Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Racism in the Ferguson and San Francisco police departments

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In Ferguson, as reported in the New Yorker by Jack Hitt:

The Department of Justice’s report on the Ferguson Police Department is full of eye-catching numbers that reveal a culture plagued by significant racism. Statistically significant. For instance, nearly ninety per cent of the people who prompted a “use of force” by the F.P.D. were black. Even among such skewed percentages, there are some standouts. Among cases in which a suspect was bitten by an attack dog and the suspect’s race was recorded, what percentage were black?

A hundred per cent.

There is little nuance in the incidents described in the report; the police simply sicced their dogs on unarmed black males. According to the F.P.D’s own guidelines, handlers should not release the hounds “if a lower level of force could reasonably be expected to control the suspect or allow for the apprehension.” But the report reveals that the F.P.D. is quick to set loose its trained attack dogs—often on black children.

In one account, a dog was sent after an unarmed sixteen-year-old who was also Tasered. The electric shock of that weapon partially paralyzes a person. If that were to happen while a dog was tearing at your arms and legs, all you could do would be to watch in immobilized horror.

Another case involved four police officers, including a canine handler, trapping an unarmed fourteen-year-old in an abandoned basement. The crime? Trespassing. The D.O.J. report recounts what the boy says happened to him: “When he saw the dog at the top of the steps, he turned to run, but the dog quickly bit him on the ankle and then the thigh, causing him to fall to the floor. The dog was about to bite his face or neck but instead got his left arm, which the boy had raised to protect himself. F.P.D. officers struck him while he was on the ground, one of them putting a boot on the side of his head. He recalled the officers laughing about the incident afterward.”

The starkness of these accounts prompts some questions. Were no white suspects ever subdued with dogs? Were all the white suspects perceived as less dangerous (than a kid playing hookie)? Was this just overt Bull Connor-style racism? Or was there something more subtle going on in these incidents—an unconscious cuing by the dog’s handlers as to whom the animals should attack the most aggressively.

The use of canines in American policing and surveillance has spiked since 9/11. They have been hired to work as bomb-detection dogs, methamphetamine-sniffing dogs, and cadaver dogs, and they have been trained to detect mines. There are arson dogs, of course, but there are also dogs trained to detect bed bugs and dogs that specialize in locating invasive quagga mussels at boat landings. Then there are dogs trained to find orca scat, or forbidden mobile phones in prison, or Townsend’s Big-Eared Bats.

The conventional wisdom is simply that dogs have supersensitive, trustworthy noses. We hear about these dogs that perform amazing feats, such as sniffing out cancer, and it reinforces our common faith that they are nearly flawless in this regard—a trust that is further reinforced when we recall our childhood dog, who loved us unconditionally (Wendy, you big loveball), or maybe our favorite on-screen canine star (depending on your generation: Petey, Lassie, Old Yeller, Comet, Hooch, Brian Griffin). The Supreme Court agrees, resisting evidence that a dog’s power to smell and detect might be anything less than an unquestionable fact. In a 2006 paper about detector dogs, Richard Myers, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, summarized the lazy rhetoric that courts often use to avoid questioning supposedly tried-and-true methodologies: “The use of [insert technology here] is well-settled in the law of this [state/circuit] and we need not revisit it here.”

It would appear that science supports giving dogs’ noses the benefit of the doubt. Humans have about five million olfactory cells, while dogs have as many as two hundred and twenty million. And one study of the canine snout found that it is able to detect scents at concentrations as low as five hundred parts per trillion. But there’s a catch, which most of us (including the Supreme Court, a few years back) don’t consider: dogs are also astute at picking up on subconscious cues from their handlers—a talent that, like their sense of smell, is exquisite and astonishingly fine-tuned.

Science fans may recall the story of Clever Hans—the German horse that, at the turn of the twentieth century, wowed audiences by telling time, reading calendars and solving math problems. Two Berlin academics, named Pfungst and Stumpf, figured out that Hans was reading not only his handler but also the faces of the audience to know when to stop pawing the ground as he had arrived at the right mathematical answer. Around the same time, Americans were being entertained by a similarly talented horse, named Beautiful Jim Key. In later years there came Lady Wonder, the telepathic horse, and Jim the Wonder Dog, another psychic. Domesticated animals are pretty good at figuring out what we want them to do, and for good reason.

Continue reading. It’s quite evident that dogs that signal that a stopped car smells of drugs are quite often cued by the dog handler so that the police can then search the car (generally looking for money they can keep).

And in San Francisco, as reported by CBS:

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi estimates as many as 1,000 criminal cases will be reviewed following the racist and homophobic text messages allegedly sent by four San Francisco police officers.

Adachi and his colleagues said today that their office has already identified 120 cases involving two of the four officers and said those cases could get thrown out beginning as early as next week.

District Attorney George Gascon said he was “deeply disturbed by these text messages” and said that “in order to ensure our criminal justice system is fair and equitable,” his office will also be assessing every prosecution in the past 10 years in which the officers participated.

Adachi said its important to go through those cases that the officers touched since the racist statements in the text messages reflect attitudes of hatred that “were not born overnight” and may have impacted their conduct as officers.

Although the four officers who are being investigated were not named by the Police Department, their respective lawyers confirmed their identities are officers Michael Robison, Michael Celis, Rain Daugherty, and Noel Schwab.

San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen said today that she is concerned that as many as 10 officers, including a captain, may be associated with the text messages, a sampling of which were released publicly on Friday.

San Francisco Police Department spokesman Albie Esparza said the four officers were reassigned last month to jobs in which they have no contact with the public during a department probe of the messages, which were sent to and from disgraced former Sgt. Ian Furminger’s personal cellphone in 2011 and 2012.

The messages were discovered by the FBI in an investigation of thefts by Furminger and two other officers of money and property seized from suspects in 2009.

Furminger was convicted in federal court in San Francisco in December of four felonies related to the scheme and was sentenced by U.S.  District Judge Charles Breyer last month to three years and five months in prison. Furminger resigned from the force after being convicted.

Some of the messages were made public Friday by federal prosecutors in a court filing opposing Furminger’s request to Breyer for release on bail while he appeals his conviction. The FBI previously gave the texts privately to the Police Department.

In Friday’s filing in the Furminger case, prosecutors alleged the messages show the former sergeant was “a virulent racist and homophobe” and argued the judge should take that into account in deciding whether to grant him release during the appeal.

Breyer turned down Furminger’s request for bail during appeal on Monday. He is due to begin serving his sentence on April 3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 5:38 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

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