Police Abuse

Baltimore Cops on Trial for a Criminal Conspiracy That Looks a Lot Like Everyday Policing

Armed robbery, extortion...and keeping the money for themselves.

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In theory, the Baltimore Police Department's now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force was an elite unit dedicated to finding illegal guns. In practice, prosecutors say, it was an armed robbery and extortion conspiracy carried out under color of law. Its members allegedly used their police powers to detain people, take their money, and keep it.

Two of those members are currently on trial. Another six have pled guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution.

Some of the allegations against the officers are exceptionally egregious. Discovering $200,000 in the safe of a house they entered without a warrant, they stole half, then staged a videotaped "search" in which they "found" and "seized" the rest. They carried BB guns to plant on anyone they might shoot, and they toted around a robbery kit that included ski masks, crowbars, and a grappling hook.

But listening to the cooperating officers' testimony, what's striking is how closely many of the activities offered as evidence of a criminal conspiracy resemble tactics commonly used by police in cities nationwide.

For example, former detective Maurice Ward testified on Tuesday that Task Force officers would routinely run or drive police vehicles at high speed toward groups of people standing on the street. If they ran away, that would serve as an excuse to search them for cash. Officers would also target vehicles and pedestrians based on age and sex, or the type of car being driven, then invent false pretenses for stopping them, such as unfastened seatbelts or tinted windows.

The fact that the officers were looking for money and drugs to keep for themselves is unusual. But many of the methods they used are not. So-called "pretext stops" and aggressive attempts to scare people into running from the police are common police tactics. It is also both legal and common for cops to take cash from people they stop, whether or not those people are ever charged with any crime. That's how civil asset forfeiture often works: Cops take cash off from people they stop in traffic or on the street, and those people have to sue to get it back. The police often end up spending the money on their own departments.

In other words, the chief difference between this criminal conspiracy to commit armed robbery and the kind of questionable law enforcement that goes largely unremarked-on every day in America was who ultimately got to keep the money. This has not gone unnoticed by lawyers defending the two officers, who told the jury that their clients are guilty only of stealing cash from the police department. Everything else they did, including "seizing" cash off the people they jumped, was ordinary, legal police practice.

The sad thing is, they might just be right.

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  1. If they ran away, that would serve as an excuse to search them for cash.

    Here’s a tip, kids: when a car is barreling directly toward you at high speed, lean into it.

    Try not to get hit by a car like a thug, get robbed like a thug.

  2. Man, I read about this, and while I both get your point, and don’t like a lot of standard police behavior, I can’t really agree that what they were doing ” looks a lot like everyday policing. ”

    They were WAAAAAYYY out of bounds with most of this garbage. The “driving at people” thing is thin gruel, but the comparison to asset forfeiture, that holds water.

    I just think maybe you overstated it a little.

    1. Sometimes rich white privilege blindness is a real thing.

      1. It’s Baltimore, the cops were almost all black. So, your point, if it can be called one, doesn’t make any sense.

        1. I think he’s referring to the privilege blindness of white people who are generally treated with relative respect during their rare interactions with cops.

          1. Is there any evidence that happened here?

            1. I’m sincerely asking, my understanding is that these cops robbed from everyone, and pulled this on basically anyone with money.

              I don’t see any SJW stuff here at all.

              1. I don’t want to speak for Scarecrow, but my guess is that the white privilege blindness in question is in the comment he’s replying to.

                1. Then help me by explaining what I’m missing, because it really looks like a non-sequitur.

                  1. So, my original comment referenced that these were not normal behavior. After checking the statistics, interactions with whites are the majority, so, definitionally, the idea that white interactions aren’t normal doesn’t hold any water.

          2. And by him you mean your sockpuppet?

        2. Scarecrow is an idiot. His posts consist almost entirely of bad jokes, worthless observations, and pseudoscientific claptrap. Don’t take him seriously, no one else does.

          1. First honest thing I’ve seen from Tulpa. Congrats!

        3. Nice discussion, but I meant that only rich white people are as naive as Merv is seeming to pretend to be.

          I make no actual judgment about Merv. I make no claims to the reality of rich white privilege. I just make comments.

    2. While I am unaware of the driving “at” people tactic, I have seen the “quickly dive up to a group and stop beside them” version. Or the he made eye contact so he must be doing evil pretense. I think most of the examples are spot on, eg. window tint, or seat-belt, not to mention the ever popular, you have a light out or erratic driving, failure to maintain a lane, incomplete stop etc.. You have money that if they want they will take, and will cost you more money to get it back then it’s worth. When you suspect you in a cops sights for such a robbery, you are left with two options, give up the money or run/fight back. Get fed up with being robbed enough and your only logical move is to shoot any officer on sight as a potential threat or risk getting robbed. It’s almost like the police want people to be forced to use their tactics.

      1. “When you suspect you in a cops sights for such a robbery, you are left with two options, give up the money or run/fight back. ”

        Or get hit and get paid.

        So, now that it has been established that you ignore reality, we can safely ignore you and your lame sock puppet.

        1. I have no idea what you are talking about. could you elaborate and use small words

  3. invent false pretenses for stopping them, such as … tinted windows.

    How does *that* work?

    1. If your windows are tinted too dark, that’s suspicious (and in some states an actual infraction). Many police officers have the ability to distinguish the exact degree at which the level of tint becomes suspect/illegal; this is not unrelated to the similar superhuman ability some officers exhibit of being able to smell pot smoke in a closed vehicle moving at highway speeds.

    2. It can work one of several ways.

      1. The cop after the stop looks for a legitimate violation that he wasn’t aware of when he made the decision to stop the vehicle. In a sense, it’s a legitimate reason for a stop, but it’s a pretext in that it wasn’t the reason for the stop.

      2. Create a violation. The old classic of the officer breaking a tail light on the vehicle then citing the driver for a broken tail light.

      3. Lie. 99.9999% of the time a cop will get away with such a lie.

    3. It can work one of several ways.

      1. The cop after the stop looks for a legitimate violation that he wasn’t aware of when he made the decision to stop the vehicle. In a sense, it’s a legitimate reason for a stop, but it’s a pretext in that it wasn’t the reason for the stop.

      2. Create a violation. The old classic of the officer breaking a tail light on the vehicle then citing the driver for a broken tail light.

      3. Lie. 99.9999% of the time a cop will get away with such a lie.

    4. Innocent and well meaning safety laws like “distracted driving” become useful pretenses for all manner of abuse.

      It would be useful if the rest of the media would loudly point out who and why the law was passed when everyone discovers it’s racist 20 years down the road.

      1. It would also be nice that when the media starts barking about how racist all these stops are the cops are able to perform, they’ll look inward and realize they helped push the policy along.

  4. “the chief difference between this criminal conspiracy to commit armed robbery and the kind of questionable law enforcement that goes largely unremarked-on every day in America was who ultimately got to keep the money.”

    Exactly, they aren’t on trial for taking robbing citizens. They are on trial for stealing from the government.

  5. Notice this was the “elite” Gun Trace Task Force. I’ve seen a few thoughtful progressives who aren’t big supporters of gun control because they correctly realize that the sort of abuse and corruption that is endemic to the War on Drugs will be endemic to the War on Guns, but sadly not many. There’s similar abuse in NYC with Stop and Frisk and gravity knife laws.

    1. I’ve seen a few thoughtful progressives who aren’t big supporters of gun control because they correctly realize that the sort of abuse and corruption that is endemic to the War on Drugs will be endemic to the War on Guns, but sadly not many.

      “Citation needed”

      1. Unless you mean Radley Balko and Ken White.

  6. I mean sure, but can you image where we’d be without the cops? At the mercy of thieves and killers, that’s where!

  7. Task Force officers would routinely run or drive police vehicles at high speed toward groups of people standing on the street. If they ran away, that would serve as an excuse to search them for cash

    “If they run, they’re VC. If they stand still, they’re well-disciplined VC.”

  8. In theory, the Baltimore Police Department’s now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force

    Look, all we’re trying to do here is focus on illegal guns. So we broke a few eggs to make our omelet!

  9. The fact that the officers were looking for money and drugs to keep for themselves is unusual.

    You hope.

  10. “The fact that the officers were looking for money and drugs to keep for themselves is unusual.”

    Cite?

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