A Police Chief Tries to Reform the System from Within
November 9, 2013 1:08 PM   Subscribe

"Let's say you have neighbors complaining about a drug house on the corner," he says. "They don't feel safe. It's a menace. Now, you could do a long investigation, culminating in a big raid. But in the meantime, the neighbors still have to live with the menace. Why not just send two uniformed cops to the house that same afternoon? They knock. They say, 'Hey. Knock it off.' The drug dealers pick up and leave. No guns drawn, no raid. Which approach will have a more immediate effect on the neighborhood?" - Salt Lake City police chief Chris Burbank's efforts to reform policing.
posted by Slap*Happy (73 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Tell them to "knock it off"? Who is he, Cosgrove?

Seriously, I'm very impressed with his sanity. It's a shame that this type of policing isn't as lucrative or popular as militarization, but at least, for a while, this city has a good chief.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:16 PM on November 9, 2013 [24 favorites]


There are drug dealers in Salt Lake City?
posted by PenDevil at 1:19 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Um, if the drug dealers are making a lot of money they aren't going to 'knock it off'- they will just be more cautious/resourceful if they know the police are watching- and if they are living in public housing it is unlikely they are going to move. I wish this would work.
posted by bquarters at 1:20 PM on November 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sounds kinda like he proposes to harass "undesirables" based on zero evidence. I'm probably wrong though.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:23 PM on November 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


Side note: I was visiting and walking/taking public buses in the outskirts of SLC (most people drive) and I noticed many people with damaged and missing teeth. I told my friend there must be an issue with dental insurance and the economy etc in SLC and he (a resident) said 'No, it's the meth.' I was surprised too.
posted by bquarters at 1:23 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are drug dealers in Salt Lake City?
There sure are.
posted by Flunkie at 1:26 PM on November 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


How I wish this man represented a trend, rather than a glaring exception.

More Andy Griffith, less Joe Arpaio.
posted by General Tonic at 1:26 PM on November 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


I just moved to Joe Arpaio's county and am now expericing INTENSE police chief envy.

In testimony before Congress in 2010 (PDF), Burbank explained that it's impossible for police officers to look for and detain possibly undocumented immigrants without the use of racial profiling, and without subjecting Latinos who are U.S. citizens to unnecessary harassment.

Holy crap. I would like to shake this dude's hand.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:38 PM on November 9, 2013 [25 favorites]


Now where's the fun in police work like that?
posted by buzzman at 1:41 PM on November 9, 2013


"Burbank's mantra to his officers is the same: Use the minimum amount of force necessary to resolve the situation."

I love this guy so far... smarter not harder.
posted by Hicksu at 1:41 PM on November 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


It sounds more like an incentive to move house than an incentive to stop selling drugs from the corner house of a (different) neighbourhood. I guess it might add some transactional costs for the dealers and if it reduces fear of crime (ie 'menace' in the FPP) then you could argue it is effective. Then again if people living near a drug house have a legitimate fear of crime does the new neighbourhood just end up with a crime hotspot but an underawareness of having that hotspot nearby for a while?

You realise if this takes off the reimagining of The Shield is going to suck?
posted by biffa at 1:44 PM on November 9, 2013


Why not just send two uniformed cops to the house that same afternoon


This just moves the problem around ... Doesn't address underlying organization
posted by Bwithh at 1:45 PM on November 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


This just moves the problem around ... Doesn't address underlying organization

I don't get the sense that he was feeling like that would be "mission accomplished", but rather that this approach combined with investigation and other police work was more effective than simply bashing down doors.

This is just my take on the article, others obviously see things differently.
posted by davey_darling at 1:49 PM on November 9, 2013 [20 favorites]


Sounds like the George H.W. Bush approach to "drug guys": "Hey, get lost. We don't want any of that."
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:49 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


bquarters: "if the drug dealers are making a lot of money they aren't going to 'knock it off'- they will just be more cautious/resourceful if they know the police are watching-"

I doubt it's one OR the other; I expect they build a case against the dealer BUT ALSO intervene early in the neighborhood situation. And letting drug dealers know you're watching them DOES work. My city uses a thing called the "Armadillo" which is a converted Brinks-type truck that can provide 24-hour surveillance, but the surveillance isn't what reduces the crime ... it's having the Armadillo parked right outside your nuisance property. It has an element of public shaming, and it lets you know the cops are on to you. At first people were concerned that the Armadillo was going to be used to harass law-abiding citizens and be all surveillance-state-y, but now that it's been in use for 4 years, people LOVE the Armadillo. They had to get a second one because the waiting list is so long to have it park on particular streets -- neighborhood associations and individuals request them at local nuisance properties, and the police evaluate the requests and place the Armadillos accordingly. The two are named "Starsky" and "Hutch." People turn out at community festivals where there's an Armadillo so they can see them and take pictures with them.

As long as this kind of low-intensity, high-visibility policework is ONGOING, it does reduce the overall crimerate. If you only do it once, yeah, it mostly moves crime around with only small reductions, but continuing to do it reduces the crime rate because there starts to be nowhere in the city where crime is just overlooked. Plus you combine it with traditional policework to eradicate the crime, and ideally with community and social programs to prevent it.

Also I lived near a house of drug dealers for a while and while they were what you might call law-abiding drug dealers who tried to keep a low profile to avoid police attention to their illegal activities, I would definitely prefer the police go knock on their door and say, "We hear there's some drugs being dealt around here. Quit it," than do a SWAT raid in a neighborhood full of children. It took something like four YEARS from the first report of dealing before they finally managed to get concrete evidence for an arrest, and nobody was super-happy about that going on, even quietly, in our neighborhood, and we were always grateful for increased police activity, even if it was just patrol driving down the block a few extra times at night. What, since I had the bad taste to live a few doors down from a drug dealer, I DON'T deserve cops keeping an eye on the neighborhood and on quality-of-life issues?

Another thing they're doing locally is buying a few abandoned houses in run-down, dangerous neighborhoods with bad police relationships and having patrol officers actually move in to the neighborhoods to live in the neighborhoods they police and try to develop relationships with the community. They've just started the program but I think it's a great idea, and I'm hopeful it'll work well.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:55 PM on November 9, 2013 [77 favorites]


Sounds kinda like he proposes to harass "undesirables" based on zero evidence. I'm probably wrong though.

Yes. The proper response to this by any citizen, drug dealer or no, is "Do you have a warrant? No? Goodbye."
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:57 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...Doesn't address underlying organization"

I think that being able to quickly respond to distribution points and foster a sense in the community that the police will at least say something to the dealers does address the underlying organization since the underlying organization can't really work without the upper layers.
posted by Hicksu at 1:57 PM on November 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes. The proper response to this by any citizen, drug dealer or no, is "Do you have a warrant? No? Goodbye."

My impression as not that the police want to come in and search the place, so I doubt they need a warrant. I guess if the police did it repeatedly, it might be a form of harassment, but a single visit saying "we are watching this neighborhood for drug activity" doesn't rise to that level, does it?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:03 PM on November 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd be more impressed with this guy if he could figure out how to clean up Liberty Park.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:10 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I lived next door to a drug house which was also used to host pay parties. Their response to my landords asking them to keep the noise down was to warn us that without them around 'keeping an eye on things', 'stuff' could happen. A week later they burgled us.

The police? "Yes we know what's going on but no evidence mate!"

For all the arguments that this sort of approach just 'moves crime around' (and usually concentrates it into crime ghetto's - an argument I broadly agree with) I do believe that if the police had knocked on their door and given them a verbal warning they would never have dared to climb over the back fence and break in.

In any case the guy that broke in slashed an artery during his entry and jetted blood everywhere, and I mean everywhere, traumatic for him, traumatic for us. Didn't need to happen.
posted by fingerbang at 2:12 PM on November 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's true it probably moves the problem but he's offering a response to complaints from neighbors, not trying to run up drug arrests. When we had criminals living down the street from us for nearly six years, the cops, unable or unwilling to seriously pursue a drug case, did in fact stop by the house frequently, which had the effect of chasing some higher level dealers away. I like it and I like what he says about use of force. I'm sick and tired of seeing cops and prison guards outfitted as if they're on the front lines of Afghanistan, or even more so.
posted by etaoin at 2:15 PM on November 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


Sounds kinda like he proposes to harass "undesirables" based on zero evidence. I'm probably wrong though.

You know, if the police are contemplating bashing down my door in the middle of the night and they deign to give me the heads-up first, I'd consider that a huge favor.

I mean, the best case scenario is no friendly knock on the door and no SWAT raid. But if they're even considering contemplating the SWAT raid, I want the friendly knock on the door first.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:15 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


His comments about dealing with Occupy, after being ordered to end the encampment:

We should approach it asking, 'How can we best facilitate these people's free speech?' Putting them nine miles away from whatever they're protesting doesn't allow them to get their message across.

"Doing it this way takes extra time, and sometimes you take a little criticism from your officers," he says. "But if my officers feel unsafe, that's when it's my responsibility as chief to show up personally."


It seems like a pretty sensible way to handle the whole thing. Beats SWAT teams and riots at any rate.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:17 PM on November 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


"Just wanted to let you guys know that your neighbors are ratting you out to us. Nope, that's all--have a good one..."
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:19 PM on November 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


OK, those of you fixated on the drug house scenario, have you read the article? If so, do you think that Burbank's policies are a positive direction in policing or not? For those who haven't... well, you know the drill.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:24 PM on November 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


I mean, the best case scenario is no friendly knock on the door and no SWAT raid. But if they're even considering contemplating the SWAT raid, I want the friendly knock on the door first.

True, but I don't want police knocking on my door telling me to "knock it off" because my neighbors don't like my haircut and decide I must be involved with drugs.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:31 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


So...why people are dealing drugs in the first place? Eyebrows McGee I'm not surprised neighborhood associations enjoy the panopticar, but I can't shake the feeling some voices aren't being represented. Are homeless people a "nuisance?" Ideally social programs would indeed coexist, but that seems like a tall order in the wake of food stamp cuts.

40% of workers make less than $20k/year. Drug dealing seems like a pretty sweet deal when your only other options are soul-deadening fast food work that doesn't pay enough to begin with. I'm not saying they make for good neighbors, but any discussions that prioritize neighborhood appearance over poverty will end up supporting mass incarceration.
posted by gorbweaver at 2:41 PM on November 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


Honestly, if that's the worst case, that they knock on your door for spurious reasons? Who gives a crap? I'll take that over the parade of varied begging and bullshit that normally gets a knock on my door, and as an alternative to the other intrusiveness that goes on in modern policing it sounds like nirvana.

I'm a tremendous crank about the drug war and police overreach and militarization. I follow Cop Block and distrust police as a matter of course because I think oversight is lax and punishment for improper use of authority is non-existent. I have a mat on the front door that says "come back with a warrant." I think the state of the law where police can stop you and we have this pretense that you're in a voluntary encounter if you don't ask if you're free to go and walk away is horseshit..And with all that baggage, I think the knock and involvement is peachy keen.
posted by phearlez at 2:43 PM on November 9, 2013 [24 favorites]


"True, but I don't want police knocking on my door telling me to "knock it off" because my neighbors don't like my haircut and decide I must be involved with drugs."

Based on Burbank's goal of having officers work with dignity and respect for the community and show empathy in their work, I think he would not want this happening either.
posted by Hicksu at 2:44 PM on November 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


I certainly believe he means well, but the whole point is to avoid investigations so how is he going to know if I'm a drug dealer or have paranoid neighbors.

As he says "The drug dealers pick up and leave", what happens when I don't pick up and leave and the neighbors are saying "that guy is still there officer" they going to come by again? Maybe a couple times? Maybe once a week till I get the message? Maybe stop by my place of work?

How does this effect minorities? Maybe people start thinking brown person's car is way too nice.

I'm probably just more suspicious of cops, but I certainly hope to be proven wrong on this one.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:58 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


We've been trying the same militarized SWAT team no-knock bullshit for forty years now, and it's not working out so great, you know? Maybe read more about this guy and other chiefs like him who are trying different things before pointing out why it can't possibly work.

It can't solve everything. Maybe it can solve some of the problems created by overly aggressive and violent enforcement though, you know?
posted by rtha at 3:09 PM on November 9, 2013 [21 favorites]


As he says "The drug dealers pick up and leave", what happens when I don't pick up and leave and the neighbors are saying "that guy is still there officer" they going to come by again?

Well, according to him, his approach works. Presumably after a warning or so the police still have the option of a months long investigation and a raid of some sort.

But if you were a dealer (or a customer), would you want to continue your business *knowing* the police knew what you did and where you did it? If you did continue, maybe it'd be a lot more low-key, or maybe you'd turn into a delivery dealer or something.

Look, I'm as critical as the police as anyone (if not a bit more), but if we don't start finding better policing strategies, and encouraging them (or codifying them into law), how will things get better? It seems all the critiques (and there are surprisingly many) of his approach are theoretical. His approach is an alternative to one that leads people (and puppys) dead, and risks non-suspects as well as police.
posted by el io at 3:12 PM on November 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


For everyone quick to jump on this guy for imagined offenses, ask yourself, are you, yourself, happy with the style of policing where you live? Are you thrilled at the militarization of even small town cops? The attitude that many departments have, the us vs them mentality? This guy is talking about making police a part of the community again, and trying to get rid of the occupying force mentality that seems to be standard in most places now. Would you prefer a police chief who sends in swat and riot cops as the first step? Give this guy a chance, he's trying something different. We need more people like this, not less.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:20 PM on November 9, 2013 [31 favorites]


Whoa, I'm not proposing more raids. I just want some kind of oversight of who, when and why they knock on doors. I want some accountability. At the very least investigations and raids require court orders and create a paper trail. We all see how disproportionately things like stop and frisk are wielded, I have no doubt it will be the same here.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:28 PM on November 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


gorbweaver: "So...why people are dealing drugs in the first place? Eyebrows McGee I'm not surprised neighborhood associations enjoy the panopticar, but I can't shake the feeling some voices aren't being represented. Are homeless people a "nuisance?" Ideally social programs would indeed coexist, but that seems like a tall order in the wake of food stamp cuts. "

Yes, that was the broad concern when the panopticar (ha!) was debuted, but in practice it's been used on empty houses that are being broken in to repeatedly, known drug houses that have spillover crime (property crime, prostitution), or houses often with elderly owners who feel powerless in the face of their relatives criminal behavior and who call and request it at their own houses. It hasn't been used to harass homeless people or teenagers or loiterers or truants or anything like that, and the footage isn't retained for long. (I am fairly sure, although not positive, that no footage has yet been used to bring a case to trial ... I believe it was used in only one arrest, where a violent assault occurred right in front of the Armadillo.)

In practice it's being used in unstable, low-income communities where residents who haven't always been a police priority are asking for more police presence and better quality-of-life in the neighborhood. People mostly view it as a positive police presence, which supports the law-abiding citizens and says, "Yes, the police hear you, and we're going to stand with you against criminals trying to exploit the bad conditions in your neighborhood." My sense from talking to people is that because it's a PASSIVE police presence that just sits there, BEING, people (who are law-abiding but nervous about the police due to bad past interactions or whatever) find it less threatening than a specific human officer who may or may not be a good guy, who carries actual weapons.

I think we have to be careful not to let the perfect be the enemy of the better. Definitely broad social supports, including jobs programs and a safety net, are what's MOST needed. But poor communities are the ones most impacted by crime, and those communities often have a lot of overlap with communities that have been subject to police bias and violence. If you go to a lot of neighborhood meetings, these neighborhoods are literally crying out for more police support, and these are the same people who have been most often on the receiving end of bad police behavior. Within the current structures of traditional police departments, we can come up with better ways to address crime and better ways to interact with people and communities, and I think that's what these programs try to do.

Any tool can be misused, and the Armadillo is definitely open for misuse, but what we've seen in the four years it's been in action has been very positive, so it's a tool my city has come to support pretty wholeheartedly. I think as a general thing the "tools" of law enforcement are very open for misuse -- police power inherently is wildly open to misuse -- and that what police need to do is build a track record of NOT misusing those tools, and in that way build up trust with the community. And the community needs to clearly express its will about the norms and limits of police power and hold the police department and its elected officials accountable to those limits. I think it helps when the police build relationships in the community, live in the community, and have "skin in the game," as they say; but it definitely helps when they take a less adversarial stances towards the communities they police, even if nothing else changes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:04 PM on November 9, 2013 [26 favorites]


My brother in law is a few months into a 5 year sentence for growing mushrooms. Part of why he got into growing was that he had a whole bunch of rental properties, and couldn't get any police response in those neighborhoods. After the umpteenth call without a response, he figured "what the hell, it's not like they're coming here anyway". He couldn't get a police response in downtown Toledo at all, not as properties got raided for copper, or burned down, and he was already well into forgiving people rent in order to keep the properties occupied. So why not turn the properties towards an agricultural endeavor?

The point of the friendly knock and warning is that it takes a hell of a lot less effort than building a case for the warrant, it shows that the police indeed do give a shit about the occupants of the neighborhood, but it also addresses the drug problem perhaps as it should be addressed: The problem with drug dealing isn't the commerce, it's all the ancillary crime that accompanies it. If it causes those involved in the trade to say "well, we need to be more circumspect", great!

For all the usual reasons, I he properate the drug war, and this guy seems to be saying "let's drop the drug war and turn this into a quality of life in the neighborhood process". I'm all for that.
posted by straw at 4:06 PM on November 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


The proposal of having uniformed officers say "Knock it off" is presented in the interview as a "What if..." thought experiment. It's not the current policy, as far as I can tell. Nitpicking it quite this much seems out of place, given the context in which it was said.
posted by jaguar at 4:07 PM on November 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I agreed with most of what he said, and wished that it indicated a new direction in policing in the US. But what I really wish is that it wasn't up to the discretion of a particular police chief, but instead excessive police militarization and violence was being actively constrained by legislation and the courts. (Sadly, I think the opposite is happening.)

I was also in Salt Lake a little while back and completely by chance saw the police do a high impact arrest/takedown of a couple of methy-looking dudes in a car. So for all that he is saying about using the minimum force necessary and so on, it is clear that when officers feel it is needed (presumably for their own or public safety) they still have the ability to use overwhelming force. At a day to day level, I wonder how much different policing really is there.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:23 PM on November 9, 2013


Ad hominem: "... I don't want police knocking on my door telling me to 'knock it off' because my neighbors don't like my haircut and decide I must be involved with drugs... I just want some kind of oversight of who, when and why they knock on doors. I want some accountability. At the very least investigations and raids require court orders and create a paper trail. We all see how disproportionately things like stop and frisk are wielded, I have no doubt it will be the same here."

First of all, if the police went out and did an interview every single damned time somebody called and said they don't like a guy's haircut so he must be a drug dealer, they would not have time to do anything else. Check the context in the article: this is in a situation where they would otherwise just try to do a long, expensive covert investigation. If they're at the level of contemplating that kind of thing, generally it's because they've passed the stage of fielding a single call from a persnickety grandmother who thinks the kid down the way should pull up his pants.

So - yes, there should be oversight. But this is the essential point here: when they're at the point of planning raids and investigations, there's already a paper trail: written (or transcribed) complaints from neighbors with details about what happened, police reports of prior activity in the area, etc. And a visit to say "knock it off" is something that every police department in the nation is required to log and document, too; so while plenty of them are abusing visits or doing them for the wrong reasons, oversight is at least as possible of those visits as it is of anything else the police department does.

Lastly, I guess I'd say that there are always different ways of doing things, and I totally think it's possible to do this in a way that is wrong. But the guy in the article seems to be suggesting doing it in a way that's right.

bquarters: "Um, if the drug dealers are making a lot of money they aren't going to 'knock it off'- they will just be more cautious/resourceful if they know the police are watching..."

The massive mistake you're making here is your assumption that it should be the primary goal of the police to stop people from making or selling drugs. But that's a terrible goal, and we have decades of public policy research now to prove it. Even if one agrees that upholding the current law is a good idea - and I do - we've seen over and over again that focusing strictly on the manufacture and sale of drugs in law enforcement creates violence and allows the rest of society to decay. We must allow police officers to return to what they are intended to do: keep the peace.

"Knock it off" in this instance (as far as I can tell) doesn't mean "stop making and selling drugs." It means "stop exposing your neighbors to this." Stop being loud and crazy, stop being obvious about the fact that you're selling the stuff, stop letting violent altercations spill out of your house at weird hours. And yes, drug dealers will respond to that, because drug dealers want to keep making money and not go to jail.

In other words: this approach will work, because getting drug dealers to "be more cautious/resourceful" is the whole damned point.
posted by koeselitz at 4:30 PM on November 9, 2013 [30 favorites]


Putting the "community" back into policing is to be lauded, not condemned. He is at least thinking about how things can be improved, and recognising that the current state of policing needs to move away from the heavy handed SWAT team hammer seeking a nail approach.
posted by arcticseal at 5:03 PM on November 9, 2013


SJPD calls these "knock and talks" and has been doing them for at least sixteen years.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:40 PM on November 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've known of law enforcement doing these 'knock and talks' to hackers as well - "dude, quit hacking the gibson, we know what your up to"; it gives kids a chance to wake the hell up to the repercussions of their actions without facing many years in prison for idiotic youthful mistakes (and then if they keep it up the cops come back with the warrant).
posted by el io at 5:46 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


This just moves the problem around ... Doesn't address underlying organization

Maybe he realizes that drug dealing is not a problem that the police can actually solve.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:48 PM on November 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks for this. I'm really glad I had a chance to read it, and I wouldn't have if you hadn't posted it here. I'm always hungry for good news.
posted by kristi at 5:55 PM on November 9, 2013


I think that being able to quickly respond to distribution points and foster a sense in the community that the police will at least say something to the dealers does address the underlying organization since the underlying organization can't really work without the upper layers.

Except when, you know, law enforcement (including the DEA) allows distribution points to stay in business. That's only Chicago, though; imagine if smaller towns had similar policy.
posted by rhizome at 6:03 PM on November 9, 2013


Salt Lake City crime stats. He took over in 2006.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:05 PM on November 9, 2013


I think what's missing here is that most drug dealers think that they can get away with it. Cops knocking on the front door essentially indicates to the drug dealers that their behavior is far riskier than they had initially imagined: they either try to become much less conspicuous or quit. Either one is essentially a win for the community, though, one much moreso than the other.
posted by Freen at 6:15 PM on November 9, 2013


I think what's missing here is that most drug dealers think that they can get away with it.

They don't? I would also quibble with the "it" you think they're "getting away with," but that's chiefly a political and ethical decision on my part.
posted by rhizome at 6:19 PM on November 9, 2013


Put another way, people deal drugs because of a perceived reward to risk ratio. I would wager than a gentle reminder from the cops probably materially changes that ratio.
posted by Freen at 6:19 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would wager than a gentle reminder from the cops probably materially changes that ratio.

The scenario being discussed is congruent to the Hamsterdam arc in "The Wire," but if that's going to be policy, why not just legalize?
posted by rhizome at 6:24 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just want some kind of oversight of who, when and why they knock on doors. I want some accountability.

Cops can already knock on your door and harass you for your haircut if they feel like it, as often as they want to. Burbank avoiding immediate escalation to a no-knock warrant by knocking on doors and saying, hey, we know what you're up to may not have the same paper trail a warrant does, but that paper trail does not prevent killing innocent people in botched raids.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:26 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


And really, the time to institute more ("some"!) accountability is before you tell officers to knock on doors for hunches.
posted by rhizome at 6:28 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just want some kind of oversight of who, when and why they knock on doors. I want some accountability.

Accountable for what? Any citizen, in or out of any uniform, can knock on your door.
posted by anonymisc at 6:34 PM on November 9, 2013


I get that giving out warnings could turn into racial harassment under an (all-too-common) rotten department culture, but countries with good police doing good policework (ie not the USA) use these kinds of police-as-part-of-the-community approaches rather than US-style police-as-hammer approach, and part of having police as part of the community is that the familiarity works both ways - your local copper knows that that "dealer house" is actually just a bunch of students sharing a flat in a neighbourhood that isn't used to their sort. Us vs Them doesn't get as toxic when people know each other.
posted by anonymisc at 6:45 PM on November 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


This article is the last piece of a six-part series.

The whole series is titled How A Botched Drug Raid In Utah Sparked An Unlikely Movement
posted by telstar at 6:51 PM on November 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


these kinds of police-as-part-of-the-community approaches rather than US-style police-as-hammer approach, and part of having police as part of the community is that the familiarity works both ways

Yeah, there have been sporadic and disjoint forays into community policing, but I think a significant aspect of today's (US) law enforcement climate is the death (sic) of the beat cop. It's all just cars, radios and guns guns guns nowadays.
posted by rhizome at 7:23 PM on November 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


rhizome: " I think a significant aspect of today's (US) law enforcement climate is the death (sic) of the beat cop."

Yeah, that's what's so interesting about the resident officer program (here's a longtime program in Elgin), getting officers (and their families) into rundown neighborhoods where they are available 24/7 and they get to know the residents as people.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:50 PM on November 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Incoming white low-middle-class female anecdata:

I have had a few interactions with the SLC police department, and each one has been excellent. About four years ago, I had my phone ripped out of my hands on the train. I chased the jackass off the train, but didn't chase him off the platform. Thanks to a helpful passenger, I was on the phone with dispatch even as I watched the thief run away. End result: I had my phone back within three hours after making a statement to a very helpful officer who also gave me a ride home from the station (I had no Internet at the time and was using a computer at the station for Find My iPhone.) The officers who took pictures of my hands for evidence were also very pleasant. I have a difficult time communicating, and everyone was very patient.

I was hit by a car in a crosswalk (hit and run), and the officers who worked with me on that were pleasant and helpful.

There is a horrible intersection on my walk, and cars do not pay attention to pedestrians. There is usually at least one officer there during busy hours and I always thank them for keeping cars wary. As a pedestrian, I appreciate their presence on that corner. I make it a point to smile and wave, and a couple know me now. Regulars, I guess.

I know that there is a tendency to hate the police, and I get why, but I think it's an important job and I haven't been on the negative side of the blue line. I can see the abuses and potential for abuse, and I empathize with that view, I really do, but I smile and wave to the police when I see them. And tell them to have a good day. Or thank them, if they are keeping drivers wary.

My worst experience with 'police' was as a junior high student with the truancy officers of my texas school district. Those fuckers were assholes and should not have been given power over anyone, especially kids. As a special ed kid, I was especially vulnerable. So I actually like my salt lake city police department.
posted by awesomelyglorious at 10:30 PM on November 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


OK, civil libertarian absolutists, please tell me what to do. We live in a neighborhood that is largely rental properties (landlords ourselves, it isn't a sin), and the frequent turnover means something like every other year we have drug and/or gang activity practically in our noses. I suppose we could just move, but we like our 19th century Greek Revival and they aren't building those on the outskirts of town. So we're here, it's our right to be here, and we are experiencing major criminal activity, like, nearly always. It's not just snobbery (the word I often hear because people don't want to say "racism", because that's what they assume here, even though most of the customers are white and we are talking about criminals who may be black, white, Hispanic, or Asian, my record here is pretty heterodox), it's documented criminal activity, and in some cases has led to direct retaliatory harassment of ourselves -- everything from slashed tires to me with a 2x4 to the back of the head and six months of post-concussion syndrome (I can upload the photos of the bloody clothes from that day if you desire more visceral verification). And it may or may not be related but we've been burglarized five times in the last three months.

So please tell us what to do. Give us some fucking tools here. Because I don't want to be a "snob" but I'm pretty fucking tired of being a crime victim.
posted by dhartung at 11:25 PM on November 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure who's saying it's snobbish to want to get rid of crime.

Maybe it would help to say that if I'm passionate about this, it's for a particular reason. I lived for two years in a relatively run-down neighborhood in north Denver. We were around the corner from apartment buildings that were clearly a hotbed of drug use and manufacture; car breakins were common, you absolutely had to keep a light on above your door or eventually somebody would try to jimmie the lock, I heard of people being randomly assaulted by just crazy idiots on the street. And gunfire was a thing that happened, not every night but many weekends. Keep in mind: Denver is the town that invented the SWAT team. That's where it was first instituted - and they still use 'em extensively. They didn't do shit. They'd fly up the street once a month or so, all in black riot gear hanging off the side of a black van with big weapons drawn, and pin down this or that house. And then, after maybe half an hour, they'd emerge, get back in their big black van, and leave. They never went near the apartment buildings, which were the actual problem - I imagine that's because the Denver SWAT team accidentally ended up shooting a number of people when they messed up addresses on sweeps in the early years, so they'd get sued into oblivion if they tried it again - so everything kept going the way it was. No real community engagement, no consistent police presence, no approach on anything like a human level. Just the stupid black van.

And why do they do this? Because police generally don't give a shit about reducing crime, or making neighborhoods safe, or helping the community claw its way out if being a violent hellhole. They care about one thing: the bust. They care about that bust because it advances their careers. And if making a bust means ignoring the concerns of the saps like us who live in crime-riddled neighborhoods, so be it, as long as every once in a while they get a big bust to hang their hats on.

I really wish it weren't this way. I really wish police engaged directly with the community itself and actually approached problems on that level. The guy in this article may be describing a low-impact immediate approach - yeah, simply knocking on a single door would not have fixed all the problems of my old neighborhoods - but it is the right direction to go in. From there, I would ask police to fix the things that actually matter. Work to eliminate petty burglaries, muggings, small property damage, etc. Right now, they're mostly ignoring those things because the theory is that if they can just catch the people with drugs then they'll all go away and everything will be wonderful. As I said, I think we can trust that that theory is wrong now.
posted by koeselitz at 12:15 AM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


What would you like to see happen in your situation, dhartung?
posted by telstar at 12:25 AM on November 10, 2013


America still has drug houses?

The UK has been exclusively dial and deliver for at least the last ten years. You call the number, shortly afterwards, the car arrives.

Does away with all that bad neighbourhood feeling.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:26 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another thing they're doing locally is buying a few abandoned houses in run-down, dangerous neighborhoods with bad police relationships and having patrol officers actually move in to the neighborhoods to live in the neighborhoods they police and try to develop relationships with the community. They've just started the program but I think it's a great idea, and I'm hopeful it'll work well.

The COPS program (Clinton's) is pretty similar to this -- is that where they're getting the grant? The neighborhood I grew up in was part of a similar program for two or three years. It sounds creepy to have patrol cars circling through a little neighborhood like sharks, and it sort of was, but it's decidedly less creepy when you know the cops' names and they know the names of everybody else, too. Plus, most people only see or talk to cops when they're in trouble with the cops or are trying to get someone in trouble with the cops -- but in this kind of case, you're around each other literally every day for years, and the vast majority of the time you and the cops are both just sort of around the same area, you're not antagonizing each other, it's just a regular thing on a regular day. So it's not as unsettling/scary as you might expect.

Even when the cops were always around though...if you were having a real problem, it's not like just because the cop could stop by your house and talk to you about it he was actually going to be able to do anything about it, and that could get really frustrating. Sort of dispiriting. Some things do require more than just standing around and shaming people.

Probably the best thing about having the cops around, though, was that they did keep the "criminal element" from walking around like they owned the place, which empowered everyone else. Kids could play, old people could sit on their front steps/porches, people could just do normal community things, without getting harassed or intimidated or feeling like the neighborhood wasn't theirs. There was also a marked difference in terms of everything from people harassing each other on the street to tagging to how many "home day cares" were running to random weird shit that I would have sworn had nothing to do with cops during the time the cops were around compared to before and after. So in my point of view, "community cops" were definitely a good thing for our neighborhood.

it's documented criminal activity, and in some cases has led to direct retaliatory harassment of ourselves -- everything from slashed tires to me with a 2x4 to the back of the head and six months of post-concussion syndrome (I can upload the photos of the bloody clothes from that day if you desire more visceral verification). And it may or may not be related but we've been burglarized five times in the last three months.

So please tell us what to do. Give us some fucking tools here. Because I don't want to be a "snob" but I'm pretty fucking tired of being a crime victim.


My family was targeted in a similar way in the same neighborhood I mentioned above, and ultimately we had to move. No, we couldn't afford it, and yes, it's something that we're all still bitter/sad about. I'm in my late twenties now and this all happened when I was a teenager, but I *still* miss that place, despite myself *still* consider it home. I'd move back in a heartbeat if I didn't think the same exact things would happen.

In my experience, law enforcement really can't do anything about that kind of terrorizing but low-level crime, even if you can prove any given thing. Best case, one or two people will go to jail for a few days, but then show back up like they were never gone. By the time you've got something on them that's big enough to matter it's too late. And if cops and the rule of law can't do anything, god knows some regular non-psycho person doesn't stand a chance. If you figure out a way to stay while retaining some quality of life, please let me know.
posted by rue72 at 2:25 AM on November 10, 2013


Police using brains not brawn. Bravo.
posted by manoffewwords at 3:52 AM on November 10, 2013


It's the very definition of a functional community that it has the ability to exclude degenerates, who can destroy safety and calm, and monopolize social resources to a near-complete extent.

Most people with agita about working class communities trying to achieve this core objective have enough money to live in places where property values and uncomfortable conspicuousness exclude degenerates without any legal intervention. I wonder if they even have a legitimate voice in the discussion.
posted by MattD at 5:19 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


dhartung: "So please tell us what to do. Give us some fucking tools here. Because I don't want to be a "snob" but I'm pretty fucking tired of being a crime victim."

The properly bootstrappy answer is "Guns, lots of guns".
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:11 AM on November 10, 2013




Another Denver guy here: when I was burglarized in a rundown neighborhood, the cops didn't really give a shit. Now in a nicer 'hood, when we were burglarized, they dusted for fingerprints and everything.

Also, we had ONE drug house in the neighborhood, five houses up. Some old lady was just not aware that her son was dealing - and pimping teen girls in the basement, rumor has it. The cops busted him and his buddies (without a SWAT team), sold the house (civil forfeiture, my lawyer spouse said), and used the money to set her up in a group home for elders like her.

Talking 'bout crime over the Sunday morning breakfast table, my wife, who works as a public defender in neighboring Aurora, a town about as big as Denver, where the cops/judges are quite a bit worse, she said lately the race issue has been pretty pathetic: almost all the folks standing in line to pay fines, set up court dates etc. are black and hispanic. I know this thread is not about racism, but look at who's locked up for drugs and whatnot and tell me the criminal justice system treats all races equally.

Oh, and after I was burglarized in koeselitz's neighborhood (North Capitol Hill, I'm guessing), I moved out.
posted by kozad at 8:49 AM on November 10, 2013


BrotherCaine: "SJPD calls these "knock and talks" and has been doing them for at least sixteen years."

Knock and talk is different. It's when you can't get a warrant but are quite sure that if you can just poke your head in the door you'll see something that will get you the probable cause you need. So, you go knock on the door and try to see inside, if not convince the person to let you in the house voluntarily. The purpose is to throw someone in prison, not to discourage crime.

On to the general subject, it amazes me that people still talk in terms of degenerates or a criminal underclass. There are crazy fuckers out there who commit crimes because they enjoy it. There are crazy fuckers out there who run their (legal) businesses with as close to slave labor as they can possibly get away with. These people are called sociopaths. They make up a small percentage of the human race. All those other "degenerates" are responding mostly rationally to the completely fucked up society they are forced to deal with day in and day out. When you can't hold down a job because your probation/parole officer thinks that giving you a regular schedule of meetings is being too nice, of course you're going to consider ways to make money that don't involve a fixed schedule. Or violate your probation/parole and get in even more trouble. If you can't get treatment for your anxiety or PTSD or back pain or whatever, you're going to consider extra-legal means of treatment. We often don't understand why people do things, but the problem is that we're not asking, or even looking in many cases, not that some 15 or 20 percent of the population are degenerate criminals who will always be on the margins of society because they are of low moral character.

We as a society choose to make it impossible for a large fraction of our population to get legitimate work no matter how much they would prefer it. We also do nearly everything in our power to increase the violence and risk associated with black markets so that we can justify the draconian measures we employ when people step out of line. Maybe if we'd stop trying so hard to keep people at the fringes of society we'd find it easier to deal with most of our crime problem. It's high time we allowed people to help themselves.
posted by wierdo at 3:31 PM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think this guy's approach is amazing and sensible. He's prioritizing safety here, which is what we want the police to do.

One thing about what koeselitz said upthread, though:

First of all, if the police went out and did an interview every single damned time somebody called and said they don't like a guy's haircut so he must be a drug dealer, they would not have time to do anything else. Check the context in the article: this is in a situation where they would otherwise just try to do a long, expensive covert investigation.

It probably depends on jurisdiction, and I'd guess it's not the case in SLC, but yes, some police departments will in fact use manpower to act on vague complaints. The police started looking through the garbage and mail of a friend based on calls that his house smelled weird. Another friend of mine was visited by two officers with rifles because a neighbor did not recognize him and reported him as a suspicious character.

I believe Burbank, however, is probably talking about more legitimate complaints involving violence, but yeah, more transparency there would be great so that the public doesn't have to rely on the goodness of a cop's heart.
posted by ignignokt at 6:13 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


America still has drug houses?

The UK has been exclusively dial and deliver for at least the last ten years. You call the number, shortly afterwards, the car arrives.


"Drug houses" aren't just places where you can buy -- they also include places where people can use, where parties can be held, and/or sometimes where stuff is grown/manufactured. They coexist just fine with delivery services and street dealing.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:42 AM on November 11, 2013


think a significant aspect of today's (US) law enforcement climate is the death (sic) of the beat cop. It's all just cars, radios and guns guns guns yt nowadays.

And this is in large part due to the rise of sprawl. A beat cop can't be effective strolling around a low-density, single-use neighborhood.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2013


"I just don't like the riot gear," Burbank says. "Some say not using it exposes my officers to a little bit more risk. That could be, but risk is part of the job. I'm just convinced that when we don riot gear, it says 'throw rocks and bottles at us.' It invites confrontation. Two-way communication and cooperation are what's important. If one side overreacts, then it all falls apart."

F'ing Nazi.

"...We aren't an occupying force. We are a part of the community. And we need to understand that to do our jobs, we sometimes need to expose ourselves to a little bit of risk....We need to recognize that we have emotions, and learn to dial that back a little bit. One of the most important traits in a good police officer is empathy."

One of the major problems interdicting community relations is how state and federal funding come down. Being part of the community just doesn't enter into the equation for most lawmakers. So it typically winds up a burden on citizens to show they want this kind of policing.
I'd like to see a coalition of police officers and citizens petitioning lawmakers for programs that fund more police-resident interaction. Few people think twice about the mailman coming to the door (and mailmen have made safety checks and saved lives) or saying hi to their public works guys or garbageman, but there's this tension with cops.
And that wouldn't exist if police departments were funded and designed to be more plugged in to their communities.

One of the big things would be decriminalizing useless laws, more programs for mental health, all that, so the police can focus on more egregious crimes.

And indeed, politically we've wed so much moralizing to laws, particularly drug laws, that many enforcement officers (Gil Kerlikowske e.g.) feel (or in Kerlikowske's case as 'Drug Czar' and what goddamn kind of name is that for an American official to have, felt) that drug and alcohol addiction is a lack of will/moral fiber.
Changing the system changes the outcome. Unfortunately politicians aren't going to adopt a science or empirically driven operation without getting pushed into it.

If we keep evading the problem we're going to have to live with stupid laws and poor (and ultimately abusive) enforcement and draconian and arbitrary sentencing for decades longer than we have to.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:32 PM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


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