5 Insane Police Forces No One Ever Talks About
I didn't intend to write three columns in a row about police and/or criminals; it just sort of happened. That said, if any of my really diehard fans are looking for a sweet label to affix to this era of my creative output, please know that "The Justice Trilogy" gets my vote.
I'm joking, of course. I don't have diehard fans. I have casual readers, and a lot of them are already in the comments section complaining about me needing to write about something else. I don't care. Crazy police forces are the topic of discussion on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comics Maria Shehata and Griff Pippin. It's also the topic of today's column. Let's get to it!
If there was an award for the most brutal police killing video of all time and I had a vote, mine would go to one that comes courtesy of the Puerto Rican Police Department. I know that, given their American commonwealth status, it's tempting to assume their version of the police would just be us sending in the military to shoot protesters when they start asking for crazy things like independence or rights. But it turns out that they've had their very own police force since shortly after we took over, and they've been awful for a long damn time now. The Department of Justice conducted an investigation that, when released in 2011, described the PRPD as "broken."
Oh yeah? Then how come they get to escort Miss Ecuador around?
It listed complaints and incidents involving everything from excessive force to failure to investigate domestic violence and sex crimes to discriminatory practices against the island's Dominican population, because of course there has to be a little bit of that involved.
Between 2005 and 2010, more than 1,700 PRPD officers were arrested for various crimes, including murder, assault, and theft. That's nearly three times the number of NYPD officers arrested during that time, which is even crazier when you consider that the NYPD is almost twice the size of the PRPD.
How about that video I mentioned earlier, though? I've gone back and forth about five times while writing this as to whether I even want to embed it here. I figure you'll just go find it on YouTube if I don't, and I certainly don't want you to click away from the article in the name of something as petty as common decency, so here you go:
If you decide to watch, what you'll see is the videotaped killing of a man named Miguel Caceres Cruz. The 43-year-old father of three was helping to direct traffic outside a girl's quinceanera when he exchanged words with a car full of cops that came close to hitting him. The video picks up with the cops in question stepping out of the car to confront Caceres, who ends up backed against a wall on a nearby sidewalk.
This would be a really awkward place to put a joke.
A struggle ensues and, for about 30 seconds, he holds onto the leg of a cop named Javier Pagan Cruz as if his life depends on it. That's because it did. He was most likely trying to keep Pagan from pulling his gun.
Eventually, the gun comes out and a shot is fired. The person working the camera and the other cop on the scene are startled by the sound. Then there are three more shots. Then another. When the camera once again focuses on the scene, Pagan is leaning against a wall, out of breath, as Cacares lays bleeding in the street. At that point, he leans over and fires a final shot into the back of his motionless victim's head ...
No jokes here!
... before stumbling away from the scene.
Naturally, Javier Pagan Cruz was initially cleared of wrongdoing, because that's just how this kind of thing works. After the tape became public, however, he was charged with murder, and eventually sentenced to 109 years in prison.
I briefly mentioned it last week, but the Chicago PD isn't on this list because of their well-documented history of police brutality, but for something almost no one knew existed: Homan Square. That's the name of the sketchy "dark site" where people taken into police custody are detained and interrogated for hours on end without ever being officially booked.
At least it doesn't look terrifying.
See, without that official booking, there's no publicly available record of where they are, meaning concerned family or -- even more importantly -- lawyers have no way of locating them. Even a first-year cop show procedural fan knows a person who's taken into custody is supposed to get a phone call and a lawyer if they so desire.
By far the scariest thing about Homan Square is how well they kept it hidden. It was first brought to the public's attention by way of an investigation by The Guardian. Even the guy who founded Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions didn't know about it, and he's in Chicago. If you'd expect anyone to have the scoop, it would be him.
Hey! Have you ever wondered why the Governor of Illinois just up and commuted every death sentence in the state to a life sentence? Most of the credit for that goes to a man named Jon Burge, and he's definitely not a hero for it.
From 1972 to 1991, Burge presided over Chicago's notorious Area 2 precinct, where suspects were routinely abused and tortured into confessing to crimes before family or lawyers even knew where they were.
There's a picture of a cattle prod on his Wikipedia page, if that gives you any idea what he was like.
His actions led to countless false confessions which only happened after suspects were subjected to things like having their pets shot or guns held to their children's heads. Eventually, enough tales of coerced and potentially false confessions poured in that Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on death penalty executions in Illinois.
Is any of that happening at Homan Square? Well yeah, the part where people are detained and interrogated without access to legal counsel certainly happens. As for the torture and abuse, who knows? They don't exactly give public tours of the place. Either way, that Chicago has built an institution around depriving American citizens of their basic rights means that, somewhere, someone thinks Jon Burge might have had the right idea all along.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is generally thought of a pretty progressive place, and I suppose it is in a lot of ways. If you think that means they're immune from a plague of racist cops, you definitely put too much faith in the inherent goodness of police. As it turns out, San Francisco's police force is just as chock full o' racists as any other.
That came to light recently, while former Sgt. Ian Furminger was being investigated on federal corruption charges.
This guy is a racist cop? No way.
Among the files relating to that case were transcripts of text messages between as many as 10 different SFPD officers. As you might have guessed by now, they were all racist as shit. Examples? Sure, here's one from Furminger himself:
You know what? I think that should be sufficient. No one casually fires off a "white power" text without having a huge cache of other equally racist texts in their phone.
Interestingly, one of the cops at the center of the controversy is Michael Robinson ...
Is this a TV show yet?
... who, as that Advocate cover implies, is openly gay. Because who said gay and racist have to be mutually exclusive? I guess San Francisco is pretty progressive after all.
Anyway, as a result of the texting controversy, the city has launched an investigation into at least 1,000 cases relating to the officers in question, in an effort to determine if racial bias played a part in any of them.
On the bright side, this controversy goes a long way toward dispelling my long held belief that San Francisco doesn't have police at all.
Let's switch gears and talk about police misbehavior of a different kind: shitty driving. For some reason, it seems to be an epidemic among police in Washington DC. An ABC affiliate in the area looked at databases for six different police precincts around the area. They found that over a three year span, police were involved in more than 2,300 at-fault accidents.
"Improper backing," "driver inattention," and "failure to maintain control" were listed as the most common causes of the crashes, although that last one seems like it's probably at least kind of the cause in every accident, right?
If there's a silver lining, it's that in most of the cases where someone was injured, it was usually the cop doing the shitty driving. Unfortunately, that can't always be the case. In Montgomery County, eight people have been injured in accidents that were determined to be the fault of the police since 2010. Fairfax County has paid out more than $1,000,000 in claims related to the 471 at-fault accidents they've had since 2010.
Relax; of course the taxpayers covered it.
Don't take that to mean they're averse to trying to skirt responsibility when they tear shit up. In 2012, a man named Randy Smith was out $9,000 when a Manassas City Police Department vehicle crashed into his rental home. When he asked to be reimbursed, the city claimed sovereign immunity, which is a legal doctrine that says the sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong. That makes a person awfully difficult to sue, you know?
Of course, not every story of terrible driving by the D.C. Metro area police has such a slapstick quality to it. In 2008, a woman named Ashley McIntosh was killed after a police cruiser ran a red light without using a siren and smashed into the side of her car. The incident was captured by a dashboard camera.
Things have gotten so out of hand in Prince George's County that the police department there recently launched a campaign called "Arrive Alive" that's aimed at reminding cops to not drive like they're in the movies.
So see, not all police craziness involves wanton gun violence! But sometimes it does! Take it away, Albuquerque!
Albuquerque, New Mexico
If you ever find yourself in some kind of police brutality fantasy league, take the Albuquerque PD in the first goddamn round if they're available, because per capita, no one gets the killing of innocent civilians done as efficiently as those lunatics.
The federal government conducted a 16-month investigation and found that, out of the 21 fatal shootings they reviewed, police were not justified to use deadly force in the majority of the incidents. Keep in mind that these numbers only cover a period of time spanning from 2009 to 2012. During that same period, despite not a single officer being arrested or charged for any crimes, they paid $24 million in settlement money to the families of the victims.
Fast forward to right now, and the APD has upped their kill total to 28, which puts them at about twice the rate of the Chicago PD and eight times higher than the NYPD.
For the record, there are only 550,000 people in Albuquerque.
Again, until very recently, not a single officer had been charged in any of these killings. That finally changed after the sad case of James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who police initially contacted after someone called to complain that he was camping in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, which is technically a crime, but just barely. When officers tried to pat him down, he pulled out two small knives, at which point the officers did the only reasonable thing: They called in an army of 40 cops as backup. The ensemble included everything from uniformed cops to the tactical K-9 unit.
The gang's all here!
They were eventually able to convince Boyd to pack his shit and leave the mountain, and that's when things really got out of hand. As he was gathering his things, Detective Keith Sandy threw a stun grenade. Someone else fired a Taser. Not wanting to be left out of the party, the K-9 unit deployed their dog as well. James Boyd didn't die at the scene, but he did later at the hospital.
In a refreshing change of pace for how things like this normally play out in Albuquerque, Keith Sandy and another officer, Dominique Perez, are facing murder charges for their actions. They are the first Albuquerque police to be charged with murder for an on-the-job shooting in ... forever. They're the first. Ever.
They probably won't be the last, though! The laundry list of Albuquerque PD offenses is mind boggling. In one incident, they Tasered a man who'd doused himself in gasoline. Guess what the spark of a Taser does to gas? Right, fire! The man caught on fire. They fucking set someone on fire.
THEY SET HIM ON FIRE!
Another terrifying incident involved an officer shooting a fatal round into the chest of a man who, at the time, was lying motionless on his back after already being shot several times. His crime? Fleeing a traffic stop on foot.
It's even spilling over into cop-on-cop violence. In one wacky incident, an undercover cop somehow managed to shoot another undercover cop during a sting operation that involved $60 worth of meth.
Congratulations, Albuquerque PD. You're the fucking craziest.
Adam is on Twitter and you should follow him there @adamtodbrown.
For more from the previous installments of the Justice Trilogy, check out 5 Reasons Police Have Probably Started The Next Civil War and 5 Exonerated Criminals Who Did Worse Stuff After Being Free.
Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements. An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move. A young woman from the trailer park and her very smelly cat. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, a new novel about futuristic shit, by David Wong.