I got a taste of what modern policing has become today—which is to say, an absolute unwillingness to allow anything but complete, unquestioning obedience. Officer Friendly has long since retired, apparently.
For the past fifteen years, I have worked every day on the same very small military installation as a contractor. This morning, as I was approaching the main gate, when I started off after the stoplight, I didn’t shift upshift. So, the Goat was just wailing that sweet V8 growl as I approached the gate. About fifty yards from the gate, I slowed down, rolled down my window, and had my ID outside the car as I approached. Usually, there are civilian DoD police at the gate, but this morning, it was manned by a reservist, a 2nd Class Master at Arms—the Navy’s equivalent to Military Police. We had a brief conversation that went, as nearly as I can remember it like this:
PO2: (Snippy) Are you running late this morning?
(At this point, I could instantly see that my answer displeased him.)
PO2: (Scowling) You need to keep your speed down.
Me: I always observe the speed limits when I’m on the installation.
PO2: (Waving me through) You need to keep your speed down off-base, too.
Me: (Starting to drive away) What happens off-base isn’t your jurisdiction.
I got to my office, turned on my computer, and went into the break area to warm up a couple of delicious whole-wheat Eggos. While I was standing in the kitchen, a uniformed DoD police officer walked in and asked me if I owned the Red GTO. When I said I did, he then asked for my driver’s license. I asked, since I wasn’t operating a motor vehicle, if I was required to show it to him. (In CA, you are not required to do so when not operating a vehicle, nor are you required to show an ID otherwise. It’s different on military bases, of course, in that you are required to show an ID).
When I gave it to him, he then began to tell me how bad my attitude was, and how I should be more respectful of the police, what with them having such a hard job and all. I said that, when it came to respect, maybe the gate guard should’ve been a little less snippy. He said they didn’t need me making smart remarks about their jurisdiction, because they have a close relationship with civilian law enforcement, and he himself, had worked for Atlanta PD for fifteen years. I denied driving at an excessive speed when I approached the gate, said that my comment about jurisdiction was completely valid and that did not have the authority to issue traffic citations off-base, and that if they felt they needed to call CHP to give me a citation, they should do so. Otherwise, he should present me with a citation or arrest me for a military-related offense. Failing that, I was uninterested in further conversation. He seemed a bit upset when he left.
About twenty minutes later, two more DoD policemen came into my office. One of them was the major who serves as the installation’s police chief. They asked to talk to me outside. I told them that, since it appeared that I was the target of some sort of investigation I would refuse to answer any questions without consulting legal council. They asked me to step outside the building and I complied. The major then asked me where I was getting my legal knowledge from, and I replied that I had been an active-duty military policeman for 10 years. They asked for my license, registration and insurance card, and workcenter supervisors. While one officer began to write down my information, the major then told me that as a military policeman I should have a better attitude and be more cooperative. He then presented a hypothetical situation about approaching the gate at a high rate of speed. I said, "Hypothetically, I would categorically deny any such allegations". He began to ask me more questions, and I stopped him, saying:
Me: Don’t I have the right to remain silent?
Major: Well, if you are a former MP you should know that Miranda only applies to custodial interviews, not voluntary ones."
Me: So, is this a voluntary interview?
Me: So, I’m free to go?
(The major hesitated at this point, probably because both he and I knew what the only correct answer was.)
Major: Yes, you’re free to go.
Me: Then, I think we’re done here.
I retrieved my documentation from the other officer, put it my car, and walked back into the building.
Another twenty minutes passed when two different officers showed up at my office and asked me to come outside. When I did, they presented me with a base traffic ticket for not having my car registered on base. Quite honestly, I didn’t know I was required to, since the Navy no longer issues vehicle decals. We were told that registration was no longer necessary, but apparently the registration regulation is still on the books. The ticket had already been written before the officers approached me. One of them—the officer who had been sent over to speak with me the first time—said, "By direction of the base police chief, I am issuing you a citation for failure to register your vehicle within ten days. You can call the base traffic office if you have any questions." I said, "Wait a second, I haven’t even had my plates for ten days. I just bought the car." He said, "Your registration is dated more than 10 days ago. That’s the date we go by." Then they left.
So, I went to Pass & ID register my car—as well as my motorcycle, which has never been registered either—and they tore up my ticket. Then when I got back to my office, I called to the regional headquarters, and spoke directly with the GS-15 who runs all the local Navy police operations. I explained that I had a brief, snippy conversation with the gate guard, and since then, had been pulled out of my workcenter three separate times by five DoD police officers, and that I felt it was a little excessive, especially considering the chief of police himself had been one of the officers. He said he would take care of it, which, I hope, means he will tell the local police to turn it down from 11.
So, that was my contact with the DoD police today. At every confrontation, they clearly expected me to respond with the appropriate degree of subservience, and were baffled and angered that I refused to do so. So, they couldn’t let it go. They just kept coming back to my office, as if repeated confrontations would make me more, rather than less, servile. And all this for something that wasn’t any sort of criminal offense.
It says a lot—none of it good—that the police seem to have the expectation of unquestioning obedience. It also says a lot that they seem used to getting it, which is our fault, not theirs.
This is the story of 20 year-old Tiawanda Moore. It seems she was dissatisfied with a contact she’d had with a Chicago police officer.
Moore, of Hammond, Ind., was being interviewed at police headquarters about her complaint that a patrol officer had grabbed her breast and given her his phone number when he came to her boyfriend’s South Side apartment on a domestic disturbance call.
No doubt the officer, having Moore’s best interests in mind, thought he would be a much better boyfriend. Sadly, Moore took this concern for her well-being amiss, and decided to file a complaint against the officer. At police headquarters, the investigating officers—who similarly appeared to have only Moore’s best interests at heart—suggested an alternate method of dispute resolution, that is to say, to drop her complaint entirely, as they preferred not to conduct a formal investigation, which would, really, just be an inconvenience to everyone involved. At that time, Moore decided to record the remainder of the conversation.
On the muffled recording, which was played for the jury Tuesday, Internal Affairs Officer Luis Alejo can be heard explaining to Moore that if she dropped the complaint, they could “almost guarantee” that the harassment would not happen again. He also suggested that going that route might save her the time and aggravation of a full investigation.
Ah. You see, if she decided not to demand a formal investigation, the IA investigators could "almost guarantee" that the breast-grabbing officer would get the word to cool his jets. And, isn’t an "almost guarantee" good enough? Not for Moore, apparently, who decided to use her Blackberry to record the conversation, because she felt, for some incomprehensible reason, that the Chicago Police Department might be downplaying her complaint.
And that’s why this case is being heard by a jury, as the quote above indicates.
The officers, of course, are not being tried for corruption or dereliction of duty, of course. Tiawanda Moore is the defendant, on two counts of—I kid you not—eavesdropping on a public official. In response to questioning by Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jo Murtaugh, Moore said:
“I was sure about what I wanted to do –I wanted him (the officer) to be at least fired from his job,” Moore testified. “I wanted justice, I wanted to be protected.”
But this is not the Chicago Way. The Chicago Way is to slap down hard any civilian peasant who presumes to record their politically-protected betters in a possible wrongdoing.
On the one hand, of course, we all know what the eventual result of an internal affairs investigation would be. The police would carefully investigate the police, and after due course would conclude that the police had done nothing wrong. And recording public officials without their knowledge when they are engaged in corrupt behavior might actually endanger their ability to engage in corruption.
On the other hand, all this could have been avoided by dropping her complaint in return for almost a guarantee that she won’t be bothered in the future.
But in Chicago, public officials, engaged in public duties on the public’s dime, have an expectation of privacy, and cannot be recorded without their consent. You, as a member of the public, can be recorded by the police at any time, with or without your consent, but you can never record them unless they graciously allow it.
The only possible reason for such a law, as far as I’m concerned, is to protect corrupt officials, and to prevent the public from exposing it.
We don’t drag public officials naked and screaming out of their offices to tar and feather them any more. Indeed, we can barely muster up the will to toss out incumbents who vote for such laws. But in a just world, , the Illinos Legislature, Internal Affairs Officer Luis Alejo and Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jo Murtaugh would, even now, be sporting the sleek plumage of an Albatross from the Exxon Valdez.
UPDATE: A commenter informs me the jury appears to have done the right thing and acquitted Moore. Still, none of the other players are sporting a heavy layer of fine down, so the glass is only half full.
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the controversy over the Obama presser on Monday, and the state of health care reform’s passage in the Congress.
The direct link to the podcast is unavailable this week due to technical problems, so you’ll need to listen to it at BTR.
The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.
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