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Crooked Cops Need Tighter Restrictions, Not Financial Incentives to Invent Crimes

Cops plant evidence to meet quotas, compete, and settle scores. Eased asset forfeiture with little oversight would just bribe them to do more damage.

In January, a Baltimore police officer planted drug evidence before activating his body camera and "finding" the probable cause he and his buddies needed to make a bust, according to the city's Office of the Public Defender. Images of the cop placing a soup can full of white capsules on the ground were captured in the 30-second buffer of the camera and then preserved after the device was officially turned on. Now prosecutors are reviewing 100 other cases in which the same trio of officers may have been up to similar shenanigans.

Most news reports are treating the incident as a peek at problems in troubled Baltimore's police department. They need to look a little further afield.

These Baltimore officers, and their colleagues around the country, are the same cops that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thinks are burdened with excessive oversight. In April he vowed, "this Department of Justice will not sign consent decrees that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of criminals." And just days ago, Sessions rededicated his department to working with local law enforcement on civil asset forfeiture efforts that bypass the need for criminal convictions to seize property—and also bypass state and local safeguards. Forfeited funds are split between federal and local agencies in a lucrative arrangement for everybody but the victims. "Equitable sharing" collaboration between federal and local agencies was suspended under former Attorney General Eric Holder, but the new regime is jump-starting the program

Yes, Sessions promised that "the federal government will not adopt seized property unless the state or local agency involved provides information demonstrating that the seizure was justified by probable cause." But that's cold comfort if the probable cause comes from eager cops planting bags of drugs hither and yon.

The evidence—not planted—suggests that police officers don't need more incentive to falsify reasons for slapping on the cuffs. Day-to-day pressures to meet arrest quotas, out-do colleagues, or spackle over errors in judgment seem to have already done the job in spades.

Michael Slager, a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer, faced accusations that he'd planted the Taser found near the body of Walter Scott, the man he killed after a traffic stop. Slager claimed Scott wrestled the Taser from him and then brandished it as a weapon. But video showed Slager picking the device up from a good distance away and moving it closer to the dead man's body. After a mistrial in his trial for murder, Slager pleaded guilty to violating Scott's civil rights.

In 2014, two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies were charged with planting guns at a marijuana dispensary to justify arrests and hefty prosecutions for employees of the business. Further investigation revealed that the two were members of a police gang that described themselves—in a pamphlet—as "alpha dogs who think and act like the wolf, but never become the wolf." They competed among each other for status and seemed to plant guns as a routine tactic.

Across the country, a New York City narcotics detective caught on camera in the act of planting cocaine on four men in a bar told a court that "it was common practice to fabricate drug charges against innocent people to meet arrest quotas." He said he "flaked" the bar patrons to help a buddy who was in danger of missing his target numbers.

The heartland isn't immune, either. Cops in Tulsa, Oklahoma, testified that they planted drugs on suspects up to a dozen times—although they swore that they only did it to people they were absolutely certain were guilty. A police corporal kept a supply of crack cocaine in a tackle box in his car so it was available to be dropped as needed. They also stole cash found during searches, which is sort of like civil asset forfeiture, but with a very streamlined paperwork process.

A handy supply of illegal drugs seems to play a common role in greasing the squeaky mechanism of legal bushwhacking. In Georgia, Murray County Magistrate Bryant Cochran, a sheriff's captain, a deputy, and a friend of the judge all were convicted of, among other things, planting drugs on a woman who complained about Cochran's sexual advances while he was presiding over a case in which she was involved.

Yeah. These folks all need lots more incentive to dig into the tackle box for some of that instant probable cause—and less oversight while they do so, of course. "Every year, police and prosecutors across the United States take hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, cars, homes and other property—regardless of the owners' guilt or innocence," notes the Institute for Justice with regard to civil asset forfeiture of the sort that Jeff Sessions has now revived as a joint federal-local project. Do you think that's enough of a lure for the likes of go-getter cops and crooked judges who haven't shown much restraint about fabricating crimes?

Not that federal oversight is a guarantee of anything. It wasn't so many years ago that legal commentators were trying to calculate just how many thousands of criminal cases the FBI tainted with bogus crime lab results tailored to help prosecutors. In 2014, the Justice Department's Inspector General again reported on "serious irregularities" in the lab's management and cited the execution of a defendant despite a review that found "the FBI Lab analysis to be scientifically unsupportable and the testimony overstated and incorrect."

It's possible that the feds may not be in much of a position to provide moral guidance.

And the latest incident in Baltimore is just one more argument that loosening the reins on law enforcement, and providing the morally flawed officials of the criminal justice system financial incentives to find evidence of crime, is a terrible idea.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Politicians like Sessions and congressional Republicans and state and local Democrats know they aren't the ones going to get framed by or shot by police. (And apparently not enough of their constituents are, either.) But those politicians will get donations and support from law enforcement organizations as well as votes from a majority of soccer mom voters. So there is no reason to expect oversight in the near future.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I expect oversight very soon.

    oversight
    ˈəʊvəsʌɪt/Submit
    noun
    noun: oversight; plural noun: oversights
    1.
    an unintentional failure to notice or do something.
    "he had simply missed Parsons out by an oversight"
    synonyms: mistake, error, fault, failure, omission, lapse, inaccuracy, slip, blunder, faux pas, miscalculation; More

  • Number 7||

    pedantic but funny

  • Cynical Asshole||

    These Baltimore officers, and their colleagues around the country, are the same cops that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thinks are burdened with excessive oversight. In April he vowed, "this Department of Justice will not sign consent decrees that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of criminals."

    Does Jeff Sessions have any redeeming qualities whatsoever? I can't come up with any. Christ, what an asshole.

  • GiveMeLibertyOrHandouts||

    Only that he'll probably be gone soon for the one thing he did that was good in the last 6 months.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What was that one good thing?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I assume that's a reference to him recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

  • gaoxiaen||

    If you tie him to a couple of cement blocks, he'd make a good boat anchor, and be good for chum at the same time.

  • Jacks61||

    I'm from the south and he gives southern rednecks a bad name. He refuses to carry out his sworn duty. At this very moment, one of the biggest cases of Nepotism is being carried out at the White House. Neither Ivanka or her husband are qualified for the positions they hold and could never have gotten them without Drumpf.

    His endorsement of ramping up civil asset forfeiture should be a real indicator of how far he's willing to go. Calling him an asshole is a great start though. He's also a hypocrite of the worst kind.

  • Finrod||

    I still think that all criminal and civil penalties against judges, lawyers, and cops should by law be automatically doubled.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Or, maybe even just possible.

  • ||

    This. Jesus, if you are listening, this.

  • Shirley Knott||

    As mandatory minimums.

  • Aloysious||

    ...described themselves—in a pamphlet—as "alpha dogs who think and act like the wolf, but never become the wolf.

    Delusional.

  • mortiscrum||

    How the actual fuck do arrest quotas even exist? How did ANYONE think it was a good idea to create a system where less crime is bad thing? This is absolutely unfathomable to me.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Politicians continually add and revise regulations in hilarious attempts to reproduce market mechanics by fiat; instead of getting government out of health insurance altogether and simply subsidizing poor people directly, they create ObamaCare and all its predecessors and successors in vain attempts to emulate the markets they destroyed.

    Thus it is with police. If police had no immunity for the crimes they commit, they would reform themselves faster than Trump can send inconsistent tweets. But politicians and judges bend to police unions and throw in all sorts of immunity, then have to create and revise regulations on oversight, special commissions, special rules, and everything they can think of to do nothing while fooling the public.

    Everyone, including thugs masquerading as civil servants, would be better off with free market enforcement of police accountability. But that would leave politicians with nothing to do to justify their continued re-election.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    That reminds me of the economic calculation debate. Mises destroyed the very foundation of socialism, and the other economists of the time were able to accept his criticism as valid. So they just kept adding more and more things that would approximate the free market, but could never fully replicate its efficiency

  • generalisimo14||

    It is the empirical way, to continually take half measures toward the truth. Always approaching but never arriving.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Crooked Cops Need Tighter Restrictions, Not Financial Incentives to Invent Crimes
    Cops plant evidence to meet quotas, compete, and settle scores. Eased asset forfeiture with little oversight would just bribe them to do more damage.

    Man, am I stupid!
    I thought civil asset forfeiture had something to do with due process.
    I stand corrected.

  • KerryW||

    Silly rabbit, chits are for pigs!

  • R. K. Phillips||

    There is actually an ersatz "due process" process, in most states, but it falls under "affirmative defense": you have to PROVE that you got the confiscated property in a legal way, using legal funds. Hell, I'd have trouble doing that with half of my stuff.

  • croaker||

    I wonder how large the market for harem eunuchs is in the Middle East? That's how we should deal with bad cops.

  • ||

    "They also stole cash found during searches, which is sort of like civil asset forfeiture, but with a very streamlined paperwork process."

    I admit this is pretty funny.

  • Ms. Anthrope||

    As a 12 year Murray County resident, I can assure you that Cochran was the tip of an enormous and filthy iceberg. Nathan Deal's corrupt cousins run the county for personal profit, with identity fraud, life insurance rackets, insider hacks at the ISP office for real estate and bank account acquisition. The tiny and underpopulated county's school board has been sued so many times that it keeps an attorney on retainer. The murder/suicide by bullying of one student made national news and a film, and it's far from the only case. Tag office and probate court fraud, sexual harassment by a county commissioner... a Capone family member in Congress who is, shamefully, superior to his predecessors and to the average Georgia pol.

    We need an end to confiscations by fiat AND income taxes used to support this gang of white trash thugs.

  • swampwiz||

    What Jefferson Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard Sessions does not quite understand is that bad cops ARE criminals.

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