How Cops Really Want to Police

After writing my last Freakonomics post, I received a phone call from a police officer who began his career in Chicago.

Carl, the 54-year-old cop, started working in Chicago’s inner cities at the height of the crack epidemic. He transferred to the suburbs of Seattle for a lifestyle change — “I was tired of getting shot at,” he said matter-of-factly.

I had promised readers of this blog that I would ask about the creative, informal ways police respond to crime — sometimes even tolerating certain anti-social or criminal behavior for (presumed) larger gains. Carl was eager to respond.

I will post Carl’s comment below, as well as the responses of two other law enforcement officials.

1. “Judge on-site.”

Carl wanted to make a single point: he felt cops should have the freedom to act as “judge on-site.” (See Chance‘s comment, #6.) Carl preferred working in poor communities because, in his opinion, they had a healthy distrust of the court system.

“You want to really lower crime?” Carl began. “Let cops enforce the rules. The whole way. You ask any cop on the street and he’ll tell you that he would love to dish out the punishment, on the spot.”

“You want to be the cop and the jury?” I asked, incredulously.

You laugh, but the good cops never let problems get to judges. They are judge on-site, I like to say. And, I don’t mean just for stupid things like kids shoplifting — you might get the kid by the neck, make him to apologize and work for the store owner for free. I mean for serious things.

In Chicago, back in the 1980’s, we had all these problems with drug dealers selling their dope on the street. We used to catch them and bring them in front of the older folks. We used to take their drug money and give it to all the neighbors on the block! They loved it, and the f–ing gangbangers hated it, of course. But, the people on the block always said to us, “We know you can’t get these guys off the streets, so keep doing what you are doing.”

“Isn’t that just a convenient excuse?” I pressed on. “Would you tolerate that kind of behavior in the suburbs where you work now? I can’t imagine any God-fearing middle class person would allow drug dealers to stand on their corner. I certainly wouldn’t.”

He continued:

No, but around here [in Seattle’s suburbs] it’s all inside. But we actually still try to do the same thing. If we catch teenagers selling drugs, we take their money and give it to the school principal or to a block association — sometimes they take it, most of the time they shy away. The problem here is that people trust the prosecutor, the judges. Inner-city people know that these people are really useless. Around here, where you’ve got a lot of domestic violence, a lot of drunk driving, I would love to do other things to stop crime, but …

“Like what? What would you do for a drunk driver?” I asked.

Well, I hate taking that son-of-a-bitch to the station because those tests always fail and they get off (with little penalty). But these guys are a terror around here.

Everyone drinks and drives — especially those guys who drive home after work. I’d love to give them a tattoo, right on their forehead — like one of those scarlet letters. I’d like to get them all out on a Saturday and have them stand on a corner with a sign: “I’m a drunk driver and I’d like to wash your car for free.” I wouldn’t mind taking them around to do errands for others on their block for free on weekends. Or maybe they have to wear a bright orange suit for a month everywhere they go! You know what I mean? The courts don’t do sh-t.

2. “I hate wife beaters.”

Jordan is a 51-year-old police officer who works in New York. I met Jordan when I was studying prostitution. He was based in Manhattan, in Hell’s Kitchen, around the time when the police sought to rid the area of the sex economy — e.g., strip clubs, street-based prostitution, and video parlors. He also felt that the courts are largely impotent, but his pet-peeve was domestic violence. He says that he developed a set of skills that he now uses in “DV” incidents in the middle-class communities outside of Manhattan:

The one thing I hate is a wife beater. Or, anyone who beats women. I never arrest those idiots because they always get out of jail and go back and beat up their wives. It’s really frustrating. I have a daughter, and it just makes me sick … When I was in Hell’s Kitchen, I used to make those guys pay their women [prostitutes] extra, for maybe two months at a time, if they bruised them. You know, to make up for what they did. I’d just get their number at work and I’d call them and say, “Hey, you need to bring Shirley $500 because her kid needs school clothes. If they didn’t do it, I’d call their boss or show up at their job.

And, you know what? I do this now where I work [in wealthier areas of New York City]. These guys get arrested way fewer times [than the poor]. They think they are totally invincible because they make so much money. So, I do the same thing. Traders on Wall Street, lawyers — I don’t care. I tell them they have to pay up. I usually make them donate to a battered women’s shelter … See the one thing to know about these guys with money is that they HATE to give even a penny away! So it hurts. And, I take their money for months. A bunch of cops do this with me.

3. Bill’s Top Five List

Bill is a retired police officer who worked in many Chicago neighborhoods. He made a list of, in his words, “the things that cops do to keep the peace that no one wants to know about.”

1. If a drug addict robbed somebody, we used to take his drugs away and give them to someone else. Then we used to make him watch his buddy smoke all his stuff. THAT was real pain!

2. Let people decide what to do with the gangbangers. The funny thing is that the gangbangers don’t mind going to jail, but they can’t stand it when people in their community get back at them. And, let me tell you something, parents who have children can get really pissed. They make gangbangers clean their streets, pick up trash, and stand outside and look stupid. The key is letting folks decide what’s best [in terms of] dealing with criminals.

3. Always deal with domestic violence on the spot. Make sure that when you catch a perp, all the folks on the block see you drag his sorry a– to court. Shaming somebody can sometimes be your greatest weapon. Hell, sometimes we will cuff the perp to the car, turn on the lights, and just keep him there until all the people get a chance to see him.

4. We like to play gladiator. You know what I mean? Let two gangs beat each other up without weapons, and the winner gets to deal on the corner. Or, we grab a bunch of muggers, or maybe two crews who steal cars, and tell them, “Okay, you all fight each other — the one still standing gets to avoid jail.” I know: it sounds awful, but believe me, this really works.

5. You have to let people get revenge. One time, I caught a guy who was running around stealing jewelry. So I asked the women — the ones who got their rings stolen — if they’d like to come over to his place and take something. Two of them said, “Hell yeah!”

I brought them to this guy’s house, and they took a bunch of his things — a TV, a painting! It was hilarious. This doesn’t happen often, but I think it would be a great way to stop people from doing the little things — you know, robbing, shoplifting, beating up people.

I was struck at the extent to which the drive for autonomy — the ability to act outside the formal system — was invoked by the police. The running theme in my conversations was their lack of trust in the courts. This is not entirely surprising since most cops believe there is a never-ending cycle of criminality in place whereby the punishment doesn’t deter the crime.

To some degree, the wave of urban “community policing” initiatives — whereby residents and police communicate more effectively with each other around — was supposed to rectify the situation. Community policing was developed by public officials in order to incorporate the informal social control mechanisms that exist in any community.

Here, one thinks of the “eyes on the street” approach of social critic Jane Jacobs, in which people police one another’s behavior, with law enforcement playing a mostly supportive role. But, it sounds to me like some police would like greater discretion to enforce the law.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



  1. Noah says:

    Very interesting. Thanks!

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  2. Silvanus says:

    I used to like cops, until I left my small town policed by competent, respectful sheriffs and deputies who understood how to treat people and moved to a large, metropolitan area where cops are aggressive, rude and borderline psychotic.

    These interviews simply reinforce that police seem to be more of a problem in this country than criminals. No one is above the law, and authoritarians who want to play Rex Mundi on their block have no place with a badge or a gun.

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  3. Charles D says:

    Wow, great article. I like that the cops find a way to do these things instead of making it an open policy to be judges on the street.

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  4. Spike Mynhier says:

    There can be a big difference between justice and law. Courts administer law, but who administers justice?
    There is a huge disconnect between the courts and the people. Most people assume the courts do not care about society at large and victims in particular. There may even be some judges on the bench now that really do focus on the rights of criminals, and it’s those few who generate the largest hew-and-cry in the media and thus public opinion.
    Should cops administer justice? To convince the public to pressure local bureaucrats to let it happen, they must trust cops to exercise their good judgement.
    Unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening.

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  5. Crazy Cooter says:

    Most folks don’t appreciate the psychologically caustic environment that police, particularly those on the street in dense urban areas, have to deal with day in and day out. It’s easy to be on the outside and judge, and most of them do have a gritty quality that rubs folks the wrong way, but that is the same quality that enables them to perform a very necessary function for society.

    If you dont believe me, go work in a slaughterhouse for a week killing animals three times your body mass. When you can’t walk through a meat isle at the grocer without a sense of recollection, you will have an tangible example of what I mean.

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  6. aalap says:

    This is a remarkable post. I think the term “good police” from The Wire applies here. It seems that all abuses of power are not necessarily bad.

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  7. Matt says:

    I respect the realities of having to work the streets with criminals and “real life”. I also respect that indeed our court system is probably f*d beyond repair. I know that I have NO IDEA what these folks have to deal with.

    But how is ditching the rule of law likely to help? How is this different than the way that organized crime keeps order ala Al Capone or some such? I hear that the drug gangs in Colombia give lots of money to schools and keep petty theft out of the street.

    Yeah, these guys are the good guys, but what if all of the cops aren’t good guys? Then what? We have bad guys who can deal out their own ideas of justice and punishment without oversight by anyone at all.

    Sounds the same as the mafia to me. I hope that our police officers can do better than being just another gang on the street, even if they are a little more benevolent.

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  8. jason says:

    “Shaming somebody can sometimes be your greatest weapon.”

    tell that to the cops that shoot citizens fifty times, whose faces are all over the media.

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  9. M says:

    I used to like the police too, until I married an Asian, non-native English speaking man (skinny, soft spoken, nerdy-looking). I was shocked at how the police treated him for alleged traffic infractions, and other encounters – bullying, condescending, rude, suspicious, screaming. And this for an illegal turn, or once when my husband was helping to put out a neighborhood fire. As a result, I’m less likely to ask the police for help, even in our middle to upper class neighborhood. I can’t imagine what it must be like for young black men in working class neighborhoods.

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  10. Mike W says:

    Good improvisation by the quoted officers. The trick is answering the question: what do we want the police to accomplish? Prevent crime? Punish the guilty? Lower recidivism? Sometimes you can’t do it all.
    For example, I recall that in domestic violence studies, arresting unemployed “wife beaters” increases the chance of a repeat offense, while arresting employed offenders reduces the odds of a repeat offense. A mandatory arrest policy (like we have in VA) can aggravate the problem in certain circumstances.
    Being able to custom-tailor sanctions (within reason) seems like a good way for police to circumvent a failing justice system.

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  11. ging says:

    because cops would never pocket the money themselves… ever.

    nice piece, though :o)

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  12. Frank says:

    I think the problem is symptomatic of most government organizations.

    Most governmental regulations and procedures seem to be in place to prevent the really bad from truly screwing things up (bad cops, bad administrators, bad teachers).

    There are very few (any?) that allow the really good to succeed.

    There was a really good article about this regarding the Superintendent of schools here in Seattle:

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  13. Jow says:

    …So these cops are admitting breaking the very laws that they are sworn to protect? Isn’t one of the reasons for having a court system to protect against this kind of injustice? Unfortunately, I do not trust most officers integrity, or true knowledge of the law. I actually had a cop admit that he didn’t know which law it was that he was threatening to charge me under (I rode my bike on the sidewalk during rush hour in downtown Calgary). Police do not have a law degree, and tend to look down on the rest of society as suspected criminals. Then there’s the question of why these people chose to become cops in the first place (to preserve justice? In most cases I highly doubt that). What happens when one of these cops has a bad day? If this starts, where will it end? This is criminal, and an obvious abuse of power. They need to be charged. I agree with Silvanus. If they want this power, we, the people should in return be given the right to judge, and punish the police directly according to our own whims and agenda.

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  14. Eddie says:

    ….and people wonder why young America doesn’t respect police officers.

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  15. Mike In Tennessee says:

    Nothing like a little petty corruption. Makes me feel like I’m traveling to a third-world country without ever leaving home.

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  16. Tudza says:

    Hmmm, police who want to dispense wild west justice in the streets and a slaughter house analogy.

    Well played!

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  17. Witty Nickname says:

    Sometimes I think if I could do away with all the cumbersome policies at my job the organization would run better. The truth is these policies are there for a reason, and the things these cops are doing is illegal.

    Some things I can shrug off, making wife beaters give to shelters, fine; threatening to show up at their job, good. Making gangs fight over street corners, not cool, that guy should loose his badge.

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  18. Emily says:

    Hey, that’s just like every job I’ve ever had, where I thought that the place would run best if only I could be the one to determine and enforce all of the rules.

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  19. Mat says:

    wow … and why not cut the hand of a thief when he gets caught.

    I don’t think these guys ever heard of the saying An eye for an eye and the world goes blind …

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  20. Will says:

    The thing about corruption in every country is that it’s always rationalized. Cops in other countries never ask for a bribe, they ask for money to buy Coca-Cola or beer.

    And in the U.S. they rationalize because it’s going to a “good” cause.

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  21. Josh says:

    I don’t condone what these cops are doing, however, with our current legal system, there isn’t much choice. Of course they don’t trust the courts, the courts are too busy, the jails are too full, and it’s impossible to crack down on all the criminals because there are so many crimes.

    Legalize dope, cocaine, and other such drugs. Sell them in stores, tax the sale. Get rid of the profitability of selling illegal drugs which then gets rid of many murders and shootings etc.

    Then, with the savings from a decreased prison population, the influx of extra money from drug sales taxes, and with the extra time officers and the courts will have we can properly police other crimes and make our courts more effective, thus reducing the incentives to enact street justice.

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  22. J says:

    The problem is that even though these actions may be done with the best of intentions, allowing police to enact punishments like this leaves a huge window to corruption and abuse of power.

    While having significant authoritarian power (as these officers exercise in their examples) is the simplest and most effective way to fix problems (e.g. benevolent dictatorship) it is also a very dangerous situation when the wrong person, or a good person who becomes corrupted, gets that power. Our entire system of representative democracy, and courts of law are intended to mitigate such power.

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  23. surly says:

    I am a bike messenger. I’d LIKE to be allowed to break every traffic law in the book in order to help the economy by delivering contracts and other important documents in a more efficient way. I have no plans of hurting anyone, or causing damage. Do I believe I should be given this right? NO! Because these laws are in place for a reason. What happens when a pedestrian cyclist follows my lead without my skill or experience? Or what happens when I brain fart (everyone does)

    Everyone would LIKE to make their jobs easier. Unfortunately, life isn’t quite that way. If you cant hack your job the way it’s supposed to be done, find a new job. It’s that simple.

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  24. Scared says:

    Frightening. Cops bragging about committing extortion, robbery, and assault. Who polices the corrupt police?

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  25. Jake says:

    I’m grateful for the rule of law–too bad these “officers of the law” are not. This article only makes me distrust the police more than I did before. The difference between the cop and the criminal isn’t much.

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  26. Steve says:

    That some people condone or even admire this behavior is reprehensible. This conduct amounts to nothing more than state sanctioned bullying; the kind of justification that led to Abu Ghraib. Police (and others in authority) gain their moral authority by adhering to the legal framework they have sworn to protect and in willfully negating that authority lose all credibility as stewards of the law.

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  27. Joel says:

    All this would be fine, if all police officers could be trusted to behave with integrity. Unfortunately they can’t. There are many examples of police who have, or would like to, misbehave with impunity. For example:

    And what happens when an officer makes a mistake?

    In order to do their jobs, which sometimes involve dealing with difficult and immediate situations, we give our police forces extraordinary powers. It is natural that, when given power, some people will attempt to abuse it, and so it’s important that we have systems in place to control that. The separation of policing and the judicial system is the conventional way of achieving that. Do any of the enthusiasts for the police doling extra-judicial punishments have any alternative suggestions for how to avoid mistakes and abuses?

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  28. Michael says:

    If we tolerate police to do things as they like, then the police should find a way to raise money to support their own salaries.

    Our tax money were paid to something that all citizens agreed on (to a degree), not free form police who does whatever they like at different times.

    Tolerating police like this will just lead to more people abusing the system.

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  29. Mercutio.Mont says:

    If these are the sanitized accounts which the cops want us to hear about, just imagine what sorts of things go on which they DON’T want us to hear about.

    How disappointing.

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  30. James says:

    Why not just deputize more citizens to just take the law into their own hands, too? (And back it up by treating an assault on them the same as an assault on a police officer?) I bet it would be effective, if that’s the goal.

    When these guys take the law into their own hands, they’re no longer acting as cops, but as vigilantes.

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  31. M Todd says:

    I can see both sides of the story. On one hand the farther you get from the source the worse the judgement. But, I do not like the idea of police playing judge and jury, even with gangs. Even gang members have constitutional rights that even the most well meaning cop cannot deny.

    Some communities have neighborhood courts for small offenses and petty crime and they administer justice such as kids who trash the streets have to clean the streets, or some other local punishment.

    The key to stopping crime is prevention. Neighborhoods what have strong ties with community centers and churches seem to fair better than those who have no center point tend to look the other way out of fear. Even in the worst community it is still a small percentage of criminals, those communities that have banned together find that safety in numbers can make all the difference.

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  32. Gary says:

    To all the comments criticising these officers:
    The simple fact that you’re reading this blog and can post an articulate response implies that you don’t live or work in the areas that these cops do.
    I’d love a reliable law and order system where offenders are brought to justice, punished accordingly, rehabilitated and are released as model citizens. I doubt very much that I’m ever going to see one until there are a heck of a lot of social and economic reforms and even then, that won’t deal with the fundamentals of human nature.
    So before you start criticising, think what it would be like to be living in some horrendous inner city with drug dealers and gang bangers on all sides. Would you prefer the above cops or the ones that rely on the courts to sort everything out?

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  33. EDavis says:

    Legal issues and justice aside, how do they know that their strategies really do work? All they seem to have is anecdotal evidence that what they’re doing works better than the courts. I’m perfectly willing to accept that all of these strategies accomplish what these police officers think they accomplish but I think it ought to be based on real evidence.

    Of course then you also have to consider if the policies are just and reconcilable with our constitutional rights but that’s a moot point if they don’t actually work.

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  34. turph says:

    Be a victim of a violent, drug related or drunk driving crime…. Once you are, you will stop posting silly comments about all these scumbags rights.

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  35. Brandon LeNoir says:

    Bravo. I am tired of the constant pandering to those who break the law. Act like a decent human being and follow the law. If not, you get what you deserve. How hard is this?

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  36. Jeff says:

    That the perps hate these creative on-the-spot punishments, and that the cops enjoy dishing them out, does not prove that it changes the perps’ behavior.

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  37. Baba Ghanoush says:

    Was that Judge Dredd you were talking to?

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  38. Brian says:


    So the cops don’t trust the courts. So the cops take the place of the courts. What about those of us who don’t trust the cops?

    I am a normal middle class suburb guy, but i have never had an interaction with the police where I found the officers to be trustworthy. In my limited and small time experience I have seen them lie on reports, falsify and ‘place’ evidence, rough people up without any cause, and ignore real crime because it was committed by a friend of theirs. It sounds like this is now refered to as ‘community policing’. I have a total distrust of cops and look to the courts as my only defence against them.

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  39. dirvish says:

    These officers should be fired.

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  40. DanC says:

    I have many friends who are Chicago cops. I would say that these officers above are extreme cases. Many officers will seek to mediate situations on the street, with the hope of finding solutions that prevent an escalation of conflict. They try to settle matters out of court.

    And I have known officers who have acted outside of the law, unlawful searches etc., with the knowledge that their arrest will not hold up in court but it does allow them to confiscate drugs, guns, or property. They aren’t as interested in making a case as they are in disturbing criminal activity. For example, they will walk up to a know drug house and knock on the door while shouting police. Inside they will hear activity, toilets flush etc. but they lack a search warrant to enter. They may claim that they heard something and force the door. Or they may just walk away content to have made the drug dealers aware of their presence. I have not heard of police imposing a street tax, except in corruption cases.

    For years, police have dropped off gang members in rival territory as a way to force rival gangs to reduce violence. Gangs tend to be more understanding these days of such incursions.

    And most officers do enjoy, really enjoy, the moments when they feel like they really helped someone. Even the most hardened cops want to think that they can salvage some good out of even the worst situation.

    But cases of testi-lie do bother me. Officers who fabricate testimony to make a case are crossing the line. That is going to far.

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  41. Rich Wilson says:

    That’s giving the cops a lot of power. There’s a saying about absolute power…

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  42. Christopher says:

    Ugh. If you believe the system is broken as, unfortunately, this cop does- you don’t solve things by further breaking the system.

    If you can’t handle working within the rules (you know, the Constitution)… then why not find another job?

    I’m all for creative law enforcement, sure. And, yes, there should be some leeway for a cop- two people committing the same crime may need to be treated differently. See: petty crime crack-down in NYC a decade or so ago.

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  43. Brian says:

    I can see why these officers feel like they need to take the law into their own hands (not that I agree with it). I personally feel the judicial system is seriously flawed. We have failed at separating punishment from rehabilitation and the result is that criminals are given absurdly long sentences with little rehabilitation (from what I hear, prison is more like higher education for criminals).

    Sentencing should be broken into two phases, punishment and rehabilitation. The intent is not to get “justice” since that is an elusive concept that is difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

    The punishment phase should be real punishment. For example, doing hard, manual labor (it should probably be pointless as well such as digging a ditch one day and filling it in the next). This punishment should be measured in days or weeks as opposed to years.

    The second phase would be rehabilitation. There is no point in releasing somebody that is just going to re-offend. This phase would have no minimum or maximum length. Somebody that is extremely unlikely to re-offend would be released immediately. Somebody that is highly likely to re-offend can be kept out of society and given the help they need to become a productive member of society.

    That being said, I think that we should also have far fewer laws. Obviously the “war on drugs” is a huge, monumental failure that is costing this country billions of dollars every year in enforcement. Prostitution should also be legalized and controlled. It would be far better to tax these kinds of things and use the money for education and rehabilitation programs.

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  44. Jake says:

    @ turph

    These “scumbags'” rights are the same rights I hold dear, namely, those granted by the Constitution:

    “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

    The Constitution gives everyone the same rights, whether criminals or model citizens. Read up on the Innocence Project (or even Grisham’s latest book) about what can happen when the cops want to nail someone with something–reason, logic and justice all fly out the window. Such helps none of us.

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  45. StCredZero says:

    The underlying theme here is not abuse of police power, though this undoubtedly happens. The important point is the lack of social pressure from the community, which can only be redressed right now with this sort of stepping outside the bounds.

    Once upon a time this sort of social pressure was mediated by parish priests or town elders. Now law is imposed from outside the community by uncaring bureaucracies. Police are recognizing that these communities are suffering from the lack of this key ingredient, and try to compensate. But in doing so, they weaken the system of laws and invite their own corruption.

    The solution is to give power back to the local communities.

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  46. James says:

    The problem to me seems to be less that police have too little power, and more that we punish criminals by giving them three hots and a cot and a great place to network on the taxpayer’s dime.

    For the most part, those solutions are a much more constructive than paying for someone to hang out in prison all day, and shame can be a significant motivator or deterrent. Organizing street brawls, on the other hand is a perfect example of why police shouldn’t be given the power these guys are asking for.

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  47. Andrew Morrison says:

    “Bravo. I am tired of the constant pandering to those who break the law. Act like a decent human being and follow the law. If not, you get what you deserve. How hard is this?”

    Well, here’s the thing. We have this whole concept called “due process”. It’s basically the idea that we make sure someone broke the law (or didn’t) before they are punished. These cops seem to want to administer punishment themselves, without the whole middle step of allowing the accused to defend themselves.

    Now, the reason that is there is to protect citizens from their police. We recognize that a position of power lends itself to abuse. The question is, how do we minimize that abuse? The answer would seem to be to make people accountable. If we allow police to have free reign over punishment, we will find that this abuse will pervade society as a whole.

    Think about it. Police are not fundamentally better than any other civilian. If we accept that the goal of a police force is to prevent crime, isn’t the benefit of such a force negated by allowing them to commit crimes themselves?

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  48. Clayton says:

    @Baba: “I am the Law!”

    I’m not sure what to think of this. Most of the time when I think of Police taking power into their own hands I think of them abusing power corruptly. Of course no policy could work this way, but if police did actually punish criminals in these ways, based on community response, I wouldn’t be opposed. If a hippy was smoking marijuana in his house and the majority of a community thought it wasn’t a problem, they could ask for him to be left alone, while in another community they may as for the meth dealer to give all his money to the community center. I would never work large scale, but even in small doses, having criminals get what they deserve is true justice.

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  49. Gary G says:

    It’s not about coddling criminals or assuming all cops are untrusthworthy and corrupt. EDavis has it right – if these sorts of approaches can be shown effective, by real evidence and not just anecdotes of one biased group in the discussion, then these approaches can be implemented in a reasonable, equitable manner. I suspect there’s plenty of opportunity here.

    If not, then we should be pretty cautious about offering our support and kudos to these actions, even knowing the officers are doing a difficult job in difficult and dangerous circumstances.

    And turph… we’re not talking about scumbags’ rights. We’re talking about OUR rights.

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  50. jonathan says:

    And you’ve given a good list of why the police should not be given that autonomy.

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  51. misterb says:

    If these answers are representative, they tell us what kind of people become cops. After all, they get paid minimallly for the danger and discomfort they face in the job – they’ve got to get something they value out of it. Clearly, what they value is the opportunity to tell their fellow citizens what to do. Unfortunately, those are exactly the last kind of people that you want actually providing instruction (see Lord Acton).
    The good – immediate feedback is the best way to train people.
    The bad – not only does it give too much power into the hands of people unsuited for it, but the way that they do it obviously doesn’t work.
    In fact, their folk remedies are part of the ecosystem that perpetuates criminal behaviors. If we truly want to stop criminality, we have to stop criminal sub-cultures from “approving” criminal acts. As far as i can tell, nobody is willing to take such drastic steps.

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  52. Mike says:

    Gary, #32, I’ll just reference your first paragraph in it’s entirety and simply claim that you undermined your own position, since you also are posting on this blog.

    Similarly, turph, #34, I was a victim of violent crime, and I most certainly will continue with my post. Scumbags have rights as much as I do – otherwise justice does not exist.

    If we willingly discard the right to a fair trial, then we’re sunk. There may be a place for some amount of self-policing and vigilanteeism in a society, but state-sponsored vigilanteeism is the worst of all worlds. It’s worse than mob justice, or even no justice, it’s anti-justice. It’s the warden from the Shawshank Redemption.

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  53. Sonny Day says:

    There are three components to the law enforcement system; the police, the courts, and the prisons.

    The most visible to the general public are of course the police, and there is a seemingly constant appeal for more cops on the beat. However what gets overlooked is that you can’t increase JUST one part of this tripartite system. Part of the reason that cops don’t “trust” the courts is because the courts are almost never have similarly expanded capacity to match the increases in policing. More arrests require more lawyers and judges to deal with the cases, but this rarely happens and you get court gridlock and unprepared DAs or crown attorneys, or cases just totally thrown out because they couldn’t be dealt with in a timely fashion, or people put on house arrest because there is no prison space to house them.

    I think part of the problem is that its not popular or sexy for politicians to say that they have going to hired a bunch of lawyers or stenographers or bailiffs, but if they can say that they put 100 new cops on the beat, well that’s something to campaign on.

    There are many of really good reasons why summary justice is allowed only when decreed due to the direst of emergencies. The potential for corruption and abuse are just too great. Nobody likes wife beaters, but I’m sure that there are many people who are falsely accused of domestic abuse, and those people shouldn’t be publicly shamed or face any penalty until they have had an opportunity to defend themselves.

    If one or two parts of the system aren’t working, the answer is not to give all of the power to the other part, but rather to FIX those other parts, so that people can be granted all the protections that due process affords, while still enabling justice to be carried out swiftly.

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  54. dan p says:

    All this post proves is that you definitely can’t trust the cops (and you probably still can’t ‘trust’ the courts). Bravo to #21.

    What we should focus on then is education (vocational, life, academics) and create an atmosphere where less people turn to crime because of other, better opportunities.

    Keep lives, justice, and as much as possible out of the hands of the government… because all they’re doing is tearing up the social contract anyway.

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  55. Anon says:

    Every one of these cops should be fired. This is terrifying and unforgivable.

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  56. ziggurat says:

    The police have an enormous amount of power and discretion regarding if and when to arrest someone. For anyone close to the middle class, getting arrested is enormously expensive. You need a lawyer and you are now permanently listed as a criminal.

    They also have the authority not to arrest someone. I think that anytime they can do something short of arrest that addresses a problem, then great.

    Absolutely no problem with taking someone drugs and tossing them down a sewer or taking a bottle away from someone and pouring out the (alcoholic) contents. Also a major league lecture and maybe even other forms of embarrassment.

    The idea of discouraging the behavior outside the criminal justice system seems not only like a good idea, but is really the only possible way to address minor problems.

    However, when it comes to people getting roughed, etc. that’s going too far, and even most cops would likely agree.

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  57. John says:

    I thought cops were supposed to enforce the law. It seems to me these cops are breaking a lot of laws to avoid having to do their job.

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  58. A cop says:

    I am a police officer, and I recognize the challenges that all cops face, regardless of where they work. I see the day-to-day mission of my job as ensuring that people (individually) play by the rules that people (collectively) set for themselves. That means that I have to play by those rules too.

    Is the justice system dysfunctional? In some ways it is. Is it my job to work for change? Yes, that’s why I vote. Can I just disregard rules because I see them as burdensome or ineffective? No — that’s the difference between me and a criminal.

    Not all my colleagues agree, but many do.

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  59. tndal says:

    Sorry, Sudhir, I worked for a big-city police department and your stories don’t ring true. I think your editor needs to do some research into your sources: I believe these stories are fabricated -whether by you or by the “officers” involved.

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  60. JonBlo says:

    This articles stuff is common knowledge. Cops have a tough job, you’d miss them if they left.

    They can’t get the power they want, legally – wouldn’t work. Some good things happen, some bad things happen. Such is life. Write about something interesting.

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  61. Travis says:

    “sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

    Anyone else see “Training Day”?

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  62. Billy says:

    What no one is recognizing here is that when these “extreme” reactions take place, it is highly likely that doubt of the crime is non-existent. It’s doubtful a cop would go to the trouble on “possibilities” of crimes taken place. So those who are spouting on about “due process” and “constitutional rights” are just silly.

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  63. GeneralDisarray says:

    Wow, look at comments 57-60. Could you get a better array of responses?

    How about some quotes from judges, Sudhir? Do they think they’re powerless in this game? Do they like cops handing out justice on the streets or would they want to handle it in their courts?

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  64. benf says:

    “Police are not fundamentally better than any other civilian.”–but they are trained to arrest and even use lethal force when necessary, and in such matters we trust their judgement and experience. If we trust them to do this, is it so strange that we might trust them to use some unorthodox tactics, albeit illegal?

    Separation of powers–If one branch feels as though another branch is not working correctly, it seems a natural reaction that this first branch would modify its behavior, even if it means acting outside its granted power.

    Now I don’t intend to condone this illegal activity, but many of the comments seem to be treating this as a black and white issue–either this is absolutely right or absolutely wrong–when none of us on the outside can know the whole story, much less form a decided opinion after reading one blog post.

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  65. Vico says:

    I’d like to see you interview the criminals that these police officers have dealt with and see if it was effective.

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  66. JOhn thomas says:

    LOL, he left out the part where the cops pocket the drugs and the drug money for personal use and sale. LOL, corruption is bliss.


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  67. Corban says:

    Law vs. Justice. A tragic as this choice is, it forces you to prioritize. These officers clearly feel that judges administer the law but cannot dispense justice, and therefore want a system that’s better aligned. If you don’t have a better way, then don’t just whine about their approaches.

    I for one applaud them. Their approaches can be poetic. Clearly it gives them job satisfaction, and it does alter the criminal disincentives. Freakonomics readers, is that not a right step towards changing behaviors?

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  68. jimmy new says:

    This is one of the most shocking posts I’ve read in a long time. Did these men become police officers to “serve and protect” or to be judge, jury and executioner? I didn’t realize they were experts in law. We read too many stories about people being wrongly convicted so just imagine how many people are wrongly accused. I wonder how many innocent men and women were hurt, abused, or shamed wrongfully by these men and there cohorts. Thanks for posting where these individuals
    work(ed) because I now know at least a few areas I will be avoiding.

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  69. Jory says:

    Academically speaking, this is really fascinating stuff! I wonder if you would get some of the same types of responses from rural policemen (all your interviewees were urban or suburban). Is this part of a larger study you are doing?

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  70. Gym Jones says:

    The FBI has caught many law enforcement officers living waaaay beyond their means with multiple houses, boats, even private planes and no way to explain how they got them. But the Police Union says the FBI has no right to audit them every 2 years to keep them honest. If they’re not doing anything wrong, then what are they afraid of?

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  71. Anonymous says:

    Gym Jones: “But the Police Union says the FBI has no right to audit them every 2 years to keep them honest. If they’re not doing anything wrong, then what are they afraid of?”

    Who have I heard saying this before? Oh yes, that’s right, THE POLICE. :)

    Seriously, anyone in a position of power needs to be independently audited. It’s the only way to even keep a veil of honesty about their work.

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  72. Mike says:

    Frightening, what these cops say they do in the name of justice. Absolutely frightening.

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  73. 41Shots says:

    Yes, as far as I know many cops already consider themselves judge, jury and executioner. Do these pigs really believe they have the right to punish someone before there is any investigation to prove if the person is guilty? If I called the police on a random person and said that person beat me up, the cop has the right to punish him on the spot? No. These PIGS need to get over themselves.

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  74. Boldizar says:

    The cops you quote here are the best of the bunch. But bad cops use the same “discretion” to simply assert their own power and ego.

    Google “NYPD Rant” and see what the NYPD cops say when they are anonymous. I have never seen a forum as hate-filled as NYPD Rant.

    Many consider themselves not just cop, judge and jury, but God, and a lot of their ultra vires actions are to ensure they get the “respect” they deserve. This is a gangster mentality. In their view, there are MOS and there are “the animals.”

    It is insane for our society to want to give unfettered discretion to people with suboptimal intelligence and education, insufficient salaries, and a gang culture. We already give them guns and power; that’s scary enough.

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  75. Alan Brown says:

    Maybe if this sort of policing works out badly for you, you’re just in the wrong community? The cops are just going to enforce their community’s moral standards; if they fail, then firing them solves the problem, just like with any job.

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  76. Adam says:

    Police officers are not the best compensated workers in terms of wages so it seems likely that a lot of people are joining the profession seeking other forms of compensation. Status, in this case power with few checks or restrictions, may be one of those alternative compensation mechanisms.

    While this report is chilling, I’m actually amazed at how effective our justice system is at restraining police from this sort behavior. While the officers here speak with a lot of bravado, I wonder how there actions would be received within their prescient offices?

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  77. John C. Randolph says:

    The impression I get from this article is that we should not employ full-time policemen, but go to an arrangement rather like the volunteer fire departments. Elect a sheriff from the local community, whose sole authority is to call up the posse if there’s a need to make an arrest.

    If the posse doesn’t want to arrest a cancer patient for smoking dope, they won’t. If a local punk gets arrested by the posse, it’s made up of people who know him, and who know his mom.

    There are not, and will never be enough policemen to keep us safe. Our safety depends on ourselves, our neighbors, and our willingness to defend ourselves, or intervene when we see a crime in progress. Our founding fathers understood this when they ratified the bill of rights.


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  78. Johnny says:

    Dear Officers,

    You’ll have to excuse me if I’m reluctant to give unlimited discretion to people who have to pass only the most basic literacy and judgment tests before they get guns, mace, clubs. and almost total indemnity.

    I love Dirty Harry as much as the next guy, but not all police officers are like Dirty Harry. Some of them are like the police officers in Dirty Harry 2: Magnum Force.

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  79. Mason says:

    Is there any corroboration for these stories? Some of these sound too implausible. No need to reveal sources but I’d like to know there’s more than just a story from a cop.

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  80. Tim says:

    I have met far too many people who simply hate the police. They base their world view on law enforcement off of the select stories that make headlines: police brutality, excessive searching, etc. An educated step back is required to see all of the things that go unreported– the good work that the majority of policemen do everyday. I appreciate and support the efforts of the good men and women that make up our law enforcement.

    That being said, this article reflects extremely poorly on the three officers who provided the information. It is important not to generalize their actions to all of law enforcement, but I think I speak for most rational minds when I say that this type of behavior is very unbecoming of a police officer. I understand that fighting crime is a difficult job and I do not claim that I could do it, but if the frustration you experience as a part of your work causes you to take the law into your own hands, law enforcement is not the correct career choice for you.

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  81. Dave says:

    #62, if it is so “highly likely that doubt of the crime is non-existent”, what’s wrong with letting the case go to trial?

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  82. david p. says:

    these stories only further establish the sneaking suspicion that many people have about police: they are arrogant jerks who love being above the law, like to bully, and relish in it.

    their JOB isn’t to JUDGE, it’s to police. both a noun and a verb.

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  83. John B. says:

    I cannot believe the number of Americans who believe in such unconstitutional and frankly un-American visions of crime and punishment. I suppose there is a very real reason the Founding Fathers added a Bill of rights.

    A lot of what you hear from the “man on the street” type is what passes for justice in the slums of Iraq. It is, in my view, idiocy masquerading as toughness.

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  84. somebody says:

    This article about police makes me think of the public school systems and that there are staff in the school system who also take a lot of leverage and power and operate in a free handed mafia manner and they believe in something when they do it except half the time they are nuts, the other half of the time they practice overt favoritism and route around the real professionals, in fact they scared of anyone smarter or sophisticated or who is not on the take and does not put out that vibe. What this article is really describing is a nightmare scenario for an honest worker.

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  85. Geoff, Ohio says:

    Thank you, #37! I was thinking exactly the same thing, though perhaps more upon the line of Judge Deth.

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  86. Ron Clements says:

    Why am I not surprised that this appeared in the most liberal newspaper in the country? There are reasons some of these cops do what they do. I am in favor of some police vigilateism if the system isn’t working. It’s too bad some of your foolish readers can’t see that, too.

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  87. Scott says:

    Funny that the very justification for formal, personally distanced policing by a professional force goes out the window when things get tough.

    We’re not supposed to mete out our own justice on the spot. If someone wrongs you, you are taught to call the police. Let the courts and system handle it. Make sure we are civilized and punish the correct person.

    But these testimonies from actual officers in some of the worst crime-ridden cities in the USA would advocate going back to vigilante justice. Let the tough guy mete out the judgment and punishment, on the spot.

    Should work fine, just like it used to, as long as your cops are not corrupt, biased, prejudiced, etc.

    They should be fired.

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  88. dmh says:

    The ironic thing is that I read this post at the same time I saw this other post:

    The point here is that letting cops play judge is a really mixed bag. You can say that the court system doesn’t work and rail against it, but in the end the court system exists to keep people as disinterested parties and not let their own politics be dispensed on the street. To me, the interviews with the cops, as gleeful as it sounds, sounds wholly equivalent of what the taliban did.

    Crime is a problem, yes, but I’m not sure how any of this “street justice” stems crime, but rather just serves as an outlet for sadism.

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  89. Matt C says:

    This isn’t good, and it isn’t a positive.

    It certainly ought to raise eyebrows instead of garner support for this kind of behavior.

    On the whole, it is disturbing that police find themselves in a role that can usurp the protections set forth for both police and the public.

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  90. ed says:

    Those of you praising this corrupt cop are crazy. I hope someday you have to clean up the mess when your child or spouse encounters one of these fascists.

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  91. Aaron K says:

    Why are police officers meting out justice on the street? because the system doesn’t work.

    we need to fix the system so that people are treated equitably in the face of the law. These anecdotes are all examples of injustice, the law being unfairly applied to people. Some people get to do drugs while another person watches. One person gets shamed while the other goes to jail.

    Too many people can’t separate their emotions from punishment. And that separation is what makes us a civilized society- that we can somehow seperate our anger, our indignation from retribution so that the punishment fits the crime, but is not revenge.

    Tsk tsk. Stories like this merely reflect the overall reason why its difficult to trust the police. Who polices them? clearly no one.

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  92. Matt says:

    This is a truly scary idea. Cops can hardly be trusted to do their current job and the idea of them meting out punishment is frightening. I think of the poor guy here in Fort Collins who just got out after 10 years in jail when it was discovered that the cops hid evidence. Ugh!

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  93. Steve says:

    It seems that almost all of the crime that these thugs are targeting is drug related. Imagine how a sane drug policy would soon put an end to this?

    This (rather than promoting mindless vigilantism) should be the focus of a site that deals in economic issues since this is really a problem of misplaces economic incentives.

    What these cops don’t seem to understand is that they are part of the government structure that in reality serves to props up drug prices and allow the criminals to prosper.

    When we finally get sane policies, people will wonder why it took so long.

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  94. Bill says:

    Am a retired police captain in a major league city.

    The question is do the ends justify the means. Can we do something wrong as an official and get a right result?

    When we start down that road that says we can, we find ourselves in the position that it is alright to fabricate evidence to invade Iraq or the other crimes listed in this discussion by supposed members of law enforcement that we wish to justify.

    The criminal justice system is designed to take the passion out of the system and to weigh the evidence.

    It is a good system. If there are faults where you live, address the faults, correct the system.

    If we abuse the system by the outlandish actions described, we destroy America.

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  95. Jay B says:

    “Is there any corroboration for these stories? Some of these sound too implausible. No need to reveal sources but I’d like to know there’s more than just a story from a cop.”

    My sentiments precisely. I’m sensing this writer is embellishing, if not fabricating this piece.

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  96. Nikhil Punnoose says:

    You have got to be kidding! How can you people CONDONE these policies, much less celebrate them?

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  97. Tom Human says:

    I guess none of that “Constitution/Bill of Rights” stuff ever really took hold with Americans.

    Still, this article made me feel pretty sick. I had no idea how much people hated the liberties that, I thought, made America great, that, I thought, everyone shared, that I thought was my reason for coming here.

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  98. jin says:

    i think these tactics described by experienced cops are valid – as in, i think they can be effective. when you are training children or animals, they tell you to always make the consequence happen as close to the infraction as possible. otherwise, the lesson gets lost. alas, to think that many “adults” are far beyond children or animals is wildly optimistic.

    and there is no problem at all if you have wise, well meaning and benevolent cops.

    : )

    see? that’s the problem, there’s no guarantee… checks and balances is all about not trusting anyone to be trustworthy let alone competent. and so we have our system….

    it may be ineffective but the general stupidity and iniquity of humanity makes all the red tape essential. do we really need any more citizen shot video to know this is true?

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  99. Lord Acton says:

    Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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  100. roundish says:

    “Act like a decent human being and follow the law. If not, you get what you deserve. How hard is this?”

    Yeah, I’m sure you never exceed the speed limit. I guarantee I could find a way to charge you for enough to potentially put you in jail for the rest of your life, even without the ‘Patriot Act.’ “Show me the man and I’ll show you his crime.”

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  101. Thomas says:

    I understand where they’re coming from (the cops) but I’m scared when I read about their practices. The fact that they work doesn’t mean that they should be practiced. And some of them don’t even make any sense (why would you have two rival gangs fight each other? for fun? and wouldn’t the gangs do this anyway?)

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  102. roundish says:

    *By “jail” I meant “prison.”

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  103. David says:

    “There are reasons some of these cops do what they do”…”I am in favor of some police vigilantism” (sp)…

    Spoken like a “conservative” (read:fascist). All this country needs is VISCIOUS BEATINGS or TORTURE to solve our problems. The police are supposed to be a taxi service…pick em up, take em to jail.

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  104. Sondre R. says:

    These stories are absolutely obnoxious. I hope they are fabricated as some posters suggested. If they are true they exemplify the worst kind of power abuse and longing for medieval “mobcourts” rather than the modern justice system.

    Ofcourse, one could always work for a more efficient and just court. But mob rule is as bad as it gets. Guilty until proved innocent.

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  105. Mario says:

    Ironic, his comments about driving drunk and beating the wife. How many cops could we count among the perpetrators of these two crimes?

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  106. kevin says:

    You lost me with “be the jury.”


    Many of the stories dealt with drugs. Hmm. Drugs that we’ve banned for 90 years that are still all over the streets. Hmm. What ever could we do about that?

    I’d love to see a real honest-to-goodness Freakanomics evaluation of legalizing drugs. Maybe you’ve done one and I’m not aware.

    Anyway, cops who the kind of things mentioned above are over stepping.

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  107. g8or8de says:

    What the police are said to be doing is clearly wrong.

    But, I can’t help but think that perhaps this behaviour is a reaction against the ineffective justice system in societies today.

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  108. Max says:

    I always thought a good idea for a PhD would be extra-judicial killings in American cinema and its affect on the police. Lots of this stuff is nicely outside of the law.

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  109. Tom says:

    There are two types of cops: those who have a desire to make society a better place and those who get off on dominating others. They may be a minority, but some cops are psychopaths and the public needs a legal system for its protection.

    I do not doubt that our legal system impedes good cops from efficiently solving problems, but even they are not infallible. Yes, well-meaning people can be wrong. If the legal system is dysfunctional, fix it rather than ditch it.

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  110. Cronan says:


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  111. Ian says:

    So why should we mourn when a cop gets shot? They are just gang members with a different uniform. Oh, that and we pay them. We pay them more that we pay school teachers (by far).

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  112. dave says:

    That article truly re-enforced my distaste for police. Who do they think they are? Since when do they get to decide who is guilty and how to punish them? That is completely ridiculous. Obviously our legal system is not perfect, but nothing is. There are a lot of things I would like to do at my job that I think would make me more effective. However I am not permitted to, and if I did, I would get fired. Next you’ll be telling me that cops should get to write the laws too.

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  113. Malcolm says:


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  114. Robert Beattey says:

    The only difference between what the police officers interviewed suggest and the current system is that it makes the police officers feel better. Nothing they suggest addresses the need to deter crime in the first place, or explains how their retribution is better then hauling them before a judge and letting a prosecutor have a crack at them.

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  115. Chad says:

    I’m appalled at the number of comments here in support of this type of policing. None of them seem to realize two fundamental things: immediate “judgments” on the street are often wrong, and unchecked power corrupts.

    When cops work like this, it is the bad elements of society that benefit, not the good people. How easy is it for a pissed-off wife to accuse her husband of abuse (unfounded). Or how about a drug dealer using the police to wipe out a rival, or even an activist against drugs, simply by accusing them.

    Under this police-as-judge practice there is no presumption of innocence, no burden of proof, and most importantly, no mechanism for restitution for travesties of justice, and no oversight. The innocent but accused become the victims, and the accusers (and possibly guilty parties) become the winners.

    This sort of practice is an abomination to justice. Yes, the current “justice” system is more of a “legal” system with some major problems. But that’s a case for reforming it, not bypassing it.

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  116. Mark says:

    Judge Dredd.
    Who knew Sylvester Stallone was a visionary!

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  117. Cicero Suave says:

    Very interesting article…While I don’t agree that cops should be able to deal justice how they see fit (the court system was established to avoid this at all costs), I DO believe some of the stated methods would be more beneficial than administering a fine or getting locked up for a little while. Would you rather quietly go to jail for 30 days (then get out and everything is cool) or would you rather be publicly humiliated in front of your entire neighborhood (which the negative effects most likely will last longer..mentally at least) I’ll take the 30 days (and you’ll be out in 22-23 for good behavior..I’ve been there)

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  118. Darrel says:

    agreed Greg.

    the overemotional MADD dogs have forced the imposition of draconian drunk driving laws, much to the statists’ pleasure. having these overzealous cops enforce it adds insult to injury.

    it’s absurd to think that every persons tolerance to alcohol is the same. why don’t these jack-booted cops suggest something like a drunk-driving license.

    state departments of safety could sanction tests on one’s ability to drive “under the influence”. alcohol consumed in a controlled environment and blood alcohol measured accurately. if appropriate tests measuring ability to drive is passed your license is stamped with the limit measured. the licensing may be handled similarly to state conceal-carry licensing.

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  119. Bahamut says:

    This is EXACTLY the problem with the police. They think they should have the absolute power to be judge, jury and executioner.

    The fact of the matter is is that anytime you create a position of power with little to no oversight, it can go to both extremes. Maybe cops with this power would make the society better but anytime you create a position of power, a good person may reign for 99 days but the bad person can destroy it all on the 100th.

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  120. Oyp says:

    Ineffective courts or ineffective cops?

    The cops want to blame someone for criminals being released back onto the streets. They don’t want to take responsibility themselves for not making the cases, so they conclude that the courts are ineffective.

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  121. Oil says:

    And this is why people hate cops , Their crooked.

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  122. Laura says:

    “Well, here’s the thing. We have this whole concept called “due process”. It’s basically the idea that we make sure someone broke the law (or didn’t) before they are punished.”

    In these situations, I’m comfortable trusting the police to make the call that the person did actually commit a crime. If the police have pulled drugs, money, or a gun from your person, I agree with their assessment that you have likely broken the law. If they approach your house and find your wife with a black eye after a 911 call in which she reports that you are beating her, I also think the police are correct in assuming that you have committed an act of domestic violence. In this situation, I trust the courts less than the police to make an appropriate judgment of guilt or innocence.

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  123. Jeff says:

    I’ve seen enough Law and Order episodes to know where this will end up.

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  124. AaronS says:

    When it is perceived that the legal system is impotent, vigilante justice (or in this case, a hybrid mix of police/vigilante justice) begins to exert itself.

    When a child rapist/killer can stay on deathrow for years, long after the ever-grieving grandparents have died, you start realizing that our courts are not run by salt-of-the-earth people, but by elitists.

    They went to Law School, have been exposed to all sorts of “thinking” on punihment.

    When you watch a movie with a particularly bad guy in it, you don’t want the guy to just be handcuffed and taken to jail. No, you want a boulder to fall on him, you want a anti-tank missle to hit him square in the chest, you want your martial arts hero to kick the guy so hard that…you get the idea.

    But that is missing in our justice! A drunk driver that puts my child at lethal risk may have numerous DUIs to his credit. Then, when he finally does kill an innocent family, it’s too late.

    The solution to much crime is, I believe, very simple: Prompt, strong punishment.

    If a guy is convicted of a heinous murder, and if the evidence is conclusive (e.g., DNA evidence, video evidence, confession), he has six months to live. Period. Then, while the crime is still in recent memory, execute him.

    Do this enough times with these “absolutely guilty” people, and the message is going to get through.

    Find some creative, shaming, tough punishment for ANY CRIME and it starts drying up. If drug dealers KNOW that if they are caught this, this, and this is CERTAINLY going to happen to them, they’re going to be thinking very differently about their business.

    I’m all for vigilante justice IF the legal system is failing us. If the people in a neighborhood burn down a crack house, fine with me.

    If they beat a notorious and violent drug dealer to death, I’ll shed no tears.

    They shouldn’t have to resort to this “uncivilized” behavior, though. The legal system should make it unnecessary.

    So, I applaud the cops who are SINCERLY trying to do the right thing, and are SINCERLY about justice. If their heart is in the right place on this matter, I think we have little to fear.

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  125. Erik says:

    This is a frightening article. Having a job where you get to be dictator of your neighborhood must be nice.

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  126. November says:

    This is the scariest thing I’ve read in a long time.

    “…a healty distrust of the court system.”
    One major reason our legal system is ineffective is because it’s constantly being underminded by the people sworn to uphold and utilize it.

    Also – with regard to ‘neighborhood justice’ & letting community members choose the punishment – I must say: “yeah right!” My first apartment was in a crime addled neighborhood. Everyone complained about the crime, but when I suggested a neighborhood watch, everyone got real quite. The upstanding members of these neighborhoods are not innocent. The “moms and dads” in these areas are the crack dealers best customers & don’t think the “street justice” style police aren’t getting their cut. In the downtrodden neighborhoods, everyone’s hands are dirty. It’s a real shame.

    Non-criminal gov’t interaction would probably be way more affective. Drug couseling, career counseling, anger management, parenting classes – the gov’t doesn’t want to get involved until these people are so far gone they’ve given up or have been harassed by “street justice” cops for so long, they don’t even want gov’t involvement.

    This whole article made me sick & I love police. The ones who employ the use of the actual legal system – the ones who truly serve and protect are heroes, they are the real majority & we must not let a bushel of sickoes defame their good names.

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  127. Mo says:

    My encounter with some cops: my brother was driving and I was riding and speeding and got pulled over in a trap (multiple cops). Two officers came over separately and quoted different speeds. When confronted with this fact the officers switched things around, claimed they hadn’t said one thing, made it clear they were not sure what the speed was…they LIED. We knew we were speeding, but they thought it appropriate to lie (and lie to the judge on the ticket) because we were guilty anyhow. Just because we were guilty does not give them the right to fudge the law or truth.

    I grew up trusting cops (FYI, we are white middle-class males) but this experience changed my opinion.

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  128. Mike says:

    Watching the TV show “COPS” I learned that it must be hard to be a cop and trust anyone. I constantly see the suspects lying and lying and then admitting that they were lying. I was even believing them at one point. That has to take a toll on the cops.

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  129. Steve says:

    Posted by AaronS – “When it is perceived that the legal system is impotent, vigilante justice (or in this case, a hybrid mix of police/vigilante justice) begins to exert itself.”

    Impotent? You Americans incarcerate more people, by far, than any other remotely comparable modern democracy, yet all I hear is how “the system doesn’t keep criminals off the street”! Bull. You have created an enourmous underclass that can never survive without the proceeds of crime since once they are branded with the tag of criminal, there is almost no way out.

    Then you stupidly create drug laws that make all associated activity enormously profitable. You are idiots and all other countries suffer to some extent by this.

    Its time that the EC, Canada, Japan and Australia all banded together to “Just Say No” to this stupidity. Give the addicts what they need, in a controlled way and we’ll stop creating most of the new ones. No more corrupt cops, no more murder and mayhem…..destroyed neighbourhoods will regenerate. I could go on and on.

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  130. Elena says:

    I’ve often thought that we’ve so purified the jury selection process that we no longer really have a jury of peers. That is, people who know the defendent; people who are from the defendent’s community and who understand just how the community works. It sounds like the police have used the jury of peers-who-know to help them in their policing duties.

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  131. Matt says:

    The only reason someone becomes a police officer is to satisfy an inferiority complex.

    I don’t believe that there exists an altruistic police officer. I’ve certainly never met one. They only exist in the movies.

    The reason why no one can do anything about them is that the moment you stand up, you get targeted. And it’s impossible to get support from others, because they don’t want to be targeted too.

    And then there’s the douchebags like Aaron who cheer them on. I say: if you want policing like that, move to Iran.

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  132. jimboo says:

    One of my law professors put it this way.
    Two guys get their cars towed.
    Guy #1 has four kids, no job and doesn’t have the $235 for the ticket and the tow. He’s in deep ca ca.
    Guy #2 has his secretary take care of it.
    As between Guy #1 and Guy #2 there is no justice.
    As between the People and Guy #1 & #2, there is.
    Kids, grow up to be Guy #2.

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  133. Faye says:

    I like the idea of social punishment, but there is so much room for abuse of power here.

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  134. greg says:

    The arrogance of ignorance is on full display here. Clueless. There are ways to change the system, but not by allowing police to become another street gang. These guys act in the public’s name and should be taught to do their job. The poor training and supervision is obvious. It sounds cheap and easy to let police be thugs — Judge Judy is popular after all, but discredits the courts — society pays the price when authority arrogates power to itself, just as crime exacts a price.

    Many if not all police are angry and dysfunctional as people. The idea that they are doing things “for the public” could be tested — ask them to work without salary.

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  135. Reggie says:

    Of course cops don’t trust the judicial system. No street gang does.

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  136. Margot says:

    I feel sorry for the innocents that these cops pass judgement on without any evidence.

    The cops might not trust the court system, but it’s there specifically to prevent abuses like this from becoming commonplace.

    The revenge theme plays out in each cop’s response. This just feeds the stereotype that cops are kids who got beat up in school and are trying to get revenge by gaining power over people they perceive as representative of their childhood abusers.

    Really sad stuff.

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  137. Fourth, five and sixth amendments says:

    With all due respect, the policeman you interviewed here is a criminal, and you are not doing us any favors by reporting on his crimes approvingly.

    It is shocking that this officer not only brags about flouting the very laws that he is sworn to protect, but actually thinks it would be a good idea to legally remove oversight by the judicial branch of government.

    I don’t doubt at all the most cops could solve a lot of problems if we gave them more power.

    The problem is, how many more problems would this create? Police abuse is common even with the small amount of power they now enjoy:

    Have a look here, some very smart people thought of better of this sort of thing (4th, 5th and 6th are particularly pertinent):

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  138. luke says:

    this greatly disturbs me. i already feel that they tend not to take responsibility for their actions, but vigilantism is really going too far.

    however, there is something important to be learned from this: our current system of jailing criminals is not the most effective.

    clearly, these cops don’t think so. likewise, most people who support decriminalization of drug use agree. jail just doesn’t do it, and yet we cling to this idea we have that prisoners can be reformed by prison sentences.


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  139. benf says:

    It’s hypocritical to condemn these police without taking a look at ourselves. “Don’t break the law; fix the system” we say. But I’ll reference what #104 brought up about speeding while driving. We all break the law every day when we speed; I don’t see any of us complaining how we should stop speeding and work on fixing the system.

    It’s not a novel idea that right and wrong and where to draw the line is difficult to define. But if someone starts their post by saying that “OMG these guys are so horrible for breaking the law”, then I don’t really value that comment because I don’t trust that you’ve thought about the issue and the bigger picture. Not until you explain why you can break the law but the police officer can’t.

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  140. Andrew says:

    I think there are two things to be noted about this.

    1. The idea motivating the cops
    2. The actions of the cops

    The first issue, the motivating idea:

    The cops are recognizing that there are other forms of punishment that are more effective than those recognized by the courts. Shame is a huge motivating factor in effective punishment. Unfortunately, the court system is slow to change, and the majority of forms of punishment are jailtime or fines, which have proven to be ineffective deterrents.

    The second issue, the actions of the cops:

    The cops acting on their own, outside the system, is reprehensible. Regardless of why they were doing it, such abuses just break the system and will generally result in greater mistrust in police. Only by following the law exactly will police begin to become trusted again, I believe.

    The solution:

    Courts are beginning to see that other forms of punishment are more beneficial and result in lower recidivism rates. One great example is “drug court” – used for first-time drug users, this court is aimed at treating the underlying problem so that the offender will not need to use drugs again and will not become a repeat offender. A second example is victim-offender mediation, where a mediator gets the victim of a crime together with the offender, and the victim is given a change to understand why the crime took place, and the offender has a chance to understand the effect of his actions.

    For other examples, look up “Comprehensive Law” – a new method of lawyering that take a holistic approach. Comprehensive lawyers understand that each client and case is individual, with individual problems and stresses. Such lawyers are trained to help the client get what they want or need and look at the whole situation, not just the legal problem that brought the client to them. Comprehensive law is used in a wide variety of areas, including family law, criminal law, mediation, and civil law.

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  141. PaulK says:

    I think the issue here is the lag between offense and penalty. The cops here are trying to connect the offense with penalties over a short term, as opposed to the legal system which not only creates a long lag, but has many ways to fail to have any penalty – the price we pay for trying to avoid penalizing the innocent.
    We know from economics the effects of immediate reward vs. long term on behavior, so it is no surprise that the cops see this with immediate/short-term penalty vs. long term.
    The downside is how much one can trust a cop. As lawyers say, the decision of a judge is often based on what they had for breakfast, so imagine the decisions of a cop dealing with constant frustrations and a sense of hopelessness.

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  142. Henry Bowman says:

    So it’s OK if cops ignore the law? Cool, then it’s OK if I do. As long as none of us get caught, to be sure… but I think I can manage that.

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  143. Dan says:

    I too don’t want drug dealers on the street corner. It works much better if they deal from a premises. They can more easily display the merchandise and keep a wider variety of products. Just like any other good retailer.

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  144. E.Hanson says:

    I’m not sure why we need the police to do this type of stuff — it’s all stuff that The People should be doing.

    Then again, I suppose it’s *because* people don’t regulate themselves and take responsibility for their community that they call in “professionals” to do the job. That way they can complain about them while ignoring the fact that they themselves aren’t lifting a finger.

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  145. Dwayne says:

    I really appreciate this article, and it goes back to the very reason this blog was created. It’s apparent that the police in question have no incentive to follow the system as it stands. They became officers to enforce the law. Then they see these criminals leave the court system with a slap on the wrist. So they take the matter into their own hands to achieve the incentive they wanted- the relief that justice was served.

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  146. John says:

    Vigilante cops who disrespect the system. I don’t disagree that it is frustrating, but these cops are working outside the system, which only contributes to its failure. When a cop gets shot during a traffic stop, it is the same thing; a person with a twisted agenda taking things into their own hands. In both cases, it is wrong.

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  147. Chaos Motor says:

    “I AM THE LAW!”

    You do realize Judge Dredd was a parody of a corrupt legal system, and NOT something to strive for, right? What you describe is not a system of justice any more than our current “justice” system is, it’s just injustice on a more immediate scale. That doesn’t make it desirable.

    And this presumes that no cops are corrupt, EVER, which is pretty much a hilarious assumption.

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  148. Enzo says:

    This is why I hate the cops. The cops are just as big a problem as the criminals. They abuse their power all the time and get away with it. If you arrest a guy and he gets back out, that means you don’t have enough evidence or he did nothing wrong dickhead.

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  149. Dixon says:

    Very interesting article. For me, it raises another Freakonomics question: what type of person is more likely to accept the police as both cop and judge? I think the answer is that in most high crime areas law abiding citizens would accept a higher level of police acting as cop and judge. The article mentions that the police felt that people in urban, high-crime areas participated more in their brand of justice than suburban citizens. I have also observed that people in Sao Palo (an area of Brazil that is known for high crime) have embraced police tactics such as warentless surch. It seems to me that there is probably an equilibrium between crime and how willing people are to give the police a free hand.

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  150. hosswire says:

    These “community-based” extra-legal tactics might be reasonable, fair and effective if they are practiced within the environment of a true community.

    That is, someplace where all the actors know one another and creative policing techniques that become abusive are subject to some kind of negative extra-legal feedback such as social stigma on the abusers.

    In the context of most urban settings however, this kind of feedback is less likely. Police can therefore more easily treat those they are supposed to be protecting and serving as “the other” and leave the results behind at the end of their shift.

    I understand the frustration with an inefficient system, but these departures from set regulations looks to be a move towards corruption, arbitrariness, sadism and other unacceptable behavior.

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  151. Othar Hugh Manati says:

    The saddest thing for me in reading many of these posts is how so many people, who live in a country where they have benefited from a constitutionally tempered rule of law vs. the raw power of an armed elite, are so vocally in favor of the latter.

    Perhaps such people should live for some time in one of the many places on this planet where the police or de facto ruling militia *are* empowered to be judge, jury, and executioner. Americans have become so jaded to their hard-won (by others) civil rights that they have no conception of what life would be like without them.

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  152. hosswire says:

    More succinctly:

    Abandoning procedures makes us totally reliant on individual police officers’ ethics to guarantee appropriate behavior. The potential for abuse is too great to allow.

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  153. ian says:


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  154. jz says:

    #135 stepped over the line, pushing me to respond.

    I work in emergency medicine. I have personally witnessed police find homeless patients from soup kitchens and the streets to return them to us for unanticipated care. I’ve seen officers carefully explain nuances of law to frightened families. I’ve seen them lock up homes for hospitalized patients worried about theft at home.

    The cynicism WRT police here is extreme.

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  155. Efrain Rojas says:

    As much as I would like to give cops the ability to dispense justice on the spot, unfortunately, here in Los Angeles we have a history of rogue police work. I would like to see the police turn a blind eye to righteous retribution on the part of the aggrieved. Part of the reason gangs exist is because law a iding citizens are afraid of getting caught up in the justice system for defending their dignity and property. Thanks a whole lot ACLU!!

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  156. samS. says:

    I saw the battle royales in Anchor Man and West Side Story, and those were real, so I TOTALLY believe that cops act as referees for melee battles with hoodlums. Yeah. That is so true. If they ever did do that, or any of this other crap listed above, none of which has the sniff of truth, they should all go to jail and be placed in general population since they’re such righteous tough guys. Personally I think they just sound like bullies.

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  157. Liz says:

    Some of these back alley “fixes” that these cops are resorting to seem like they would only serve to increase tensions and crimes in the neighborhood. Telling a victim she can steal from her robber? Sounds cute, until she does it and then he shows up at her house with a gun and decides to take it back. Making members of two gangs pummel each other? Maybe it’s a fair fight until the losing gang decides to get back at the winners with heavier weapons next time. These stupid, thoughtless “solutions” only serve to create more problems than they solve. Then justice system definitely has its problems, but at least some thought went into how it works.

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  158. M says:

    As a person who witnessed a gang-rape victim being harassed by the police until she agreed not to file charges, (because THEY didn’t want to bother writing a report!) I take a VERY dim view of police who act as judge and jury.

    They are not doing their job of enforcing the law, they are making their own laws – and what’s to stop them from doing so in an entirely brutal and self-serving manner? What’s to stop them from shaking down anyone who won’t bribe them, or avenging themselves on someone they believed to be guilty but was actually innocent?

    When the police have too much power, a country becomes a police state.

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  159. anonymous says:

    This , while interesting, is abhorrent and terrible.

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  160. paul mayuw says:

    the reason why we have such hate for the police is because of the prohibition of certain mind altering substances. Not to mention the growing dissent and general unhappiness caused by government, economy, war, lies etc.

    the move towards a police state and a clear move away from liberty and freedom after centuries of fighting for our rights as human beings.

    if you ask a large amount of the people these days they will say that they fear their own government more than any surrposed foreign terrorists and its the police who will unfortunatly get the majority of this hate.

    this utopian ideology that eventually we will have enough security and enough cameras and enough technology and enough databases that there will be no crime. it is rather delusional.

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  161. George says:

    sounds like most people want a cop to be a robot. everybody needs to walk a mile in their shoes and see how they can handle the bs, day end and day out. some do it because they care, but it does get on your nerves. it is not like a tv program,you do not get to practice your part and know what going to happen next.

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  162. cyrano says:

    What makes cops mad about the court system is that the system is, pretty much, the ONLY check on their behavior. Criminals “get off” when defense lawyers who aren’t too lazy to do their job get evidence excluded and arrests voided because the cops violated the Constitution.

    There are good cops, to be sure, but there are lots out there like Carl and Bill, cops that think they know better and can, too often, get away with what they do.

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  163. jack brown says:

    Disgusting article, and disgusting attitude by its audience here at the NYTimes. So Sudhir is basically approving of doing away with the criminal justice system (in the inner cities of course!) in favor of summary “justice” by crooked cops. And y’all are just approving of it. Well.

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  164. kurt says:

    This is not about Judge and Jury? There was a time were people knew right from wrong, or at least knew there would be consequence’s for there wrong actions. We now live in a society were there truly isn’t any punishment. Police deal with the darkest side of humanity day in and day out. They see victims in their darkest hour and walk away defeated by the system. I read these comments and can tell by experience who has walked in my shoes. I leave you with this. Don’t wait until something drastic happens to you or a loved one to be able to see how poor the system really is. Go to your local court house and find a crime you could feel for the victim. Then after the result comes back reply! Then judge a person who places all his time and effort into making a difference in a society that is against them at least until they our the victim! Oh and don’t forget to dial 911! You can always count on a response from one of us in blue that you critique so often to come and risk it all for you and your family…

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  165. achilles3 says:

    You freaking ROCK!
    Thanks again for another great post.
    And I totally agree with these officers though it is quite risky.
    I would hate for a “bad” officer to be judge and jury.
    Like that jerk from Memphis that beat the transsexual for no reason

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  166. rosmar says:

    “Act like a decent human being and follow the law. If not, you get what you deserve. How hard is this?”

    Okay, so what do these police officers deserve for breaking the law?

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  167. ron says:

    wow, and cops wonder why people hate them.

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  168. Chance says:

    Wow, judege-on-site. Worst. Idea. Ever. The cops have too much power as it is. That’s what my comment on the other post was addressing: cops should not have input into punishment, beyond the specific facts of the case.

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  169. Ray says:

    I was of a mixed mind on this article, but an experience yesterday solidified my opinion pretty strongly against the police:

    I happened to be leaving a building in Cambridge just after the Celtics’ victory parade had wound up, and the parade happened to be going by with police escort. As I and my five year old son watched, a policeman on a motorcycle came by, haranguing a cyclist that was (at the time) walking his bike on the sidewalk. The officer then rode his motorcycle onto the sidewalk, hitting the cyclist’s bike (into him), yelling the whole time (about what, I do not know), and then punched him in the face.

    The officer then rode off, before I could manage to snap a photo of him with my phone.

    Now, perhaps the policeman was justified in being angry at the cyclist. My interpretation was, from the snatches of yelling that I heard, that the cyclist was not as responsive to the officer’s instructions to get out of the road and onto the sidewalk as he would have liked. I don’t particularly care, however. This was an obvious case of police brutality. In the heat of the moment, this officer lost control of himself, over something that in no way could have justified his actions. It scared me to see it happen, and I didn’t particularly like trying to explain it to my five-year-old.

    The idea of giving the police _any_ sort of writ to dispense immediate judgment is a non-starter. Their job is obviously difficult, and they operate under a lot of stress. For exactly this reason, judgment should be reserved until tempers settle and cooler heads prevail. If they can’t maintain control during a simple parade escort, they obviously can’t do it in more volatile situations.

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  170. tg says:

    Great article, I totally think that we should return to the good ole days of lynch mobs and tarring and feathering….because that certainly was fair, unbiased justice for all. Oh, maybe the cops should have different uniforms for when the dispense justice too…I’m thinking white robes with pointy hoods.

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  171. William says:

    I might be ok with some of this if there were more transparency.

    In 5-10 years, a decent camera rig that transmits all the time will be cheap. If a cop is willing to wear one and have all their work time be on instant public record, and submit to citizen review, I’d be happy to give them more leeway.

    Given that there are just 2.3 cops per 1000 citizens, there’s plenty of brainpower to keep an eye on officers. We just need to make it easy. Wikipedia makes it clear how much you can accomplish if you enable the public to collaborate constructively.

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  172. Patrick Freeman says:

    I’ll bet that everyone here who says that they hate cops: 1)Has not and never will spend one day in their shoes dealing with the crappy people and situations cops do. 2)Doesn’t have the ability, mentally or otherwise to deal with those people & situations, 3)Got hassled by the cops because they were doing something they should not have been doing. Being so ignorant as to say ‘I hate cops because I had a bad run in with one once or they did this or that to my neighbor’ is the big mistake here. Insert any race, gender or orientation in the place of ‘cops’ in the above sentence to see my point. Cops are people like the rest of us. Thing is, they have a job most of couldn’t or wouldn’t EVER want to do. I am glad there are people out there who willing take on the disgusting, cruel and vicious in our midst. And if these dirt bags get what has been coming to them for so long, so be it.

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  173. A says:

    Just a reminder that the same officers that want to police the inner cities with “street justice” would probably be happy to apply it to any jaywalker, speeder, or (in this case) a bystander with a camera who happens to piss them off:

    My friend was taking pictures of a police beating up a women during an anti-war rally in NYC. The police grabbed him too, and he was on the receiving end of “creative” law enforcement. No doubt the officers knew that liberals like him wouldn’t care about a night in jail, so they smashing his camera and beat him up for good measure.

    I and another friend saw this and later testified against the police, while two police officers lied under oath about the entire event. Luckily we were all white middle class grad students, so he got a decent settlement from the city.

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  174. buddy x says:

    that was quite the lovely ringing defense of “our beloved security forces” there, patrick.

    what you neglected to mention, while you were explaining why it’s ok for cops to ignore the law when it suits them because “they have a very stressful job” is

    1) they *volunteered* for that stressful job, right? nobody marched them into police academy at gunpoint, did they? so presumably they *(already knew how stressful copping is* when they signed up, and then CHOSE TO DO IT ANYWAY.

    2) statistically speaking, cops jobs – although undoubtedly somewhat stressful – are not particularly dangerous. cabbies and convenience-store clerks get killed at a MUCH higher rate than cops, and they don’t get incredibly lucrative pensions like cops do.

    3) in terms of pure *stress*, cops have nothing on salespeople working on straight commission.

    are you therefore suggesting that we should allow cabbies, 7-11 clerks, and salesmen to break the law whenever they feel the need? no? just cops? why?

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  175. Terence says:

    There was a recent case in British Columbia Canada where a young man was picked up at a hockey game for drunk and disorderly by the RCMP. (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) That young man ended up with a bullet in the back of his head. The survellience tapes in the station that night were mysteriously lost, and the testimony of the officer contradicted the testimony of the CSI who concluded it is impossible to shoot someone in the back of the head during a struggle, as the officer claimed he used deadly force in self defence. Now there are alot of fine officers out there who enforce the law with honor and courage. But like any large population group there are bound to be a few corrupt officers out there. Now do we really want people like the officer in question enforcing street justice?

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  176. Paul Dhall says:

    I was a police officer for many years back in the day. I would just ask that all here consider their world should they wake tomorrow and there were no enforcers of the law. They just decided to stay home or get a safer job. Think about it.

    As a boy the cop on the beat was my friend and mentor. There was no bullying allowed on the block or Officer Mike would box your ears and then tell your Dad who would do the same. Get caught stealing from Cappo’s on the corner, you’d get the ear boxing and you worked there until what you had stolen was paid for. Then Dad would whip my ass till I couldn’t sit down for a few days. Justice was sure and swift.

    Now let’s see… There’s a physical assult by Officer Mike on a minor, enforced labor without pay and child abuse.

    Guess what? I grew up, married, served 2 tours in ‘Nam, went to collage, worked as a law enforcement officer, was a member of the local school board, owned my own business, wrote 2 books, raised 6 kids and have 8 grandchildren. never been arrested, had 1 speeding ticket in my life. The way I figure it, Dad and Officer Mike raised me right.

    Our justice system has lost the surity of the law and all the badasses know it. There is no justice anymore.

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  177. Charles L Best says:

    A cop puts his ass on the line every day. If I were a cop I would take some of the serious repeat offenders out in the desert and put a .45 in their head. I admire the police restraint.

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  178. Ziegler says:

    The “Judge Dredd” theory of a law enforcement officer deciding one’s punishment is interesting and at best science fiction. Their are many forms of education, the street and classroom being two forms and cops mainly are served the street education. That said, if we have no requirements of formal education, i.e. college or any academic institution, society will have a mafia like mentality of police ruling the streets. Moreover, many crimes are complex and require further investigation and contemplation. I agree that the court system is tired and is in desperate need of miracle. However, judges and lawyers were required to study sociology, philosophy, economics, and a variety of other subjects that cops are allowed to ignore. Don’t forget law school!

    Then again what do I know. I’m just responding to a post.

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  179. dan p says:

    @ Laura #126 –

    Just because the cops have pulled something illegal from your person/vehicle/house DOES NOT mean that they did so legally. That was the point of THE BILL OF RIGHTS.

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  180. Terrible Terry says:

    Don’t be fooled, it is a truly “us and them” scenario. As one retired Chicago detective told me when I asked him about “justice”. He laughed, looked me in the eye and said we (his cronies) call it “just us”.

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  181. Derek says:

    Perfection. Besides, all those saying that “no one is above the law,” who is to decide which is above the law anyway. Law is nothing more than a guidline, what we do with that guidline is entirely up to us. I’m sure that a cop doing these things is more “lawfull” than the people actually being affected by their actions.

    Case and point, I am the win

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  182. thomas says:

    I find it interesting that the ones who cry the most are probably the ones who do the crime.

    Stop whining that they took your stash and gave it to the neighborhood.

    That’s one way to take the ‘hood’ out of neighbor!

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  183. solicitor in bulgaria says:

    I like the way Bill handles things. We re on the same level of mind.

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  184. Adam says:

    This is one of the most horrifying things I have ever read. Criminality is a huge problem perpetuated by human nature, but cops like this are just as bad and they are protected by the law. Cops hide behind their badge in the courthouse and their billy clubs in the street. Carl, Jordan, and Bill should be thrown in prison. Police officers are employed to do a very specific job; these men and cops like them ought to be ashamed of themselves.

    Cops get almost no training in the law, require very little education, and by in large are small-minded people with over-inflated power. Legislation needs to give cops much less authority, let alone allow them to act as judge and jury in the field.

    Side note- a cop lives in the apartment below me and parks illegally EVERY DAY and leaves his police jacket over the front seat to avoid tickets/towing.

    I think I’ll break his windows, steal everything inside, and give it away to the neighbors tonight.
    (kidding, obviously)

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  185. vincent says:

    While I am pro police I have to point out that a larger problem is the “code of sclience” that exits among cops. People can talk about the problem with “no snitching” but when cops cover for other cops it destroys trust in the system.

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  186. Larry says:

    Every one of these cops should be thrown in prison. If they like street justice so much, we should let the inmates of supermax prisons do as they please with this bunch, and all those like them. These scum represent exactly what is wrong with criminal enforcement in America. This is why many Americans think it is OK to murder police officers – because of people like this. They bring it on themselves.

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  187. Patrick Freeman says:

    buddyx, I don’t imagine you’ve volunteered for much more than getting the next round of drinks, let alone to protect the thousands of citizens a cop is responsible for during a given shift.

    Cops don’t get killed on the job as much because they get training to mitigate such threats, so I’d imagine a cabby or 7/11 clerk has a better chance of dying on the job. A cabby driving drunks around till 3 a.m. is maddening, but not dangerous. Most never deal with anything near a life-threatening situation. Besides, even if they do nobody marched them at gunpoint to cabby academy or 7/11 tech.

    Your comment about some commissioned sales clerk being under more stress is plain gibberish. Cops, firefighters and paramedics run much greater chances of dying from some stress related heart disease than does a cabby or salesman. So if the criminals don’t get em, the stress does eventually. Can you see the danger there? No? Well, if you’ve lived any real, unsheltered life you’d understand the difference between dealing with a customer grumpy you ran out of size 16 spandex shorts AND a dirt-bag druggie wielding a razor blade. Granted, working at TJMAX, you probably come across more customers like the former than cops deal with the later, so I can see how that might stress you out a bit, especially during the holidays.

    Most people have no clue what goes into serving the public, and some of you are happy to complain about said servants at the drop of a hat. Yet, you are the same ones who are thrilled to see them show up when you call 911 for some rattles in the bush outside your window. How ’bout this bud (and the rest of you). Take the 9 and 1 off your phone if you think they’re crooked or useless. Just refuse to patronize such a corrupt establishment. I am sure they won’t mind if stop calling. In fact the cops probably won’t even notice – seeing as they are qute busy to begin with.

    I have no sympathy for the criminals these cops spoke of. None. Never will. I don’t care that those thugs got their glutes handed to them. If you want to get indignant, try focusing your sense of ‘horror’ and amazement at the communities and culture that turn out these thugs like they were $2.00 widgets. If people would take responsibility for their actions and the welfare of their family and community, these wastes of DNA might not be in a position where the cops have to give them a hard time a ruin their criminal enterprises. But my biggest point (which some of you can’t grasp) is that it is wrong to apply prejudices about anyone, regardless of their race, sex, religion or J-O-B!

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  188. Adam says:

    No one disagrees with the fact that job is dangerous or stressful. However, this is their JOB. They are paid to enforce the law, not to write it, dictate it, or dole out punishments. In fact, theres a little document called THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION that specifically gives these jobs to other, more qualified people. The Constitution is the enduring backbone of our country and the physical representation of everything this country stands for. You aren’t against America are you?

    (See, I can make outrageous claims that follow logical order, though contain little logic, as well.)

    …no idea about what its like serving the public. 99% of cops will never find themselves in a life-threatening situation. Go out to the suburbs and ask how many blade-wielding lunatics their branch has ever had to deal with. Even in metro cities, its not like cops are daily drive-by victims. Get off your pedestal and realize that cops need to follow the law like every other citizen in the country. WHAT GIVES SOME DUDE WITH A BADGE AND A G.E.D. THE RIGHT TO DETERMINE RIGHT AND WRONG??

    PS. This prejudice against cops is propagated by none other than the cops themselves. People like Carl brought this upon themselves and the force, and exacerbate it with each transgression.

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  189. Brian Rock says:

    Let me see if I can follow the logic here:

    The legal system is broken. Therefore we should break it further.

    I’m not convinced.

    The empirical data isn’t particularly persuasive either. Police-as-judges doesn’t seem to have been effective at eliminating crime in Chicago & New York.

    No doubt the retort will be they weren’t allowed enough free reign to make it work. I’m sure that’s true: give the guys with the guns free reign to enforce the rules and you’ll get near-universal compliance. The Taliban in Afghanistan have been using that principle for years, and look how splendidly that’s worked out.

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  190. Drake says:

    “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” -Mahatma Ghandi

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  191. dan says:

    This is a chilling story, and it saddens me that so many of the commenters here are so willing to forsake their freedom.

    Every single instance listed here is a egregious violation of the law and an abuse of authority. The fact that a good cop may act in good faith when taking these actions is immaterial.


    Because these sorts of actions normalize behavior that, when practiced by bad cops, become the embodiment of petty tyranny and corruption.

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  192. Ned says:

    My guess is these “interviews” constitutes a flight of the imagination.

    Does anyone really believe that a police officer is going to telephone someone he didn’t arrest, but let go after forcing them to pay additional money to a prostitute, and extort additional money? How many crimes have been committed here, and by whom? One recording of a phone call or a recording of a meeting where the officer comes to work and tells the alleged perp that he needs to send a prostitute another $500 would end up with the officer in the slammer.

    If these are actually true, than God help us. Did anybody read the story yesterday where an alleged cop-killer was murdered in his jail cell?

    How may times have we all heard about how bad “vigilante” justice is when someone shoots a burglar or mugger? The police chiefs chastise the public to “let the police do their jobs.”

    If their job is now to be judge, jury and executioner, there’s going to be a lot of people evading arrest or even shooting police over infractions. Anyone who thinks this is a good thing just remember you supported this type of “law enforcement” when it happens to you or a family member – possibly over a case of mistaken identity.

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  193. urtenfifteen says:

    We already do this. It called TASERS.

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  194. AR says:

    I’m deeply troubled by this. This is an absolute abuse of power. We have a court system for a reason. A cop is NOT by any means a neutral arbiter, nor is he qualified or justified in doling out punishment as he or she sees fit.

    Carl’s comment that “the good cops… are judges on site” is something that should be troubling to all Americans. This individual, and all cops like him, should be immediately fired — and possibly prosecuted. Cops have a special place in our society. Their mandate is to protect and serve, but this makes it sound as though they believe their role to be to harass, intimidate, and punish. Cops like Carl diminish themselves and their office with this “Wild West” “I am the Law” view.

    It’s really difficult to verbalize how absolutely frustrating I find this — particularly because I have come across so many crooked cops who lack the interest or intellectual aptitude to pursue justice in their line of work. Comments like the one from Carl just make me suspicious of all cops.

    How can we continue to trust or respect these individuals when they apparently choose to grant themselves such absolute power and view themselves (wrongly and illegally) as the ultimate word in justice?

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  195. wkwillis says:

    When society breaks down you do tend to get do it yourself justice. I can see a period of time when suspicious looking white males in close proximity to a failed bank may be killed by former depositors. It’s probably going to happen.
    Realistically, is the justice system going to punish them for stealing your pensions? They didn’t just get your corporate pension, they stole your marine sgt, schoolteacher, and fireman’s pension, too.

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  196. thinkforyourself says:

    The interviews with these three “cops” are nonsense. They are either the pure fantasy of the writer or made up stories of people who were never really cops.

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  197. Sara P says:

    I find this article very unsettling– some of these examples of creative retribution seem effective, but these are only three individual police officers. I don’t want just any police officer to be allowed to use his or her own discretion to decide what’s just! The qualifications to become a law enforcement official do NOT give police officers the freedom to override the 8th Amendment. Though some of these examples don’t seem particularly cruel, they are definitely unusual.

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  198. Glenna says:

    my sister was arrested in kenbridge va last night for a crime she did not do. recently the police came into her home with some neighbours and claimed my sister had taken items from neighbours and allowed these freaks to take any and everything out of my sisters home they wanted
    then they turned around three weeks later and charged my sister with Receiving Stolen Property
    they listed HOUSEHOLD ITEMS, the ones they took and returned? who knows, the other other ones they took and did not return who knows?
    all i do know is a DIRTY COP in kenbridge va is out to get my sister and to cover his tracks so when she tried to file charges against the cop who did this and the neighbors the magistrate told her he would not file against a co worker and called her a thief and told her what a bad person she is
    and of course instead SHE GOT ARRESTED
    its a small town in va and everywhere you try to turn to back fires on you because everyone knows everyone in a population of less than 1k so by trying to stand up for her rights she got arrested
    do you know of anywhere or anyone we can turn to get help i was thinking if the press got involved it could help her
    my sister is destroyed , her life is destroyed, this is a mess those dirty people took christmas stockings with her childrens names on them
    the police gave her some of her things back said the neighbors realized it was not theirs and wanted to return it
    this entire situation includes dirty cops and uneducated HILLBILLIES low life family to do this
    also the new charges say they had nine guns in their home that are now missing so my sister MUST have stolen them and yes they charged her for stealing their gun
    she did not steal anything thus the reason no one saw her steal it nor was any of this crap they accuse her of found in her home

    anyway sorry im desperate to help my sister and this cop is EVIL and arogant and even lawyers there HATE his guts because he is a BAD BAD BAD PERSON dishonest PIG
    any help you can offer or direct me to how i can help her
    I plan to put the word out to all of va , every email, every fax , every whatever so that they wont even beable to do a trial in va err sorry im so upset and the police, magistrates will NOT help they cant go against their own but the press can help if they will

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  199. SKV says:

    Trust me, these guys are not Robin Hood. They are pocketing the drug money themselves.

    Bottom line: Police should not be above the law.

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  200. Johnnny says:

    Policing is very different now that we’ve entered the third world order. They don’t even think they need warrants anymore. Stuff like this happens every day

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  201. bill says:

    Those cops should be locked up.

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  202. Full Name [Daniel Lamar Diffenderfer] says:

    Police officers are a disgrace. In my case I was assulted and beaten by my fathers landlord and I was told later by the police that I shouldn’t file charges because they didn’t believe me.. turns out this cop was old friends with the landlord, so I too share in the frustration and hatred of the police.

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  203. Mike says:

    I”m am a cop, and firefighter in florida. Many have written that they distrust the cops because what they read here, but let me give you some contrast. Not all cops are the same and in most cases the policiing style is geographical. It bigger cities police are forced to police in a much more dramatic style than in a more rural setting. Crime is much greater as it is harder to prove the guilty person in larger cities. Often times in the rural setting crime volume and intensity is quite less. The stats prove this without exception. Now I will leave you with this thought, you think things are bad with these few officers views of the world, well remove those very officers and let the system deal with them, and I bet you beg for there return. Unless you are willing to walk in there shoes and strap on the badge, then support your local police and thank god every day you live in the USA..

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  204. rhm says:

    Interesting. I work in law reform in Southern Sudan, and one of our big tasks is to get the police here to work more “professionally,” to use legal procedures more than the traditional practices they grew up with. It’s interesting that so much of what the US cops want to do looks a lot like traditional justice here: a focus on compensating the victim rather than just punishing (or trying to punish) the offender; using social controls like public humiliation; tailoring judgments and punishments to specific persons and places, rather than the neutral, perhaps sterile, justice found in courts; promoting the good of the community over the rights of the individual. This is not, by the way, necessarily a criticism of the cops. I think that the traditional justice system here has a great deal to recommend it.

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  205. Rob says:

    I’m a new fan of Venikatesh but I am NOT new to police work. I have been a cop for twenty years. I work in a large Virginia city and suspect these stories are more urban legend then actual practice. Maybe I am naive but there are systems in place to regulate the actions of officers. My organization just indicted 3 officers for behavior far less serious then the ones reported here. Just my 2 cents

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  206. Chris says:

    I’m a police officer from Seattle. I can definitely understand WANTING to do some of these things, but to fight corruption with corruption is disgraceful, immoral, and criminal.

    I would be ashamed to know or work with any of those guys in this newspiece.

    What people don’t understand or refuse to acknowledge, is that no one hates crooked cops more than the good ones. We work our jobs as hard as we can, often to the result of higher divorce and suicide rates and incredibly low life expectancy rates after retirement due to a career full of pent-up stress.

    It’s thugs with badges like these guys that make us all look bad, and add fuel to the fire for the ignorant, cop-haters, and absolutely unknowledgeable.

    One of the posters on the first page has it right – most of you, unless you have been on the battlefront or are a first responder have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what we do or what we go through. That’s OK though, we don’t expect you to.

    However, showcasing a couple of rogue cops who believe in dispensing “old school” street “justice”, does nothing.

    Yes. Our legal system is broken. I get sick and tired of watching juries and idiot judges give hardened criminals chance after chance after chance. I get tired of getting blood and human guts on my boots. I get sad when I find the 19 year old girl who I tried to convince to go home to her parents a week ago dead in an alley with a needle stuck in her arm and her panties missing.

    But the day I lose my faith in humanity and in the very society I swore to serve is the day I need to turn in my badge.

    These cops are not cops. They make the rest of us look bad. Don’t believe the hype.

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  207. Ellie says:

    My family member is a parole officer in Canada. In his three years on the job, he’s only had three dudes get parole and not come back into the system. I think your cops are reasonable to be wary of the cycle of criminality.

    If the underlying cultural and social factors pressuring someone into crime aren’t addressed and alternatives given, why would a criminal make a different choice?

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  208. Tom says:

    I’m a cop as well. I agree, don’t believe the hype, and don’t believe that you can paint ALL COP’s with the same brush you can paint these guys with.

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  209. Imp says:

    We need to shift the schism on how the law is enforced. When cops decide to play judge/jury, they themselves break the law by becoming vigilantes. Professionalism should be their watch-word, and they should be shamed by not only not upholding the law, but actively breaking it.

    The unfortunate thing, is my time as an MP in the Army taught me that this is undeniably true.

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  210. r gopu says:

    Looking forward to Sudhir Venkatesh’s off the record interviews with judges, criminal lawyers, district attorney, and street thugs; perhaps even a crime victim or two

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  211. William says:

    I totally understand that our poor communities are not being served well by our current system of justice. Crime is endemic. But, I am not one to dismiss civil rights and rarely are my run-ins with cops pleasant. Maybe it makes me a better citizen, because I want no reason for those guys to be in my business. Too many things go wrong when cops become involved. A friend of mine was shot and killed by CPD last night.

    Now, while I disagree with playing John Wayne, it strikes me that shaming is the above thing that cops rely when they work to “keep the peace”. Why can’t our judicial and social systems produce that? I’d say fear of being publicly humiliated or shamed keeps my butt in line.

    But there is no shame in going to jail. Just the opposite, it has become the anti-hero’s badge of courage. But being dressed in pink pajamas and forced to clean sidewalks with a toothbursh… there’s nothing courageous about that.

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  212. says:

    We all need to Police the Police!

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  213. Julianna says:

    In response to Jordan and the wife beater section, wouldn’t forcing the individuals to pay have a reverse effect on the situation? Those “beaters” are now paying for the privilege to beat. I would think that because these guys now know nothing more will really come of their crime, except a few additional dollars, they would be less likely to alter their actions. It just seems to me that the “monetary fine would be less than the moral cost” (Levitt). On another note, lawyers always cost more than the few extra dollars paid out to the family.

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  214. Whitney says:

    The “Judge-on-site” section of this article explains that if cops had more power to judge criminals there would be less occurrences of crime but at the same time people are still going to break the law. In one instance the cops took money that drug dealers had made and gave the money to people in the neighborhood where they dealt drugs. I think in essence the drug dealers are buying off the neighborhood and not actually being punished. The idea of having cops judge does seem like a good idea, but I think it can be more harmful in the long run.

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