Police intimidation, local style

Last week I was driving home around 9:30 PM, going southbound on NH Route 125. Suddenly there were blue lights flashing behind me. I pulled over. To my relief, the vehicle behind me kept going. It no longer had the blue lights on. There was no siren. There was no emergency, just some cop having fun scaring people.

It was dark, so I don’t know whether it was Kingston police, state troopers, or even an out-of-town cop. It’s not a big deal, but every little incident like this contributes to people’s distrust of the police. I could have filed complaints with both state and local police, but what good would it have done?

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Manchester, NH police go dark on radio

The police department of Manchester, NH, has started encrypting routine radio communication. According to a press release, the aims are “to provide an updated radio system, protect the public’s privacy, and protect our officers as they work day in and day out to provide a service for the city of Manchester.” They did this without public discussion and admitted to it only after people noticed.

The first reason is plain nonsense. Getting new radios isn’t a reason to encrypt.

Manchester, NH seal“Protecting the public’s privacy” isn’t much better. If the police conduct a raid or arrest someone, that’s a public matter. Hiding these actions from public knowledge doesn’t protect the privacy of the people hauled off to jail; arrests are on the public record. It protects the cops from public scrutiny.
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Grimm reality

Grimm is the only TV series I watch every episode of, and that largely for social reasons. It has its good points but also some really disturbing ones, and like some other shows I’ve sampled, really excessive amounts of violence. Generally I look at fantasy shows through a fan filter, not worrying much about how implausible they are. But it’s also a cop show, and it’s harder to separate that from reality when the cops are doing things that couldn’t be justified in real life.

David Giuntoli as Nick Burkhardt (IMDB)For those who don’t know it, here’s a quick explanation of the premise. There are beings who resemble creatures from folk tales when in their true form, but who can pass for human. They’re called Wesen, which is German for “beings.” Most are harmless but some do very nasty things. A few people, called “Grimms,” can see them for what they are and have a special ability to fight them. Nick Burkhardt, a detective for the Portland, Oregon police, is a Grimm. There are huge numbers of Wesen in Portland and, as far as we can tell, everywhere else. Traditionally, Grimms and Wesen have been deadly enemies, but Nick is trying to change this. In the police department, just four people know about this situation; one of them is Nick’s boss, who is a half-Wesen. A group in Europe called the Royal Families wants to maintain old traditions and really hates Nick.

For a while the show was making some positive points about the relationship between the police and a minority group. Most Wesen really distrust Grimms, with good historical reasons. Sometimes Nick is able to break through the distrust. But in the last few episodes of the fourth season the conflict with the Royals gets more intense, and Nick has a man abducted and then kills him in a duel. The man he kills really deserves it, naturally, and Nick has a strong personal reason for what he does. Still, it’s first-degree murder under the law.

Let’s look at this through the reality filter. An unknown subspecies of humans is living among us, including enough bad ones that almost every week one of them commits a murder in Portland. Nick and his circle have taken it on themselves to keep this a secret, even though it’s costing lives. If they were just private citizens, this would be their choice; the Wesen have kept their existence secret for centuries, and revealing their existence would be bad for them. When the police cover up the existence of creatures who commit crimes, though, it’s a very different matter. They try to keep Wesen cases from going to trial, or they conceal important parts of the story from the court. By the end of the fourth season, Nick and his associates have engaged in a big secret raid and committed extra-judicial killings. There’s no justification for police operating this way.

Maybe the fifth season will offer some reflection on what’s happened and a change in course. I’m afraid, though, that the show’s producers just think that showing cops killing people and getting away with it boosts ratings. Maybe they think that the people who watch Grimm are the ones who think the Ferguson and Baltimore cops can do no wrong. If so, I think they’ve seriously misjudged the audience.

I’m thinking of working this premise up into an article for sale. Please comment on any points you think I could make better.

It’s not just Ferguson

Unarmed man holding hands up in front of four men in full military gear Libertarians have been warning about the dangers of militarized police for years. Now it’s exploded in a way that no one can ignore. (Except that some idiots have seamlessly jumped from “Why are libertarians so paranoid about police power?” to “Why aren’t libertarians saying anything about this?”) Peaceful demonstrators have been tear-gassed and had guns pointed at them. Reporters have been arrested. It’s Selma, Alabama all over again.

This isn’t unique to Ferguson, though. The signs have been plain enough. SWAT teams have come to be used routinely. Police departments in small, peaceful cities and towns have been acquiring federally subsidized attack trucks. Concord, NH got a Bearcat armored vehicle, for the stated purpose of protecting the city from the Free State Project. Six cities in the Boston area were shut down, residents ordered to remain indoors, during the Tsarnaev manhunt. Ferguson is just the full expression of these trends, which so many people are so happy with.

You want to be “safe from terrorism” at any price? Well, this is the price: Living in terror of the police who are “protecting” you. If you now see that there might be a problem, better late than never. Pick up a copy of Rise of the Warrior Cop for a look at what’s been happening all over America.

I’m seeing calls for a “day of rage” now. That can only make things worse. We need moral outrage, but not rage.

Concord Police Dept. wants a violent toy

Concord, NH, is a nice, peaceful city. It has bookstores, cafés, and perhaps the most accessible state legislature in the country. Police Chief John Duval, however, sees it as a city about to explode with terrorist violence. In order to protect Concord from this deadly threat, he’s asked Homeland Security to provide Concord with a Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle. Don’t think of the name as a cute sports mascot. It stands for “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.” It’s a military-grade vehicle designed for violent confrontation. It carries gun ports, and a battering ram is an option. Lenco’s ads emphasize its paramilitary uses.

The future of Concord?

What is the threat which Duval fears? According to the application he submitted, the vehicle is intended to take on the threat of Occupy, a bumbling anti-minority (they characterize their opponents at “the 1%”) sit-in group, and the Free State Project, which encourages liberty-loving people to move to New Hampshire. Neither of these groups has any record of violence. Duval’s move reeks of intent to intimidate political groups he doesn’t like.

According to an article in Mother Jones, Duval has waffled under pressure but hasn’t apologized for the smears.

“I wish I would have worded things different in retrospect,” he says. “I understand why their eyebrows are raised about that.” He chalks up the wording to the limitations of writing a detailed proposal in only three pages and says it was meant to refer to the “unpredictable nature of unpredictable people who attach themselves to otherwise lawful situations.”

If Duval is incapable of writing a coherent three-page proposal that doesn’t come off as paranoid raving, that doesn’t say much for his qualifications for the job. Is he now just saying that people are unpredictable? If so, why name any specific group? If there’s a group that’s unpredictable and dangerous, it’s the one that is looking for heavy armament in response to imaginary dangers.

When police departments acquire heavy armament, they start thinking of ways to use it. Look at SWAT teams. Originally designed for highly explosive situations, they now routinely smash in the doors of non-violent drug users (or people mistaken for them). Perhaps at first Duval will just roll out the Bearcat at political events, as a veiled threat. That’s bad enough already. But then there may come a day when there’s a situation which genuinely needs police action but not blazing guns and buildings. Duval might say, “Hey, these are ‘unpredictable people,’ and this is the chance to see what the Bearcat can do!” A building might be smashed into rubble and burn. Neighbors might be injured or die.

Homeland Security deserves a large chunk of blame for handing these deadly toys out. If Duval hadn’t been tempted, maybe he wouldn’t have started labeling dissidents as potential terrorists. Most cops are good people, but if they get carried away with power, they may do frightening things.