How Do Police Departments Go Rogue?

Unknown-4What happens when citizens loose control of their police? It’s not a pretty picture as Steve Chapman and David Simon report. 

Chapman, a reporter for the “Chicago Tribune,” recently wrote how he saw the present situation in Baltimore in the first part of this post. Then Simon, creator of “The Wire,” and former police reporter for the “Baltimore Sun,” tells us how this all happened.

Is it just about Baltimore? Or is it that some police departments in America lost their way? In the coming months, I am sure we may begin to find out more about the workings of rogue police departments and what is common to them.

Chapman reports: “The Baltimore police had taken part in a riot of their own — not a sudden explosion of violence but a bloody, slow-motion event that largely escaped public notice.

“Last year, The ‘Baltimore Sun’ reported that since 2011, the city had lost or settled 102 lawsuits over officer abuse of citizens — some of whom suffered broken bones, ‘head trauma, organ failure and even death.’ It paid the victims a total of $5.7 million. In nearly every case, the victim was found guilty of nothing.

“So maybe [Freddie] Gray had reason to flee at the sight of cops. Having been arrested before on drug charges, he ‘had a history with that police beating him,’ a friend told a Sun reporter. Those 102 cases prove that obeying the law does not confer safety…”

So why did Freddie Gray run? – because he was frightened of the police. He knew what would happen if they caught him.

David Simon has some powerful words about what happened to policing in that city. A lot of it, he observes, had to do with the drug war; a war Baltimore waged with great zeal; “as aggressively as any American city.”

“It was transforming in terms of police/community relations, in terms of trust, particularly between the black community and the police department. Probable cause was destroyed by the drug war. It happened in stages [as] the need for police officers to address the basic rights of the people they were policing in Baltimore was minimized. It was done almost as a plan by the local government, by police commissioners and mayors, and it not only made everybody in these poor communities vulnerable to the most arbitrary behavior on the part of the police officers, it taught police officers how not to distinguish in ways that they once did.…

“What the drug war did, though, was make this all a function of social control. This was simply about keeping the poor down, and that war footing has been an excuse for everybody to operate outside the realm of procedure and law. And the city willingly and legally gave itself over to that, beginning with the drug-free zones and with the misuse of what are known on the street in the previous generation as ‘humbles.’ A humble is a cheap, inconsequential arrest that nonetheless gives the guy a night or two in jail before he sees a court commissioner. You can arrest people on ‘failure to obey,’ it’s a humble. Loitering is a humble. These things were used by police officers going back to the ‘60s in Baltimore. It’s the ultimate recourse for a cop who doesn’t like somebody who’s looking at him the wrong way…

“There’s a real skill set to good police work. But no, they were just dragging the sidewalks, hunting stats, and these inner-city neighborhoods — which were indeed drug-saturated because that’s the only industry left — become just hunting grounds. They weren’t protecting anything. They weren’t serving anyone. They were collecting bodies, treating corner folk and citizens alike as an Israeli patrol would treat the West Bank, or as the Afrikaners would have treated Soweto back in the day. They’re an army of occupation. And once it’s that, then everybody’s the enemy. The police aren’t looking to make friends, or informants, or learning how to write clean warrants or how to testify in court without perjuring themselves unnecessarily. There’s no incentive to get better as investigators, as cops. There’s no reason to solve crime. In the years they were behaving this way, locking up the entire world, the clearance rate for murder dove by 30 percent…

“But nothing corrects the legacy of a police department in which the entire rank-and-file has been rewarded and affirmed for collecting bodies, for ignoring probable cause, for grabbing anyone they see for whatever reason. And so, fast forward to Sandtown and the Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray gives some Baltimore police the legal equivalent of looking at them a second or two too long. He runs, and so when he’s caught he takes an ass-kicking and then goes into the back of a wagon…

“I know there are still a good many Baltimore cops who know their jobs and do their jobs some real integrity and even precision. But if you look at why the city of Baltimore paid that $5.7 million for beating down people over the last few years, it’s clear that there are way too many others for whom no code exists. Anyone and everyone was a potential ass-whipping – even people that were never otherwise charged with any real crimes. It’s astonishing… And that comes from too many officers who came up in a culture that taught them not the hard job of policing, but simply how to roam the city, jack everyone up, and call for the wagon.”

  •  Read Chapman’s entire article HERE.
  • Read Simon’s full interview HERE.