Some Thoughts on Ferguson; and the Police

923 (1)No, I’m not going to tell you who is right or wrong here, I don’t know, and you don’t either. Even the prosecutor doesn’t really have a handle on it yet. I can make any argument you want on it – but it all bulls**t until the facts have been found.

Still like many of you, I have become concerned with the increasing militarization of American police. In my lifetime we have gone from, if not quite Andy Griffith, Adam 12 was a fair portrait of what we expected of our police. Firm when necessary, fair, spending more time helping people than anything else, and always respectful of their boss, the taxpayer.

That started to change after the riots in 1968, when the police found themselves with several handicaps, not least being under armed, with .38 caliber revolvers and shotguns. To carry on the TV comparison, the next hit show was SWAT, and that showed us a squad of police who had special training to handle the tough chores, snipers, barricaded suspects and stuff like that. Almost universally they were part of big city police departments, and were in actuality used rarely. And that was fine with us, we understood why sometimes the patrol officer with his pistol and shotgun wasn’t enough. (In some rural areas, the shotguns were replaced by rifles, just as in the thirty’s Thompson submachine guns, while rare, did show up occasionally.)

On TV the SWAT guys showed up in a step van, which was kind of intimidating, with its dark paint and all, but it was just a truck, many of us have driven similar.

But what we’re seeing in Ferguson is so different as to defy description. These guys don’t look, or act, like American cops at all. They look, talk, and act like the armored infantry in Fallujah, and to be honest, Ferguson likely has its problems, most cities do (some local friends say the locals are actually pretty good and most of the troublemakers are from elsewhere. I have little problem believing that) but it is by no stretch of anybody’s imagination comparable to Fallujah circa 2005.

Mark Steyn wrote on this the other day and his thinking is valuable, as usual. One thing that he reminds us is that ‘the police’ is a modern idea. The Metropolitan (London) Police were the first modern force, put together by Sir Robert Peel (Thus both Bobbies in England and Peelers in Ireland), during the Duke of Wellington’s Prime Ministership. Few men have had more fear of the mob taking over. Some of my English friends have told me that this fear of the mob is why our American emphasis on the individual nonpulses them. At which point I remind them that no less than John Adams also warned about the Mobocracy.

As they got started, establishing the force Sir Robert and his people established Nine Principles of Policing. Here they are

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

It would be very well for many, many in police leadership to review these carefully and to understand that number 7 is literally true. We the people have delegated our rights and authority to them. They do not have any more power de jure than any other citizen, we just pay them to do it, so that we may pursue other things.

Note that here we are talking about the police, local and state. The Sheriff and his deputy goes far back in our history to the Shire Reeve who was responsible to the king for maintaining the King’s law in the counties of old England. Remember the Sheriff of Nottingham that chased Robin Hood (who was not the wonderful guy you’ve heard of, he was an early redistributionist, taking people’s private property to give to others who had not earned it). Marshals, I suspect, could trace their lineage back to the marshals of England, which was a military office, probably also the progenitor of Field Marshals.

Most police wear blue uniforms, leading to the phrase “The thin blue line” and that also goes back to Sir Robert. Law enforcement had traditionally been done (at least in the last resort) by the military, usually after reading the Riot Act, (see also: The Boston Massacre in 1770) and Peel wanted to differentiate his police from soldiers. British soldiers wore red uniforms of course, leading to such terms as Redcoats, and the not quite so nice Lobsterback, so Peel gave his people blue uniforms.

When we imported the idea, I suspect, in our usual method, we just brought it over lock, stock, and barrel. Maybe we made a mistake there though, While British troops traditionally wear red, American troops traditionally wear blue. maybe American police should wear red uniforms, of course then they’d look like the Mounties, and that wouldn’t be bad thing, either.

The thing is when I was young we were taught that we would act as we dressed, and just importantly, that was also how people would treat us. We would behave more like ladies and gentlemen if we dressed like it. Our sports teams were required to wear a jacket and tie (until you had an award sweater or jacket, and you still wore the tie). Basically we dressed like civilized (sort of, anyway) human beings. We almost always wore a shirt, not a t-shirt advertising something and so forth. It did no harm, and I think it instilled a sense of self-worth in us. What does that have to do with this? If you are wearing a police uniform, likely you’ll act like a police officer. Yes, I do dislike the newer uniforms with their stuffed pockets, drab gear, and ball caps. I think they reduce respect for the wearer.

But if you dress like an infantryman, you’ll likely act like one too, and that is a lot of what I see around St. Louis right now. I’m not saying those police think they are in combat, or anything else derogatory about them, I just think they would get better results looking like police officers, and not soldiers. And incidentally, my recollection is that the British down around Basra in 2004 and or so, got much better results when they took off their version of the Robocop helmets and wore there berets, on patrol. Apparently the locals found them much more approachable.

So maybe this whole militarization thing is not only wrong, for a civilian agency, but counterproductive, as well.

[Update 14:48] I take nothing I said here back but, if your would like to know what is really going on in Ferguson, go here for a local perspective. CL is one of the best bloggers I know, and never wrong on her home town. (At least as far as I know.)


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16 Responses to Some Thoughts on Ferguson; and the Police

  1. Mike says:

    While I believe Tribalism is at the foundation of our problems, clearly those who wish control desire a recognizable and intimidating Force with which to enforce it. These are interesting issues bundled in Ferguson.


    • NEO says:

      There truly are, and they go far beyond the simplistic right and wrong. I think you could be right on Tribalism, but so what, we’ve been tribal since at least Father Abram and it’s not going to change, we need to find some way for our tribes to live in peace.


      • Mike says:

        Unfortunately horrible people are being born this very second. Until we recognize what our Founding Fathers recognized… again… that the Individual is the ultimate minority and support a system that protects him we will be doomed to fight for who gets control until the end of time. That’s the ‘what’ part. You may well be right when you say it will not change. The odds are certainly with your observation. It makes me sad as your being correct means this country was also doomed from the beginning and has been a small, meaningless experiment in self government.


        • NEO says:

          I don’t necessarily believe that, and you don’t either. The Founders (and in truth the Brits, as well) found a good balance, a federation of tribes, so to speak, like the Boston tribe, and the Nebraska tribe, etc.. The British played off the old Barons, against the King. Ying and yang, force, counterforce.

          I think the key is to keep most of the power local. father Abram headed a family, not a nation.

          We need to get back to our roots. Doomed? Nope. Very difficult though because we’ve let the statists get entrenched but I think we can do it, and I think we must. We’ve been doing OK mostly, for 1000 years, it ain’t gonna disappear by 2016.

          But, yeah, it does sometime feel as if, “War, wars and lechery, nothing else hold fashion.”


  2. the unit says:

    Restoring order in Ferguson…
    Call time out. Instruct Al, Jessie, Holder and looters in the old broom trick. Place your right foot behind your left calf (or left foot behind right calf). Place broom stick on toe of foot behind whichever calf. Ask them to see how far they can kick the broom.
    When they do it… they (and all around) see what fools they are.
    Legitimate protesters laugh them out of town. 🙂


    • NEO says:

      Yep. The locals are cleaning up after the out of towners making all the trouble, and there is more media in town than protesters. It’s increasingly nothing but a squirrel to distract the people.


  3. New version of events out today:

    I have a sneaking suspicion that not all details were reported in order to actually have a shot of putting this in the grand jury’s hands so that there would not be a change in venue. It’s a local political thing. Although, to be fair to everyone, if there is a trial, it should move to the middle of the state. Say Jeff City or something.


    • NEO says:

      I’d guess you might well be right. About the only one looking good right now is your DA. I’m impressed by him, by the way. This whole story is really beyond its sell by date, I think. Time for everyone to go home and relax.


      • Exactly. Bob McCullough is a dedicated public servant. He is VERY smart, very honest, not afraid to take on the state. Called the governor’s bluff. He also rides in a convertible in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade every year. He’s the only public servant who does not walk and there is a very closely held reason for that.

        The other elected official who deserves credit basically for not saying anything public is the mayor of the City of St. Louis, Francis Slay. I would not be surprised if he is very vocal behind the scenes, but Francis knows better than to fan flames. He’s been known to solve potential powder kegs behind closed doors, and the big one had to do with telling off an archbishop. Picked that up on the executive assistant grapevine where all the REALLY good gossip is.


        • NEO says:

          Yep, the man is good, and impressive. I remember when a lot of Democrats were like that, and politics didn’t matter so much.

          You’re right, I haven’t heard anything at all about him, and that’s good, likely he’s got a lot going on. Good on him.

          Yep, I’ve always known that if I want good information ask the exec assistant (or in older days the secretary) They alway know, almost always better than their principal


  4. BTW, information on the case that I have shared is available via public sources, primarily a combination of StlToday, KTVI, KMOV, KSDK, Gateway Pundit, The Riverfront Times. I can back it.

    The part about the Clayton meter maids…yeah, that’s no secret.


    • NEO says:

      I’m glad you put it in the comments, I know how careful you are, others don’t. I’m reading your link, this officer by that story is one heck of a clear headed hero, in my mind.


      • Yes, and if they have solid proof that the perp went for the gun, that would mean fingerprints most likely, but I don’t want to speculate.

        The other thing I’ve never mentioned, is that the police departments talk to each other enough that stories of these incidents spread. I have a friend who is a member of a north county force and that person has been very quiet other than to say God Bless D.W. When a commenter replied “And Michael Brown” my friend said “No comment.” I get the idea they know EXACTLY what happened.


        • NEO says:

          Yep they do, always have, and in fact we did too in the utilities.

          I’d bet they do, and by the way, I was making no comment on the police involved in this. I think they may have some leadership problems, but the troops are doing a good job, I think.


      • NEO, I have to be careful. This is a big small town and the people involved are connected to a lot of my circle. The only leadership problem the local police have is undermining by state camera hogs. Don’t fall for the crap.


        • NEO says:

          No problem, CL. I’ll take that word to the bank, that I’ve seen before, good for them, and they have my very best wishes. They do a hard job, and they do it well.


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