Warrant? We don’t need no stinkin’ warrant!

Monday, May 16th, 2011

As my farewell-as-guest-blogger post, let me contribute to the Kentucky v. King debate. In a few words: It’s a dumb decision, but it’s not such a big deal. This decision simply reaffirms the status-quo.

As best, the Court’s decision can be described as yet another nail in the coffin of the 4th Amendment. But thanks to the War on Drugs (starting with Alcohol Prohibition) it’s not like this is even the first or fifth nail.

And the logic of court has been consistent. When it comes to policing and warrantless searches, here are the rules:

1) Anything police come across is fair game. In other words, if police are there legally, they never have to close their eyes to something illegal (even if it’s not what they first came to look for).

2) “Exigent circumstances” give police the right to skip the warrant requirement.

3) Police are allowed to make honest mistakes if they’re acting in good faith.

4) Police have the rights to look for weapons that could be used against them.

5) The Court has no desire to read the minds and intentions of police officers (or concern themselves with how hard police knock). It just wants police behavior to be legal.

Taken individually, it’s hard to see any of these rules as unreasonable. Taken collectively, it means arrests are almost never, as the Founding Fathers intended, conducted with a court-issued warrant. It’s strange to me, since the 4th Amendment–unlike, say, the 2nd Amendment–is pretty unambiguous.

The Court says: “The text of the Fourth Amendment does not specify when a search warrant must be obtained.” Actually, in omission, it does: All the time. But the Court has long discarded that principle and declared the “unreasonable” word in the 4th Amendment means that “reasonableness” is the key. [Doesn’t this go against the 9th Amendment? But what do I know?]

Kentucky v. King affirms what the rules of the street have long been: destruction of evidence is an exigent circumstance that gives police the right to bust down a door without a warrant. If the people in the apartment hadn’t made sounds like they were covering up evidence (which they were), police wouldn’t have had the right to break down the door.

But here the court gets a little saucy: “Citizens who are startled by an unexpected knock on the door… may appreciate the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to answer the door to the police.” Well ain’t that precious? “When law enforcement officers who are not armed with a warrant knock on a door, they do no more than any private citizen might do.” Wow. Having knocked hard on a few doors myself, I find that hard to believe, especially when the Court follows it up with this: “Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame for the warrantless exigent-circumstances search that may ensue.” Oh, snap!

Here are the specifics:

Police officers set up a controlled buy of crack cocaine outside an apartment complex. Undercover Officer … radioed uniformed officers … that the suspect was moving quickly toward the breezeway of an apartment building, and he urged them to “hurry up and get there” before the suspect entered an apartment.

Just as they entered the breezeway, [uniformed officers] heard a door shut and detected a very strong odor of burnt marijuana. At the end of the breezeway, the officers saw two apartments, one on the left and one on the right, and they did not know which apartment the suspect had entered. Gibbons had radioed that the suspect was running into the apartment on the right, but the officers did not hear this statement because they had already left their vehicles. Because they smelled marijuana smoke emanating from the apartment on the left, they approached the door of that apartment.

One of the uniformed officers … banged on the left apartment door “as loud as [they] could” and announced, … “Police, police, police.” … “[A]s soon as [the officers] started banging on the door,” they “could hear people inside moving,” and “[i]t sounded as [though] things were being moved inside the apartment.” These noises, Cobb testified, led the officers to believe that drug related evidence was about to be destroyed.

Cobb then kicked in the door, the officers entered the apartment, and they found three people in the front room: respondent Hollis King, respondent’s girlfriend, and a guest who was smoking marijuana. The officers performed a protective sweep [and] saw marijuana and powder cocaine in plain view. In a subsequent search, they also discovered crack cocaine, cash, and drug paraphernalia.

Police eventually entered the apartment on the right. Inside, they found the suspected drug dealer who was the initial target of their investigation.

Now it’s one thing to think, as I do, that the War on Drugs is futile and a very unproductive use of police resources, but in this case it all comes down to whether or not the officers “created their own exigency” by ordering the occupants to open the door. The Court somehow bases its decision on the hard to believe idea that the officers never said, “Open the door.” Now I wasn’t there, but I’d bet, “POLICE POLICE POLICE,” was quickly followed by “OPEN THE F*CKING DOOR OR WE’LL BUST IT DOWN!” The court, eight out of nine majestic justices, respectfully disagrees.

Peter Moskos
______________

This is my last post here. I don’t have to go home, but I can’t stay here. But before I go, let me thank Radley Balko for inviting me to be a guest blogger. It’s a good man indeed who invites a former cop to have his say in what is an excellent but (in my humble opinion) fairly anti-cop blog. So kudos to you, Radley! And thanks to all of you for putting up with me. Personally, I’m looking forward to Radley’s return!

But if you’ve enjoyed my posts, feel free to keep reading me at Copinthehood.com. Even better, consider buying my new book: In Defense of Flogging (buying Cop in the Hood, my old book, is OK, too)! Both make great summer reading.

Good night. Drive safely. You’ve been a great audience. And don’t forget to tip your waitress.

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42 Responses to “Warrant? We don’t need no stinkin’ warrant!”

  1. #1 |  Rhayader | 

    “Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame for the warrantless exigent-circumstances search that may ensue.”

    Vacuous bullshit. The two are not mutually exclusive — I can be simultaneously destroying evidence and choosing to stand on my constitutional rights. This is exactly the sort of fraudulent ends-over-means behavior that 4A is supposed to prevent.

    an excellent but (in my humble opinion) fairly anti-cop blog

    Can you really blame anybody for taking a dim view of police? There are few better ways for a decent person to have his life ruined than to interact with a cop in the wrong circumstances. Obviously policy is a bigger problem than any one individual officer, but at the end of the day the cops are the ones out there cracking skulls and shooting doggies.

  2. #2 |  Chris in AL | 

    So you still have the right to, upon finding out it is the police, choose not to let them in without a warrant. Just don’t make any noises in the house when you do it.

    All that is left is just go ahead and say that insisting on a warrant is, in and of itself, enough reason to allow them to legally enter without a warrant. I mean, the only people who need to exercise their rights are criminals, right?

  3. #3 |  MysteryFish | 

    Fascinating.

    I can’t quite understand how you can post the story you just posted, how you could possibly read the stories of blatant, unrepentant abuses of power that are wall to wall on this blog, how you could read something like this:

    http://reason.com/blog/2011/05/16/marine-survives-two-tours-in-i

    …and come to the gem of a conclusion that we’re “anti-cop”.

    I want you to tell me that it’s not just because you used to be a cop. And I want it to be true.

  4. #4 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #2 Chris in AL

    So you still have the right to, upon finding out it is the police, choose not to let them in without a warrant. Just don’t make any noises in the house when you do it.

    And that will be the case until the next court decision which will probably determine that silence after a police knock constitutes exigent-circumstances.

  5. #5 |  Highway | 

    Chris, they don’t need to codify that, because if they feel the exigent circumstances exist, like you’re going to use that time they’re getting a warrant to destroy evidence, then they can bust in. Done and dusted.

    The intent of the multiple branches of government might have been checks and balances. But that’s gone. They’re all the same side. Government rules for government whenever it can, because people who are elected think government is good (which is why they tried to get elected in the first place), and they appoint judges that fit in with their mindset because they think they’ll do a good job. Why would a judge get appointed with the concept that they’re going to stop the good work the government is doing?

    I don’t know if it’s just the drug war that’s perverted this concept. I’d suspect it’s been going on far longer than that (even before FDR and his court-packing scheme too), but the drug war has certainly accelerated it. And as much as it pains me to say it, government can’t be stopped. The drug war can’t be stopped, because too many powerful people have too much self-interest in perpetuating it. The best we can do is holding actions and delaying tactics. Sad, but I really don’t see it being different unless and until there is an outright violent revolt in this country.

  6. #6 |  OBTC | 

    “… to have his say in what (in my humble opinion) fairly anti-cop blog.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

    Thank you for playing Mr. Moskos.

  7. #7 |  Joe | 

    Good post. The decision still sucks.

  8. #8 |  homeboy | 

    Wait a minute, am I the only one who has failed to suspend disbelief in reading this case? The cops purport the following:

    (1) Uniformed officers arrived at an apartment building under the direction of a plain clothes officer, just in time to hear a fleeing suspect slam a door as he entered a dwelling.

    (2) The cops noted a thick, overwhelming smell of marijuana smoke pervading the entire area at the same instant that the fleeing suspect supposedly slammed the door. Thus, they logically concluded that the smoke, which had to have been generated over a considerable length of time, was somehow associated with a suspect who supposedly only entered the premises a second or two before.

    (3) The cops wandered through the building, following their noses to the door of Mr. King’s apartment. They then pounded on the door repeatedly while issuing seriatim shouts that they were police officers (though the officers were unable to produce a consistent recount of what they supposedly said). Then, over the tumult they were creating in the hall, the cops could hear people moving around within the unit.

    (4) The cops then changed their shouts to warnings that they would soon kick-in the door.

    (5) The cops kicked-in the door, and found the defendant, his girlfriend, and another friend all sitting calmly and idly in the front room. They were engaged in quiet conversation as they passed a joint between them, sitting right next to the door upon which the cops supposedly had been pounding and had just kicked-in.

    Recounts of this type are known, in technical legal parlance, as bullshit. No group of potheads sat calmly next to an apartment door passing a doobie, while the cops were on the other side of the door, pounding on it and threatening to kick it in. Further, the sloth-like, insouciant inaction of the apartment occupants did not produce any sounds that the cops legitimately interpreted as a sign of frantic movement and activity. What really happened is the cops arrived on the scene and kicked-in the door without any announcement or warning, contriving their story of exigency (but failing to work out the details among themselves) only later.

    This is the real significance of this case. Previously, there were four well established exceptions to the warrant requirement for entry; hot pursuit, emergency aid, public safety, and safety of officers. The entry in this case does not qualify under any of those. So, Alito and the majority strove to produce a new standard of assessment for warrantless pig entry, and in the process displayed some of the most deranged, skewed reasoning I have ever encountered. This is the part of Alito’s decision that I find most terrifying:

    “[A] rule that precludes the police from making a warrantless entry…whenever their conduct causes the exigency would unreasonably shrink the reach of this well-established exception to the warrant requirement.” “Therefore, the answer to the question before us is that the exigent circumstances rule justifies a warrantless search whenever the conduct of the police preceding the exigency is reasonable.”

    Alito deployed this “reasoning” (sic) to reject the well established rule that cops may not create an exigency as a pretext for a warrantless entry/search. He thus articulated a new standard that no longer considers the nature of the exigency that the cops create, but instead merely requires that the court rationalize police conduct prior to the supposed exigency as being “reasonable.”

    In other words, it no longer matters what the cops might do in creating the pretext for an unlawful entry into your home, as long as they can assert that they were acting reasonably prior to the point where they created it. This, combined with the court’s continued, willful blindness to the obvious fact that the cops were lying about their perception of exigency and mode of entry in this case, leaves me filled with apprehension. The Pigs can now kick-in your door as they wish, contrive any transparent bullshit story afterward to assert an exigency, and the court’s will give them full sanction to do it.

  9. #9 |  homeboy | 

    @ #3

    Dave Krueger, you hit the nail on the head.

  10. #10 |  homeboy | 

    @ #6

    Joe, what the Hell are you talking about? “Good post?” Consider this falsehood: “If the people in the apartment hadn’t made sounds like they were covering up evidence (which they were), police wouldn’t have had the right to break down the door.”

    I have read the record certified to SCOTUS and its decision, and there is nothing there to commend this statement factually. How can a missive that constitutes a non-factual, quasi-apology for general piggery by the cops and the SCOTUS constitute a good post?

  11. #11 |  Greg | 

    It’s a good man indeed who invites a former cop to have his say in what is an excellent but (in my humble opinion) fairly anti-cop blog.

    I tend to see it (IMHO) as an antibadcop blog. Judging from what I’ve read here and at your blog, I’d say you are rational and reasonable making it possible to have a civilized discussion – thanks for visiting.

    Much as I do like the idea of LEAP, between racism (origin of all those drug laws in the first place), and entrenched interests who profit from this pointless war, legalization ain’t gonna happen short of revolution.

  12. #12 |  Buddy Hinton | 

    By the way, there is a fairly simple way out of this connundrum that the Supreme Court (and all the other courts) missed. What the Court should have done will now be explained:

    1. Give a 4A civil remedy against destruction-of-evidence, exigent circ warrantless entry when it turns out there is no evidence* in the residence. This civil remedy should be based on 4A itself (that is, no qualified immunity). That is, if police skip the warrant requirement, and they are wrong about evidence being in the unit, then they need to be strictly liable for all damages to the innocent.

    2. abolish the Exclusionary Rule a a remedy against exigent circumstances, destruction of evidence cases where the circumstances were not really exigent.

    3. This way, the only thing that police will consider in considering whether and how to break in without a warrant is whether there is really evidence in there or not. It should not matter whether the intentions of police are good bad or indifferent. they should merely pay, and pay steeply, in cases where they turn out to be wrong. We no longer would have to worry about whether the police truly thought evidence was being destroyed or not (this is important because policemen lie about that), but, rather, the police are simply financially incentivized to be correct, and the burden of being incorrect should fall on them, regardless of how pure (or otherwise) their hearts are.

    Footnote:

    * The evidence of the crime should be serious enough to be considered a “serious crime” under the Welsh. If a joint is not a misdemeanor, and that is all there is, the residents still get paid.

  13. #13 |  the innominate one | 

    The extra bonus tragedy of it is that the decision wasn’t even close. 8/9 members of SCOTUS conspired to pretend the 4th amendment doesn’t mean what it clearly does mean, thereby nullifying it.

  14. #14 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    I wear my anti-cop badge with pride…like they polish that blue wall.

    I’m also anti-cancer and anti-mosquito.

  15. #15 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    1. Become cop
    2. Visit Indiana judges

  16. #16 |  David | 

    So, per the supreme court, the only way to answer the door for the police without them kicking it in is to tiptoe to the door in complete silence within two seconds. Take too long and they’ll break it down because you’re probably destroying evidence. Make any kind of sound – and nobody who gets a surprise visit from the cops would be startled enough to knock something over – and they’ll break it down because you’re probably destroying evidence. Lovely.

  17. #17 |  the innominate one | 

    David-

    or, if one’s chair scrapes across the floor as one is standing up to let the cops in (not that you should, but many people would), the bumping of chair on floor is evidence of exigent circumstances that require forced entry by the cops.

  18. #18 |  Joe | 

    #10 | homeboy | May 17th, 2011 at 2:02 am
    @ #6

    Joe, what the Hell are you talking about? “Good post?” Consider this falsehood: “If the people in the apartment hadn’t made sounds like they were covering up evidence (which they were), police wouldn’t have had the right to break down the door.”

    I have read the record certified to SCOTUS and its decision, and there is nothing there to commend this statement factually. How can a missive that constitutes a non-factual, quasi-apology for general piggery by the cops and the SCOTUS constitute a good post?

    homeboy, granted my reply is short, but what are you talking about? The “post” by Peter here at The Agitator is well written (even if you disagree with it). He summed up the legal situation well and (maybe you missed the nuance, but he is not supporting the outcome). That situation still sucks and had sucked for a long time. The decision sucks. I do not support cops busting in doors without warrants, just to clarify.

    So chill.

  19. #19 |  Peter Moskos | 

    It seems the Court demands complete silence when police bang on your door. I believe police know a drug transaction when they see one. I’m not certain anybody knows what the sound of destroying evidence sounds like (short of repeated flushing of the toilet). Seriously.

    If police knocked on my door. I might move around a bit just to straighten up the mess.

    What also surprises me is that so many cops consider the Court anti-cop when 8 out of 10 decisions are pro-police.

  20. #20 |  Peter Moskos | 

    Thanks Joe. It can be frustrating to spend hours writing a post only to have some people miss even the most basic issue (like what I think of the decision.)

    I *was* trying to sum of the legal situation since people so often judge court decisions on which side they’re on rather than the actual constitutional issues the Court uses to decide the case.

    And Homeboy, of course my point is “commended factually.” I think you need to look harder. Here’s a hint: It’s in my post and ends with my “oh, snap” commentary.

  21. #21 |  Peter Moskos | 

    MysteryFish,

    Certainly my experience as a cop influenced my opinion of cops. Wouldn’t it be strange if it didn’t? And mostly I worked with honest men and women who put their lives at risk (literally) to do their low-paying job in what was often described as a hellhole.

    I’m no fool. I know there is bad policing; I know there is lazy policing; I know there is rude policing. And from my blog, you would see that I feel free to criticize police, too (but here on The Agitator I think other people have that covered).

    There needs to be a place that highlights SWAT raids gone bad, and the Agitator is great for that. But what I consider unfairly anti-police is that the posts often seem to place the blame on individual cops rather than the system in which they work.

    We have some dumb laws (and court decisions) in this country. It’s not fair to blame individual police men and women for them. Those are the rules. And most police play by the rules of the game (which tend to be very pro-police, despite what police think). Police wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t use all the tools at their disposal.

    I try and look at both sides of an issue (is that the mark of a liberal?). It’s almost too easy to understand the non-cop side, because most people are not cops. So I hope whatever insight I can offer helps people understand why police sometimes act the way they do. Most people (even here) are not always anti-cop. They just want to understand “why?”.

  22. #22 |  homeboy | 

    @ #20

    Peter Moskos,

    No matter how closely I stare at or consider your “oh, snap” commentary, I cannot tease out any factual commendation for your statement. I reproduce the entire paragraph containing that commentary below; perhaps you could parse it and find the facts that support your assertion?

    “But here the court gets a little saucy: ‘Citizens who are startled by an unexpected knock on the door… may appreciate the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to answer the door to the police.’ Well ain’t that precious? ‘When law enforcement officers who are not armed with a warrant knock on a door, they do no more than any private citizen might do.’ Wow. Having knocked hard on a few doors myself, I find that hard to believe, especially when the Court follows it up with this: ‘Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame for the warrantless exigent-circumstances search that may ensue.’ Oh, snap!”

  23. #23 |  BamBam | 

    the 2nd amendment isn’t ambiguous

  24. #24 |  BamBam | 

    If the people in the apartment hadn’t made sounds like they were covering up evidence

    who gets to determine what is a noise that means evidence is being covered? how does one even know the relation between the noise and evidence if one hasn’t yet seen the evidence? who gets to write the narrative?

    let’s call it for what it is … this country is a police state, and everyone is playing grab ass to make it appear (only to retarded people) that all police actions are honorable and virtuous.

  25. #25 |  BamBam | 

    There needs to be a place that highlights SWAT raids gone bad, and the Agitator is great for that. But what I consider unfairly anti-police is that the posts often seem to place the blame on individual cops rather than the system in which they work.

    We have some dumb laws (and court decisions) in this country. It’s not fair to blame individual police men and women for them. Those are the rules. And most police play by the rules of the game (which tend to be very pro-police, despite what police think). Police wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t use all the tools at their disposal.

    I call bullshit. The tired line of “I don’t make the laws, I only enforce them, therefore I’m not responsible for judging the morality of my actions” is not a valid defense. See Nuremberg trials, same logic. (Godwin Law invoked)

    The system is broken, but people who work within “the rules of the system” are still morally responsible for their actions. How about them Jim Crow laws, segregate them blacks and beat them, the laws say it’s ok, I’m not responsible for my actions. BULLSHIT.

  26. #26 |  homeboy | 

    @ #18

    “The “post” by Peter here at The Agitator is well written (even if you disagree with it).”

    Oh, an attempt to overwhelm me with the ipse dixit argument. How can my meager analysis withstand an onslaught of facts and analysis such as this?

    Actually, I would find his post better written had it not contained any falsehoods designed to retrench the conduct of police in order to make it seem more understandable, and more comporting with pre-existing judicial standards.

    “He summed up the legal situation well and (maybe you missed the nuance, but he is not supporting the outcome).”

    Well, yes, except that he mischaracterized the legal situation and missed the SCOTUS’ pronouncement of a new standard that further erodes our 4th A. rights. Further, as you well know, I recognize that he is not primarily supporting the outcome here, but there is more to it than that. In modifying and recontextualizing the nature of the decision and the conduct of the case participants, he distorts the impact of this case and discounts the prevalence and operative judicial treatment of police misconduct in the field. You may find my thoughts to be wholly novel, and perhaps even radical, but I certainly would not think that he created this misconstruction “well” in any objective sense of the term.

    So chill.

  27. #27 |  Peter Moskos | 

    Homeboy, here’s my summary/paraphrase: “If the people in the apartment hadn’t made sounds like they were covering up evidence… police wouldn’t have had the right to break down the door.”

    Here’s Alito’s line from the decision: “‘Occupants who … elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame for the warrantless exigent-circumstances search that may ensue.”

    Do these not say the same thing? What am I missing?

    The Court also said that the occupants had no reason to think the police were going to break down their door (which is hard to believe).

    The Court’s decision is pretty clear: the smell of marijuana alone did not create an exigent circumstance. It was belief of evidence destruction: “We assume… that an exigency existed.” There’s more in last few paragraphs of the Court’s decision to support this. The smell only gave the officers the right to knock on the door, says the Court, no different from, say, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  28. #28 |  Peter Moskos | 

    BamBam,

    “Who gets to determine what is a noise that means evidence is being covered?” is a very good question (That’s why I raised it). Believe it or not, I’m sympathetic (in part) to your position.

    No work is without moral issues. Policing has more such issues than most occupations. But we shouldn’t blow it out of proportion. It’s a civilian job paid for (mostly) by local taxpayers. The system may be broken (in part), but I don’t think it’s evil. Certainly following the law is not always a defense, but it is a partial defense. The law is there (in part) to provide moral guidance.

    To equate the average police officer doing his job to Nazi war criminal is a little bit of a stretch. Because America is not like Nazi Germany.

  29. #29 |  Cleanville Tziabatz | 

    The biggest problem with policemen is that they lie.

  30. #30 |  homeboy | 

    @ #27

    “Do these not say the same thing? What am I missing?”

    The fact. Neither your assertion nor the court’s abstraction regarding “Occupants who…” create the fact, and the record before the court did not disclose or even suggest it (rather, the record militates strongly against it).

  31. #31 |  Joe | 

    homeboy, the SCOTUS decision sucks. Yeah, it is moving the ball definitely in the wrong direction. The Indiana decision sucks too.

    But I feel sorry for your wife and kids. Just a guess on my part.

  32. #32 |  BamBam | 

    The equation was not cop = Nazi SS, the equation was in the logic of “hey I’m just following orders”. That is never a valid position/defense to one’s actions.

  33. #33 |  fwb | 

    But thanks to the War on Drugs (starting with Alcohol Prohibition) it’s not like this is even the first or fifth nail.

    Please note that the government recognized the constitutional requirement to obtain an amendment of the Constitution with respect to alcohol. Of course, somewhere along the lines it was “discovered” that they didn’t need no stinkin’ amendment to go after drugs. Those folks that passed the 18th were really stupid.

    There has not been a constitution in effect in the US since the day it was ratified. Every bunch of politicians lies, cheats, and steals. And We the People are fucked. I think Jefferson made some remarks about blood and trees but People as gutless chickens today.

  34. #34 |  homeboy | 

    @ #30

    Actually, Joe, that’s a mindless, childish slur, not a guess. It’s the sort of snide, backhanded swipe that could only come from an unprincipled, mentally febrile piece of shit.

  35. #35 |  perlhaqr | 

    How could I not be anti-cop, when so many cops are anti-me?

  36. #36 |  Greg | 

    …And mostly I worked with honest men and women who put their lives at risk (literally)…

    Pete, I was OK with you until you spouted that line of complete and utter propagandist bullshit.

    Being a cop is not even in the top ten of BLS’s most dangerous jobs.

    Construction, farming, and landscaping are dangerous. Being a cop? Not even close.

    “Heroes” in this world are risking their life for your bottled water and Doritos at 3 am at the 7-11, or cutting your grass, or building your condo.

    They ain’t in a patrol car.

  37. #37 |  Peter Moskos | 

    Greg, we don’t ask lawn cutters to die in the service of pulling out dandelions. I’m sorry to lose you on that line. It might sound propagandist, but it’s not bullshit.

    Five Baltimore City police officers died in the line-of-duty during my brief tenure between 1999 and 2001. That’s out of about 3,000 officers. Statistically, it doesn’t get much worse than that.

    Police everywhere do not face that same risk. And no, I don’t think you’re a hero just for getting shot. But a little appreciation doesn’t seem like too much to ask for. In other jobs you die when something goes wrong. In policing (where being a “coward” is a fireable offense) you can do everything right and still die. Police risk their lives for each other and people they don’t know and don’t even like. We ask police to run towards the crazy guy with the gun. That matters.

    There are many others I know well who were horrible wounded, never to police again. At least four people in my squad have gone out on permanent disability (these injuries don’t even make the papers). In 2002, soon after I quit, a dear friend of mine, tired from working mandatory 12-hour shifts was killed in an on-duty car crash. Later that year, on New Year’s Eve, another friend of mine was shot in an alley. He barely survived.

    How’s your gardener doing?

  38. #38 |  Greg | 

    Pete,

    BPD may have been outlier dangerous when you were there, which perhaps drives your current viewpoint. But, facts is facts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that government agency that tracks every single injury, death by murder, death by traffic accident, a serious injury that happens to every sworn LEO in the country, being a cop is safer than ever. Perm Dis may not make the papers, but it is tabulated and quantified.

    Cop is not even in the top ten dangerous jobs. Fisherman, construction worker, ironworker, logger, truck driver, cabbie, roofer, electrician, the list goes on and on. ALL are 3 to 9 times more likely to get killed doing their job than a cop.

    Sorry about your friends. I’m mid 40s so I’ve buried more than a few myself. Some closer than others. Some of them killed just doing their jobs. No one gets out of here alive.

    BTW – My gardener is fine. However, he also does construction labor, so he’s about 3 times more likely to die on the job than any of the cops I know that work permanent midnites in North STL.

  39. #39 |  Peter Moskos | 

    ["Never get out of this world alive." I like a man who quotes Hank Williams.--And you're right that policing has been getting safer over the past few decades. Many people don't know that.]

    Stats, though I love them, don’t tell the whole story. Keep in mind, for instance, that many (perhaps 1/3?) cops have jobs where they sit on their ass all day (not true for fisherman). And many cops work in safe areas where the only risk is a car crash. So the risk of active cops patrolling areas with actual crime is *much* higher.

    Statistically, you’re right, but to call Baltimore an outlier (which it is in many ways) implies it should be dismissed, which seems unfair to the many cops who do work in similarly dangerous areas. Of course my experience drives my viewpoint. I know there are more dangerous jobs statistically, but (along with not being what I saw) that ignores the circumstances of occupation and death. They matter.

    A lot of the deaths in other occupations happen when things go wrong, not when they go right. To me that makes a big difference. People die all the time, but a lot of people die because of stupid decisions they made, sometimes ignoring safety regulations they could have followed (including cops who don’t wear their seatbelts). These deaths are not in the public service.

    This is the problem with stats. They can be “true” but, by ignoring qualitative differences, miss the big picture.

    I go through some of the police mortality in my book (Cop in the Hood, p. 219). A Baltimore Police Officer who joined the force in 1982 would have a 0.7% of being killed on duty during a 25-year career. Is that high or low? And how does that compare with other occupations? Honestly, I’m not certain (and I’m not going to figure out the survival rates for other occupations right now. But what is it for a fisherman?)

    But which person do you think should get more thanks from society for putting himself at risk? A US soldier in Iraq or a man growing up Baltimore’s Eastern District? That stat’s say otherwise, but I would say the solider in Iraq. And yet statistically, living where I policed is much more dangerous than being in Iraq.

    There’s something different, something beyond the dry stats, about serving in uniform and putting your life at risk to protect others. Do you not think it’s more noble for a fireman to go into a burning building to rescue somebody even though, statistically, a logger cutting down a tree is more likely to die? It’s not that the logger’s death is less tragic; but it does mean we won’t have a public funeral and reflect on what his death means.

    If all that matters is the chance of death, how about these stats: a man who grows up and lives in East Baltimore has an 11.6% of being murdered in his lifetime. For a man age 15 to 35, the average annual homicide rate is 615 per 100,000(!). That’s higher than for US soldiers. Facts is facts, right?

    So does that make living where I policed more dangerous than being at war? Well, yes. (And street-corner drug dealing may be the most dangerous job of them all.) But soldiers serve their country and put themselves in harm’s way because we ask them to. That’s why we “support the troops” (not that I like that jingoistic pro-war slogan) and not Joe-Blow walking down the street with a beef and a gun that’s about to jam because he’s too dumb to maintain it.

  40. #40 |  Greg | 

    (Full disclosure: it was a combo-platter of Williams and Morrison, but hey, respect for knowing.)

    I’m with you 100% – stats are always an incomplete picture. Though I don’t have a breakdown sitting in front of me, knowing what I know about LE I’d agreee on national average probably 1/3 of sworn, POST-certified officers on any force are desk jocks of one ilk or another. Big cities obviously having way more non-patrollers than rural backwaters/tiny munis where they think the sally port is where Ms. Fields parks her boat…

    Calling Baltimore an outlier does not diminish it’s importance in the statistical distribution. Almost everything in stats plots out. Almost everything. However, there are generally points that pop out of that curve at somewhere (real data is seldom 100% orderly). A good statistician, or more importantly a good analyzer of stats, does not disregard outliers, in fact, they expect them. Sometimes they are the most telling data points.

    In more basic terms, a good part of what we believe to be true comes from our personal experience, regardless of commonality with what happens to others. I’m not challenging your viewpoint based on your personal experience. Quite the contrary, I won’t argue against it being a valid viewpoint if you were a cop in Ellwood Park/Highlands/NE Patterson Park.

    However, this is not a discussion about a few neighborhoods in one US city.The big picture is that we have police departments nationwide – Mayberry safe to South Side Chicago dangerous. (BTW, not a single MA city on the top 25 crime list in 2010, just sayin’…) So, the only thing that truly matters in the big picture, is, in fact, the big picture.

    A lot of the deaths in other occupations happen when things go wrong, not when they go right. To me that makes a big difference. People die all the time, but a lot of people die because of stupid decisions they made, sometimes ignoring safety regulations they could have followed (including cops who don’t wear their seatbelts). These deaths are not in the public service.

    This is where we diverge.

    We have established agreement that dead is dead and we are all gonna end up that way. Personally, I tend to think that ANY human being that makes a positive contribution to society has a life just as valuable as the next. The guy that hangs the wire to light your house performs a valuable public service just as the guy who riveted the girders in a highrise office/apt.

    Are those jobs not in the service of the public? They are both FAR more likely to not come home to see their wife and kids than the average cop. 90% of all (yes ALL) fatal on-the-job injuries in the USA were in the private sector, and 41% were in “goods producing” industries.

    Big picture, only 2% of all on-the-job fatalities in 2009 are LEOs. 2% of all the people who do anything in the US economy that die at work are cops. Of the 4300ish people who died on the job in 2009, only about 120 were cops.

    Sorry, I don’t see the job of LEO as any more inherently “noble” than that of a lumberjack. Especially as the lumberjack is way more likely to die on the job never to see his SO and offspring so that you can wipe your ass with Cottonelle.

    It’s not that the logger’s death is less tragic; but it does mean we won’t have a public funeral and reflect on what his death means.

    We have a massively expensive public funeral for LEOs because the government has decided to provide that to you at the expense of helping an uninsured child with leukemia get healthcare. “All Men Are Created Equal” means that there are NO ‘supercitizens’. A cop’s death means nothing less, and nothing more, than the death of the guy who built your abode or paves the street that allows your car to move, or puts in the pipes so you can flush you toilet.

    LEO is, on average, an easy job – the customers come to you and they are always wrong. In exchange for this gig with generous salaries (and even more generous retirement programs) we expect exceptional integrity, fidelity and discipline. We’ve seen our ROI in precipitous decline for the last 20 years. We ain’t happy.

    A man who grows up and lives in East Baltimore has an 11.6% of being murdered in his lifetime. For a man age 15 to 35, the average annual homicide rate is 615 per 100,000(!). That’s higher than for US soldiers. Facts is facts, right?

    Yup, those facts state clearly a dangerous environment for the residents. One that we both agree needs addressing (and we both acknowledge that it is addressed by legalizing drugs). However, as that is not the fatality rate for LEOs working in that neighborhood, it has nothing to do with this discussion.

    Here’s the current stats for 2009 for those who are interested…
    http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cfoi.pdf

    Soldiers go where they are ordered and the government treats them like baby-wipes. I agree the average soldier has far purer motives (however naive) than the average cop. I never asked anyone to go the ME to fatten the coffers of the Military Industrial Complex. Please explain what this has to do with a discussion about cops.

  41. #41 |  Peter Moskos | 

    Maybe the difference is simply that I *do* think police officers work in the public service. And this whole discussion (which I’ve enjoyed) started not because I said policing is the most dangerous job in America, but because I said, “And mostly I worked with honest men and women who put their lives at risk (literally).”

    I stand by that statement. The key isn’t just that lives are at risk (we all gonna die), it’s that police willingly *put* their lives at risk for public service (even if it is a job you volunteer for). It may not trump all, but I do think it is both somewhat noteworthy and noble in spirit.

  42. #42 |  Greg | 

    I’ve enjoyed this discussion as well.

    I agree that LEOs work in the public service. I just find that any job that is not detrimental to the public, is, by defintion a public service.

    I’ve to have worked with and known lots of honest men and women who also literally put their lives at risk to do their jobs. Instead of LEO, they chose electrician, or taxi driver, or ironworker. They also are paid volunteers to their respective careers. As they are far more likely to die on their job than the LEO, are they not then even more noteworthy and noble?

    Once again, I am not diminishing knowing the risks and going into LE as a career. It’s just that according to all measures, LEO is a very safe occupation compared to jobs the majority of our citizens do for a living every day.

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