Thursday, February 15, 2007


There’s been criticism, including from this blog, of the San Francisco Police Department, mostly the management, regarding the still un-charged Yale choir beating case. Recent revelations show issues that involve careers.

According to local ABC7, some of the alleged assailants who were let go were new Marines. For them, an arrest that night might have seriously damaged their careers at inception. Probably others of the assailants were known to the police, and they were let go because they were rich kids.

So the police, maybe not knowing the extent of the injuries, decided to let the assailants go. It was a judgment call. I’m sure cops get dumped on by their superiors all the time when they arrest the wrong people. The cops made the wrong judgment regarding the Yale choirboys and now the officers’ careers are in jeopardy.

The cops were doing the job their superiors expect them to do. And their superiors were backing them up in their lies of convenience. So we have ascending layers of lies up through the mayor. The unfortunate cops on the beat didn’t create this culture.

We demand that our police officers, especially on the street and vehicle patrol exercise a lot of judgment in what laws they enforce. For instance, in this town, making an arrest for non-commercial amounts of marijuana would get the cop in trouble.

The criteria used by the lowest ranking officers are received from their superiors, both officially and unofficially. As in any human endeavor, particular human interactions don’t necessarily fit neatly into pre-established sets of criteria. So the cop on the beat has to do a lot of guessing, and hoping. And, in this town, they do their jobs under intense suspicion and scrutiny.

Then we see a story like this in the Chron: a man speeds away from police officers and crashes into a big rig and dies.

The story is brief, and it emphasizes the contention that the police were not chasing the car at the time of the crash.

They got a call about erratic driving and found the person stopped in his SUV. When the cops got out and went to the driver’s door he sped away. And before the police could start to give chase, the man crashed two blocks away, and later died.

I bet that liability situation is the main concern in reporting that the officers were not giving chase at the time of the crash.

The article briefly notes the time and location:

A police dispatcher said [the driver]Banks was contacted by officers about two blocks away from Division and Bryant streets after someone called the police to complain about his driving around 2:30 a.m.

Division and Bryant is some dark mean streets, especially, at 2:30 in the morning. The elevated Central Freeway overhead adds echoes and dust to the shadowed air. The area is warehouses, small workshops, and poor-people housing. In the photo below, under the freeway we see darkness at noon.

When the police pulled up behind the SUV they probably expected to find a passed out drunk. But in such a stop they could easily encounter an armed fugitive, or armed lunatic, or woman having a baby. The drunk might be a socialite or other VIP who’ll “have their badges” if not treated properly.

It’s not easy.

It’s why our police need professional management. And their compensation should be enough to create waiting lists of qualified applicants, not hiring shortfalls.

The current plan is to bump along from disaster to disaster, scandal to scandal, keep our fingers crossed, and not expect too much. This is not a happy situation for anyone.

Civilization, Freud tells us, creates discontent, in all of us. We deeply resent the limits to our freedom, and experience these limits as physical discomfort.

When someone can’t handle their discontent, we call the police, whose job is to enforce the border where civilization meets the jungle.

We have a hate/love relationship with civilization. We have a hate/love relationship with the police. We love them and need them as long as they’re not bothering us, or the people we identify with.

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