Protect and Serve — or Brutalize?

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

by William Anderson

For most of my life, I was a fairly typical law-and-order conservative, although there were times I questioned some police tactics. For example, nearly 40 years ago one of my college friends was severely beaten by the Knoxville, Tennessee, police in a situation considered serious enough for the FBI to investigate. After seeing Jake’s face two days after the beatdown and knowing the circumstances behind it, my long-held faith in the police certainly was shaken. Still, I wanted to believe that the police were “on our side.”

Today, I no longer hold to that illusion. Yesterday, I met with a woman about my age whose son, a Marine veteran, was found dead in his Dade County, Georgia, jail cell earlier this year, allegedly due to suicide. Not long before that arrest, he had been picked up for DUI by those same police and was severely beaten and tased by six officers, much of the beating coming after he was prone on the pavement with his hands cuffed behind his back. He had broken ribs, a ruptured eardrum, numerous burns from the taser repeatedly used on him, and bruises all over his body. Naturally, he was the one charged with felonies.

If police officers ever believed in their “protect and serve” mottos, that time is long past. As this post from Will Grigg demonstrates, the police today are obsessed with “officer safety” and their pay. He writes:

Police departments exist to enforce the will of the municipal corporations that employ them. Any actual service they render with respect to the protection of person and property is incidental to that mission.

As a recovering law-and-order conservative, I never believed I would be writing anything like this, and I would love to be proven wrong. I no longer buy the “few bad apples” argument; as I see it, the few “good apples” left in police departments either are driven out by fellow officers or they are cowed into silence.

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45 Responses to “Protect and Serve — or Brutalize?”

  1. #1 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    I’ve been reading this blog for a while, and what I would like to know is; did the degree that police and prosecutors are protected from the consequences of their actions change a lot in the years 1970-present? How and when? How do the police unions fit into this? are they stronger now than they were in, say, 1970?

    The thing is, I grew up in Cleveland in the ’70’s. My first job was at a comic book collectors’ store in downtown Cleveland. It was run by a handful of long-haired druggie freaks. And they had cordial relations with the local cops. We had occasional problems with officers of the security company that the building we were in hired (The Downtown Detective Agency, universally known as the Clowntown Defective Agency), but the beat cops were good guys. So I know it wasn’t always this way.

  2. #2 |  Santyl | 

    It used to be called the thin blue line. I call it bitch law. Good cops either quit or become the bad cop’s bitches. Good bitches keep their mouths shut and their pensions.
    Covering up for a fellow officer’s felonies is not honorable.

  3. #3 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    I think Sept 11, 2001, set the way for this new Stormtrooper police force.
    Since we were the “victim” we underwent a paradigm shift in the way
    we let authorities deal with suspects. Cops were able to paint any “suspicious” person a potential terrorist, to the point that anyone who
    asserted his rights (eg to remain silent) or took photographs was a “terrorist.”
    Patriotism metamorphosed into Badge Worship. All cops were now “Heroes.”
    FEDS and local cops joined forces and cops attained new powers
    and new toys. TSA Agents (many former airport janitors) were now allowed to stick their hands down our pants, seize our belongings, something that would be unthinkable in the 60’s or 70’s or 80’s.
    How did an attack by foreign nationals (like, say, Pearl Harbor) get transformed into an assault on Americans? Historians will have to figure that
    one out.

  4. #4 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Yizmo Gizmo,

    It’s a tempting narrative, but I don’t think it’s true. The militarization of the police was well underway before 9/11, and Mr. Balko has told us of a lot of patterns that predate 2001 by a fair bit. 9/11 didn’t help. certainly. I think another factor was that (in my opinion, anyway) Bush was far more interested in Camel Pesterers abroad than in any threats at home, so the home front changes were often window dressing to make the government look ‘concerned’. So empire building opportunists and lawr ‘n owda thugs rushed into each-other’s arms and things got a worse. But the change was not one of type, or of direction, but of magnitude.

  5. #5 |  William Anderson | 

    I would agree. These trends simply became more pronounced after 9/11 because terrified Americans became more malleable to the kinds of police tactics that Americans once would have rejected.

    Even without 9/11, I believe that we would have seen an increased police presence in just about everything.

    I also agree that the community-police relationships have fundamentally changed as the “professionalism” of the police has increased. So-called professionals are more subject to oversight from their superiors and trainers than they are the general public, and we see the results.

  6. #6 |  Mike G. | 

    The problem as I see it is that we don’t have beat cops anymore. You used to have the police officer that patrolled the same neighborhood all the time and they became known and knew everyone. I live in a small town now and I don’t know any of our law enforcement officers at all. They cruise the streets and roads in cruisers with blacked out windows and the only time you’ll see them is if you run afoul of the law.

  7. #7 |  qwints | 

    The militarization may be new, but the brutality certainly isn’t.

  8. #8 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Mr. Anderson,

    My personal feeling is that what we are seeing post 9/11 is shown by what happened with the TSA. My perception is that the TSA was created more by “we gotta do something” than by any actual need. Bush either knew or was advised that the next terrorist who tried to take over a plane for use as a missile would be found in the overhead luggage compartment, in somewhat used condition. Consequently the TSA was molded by people other than those who had their eyes on the ball. People who were actually interested in thwarting terrorism were busy. Lots of cosmetic operation were put in place by empire-builders, political hacks, hobby-horse riders, and hysterics. And nothing shows how that works out more than the TSA; a service with draconian powers, vague limits, lots of pork, and nobody in chain-of-command with the intellectual capacity of a boiled potato.

    Lots of money was being thrown around post 9/11, with very little attention to actual need. Police departments that showed concern about the limits of their legal authority missed out. Those that simply wanted neat toys or to push little people around made out like bandits. 9/11 rewarded an existing trend, which then spread like mold in the rainy season.

  9. #9 |  Dave Krueger | 

    There are two kinds of cops: bad ones and those who cover for the bad ones.

  10. #10 |  Cynical in New York | 

    To protect and serve themselves has been the motto of the states assorted gangs of street thugs. Of course you also throw in some good old fashion intimidation to make sure us lowly citizens remain compliant. However if that doesn’t work, government street thugs know they have plenty of support from the massive amount of badge lickers in our society.

  11. #11 |  Burgers Allday | 

    I know I hype my police blog here a lot, but I going to do it again. Normally the blog is pretty lawyerly and legalist, and probably bores those of you who click over. However, today I wrote a long post that, while police misconduct related, is mostly about lawyers and money. I know that the nexus between lawyers and money is a subject of fascination for laypeople, and you guys might be interested ibn this new long post for that reason:

    I don’t plan to make a habit of this kind of post (not legalistic enough for my tastes), but sometimes you need to say what needs to be said about the corrupting influence of money.

  12. #12 |  Bergman | 

    Re: Santyl, #2:

    What good cops?

    If I know one of my relatives robbed a bank, and I don’t turn them in, I can get charged with things like harboring a fugitive, conspiracy, accomplice-after-the-fact, etc. If I actually help that relative hide or destroy evidence and/or dispose of the loot, the charges intensify.

    Police are no different. If they know a fellow officer has committed a felony, they have a duty to (minimally) report it, if not actually arrest their fellow officer themselves. If they don”t, then they too are bad cops.

    The only good cops are the ones who have not yet encountered evidence of crimes by fellow cops. And studiously looking the other way doesn’t count.

    How can the thin blue line be considered any differently than omerta?

  13. #13 |  Felix | 

    The war with EastAsia has many names.

    Prohibition started it. The continuing (how convenient!) mafia wars kept it alive until The War on (Some) Drugs provided a new purpose. The Global War On Terror is taking over as drug legalization grabs a small but growing toehold and the Mickey Mouse Intellectual Property racket seems to be fizzling out.

    As the war become more entrenched in daily life, the warriors need to find new roles. If Al Qaeda won’t supply them, alternatives can be found in Saddam Hussein and the Arab Spring. This has all the trappings of a good long campaign while new backup plans are investigated.

  14. #14 |  Other Sean | 


    There has been no change in the ratio of good apples to bad apples. That’s exactly the wrong way to think about this problem. Most apples are neither good nor bad. Most apples are happy to become whatever the incentives encourage them to be.

    If you randomly selected 10 readers of this blog and drafted them into the police force, when you came back a few years later your cohort would look something like this:

    1 asshole who found ambition and got himself promoted to sergeant.
    1 guy who escaped the street by joining a domestic violence task force.
    2 guys who hate their jobs and try to work as little as possible.
    2 guys who hate and fear the ugly, dangerous underclass which they are expected to control.
    2 guys who follow the lead of whoever is around.
    1 guy who sees two overdose victims and turns into a drug warrior.
    1 SWAT cowboy who daydreams about violence all day long.

    In other words, you find they’d turned themselves into a police department.

  15. #15 |  Jake | 

    To an important extent, a different sort of person is attracted to the job of cop today than in the past because of the militarization of policing. Similarly, a different sort of person is attracted to the job of physician today, employed by a hospital or government, than when physicians were mostly free agents. Law gives cops and doctors vastly more power than in the past, and power, as we should know, corrupts.

  16. #16 |  Felix | 

    @14: Cops have always had the holier-than-thou attitude, both in reality and as perceived by the public. Look at all the books and movies where the beat cop (I wonder where that name came from?) would maintain order by knocking sense into the disorderly, the drunks, the recalcitrant. Investigation mostly consisted of beating a confession or information out of known bad guys.

    Read Peck’s Bad Boy from the 1880s. Watch any number of movies prior to WW II. I see no change in police attitude or perception, only in their toys and the legal and political trickery to keep their shiny image.

  17. #17 |  Mrs. C | 

    If police officers ever believed in their “protect and serve” mottos, that time is long past. As this post from Will Grigg demonstrates, the police today are obsessed with “officer safety” and their pay. He writes:

    Police departments exist to enforce the will of the municipal corporations that employ them. Any actual service they render with respect to the protection of person and property is incidental to that mission.

    These are the observations and comments…that get my blood boiling…as I miss my son each and every day…since his life was stolen from him…and our “forever changed” family.

    I was witness to over 20 police officers’ deposition hearings…and most of them stated…either in their exact words or by inference…that they would be the ones going home that night…after an “operation or plan”…which is what they called their assignments.

    In our case in 2006…my son was going to being served with…a document search warrant for sports wagering…and the policies and protocols…of the VA FCPD permitted/allowed for SWAT officers to be sent out…on routine police work…(which this was)…at “Ready Gun”…which means pointing a loaded weapon…at the center mass of the individual named…in their own risk assessment of that person…even when…as in my son’s case…he was assessed by them…to be non-violent…non-threatening…had no criminal record…never owned a weapon…and was a low risk. They put my son at risk…and in harm’s way…with no margin for error…and that’s unforgivable.

    My son was shot…and killed…by a 17 yr. veteran police officer…who had 7 years on the SWAT team at that time. He claimed it was an accident…and it sickens me to go into….the far-fetched details of his claim…as to what caused him to fire his 45 H&K weapon…loaded with hollow point bullets…that he was taking out of a thigh holster…and that he didn’t know…it was his gun that went off…until his hand kicked back…even though his finger was on the trigger…and in his words he “squeezed one off”…in an unaimed shot…at my son’s center mass…and then all that took place in the civil suit…during the following five years…after my son was killed…as we sought justice…in his name.

    I am grateful to Radley…for his continued efforts…in shedding the light… and for his interest in our son’s case…which he summarized at….

    To Protect and Serve…is an honorable cause…but in my opinion…it has been sullied…by too many “isolated incidents.”

    God Bless You Radley…be well…and be safe.

  18. #18 |  William Anderson | 

    Thanks for your comments, Mrs. C. I followed Radley’s coverage of your son’s murder and have written on it myself elsewhere. This was an outrage on so many levels, and to watch the government’s machinery from local to state to federal officers throw itself into the He-was-dangerous-the-shooting-was-accidental mode was sickening.

    Few people have had to endure what you faced, and you did it with real grace and fortitude.

  19. #19 |  Other Sean | 


    That’s an interesting comparison. Doctors get their power through the artificial scarcity that comes of medical licensing. Cops get their power from an artificial monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Both are heavily subsidized by the state. Both enjoy a lazy and remarkably stubborn presumption of good will from most of the general public. Both sometimes end up killing people when they’re wrong.

    But just try suing a cop, and you’ll see where the similarities end!

  20. #20 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    For what it’s worth, I think police mistreatment of white people has gotten a little worse and possibly hasn’t changed for black people.

    This is based on black people being afraid of the police (but I think, at about the same level), and white people mostly being scared because of word about police abuses getting out much more efficiently.

    If you’re white, do you know white people who’ve been abused by the police? I only know of one.

  21. #21 |  Joe | 


  22. #22 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    I’ve been reading this blog for a while, and what I would like to know is; did the degree that police and prosecutors are protected from the consequences of their actions change a lot in the years 1970-present?

    If I had to guess, I would bet that it’s been like this since long before the 1970’s. What’s changed is that with the rise of non-traditional media, we’re starting to hear about things that would never have made it through the gatekeepers before.

  23. #23 |  Sean C | 

    Schofields first post about immunity from consequence is on the money. It’s immunity, not power that corrupts absolutely. There is a tragic feedback loop between politicians, lawyers (prosecutors), judges and the police.

    Imagine this hypothetical: A municipality meets a substantial portion of its budget through policing activity. Drug asset forfeiture, DUI fines, etc. The cities budget is under increasing pressure do to falling sales and property tax revenue. A local mayor discovers criminal activity on the part of his most profitable officer. What’s your first thought about what the mayor would do? Attempt to see justice for the officer, or turn to him for additional help with the cities budget? Justice seems the least likely choice, doesn’t it? Isn’t that how we got DUI convictions for ‘standing near a car while drunk’ or blowing 0.00 but ‘acting drunk in the officers opinion’? The cities budget needs convicts before the first interaction with the officer.

    For profit policing needs to end along with immunity to break the feedback loop.

    The US has been militarizing police forces. Why take commando tactics rather than what’s most needed, the code of conduct. Increasingly the result looks more like Somali ‘warlord’ military. Why not take the US military code of personal integrity, morality and duty and instill that in our entire justice system. That’s the form of ‘militarizing’ our police forces I’m in favor of. In practice I don’t see how enough force could be brought to bear to make it a reality. Could effort in that direction help turn our current path to something more tolerable?

  24. #24 |  Or gone | 

    All you have done is trade one simplistic world view for another.

  25. #25 |  EH | 

    My sense is that the police were indeed going down this path long before 9/11, but after 9/11 they began to be deployed in more and more places, for more and more reasons, each of those reasons expanding their “duty.” It’s been like law enforcement inflation in the economy of order (not sure if ‘order’ is the best word there).

  26. #26 |  demize! | 

    You have an essential dilemma here, and that is the mentality that is most drawn to law enforcement seems to be the most brutal and reactionary of any society. I was going to also say culture, but Im not sure if that would be so. It seems analagous to politicians being drawn and attracted from the subgroup of those who are most mercenary and vain. The altruistic are purged, corrupted, or rendered accomplices to the more obboxious element. It is a self sustaining system of repression. If there was no crime the police agencies would create it. Of course this is done on the federal lwvel as well as local not simply by making laws against non violent lifestyle choices and the felonizing of misdemeanor, but actual operational policy. See operation Gladio, Brabant massacres, Caribinieri and Bologna train station bombing etc…

  27. #27 |  Dante | 

    Mr. Anderson;

    There were/are many like you – you believed a lie. Now, you are like us – you see the truth and are not afraid to speak it.


    The ugly truth is far better than the most beautiful lie. And the biggest lie in our world today is that America’s public servants (especially the police) actually serve anyone other than themselves.

  28. #28 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Regardless of when it started or how it accelerated this is a situation that can not be allowed to persist if any semblance of the America we would wish to live in continues to exist. This problem goes hands and hand with OUR out of control politicians. However regardless of their numbers and weaponry we out number them many times over. It is and always has been not if but when,when WE THE PEOPLE have finally reached our limit they will have no chance. I believe that moment is fast approaching,there will be much misery and loss be the PEOPLE will prevail.

  29. #29 |  croaker | 

    @13 You left out:

    1 person who gave the asshole who tried to draft him a third eye and second navel

  30. #30 |  AlgerHiss | 

    Fellow finally dies, 21 years after being beaten by cops:

  31. #31 |  Mrs. C | 


    Mr. Anderson…I am well aware of your article….Is Murder Legal? Yes, if One is Wearing a Badge and a Proper Costume. I read it on your blogspot…after leaving court that morning…on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011.

    Tuesday’s…are very meaningful to me…since it is the day of the week…on which my son was born…in December, 1968…and then killed on…in January, 2006…and here it was again…another ‘Tuesday”…Jan. 18…your article appeared…and our court trial…was supposed to begin…taking approximately 10 working days…and possibly overlapping…the 5th Year Remembrance Day…of my son’s loss…on January 24, 2006.

    We did appear in court that day…but only to have Judge Brinkema…bring down her gavel…in finalizing the “settlement” outcome…that I was told…was as “vanilla” as a legal document could be. It was far from simple for me…because…it was never about dollars. It was about transparency…accountability…preventive change…justice…and my promise to my son.

    Life is sacred…precious…unique…irreplaceable…and priceless…and everyone should respect…and value it. I…will have to trust in God’s justice…and they…in His forgiveness…since their policies and protocols…allowed for…and enabled…one of theirs…to break…His 5th Commandment.

    I still detest my signing…of that piece of paper…despite the well-intentioned and educated considerations…taken into account…and so…in those two hundred and sixty Tuesday’s…after they caused…such a deplorable and reprehensible act…not once…did any one of them…in all that time…and I understand the legal implications of doing so…have the conscience or human decency…to acknowledge…even privately…the terribly unjust…and wrongful act…they caused to happen…to my son…and our family…and so it remains for me…behaviors that I do not understand…coming from those…who should be held to an even higher standard…since they are sworn to protect and serve.

    I know intellectually…their actions were unjustifiable…inexcusable…are inexplicable…and indefensible…but as human beings…they lack even more…since they showed no remorse…for what happened…that night…to my son…instead…their blue wall went up…to protect one of their own…and they had no compassion…for our family…as we dealt…in the aftermath… with them…and their lawyers…and so God will have to judge me too…for feeling as I do.

    And for the record…I want you to know…that Sal is remembered…as the very decent, kind, and caring human being…he was. His patients…and his peers…valued him…and his abilities…and he is very loved…and is very missed…by all those…whose lives he touched…and who had the privilege to know him.

    I thank you for your kind words…but it is people…like You…Mr. Grigg…and Radley…who are to be admired…for recognizing…writing about…and informing…the rest of us…of the many injustices…that need to be exposed…and corrected.

    Thank you again…for caring to write about my son…on your blog.

  32. #32 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 


    The police who were responsible for gravely injuring a man they already had helpless apparently weren’t fired. One of the lost his pension for stealing parts from a warehouse.

  33. #33 |  Not Sure | 

    “One of the lost his pension for stealing parts from a warehouse.”

    Must have been a warehouse owned by another policeman.

  34. #34 |  Weird Willy | 

    “If you’re white, do you know white people who’ve been abused by the police? I only know of one.”

    I know, and know of, many.

  35. #35 |  Jake | 

    @ Other Sean

    You are largely right, but it is much harder to sue for medical malpractice than doctors would have you believe. A tiny percent of the huge number of medical errors, and resulting deaths, result in lawsuits. Doctors have less legal vulnerability than most other professionals.

  36. #36 |  Dan | 

    As a meta comment: I sure do love all of the guest bloggers here and discovering that I’m not alone in my opinions, fears and directed rage.

    As an actual comment to this story: if any of you know a good cop, do your best to invest in him and his family. He may become the 5th column that our eventual freedom hinges upon.


  37. #37 |  Weird Willy | 


    How does one “invest” in a good cop, assuming one is able to find such a person?

  38. #38 |  NAME REDACTED | 

    The founders warned us about this. Only because they used the term “standing army” we didn’t realize what they meant.

  39. #39 |  NAME REDACTED | 

    The founders warned us about this. Only because they used the term “standing army” we didn’t realize what they meant.

  40. #40 |  Len | 

    I offer my opinion for what it’s worth here. One of the factors that has contributed to police militarization is the growth of the “federal” government.

    1) It contributes to the militarization through it’s control of money which it grants to state and local LEO.

    2) Related to number are the unconstitutional acts that take police matters which would rightly belong to the states under true federalism away from the states and make them “federal” matters. As in drug laws.

    3) The unconstitutional standing army and the obsolescence of state militias, combined with gun control laws. A return to an armed citizenry, and militias handling state and local issues where heavy weaponry is needed, rather than SWAT teams or what have one, would naturally reduce the police to an augmenting agency truly serving the people.

  41. #41 |  liberranter | 

    @#20: I would argue that, numerically speaking, there are many, MANY more white victims of police abuse than black, simply because white people are the numerical majority. The difference, however, is in the CLASS of white people the cops target for abuse. Cops are cowards by nature and inclination, meaning that they go for the “low-hanging fruit,” targeting the weak and defenseless. Where white people are concerned, cops target what some of us might call “poor white trash,” or PWT. These are physically, economically, or socially disadvantaged white people without the physical or financial means to resist porcine depredations, meaning that it makes Officer Oinky’s act of gratuitous violence easier to get away with, as well as the backup he gets from his fellow blue-clad, badged gangbangers easier to conceal.

    Notice that Officer Oinky and his fellow gangbangers-in-blue rarely target obviously well-off, white-collar white people for abuse, as these people are much more likely to have the financial and legal resources and social-political connections to make life uncomfortable, though maybe not miserable, for the porcine gang and their politician handlers.

    All of this said, it will only be when the porcine predators start running out of “poodles” (that’s “People We Don’t Like”) and start going after large numbers of upper-class white people that there will be any remote hope of reversing the trend.

  42. #42 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    The cops have, not, in general changed all that much. You’re a victim of your own hysteria and hostility. They never WERE your friends, but you’ve not so much gone overboard, but grabbed a depth charge, yelled banzai and dived in.

  43. #43 |  Frank | 

    Hear, hear.

  44. #44 |  GreginOz | 

    The motto is really “TO DETEST & SERB” (as in “we serbed the village, killed ’em all…”).

  45. #45 |  Steve Verdon | 

    As a recovering law-and-order conservative, I never believed I would be writing anything like this, and I would love to be proven wrong. I no longer buy the “few bad apples” argument; as I see it, the few “good apples” left in police departments either are driven out by fellow officers or they are cowed into silence.

    I could have written this entire post, and this part is something I’ve been saying for years. It is one of the reasons I’m so meh about our future. We have an increasingly brutal police on one hand, and on the other we have leaders who seem all to willing to let various rent seeking entities bankrupt our country.