A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Law and Disorder’ tag

There’s No Kill Like Overkill

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Proportionality is a concept that many law enforcers appear to have trouble understanding. For example, killing a man for selling untaxed cigarettes isn’t a proportional punishment for the crime. Likewise, blowing up a man’s house to catch a shoplifter is not a proportional response to the crime:

In June of 2015, Reason reports, a man named Robert Jonathan Seacat shoplifted from a Denver area Walmart. He stole a shirt and two belts and then fled, first by car and then on foot, before breaking into a nearby home to hide inside.

Seacat was known to have one gun on him, and officers claimed he shot at them, but after the fact, investigators didn’t find evidence he’d fired that weapon or the two other guns that were already in the house. That’s perhaps because, as would later be discovered when police eventually took Seacat into custody, he was by that time probably feeling awful, as he had allegedly swallowed a container of methamphetamine that began to leak into his body.

The house had a security system that alerted the police of the break-in, and the cops arrived armed to the teeth. As court documents show, “50 SWAT officers” assaulted the house using “40 mm rounds, tear gas, flashbang grenades, two armored Bearcats [a type of armored vehicle] and breaching rams,” plus “68 cold chemical munitions and four hot gas munitions.”

And they used all of it to totally destroy this home. Their harebrained plan was to blow up every room, one by one, to herd Seacat into a corner of the house so police could be certain of his location. This process was ineffective as well as counterproductive: It created so much rubble that a police robot was not able to deliver a phone to Seacat for negotiations.

What’s the value of a shirt and two belts from Walmart? It’s probably somewhere between $30 and $50. What’s the value of a house, fuel for a Bearcat, 40mm teargas rounds, flashbang grenades, breaching rams, chemical munitions, hot gas munitions, a remotely controlled robot, and 50 officers’ time? A hell of a lot more than $50.

Shoplifting doesn’t requires a militarized squad of law enforcers to deal with. It requires compensation. Walmart probably has insurance against shoplifting so it was likely covered. In that case the insurance company had a right to seek compensation from the thief, which it could have easily done in small claims court. If the thief refused to appear in court, the judge could have simply ruled in favor of the insurance company or, at most, sent a single officer to kidnap the thief and bring him to court. Such a response would have been proportional to the crime.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 22nd, 2017 at 10:30 am

Freedom of Speech is a Funny Thing

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Freedom of speech can be a funny thing, especially when you combine it with an officer who doesn’t understand how the legalities of free speech work. I’m guessing that many of you are familiar with the Sheriff Troy Nehls. He’s the man who posted a picture of a truck that had a window sticker that read, “Fuck Trump and fuck you for voting for him,” with a comment threatening legal action. After learning her identity he even had her arrested (he claimed it was for an outstanding warrant but all evidence indicates that it was harassment for the window sticker). The owner of the truck has been released from jail and has responded to his threat:

Karen Fonseca, the driver of a truck with an expletive sticker directed toward President Donald Trump, has added another name to the display: Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls.

The new adjustments read, “F (expletive) Trump and f (expletive) you for voting for him. F (expletive) Troy Nehls and f (expletive) you for voting for him.”

Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse… unless you’re a law enforcer. If Sheriff Nehls had familiarized himself at all with First Amendment case history, he’d know that the courts have frequently ruled in favor of the individuals being censored by the government. Fonesca’s window sticker wasn’t threatening in any manner so there is no ground on which to claim that she was inciting violence. Yet Sheriff Nehls, who is supposed to be the top law enforcer in his department, decided it was appropriate to threaten violence against her. If anybody should have been arrested, it was him.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 21st, 2017 at 10:30 am

Professionalism

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Once in a while the War on Drugs brings us humor instead of tragedy:

Sources say it started when two special ops officers from the 12th Precinct were operating a “push off” on Andover near Seven Mile. That is when two undercover officers pretend to be dope dealers, waiting for eager customers to approach, and then arrest potential buyers and seize their vehicles.

But this time, instead of customers, special ops officers from the 11th Precinct showed up. Not realizing they were fellow officers, they ordered the other undercover officers to the ground.

FOX 2 is told the rest of the special ops team from the 12th Precinct showed up, and officers began raiding a house in the 19300 block of Andover. But instead of fighting crime, officers from both precincts began fighting with each other.

Sources say guns were drawn and punches were thrown while the homeowner stood and watched.

I’m glad to see the officers were fighting with the actual criminals for once.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 16th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

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The older I get the more cynical I become towards statistics. Statistics can be a valuable tool for identifying trends. However, the trends revealed by statistics often have multiple possible explanations. Case in point, a lot of media outlets have been making a big deal about the supposed rise in hate crimes, especially against Muslims. They have been quick to blame the election of Trump. However, another cause of this trend could be methodology:

There were 271 more incidents deemed hate crimes in 2016 than the previous year, according to the latest Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data. There were also 257 more law enforcement agencies reporting last year, so that increase could largely or even entirely be a matter of getting more complete statistics. The higher numbers mostly represent small increases in incidents classified as anti-Hispanic, anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, or anti-white.

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Some will surely blame the beginning of Donald Trump’s political ascendancy, and that can’t be ruled out. But another explanation is as likely, if not more likely: The FBI changed how it classified certain hate-crime incidents in 2015.

Before this period, crimes based on someone’s ethnicity or national origin were simply sorted into Hispanic or non-Hispanic bias incidents, leaving us with a cache of uncountable incidents that could’ve been based on someone’s perceived Middle Eastern or Arabic status. But in 2015, ethnicity was lumped in with the racial-bias category. This means that some of the incidents previously attributed to a general sort of anti–Middle Eastern bias could either be categorized as anti-Arab racial/ethnic bias or anti-Muslim religious bias, possibly spiking the anti-Islamic incident stats.

More law enforcement agencies providing data may be influencing the results. Moreover, the category being mentioned most frequently by the media, hate crimes against Muslims, is a recent addition. Going from zero incidents before 2014 to incidents in 2015 will necessarily show an increase in incidents.

None of this is to say that Trump’s election hasn’t played a contributing factor. But there are also alternative explanations for the increase in hate crimes that cannot be ignored. Perhaps the increase in hate crimes is a combination of Trump’s election and changes to methodology. Statistics can reveal a trend of the methodology is solid. But even if a trend is revealed, statistics can seldom point to a specific cause or provide an effective solution.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 15th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Turning Minneapolis into a Prison to Appease Our NFL Masters

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Back in 2008 the Republican National Convention was hosted in St. Paul. In response the city was basically turned into a prison. Surveillance equipment was setup everywhere, heavily armed and armored officers were out on patrol, streets were shutdown, etc.

If you missed out on that experience or want to relive the experience, I have some news for you. The city of Minneapolis, in order to appease our National Football League masters, is going to be turned into a prison:

The final plans, including which streets are closed and when, are expected to be announced in the next couple of days.

If the most recent Super Bowls in San Francisco and Houston are an indication, the security operation is like none other the Twin Cities has ever seen. Snipers will be on rooftops and in buildings in strategic places. Officers in head-to-toe commando gear will be on the streets gripping assault rifles against their chests.

Minneapolis Police Cmdr. Scott Gerlicher said the influx of federal agents to Minnesota will be the largest in the 52 years of Super Bowl history. “We are prepared for anything that might come our way,” he said last week.

The full extent of the security won’t be visible, but it will be everywhere: in the skies and on the ground. Whatever equipment is available will be used — from tactical vehicles to helicopters and boats.

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In addition to uniformed officers, there will be other obvious visible protections, including 2.5 miles of concrete barriers topped with wire fencing. Some busy spaces will follow NFL bag restrictions (including no purses) and have metal detectors. The airspace will be restricted above the stadium during the game.

All of this for one fucking game.

In addition to turning the city into a prison, the security arrangements will likely impact local businesses. A yet undisclosed number of streets in Minneapolis will be shutdown, which will impact any businesses that rely on them. And I highly doubt the NFL will compensate those businesses for such losses. Likewise, I highly doubt the City of Minneapolis will give those businesses a tax credit as compensation for not being able to use the roads they pay taxes to use. After all, they’re nobodies compared to the might that is the NFL.

I hope that the worse winter storm in the history of the state hits on Super Bowl weekend. It would be fun to see how well these assholes handle security in several feet of snow.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 10th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste

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Proponents of gun control aren’t the only ones clamoring for a ban of some sort after the recent Texas shooting. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is setting the ground work to once again push for a ban on effective cryptography:

A Federal Bureau of Investigation official said today that the agency has been unable to access an encrypted phone used by the gunman who killed 26 people at a rural Texas church on Sunday.

At a press conference, Christopher Combs, the FBI special agent in charge of the investigation, said the phone had been transported back to the FBI in Quantico, Virginia for examination. Investigators have identified Devin Patrick Kelley as the gunman in the shooting, which unfolded in the town of Sutherland Springs.

“Unfortunately, at this point in time, we are unable to get into that phone,” Combs said.

The shooter is dead and from what I’ve seen his motivations are understood. There is no evidence that he was part of a network that is planning other similar attacks so who fucking cares if the FBI can’t get into his phone? Statists. Why? Because the FBI’s inadequacy, in their minds, makes everybody unsafe. It’s the same mindset that causes people to demand a ban on firearms. If a technology allows an individual to defend themselves, especially against government agents, then it is dangerous and must be prohibited.

Statists want nothing more than to turn the entire country into Nineteen Eighty-Four.

A Different Set of Rules

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If you roughed somebody up and then detained them, what do you think would happen to you? I suspect that you’d be tossed in a cage for assault and unlawful detainment. However, if you wore a shiny badge and a magic suit, you might get fired from your job but somebody else would certainly get stuck paying the bill for your transgression:

A Utah nurse who was roughed up and arrested on July 26 by a Salt Lake City cop because she told the officer that he needed a warrant to draw blood from an unconscious patient has settled for a $500,000 payout.

Body cam footage from the scene shows University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels calmly telling the officer, who was trained for the task of blood withdrawal, that he cannot take a blood sample because the patient, who was involved in a vehicle crash, had neither been arrested nor gave consent. Then the cop lunges and grabs the nurse as she was fearfully backing away. He rushes her outside the hospital, and handcuffs her. All the while, she’s screaming that there’s no reason for her detainment.

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The $500,000 settlement is to be paid jointly by Salt Lake City and University Hospital. A hospital officer on the scene told the nurse that she would be obstructing justice if she interfered with Payne’s investigation.

Emphasis mine.

While the officer in question was fired, he didn’t have to pay out the $500,000 settlement. Instead his employer, Salt Lake City, and the nurse’s employer got stuck with the bill. Having that kind of shield from liability is one hell of a job perk. Unfortunately, possessing such a shield doesn’t incentivize good behavior.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 2nd, 2017 at 11:00 am

Be Careful with Those Freedom of Information Act Requests

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Be careful when you file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, it might put you in the sights of the National Security Agency (NSA):

Declassified documents in the Central Intelligence Agency’s archives show that while the CIA was looking to include the Freedom Of Information Act in its war on leaks, the National Security Agency was seriously considering using the Espionage Act to target target Puzzle Palace author James Bamford for using FOIA.

While Bamford has briefly discussed this on a handful of occasions, the declassified memos and briefings from NSA confirm that this was more than just an intimidation tactic or a passing thought – the NSA had truly wanted to jail a journalist for his use of public records. When the Agency determined that this was unlikely to happen, they moved on to exploring other legal avenues which could be used to punish Bamford for his FOIA work.

The passage of FOIA made it appear as though the federal government wanted to make itself accountable to the people. However, as with all government promises, what appeared to be the case and what actually ended up being the case were two different things. While FOIA appeared to give lowly plebs a mechanism to request information from the federal government, the most common results of filing a FOIA request seemed to be either a denial of the request or a heavily redacted version of the request. In the case of Bamford the result was first an attempt to imprison him and then an attempt to intimidate him.

We’re fortunate that the federal government still feels the need to appear at least somewhat legitimate. If it didn’t, I guarantee Bamford would have ended up charged under the Espionage Act. But anybody who is paying attention to the news realizes that the federal government is less and less concerned about appearing legitimate. I won’t be surprised if some poor soul who files a FOIA request ends up being charged and found guilty under the Espionage Act.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 27th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Your Vote Matters

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A lawsuit has been brought against Georgia election officials because of the sordid state of the election system they utilize. Apparently some people are a bit touchy about using an election system that is insecure and could enable tampering. Coincidentally, shortly after the lawsuit was file, the server in question was wiped:

A computer server crucial to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was quietly wiped clean by its custodians just after the suit was filed, The Associated Press has learned.

The server’s data was destroyed July 7 by technicians at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University, which runs the state’s election system. The data wipe was revealed in an email — sent last week from an assistant state attorney general to plaintiffs in the case — that was obtained by the AP. More emails obtained in a public records request confirmed the wipe.

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Wiping the server clean “forestalls any forensic investigation at all,” said Richard DeMillo, a Georgia Tech computer scientist who has closely followed the case. “People who have nothing to hide don’t behave this way.”

Weird.

And, of course, nobody is sure who ordered the server to be wiped and I won’t be surprised if the culprit is never discovered. Then again I’m a cynic who assumes the lack of security of Georgia’s election server was seen by officials as a feature, not a bug.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 27th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Body Cameras Are Doing What They Were Meant to Do

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The number of complaints against police since the large scale adoption of body cameras by law enforcers has obviously plummeted, right? And the officers caught doing unlawful things by their body cameras have lead to a lot of corrupt officers being arrested and tried, right? As it turns out, not so much:

But what happens when the cameras are on the chests of police officers? The results of the largest, most rigorous study of police body cameras in the United States came out Friday morning, and they are surprising both police officers and researchers.

For seven months, just over a thousand Washington, D.C., police officers were randomly assigned cameras — and another thousand were not. Researchers tracked use-of-force incidents, civilian complaints, charging decisions and other outcomes to see if the cameras changed behavior. But on every metric, the effects were too small to be statistically significant. Officers with cameras used force and faced civilian complaints at about the same rates as officers without cameras.

While this study is interesting I think it’s a bit unfair to judge body cameras by criteria they were never designed to address. Were body cameras meant to address police abuses the officers wouldn’t have control over when they record and the video wouldn’t be uploaded to servers controlled by the departments. Instead the cameras would be record constantly and the video would be streamed and saved to a server controlled by an independent third-party charged with holding officers accountable.

The reason law enforcement agencies have been willing (and often enthusiastically willing) to adopt body cameras is because they recognized that such devices would prove useful for collecting evidence. If an officer wants to collect evidence, they just need to press the record button and video will be uploaded to a service like Evidence.com that their department has full control over. If the video is evidence of a crime, it is saved so it can be used in court. If the video records something that might embarrass the officer or the department, it can be tossed down a memory hole.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 26th, 2017 at 11:00 am