Archive for the ‘Police and Prosecutorial Abuse’ Category.

We're The TSA. Let Us Entertain You By Showing You All Your Neighbor's Stuff

I am hoping this is fake given the joke name of the author. If not, I would point out that we (reluctantly) give TSA employees power to search our luggage solely for seeking out items that might endanger the aircraft or other passengers. We do not give this arguably extra-Constitutional power to TSA employees so they can write titillating articles on the web exposing our private stuff.

In operating campgrounds, I could create a blog with posts every day showing the goofy things that campers bring with them or try to do, or mistakes they make as novice campers. I do not, though, because hosting folks is a kind of trust. I would expect folks empowered to ransack my luggage to show even more discretion.

Race and Petty Traffic Laws

When you hear that police pulled someone over for the totally BS charge of a "partially obscured license plate with only one light," can't you just assume the driver is probably black or Hispanic?

If I were a Mexican in Phoenix, I would do a full walk-around checking my vehicle before every trip.  A visiting friend once asked me if the fact that Hispanics all seem to drive so slow was a cultural thing and I said that more likely, they know they will get busted for going even a hair over the speed limit.

A few years ago I wrote vis a vis our infamous SB1070

When Kris Kobach says "In four different sections, the law [SB1070] reiterates that a law-enforcement official 'may not consider race, color, or national origin' in making any stops or determining an alien's immigration status," he is ignoring reality.  The law asks police to make a determination (e.g. probable cause that one is an illegal immigrant) that is impossible for actual human beings to make without such profiling.  It's like passing a law that says "police must drive their cars 30 miles a day but can't drive their cars to do so."  The reality on the ground here in Arizona is that, illegal or not, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been using racial profiling to make arrest sweeps for years, and his officers have become masters at finding some pretext to pull over a Mexican they want to check out  (e.g. the broken tail light).   Words in this law about racial profiling are not going to change anything.

Update:  I forgot this story from 2008, which is a great example of what I am talking about here

Arrest records from crime sweeps conducted by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office add substantial weight to claims that deputies usedracial profiling to pull Latino motorists over to search for illegal immigrants....

even when the patrols were held in mostly White areas such as Fountain Hills and Cave Creek, deputies arrested more Latinos than non-Latinos, the records show. In fact, deputies arrested among the highest percentage of Latinos when patrols were conducted in mostly White areas.

On the arrest records, deputies frequently cited minor traffic violations such as cracked windshields and non-working taillights as the reason to stop drivers.

"These are penny-ante offenses that (police) almost always ignore. This is telling you this is being used to get at something else, and I think that something else is immigration enforcement against Hispanic people," Harris said....

Name The Human Decision-Making Process Which Claims a Low 0.25% Error Rate

Give up?  It's Chicago Police shooting people.  Despite the fact that the decisions must be made by folks who likely have no past experience or practice in making such decisions, Chicago claims its police officers have one of the lowest error rates of any known human decision-making process

Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) has conducted investigations of close to 400 police shootings of citizens and has found just one to have been unjustified.

Of course, it could be that the process is far more error-prone, but that the people tasked with declaring any shooting in error are the exact same people who have an interest in never admitting an error.  Also, it could be because anyone who does label a shooting as an error gets fired:

That little factoid comes from Chicago public radio station WBEZ as some background context for the news that Lorenzo Davis, a supervising investigator for IPRA, had been fired earlier in July.

Davis isn't going out quietly. WBEZ interviewedthe man, a former Chicago police officer himself who retired in 2004. Davis is saying that the reason why he was fired is because he insisted that several recent police shootings were unjustified and would not comply with orders to change his findings. Performance evaluations indicated everybody thought Davis' work was just great until recently.

Judge Alex Kozinski's Critique of The Criminal Justice System is Incredible

This Georgetown Law Journal critique of the criminal justice system, and in particular proprietorial abuse, is terrific (though I am only about half way through).  If you don't have time to read it all (and it is much shorter than it looks because half or more of each page is footnotes) then you might check out these highlights by Alex Tabarrok.  I expect Ken White of Popehat to have something to say here, and look forward to his reactions.

Town That Installed Surveillance Cameras All Over the Place Suddenly Concerned with Privacy?

As background, I live in a town called Paradise Valley, Arizona.  This town is perhaps most famous recently for installing surveillance cameras all over town hidden in fake cacti.  Here is the one on my block.  There are at least two others within walking distance of my house.
click to enlarge   click to enlarge 

 

 

These cameras apparently have license plate reading ability and perhaps the ability to do facial recognition, and likely are funded by Homeland Security for the purposes of feeding data into a national tracking database.  I say "likely" because the town of Paradise Valley under Mayor Michael Collins somehow appropriated these things secretly without any public discussion or debate.

So in this context, it was hilarious to see none other than Mayor Michael Collins piously intoning about the importance of privacy in the town of Paradise Valley:

Paradise Valley is considering an ordinance that would make it illegal to fly drones in town without a permit. Backyard hobbyists and law-enforcement agencies that may need to use drones during emergencies would be excluded from the proposed ban.

"Our residents move to Paradise Valley because they like the privacy," said Mayor Michael Collins, who presides over a community that counts celebrities, sports stars and Discount Tire founder Bruce Halle, the richest person in Arizona, among its residents.

What Mr. Collins apparently means is that he wants the government to maintain a monopoly on surveillance technologies.  Libertarians like myself cringe at the notion that a monopoly on privacy-invasion should be granted to the government, the only institution in the country that can legally jail you, take your money, and even shoot you. Conservatives, who dominate this community, tend to be blind to this danger, saying that "if you aren't doing anything illegal, you have nothing to fear from surveillance."  I will say, though, that some Conservatives have woken up a bit over the last several years on this with the IRS non-profit harassment and the Wisconsin John Doe investigations.

By the way, extra credit to the Arizona Republic for gratuitously publishing where a wealthy citizen lives in a sentence about privacy.

Asset Forfeiture Fraud and Abuse

Arizona has one of the worst asset forfeiture laws in the country, essentially allowing law enforcement to help themselves to any money or real property that takes their fancy, and then spend it on anything they like.   For example, one AZ sheriff is spending the asset forfeiture stolen money** on buffing up his image by providing scholarships, even though such scholarships sure seem to be specifically prohibited as a use for the money.  You can think of this as pure PR - give 1% of the stolen money to some worthy cause so no one will question what you do with the other 99%, or more importantly question why they hell you had the right to take it without due process in the first place.

The Cochise County Sheriff's Office is providing nine high school students with college scholarships financed by money and assets seized from people suspected of illegal activity.

The $9,000 for scholarships is paid from the county's anti-racketeering revolving fund. State law specifies that cash in this account is to be used for things like gang and substance-abuse prevention programs and law enforcement equipment.

So, how do the scholarships fit the bill?

Though federal law appears to prohibit such a use of the money, Cochise County says the spending is permissible because it plays a role in substance-abuse prevention....

[The IJ's Paul] Avelar agreed.

The categories that specify how the money should be spent are "incredibly broad," allowing for a gamut of expenditures, he said.

"It's very loosey-goosey on what they spend it on," Avelar said. "They have the ability spend it on a lot of things that we might not think are wise expenditures of public money."

But McIntyre said that it's essential that counties retain broad spending power over this money, because "local elected officials are in a much better position to determine what priorities need to be addressed than people outside of the county."

"And additionally, the reality is that if the local voting populous doesn't agree with the use of those funds or the priorities that have been set by these decision makers, they have the ultimate remedy to vote us out," McIntyre said.

The last is a total joke.  First, most sheriff's offices refuse to provide any comprehensive reporting on their seizure and spending activities, so without transparency there can be no accountability.  And second, this is a classic redistribution scheme that always seems to get votes in a democracy.  Law enforcement steals this money from 1% of the citizens, and spends it in a way that seems to benefit most of the other 99%.  It is exactly the kind of corrupt policy that democracy consistently proves itself inadequate to prevent -- only a strict rule of law based on individual rights can stop this sort of abuse.

** While the forfeitures are legal under the law, that does not make them right.  The law is frequently used by one group to essentially steal from another.  Allowing police to take money at gunpoint from innocent (by any legal definition, since most have not been convicted of a crime) citizens is stealing whether it is enabled by the law or not.

Denying Human Fallibility -- Holding Police Accountable (Or Not)

Steve Chapman's article in Reason on police accountability is good throughout, but these stats are amazing:

Consider Cleveland. The ClevelandPlain Dealer reported that the police department looked into 4,427 uses of force by cops over four years and gave its blessing to each one. In Houston, every shooting over six years was found by the internal affairs department to be absolutely necessary. ...

The feds also assume that law enforcement officers are less fallible than the pope. From January 2010 to October 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported, Border Patrol agents shot 67 people, killing 19. Three of the agents are still being investigated. Of the remaining 64, 62 were absolved. The other two got a stern lecture.

It's all part of a national pattern. Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has done extensive research on killings by cops. His conclusion? "It's very rare that an officer gets charged with a homicide offense resulting from their on-duty conduct even though people are killed on a fairly regular basis," he told The Wall Street Journal.

I have already given my cynical take on why this problem exists and why it is likely to persist.  Specifically, Conservatives fetishize the police and refuse to believe any shooting was unjustified and Liberals are suspicious of the police but refuse to challenge the powerful public employees unions that protect police from accountability.

The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Contempt of Court

No, I am not going to have a legal discussion here.  But currently a judge is preparing to rule whether Joe Arpaio committed civil or criminal contempt of court when he (admittedly) ignored the judge's order on stopping his immigrant sweeps (and other issues).

Here is the practical difference for you and me:  If convicted of civil contempt, we the taxpayer ultimately bear the punishment (in all past Arpaio losses of this sort, the County taxpayers picked up the bill for any fines and awards).  If convicted of criminal contempt, Sheriff Joe might actually, for the first time ever, have to pay the price for his own lawlessness.

Postscript:  Just so you can get a flavor of how Arpaio conducts his immigrant sweeps, here is an example:

Deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office raided a Mesa landscaping company early Wednesday morning, arresting nearly three dozen people suspected of being in the country illegally.

The raid on offices of Artistic Land Management, on Main Street just west of Dobson Road, happened about 4:30 a.m., according to one worker who was handcuffed and detained before being released when he produced documentation that he was in the country legally....

Juarez estimated about 35 workers were handcuffed with plastic zip-ties while deputies checked for documents. Those who could provide proof they were in the country legally were released, while others were put on buses and taken away.

People think I am exaggerating when I say this, but he literally goes into a business and zip ties everyone with brown skin, releasing them only if some family member can rush over and provide proof of citizenship.

Joe Arpaio May Finally Get His Comeuppance for Years of Arrogance

Our local Sheriff Joe Arpaio is quite a story.  On the one hand, he shows a casual disrespect for civil liberties, goes on raids where he zip-ties every person with brown skin until their family can produce their birth certificate, and has tried to pin RICO charges on judges who ruled against him.  He likes to haul folks off to jail whose only crime is speaking out against the Sheriff .   He arrested newspaper reporters and editors who wrote critically of him.  This is a man who in his paranoia invented an assassination plot (against himself, of course) and got the city to spend $500,000 protecting him.  If his deputies want to see a defense attorney's working papers, they just take them.  If he can't get a judge to release computer records, he has his posse storm into the County computer center and take it over at gunpoint.  And don't even get me started on the Steven Seagal thing.

On the other hand, despite all this, he has been re-elected by safe margins many times, has actual groupies who fawn over him, and is considered by much of our retiree population as the last bulwark against a Mexican-immigrant-led road-warrior-style apocalypse.  At most local art festivals and other public fairs, he has his own booth where he hands out his trademark pink underwear to his many admirers (he makes prisoners wear pink underwear to try to humiliate them).

Several years ago, upon losing some Federal civil rights suits, a judge ordered as part of the settlement a series of defined actions and prohibitions (e.g. Arpaio had to stop certain immigrant roundups).  He ignored these orders pretty blatantly, and now is in court again.  He has actually essentially admitted to civil contempt of court and is just hoping at this point to avoid criminal charges.  And then it gets weirder:

An upper echelon that willfully defies the orders of a federal judge and may have committed perjury on the witness stand.

A county sheriff and chief deputy with enough chutzpah to "investigate" the U.S. Department of Justice, the CIA, and federal judges, all on the word of a Seattle scammer.

A bogus "investigation" into the wife of the aforementioned federal judge for something that's not even a crime.

This is just some of the ground covered during a four-day hearing before U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow in which Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, tried mightily to save themselves from criminal-contempt charges in the ACLU's big racial profiling case Melendres v. Arpaio.

Sheridan and Arpaio already have conceded that they are guilty of civil contempt, admitting they did not comply with Snow's December 2011 preliminary injunction in the case, which ordered the MCSO not to enforce federal civil immigration law.

The pair also have copped to defying a direct order from Snow in May 2014 concerning the gathering of thousands of videos taken by deputies, which should have been turned over to the plaintiffs before the 2012 trial in Melendres.

All that's left is for Snow to find that there's enough evidence that Sheridan and Arpaio acted willfully, so he can turn over the matter to another judge and the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible prosecution.

Yep, the best way to defend oneself against contempt of court is to... have all the other parties in court investigated.  Oh yeah, and the CIA.  Nothing says "mental health" like a local sheriff investigating the CIA.   And don't forget, this is the same guy who used my tax money to take is cold case team and dedicate them for months to investigating Obama's birth certificate.

Police Accountability: Is It An Unfixable Problem?

Despite near-constant pleas for "bipartisanship" in the media, the worst offenses to liberty often occur when both parties agree.  If both parties are stepping on each other to try to beat their chest hardest about an issue, it is time to duck and cover.

This week we have seen how most cities have laws and union contracts that stand in the way of even basic accountability for police.  I fear that this is an unfixable problem, because both Republicans and Democrats conspire to block accountability of police, though for different reasons.

Republicans tend to fetishize police in the same way they do the military, and tend to blindly support the police position in any he-said-she-said confrontation (I know, I used to be one of them).  While Conservatives bemoan the "women never lie about rape" meme on campus, they take the exact same position vis a vis police.

Democrats have generally been better allies of civil libertarians on these issues (though Democrat politicians will throw that all out if they need to buff up their "law and order" credentials for an election).  However, Liberals have a huge blind spot in that they also feel the necessity to be fiercely loyal, even blindly loyal to public unions, which include powerful police unions.  Taking on police accountability would require Democrats to take on a very visible public union, which they are loath to do.   In the past, when faced with a choice of fixing schools or appeasing teachers unions, Democratic politicians have almost always chosen the latter and I don't think they will do anything differently with police.

If you think I am leading up to a silver lining and a proposal, you are wrong.   I don't have one.  Sure, after Baltimore, we may have a lot of talk about reform, but when the cameras turn their attention elsewhere, all the reform will die as quick as they did at the VA and any number of other failed government institutions.

Instead, I think I am going to go home and binge watch The Wire again.  Seems timely.  For fans of that show, everything that has happened this week is entirely familiar.

Couldn't They Make This Guy Look Any More Like A Wermacht Panzer Commander?

the-curfew-is-working-fox-news

How Many Police Lies Did We Unwittingly Accept Before Cell Phone Video?

Death Penalty Second Thoughts

As a former supporter of the death penalty that has come around strongly in opposition, I enjoyed this piece featuring a former prosecutor trying to apologize for falsely sending a man to death row.  I loved this line in particular

No one should be given the ability to impose a sentence of death in any criminal proceeding. We are simply incapable of devising a system that can fairly and impartially impose a sentence of death because we are all fallible human beings.

I consider the notion of whether the death penalty is humane or whether we have the moral right to take the life of someone who is guilty of murder to both be red herrings.  The key issue for me is that we can't do it fairly and without errors.  The appeals process is useful, but can't ever be perfect because often the appeals occur in the same time and place as the trial.  Appeals of a black man in 1965 were not of much use, just as appeals of wrongly-convicted day care workers were not of much use in the 1980s and 1990s day care sex scares (even today, Martha Coakely bends over backwards to keep innocent people in jail).  Public choice theory tells us government officials have incentives that are different from mere "public service", and we can see that in spades in this prosecutor's mea culpa.

By the way, we can see similar incentives at work in the Jodi Arias trial, where a lot of public hatred was aimed at the one juror who refused to sentence Arias to death.  You read in this and other stories that the other 11 jurors were truly angry that they were not allowed to kill her.

The Arias trial also illustrates another issue -- there is a huge gender bias in death sentences.  It doesn't get much press, because it hurts men rather than women, but it is really really really hard for a woman to get sentenced to death.

Policing For Profit

Eric Holder should get credit for at least taking some baby steps to limit asset forfeiture abuse (steps it does not appear his nominated successor is going to be very enthusiastic about).  But there is a long way to go, as evidenced by this horror story of CalFire, the US Forest Service and the Holder Justice Department using everything every dirty trick I have ever heard of to extort money from a private company.

Before Michael Brown, Ferguson Police Did This

I had forgotten about this story and am surprised the media did not make this connection more often during the Michael Brown brouhaha:

Michael Daly at The Daily Beast has the flabbergasting story of Henry Davis, who was picked up by cops “for an outstanding warrant that proved to actually be for another man of the same surname, but a different middle name and Social Security number,” then beaten by several officers at the station. What happened next was truly surreal: while denying that Davis had been seriously hurt at all, though a CAT scan found he had suffered a concussion and a contemporaneous photo shows him bleeding heavily, four police officers sought to have him charged for property damage for getting blood on their uniforms. ...

The kicker: the police department was that of Ferguson, Missouri.

Scottsdale Police Union Charity: Less than 5 Cents of Each Donated Dollar Actually Getting Used For Charity

These guys hassle me constantly for money and I generally duck them.  Which is good, because if I had actually given money, I would be pissed:

The Scottsdale police union known as POSA -- the Police Officers of Scottsdale Association -- stages several events every year to help bring police and the community closer together. Over the next two weeks, 500 Scottsdale children will go holiday shopping with $150 in their pockets in the annual Shop with a Cop event.

But a closer look at POSA's federal tax filings shows just pennies of every dollar you donate reaches the community.

...

The union's most recent federal tax filings, for 2012, show about a million dollars in donations. For every dollar donated, professional fundraising services kept 81 cents -- about $814,000, records show.

A little more than 6 cents of every dollar went toward the $62,000-a-year salary of POSA director Cindy Hill. Hill is also the wife of union leader Jim Hill.

Less than a nickel of every dollar -- about $45,000 -- was spent on events like Shop with a Cop.

To be fair, this is probably about the same percentage of union dues that gets spent for their stated purpose, so these guys probably don't see anything amiss.

Why Reform of Police Accountability is Unlikely

It's as simple as this:  Republicans fetishize the police (like they do the military) and will always give them the benefit of the doubt.  They have this gauzy teary-eyed love of the police.  Just watch Megyn Kelly on Fox to get the idea.  Democrats are allied with public unions and will not under any circumstances take on the powerful police unions who fight any attempt at accountability tooth and nail, a behavior Democrats have become habituated to enabling for other unions like the teachers unions.

The issue is mostly about giving police accountability that matches the special powers over the use of force we give them.  But it is also about racism.  It just burns me up to have folks in power point to the business world constantly for supposed institutional racism, when in fact I witness very little if any day to day.  The one institution I see that clearly has elements of institutional racism are many police forces, but no one will touch them.

Every year there are hundreds of police shootings and the number that are determined not to be justifiable rounds to zero.  What are the odds there is a process involving humans with this small of a Type I error rate?  We are learning form cell phone cameras that the stories we used to believe from police officers about events are often total bullsh*t.  And yet still police are not held accountable even when there is horrific video evidence showing them out of control.

At the drop of a hat, at the smallest hint of a single example of a bad outcome, the government will not hesitate to impose enormous new restrictions on private individuals.  But even with the most overwhelming evidence the government will not put even the lightest restrictions in itself or its employees.

I have always shied away from my fellow libertarians on the anarcho-capitalist end of things who wanted to privatize the police force.  I always thought use of force to be a unique privilege and one dangerous to hand out to private groups.  But I am starting to see that I was thinking about it wrong.  It is a dangerous power to give to anyone, but at least if you give it to a private party someone might possibly exercise a little accountability over them.

Walter Olson has a good roundup of police and lethal force here.

Postscript:  Here is an example of what I mean:  The Obama Administration has imposed significant rules on universities to bring greater accountability to sexual assailants when it was perceived that the universities did not impose enough accountability on such predators.  I think the Administration has gone overboard in stripping away the accused due process protections and handing justice to people who will not manage the process well, but its the seriousness of this effort I want to point out.  While I don't think the Administration's actions were appropriate to colleges, they would represent an entirely appropriate response to police violence.  Someone needs to step in and enforce some accountability.

 

Witnesses Suck

Watching too many TV crime shows will blind you to a stark reality:  Witness testimony sucks.  Look at the linked comparison of witness testimony in the Michael Brown shooting grand jury.  Take any column, like the last one with number of shots fired.  Its a total mess!

When videos emerge of police brutality, police defenders often say that video can lie.  But I would argue that it is a hell of a lot better witness than the average person.  My guess is that police like this kind of variation in witness testimony, because they know that in most, perhaps all, cases, they will be given the benefit of the doubt when the testimony conflicts.

Why I Am Against the Death Penalty

Governments can't be trusted to administer life and death.  Simple as that.  Check out these guys.  They had much of their life taken from them -- but not all.

I Just Want to Barf

I have become pretty immune to letting BS government pleas for more power get to me, but this almost made me barf.

The No. 2 official at the Justice Department delivered a blunt message last month to Apple Inc. executives: New encryption technology that renders locked iPhones impervious to law enforcement would lead to tragedy. A child would die, he said, because police wouldn’t be able to scour a suspect’s phone, according to people who attended the meeting.

Children will die, do you hear?  CHILDREN WILL DIE!!!!

It is far more likely, based on recent history, that police will want to access your phone out of a prurient desire to see your naughty pictures than it will be to save some dying child ala in Dirty Harry.  Jeez you can make the same argument that if police could just randomly charge into any house they wanted for any reason, at some point they would probably save someone.

More on Liberal Vigilantism

Last week, I wrote about how much liberal college sex vigilantism reminds me of the right-wing 1970's Death Wish vigilantism.  Here is Ezra Klein proving my point:

For that reason, the law is only worth the paper it’s written on if some of the critics’ fears come true. Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success. It’s those cases—particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair, the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons—that will convince men that they better Be Pretty Damn Sure.

Good God, I have had many differences with liberals on a variety of issues but I have always made common cause with them on civil rights and criminal justice issues.  I can't believe he wrote this.  What is the difference from what Klein writes and and having a 1960's southern sheriff argue that it is OK to hang a few black men because it has the benefit of making the rest of the African-American population more docile?   Last week I asked:

 It is the exact same kind of rules of criminal procedure that Dirty Harry and Paul Kersey would have applauded.  Unacknowledged is the inevitable growth of Type I errors (punishing the innocent) that are sure to result.  Do the proponents not understand this tradeoff?  Or, just like the archetypal southern sheriff believed vis a vis blacks, do women's groups assume that the convicted male "must be guilty of something".

I guess we have our answer.

Awesome Asset Forfeiture Story

Penny-Ante Police Harassment and the Poor

The other day I wrote:

[Cars owned by African-Americans in Ferguson] are stopped at about a 6x higher rate for "equipment" deficiencies than whites.  Nitpicky regulations on car conditions (in Arizona your licence plate frame cannot cover any part of the word "Arizona" on the licence plate) are the great bugaboo of the poor and a nearly unlimited warrant for the police to stop minorities.  Mexicans here in Phoenix will tell me "woe to the Mexican who drives around here with a broken tail light -- he will be pulled over 3 times a day to have his immigration status checked".  In Phoenix, at least, stops for equipment issues are roughly the equivalent of pulling someone over for "driving while brown."  Even beyond the open-ended warrant these silly violations give the police, the fines and court costs create meaningful indebtedness problems for the poor which are hard to overcome.

Alex Tabarrok highlights some numbers from Arch City Defenders

new report from Arch City Defenders, a non-profit legal defense organization, shows that the Ferguson municipal courts are a stunning example of these problems:

Ferguson is a city located in northern St. Louis County with 21,203 residents living in 8,192 households. The majority (67%) of
residents are African-American…22% of residents live below the poverty level.

…Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of $2,635,400. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.

You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant “low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.”

If you have money, for example, you can easily get a speeding ticket converted to a non-moving violation. But if you don’t have money it’s often the start of a downward spiral that is hard to pull out of

I can testify to that last point.  I worked in the Emerson Electric headquarters for a couple of years, which ironically is located in one corner of Ferguson.  One of the unwritten bennies of working there was the in house legal staff.  It was important to make a friend there early.  In Missouri they had some bizarre law where one could convert a moving violation to a non-moving violation.  A fee still has to be paid, but you avoid points on your license that raises insurance costs (and life insurance costs, I found out recently).  All of us were constantly hitting up the in-house legal staff to do this magic for us.  I am pretty sure most of the residents of Ferguson do not have this same opportunity.

Where's Obama?

Presidents get into helicopters at the drop of a hat to tour disaster areas if such a trip can get them 2 minutes of empathy-demonstration on the nightly news broadcast.  Their presence is generally a hindrance to progress as first-responders have to drop everything to plan for the visit.

For once, in St. Louis, a Presidential visit might actually do some good and Obama sits in Martha's Vineyard.  I never thought of him this way, but for much of the African-American community, Obama represents a unique, special, almost mythical figure in whom a lot of hopes and dreams were invested.   An Obama visit urging peace combined with a promise from him that a fair and complete investigation would be undertaken would, IMO, bring the rioting to a halt.   If I were he I would go out there as the true friend of the African-American community that many perceive him to be and say, "the national has heard you and shares your frustration.  Change can happen.  But further violence in the streets is only going to undermine your position and give the advocates of militarized policing further, ah, ammunition.   It is reasonable for a President to defer to local and state authorities -- in fact it would be disastrous for the President to make a habit of sticking his nose in local criminal cases -- but he may be the only person with the credibility with local residents to make this end.

Since I last posted on this, there have been two new pieces of information.  One, Michael Brown apparently committed petty theft a few minutes before he was picked up, though the officers that picked him up did not know this.  And two, an autopsy reports that the unarmed Brown was shot at least 6 times.  It is hard to imagine any story that adequately explains shooting an unarmed man** who was not known to have committed a crime 6 freaking times.  And since the police have still not released any narrative of what happened from their point of view (they are still working with Michael Bay's screenwriters to see if they can come up with something), all we can do is imagine.

**Update 8/18:  I am willing to believe I am being unfair here.  I am simply exhausted by the lack of accountability and the pass we give to officers involved in shootings.  However, just because many such shootings are unjustified and subject to cover-ups does not by any means they all are.  The question from all of this is how do we start holding the police accountable without having to have riots.

Racial Profiling in Ferguson

The Washington Post has numbers on the much higher rate at which blacks are stopped and/or searched in Ferguson vs. whites.  By itself, while that is a useful pointer to a discrimination issue, someone might argue that blacks in the area commit more crimes per capita and thus warrant more stops.

There is one bit of data in the Post's numbers that can be used to partially address this.  The data says that blacks have their cars searched much more frequently than whites.   Blacks have their cars searched 12.13% of stops while whites have their cars searched only 6.85% of stops.  But this understates the disparity, since blacks are stopped at a higher rates than whites.    Taking the disparity in stops in to account, blacks are searched at a rate 6 times higher than for whites.

The interesting part is in the data on contraband hit rate, ie the rate that searches uncover something illicit.  The contraband hit rate for white car searches is 57% higher than for black car searches.  In other words, it is more likely searches of white cars will yield something illegal.  Which tends to undercut the argument that the greater rate of black car searches is somehow justified.

By the way, I want to highlight one other figure.  Black cars are stopped at about a 6x higher rate for "equipment" deficiencies than whites.  Nitpicky regulations on car conditions (in Arizona your licence plate frame cannot cover any part of the word "Arizona" on the licence plate) are the great bugaboo of the poor and a nearly unlimited warrant for the police to stop minorities.  Mexicans here in Phoenix will tell me "woe to the Mexican who drives around here with a broken tail light -- he will be pulled over 3 times a day to have his immigration status checked".  In Phoenix, at least, stops for equipment issues are roughly the equivalent of pulling someone over for "driving while brown."  Even beyond the open-ended warrant these silly violations give the police, the fines and court costs create meaningful indebtedness problems for the poor which are hard to overcome.

(As a mostly irrelevant aside, I worked essentially in one corner of Ferguson in the Emerson Electric headquarters for a couple of years.  Like many of the inner ring of suburbs in St Louis, this is not a wildly prosperous area but it also is not Somalia.  Driving at night I was much more nervous in the neighborhoods both due south and due East of Ferguson).

Update:  Via Zero Hedge

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