this, for fairly obvious reasons.

      From the Illinois Grand Jury Handbook:
      “…the grand jury possesses broad powers of its own to inquire into crime and corruption in its jurisdiction. It has a right under the law to make its own investigation unaided by the Court and assisted by any prosecuting attorney. On petition signed by the foreperson and 8 other grand jurors, showing good cause for same, the Court may appoint an investigator or investigators to assist the grand jury in its inquiries. Included in this power of investigation is the right of the grand jury to subpoena witnesses and documents.

      While neither the Court nor the Prosecutor may limit the scope of a grand jury investigation,….”

      A few grand juries doing their job could shut down entire criminal police departments and entire criminal DA’s offices.

  45. JGordon

    As I like to point out from time to time here, when you become distrustful of political authority, and by extension police authority, wanting to protect yourself and your family by acquiring large amounts of ammo is a rational and adaptive response. Meanwhile those who persist in going around unarmed will be easy meat.

    That was what I figured out for myself in 2009, when I stopped being a “liberal” and started realizing how increasingly corrupt and hopeless our society is (thanks O!). And so far nothing any gun-grabber has said to me since I had that epiphany has addressed that point, the only point I actually care about, and therefore all of their “arguments” can be boiled down to a bunch of meaningless hot air.

    1. Nathanael

      Not so fast. A solo armed person is hopeless. Ask Christopher Dorner.

      Forget guns. The only defense is organization. The Union movement of the 19th century figured this out a LONG time back.

  46. anon y'mouse

    “my vantage no doubt reflects growing up in small town America a long time ago and living in professional enclaves since then…”

    and being white. oh, and looking at least middle class or better.

    if you’re a minority, it doesn’t matter what class you look. if you’re a poor white, you are guaranteed to be treated like a meth-head. it doesn’t help that many poor whites ARE meth-heads (or some other substance), but that is another discussion entirely.

  47. indio007

    Do I trust the police?
    A: no


    The shear volume of criminals working for the police department is jaw-dropping.
    This site was originally started by a normal guy but was shuffled off to Cato hen it became too much.
    It used to be called the Police Misconduct Reporting Database.

    There used to be a crime map but Cato seem to have eliminated that functionality.

  48. Joe Rebholz

    You said it well: “I generally assume they need to be handled with care”

    Be sensible, be calm, don’t get emotional in your interactions with them. Don’t “trust” them because you cannot know what they will do. Some police follow the rules. Others? In my city police have had a reputation of being professional, whereas in a nearby city they are said to be corrupt.

    A few years ago while driving from LA to Alabama, we were stopped twice for driving while black and white, first just after we crossed the border into Arizona, and then in Arkansas. (The car was a new rental, nothing wrong with it; we were not speeding or otherwise driving improperly.)

  49. Lord Koos

    Being a white male, I am not a minority, but I’m definitely in the “where have you been?” crowd. Trust the police? Hardly. My interactions with cops in various circumstances (as hitchhiker, smart-ass, complainant, demonstrator, traffic violator, innocent bystander, etc) have been 90% negative. I occasionally have had cops help me but I still do not trust them, and I know few people who do.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      One reasons I haven’t had to think about this issue is I don’t and never have owned a car, and the considerable majority of the people I know here in Manhattan don’t own one either (and if they do, they drive maybe 35 weekends a year to a summer/weekend place). In the US, I’d bet 90% of police interactions come around driving (either over supposed traffic violations or using same to try to search vehicle over drugs). So vastly less than normal exposure leads to fewer personal or one step removed data points.

      1. reservoir walker

        Yves, Were you living in New York during the Central Park Jogger case/scam/cockup…..the press and nearly the entire city were very accommodating in going along with the corruption and malfeasance of both the cops and the courts…Manhattan’s version of the Scottsboro boys.

  50. John

    Of course I don’t trust the police.
    I remember Norman Mailer observed in his reporting on the 1972 Republican Convention that the psychological profile of police and their criminal counterparts was remarkably similar.
    The small town joke about high school hoodlums was that they were bound for jail or the police department, depending on how soon they got caught.
    As part of the security industrial complex, they are remarkably well paid.
    In the book, Naked Ape, Desmond Morris wrote about giving off simian submission signals when dealing with cops and you will never have a problem. Always has worked for me.
    They prey mostly on lower (formerly known as working) class Americans because they can and get away with it.
    That Ben Franklin quote about ending up with neither freedom or security seems right on schedule.

  51. Dr Duh

    No, and I am in the process of training my 6 yr old daughter not to and I find that incredibly sad. I’ve told her that while you can call a policeman if you’re in trouble. Unless you called them yourself you should never open the door to them, never say anything other than “I want a lawyer and I want my father.”

    I’m sure that there are plenty of good people who are cops. But their social role has made them the adversary of normal people. This distrust is no longer the sole province of the poor and minority groups, but a common sentiment among white middle class people, on both the right and the left.

    What’s interesting is seeing this discussion in other contexts, like a gun blog, where plenty of cops and military types are present. While the omerta attitude is still present, you see more than a few that will criticize their fellow officers. You get the sense that many of the police feel ambivalent and uncomfortable with how they are perceived. While there are plenty of bullies who went into the police force for power, there are many who went in believing that they would serve and protect.

    My view is that the foundation of order is violence. Although in functional societies the majority ‘believe’ in the rules and play by them, there is always a criminal element that seeks to take advantage. These predators are controlled through violence, either personal or state mediated. Civilization entails the centralization of violence in order to decrease its prevalence. Police serve that function. They are a civilizing force.

    However, when as a society becomes more and more injust the level of violence increase. You have more poor people, more desperation, more broken homes and communities, more street crime, more competition between criminals. The police start using violence more often, more indiscriminantly and become further and further alienated from the community.

    It’s like we’re losing a counter-insurgency war against ourselves.

    1. anon y'mouse

      a very astute and almost poetic post.

      your point re: “some people will always break the rules” has been statistically analyzed. granted, there may be problems with the data set (white males growing up during the WWII and postwar period), but this was classed as the “criminal 10%”. even among that data set, it was only 6% who were actively violent and dangerous, the rest being along the lines of petty thieves.

      granted, as you point out, it is within all of us to become dangerous (even to those we love) when the desperation of sliding down the Maslowian hierarchy sets in.

    2. Onemoretime

      Well said. Am having the same problem explaining to my grandson. Very sad comment on the society we live in. I’m not sure when the disconnect between the police and community happened but it seems to have permeated all levels from Federal to local.
      No I do not trust the police.

  52. Tammy

    No, I do not trust the police. I did…prior to being a witness to police lies on the stand in court.

    I grew up a white, middle class female, with little experience with the police except for a couple fix it tickets as a teen, and after being armed robbed twice while working at a local donut shop. In my own experience the police were polite, and caring.

    Since then,I’ve been witness to several events where the officer actually writing reports and therefor ended up on the witness stand were merely background cops told by their superiors to write the report. They did not have first hand knowledge of the event, and basically wrote down what was told to them.

    I don’t trust them because I have witnessed first hand the police shoving people to the ground while merely walking by them and the police officer ran into them. I don’t trust them because I have seen them tell people one “rule” only to arrest them after they complied for doing exactly as they were told to do. I don’t trust them because they break our Constitutional rights with programs like this.

    Under the auspices of being for everyone’s safety. Entering without a court order.

    No, I do not trust them.

  53. PrairieRose

    Omigosh, folks, doesn’t anyone remember the old series “Dragnet”? With Joe Friday? (The series is being re-run on the MeTV channel in my local market.) Anyhoo, one of the recent re-runs had old Joe waxing eloquently about how it was so important for police officers to pass a rigorous psychological test as part of the training in the police academy to weed out those who had a propensity for misusing the authority conferring upon them by wearing a badge. And recall that this series was set in Los Angeles, back in the day, and Jack Webb (who played Joe Friday, for those too young to remember) allegedly pulled his weekly stories from actual criminal files. Can you imagine what’s being taught in the police academy today? Perhaps there’s a police officer out there who’d be willing to stick his or her neck out and answer that question. Hoo-ah.

    1. Banger

      Look the Dragnet show was a PR stunt and nothing more. I had nothing whatsoever to do with the way LAPD actually operated at that time or since. A good example of reality can be seen in the movie and book LA Confidential.

  54. Kim Kaufman

    You can’t live in Los Angeles and not be aware of the abuses of the LAPD – for decades. As a white woman, I have little fear of anything happening to me other than driving tickets which were deserved (for years I wouldn’t wear a seat belt until finally two tickets convinced me otherwise). I visited but did not hang out at Occupy LA but the stories of its demise by the LAPD (and subsequent actions by the City Attorney who mercifully lost his job in the last election) was over-the-top cruel.

    I suspect Maine is still pretty white. And small. That’s why cops are still nice.

  55. cnchal

    No, and never have. Experience tells me that police officers are trained perjurers, although my experience is limited to fighting traffic tickets.

    In Canada we are further along the police state road than the US. The federal government has given the police the formal “right” to break laws in a criminal investigation.

    Within the last few years the senior bureaucrats in the Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice, want to take traffic enforcement to a new level and allow the police to perform random stops to force motorists to submit to a breathalyzer.

    In a discussion paper titled “Modernizing the Transportation Provisions of the Criminal Code” dated June 18th 2009. From page 1 of the report.

    The attached consultation paper outlines options and includes 20 questions to help frame your comments including:

    *Legislatively expressing the purposes of the transport offence legislation

    *Linking minimum fines for first impaired driving offenders to BAC

    *Random breath testing

    *Eliminating the “bolus drinking” defence and restricting the intervening drink defence

    *Placing limits on disclosure

    *Eliminating or limiting the right to counsel prior to an Approved Instrument test.

    From page 11 of the report, is the purported reason for random breath testing. ASD means approved screening device.

    “Although the threshold in the Code for the police to make an ASD demand is relatively low, some studies have shown that many drivers with illegal BACs succeed in getting through roadside checks. In order to detect such drivers, several countries require all drivers to provide a screening device test whenever demanded by the police, without any suspicion that there is alcohol in the driver’s body. This procedure is known as Random Breath Testing.”

    Translation. A police officer, trained to detect impaired driving is easily fooled, so we need this new power.

    You Aussies and New Zealanders have been living with this for a while.

    There are countless examples of police criminality in Canada alone. This is a very public one.

    The four RCMP officers involved in the killing of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport several years ago are still on the force as far as I know. At the judicial inquiry, they testified that Robert was a threat and fabricated a story about what happened. This is after a video was released, taken by a fellow passenger showing the killing. The judge pointed out to them that they were committing perjury, and were allowed to change their story. One law for them, another for the rest of us.

    It isn’t just the police. The prison system gets to act shamefully too.
    Take the case of Ashley Smith. A young mentally ill woman spent several years being tortured by our prison system before committing suicide in front of five prison guards that were ordered not to intervene. Her initial crime. Throwing a crabapple at a postal worker.

    The other day, I witnessed a new tactic on the police war against motorists. There were four cars in a row travelling at just over 30mph, and I was driving the first car. The speed limit is 30mph and the road is scenic, but off in the distance behind us, I spotted an emergency vehicle with it’s emergency lights on (no siren) travelling at a high rate of speed, closing in on our group rather quickly.

    I was the first one to spot it and pulled over to the side as much as possible, but the cars behind me didn’t react quite quick enough and the last car ( a minivan ) was left with a terrible choice. Either pull to the right and risk colliding with the car in front or pull around us all and impede the emergency vehicle, for a couple of seconds. The minivan driver chose # 2.

    It turned out the emergency vehicle was an unmarked cop car, a brown Ford F150 4×4 and he pulled right in behind the hapless minivan driver, presumably to write him a fat ticket. The fine is minimum $400 up to $2000 for a first offence and up to $4000 for a second offence, plus screaming high insurance rates for years. There was no emergency, because if there were, the officer would have just kept going.

    Try explaining that to the judge, against a saintly police officer.

  56. CaitlinO

    Growing up in the Bay Area in the ’60’s just 15 minutes from the Cal campus, I had an opportunity nearly every night to see police over-reach on TV and in the Trib. I learned then to distrust police.

    It always seemed like a good tactic to be polite but distant and unforthcoming in any dealings with them. It became a bit of an issue when my boy was small. I didn’t really want to pass down my misgivings since, if he were ever lost or needed help, I didn’t want him to fear the police and turn to a stranger instead who could be even more dangerous.

  57. allcoppedout

    I am a long-time ex-cop. I don’t trust cops, but in wider self-reflection I don’t trust politicians, lawyers, accountants, academics – and the long list makes me regard “trust” with deep suspicion. British and US cops come a long way down the list of cops I don’t trust.

    I know it can be a very hard job and that it bears almost no relation with cop series, even French ones I like – Spiral and Braquo. Dirty Harry would last five minutes on a quiet day, perhaps trying to get funds to pursue a case against some banksters and being fobbed-off by his bosses – assuming he was ever able to curtail his sense of justice over the long years needed to get into the SFO or similar.

    My partner and I (she was an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigator at the time) had massive problems getting police and other authorities to deal with dire, criminal, child-abusing neighbours. They weren’t just useless, but predictably tried to blame us for the problems when we complained (years into no sensible action). We have since seen many cases exposed to public scrutiny with no real sign we can really get at the incompetence and severely skewed complaints systems.

    I was a cop when Jimmy Saville and other sexual abusers could have been brought to justice more than 30 years ago. I was on a case involving one of his mates. Some colleagues, I think in fair desperation, beat up one perpetrator in “noble cause” and L looked the other way. built a case on other matters to secure jail-time, utterly exasperated on the sexual offence side. I did what I could, as did one cop in our neighbour problem.

    The problem is historic, sometimes less apparent as Yves hints from her own experience – I doubt it is worse now and really runs in cycles. It would be easy enough to dredge up material over 150 years on police involvement in labour disputes and various miscarriages of justice involving bent evidence and massive incompetence and cover-up.

    The is much to agree with in the article and comments here, yet I’ve seen the protest before and it has long been ineffective – perhaps because most of it is aimed at cops rather than the generic problem we have with professional incompetence and white collar crime.

    In Britain we have a process that might help – judicial review – but as always this is a rich man’s toy – you can’t get legal aid to use it – heaven forbid the deluge of cost more or less written into our law. A cop’s discipline record cannot be used in evidence – yet we have now moved to allow other complaints against serial abusers in sexual cases – the link is surely clear.

    The big issue is authority protecting itself and its own. All professions shoulder ranks like the cops and the excuse in all is distrust of public scrutiny and being held to account by the ‘idiots outside’ – or constrained in the job by such accountability on the shoulder. I no doubt had this in mind when I lied to protect a colleague – usually from our own crass bureaucracy, but once in court. I wanted, then and now, to relate honestly and know I do a better job than most. Remember, pretty much every sale of PPI was fraud and I wouldn’t have sold that as long as I could have moved to another job.

    The quality of “professional evidence” is often dire – statistical surveys of forensic scientists demonstrate chronic bias to fees (New Scientist has a compendium), lawyers advise in divorce in order to drain clients’ wealth into their fee accounts, but I’m turning up for an operation in a month despite horror stories on the NHS.

    There are so simple ways forward using ‘statistical process control’ and ‘mystery shopping’ – both revised a great deal to incorporate wide victims’ evidence. We seem to prefer fantasies like ethics training, forgetting much virtue ethics arose in societies that couldn’t grok slavery as wrong. As one American lad said to me after coming out of our business ethics class, ‘I can’t stand this Neil, he’s teaching us how to be ethically prepared with excuses if something goes wrong, not to do the right thing’. Economics 101 students do worst on ethics tests.

    We are missing the deep issues of our crimogenic society here. As an old cop mate used to say, ‘Every time they compare us with the public, they forget we come from it and are part of it too’. We tried to make ‘everyone count’ and I can barely begin to start with how hard you made that.

    I don’t come from Yves’ “leafy bliss” (though there are lots of trees and bit of personal paradise where I get walked by the dog) and never found anyone from such there to help on the Swamp, Reservation and Everglades sump estates and criminal niches I worked. I suspect middle-class attention to this and unemployment has come simply because it now suffers what went on in the society it swept under the carpet. Soon, as in Arab Springs, it will be bread shortage or whatever slap in the face with a wet fish needed to jolt the comfortable ideology. I can’t even tell the stories of police abuse (including how police officers are abused) in language this blog allows, key in the problematic. It’s not the swearing (regular), but lack of historic and economic context of economics for real people.

  58. smokethebarbecue

    “I wonder if a state change is well underway”

    “state change” is accurate, and it’s about more than the police. The elites are moving from “Brave New World” to “1984” as their model of social control, because the former is becoming too expensive.

    1. Nathanael

      The big difference, which I spotted immediately when I read both books, is that the “Brave New World” method of social control *works*, and the “1984” method *does not work*.

      Attempts to install a 1984-style state are simply recipes for getting your government overthrown. Nothing more.

  59. Jeremy Grimm

    First in answer to the question – no. None of my experience would lead me to trust the police.

    It’s not part of the question, but seems to be a subtopic of this thread: How/why are we unable to trust our police? Law enforcement is a necessary and important activity that is cost center and should remain a cost center. The attempt by our local governments to treat law enforcement as a source of revenue is the root cause for the deep distrust many people feel toward our police. I believe there are good people who want to assure that we can all live in safety; who want to enforce laws to restrain the activities of those predators who have always been a part of our society. These police, of what I’ll call a ‘true calling’ quickly become demoralized and either leave for other work or slowly change to fit the organizations they serve. They are victims of this corruption as we are.

    The activities of the federal government in converting the police into a paramilitary, and the complementary activities of the federal department of defense in converting the military to an augment to the domestic police as part of their mission, is an entirely different matter. Even as localities begin to ease their ‘war on drugs’ the federal government exerted greater enforcement in those localities and refuses to respond to the direction of the popular will. The federal government gives grants to police departments to bolster their enforcement of drug and DWI law; and the DHS has provided weaponry to the police sufficient to deal with an uprising by a minor army. This development coupled with the phone and computer surveillance, the Patriot ‘laws’, and the readiness that the government has to treat any and all civil unrest as a ‘terrorist threat’ makes me very uncomfortable.

    The suggestion that our police are becoming similar to the Nazi Gestapo is mistaken. For the most part the Gestapo had to rely on ‘good’ Germans to inform on their neighbors. The distrust between large segments of the population and their local police make this unlikely. The surveillance fills in for this shortfall, and armed drones will immeasurably enhance the ability of our police to intimidate us and widely promote Machiavelli’s most reliable means to insure a Prince’s power.

    What were interesting times have become frightening times.

  60. allcoppedout

    I could explain why cops don’t trust public scrutiny. ‘We’ (I’m long ex) probably trust the criminal justice system less than any other group too, hardly something to endear us to want to be accountable like the suckers we nick.

    It’s slowly dawning on the middle-class that what once happened only to the working-class (unemployment, being nicked for crime)is coming like a wet-fish to slap smug chops.

    I picked up a nine year old boy one later evening – he was from about 20 miles away. Wanting to get away as my shift ended I popped my head into the interview room and was told by a police woman she’d found his parents and was returning the kid to them. She gave me one of those looks you get palming a case of little importance off on another cop. Long story in our exchanged glance. Pretty thing, doing the rounds like Rookie Blue. Useless written all over. The kid gripped my no doubt sexist, stereotyping hand. No last night choirboy practice for me. His parents as the boy had claimed earlier were abusers. ‘Just childish nonsense’ I was told by Blondie, who had done nothing to check. She told me the relevant collator’s office was shut. Too long to say why, but I was up all night keeping the boy out of the parents’ clutches. A off-duty mate and I eventually received a judge’s commendation for ‘going the extra mile’, and very unusually turned up at our police discipline hearing where we were charged with being off-division without permission. I remember telling the Inspector insisting the kid be handed over to the parents to stick his head in a box of ‘sand’. We saved the kid, the judge the jobs we no longer wanted. I hear little real on police corruption and the real causes, most of which lie in professional-class smugness and intolerance.

  61. Patrick

    There are good cops, there are bad cops. expect to meet a bad one and act accordingly. That way you might be surprised by the good one, but avoid being screwed over by the bad one. Ask for ID, ask for your rights, ask if they have a search warrant, and aways ask for your lawyer.

  62. Oneaboveall

    “The duties of a police officer are to protect and serve — unless they don’t feel like it, apparently. A Manhattan Supreme Court Justice has ruled that the City of New York has no legal obligation to protect its citizens, even if armed police are present at the scene of a dangerous incident.

    The case centered around Joseph Lozito, who was stabbed in the face, hands, and neck by deranged attacker Maksim Gelman. As reported by Gothamist:

    Gelman stabbed Joseph Lozito in the face, neck, hands and head on an uptown 3 train in February 2011, after fatally stabbing four people and injuring three others in a 28-hour period. Lozito, a father of two and an avid martial arts fan, was able to tackle Gelman and hold him down, and Gelman was eventually arrested by the transit officers. Lozito sued the city, arguing that the police officers had locked themselves in the conductor’s car and failed to come to his aid in time…”

    What are we paying taxes for?

    1. Nathanael

      No, you don’t get to make that easy cop-out claim.

      The people who prosecute the police are called “grand juries” and “district attorneys”. Never having been in either position, I certainly did not choose to have a police state.

      Now, at least we can elect different district attorneys, and we can be randomly chosen to be on grand juries.

      But the federal level is worse: the attorney general isn’t elected, he’s appointed. And he has been given the power to issue dispensations to commit federal crimes. This is totally unacceptable, but how do we stop it? He’s appointed by the President, but *we don’t elect the President*, as we discovered in 2000.

      Ever since this country was taken over in a coup, we’ve been having a police state established. We did not choose that.

  63. F. Beard

    Yes, but some of you nevertheless do not wish to euthanize the government-backed credit cartel.

    The way to stop the fascist bastards is principle. But when have Progressives ever been fans of principle?

    Hint: Even the God Progressives wish to be is bound by principle.

  64. Nathanael

    New York State Police Troop C Scandal.

    Of *course* I don’t trust the police. Not since that. Nobody in their right mind would.

    I do trust our local community of lawyers and judges quite a lot now, though — because here, once exposed, the crooked cops were *nailed*. I have no doubt that in many other jurisdictions they would have gotten away with it entirely.

  65. Ms G


    Another recent reference — the Adrian Schoolcraft whistleblower affair (in NYC, home of Mayor Bloomberg’s “my own army”.)

    AS blew the whistle on the NYPD’s practice of downgrading criminal complaints or plain old junking them — to make the crime stats for NYC look good on CompStat. And, ultimately, to maintain the appearance of NYC as a great city for tourists and real estate speculators.

    Among other retaliatory and abusive reactions by NYPD, AS was grabbed by NYPD and put in a public psych ward – for 6 days. And that was only the beginning of an ongoing nightmare. Too bad for NYPD that Schoolcraft had about 1100 hours of tape recordings …

    Graham Rayman, one of a handful of investigative journalists still standing, broke the story at the Village Voice and now has published a book which has a lot of disturbing detail.

  66. Jeff N

    I trust them in my safe little suburban enclave, but it’s suspicion or distrust everywhere else.

    I would never try any of those “things you can legally say to cops” routines, because they could probably throw a bag of dope in my car just for being a smart-ass.

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