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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Police Station Intimidation

In a two part series called "Police Station Intimidation", Florida CBS channel 4 reporter, Mike Kirsch, teamed up with the Police Complaint Center to test South Florida departments on the availability of police complaint forms. In the undercover sting, PCC and the newschannel sent a citizen into a cop shop to request a form to file a complaint. The reaction was something to watch.
CBS4 News found that, in police departments across Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, large and small, it was virtually impossible to walk in the door, and walk out with a complaint form.

The I-Team conducted an extensive hidden camera test, carried out by a police abuse watchdog group called the Police Complaint Center. Remarkably, of 38 different police stations tested around South Florida, all but three had no police complaint forms.
As ridiculous as it might seem, things almost turned violent on at least one occasion:
In the I-team’s undercover investigation, there was one incident in which our tester went in to file a complaint. After several times asking for a form, being told "you're not leaving without a form," he was asked to leave and actually walked off the property, to the point where the officer reached for his gun, put his hand on his gun and said, "Take a step closer, and see what happens."
Here is the transcript from that exchange:
tester: Yeah, I wanted to find out how to file a complaint against an officer. I just want to find out how you do it. Do you guys have a form or something that I could take with me.
officer: Well, you got to tell me first, and then I got to hear what's going on. You've got to tell me what the complaint is.
tester: Do you have a complaint form that I can, like, fill out or something like that?
officer: Might not be a legitimate complaint.
tester: Who decides that?
officer: I'm trying to help you.
tester: Like, if there's a form, why can't I just take it and leave, right?
officer: No, you don't leave with forms. You tell me what happened, and then I help you from there. Do you have I-D on?
tester: Why?
officer: You know what? You need to leave.
tester: Why?
officer: I'm going to tell you one more time, because I can't do this anymore with you, okay. You're refusing to tell me what you want to do, okay. You're refusing to tell me who's involved, where it happened, what transpired. You'e not cooperating with me one bit.
tester: I was just asking if you guys have a complaint form, like if there's some way for me --
officer: Out of my way.
tester: To contact Internal Affairs.
officer: You can do whatever the hell you want. It's a free country.
tester: You're cursing at me.
officer: Where do you live? Where do you live? You have to tell me where you live, what your name is, or anything like that.
tester: For a complaint? I mean, like, if I have --
officer: Are you on medications?
tester: Why would you ask me something like that?
officer: Because you're not answering any of my questions.
tester: Am I on medications?
officer: I asked you. It's a free country. I can ask you that.
tester: Okay, you're right.
officer: So you're not going to tell me who you are, you're not going to tell me what the problem is.You're not going to identify yourself.
tester: All I asked you was, like, how do I contact --
officer: You said you have a complaint. You say my officers are acting in an inappropriate manner.
officer: So leave now. Leave now. Leave now.
tester: I'm not doing anything wrong.
officer: Neither am I. It's a free country.
officer: I'm not in your face. I'm standing on the sidewalk. It's a free country. One more step forward, and you'll see what happens. Take one more step forward.
If you watch the video, the video pauses so that you can see the officer put his hand on his weapon.

Interestingly, in a strange reversal of his usual role as fascist extraordinaire, Miami Police Chief John Timoney actually played the role of the liberal in the piece, thanks primarily to the extremism of the other chiefs.
In the end, Timoney says cops intimidating citizens alone is bad enough. What's worse is cops denying citizens the very forms on which they need to complain about such behavior. Citizen complaint forms that create a paper trail, so that complaints can't possibly be ignored.

And even worse than that, says Timoney, is when a police department itself doesn't have a complaint form policy to begin with. And that, he says, when you consider the many other departments in the country that do, is not right and not good for the image of South Florida law enforcement.

“Anytime you don't get police departments or other institutions to do what's right”, said Timoney, ”if the agency is not doing it properly, fire the chief. If I'm not doing it properly, fire me.”
That's a different tune than the Irish supercop usually sings. An Irish immigrant, Timoney once joked with a Village Voice reporter, saying, "I came here to teach you people a lesson."

Many folks will remember Timoney from his brutal defense of capital during the FTAA protests in Miami a few years back, in which he oversaw the wholesale utilization of violence against protesters and the transformation of that police department into a paramilitary force so that the elite global leadership could safely hash out their latest scheme to force their bloodsucking economic model on the Western Hemisphere.

Some will also remember Timoney as the New York Police Commissioner who oversaw the massive consolidation of the NYPD through the incorporation of the previously separate Housing and Transit Departments in the mid 1990's. Still others will recall him as the Philadelphia Chief of Police who led sweeping mass arrests of demonstrators at the 2000 Republican National Convention, almost all of which resulted in dropped charges.

Timony was interviewed in 2004 on Fox News in which he discussed the RNC protests planned for that year and his experience with such protests in Miami and Philadelphia. Although this was on Fox News, let's at least hope that the interviewer here was merely playing devil's advocate with his question:
JOHN GIBSON: So, if you know who they are and you know they're coming, you can't just scoop them up for a few days?

TIMONEY: No. That would be un-American. However, you know, we do know who they are. They go from city to city. There's a hardcore group.

As a matter of fact, after the 2000 convention clearly we arrested about 400, some of which had been arrested in other cities, and at that time I wrote to the Justice Department, Janet Reno, recommending that they open an investigation at the federal level for people -- these are not spontaneous demonstrators, by the way, this is not the '60s where civil rights demonstrations break out, or anti-war protesters -- these are individuals that actually plan and train and arm themselves coming into the city with the sole purpose of engaging and property damage, assault on police officers, it has nothing to do with protests and free speech. It's all about anarchy, vandalism, assault on police officers.
Clearly, Timoney is not a wishy-washy liberal.

In an interview in the Washington Post last year, Timoney discussed shoot-to-kill policies following the killing by London police of an unarmed man in the subway two weeks after the July 11th bombings.
"I can guarantee you that if we have, God forbid, a suicide bomber in a big city in the United States, 'shoot to kill' will be the inevitable policy," said Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney in an interview. "It's not a policy we choose lightly, but it's the only policy."


"You need to get him dead as quick as possible," said Timoney, the Miami police chief. "The easiest way to do that is a head shot. That's the only way to guarantee. It's not something you relish. But if you shot him in the upper torso, that person would be able to make movements and make sure the bomb, if he had it, could go off. A body shot very seldom kills instantly."
Timoney also spent time between police chief gigs as a corporate security specialist and oversaw the World Economic Forum meeting in New York in 2002.

But, despite all that, Timoney's department is one of the few in South Florida that had complaint forms, thus putting him in the odd position of criticizing other agencies. If you watch part II of the "Police Station Intimidation" series, you'll surely get a kick out of watching the other chiefs, unaccustomed to fractures in their bond of blue brotherhood, squirm under his unfriendly comments.

After watching that piece, try tuning in to San Jose CBS 5's coverage of police brutality at their recent Mardi Gras celebration.
[Natasha] Burton, a criminal justice major whose mother is a police officer in Southern California, says she may no longer want an internship at the San Jose Police Department after her encounter with a group of officers, one of whom, she says, used excessive force and profanity.

"Four officers were hitting me with batons," Burton said. "I wasn't being forceful. I didn't hit back, nothing. The thing that hurt me was when he was smashing my face into the concrete."

After asking the officer for his badge number, Burton says the officer "takes his baton and pushes me back, and I put my hands up and another officer says, 'she assaulted an officer; it's a felony.' "
The video does show a white cop following Burton, who is Black, and striking her with a billy club as she runs from him. It also shows a large group of cops apparently tackling her.

Still, upon watching the video, San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis was not entirely convinced.
"If you're bringing video like this forward, and the woman is saying that she feels like she should not have been struck, then we need to take a look at it," Davis said.

Davis says the incident needs to be put into the context of what happened that night: 3,500 revelers took over Downtown San Jose streets at about midnight, jumping on cars, breaking windows and getting into fights.
Nevertheless, at least one witness corroborates Burden's claims.
Alan Santa Cruz witnessed the event from across the street.

"They beat her," Santa Cruz said. "They beat her without even holding her down. She's a woman. They're men. They used force which wasn't supposed to be used. San Jose PD is acting like L.A. PD right now."
The President of San Jose/Silicon Valley Branch of the NAACP, Rick Callender, diplomatically splits the difference:
"I think there were individuals who were out of control," Callender said. "They were attacking police in certain instances, and they deserve to be arrested and go to jail. However, what we saw was also individuals that were just frustrated that couldn't get home, that police showed their frustration at them as well, which was definitely unwarranted."
In 2004 Chief Davis added 700 Tasers to his department's armory. Commenting on the acquisition, he explained the purchase: "This is a simply a tool we can use to get someone to comply." Further, Davis was police chief when one of his officers shot and killed 25 year-old mother, Bich Cau Thi Tran, in her kitchen, resulting in a $1.8 million settlement with the city. The city agreed to the payment in exchange for absolving Davis and the officer involved of legal liability.

Perhaps the most interesting part of "Police Station Intimidation", however, comes at the end of part II. Diop Kamau, founder of the Police Complaint Center, a volunteer and a Channel 4 news crew conduct a racial profiling experiment by using two drivers - one white and one black - to drive the same convertible Mustang on the same road over the course of a week. Guess who gets nailed?

It's nice to see there's still some journalism being practiced out there.


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