Friday, January 23, 2015

Police public relations problems are their own creation

While the media has not been particularly kind to selected police departments around the country lately, namely Ferguson, MO (Michael Brown shooting) and Staten Island, NY (Eric Garner death at the hands of overzealous police) who lead the parade, this kind of coverage is not something that comes out of the blue.

Police departments throughout the U.S. have for decades, and perhaps centuries now, brought a great deal of scrutiny upon themselves.  Criminal activity within all communities is largely committed surreptitiously, since the bad guys don't want to go to jail and 99% of the time will give it their best shot to do their dirty deeds away from the eyes of the authorities.  The on-the-spot police involvement of crimes in progress grabs the headlines every time it occurs.  It's only human nature; we want to see these conflicts and how they play out.  Will the good guys or the bad guys win?

And much like Hollywood is always prone to do, they love to portray good guys as bad guys and vice versa.  It makes for great TV viewing. Anymore, TV is not about enlightening their audience with facts.  TV wants to grab as many eyeballs and glue them to their screens, and keep them there, whatever it takes.  Facts and reporting be damned, that's not what the media is about anymore, at least not primarily.

It's the airplane crash that grabs the spot light, since there's always a great deal of destruction and loss of life.  People can't help themselves, they want to know all about it.  Don Henley of "Eagles" fame put it correctly in his ditty "Dirty Laundry" several years ago:

"We got the bubble headed bleach blond who comes on at five
She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It's interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry."

That's what people want.  And the media will gladly give it to them and most police departments play right into this need and are hard wired to portray these rare opportunities out to the most outrageous end.  They want to ensure that the public, and more accurately, their bosses, sees that their guys and gals in blue win at all costs, and that at the end of the confrontation, the bad guys are either down on the ground in hand cuffs or down on the ground with bullet holes in them.  

Most police departments have a desired ratio of patrolmen/women to population within their jurisdiction.  These ratios are subject to funding by each jurisdiction through taxes levied on that municipality.  These ratios vary widely and typically these ratios are higher in rural areas than in urban areas.  Criminals are acutely aware of where the police are, and where they are not.

Accordingly, crimes are almost always committed outside of the scrutiny of the police.  Houses are burglarized, cars are stolen, convenience stores are robbed at gunpoint, and the police are nowhere to be seen.  And this is understandable.  The ratios that are affordable by any municipality simply don't enable police patrols to watch everything all the time.  Criminals know this.  

When the victim discovers that he has been burglarized, for example, the criminals have been gone long before a police response could prevent the crime.  The police are called and they come out to the scene of the crime, look around, ask some questions and either verify that a crime has been committed or not. This is the way crime is handled 99.99 percent of the time.  The cops come out, write down what they see on their reports, cast a suspicious eye on the victims (since they are there at the scene of the crime and the criminals are not), file their report and then cruise off to Dunkin' Donuts to talk about how the Bears lost to the Vikings, never again to think about the crime report they will file at the end of their shift.  

No crime is solved, no investigation is undertaken.  Oh sure, they give you lip service that a follow up investigation will be initiated, but in the end, in the vast majority of police cases, nothing happens and the victims never see any kind of justice.  

Most policemen and women's only job is shaking down the people they have sworn to 'serve and protect,' by issuing citations for speeding, littering and other misdemeanors that keep the revenues flowing into the government's hands. Their involvement in fighting crime takes up perhaps 1% of their time, since the vast majority of criminals while evil are not stupid: they will do their dirty deeds surreptitiously, and not rob and steal in front of a live police presence.  The 99% of a run of the mill police person's total time on the job involves eating donuts and writing tickets.  

They are not judged by their police supervising sergeants and lieutenants by how many bad guys they collar.  That kind of personnel review simply will not work, there is just not enough bold, blatant crime committed that involves active police personnel. No, they are given performance reviews that focus on how many citations they issue to the tax payers.  Based on these criteria, they are determined to be good police men and women by how much money in fines and penalties they can squeeze out of the good guys. There are just not enough bad guys out there committing crimes in front of squad cars to justify their jobs with active collars and arrests.

And when a bad guy pops up in the presence of a cop to do his dirty work on super rare occasions, their training kicks in and they make as big of a mess of the scene as they possibly can to ensure that their exploits are noticed by their superiors.

We are all seeing the police departments across the country squirm and squeal about the terrible coverage they are getting from the media.  That media attention they are getting is warranted; these guys and gals in blue are getting exactly what they are asking for.  

Be careful what you ask for, is all I have to say.  In the fullness of time, you just might get it.     


LL said...

The local police almost always reflect the communities that they serve. It's an interesting phenomenon. I was in San Diego, CA yesterday. I like San Diego. It would be an interesting place to be a police officer because of the international border, port, and diverse city.

The problem that San Diego has is that it's a very low paying city - and has been for years. Thus the people they train who show promise very often leave. What this does is create a situation where those who stay on are not the people who you'd want to see in charge but they are by default. And the cycles repeats.

Just an observation.

Fredd said...


That very phenomenon is prevalent all across the country: the good people flock to where they are rewarded. Free market capitalism at work, it's a wonderful thing. Except, when you need a competent police response. In most parts of the country anymore, cops are just not up to snuff. Kids, really, with a high school diploma, wielding life and death decisions like you and I would choose which restaurant we have a hankerin' for.

And its our fault. We don't demand that our police shape up, and we settle for populating our law enforcement precincts with little Nazis who, when given a bit of power, swing it like a club. And its usually the people whom they are sworn to protect and serve that get whacked.

It's not the way things should be.

Ed Bonderenka said...

I've run into bad cops, cops other cops told me were bad.
I've known some good cops.
I still don't blindly trust cops and instinctively distrust them.

Fredd said...

Ed: Your instincts are good, Ed. Automatic distrust of ANY government employee will serve your interests well.

Cops, after all, are government workers. No more, no less. So are firemen, teachers and legislators. Some make the best of their jobs. Most don't, and they abuse the system which is human nature.

Z said...

Man, I'm in L.A. and I don't agree with you on most of your negatives on the police!
Crimes do go investigated here, sometimes goods are returned, etc etc.

There are bad employees in any employment and, of course, this is a very high profile type of job, particularly because everybody has a camera now.

I was against cameras recording everything until recently; now I think cameras recording everything will show how much crap the cops take and how they usually try to calm things down before they get out of control.
People forget police have families, too....and they are afraid of leaving their families fatherless. Who isn't? Except most men don't leave the house knowing guns might be involved in their daily job.

Sounds like you've had miserable associations with cops and I'm sorry for that. I've had some rude ones give me a ticket once, but in general, I don't know how they stay sane with all the junk they see on a daily basis let alone function.

Kid said...

Excellent Fredd, Excellent.
A few thoughts.

We do some some homicide dectives solving some murders involving black kids 14 to 25 on shows like First 48.
Cops are now more of a revenue source than a community service now.
Some cops are on social media posting about how much money and valuable they confiscate from anyone who can be pidgeon holed into the drug dealer classification. It's a cliche and involves lots of cops.
Speaking of which, The drug war will never be over because the police are making way too much money off of it.
Cops with military grade equipment is not good. This is what the Natl Guard was created for. Terrorism? When has some punk vermin jihadist done more than kill an individual or fail at a propane tank car bomb since 911. Ok, the Boston thing.
Speaking of which, this 'Shelter in Place' nonsense that happened in Boston and then again from sources other than the news- is totally unacceptable. A crime occurs and the entire populace of a city are put in the vice? F* that. This is where people need to be civilly disobedient. BS, are the cops going to arrest 100,000 people out and about after one of their kindergarten self-serving shelter in place orders ?

Personally, I have not run into a bad cop in the less than 10 instances I've dealt with them in my life, but they are out there, and people need to focus them out of existence.

Finally, at least in Cincinnati, if there is a fender bender involving personal injury, cops and duh fire fighters will close down the entire road for Hours when in the vast majority of cases, there is no justifiable reason to do so. Ambulance the people, push the car off the road and life goes on already !
People die all the time. Give some resepct to the thousands of people who F*ing need to be somewhere, and some of those in serious life consequence situations themselves.

Fredd said...

Z: I have had some good interactions with a few cops, and more than often though, bad ones. And I am not a career criminal, but rather a victim of theft most of the time when I deal with cops.

And what I get from cops is generally a feel that I have done something wrong. Most cops I have dealt with sure could use people skills training at a minimum.

Maybe that is because I am a larger than average male, and all cops eyeball me as a threat. Interactions with women and cops is probably different, but I wouldn't know.

Fredd said...

Kid: Cincinnati is no different than Anywhere, USA. Cops and firefighters are kindred spirits: they do nothing 98% of the time, and when some action is required, they go out of their way to make sure that they make as big of a splash, mess, quagmire as they possibly can so that people notice them.

Ever notice that when someone is pulled over, the cop parks their car halfway out into the lane of traffic behind the 'perp' and take 20 minutes to issue a citation? Who's going to tell them that they didn't need to do that? Nobody. And that's why they do it.

Fredd said...

Z: One more thing.

Much of my material regarding police work comes from a retired LAPD officer, and he told me quite a lot about the inner workings of police efforts, both good and bad. Your LA experience doesn't trump my material, believe me.

Your comment about how many crimes are investigated and solved are minimal. The LAPD will NEVER publish how many crimes are reported versus how many crimes are solved. And the reason for that is obvious: the vast VAST majority of crimes go unsolved, and if they published that kind of stat, people would go nuts.

My source didn't have a percentage of reported/solved crimes, but he saw the file cabinets - for every one hundred file cabinets of unsolved crimes, there was one file cabinet of solved crimes. Think the LAPD would ever publish that?

No chance.

Kid said...

Fredd, probably true of the vast majority of places, and maybe in Phoenix now too, don't know, but when I lived there for 20 years, problem cars on freeways, which were breakdowns, minor accidents and the car can still roll, no injuries to deal with the police cars all had these pusher bars on the front and they just push them off the freeway at the next exit.

I've never seen it worse than here. As you describe, they'll take 20 minutes to give a ticket and while the law says you only need to slow down if you in the lane next to the cop, all 3 lanes won't pass the sucker at more than 10 mph. It's painful. People here don't know what yield signs mean, or red lights half the time, or speed limits. 35 in a 45 is very common. It could go on severel more pages.

Fredd said...


This goes on EVERYWHERE in the US. Cops make a big deal out of everything they touch.

And why? Because they are first and foremost government workers.

Government and their employees are interested in one thing, and one thing ONLY: expanding government and government power. Nothing more. No, not protecting and serving, none of that.

These cops will snarl traffic for three hours and think nothing of it, if the report they submit is sufficiently exaggerated and puffed up. The longer they can expand and aggrevate a situation, the better. It makes it look like they are doing something.

When the bold unaltered, inarguable truth is that these government workers (cops/firefighters/legislators, fill in the blank) do nothing most of the time other than draw a paycheck.

And they need something to do, and it need not be productive. Most of the time, it's counter productive.

Not even arguable.