Quiz: Which Law Enforcement Fiasco Was More Unethical?

It’s Quiz Time!

Chief Wiggum would be an upgrade.

Today’s topic: Why the public doesn’t trust the law enforcement system. Here are two horrible and true, tales of AWOL ethics involving law enforcement in New York and Tennessee. Which is more unforgivable, A or B?

A. Brooklyn, NY: The Perpetual Warrant

What is the fair limit of “the police made  an honest mistake”? Let’s say the police have a warrant to search your house, and come to your door because they got the address wrong—and it’s a mistake. At least they didn’t break down the door in the middle of the night. OK, mistakes happen. Then they come again, because they got your address in error again. Annoying, but they seem embarrassed: they aren’t trying to harass you.

And then they arrive 48 more times. Continue reading

Police Raid Ethics

At 5:30 a.m. on Thursday of last week,  police officers, weapons drawn, burst into the home into the house and pointed guns at the McKay family of Spring Valley, New York. David McKay said officers were screaming for someone named Michael, and when he tried to explain that nobody by that name lived there, the police pulled him, in his underwear, outside into the freezing cold. Then officers ordered McKay’s 13-year-old daughter out of her bed at gunpoint, a trauma that caused her to vomit, faint, and later to have an asthma attack. Continue reading

Compassionate Police Work, Vegas-style

When should compassion, empathy, and caring outweigh diligence and duty? I’d say this is an example. Too bad the Las Vegas Police Department doesn’t see it that way.

13-year-old girl Takara Davis is in an induced coma to help her recover from being hit by a car. She was walking home and apparently was jaywalking when the accident occurred. Takara was issued a jaywalking citation, but since she had bleeding on the brain and was unconscious, a police officer made a special trip to the hospital to hand it to her mother. “She has got to go to court on March 6th,” Takara’s mom told reporters. Continue reading

Police Brutality: Direct TV Strikes Again!

In a previous post that apparently established the proprietor of Ethics Alarms as a “fuddy-duddy,” I discussed the disturbing series of stereotype-bashing Direct TV commercials that sets out to show how amusing irrational hatred and gratuitously cruel behavior can be. The commercials seem to be escalating, and why not? Ethics Alarms isn’t their only, or most prominent, critic, and ethics be damned—the ads are being watched and talked about! Victory! And besides, they’re aimed at football fans, a demographic that is rather less likely to find the encouragement of random violence upsetting in any way.

The latest “hurt your rival” drama from Direct TV shows two police casually tasering a man who “cheats” in the Fantasy Football league by using his Direct TV NFL  feed to get an upper hand on the competition. (He is seen twitching on the floor. LOL!). As a commenter on the previous post has pointed out, police nationwide are fighting a perception and public relations battle over alleged incidents of excessive force, many involving tasers. This commercial encourages distrust of the police, and reinforces a false and unfair perception that misuse of their power and authority is the norm. Is it worth the laughs, if indeed there are any?

I think the standards for comedians and commercials should be different, with comics having the broadest possible discretion to do or say whatever they feel is necessary to promote mirth from their audiences. TV commercials are more than entertainment: the audiences don’t choose the content of ads or know when they will see them, and their visibility and repetition gives the commercials enough influence over cultural attitudes to warrant a higher level of responsibility on the part of the company and the ad agency.

Mainstream media ads both reflect public attitudes and mold them. The Direct TV ads either show we have a callous society, or are helping to make us one.

The Fake Fight, the Injured Officer, and the Forgotten Fable

In the wake of a high-profile case in which a black teen was apparently beaten by an arresting police officer, an Indianapolis African-American minister decided that a simulation of an arrest situation might be revealing. James Harrington, a pastor at Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, asked Police Sgt. Matthew Grimes to speak at an anti-violence symposium, but he had a surprise for the officer. Harrington had arranged for actors to stage a fight in the crowd—a test, Harrington said later, of Grimes’ response to a fight between two black men. Grimes attempted to break up the faux fight, and seriously injured his back. Continue reading

Ethics Tip For Police Being Videoed: Smile!

Every now and then one learns about a practice that seems so obviously wrong that it is difficult to believe it could really occur in America. The police’s broad power to confiscate property used in the commission of a crime stunned me when I first read about it in law school. Municipal government use of the power of eminent domain to take private property and turn it over to corporate interests for profit-making development, as in the Kelo case, was another example. During the health care reform debate, I learned that our elected representatives not only didn’t bother to read major legislation, they thought there was nothing wrong with not reading it. I’m still scratching my head over that one.

The increasingly common phenomenon of police arresting citizens for recording arrests and other police activity on video is the most recent example of conduct that is so wrong it is hard to believe it happens—but it does. Continue reading

“Seattle Cop Punches Girl In Face!” Ethical?

YouTube is a wonderful resource that enriches our entertainment, makes us laugh, holds people in the public eye accountable for their actions, and give us better access to current events than ever before. In the area of police conduct, it has exposed abuses that might have otherwise escaped scrutiny. It is also eventually going to get a police officer killed.

The viral video of a Seattle cop punching a teenaged girl in the face has been getting the Rodney King treatment from the broadcast media and the web, with the immediate assumption that his actions are per se proof of police brutality and excessive force. All the societal hot buttons are stacked against the cop: he punches a woman (“You don’t hit a girl!“); she’s a teen (It’s an adult beating a child!); she’s black, and he’s white (Racism!); the underlying offense that triggered the incident was as minor as you can get. (“Jaywalking?”) Predictable, the sensation-hunting news outlets and the usual knee-jerk critics of the police (the N.A.A.C.P. and the A.C.L.U.) have pounced. This is neither a fair nor a competent way to examine a complex incident. Continue reading

The Last Word on “Taser Boy”

Today the New York Times weighed in with an editorial on the Phillies taser incident, not surprisingly siding with the kinder, gentler majority who have argued against the position taken here, sometimes, like my passionate friends over at Popehat, in a not so kind or gentle way. “The best course there [Philadelphia], as anywhere, is smarter, more attentive security in the stands,” the Times said. “Maybe it’s also higher Plexiglas, stiffer trespassing fines, less beer. Force must always be the last resort. Tasering a showboating kid is just plain excessive.”


Continue reading

The Fan, the Taser, and Respect for the Law

A teenaged fan ran out on the field in the middle of a Philadelphia Phillies game a couple of days ago. This happens many times, too many times, during the baseball season, and it is always followed by a merry chase, sometimes with fans laughing or cheering, featuring over-weight security staff or police trying to capture the fool, and occasionally a featuring a  surprise, like a player intervening and decking the guy. There was a surprise this time, all right: when the fan wouldn’t stop after the pursuing officer told him to, he was shot with a taser. And some fans cheered at that, too.

A tsunami of criticism is now crashing over the security officer, condemning the tasering of 17-year-old Steve Consalvi, sometimes in terms more appropriate to discussing Abu Ghraib. If I were Consalvi’s father, I would counsel him to immediately issue a statement taking full responsibility for the incident and absolving the officer. The teen’s conduct was irresponsible and illegal, and for it to result in any adverse employment action against the security officer who tasered him would only compound the offense. This is especially true because the critics of the officer are dead wrong. They are in the grip of a dangerous, illogical but increasingly popular idea in our culture that submitting to  legitimate police authority is one of those things that we can do or not do without consequences or stigma. The fan on the field is one of the mildest examples of disrespect for the law, but it is a perfectly good place to start getting our ethics unmuddled. Continue reading

Public Privacy and the Ubiquitous Camera

Everybody has a camera…well, almost everybody. Thanks to cell phones, we can be recorded in still or video formats almost every second of the day. We are our own Big Brother.  So much so, in fact, that it is hard to muster too much fright and indignation over increasing use of public cameras by the government. Boston police, for example, now have immediate access to street video of shootings, robberies, and homicides on many city streets, and use real time images to send information about the suspects and crimes to responding officers. Continue reading