The Gang Within: A Baltimore Police Scandal
October 13, 2018 4:02 AM   Subscribe

“The Gang Within: A Baltimore Police Scandal” (video, 25min, Al Jazeera English's Fault Lines) details emerge about an elite plain-clothes police unit that, for years, doubled as a criminal gang - robbing residents, planting evidence, and sending countless innocent people to jail.

The unit operated with impunity in part because of the way police complaints are investigated. In Baltimore - like many other cities - if a police officer is accused of wrongdoing, the complaint is investigated behind closed doors by the police department's own Internal Affairs Division. Fault Lines investigates how this latest police scandal once again places Baltimore at the centre of a national debate over how and whether police departments can be held accountable to the communities they police.
posted by XMLicious (25 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Someone should make a TV show about this.
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:00 AM on October 13, 2018 [25 favorites]

Justin Fenton, the Baltimore Sun's crime reporter, was excellent on the Gun Trace Task Force case.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:40 AM on October 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

how and whether police departments can be held accountable to the communities they police

Narrator: They can't
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:51 AM on October 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

The federal government was just barely able to do something about what I hope was the worst in the Baltimore police department.

Who can do much of anything about bad behavior by the federal government?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 8:04 AM on October 13, 2018

Pretty sure 'police' departments should be formed from the most disadvantaged members of society so they're far more invested in actually serving the cause of justice.

But of course, in western societies, police are there to protect the status quo and serve the upper classes, and that's all there is to it. Ain't no way to change it that I can see.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:05 AM on October 13, 2018

Just stopped in to say abolish the police.
posted by runcibleshaw at 9:21 AM on October 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

seanmpukett:. Western societies? Is it any different in China, India, African countries or elsewhere?
posted by el io at 9:44 AM on October 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

departments should be formed from the most disadvantaged members of society
I don't see how the most disadvantaged would be any less prone to corruption and seeking to maximize their personal benefit than anyone else.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 9:54 AM on October 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

Is any major city police department anywhere in America (or the world) not corrupt? If so, how do they do it?

The standard police system seems built to encourage corruption. They give run-of-the-mill people uniforms and weapons and send them out on the streets relatively unsupervised to decide on the fly whether and how to enforce the law. Corruption will start with grateful cops looking the other way for nice people who hand out free coffee and doughnuts in the middle of the night to tired cops, and it will end in the sort of group corruption they show in this video, with pockets of the worst cops clustering together for fun and profit. Honest cops will want out. Dishonest cops and their enablers will thrive.
posted by pracowity at 9:59 AM on October 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

posted by glonous keming at 10:11 AM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I noticed when moving to Canada that I would regularly see news stories about cops indicted for various things. Stories that I never saw in the US. I'm not saying that Canada cops are perfect, but I don't get the impression that there is the culture of corruption seen in the US.

I wonder what impact the power of the police union has in all of this; they seem to be the defenders of corruption in the US.

Other countries (the UK for example) have decided that the vast majority of their police shouldn't carry guns. They simply call for the armed police when the need arises. It has to help community relations when someone encounters a police person and isn't immediately afraid of being shot (as is common in areas of the US).

I guess I'm saying that these aren't unsolvable problems. Certainly there hasn't been a concerted will in the US to solve them as of yet, but I'm not giving up hope. I honestly believe if the voters consistently voted in politicians that ran on platforms of police reform, we'd see significant progress. It wouldn't be instantaneous, but it could occur.

Part of the problem is that the good cops are also afraid of bad cops, and the current environments aren't conducive to good cops testifying against bad cops. The moment this becomes the new norm the cop culture will begin to change.
posted by el io at 11:46 AM on October 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

can we avoid simply assuming that good cops exist? not being snarky here; we must keep in mind the possibility that the act of policing inevitably corrupts the people performing it.

Any proposed system to help “honest cops” suppress the influence of “bad cops” might be like one of those tricky mathematical “proofs” where the proof writer sneaks in a division by zero somewhere in the middle.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:34 PM on October 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

Here's a question... do all the societies which have high rates of police corruption also have high rates of police-perpetrated murder, or is there an intermediate stratum with high police corruption but low rates of murder? India, for example, seems to be in the same quadrant as the US, with its own special Wikipedia page for its “encounter specialists”, while at least according to some Al Jazeera reports corruption also seems to be widespread.

I suppose that the problem is how to get accurate statistics on any police activity when police corruption is rampant. I feel like we need to start working on some sort of inverse Tor—a kind of people's surveillance network able to defy censorship and bank heist movie tricks where real data is overridden with a false substitute surveillance feed—so that by the time the Internet of Things sublimates into smartdust everywhere the surveillance advantage will be less asymmetrical and less in favor of police and governments.
posted by XMLicious at 12:42 PM on October 13, 2018

Just stopped in to say abolish the police.
posted by runcibleshaw

And replace it with...?

Government troops?
posted by Splunge at 2:48 PM on October 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Usually when I see activists calling for the abolition of the police, they want to replace them with social workers and conflict resolution experts.
posted by postel's law at 3:55 PM on October 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

When your solution to issues with police is abolish them, you are not creating a solution. You are making more problems.
posted by Splunge at 4:17 PM on October 13, 2018

Usually when I see activists calling for the abolition of the police, they want to replace them with social workers and conflict resolution experts

I mean. For Reasons, today, I had to look through the sex offender registry for my neighborhood, which is one of the most densely populated in the country, so...lots of sex offenders in my zip code. Like, it took a while.

The registry provides a hauntingly vague list of descriptors for the crime that landed the offender in the registry, but the basics are there: numbers of victims, their gender and age; stranger or known; violent or “threat”; additional crimes (kidnapping); types of weapons used (for which they provide a list of things you would never have thought would require their own codes in such a database).

I do not see how anyone who lives in the actual world and has had any experience of fear or violence or assault could possibly in a million goddamn years think that a social worker and mediator would have been the best choice for some of those cases.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:47 PM on October 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

When I say abolish the police, I don't necessarily mean abolish the police forever. What I mean is this:
Historically, most American police departments have their origins in slave-catching patrols and in militias aimed at suppressing labor revolts (whether of slaves or a wage laborers). Racism and corruption is culturally endemic to current law enforcement; it was structurally built that way from the outset, during the 18th and 19th century.

Law enforcement must be rebuilt from scratch, with a wholly new philosophy, and practicum. New departments with new officers from new academies. If you came from the old way of policing, or a policing family, that should be held against you.

We keep being surprised by the racism, the rent-seeking (arrest quotas etc), and the mercenary sycophance of LEOs only because we've been propagandized to a false understanding.

The LEOs have never been agents of justice. They have never been protectors of the people. They have always been a standing militia for the purpose of apprehending slaves and suppressing public unrest. They do not serve the public, they never have. They are the dogs of the manored elites, the whips of the masters. They are the overseers on our plantation nation.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 7:18 PM on October 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

My version of "abolish the police" has always been "break up the police." Like an antitrust settlement - divide the responsibilities of "the police" among more specialized institutions, breaking with the culture of impunity and limiting the ability to cover their own asses.
posted by atoxyl at 3:44 AM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think of it as changing policing itself. Many fewer guns would be a good start.

The hard part about breaking them up antitrust-style is the unions, and in the NYPD (and perhaps others) each rank has a separate union. It's been hard for me to come up with a way of dealing with police unions that doesn't affect other public unions that I think are necessary.
posted by rhizome at 4:46 AM on October 14, 2018

The thing with police unions that I think makes them somewhat unique is their relationship to management (elected officials). Most unions have interests that are at least partly in opposition to those of management, eg wages vs profits. When the political system treats police as inviolable, there effectively is no management to push back against overreach.
posted by Makwa at 6:55 AM on October 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

And replace it with...?

Monkeys with machine guns would be a better option than we have now, but there actually have been a ton of discussions about what can be done besides arm a percentage of the population, give them total impugnity, and not really care if they solve crimes or what they do.
posted by maxsparber at 7:34 AM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remember when I needed to call an ambulance and Fire Department arrived, for some reason. That's when I realized that the police could be replaced with a Civil Assistance Force - unarmed, of course, that could be first responders for traffic collisions, my cat is stuck in a tree, or even 'crimes' and could officially secure a situation and refer it to the correct civil body - like an investigative force, social work, or other stuff.

The police, as an armed street force, basically serve to push unnecessary suspicion toward everyday people, perform racist stop and frisks, or do a whole lot of stuff that they themselves don't like doing and aren't good at, like traffic control and wellness checks.
posted by entropone at 8:20 AM on October 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

"break up the police"

Do you want Sting? Because that's how you get Sting.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:10 PM on October 14, 2018 [9 favorites]

Yes to entropone's Civil Assistance Force.
posted by Baeria at 1:14 PM on October 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

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