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Community Policing In The Age Of Homeland Security
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
by John Christopher Fine
Having recently heard about an example of law enforcement bullying in one of our Airports, our Perspective columnist John C. Fine was prompted to share his concerns and cautions in his latest observation, in which the keepers of homeland security make us feel actually less secure.
We live in a difficult age. The world has become divided along religious lines. Terrorists create battlefields among the innocent. We have known racial hatred in America. In the not too distant past black churches were burned in southern states and innocent people lynched. We, as a nation, have tried to correct the wrongs and become tolerant.
American society today may be said to have become tolerant on the surface with laws that insure civil rights. In practice, laws of the land are enforced by individuals who have largely been raised among garish gang tattoos, violent video games, super weapons, militaristic adventure, and conditioned rudeness. Attraction to violence is a sub-culture. In its mildest form it is bare knuckle fist prizefights and football mentality. Kid’s playgrounds resound with parents calling out in harsh voices, “Kill them. Knock them down.”
It is no wonder that some of those that gravitate to police work come as bullies. They may have been bullies in school or, even more pathologically, may have been passive/strong in their conduct in order to overcome or avenge their personal failings. Psychologists on the payrolls of federal and local law enforcement agencies cannot weed out all the misfits. Most are able to answer questions sanely with the pap required to get them on the job. Once hired, and over the probationary period, the job on the street is theirs to own. Brothers in arms cajole the new recruits into a system of protectionism.
Most police officers and federal agents disdain corruption and violence which leads to brutality; yet many condone it. An officer who reports violence, brutality, or misconduct on the part of fellow officers is immediately put on the defensive and shunned. Violent behavior, in all of its brutal degrees including verbal abuse, is becoming the norm in law enforcement today. Federal officers have absolute power and no controls, despite thousand page training manuals that are no more valid than the value top level supervisors put on them.
The example cited below is one of many that occur every single day in America. We cannot be proud of it and we must consider it as the norm.
It came from the pulpit one recent Sunday. Our minister is not an activist, not a radical, not particularly liberal. It is the first time I ever heard him directly criticize government in this country. He started his sermon saying “Our government is corrupt,” repeated it three times then emphasized that we are not surprised and all of us know it. The rest of the sermon was mild by comparison, yet the thrust of the minister’s opening was haunting.
After church service I discovered the source of his peeve and its provocation. A week ago he went to New York’s Kennedy Airport to pick up a family friend who traveled from Germany to spend three months in the U.S. after her graduation from high school. It would give the young woman a chance to enjoy America during her vacation from school before returning to university study near Cologne. Our minister had to wait two hours after her plane arrived, unable to find out what happened to the young traveler.
Later his friend, Elga, recounted her experience. She arrived at Kennedy Airport; all of her documents were in order; she had obtained an appropriate visa to enter the United States and her passport was valid. The U.S. State Department cleared her for entry and approved her after review of all documentary evidence that is required for a tourist visa. That part of the routine is difficult today and must be accomplished by travelers before arrival in the U.S. from most countries.
“A police officer pulled me out of the line,” she said.
The police officer was a customs agent, now part of that federal super-agency labeled CBP, Customs-Border Patrol under the umbrella of Homeland Security. This young visitor to America was taken to an interrogation room where four customs agents began what she described as her two-hour ordeal.
“Luckily I can speak English. They said I was lying and I am here as an ‘au pair’ girl to work.” The trauma of the ordeal of this 19-year old visitor was still apparent. “I never did anything wrong. They took all my belongings. I told them to call the pastor and the pastor’s wife.”
“Don’t tell us how to do our job. You want to be put on the next plane to Germany?” This rude, arrogant, and improper interrogation continued in that vein for two hours. The traveler is an attractive teenager, which may have accounted for the conduct of the male officers in the first place. Her cellphone had been taken away from her, so she had no ability to use her cell phone to call the minister who was waiting for. Four male officers in the interrogation room continued to put the young woman in fear and terror.
Just the day before, the Wall Street Journal carried a front page article by Radley Balko in the Review Section. Mr. Balko is the author of a new book entitled The Rise of the Warrior Cop. The book and the article document out of control government spending to arm local and federal police agencies to military standards. The author quotes a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has given out $35 billion in grants since 2002 to local police agencies to arm them with military assault equipment and armored vehicles. Balko reported that in 2011 the U.S. military, through Pentagon spending, provided $500 million to local law enforcement to enhance their military capabilities.
The report is replete with accounts of killings of innocent people by police SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams. One revelation is that the Department of Education has and even the US Fish and Wildlife Service have SWAT divisions. Mr. Balko claims to have 50 examples of the killing of innocent people during raids by SWAT teams to enforce non-violent matters, including a 92-year old woman and an 11-year old child. Modern police recruiting videos feature military exercises with helicopters, assault weapons and tactics that special forces use, which tend to “attract recruits for the wrong reasons,” Balko says.
America is out of control. Politicians, invariably corrupt, as the minister’s sermon didn’t so much reveal as emphasize, have billions in tax money to deal with. With the installation of fear among the general public that terrorism is going to rob us of our lives, we have given up, through morally corrupt if not physically corrupt, elected officials, our fundamental rights.
What we have received in return are police agencies that recruit the wrong kind of people, for the wrong kind of reasons, for the wrong kind of jobs. ‘To protect and Serve,’ is a long way from the efforts of cops living in air conditioned cruisers wearing a pair of high tech Glock pistols, a Tazer stun-gun, and bullet proof vests, with computers and $5,000 hand-held radios at their fingertips. They have all the toys of youth and all the authority of what is fast becoming dictatorial power.
Courses are given to young black men is some urban areas about how to deal with police. How to crouch down on the ground innocently and protect their heads from blows while showing their bare hands so no accusation of having a weapon can be used against them. The youths are told how to respond to police interrogations and to yield their dignity in order to defuse situations wherein they are totally innocent.
It is akin to the defensive diver’s admonition: ‘Would you rather be right and dead?’
In the case of Elga’s interrogation, the rules of American justice are suspended at our borders. While our laws apply to all people within our nation, we have allowed Constitutional guarantees to be superceded by new initiatives passed by Congress in response to hallucinations by greedy bureaucrats that want military power.
On the whole, local and federal law enforcement agencies have been going in the military direction for a long time. Federal agencies have become military cults that have no effective controls and regulation.
When I suggested that Elga could report the improper conduct, I was immediately cut off. “She would be expelled from the U.S. and never allowed back,” was the response. The young traveler to this land of the free – and we cannot call the customs officers that brutally interrogated her “the brave” – was fingerprinted, her retinas photographed, and her picture taken. Is this not dramatic proof that she is subject to the brutal power of what we are becoming called overseas, a killer nation?
It may be a matter of perspective that we haven’t noticed. The mainline press in the U.S. paints a far different image of America than the international press, which dwells on the corrupt motives for military intervention around the world. The foreign press reports the way in which military sorties are carried out using drones in which the innocent as well are victimized. Police departments are into drones now and have a new spy tool in their sophisticated military arsenal of weapons.
Mr. Balko concludes that military prowess is meant for defense. We have not called it the Department of Aggression, not yet at least. The cop on the beat who walks his patrol area and knows every merchant, every parent and every problem area has become an anachronism of an aging new idea called Community Policing.
I crossed from the International Peace Park that straddles North Dakota and Canada. The Canadian officer was appropriately dressed, polite and efficient. The American was dressed in black military jack boots, black uniform and prominently displayed his weapon and arrogance. He was nasty. We have allowed federal law enforcement, on nearly every level, to get out of control. Perhaps our minister’s next sermon will be entitled: ‘Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’
In the case of Elga, she is here with friends and will always bear the scars of her two-hour interrogation. She will go home and describe the brutal terror instilled in her by Americans who would likely be defended by their agency bosses, if it ever came up, as ‘Only doing their job.’
Haven't we heard that before?
John Christopher Fine served as Senior Assistant District Attorney in New York County. He was the Assistant Attorney General In Charge, Organized Crime Task Force and served various state and federal law enforcement and investigative agencies. He is the author of 24 books and remains a consultant to law enforcement on national security issues and organized crime, and a frequent contributor to 9-1-1 Magazine.