Later On

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Archive for January 25th, 2015

Why the police get bad press: They do bad things

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Rachel Aviv writes in the New Yorker:

Stephen Torres was meeting with a client at his law office, in downtown Albuquerque, on April 12, 2011, when he received a call from a neighbor, who told him that police officers were aiming rifles at his house. He left work and drove to his home, in a middle-class suburb with a view of the mountains. There were more than forty police vehicles on his street. Officers wearing camouflage fatigues and bulletproof vests had circled his home, a sand-colored two-story house with a pitched tile roof. Two officers were driving a remote-controlled robot, used for discharging bombs, back and forth on the corner.

Stephen’s wife, Renetta, the director of human resources for the county, arrived a few minutes later, just after three o’clock. A colleague had heard her address repeated on the police radio, so her assistant pulled her out of a meeting. When Renetta saw that the street was cordoned off with police tape, she tried to walk to her house, but an officer told her that she couldn’t enter the “kill zone.” “What do you mean ‘kill zone’?” Renetta asked. “Ma’am, you can’t go any further,” the officer said.

Renetta and Stephen found each other at the southern end of the street. There were nearly eighty officers and city officials on the street, many of whom they recognized. Stephen saw a police-union attorney, who defended officers when they were in trouble. Renetta saw the city’s attorney, who worked in the same building and on the same floor as she did, and the deputy chief of police, whom she’d known in graduate school. “I kept looking her way, but she would not make eye contact with me,” Renetta said.

Renetta knew that the only person at home was the youngest of her three boys, Christopher, who was twenty-seven and had schizophrenia. Two hours earlier, he had stopped by her office for lunch, as he did a few times a week. Then he visited an elderly couple who lived two houses away. He said that he needed to “check up on them”; he often cleaned their pool or drove them to the grocery store. Because he found it overwhelming to spend too much time among people, he tried to do small, social errands, so as not to isolate himself.

When Stephen asked the police what had happened to Christopher, he was told only that there was an “ongoing criminal investigation.” Stephen offered to let the officers inside the house, but they refused. Stephen called a close friend on the force, who said that a person had been taken off in an ambulance earlier in the afternoon, at around two o’clock. Stephen called the three main hospitals in Albuquerque, but Christopher hadn’t been admitted to any of them.

Stephen called a neighbor, Val Aubol, who lived across the street, to find out what she could see. Aubol peeked through the shutters of her front window and saw ten officers lined up against a neighbor’s garage, next to the Torreses’ house. The SWAT team’s Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck was parked in front of them. When Aubol went into her back yard, she saw a rope dangling from her roof. An officer had climbed up and was pointing his gun at the Torreses’ house. Another officer was crouching behind the gate at the side of her house. She told the officers that she’d spoken with Christopher’s father, but an officer waved her back inside. “Stay in the house!” he shouted.

At around five-thirty, a female officer stepped out of a mobile crime unit, an R.V. where detectives processed evidence, and waved the family over. “She was so detached,” Renetta said. “All she said was ‘I regret to inform you that your son is deceased.’ ” She did not tell them how their son had died or where they could find his body. The Torreses asked if they could go home, but the officer said that it was still an active crime scene.

About half an hour later, Val Aubol heard a booming noise, and her ceiling shook. The officer on her roof had shot a flash-bang grenade, which produces a concussive blast of noise and light, onto the Torreses’ front patio. The device temporarily blinds and deafens anyone near it.

It is not clear what the officers thought they were doing at that point. In a report filed later that day, one officer wrote, “Detectives believed another person was inside the house refusing to exit. Supposedly they saw movement in the house.” Another wrote, “There may be three people still inside the residence and all were possibly armed.”

Not long afterward, several officers used a battering ram to open the Torreses’ front door, which had on it a “Welcome” sign decorated with an Easter bunny. The officers searched the laundry room, the basement, the attic, and four bedrooms, dumping the contents of drawers onto the floor. No one was home.

Although there were no suspects to apprehend, the neighborhood was still filled with cops, who had heard on the police radio that an officer had shot someone. According to Thomas Grover, a sergeant with the Albuquerque Police Department, who resigned a few months after Christopher’s death, shootings by officers set off a ritual in the department: other officers quickly reported to the scene. “It was just team spirit, I guess,” he said. “Everyone would say, ‘Oh, there’s a shooting, we got to get there, everyone’s going down there.’ It was a place to be seen.” He said that in the hours after a shooting cops would ask one another, “Was it a bad shoot? Or a good shoot?”

The Torres family learned how Christopher died from watching the news the next day. At a press conference, the department’s chief public-safety officer said that two officers had tried to arrest Christopher at home, but, when he resisted and grabbed a gun from one of them, the officers felt that their lives were in danger. The local television stations ran an unflattering picture of Christopher with his eyes bugged out. One station reported that the “police suspected Torres is responsible for several violent road rage incidents around the city.” The police department said publicly that Christopher had a lengthy criminal history, which was untrue. He’d never been convicted of a crime, though he had been arrested once, for public affray, disorderly conduct, and impersonating an officer: he’d fought with a man who had illegally carried his gun into a restaurant where Christopher was eating. Christopher told the man that he was a government agent, tackled him, and took the weapon. When asked to show his credentials, Christopher flashed his library card.

In the five years before Christopher’s death, the Albuquerque Police Department shot thirty-eight people, killing nineteen of them. More than half were mentally ill. In Albuquerque, a city of five hundred and fifty thousand, the rate of fatal shootings by police is eight times that of New York City. Renetta vaguely remembered hearing about many of the deaths in the local media. Nearly every time, the police announced that the person who had been shot was violent, a career criminal, or mentally ill. “I just assumed that these men must have done something to merit being killed,” she said. “On the news, they relayed these really sinister stories about the men, and they’d flash these horrible pictures. They looked frightening.”

Grover, the former sergeant, said that when officers shot someone the department typically ordered a “red file” on the deceased. “The special-investigations division did a complete background on the person and came up with any intelligence to identify that, you know, twenty years ago, maybe, the person got tagged for shoplifting,” he said. “Then they gave the red file to the chief.”

More than a thousand people attended Christopher’s funeral, at the Catholic church where he prayed with his parents every week. Stephen, in his eulogy, said that he considered the chief of police, Raymond Schultz, his friend. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2015 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Helps a non-football fan see how football can be interesting

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Oddly, I associate this level of writing more with baseball than football: “Bill Belichick and the Big Seep.”

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2015 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Business, Games

3-D printed DIY insert for custom travel case from a tin like an Altoids’

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Take a look at this. (Forgive the Altoids tin reference; I’d not heard of Barkley.)

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2015 at 1:08 pm

If the measure of a nation is how it treats those who are poor, marginalized, and powerless, the US doesn’t look so good

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First, there’s the awkward fact that 25% of prisoners in the world are in US prisons. And the world has clearly seen how the US runs prisons—Abu Gharib, Guantánamo, Bagram and the Salt Pit, and Florida.

As you read the post at the link, keep reminding yourself (a) that this is how the United States does things, and (b) the entire world can read those stories now: ain’t no more “local”—or, rather, our idea of “local” has changed significantly in some respects.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2015 at 12:08 pm

Your cats gauge your responses to a novelty to see how they should react

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Quite an interesting study. Cats, like dogs, use their humans’ responses to gauge the threat level of something new in the environment.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2015 at 10:47 am

Posted in Cats, Science

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