In The News: Police-Community Relations

TORONTO – A Toronto police officer recently apologized for suggesting that women could prevent sexual assault by not dressing “like sluts” during a campus safety information session at York University last month.  Toronto police spokesman, Mark Pugash, stated that the officer’s remarks were “diametrically opposed to the way in which [they] train [their] people, the way in which [they] train [their] investigators and the way in which [they] write about sexual assault.”  Although the officer has been disciplined, many -including  Mila Guidorizzi, part of York University’s Sexual Assault Survivors’ Support Line- believe that this cannot make up for the damage that may have been caused by the Toronto officer’s insinuation that women are to blame for sexual assault as it may decrease the likelihood that survivors of sexual assault will report their assaults or seek counseling.  Others, such as the vice-president of campaigns and advocacy for the York Federation of Students Darshika Selvasivam, believes the Toronto police’s procedures for handling sexual assault cases should be evaluated by a third party as current police training  “clearly isn’t sufficient enough because this officer clearly felt comfortable (making the comments) despite the training that he had received.”  Toronto police asserted that they have worked with a number of outside organizations to create an adequate training program for sexual assault investigators and maintains that the officer in question does not represent the force.

SAN JOSE – Facing increasing numbers of racial profiling and other bias allegations, the San Jose police department has broadened its definition of profiling to include “any biased behavior at any time during an encounter with the public.” Prior to the change, San Jose’s Police Duty Manual stated that an officer must not “initiate a contact solely” based on factors including race, color, nationality and gender,” however, it is difficult to prove biased policing has taken place under this definition as officers could argue the person in question was stopped for a valid reason such as a broken taillight of failing to signal.  While the new definition does not directly address this issue, the city’s independent police auditor believes the change is a “huge” move in the right direction, noting past attempts to get the previous police chief to address issues of biased policing.  It is hoped that the new definition with help rebuild the “strained” relationship between San Jose’s minority communities and the police.  This is just one change in a series of alterations to the department’s operation.  Last year, the new police chief stopped his officers from impounding the cars of unlicensed drivers who were picked up for minor traffic violations, a practice many believed to target undocumented Latino immigrants.


This past weekend I visited Detroit’s 2011 North American International Auto Show, where Ford used the opportunity to show off its new police Interceptors (check out Ford’s site complete with siren loading graphic and nationwide tour dates).  Seductively displayed in front of a slogan proclaiming, “Protecting Our Community. Securing Our Future,” and the message, “Ford salutes first responders. The heroes you depend on depend on Ford,” the cars were hard to miss.  There was something rather striking about the Interceptors -fierce yet sleek- that seemed to draw a continuous crowd of all ages.

The name alone is alluring: Interceptor.  It rolls off the tongue and brings forth images of blockbuster car chases complete with explosions and gritty, attractive male leads like Jason Statham or Daniel Craig.  As I stood listening to the soft “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” of passersby and watched dozens of people whip out their cameraphones (yours truly included), I asked myself who Ford was trying to sell the Interceptor to -the police or us?  Moreover, what was Ford really selling -the car itself, an “ideal” representation of the police, a car-chase fantasy, their own “Ford-tough” image, or all of the above?

Ford Interceptor Attracts Attention at the Detroit Auto Show…


In the News: Police and Technology

Perhaps this past holiday season you got an iPad, a Blackberry Torch, the new iPod Touch with the built-in camera to keep you in constant face-to-face contact with your old roommate from college, your spouse, or whomever.  Even if you didn’t, you probably spent a significant amount of time staying in touch with the world through various forms of technology and social networking.  While this seems to have become the norm, might the ever-expanding world of technology and communication be encroaching upon our civil liberties…?

This week it was revealed that police forces in England and Wales have gathered data on millions of people who have called to report possible crimes or pass on information, recording names, addresses and contact details, and in some cases asking for the callers’ date of birth and ethnicity.  Critics like Daniel Hamilton of the pressure group Big Brother Watch forewarn that this sort of police data collection could lead to a “Big Brother” state and argue that data could easily be accessed via freedom of information requests; 13 police forces have already complied with such requests.  “For the police to log this kind of information isn’t just wrong -it’s dangerous,” he urged, noting that “the public must be confident that, when they report a crime, they do so in the comfort of anonymity and without risk of their details being stored on a central police database which can be accessed by thousands of people.”  While senior officers admitted details could potentially be used in future investigations, they maintain that databases like these are necessary to “fight crime, protect vulnerable people and ensure concerns were dealt with appropriately”.

If that doesn’t bring you to pause, how about hidden camera police interrogations?  Sometime next month the New York Police Department will begin tests of its new plan to videotape interrogations of people suspected of felony assault. The pilot program will run in two precincts: The 67th Precinct in Brooklyn and the 48th Precinct in the Bronx.  One squad will run tests with the camera in plain view, while the other squad will use a camera that “will not be obvious,” to those being interrogated in order to examine how cameras impact interrogations.  Interestingly, the police will only be required to disclose the presence of the camera if someone under questioning directly asks about it.

Finally on a more collaborative note, some police departments have found ways to work with the public via social media networks to combat crime.  With car thefts are on the rise in Seattle, the Seattle Police Department has resorted to a new tactic for recovering stolen cars: Twitter.  The new plan involves tweeting the details -including color, year, make, model, body style, and license plate- of stolen cars and asks Twitter followers who come across the stolen rides to call 911 and provide their locations.  Seattle PD also emphasized that citizens should not confront individuals occupying stolen cars.


In the News – A Close Up

Student-Police Relations in UK Riots

While it looks as though the future holds budget cuts galore for numerous countries across the globe, Britain appears to be taking the lead with massive cuts to law enforcement and education.  Perhaps more interesting than the cuts -which are neither surprising nor innovative or unique -has been the public’s reaction to them and the police response it has elicited.

Evoking memories of 1960’s student movements, British youth have taken to the streets on several occasions to protest education cuts that will make university education too costly for many to attend.  Over the past three days three mass student protests have taken place in Brighton, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford and London.  Yet as students continue arguing for their right to education and peaceful protest (check out a video from the UK’s Guardian) -like student protesters of the 1960’s -they have been met with hundreds of police officers with riot shields, batons, dogs, armoured horses and meat wagons.  As Laurie Penny of the New Statesman comments in her article on the recent Whitehall police kettle, “these young people joined the protest to defend their right to learn, but in the kettle they are quickly coming to realise that their civil liberties are of less consequence to this government than they had ever imagined.”

As the student protests continue to build momentum and power, some police departments have started reaching out to protesters.  Just this morning, Bristol police have asked the protesters to speak with them before carrying out any additional actions.  Chief Inspector Mark Jackson stated that it was in the interests of protesters and police to come together and “have a clear plan of what the demonstration can achieve, and how we can work together to negotiate the safest way of doing this.”  He also insisted that “the police are not trying to stop young people from staging legitimate protests. But we must insist that those protests are peaceful, lawful and safe.”

Coincidentally, a 40th anniversary edition of The Politics of Protest has just been published, exploding onto the scene with an interesting American Society of Criminology Annual Meeting panel this past November. The author, Jerome Skolnick, as well as some of the project’s original collaborators, including Anthony Platt, were present.


In the News: Budget Cuts and Community Policing in the UK

UK officials embark upon immense budget cuts that will greatly impact policing.  Last week Greater Manchester Police excited public attention by Tweeting every call they received in 24 hours. The Chief Constable said he wanted to show that the police don’t just deal with crime and instead play a larger role in the community.  Yet, in the face of impending budget cuts, many feel crime-fighting should constitute the majority of police officer time.  Nick Herbert the Coalition’s Conservative police minister, argues that “Labour’s wasteful legacy,” has allowed for a proliferation of bureaucracy and unnecessary policing costs.  He asserts that police will be able to catch more criminals with a smaller budget and fewer officers.  Jan Berry, outgoing head of the UK’s Police Federation, echoes Herbert’s sentiments over police inefficiency, reporting this past week that up to 1/3 of police time is wasted on red tape.  Ultimately she contends that “Too much attention is given to crossing Ts and dotting Is and not enough to getting it right first time.”

First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, argues that police cuts are necessary, but contends that cuts will affect police bureaucracy -not street policing.  In a recent speech, he emphasized that “if it comes down to a choice between cops and bureaucracy, between bobbies on the beat and the boundaries of police authorities…it’s policemen first, safety first, communities first.”  Strathclyde Chief Constable Steve House, Scotland’s most senior officer, paints a very different picture of policing after the cuts.  He has warned that state spending cuts could drive his force back to the “bad old days” before his community policing revolution.  Scotland is expected to reduce its budged by 25% over the next five years, which House says will force him to take officers off the beat and put them back into patrol cars if spending is slashed as expected.  He argues this change would reduce community members’ sense of safety, noting that “If [the police] have to retreat to the bad old days when all [they] do is put out squad cars racing from job to job with blue lights and sirens that then will just make the public uneasy because they don’t see cops walking, they don’t see them on bicycles, which is what gives them confidence.”


In the News: Police Corruption, Civil Unrest, and Excessive Force

A bit of policing news from around the globe…

This year Costa Rican officials embarked upon a crackdown on corruption among the Policia de Transito, or traffic cops.  So far, 50 corrupt officers have been detained, caught by undercover officers paying mordidas, or bribes, with marked bills.  The majority of cops apprehended had been working in the police service for 10-15 years, suggesting the practice of asking for payoffs in exchange for not giving out traffic tickets may be deeply entrenched in police culture.

While Costa Rica works to rid their police of corruption, a recent Egyptian court ruling has banned Egyptian police from patrolling Cairo University’s campus altogether.  In place of police, the University will deploy civilian security guards.  Check out activist and blogger Hassam El Hamalawy’s analysis that frames the court decision within the context of civil protest and police use of excessive force here.

In France, police and protesters clash as the government attempts to regain control of oil refineries.  Just hours before the Senate vote on the controversial pension reform bill, “helmeted riot police in body armor shoved striking workers aside to force open the gates of the Total SA refinery at Grandpuits,” one of 12 French refineries that has been shut down by union strikers for days.  Protesters symbolically burned a coffin after the police intervention.


In the News: Prisons, Police Interrogations, and Customs and Border Protection at the Supreme Court (?)

Getting some momentum into the semester, here’s a few bits of news from around the internet tubes:

Dr. Jonathan Simon, UC Berkeley, talks with George Kenney on Electric Politics: Rewiring the American Regime about his new book Governing Through Crime, which focuses on the growth of the U.S. prison system in conjunction with the ever-growing “security mindset” that has crept into nearly all aspects of American society.

Professor Kassin speaks briefly about the role of police in obtaining false confessions (especially in relation to youth and other vulnerable populations), police interrogation techniques (including lying to  suspects), and the difficulty of discerning false confessions from real confessions.

U.S. Supreme Court petitioned to hear a mother’s case against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after her 4th generation, U.S. citizen daughter is deported to Mexico with the child’s undocumented father.  The petition followed a judgement handed down by the U.S. Court of appeals for the 5th circuit stating that while the court did not “condone the Border Patrol’s actions or the choices it made,” the mother could not bring suit against CBP because BP agents were entitled to use their discretion in the matter.