Reducing Racial Tensions
The simplest way to reduce racial tensions in minority enclaves like Ferguson is to understand that on a routine basis local police in these communities perform literally hundreds of traffic stops in any given month. Far from simply public safety, the purpose of traffic stops are universally understood as a method by which police officers can make on-view probable cause arrests. Many of these arrests are for administrative infractions and could be handled by simply taking a photo of the license plate and mailing the driver a ticket. Reducing traffic stops will alleviate the pressure between minorities and law enforcement, says Dale Carson, criminal defense attorney, Jacksonville, Florida. Author of Arrest-Proof Yourself. To see further details on why this is so, please go to Amazon.com.
Learning from Ferguson
Michael Brown may not be the best poster child for an unjustified shooting, but he is the poster child for the hostility and anger between minorities and law enforcement in America.
Want to reduce minority hostility toward police? Use the trim tab approach. Buckminister Fuller, a 20th century inventor, believed that to change the direction of a large ship, it was only necessary to make a minor adjustment to the rudder-housed trim tab which over time would move the rudder. This little effort would eventually alter the course of the ship. In the same manner prohibiting routine police car stops will over time relieve the pressure between monitories and law enforcement.
Take as fact that:
- Street officers must make arrests to stay employed
- Most officers want to be detectives and to become a detective a street officer must arrest many many citizens.
- Rarely do police roll up an a felony in progress and make an arrest
So how do street patrol officers make arrests?
Answer: Police are officially sanctioned to poke their noses into other peoples’ business. Police use the excuse of routine car stops to interview citizens under the guise of traffic safety. Cops primarily patrol high crime areas. Minorities inhabit high crime areas, so disproportionately, Police are stopping and interrogating minorities. During the car stops police see, hear and smell things that lead to probable cause. When police are successful in this endeavor, arrest follows.
Arrests understandably make people mad at police, but even more madding to the public is when police are unsuccessful and no arrest occurs, the police have harassed the public for no good reason. Car stop encounters with police are distasteful to the public, at the least it wastes time or results in a ticket, at most it results in your arrest and the arrest of your friends and the seizure of your car.
Want to know in two words why minorities in Ferguson and other minority enclaves hate police? The answer is simple “Car Stops”. Don’t believe it could be that simple? Trust me, a former Dade County cop, retired FBI agent, and practicing criminal defense attorney to tell you the truth. Still unconvinced? Then let me prove it to you.
In my book “Arrest-Proof Yourself “ I make the following argument: All young police officers , men and women, want to be detectives. Think about it Magnum PI, Rockford Files, Hawaii Five-0, Sherlock Holmes (the current version set in New York), the list goes on forever. Americans love detectives. From a male perspective, detectives get all a young man could ever want: Undercover government car, flattering street clothes of the latest design, a concealed handgun, a gold badge, the love and respect and adoration of a public when you nab the bad guy and, of course, the lovely, thankful and plentiful women.
How to become a detective
A baker becomes rich by making many loaves of bread and bricklayer becomes a mason by mortaring more bricks than the next guy and the street cop becomes the venerable detective by making more ______________ than the other officers. You no doubt have already filled in this blank. The answer is, of course, arrests. To become a detective you must prove your moxie for the position. You most make more arrests than the next officer. If you think about this it is much worse that the quota we have always been told cops must fill on a monthly basis. It is much worse because there is a minimum in a quota. There is no minimum in a competition for the most. There is only the maximum number you can accomplish in the monthly period.
What this equates to is every street officer every month making as many arrests as they can. In mathematics this is not a lineal progression, it is an exponential progression. Think of the Chinaman who did a favor for the emperor of China and as a reward asked only for a single grain of rice the first day and doubled every day thereafter. Very shortly the Chinaman owned China. And so it is with arrests basically doubling with every new officer. Is it any wonder we are running out of prison cells and have the highest level of incarceration in the entire world?
You load this path for advancement into a legion of energetic young street officers who have just graduated from a police academy energized to fight crime. with something to prove and many to impress, officers riding with a training officer they must satisfy and a sergeant who will not tolerate defeat, and you now have the makings of a high pressure front rolling across the minorities of America.
Assigning crime-fighting patrol squads
These new energetic officers are not poured into residential areas where crime is not a problem. No, they are poured into high crime areas where the view is, and always has been, that patrol saturation reduces crime. From an outsider’s perspective this is accurate: If there is a patrol presence on a given corner there will be less, and hopefully no crime on that corner. The problem is, however, much deeper. High crime area residents provide the population of potential statistical accomplishments or, if you will, the arrest-able citizen base for the young street officers from which the officers can obtain arrests to qualify for the treasured and limited detective positions in a police department.
High arrests in high crime areas
It makes perfect sense that there would be a high number of arrests in a high crime area. Right?
But wait. How are these arrests made? Great question, and the core of my argument.
One would think that the police simply make more arrests in these areas because there are more criminals in these areas. Yes, that is true. But how do the arrests actually happen? To the uninformed, one would simply think the officers in the area get a call and catch a thief or a burglar in the act. But this only rarely happens.
So thinking deeper you might believe detectives match fingerprints in a burglary case, a warrant is issued and the detective goes to the burglar’s residence and arrest him while he is watching TV. Oddly, this rarely happens and wanted men rarely stay at home waiting for the police to show up.
In fact, it is none of the above. Truly, the majority of arrests originate from the lowly “routine” traffic stop. The traffic stop generally begins with a minor infraction and through effort of the police officer probable cause is developed sufficient to make a felony arrest. Burglars have to travel like anyone else and so do petty thieves, so they are frequently found in cars either as operators or as drivers. So instead of actively looking for bad guys, often police simply wait for the fugitives to fall into the traffic stop net. Thus, it is the street cop who has learned that in order to make arrests that will lead him to the coveted position of detective, he has to make numerous traffic stops and he has to interview the driver and occupants looking for the usual suspects and he has to ask permission to search the driver’s car in hopes of finding stolen guns or narcotics or other illegal contraband so he can arrest a carload of citizens for constructive possession or warrants or other offenses such as carrying a concealed firearm.
How do car stops really work?
Car stops are easy. They do not require a college degree and yet they constitute the majority of active patrol. Active patrol is what I call activity beyond writing reports and responding to calls for service. Call for service is what happens when the citizen comes home and finds her house burglarized, she calls the police to take a report after the crime has occurred. To stop a car being driven on any highway in this country the technique and the purpose is the same. Observe the vehicle being driven on the street, make a determination if the driver is violating the law, or following the driver until he does so. Marked police units in the rearview mirror have a tendency to make drivers nervous and as a former cop, I can almost guarantee you if I followed you for any distance I could find a legitimate reason to stop you. Here are a few of my favorites: backup lights illuminated when driving forward, improper display of tag when it is covered by a dust shield, speeding, failure to yield, tinted windows, faulty equipment. The list of potential violations is, in fact, several hundred pages in length, and good street cop knows them all. The true purpose of stopping a driver is not to assure compliance with an administrative code, the true purpose is to determine if the driver or the passenger needs to be arrested. Let’s not forget the street officer wants to become a detective. All drivers must carry and on demand present a valid driver license. I pull them over by activating my emergency light and I ask them for their driver license, registration and insurance card. I don’t really need the registration, as I’ve already run your license plate before I stopped you, but what the heck, I am here and the state law requires you to carry it so why not ask for the registration. If you do not have it you will owe me if I ask for a favor and believe me, if you act suspicious in any way I will attempt to call in this favor through a process called implied reciprocity. Just wait and you’ll see. I take your license and walk back to my patrol car and run your name and date of birth on the records channel. The criminal history comes back and you have a minor narcotics possession charge. I think to myself two things: first, I wonder if you have any drugs in your car. And, second, can I convince you to surrender your Fourth Amendment protection and voluntarily let me search your car? I know that one place people keep their drugs is a place that can be locked and is dry: a car. So I walk back to your driver’s window and holding my flashlight in the crook of my neck while it shines in your eyes and where I can deploy it quickly against your noggin if you get frisky, I say this to you:
You know you have to carry your registration with you and provide it when I ask, don’t you?
You respond, Yes, Officer. I am sorry. I forgot.
I say, Well look, I am not going to charge you with that mistake tonight. But let me ask you a question, you don’t have any guns or narcotics in your car, do you?
Why no, officer, of course not.
Well, you don’t mind if I look then, do you?
I cannot do this delivery justice in print, but I can assure you that as a police officer in Miami I cannot recall a single person ever refusing my request. Let’s be clear here, lest you think me a liar, I did not ask to search every car I stopped. During the initial stop I assessed the potential arrest value of everyone I stopped, some I considered to have little potential so I did not need to search the vehicle. I can remember at least one Hearse I did not search. In this manner I made literally hundreds of arrests for possession of narcotics or possession of stolen property.
But what I did not know then but surely know now is that I pissed of thousands of citizens. While those I arrested only constitutes hundreds, their family and friends would easily bring the number to thousands. In fact, the number may even be higher if you include the employers who lost an employee who simply did not show up for work the next day as he was in custody and could not make bond. Not to mention the children who could never explain why dad never showed up to take them for the weekend.
I suppose one could argue that these citizens who I arrested for the justice system were, in fact, criminals and in my street sweeping capacity I did an exemplary job of protecting the good and honorable citizens of Dade County from a wave of evildoers. And while this may well be true that those I arrested deserved the outcome, it is equally true that the thousands I stopped and did not arrest because their vehicles contained no contraband or stolen property were forced by me to surrender their Fourth Amendment protection. I had branded them worthy of a search and in my official capacity was saying they were not good people and could not be trusted to abide by the laws of the state of Florida; Which is a hifalutin way of saying I harassed each of these citizens and the passengers and family in their cars while trying to make an arrest so I could advance my career and become a detective.
Years later as an FBI agent I thought back on my conduct and realized an odd parallel to this tactic. I used to watch a TV series when I was a kid called Combat. The show followed a squad of army regulars as they fought their way through France during World War II. When the Nazis were portrayed it was in a setting were an elderly French couple were approached by a blonde man in an black suit. He wore a hat and as I recall round spectacles, he would ask “your papers, please” these were the Nazi’s attempting to identify and exterminate the Jews. How horrible to think that my father personally fought against such injustice and tyranny and to think that local police would ever behave in a similar fashion upset me. To be sure, the effort by local police is not to eradicate minorities and the poor, but over time the behavior has certainly served to alienate them from the larger society, a society which by and large live outside high crime areas and are not subject to the police searching scrutiny to which minorities are often subjected.
Solution to the pressure
So what is the solution to relieving racial pressure in the states? It is to prohibit routine traffic stops for administrate and minor traffic offenses, and to identify other ways for young police officers to be evaluated for suitability as detectives. Or make every officer a detective. The last of these options was implemented in the late 1970s when street officers who are the first responding officers to most crime were individually tasked with solving the crimes, with the obvious exception of homicides, robbery, and sexual battery.
If the primary enforcers of conformity, the street officers, were prohibited from making routine traffic stops, not only would the animosity between police and minorities decrease, law enforcement could then begin focusing their attention on the really dangerous criminals, the criminals I worry about, the robbers, rapists, burglars, grand larceny thieves, child molesters, killers. If police would worry about the really devastating cancers and cutting them out without killing the patient we would all be better off. But police today still practice enforcement the same way we did in 1974 and as a consequence the “surgery” is killing the patient and perhaps only the cancer will survive.
Not feeling safe alone outside some minorities may choose to travel in packs for protection numbers offer. Consider the recent motorcycle packs flight from cops. Frustrated in the patrol officers’ inability to traffic stop these lads, law enforcement even engaged aviation assets to apprehend these minor traffic offenders while themselves endangering the motoring public, all for the dubious benefit of arresting minor scofflaws…unsuccessfully, I might add. Or worse, the pack attacks individual motorists as happened recently in New Jersey. If we were to outlaw routine traffic stops, law enforcement could stop cars for actual on-view crimes e.g. DUI, reckless, or BOLO. But simple “routine” traffic stops purely for administrative infractions should be abolished. An excellent example of one of these is expired tags. Recently in Jacksonville Florida a citizen was operating his vehicle with an expired tag. In addition, he had no valid drivers license. The citizen was likely aware of the fact he had no license so he gave the officer a false name. The officer eventually determined the driver had an outstanding warrant for driving on a suspended license, a criminal offense, so the driver attempted to flee. The officer caught up with the driver and used an electric stun gun on the driver to force his surrender for arrest, but the driver took the Tazer away from the officer. The officer, fearing for his life, drew his service weapon and killed the driver. This death resulted from a traffic stop for a mere administrative infraction.
On this same evening, also in Jacksonville, another driver stopped for an expired tag was shot at by police and nearly killed because the patrol office thought he had a gun. The citizen did not have any weapon but was nearly killed. One death emanating from an administrative violation and one near miss, either of which alone should be sufficient to warn us away from such obviously dangerous routine traffic stops, but the reverse seems to have occurred with the ramping up of routine traffic stops as an ill-advised effort to maintain the peace by taking the ne’er-do-wells off the streets; the unintended but inevitable consequence of aggravated racial hostility.
In this article I haven’t even touched on the fact that each person arrested is electronically branded and perhaps unintentionally, but effectively, removed from the employment rolls; now they must support themselves with criminal activity or we must support them with an EBT card.
We need a change. Stopping routine harassing of drivers for attitude checks and potential arrest would be a start. If the method fails it will have cost nothing to implement; we can simply restart the car stops. Yes, there maybe a loss in state and city revenue, but this can be made up in the manner of red-light cameras.
Sadly, we will see involution in the justice system, for surely the most vocal opponents will be those who will suffer adverse economic consequences from this change: Jailers, judges, bail bondsmen, police, defense attorneys and prosecutors. The core of our justice system will no doubt oppose any significant reduction in arrests.