Thursday, August 21, 2014

the police

The protests and unrest and police misconduct in Ferguson, Missouri makes me think about policing generally. Here are my thoughts:

Background: I have had the experience of sitting with the District Attorney, the FBI, the New York State Comptroller and the State Police showing them in detail why, how and how much money was stolen by the sitting Columbia County Attorney and his colleagues. No one in any of these meetings disputed that there is criminal activity out of this office. I can tell  you who did it, how much they stole and who knew. This list would cover a significant portion of the elected officials in Columbia County and/or their attorneys.

This story ran on the front page of the Albany newspaper, above the fold, on a Sunday. You want to know details, names, etc. Click here.

No one went to jail. All kept stolen pensions. All kept jobs. Tal Rappleyea, for example, continues to make hundreds of thousands from the tax payer every year.

It's financial crime, white collar, but its so fricken easy to prove that it bogles the mind. If I had a badge and a week, many people (all white and well-connected) walking around in suits would be on their way to jail. These guys are not cosa nostra and they would rat each other out, as if the paper I have weren't enough.

So, when I see young men driving around in SUVs as cops, I think: you are doing it wrong. Most of the money stole in Columbia County New York is stolen by elected officials and their cronies. The amount of money involved in all street crime, maybe not including drugs, is far less than in just the Sleepergate scandal.

You don't need to be able to run a 5 minute mile or bench press 200 pounds to arrest guys sitting in offices stealing money. If you think "cop" and then "criminal" and then think the cop is running and after the criminal and physically over-powering the criminal, then I think you have the wrong idea.

Street crime is partially solvable by information management and other technological tools. COMSTAT, technology can go a long way. And then the cops should out smart and out number and have more information technology available than the street criminals so that they never rely on brute force. With efficiency, technology, good community relations and professionalism, the police can pretty much conquer street crime. We've seen it happen. Street crime is solvable.

Thus, the composition of the police should be like the general population: some young men and women in their 20s, some people starting second careers who first put on a badge at 45, some older people.

If you want to wrestle a bad guy to the ground, you might want a strong, young man fresh out of the military. If you want to talk down a person in a highly agitated state a 65 year old grandmother who worked for 20 years in a restaurant might be better.

If they are both there, then you can see what works. You can't "train" interpersonal wisdom and human empathy in a police academy. Why not hire people who already possess these skills through experience?

There are occasions when physical attributes may matter. There are also occasions when less testosterone and more experience might be better. You might also want people with more varied experiences of the world. You might want more accountants.

This way you could arrest more of the people who are actually stealing large amounts of money and maybe not shoot so quickly. The whole focus of the police should change.

Columbia County has a population of 60,000 but six or seven different police forces: county sheriff, state police, Hudson, Chatham, Philmont, Greenport, maybe Claverack, etc. So if there is a lot of crime in one place they cannot allocate more resources to that area, since they are tied to other jurisdictions.

So, the police here do not attempt to replicate the 60% drop in crime in New York City based on COMSTAT. It's nuts. I bet Missouri is no better than here, no less corrupt, no less inefficient.

If you could consolidate all the forces, use them efficiently to target actual street crime, violent crime, etc, you could reduce crime while saving 50%. Then if you re-structure hiring and focus to go after corruption and crime by rich people too, not just grind up poor and broken people in order to justify your salary, not just arrest people for selling drugs when that whole strategy is clearly a complete failure, you could have a very nice, democratic society with low taxes, low crime, and less potential for police-citizen conflict.

I don't think Ferguson is a world apart from Columbia County. There are major differences. There is some overlap.

I don't think the entire criminal justice system is there to "serve and protect" but rather to justify itself and keep on existing at current funding levels, even at the cost of grinding up slightly broken but fixable poor people into ruined dust to the detriment of all of us.

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