[Ppnews] 10 Outrageous Tactics Cops Get Away With

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Dec 6 10:40:25 EST 2012

  They Can Do That?! 10 Outrageous Tactics Cops Get Away With

December 6, 2012

 From Alternet <http://www.alternet.org/>

By John Knefel
December 4, 2012

Talk to someone who has never dealt with the cops about police behaving 
badly, and he or she will inevitably say, "But they can't do that! Can 
they?" The question of what the cops can or can't do is natural enough 
for someone who never deals with cops, especially if their inexperience 
is due to class and/or race privilege. But a public defender would 
describe that question as naïve. In short, the cops can do almost 
anything they want, and often the most maddening tactics are actually 
completely legal.

There are many reasons for this, but three historical developments stand 
out: the war on drugs provided the template for social control based 
on race; 9/11 gave federal and local officials the opportunity to 
ensnare Muslims (and activists) in the ever-increasing surveillance and 
incarceration state; and a lack of concern from the public at large 
means these tactics can be applied, often controversy-free, to anyone 
who resists them.

What follows are 10 of the innumerable tactics the police can use 
against a population often incapable of constraining their behavior.

*1. Infiltration, informants and monitoring. *The NYPD's Demographics 
Unit has engaged in a massive surveillance program directed at Muslims 
throughout the entire Northeast region, ignoring any jurisdictional 
limitations and acting as a secret police and intelligence gathering 
agency -- a regional FBI of sorts. The AP's award-winning reports 
<http://www.ap.org/media-center/nypd/investigation> [3] on the 
Demographics Unit helped bring some information about the program to 
light, including the revelation that its efforts have resulted in 
exactly zero terrorism leads. 

Although a lawsuit from 1971, the Handschu case, 
[4] "resulted in federal guidelines that prohibit the NYPD from 
collecting information about political speech unless it is related to 
potential terrorism," legal experts worry that privacy rights have been 
so diminished that Muslims who are spied on may not be able to seek 
recourse. The AP quoted 
[5] Donna Lieberman in November 2011, who said, "It's really not clear 
that people can do anything if they've been subjected to unlawful 
surveillance anymore."

Muslims are not the only group that has been targeted. The AP reported 
[6] that the NYPD has also infiltrated liberal groups and protest 
organizers. Other cases of entrapment of activists, such as the NATO 5 
[7] and the Cleveland 5, are also troubling. 

*2. Warrantless home surveillance. *Just in case you still think there 
must be some limit on how the authorities can surveil you, there's this 
--- a federal agency, not the police, but the larger point stands. The 
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that it is legal for a law 
enforcement agent 
[9] to enter your house and videotape you without your consent. The 
case, /United States v. Wahchumwah/, revolved around a U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife undercover agent who recorded Wahchumwah without a warrant. The 
Ninth Circuit found the search to be "voluntary," which led the EFF to 
write on its Web site: "The sad truth is that as technology continues to 
advance, surveillance becomes 'voluntary' only by virtue of the fact we 
live in a modern society where technology is becoming cheaper, easier 
and more invasive."

The Ninth Circuit isn't the only one who thinks warrantless video 
surveillance is perfectly OK. 

    "CNET has learned that U.S. District Judge William Griesbach
    [11] ruled that it was reasonable for Drug Enforcement
    Administration agents to enter rural property without permission ---
    and without a warrant --- to install multiple 'covert digital
    surveillance cameras' in hopes of uncovering evidence that 30 to 40
    marijuana plants were being grown."

During the Bush years, Congress had to grant retroactive immunity to 
giant telecoms that engaged in warrantless wiretapping. It seems, the 
judicial branch wants to save Congress the trouble.

*3. Preemptive visits and harassment.* One of the favorite tactics of 
police departments is targeting activists a day before a large event. We 
saw this on May Day in New York City, as cops descended on several 
activists' apartments before the day of action, 
<http://gawker.com/5906500/> [12] and in Chicago before the massive No 
NATO protests. 
[13] The Cleveland 5 were also arrested before May Day, and back in 2008 
the RNC8 were also preemptively arrested. 

*4. Creating call logs from stolen phones. *If you lose your phone in 
NYC and report it to the police, they'll help you find it. So far, so 
good. Where the agreement turns pear-shaped, however, is what they do 
with your call logs. The NYPD subpoenas your call log from the day it 
was stolen onward, under the logic that the records could help find your 

But --- and here's the kicker --- they get info for the calls you made 
on the day it was swiped, and possibly even info from your new cell 
phone if you keep your number. The information is added to a database 
called the Enterprise Case Management System, and the numbers are 
hyperlinked for cross-referencing. The call logs, all obtained without a 
court order and often without the victim's permission or knowledge, 
could "conceivably be used for any investigative purpose," according to 
the New York Times. 

*5. Consent searches.* Sometimes a cop gives you a command, but phrases 
it as a question, like, "Would you open your bag so I can look inside?" 
If you're anything like the vast majority of people in the United 
States, you have no idea that you're under no lawful obligation to 
answer in the affirmative. You can, legally speaking, ask if you are 
being detained, and if the answer is no, you are free to walk away. Or 
at the very least, not open your bag.

Cops are aware that they can intimidate someone they decide to search, 
and once they obtain "consent" -- e.g. "Yes, man with a gun who is 
towering over me, you can look in my bag" -- any evidence of criminality 
they find can be used in court. This method of searching people was 
developed, like several other tactics on this list, during the early 
1980s when the Reagan administration ramped up the so-called war on drugs.

Many critics argue that the very idea of a "consensual" interaction 
between police and the public is impossible, if the police initiate 
contact. As Justin Peters writes 
[15], "[Police] know the average person doesn't feel they're in a 
position to decline a conversation with a cop." A common tactic 
[16] is for officers to say they'll let someone off with a warning, then 
proceed to ask a bunch of questions, even though the person is 
technically free to go.

*6. Stop and frisk.* You've probably heard about stop and frisk by now, 
but for years this odious tactic -- and close cousin to consent searches 
-- went woefully underreported in establishment media. The NYCLU 
released staggering statistics for the year 2011 detailing the massive 
size of the program in New York City. One particularly memorable figure 
was that the NYPD stopped more young men of color than there are men of 
color in NYC. 
[17] (More information at stopmassincarceration.org 
<http://stopmassincarceration.org/> [18].)

*7. Pretext stops (Operation Pipeline).* The Supreme Court has 
repeatedly ruled that cops are free to use minor traffic violations as a 
pretext to pull over people they suspect of committing drug crimes. Once 
pulled over, the police obtain "consent" -- "Would you get out of the 
car and empty your pockets?" -- and can go on fishing expeditions.

In the Supreme Court's ruling in /Ohio v. Robinette/, "The Court made 
clear to all lower courts that, from now on, the Fourth Amendment should 
place no meaningful constraints on the police in the War on Drugs," 
writes Michelle Alexander in /The New Jim Crow./ The Court determined 
[19] that cops don't have to tell motorists they're free to leave before 
getting "permission" to search their car.

In the mid-1980s, the DEA rolled out Operation Pipeline, a federal 
program that trained city cops in the shady art of leveraging pretext 
stops into consent searches. The discretionary nature of many of these 
searches resulted in massive amounts of racial profiling, so much so 
that some officials say 
[20] "the reason racial profiling is a national problem is that it was 
initiated, and in many ways encouraged, by the federal government's war 
on drugs."

*8. Police dogs.* Don't consent to cops searching your bag? If you're in 
a car or an airport, police can bring in the dogs to smell your stuff, 
and if the dog responds, they have probable cause to search you without 
your consent. "The Supreme Court has ruled that walking a drug-sniffing 
dog around someone's vehicle (or someone's luggage) does not constitute 
a 'search,' and therefore does not trigger Fourth Amendment scrutiny," 
Michelle Alexander writes.

But if a dog barks or sits, shouldn't we be comfortable with that 
triggering probable cause? Radley Balko has reported on the phenomenon 
of drug dogs giving false positives after reading cues from their 

    The problem isn't that the dogs aren't capable of picking up the
    scent; it's that dogs have been bred to please and interact with
    humans. A dog can easily be manipulated to alert whenever needed.
    But even with conscientious cops, a dog without the proper training
    may pick up on its handler's body language and alert whenever it
    detects its handler is suspicious.

This is called the "Clever Hans effect," 
[21] named after the horse who could do arithmetic by tapping his hoof. 
In reality, the horse could recognize the shift in his owner's body 
language when he had arrived at the right number.

*9. Surveillance drones. *The drones are coming, and the few illusions 
of privacy we cling to will soon disappear. The domestic market for 
drones in the next decade is estimated in the billions, 
[22] and police departments are chomping at the bit to implement this 
new technology. Drones already patrol the US-Mexico border, 
[23] and cities such as Seattle are moving toward using surveillance 
drones <http://rt.com/usa/news/seattle-police-drone-surveillance-341/> 
[24]. In August, a North Dakota court ruled 
[25] that the first-ever drone-assisted arrest was perfectly legal.

In our ever more authoritarian society, 
[26] expect politicians and the lobbyists who fund their campaigns to 
justify increased incursions into privacy in the name of security. The 
short-term incentives to value privacy have been all but forgotten, as 
"if you're not doing anything wrong you've got nothing to fear" has gone 
from self-evidently absurd cliché to national motto.

*10. Enlist the private sector.* The comedian Chris Laker says of 
privatization: "You can't privatize everything. Learned that from 
/RoboCop/." But it seems police departments haven't learned that lesson. 
In Arizona, police enlisted the help of the Corrections Corporation of 
America, a private, for-profit prison corporation, in a drug sweep of a 
public school. PRWatch reports: 

    "To invite for-profit prison guards to conduct law enforcement
    actions in a high school is perhaps the most direct expression of
    the 'schools-to-prison pipeline' I've ever seen," said Caroline
    Isaacs, program director of the Tucson office of the American
    Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker social justice
    organization that advocates for criminal justice reform.

The privatization of nearly all aspects of public life, from education 
to law enforcement, is a trend we should all find disturbing, not least 
of all when a company that profits from locking humans in cages is 
directly involved in the arrest process.

The larger point here is obvious. In the last decade, the Bill of Rights 
has been shredded at the federal level and the local level. There are 
few constraints on police, FBI, NSA, and private intelligence companies 
when it comes to surveillance of the public. That many of these programs 
and tactics are discretionary exacerbates and magnifies conscious and 
subconscious racist and classist attitudes among those who carry them out.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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