Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Cops! And I'm not talking about the TV Show! Ok, so I am. Let me first admit that I don't have any police friends, though I do have a friend who is married to a cop. But I don't hang out with him (the cop). I certainly respect the job they do - I know it can be dangerous at times and that it is a necessary one for society. And I'm sure there are a ton of really good cops out there. The problem is that the bad ones tend to be covered for by the good ones - the blue line, as it is called.

I got thinking about this after my previous post on grand juries - and the comments to it. In particular, I commented that I think that cops are especially good at testifying at trial in exactly the manner to assure convictions, whether the testimony is true or not. That's been called testilying. Most of the time I expect that sort of thing is where the cop simply is trying to convict someone they honestly think is guilty and so they "clean up" their memory of what happened so there is no room for doubt. Or, as I mentioned in the comment, something like:

for a car chase that turns into a foot chase at night - adrenaline pumping. I know that if I were in such a situation, I'd have trouble recalling particular details - there'd be some doubts. But these police - no doubts. Suspect X is the one who threw the gun on the ground during the high speed chase in the dark (and from the opposite side of the vehicle from the vantage point of the cop). Suspect Y and Z did not. 100% certainty. Absolutely sure. How can they be sure? I suspect the reason they are sure is that the decision was made that suspect X was going to be charged for having the gun, so all of the police need to have their stories straight. Because if they testified honestly - probably half of the cops would say that maybe suspect X threw the gun and half would say that maybe suspect Y threw it, and maybe most would say they have no idea, they could not see in the dark while frantically chasing a car at 90 mph, skidding to a stop, then jumping out of the car and running after them. Of course, then you introduce reasonable doubt for either X or Y having the gun - can't have that! We want to convict at least one of them! We pick X! Ok, X had it!

It is not that no one had a gun - clearly X or Y did - but the problem is, you can't convict both of having it - not for certain crimes (like felony-firearm or felon in possession of a firearm in Michigan) - but if you admit to the uncertainty, there is a chance that a jury might not convict either of them - reasonable doubt would compell that, actually, though I think perhaps may juries would pick one and convict anyway. But why chance it? A solid, nonwavering bit of testimony from all of the police there that X had it and X is convicted, period. Maybe even the cops involved convince themselves that X really did have the gun all along. And also that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia. I don't know. I'm speculating. I just find testimony in such cases too good to be true.

I guess I idealize here. I want to hold police to a higher standard. They have a lot of power. Power corrupts. Power needs checking. Who polices the police? In popular culture, that would be IA - internal affairs - yet they are generally shown as "evil" for trying to stop cops from "doing their job." IA are the antagonists in cop movies. I somehow think that is wrong.

Before I close my meanderings here - I want to get back to Cops! The TV show. I have watched it quite a bit. I enjoy watching it. I find it utterly fascinating to watch. One thing that has struck me, though, is that most of the shows show cops dealing with the lower classes. You don't generally see them pulling over Rolls Royces - they pull over pickup trucks with missing windows. They stop at houses or trailer parks. Maybe that's just where most of the calls are. But it does paint a picture. The only time I can recall cops going to a nice middle class home was to get some wild animals out of the chimney. (And maybe once they got a boa snake out of a yard). When I see them going inside a house, the house is generally small, ramshackle, somewhat trashed inside, and obviously the home of a lot of poor people. So either pulling over middle class (or higher) people doesn't make good television or it just doesn't happen enough to fill a season. I think it can explain why the poor might have such a different view of the police than the rest of the population.


Erin said...

I saw an episode of Cops! recently in between episodes of Ninja Warrior where the cop pulled over some rich whitebread kids coming out of the house of a known meth distributor. They were allowed to get on their cell phones and call their parents. Two of them were found in possession of marajuana, and when confronted about the drugs and their presence at a meth house, they feigned wide-eyed innocence and said they were just there for the pot, not meth.

The cops took their dime bags and sent them on their way.

I still can't decide if that's more frustrating and depressing than the usual Cops! fare of officers acting like total dicks to poor or brown people.

DBB said...

I sometimes wonder if the Cops give breaks like that because they identify more with middle class people and so think "this could be my kid or nephew" and so treat them that way. Which of course, is wrong, in the sense that your kid or nephew doesn't deserve special treatment.

Frankly, I think we just need to legalize drugs and a huge proportion of the harrasment of poor people by the cops would be eliminated. Drug laws are what turn routine traffic stops into life in prison and also are what cause a great deal of violence (and police corruption). Just about every case where the cops end up taking someone to jail on Cops it is because drugs are found.