Monday, January 05, 2015

Roundup: Profiles in pablum, private prison problems, prosecuting police and practical border advice

Here are several items which deserve Grits readers' attention but haven't made it into independent posts (though one or two may later be reprised in more detail).

Top private prison stories from 2014
Texas Prison Bidness has posts detailing the top five private prison stories in Texas from 2014 here, here, here, here, and here.

Profiles in pablum: Outgoing CCA judges speak up, say nothing
Chuck Lindell at the Austin Statesman profiled the three judges exiting the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in a love-fest of a story that belied an ideologically divided court and what reportedly have been often acrimonious internal relations. I'd heard from another reporter that the outgoing judges won't discuss divisions over, e.g., the Charles Dean Hood debacle or Sharon Keller's "we close at 5" fiasco, preferring to stick to polite, platitudinous pablum about their colleagues as witnessed in this story. Too bad; the public would benefit from greater insight into one of the state's most opaque, least understood and at times dysfunctional institutions.

Police accountability activists pick tough row to hoe
The Houston Chronicle has a story about a new generation of 20-something activists focused on police brutality and law enforcement issues in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. Having begun my own two-decade journey in criminal-justice advocacy over police brutality issues in Austin in the mid-90s, I'd respectfully suggest that a) most of the real changes needed must happen in state law, not at the local level, particularly in civil-service cities like Houston, and b) settle in and build for the long haul, these are not issues which will be quickly or simply resolved. In a related story, read a lengthy Dallas Observer story recounting an episode of a mentally ill man who was shot and killed by Dallas police. His brother has joined the group Mothers Against Police Brutality and the article described his dissatisfying efforts seeking answers about the incident from the department, including confronting the police chief at a public forum.

Feds may step in after El Paso grand jury cleared cop who shot handcuffed man
An El Paso cop who shot and killed a handcuffed suspect in 2013 may face federal charges. The officer was fired but (as will ring familiar these days) a grand jury chose not to indict him. El Paso DA Jaime Esparza says he is "monitoring" the case, whatever that means.

Divvying up asset forfeiture funds
See a new report (pdf) from the Office of Court Administration on state-county interactions over asset forfeiture. A good primer on how monies are divvied up. The report was requested in a legislative rider because counties get upset when DPS hands over cases with potential forfeitures to the feds instead of letting county DA offices rake in the profits, though the report found this happens mainly in the larger cases. Also, some counties are using forfeiture funds as a replacement/substitute for local funding for the DA's office, which is contrary to state law. Grits may return to this in more detail later but wanted to post the link.

From the judges
See legislative recommendations from the Texas Judicial Council.

Practical border security advice
The McAllen Monitor has published an in-depth set of editorials parsing the nuts and bolts of immigration and border security issues that deserves attention from everyone out there engaging in demagoguery on the topic, from whatever political perspective, focusing on practical rather than ideological concerns. 

18 comments:

Harry Homeless said...

Practical perimeter proposal?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Indeed, I failed to properly complete the alliteration, huh? :)

Anonymous said...

Hands up! Don't shoot!

Lisa Stassi said...

Hi Scott,

You do sound a tiny bit weary after fighting the good fight against police brutality for 20 years, but I'm hopeful. Boy, didn't the situation in Ferguson, MO just kill apathy? And, isn't apathy what allows the police to just keep getting worse and worse? It's citizen apathy, failure to read and understand the Constitution, and ignorance of how things used to be in the past, i.e., not so violent and militarized.

That said, I think that everything will really be okay so long as the press continue to report on police activities without being threatened with jail which is what made the behavior of the Obama administration so scary a few years back. Still, the press confronted the president on his stuff and the administration backed down on jailing reporters for doing their job.

It all leaves me wondering if it would be constitutional to test incoming police recruits for the personality traits of need for domination, power, and control and, even more interesting, if you could do that, how many recruits would you have to toss? Methinks it ain't constitutional, but it would be interesting. Could we really wind up with a police force full of cheerful pacifists? Maybe I'm dreaming ;-)

Looking forward in time, the police have their military equipment courtesy of the military and, I am GUESSING that those 20 something activists have some hackers amongst them, so the future is bound to be interesting....internal memos being released and whatnot.

Generic Joe said...

Perhaps those that have fought so blindly against police corruption for a long time should provide the sage advice to these newcomers to pick their battles wisely instead of rush to judgement every time force is used, someone dies, or something is so poorly reported in the media that these types rush to fill in the blanks with generic claims unsupported by facts. In terms of strategy, trying to embarrass an official at a local forum typically achieves two things, they circle the wagons and give their knee jerk "the matter is still under investigation" line or they stop going to such forums, sending a flunky instead while marginalizing the one who thought it was such a great idea to ambush them at the podium.

No one realistically believes that all cops are saints either inside the myriad of policing agencies, in the community, or in the state capital but the belief that such corruption is widespread, is systematic, and is supported by rank & file officers is where many draw the line. In one form or fashion, there are close to a million law enforcement officers when you include the military and the overwhelming majority do what they are supposed to day in and day out under some admittedly difficult circumstances. They deal with huge numbers of irate, mentally unstable, and otherwise emotionally impacted people along with the criminal element they come in contact with daily. This has several documented effects over time, few that work in society's collective favor.

The established forces in fighting such problems include the Johnny Mata's, the Quannell X's, and others that make everything about their particular race, such characters often feeling the need to go back to the archives from decades past to come up with pertinent examples of misconduct in order to sway their small followings. This tactic fails to persuade on such a level that QX needs to PAY folks to demonstrate with him (it's part of his fee) and he is not alone. If you need to go back to the 70's for an example of misconduct, you have failed in the eyes of many who will simply change the channel on you.

Then, those who seek to champion people who were engaged in a crime forget that most of us have been victims ourselves. I'm sorry but if you're out robbing people, raping people, or even reaching under your seat in a day and age where numerous cops have been killed by such, you're gambling with your life. While this doesn't automatically let some quick on the draw officer off in my book, the same can't be said for the majority who aren't going to be swayed with generic platitudes such as "he was unarmed", "he was off his meds", or "but he was always such a good boy" when his criminal record was a mile long and the family is clearly engaging in selective memory.

By suggesting "one death is too many" as a battle cry, you marginalize any such efforts too, because while all life might be sacred to most of us, the adage also applies to those we empower to do our policing for us, few of them as well paid as officers in Austin and given the wish list we impose upon them not just for conduct but for what we expect them to accomplish, you set yourself up for failure.

So those who seek change might be better off vetting the causes they champion, improving funding for better vetting of police candidates and certainly improving their training, while recognizing that you are not going to change human nature on either side of the equation.

Generic Joe said...

Lisa, not to belittle your comments but Ferguson is already dying on the vine given the manner in which the facts came out about the course of action initiated by the deceased. The larger numbers of folks swayed at first by the poor reporting have calmed down and the others still feel the need to embellish to cause a stir, further weakening the resolve of the type you need to affect change.

And believe it or not, all the major cities, all state agencies, and all military branches DO test candidates for personality traits. There are recognized traits that are sought and they get them in droves, the need for an alpha male personality belying your desire for cheerful pacifists because society collectively demands we hire forceful problem solvers, knowing full well that some will straddle, or even cross, whatever lines of conduct we establish. So it is certainly Constitutional to test for personality traits, you just want different traits than experts have declared what is needed to succeed in the position.

Regarding your angst over militarization, keep in mind that every step in that direction came from the citizenry who had to approve it. Is it unreasonable to suggest police wear body armor in a day and age where police are routinely shot at? Is it unreasonable for larger departments to purchase rifles when virtually anyone else has the right to such weapons, including people with criminal intent that police are forced to deal with? Do you think larger departments should not have a vehicle or two to engage in those limited circumstances where such come in handy, thanks to the proliferation of high powered weapons among the populace? What specific aspect of "militarization" disturbs you that cannot be whisked away by looking at the reality of modern day America?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hi Lisa, good to hear from you.

It's not so much that I'm weary, it's that I've been all the way around this block on this already and understand the legal and political terrain. Police discipline in civil service cities is controlled by the Lege in Texas, not locals, and protesting local police is futile: There's no end game with that approach to actually improve policy at the municipal level.

Both activism and media focus wax and wane, which is part of the problem. The police unions systematically opposing reforms exist as well-heeled institutions and are there for the long haul. They have well-developed, aggressive strategies and a disciplined base by comparison to the haphazard, ad hoc configuration of folks engaged in mere protest politics. Since there's no single silver-bullet reform to solve things, including body cams, cops opposing reform know they can wait all this out and return to business as usual within a year or so.

Also, though the media ARE there for the long haul, they rely on police PR departments for a large proportion of their coverage and typically pull punches to avoid souring relationships they need for day-to-day stories. Press coverage won't help if it fails to spawn grass roots organizing aimed at accumulation of raw political power. And that takes time, money and resources.

Finally, I don't think police are more violent now than in the past - in fact, probably less - it's just that now every incident has the potential for national media attention. Twenty years ago nobody in Texas would have heard about police killing someone in Missouri, and for that matter people in Dallas didn't hear about police shootings in other Texas cities, so they were all portrayed by the cops and their media lackeys as isolated incidents. That's not possible anymore thanks to Google News and social media. But there was never some golden age "in the past" when these sorts of things didn't occur.

And @6:42, training isn't the biggest problem, it's accountability when they go against their training and violate rules and/or laws.

The Old Kol Preacher said...

After reading Generic Joe, it is hard to keep the grits down this morning.

I honor a man or woman who is willing to give his or her life for a cause.

2015 will bring a class of black man Jihadists. Perhaps then the ''Generic Joe's'' of the world will be willing to sit at a table of brotherhood to decide public policy on police brutality.

A man only have one life to give to humanity, as we witnessed in Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

Generic Joe paints with the same type of broad brush he faults others for when he says:

"Then, those who seek to champion people who were engaged in a crime forget that most of us have been victims ourselves. I'm sorry but if you're out robbing people, raping people, or even reaching under your seat in a day and age where numerous cops have been killed by such, you're gambling with your life. While this doesn't automatically let some quick on the draw officer off in my book, the same can't be said for the majority who aren't going to be swayed with generic platitudes such as "he was unarmed", "he was off his meds", or "but he was always such a good boy" when his criminal record was a mile long and the family is clearly engaging in selective memory."

First, let me agree with Generic Joe that there are many good, honest police officers. I previously worked in law enforcement and know that to be true. However, there are many, many bad apples. And, they seem to be more prevalent in some departments. Some departments seem to have a culture that encourages mistreatment of citizens and dishonesty among its officers. Unfortnately, most people will lie when it is advantageous and police officers are no different from ordinary people. Putting on the uniform does not make them more honest.

I haven't really followed the Ferguson incident or the other incident in New York closely. I know that the information I would get from the media would likely not be reliable. I have no idea what really happened in those cases or who was at fault. My suspicion is that both sides share some fault.

Anonymous said...

Generic Joe is guilty of the same thing he accuses others of. Painting with a broad brush, he assumes that everyone involved in encounters with the police is a criminal and deserves whatever they get. First, many ordinary, law-abiding citizens come in contact with police every day. And, while many times they are treated just fine, way too often, the police approach people with attitudes that tend to escalate, rather than resolve conflict. Police used to be trained to use verbal tactics to deescalate situations. Now, it seems as if they are being trained to do just the opposite. Instead of focusing on deescalation, the focus now seems to be on domination and intimidation. When I worked in law enforcement I saw that some officers rarely got into conflict. These officers could almost always effect an arrest in a professional manner with no conflct. Others, would approach people with an attitude and, often the attitude you approach someone with is what you will get back from them. It seems now that officers receive a lot of tactical training but no people skills training. People skills training is just as, if not more important.

Police are also to blame (although, again both sides share in the fault) for fosterng an us vs. them mentality. I wasn't surprised to see a backlash against police. The only thing that surprised me a little was that race was such a primary issue. While some may be, i don't think the majority of mistreatment of citizens by police is motivated by racism. It is this us vs. them mentality that is the problem and, people of all races are frankly, getting fed up with some of what has been coming from law enforcement. The police community is as much to blame for the current hostility towards law enforcement as anyone. And, if they don't start changing their way of thinking and of dealing with people, it will get worse.

I remember we used to hear a lot about community oriented policing. What we really need is simply community policing. Instead of large municipal bureacracies, i think we need community police departments. You may need a large overarching structure for some functions, but day to day policing should be performed and managed within the community. Officers should live in the coummunities in which they work. The departments should be managed by the community.

I also agree with Lisa, they need to look closer at who they are hiring. There are to many Barneys and not enough Andys.

Anonymous said...

"2015 will bring a class of black man Jihadists. Perhaps then the ''Generic Joe's'' of the world will be willing to sit at a table of brotherhood to decide public policy on police brutality."

All such a group would do is bolster the belief that black men were more prone to violence and therefore less likely to survive a police encounter regardless of ties to such a group. And before you canonize the killer in Brooklyn as a savior of humanity, credible reports are in that he was mentally disturbed, shot his girlfriend, and had an extensive criminal record. He likely knew his options were limited and believed his personal outcome was assured well before he blew his own brains out.

"I remember we used to hear a lot about community oriented policing. What we really need is simply community policing"

It is my understanding that community oriented policing requires a great deal more manpower, to the tune of three times as many police or more, to work as suggested. In most local communities, no one is willing to foot the bill for such programs, Grits pointed out Austin's unwillingness to hire mere lab techs to process evidence and HPD reportedly in need of 1500 to 2500 more officers just to cover the basics.

The Old Kol Preacher said...

@Anonymous, is it not so the ''criminal'' and the ''mentally disturbed'' have been called upon by society to give the final measure of devotion'' to save the innocent?

The sacrificial one is purified by the fire.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:33 said:
"'I remember we used to hear a lot about community oriented policing. What we really need is simply community policin'

It is my understanding that community oriented policing requires a great deal more manpower, to the tune of three times as many police or more, to work as suggested. In most local communities, no one is willing to foot the bill for such programs, Grits pointed out Austin's unwillingness to hire mere lab techs to process evidence and HPD reportedly in need of 1500 to 2500 more officers just to cover the basics."

This is the typical response of a bureaucrat to a problem - "we need more money." Most police departments have more officers than they need now. Its just a matter of how they choose to utilize them. Ending the crazy war on drugs would free up a lot of officers and resources. But, things like community policing are not as fun as busting in doors and making drug busts.

And, to be correct, I was not advocating for "community oriented policing" but I was talking about "community policing." There is a difference. My suggestion is to dismantle the huge bureaucratic structure that are called police departments and establish smaller community police departments that would be managed and staffed by people who live in the community. You might need some overarching structure for some functions but the day to day, on the street, police work would be done by officers who live in the community in which they work and the citizens in the community would have more direct input into how the department operates. I think something like this would not take any more officers than the current system and may actually turn out to be more efficient and use less resources.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:25,
You write as if police have the choice to end criminal sanctions against drugs when the truth is, legislatures across the country and the citizens that vote for them make those decisions. Blaming the police for what they are tasked with doing as a reason for anything is circular logic to say the least. Further, very few officers participate in drug raids busting down doors and such. If you were to ask most officers I've met which they would rather do, no knock drug raids where they were gambling with their lives or community style policing which often translates into chatting with friendly folks, maybe even flirting with cute women, I'm pretty sure which direction most would pick in the real world.

As far as the other suggestion, it sounds like a recipe for disaster on many levels. The bureaucracy you complain about handles most of the tasks forced on them by local, state, and federal regulators. Each neighborhood is not going to be able to afford a private police force, a crime lab, a detective bureau, record keeping duties for a myriad of oversight agencies, and everything else. The common refrain about saving money by down sizing is a tea party myth too, if that logic worked for policing, it would work for everything else yet it does not.

Anonymous said...

Oh, come on, 10:22, you know the law enforcement community has pushed the war on drugs. By so doing, they have been able to secure more funding, cool toys to play with, and increase their power while decreasing constitutional rights. The war on drugs has created a law enforcement "industry" which also includes those who supply the cool toys, training, etc. Its undeniable that law enforcement has been the driving force behind the expansion of the war on drugs. And, you are wrong, I have "chatted" with officers. Yes, the ones with any sense would rather just have friendly conversations with folks. However, the majority of the young officers that seem to be attracted to law enforcement these days would find that boring and crave things like drug raids, etc. Hell, just the thought of finding a little marijuana in a car excites the hell out of some of them. That is the sort of thing they live for. Make them do real community policing and I suspect some of them would opt for other career choices.

As far as needing the resources for crime labs, etc. You haven't been reading my posts very closely. As I said, there may be some functions that require a larger structure. However, the day to day, street police work should be done at the community level - and, despite your assertions to the contrary, many officers have no interest in this type of work as it would not provide not only the excitement, but the opportunities to dominate and intimidate people that these personalities crave.

Your comments are what would be expected of a typical bureucrat. Resist ANY significant change. Resist trying ANYTHING new. The only change you want to see is more funding and expanding bot the size and power of the bureaucracy. Let's see, if I recall, last time I heard, Texas had one licensed peace officer for approximately every 300 citizens. How many more do you want? 1 to 200, 1 to 100, would 1 to 10 be too many for you. No, adding more officers and pouring more tax dollars into these municipal bureucratic pits would be a waste and would only exacerbate the problems that initially were the subject of htis thread.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:22,
I think you misunderstand my personal stance from my personal observations. I am not calling for more officers, I merely pointed out that community policing advocates do so, do so regularly, and point out that a great deal many more man-hours are needed to engage in the practice without it becoming the latest dog and pony show.

In Houston & Harris County at least, at any given time there are dozens of calls for help left holding while waiting for a police response. To community police under those circumstances would mean letting even more calls wait while an officer was "chatting" as discussed. Answering calls is a reactive model that requires fewer police while community policing is a model that is more labor intensive but is said to work better in the long term; even it's biggest advocate locally, former police chief and former mayor Brown couldn't make it work, finding it easier to write text books about it than to make it happen.

As far as the toys you are fixated on, as much as some younger officers would perhaps like to use them, they are very rare and only used by a very tiny portion of the employee population. Police departments tend to assign one or two people to become experts in those armored personnel carriers, those ultra rare drones, and all the other tech stuff that usually costs too much to maintain to keep them working for long. And again, whatever those younger officers you seem to like talking to want, their input is rarely asked for or taken, a truism for the military as well.

Anonymous said...

It won't get any better until they put you and Al Sharpton in charge of the police.

Anonymous said...

Terrorists have never crossed our border and they will not cross the border. Chill out!