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The Foolishness of Police in the US
A good but very long read about how stupid and venal much of the policing done in the US is.

For those who do not want to read it all it is an article about how the Seattle police dept. and the FBI spent some years and lots of money pursuing very low level criminals with little result. It was basically spying on a group of people who hung out at an illegal after hours bar where gambling occurred and small amounts of cocaine changed hands.

The only decent bust was for 7 kilos of cocaine, 3 pounds of meth and a Honda with hidden compartments, total value $217,000. A local and 3 Hondurans were arrested. It also happens that this bust only occurred because of a set of fortuitous circumstances. It also was not the intent of the investigation.

Mostly they seem interested in ecoterrorists (I have checked the spelling but the dictionary does not seem to recognize the word) because they thought that one of the people who ran the club had ties to them.

The article also has some short descriptions of other stupid police and FBI actions elsewhere. It seems that under the guise of the "war on terror", a very poor choice of words from the beginning much like the "war on drugs", the FBI has chosen to restart the cointelpro program right down to the use of agents provocateur.

The one bust of any significance I mentioned above came about because the policeman infiltrator forced a participant in the club to find him a dealer. That person knew someone who would not normally participate in that big a sale but arranged it because he was in a bind with his source, a source who had pushed him into the bind in the first place.

I know that undercover police work is probably a necessary evil. But as I read it this was a situation where after a few months the policeman infiltrator should have told his superiors that we can bust the place and maybe get a few people on parole violations but mostly we will get people who will get little time and probably only probation. It is not worth it. Instead the infiltrator spent years and lots of money doing things like promoting the bombing of Weyerhaeuser and one large drug deal by people who would not normally have done it.

The costs must have been staggering not just in salaries but in expenses. The infiltrator posed as a trust fund baby and spent accordingly. Significant other expenses included the salaries of other police and FBI personal following and checking up on people who apparently did little more than frequent an illegal club and maybe use some cocaine.

The worst to me though was the attempt to provoke actions from people who would not necessarily engage in those actions. It is the worst kind of policing. If I ran the US courts any trial of a person for an action suggested by a policeman of any kind would be thrown out of court. With some exception of course but in the case of those exceptions the policeman would do some time also, maybe as much as the guilty party.

PS, at the end of the article one of the people who ran the club, who got 40 months made a telling comment. Paraphrasing, he wished all the victims of serious and unresolved crimes could look the police and FBI who participated in the eye. Why had they wasted all the time and money for this case when there are serious crimes that were unresolved. He was partially sentenced because he had purchased guns for the Zapatistas and for heading toward (he was arrested before he got there) the drug deal. The infiltrator pleaded with him to do this because he wanted extra protection. Aside from getting the ball rolling he did not participate at all in the deal and was only to hang around the area to "watch the back" of the infiltrator.
Edited by JohnH on 05/12/2011 23:49
[sarcasm]Good thing we aren't a police state[/sarcasm]].

Unfortunately law enforcement has become big business in the US.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
If anyone cares the FBI has used agents provocateur in this country before that it settled on that name in 1935. Read any history of left wing or anarchist politics in the US early in the last century for a lesson.

In this specific case the infiltrator was a Seattle policeman.
Edited by JohnH on 05/13/2011 14:56
In science, if you want to know if a given substance has a given property, you test for it. You don't test everything in sight -- just the stuff your observations have helped singled out as likely candidates. And then you test those candidates. But first you have to make observations. Then you have to devise a test. And then you have to use it. Investigative folks don't spend a lot of time on the patently obvious. They're kind of wasted on that. And that goes for investigative police as well.

Personally, I think it's kind of silly to call cops "stupid" for having run a test and come up with failure, just as it is call a scientist stupid for doing the same thing, or a salesman for asking for the sale and not closing. Personally, what this OP shows is less an argument for how cops are "stupid" and more the author's own bias concerning the legality of the crimes involved and their own particular slant on the role of law enforcement -- in this case whether it exists to punish or to protect (not a binary issue at all).
Cynic, I will agree that stupid was not necessarily the correct word to use. How about a waste of resources for the gains made. This was a two year operation that lucked into one significant bust and a few minor ones, some of which were initiated by the policeman infiltrator.

You allude to scientific experiments, how would you characterize a scientist who made the same experiment over and over with the same results. Not changing the methods or the equipment for two full years until at the end he makes a fortuitous mistake which he does not recognize and gets different more promising results. He then tries to replicate those results but cannot because he did not recognize what he did in the first place. I would suggest that the scientist was wasting their employers money.

The police in this circumstance ran the same test repeatedly and kept coming up, over a two year period, with the same result. With a total cost to the Seattle police and FBI I would estimate at a minimum of $600,000 and possibly over $1,000,000. If this seems high I will offer that the policeman infiltrator alone made over $180,000, not counting overhead expenses, in 2009 and he was on the case for 2 years with a high amount of expenses.

One should also remember that the intent of the investigation from the beginning was to find out about ecoterrorists. There was a small side issue of political corruption because a couple of politicians apparently attended. It only lucked into a major drug bust. As I said in my OP the policeman infiltrator should have quickly realized he was getting nowhere with the ecoterrorism angle.

Yes I have a bias against the illegality of the activities at the club. I think many people would, but that does not mean I do not recognize those activities as illegal. The police should still have quickly realized that all they were probably going to get people on was after hours liquor sales, illegal gambling and coke possession, and called it good.
Edited by JohnH on 05/13/2011 19:42
Cynic - John made the point pretty well and I just want to emphasize it.

This 'experiment' is one that has been being repeated for the last 40 years or so with the same results. This is a bit more like a scientist conducting an expensive experiment designed to disprove gravity (thus proving its opposite, comedy).

What this incident really shows is the effect of politics on law enforcement. The political paradigm that people who engage in 'immoral activities' are criminals has been disproven over and over again yet will continue to be tested with only the positive results kept.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
Im not sold either way. And to the point of a scientist who repeats the same experiment for years on end, with the same results, he would get a pay rise.... lol thats reproduceability there.

And if he hits on something new, that he cannot understand right away, thats for his buddies in peer-review to deal with. But I jest.

Here's my take on it. The cops are given leads all of the time, and in the majority of incidents these are dead ends, loose threads that do not track back to a big corruption/terrorist yarn. However, if it is suggested that a politician is involved, and there is known illegal activity, the police have a duty to investigate... after all, theres a link there to public representatives (US killed Osama in his pants, why shouldn't their enemies strike back at some of their leaders?).

.. let me draw the comparison to global warming. If it doesn't exist, and we do something about it, weve wasted money and time (but made our air better for lack of pollution), but if it does exist and we do nothing, boy is humanity in for a shit storm.

This argument against inaction is supported by MI5s failure to act on intel relating to the coordinator of the 7/7 bombings in the UK, it may be the case that they had so much to act on this one was overlooked, but generally the police and intelligence agencies do not release their hit/miss data.

So I would argue that the police were right to infiltrate the group. Now, you posit that the cop should have realised nothing big was going down and reported this to his superiors... how do you expect he was to know this?

If you were engaged in serious illegal activity (as opposed to a bit of gambling and after hours drinking), would you be shouting this at every tom dick and harry that turns up at the bar?

No, it wouldn't happen. Check this story out, a policeman looking for similar leads on the eco-terrorism angle.

He was under cover for seven years.

More fuel for the cops imagination:

"Junior has met a lot of criminals in his life. Criminals who have double-crossed him, stabbed him, shot him."

"And the thing about Bryan asking a friend of hers to steal weapons from Fort Lewis struck her as odd and dangerous."

I dont know about you, but if I asked the friend of a serving soldier to steal guns from the army base, after also telling them I hated cops, and they didnt bat a fucking eyelid.... id be thinking they were into serious crime too.

The part I do object to (hence why im not sold either way) is the use of coercion (or encouragement at the least). People can do some seriously dumb things if given a clap and smile by someone they respect or wish to grow close to in friendship (or love, from the article quoted)... that is the difficult part to deal with here.

Maybe towards the end he did realise that he was barking up the wrong tree and his pushing them to organise a big drug deal was to flush out a big drug dealer, at least then he would have something to show for the money.

But, we will never know, give it 75 years and well ask for that polices stats on intel reports and how many of these turned up something.
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