A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Law and Disorder’ tag

You Don’t Have Any Rights

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If you read the Bill of Rights; which really is a bill of temporary privileges, all of which appear to have expired; you might get the impression that you have some kind of right against self-incrimination. At least that’s what a plain reading of the Fifth Amendment would lead one to believe. But self-incrimination means whatever the man in the muumuu says it means. In Minnesota one of those muumuu clad men decided that being compelled to provide the cryptographic key that unlocks your phone isn’t protected under the Fifth Amendment:

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a judge’s order requiring a man to provide a fingerprint to unlock his cellphone was constitutional, a finding that is in line with similar rulings across the U.S.

What does this mean for us Minnesotans? It means that the first thing you should do in a police encounter is deauthorize your fingerprint reader. How do you do that? I’m not familiar enough with the various Android devices to know how they handle fingerprint readers. On the iPhone rebooting the phone will deauthorize the fingerprint reader until the password is entered. So iPhone users should hold down their home and lock buttons (or volume down and lock buttons if you’re using an iPhone 7) for a few seconds. That will cause the phone to reboot. If the phone is confiscated the fingerprint reader won’t unlock the phone so even if you’re compelled to press your finger against the sensor it won’t be an act of self-incrimination.

Why do I say deauthorize your fingerprint reader during a police encounter instead of disabled it entirely? Because disabling the fingerprint reader encourages most people to reduce their security by using a simple password or PIN to unlock their phone. And I understand that mentality. Phones are devices that get unlocked numerous times per day. Having to enter a complex password on a crappy touchscreen keyboard dozens of times per day isn’t appealing. Fingerprint readers offer a compromise. You can have a complex password but you only have to enter it after rebooting the phone or after not unlocking the phone for 48 hours. Otherwise you just press your finger to the reader to unlock your phone. So enabling the fingerprint reader is a feasible way to encourage people to use a strong password, which offers far better overall security (PINs can be brute forced with relative ease and Android’s unlock patterns aren’t all that much better).

Written by Christopher Burg

January 19th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Where Criminals Get Their Guns

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Where do criminals get their guns? From other criminals:

Police are searching for the person who broke into an unmarked Ramsey County, Minn., sheriff’s car and stole an AR-15 rifle with a loaded magazine.

St. Louis Park police and the Ramsey County sheriff’s office are both very tight lipped about this unusual theft, executed Friday night by someone who seems to have known exactly what they were after and just how to steal it.

It amuses me that either the police or the author of this story saw fit to make the crime look more complex than it was. By “…someone who seems to have known exactly what they were after and just how to steal it.” the author means that the thief knew how to break open a car door and pry a firearm from a cheap locking mount. When criminals do that to a nongovernment car it’s usually referred to as a smash and grab. When criminals do that to a government car it’s referred to as an unusual theft executed by a highly cunning individual.

I know two people who have had firearms stolen from their vehicles (ironically, in both cases, the guns were in their vehicles because they had to enter a gun-free zone). In both cases the individuals did their due diligence to secure the gun but one can only do so much when it comes to securing something in an automobile. And in both cases the individuals called the police who showed up and spent most of their time giving a sermon about not leaving valuable items in plain site (which they hadn’t done). It amuses me that the police don’t appear to be giving themselves a stern talking to about leaving valuables in plain sight.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 19th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Just a Few Bad Apples

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Chicago is an interesting case study. In addition to being proof that gun control laws don’t reduce gun violence, the city also manages to having increasing levels of violent crime at a time when violent crime as a whole is going down. But wait, there’s more! Not only is violence performed by nongovernmental entities up in Chicago, but violence performed by government entities is also up:

CHICAGO ― The Chicago Police Department regularly violates citizens’ civil rights, routinely fails to hold officers accountable for misconduct and poorly trained officers at all levels, according to a sweeping Justice Department probe of the nation’s second-largest police department.

The findings echo those of an April 2016 report released by Chicago’s then-new Police Accountability Task Force, which emphasized that the police department must face a “painful but necessary reckoning” that includes acknowledging its racist history and its consequent legacy of corruption and mistrust ― particularly between the department and the minority communities it polices.

What else could we expect from a police department that operates its own black sites?

Chicago may have the honors of being the first city with a police department that is so corrupt that even the Department of Justice can cover it up anymore. There’s also a good chance that it will enjoy the honors of being the second city to join Detroit in complete collapse.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 18th, 2017 at 10:30 am

The Liability Shield

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I’ve discussed the redundant layers that the State has put into place to protect itself from meaningful change. One such layer is police unions. Last year we saw how police unions managed to get violent officers reinstated in both November and December.

Cities sign contracts with police unions that often shield officers from liability. Reuters looked at 82 police union contracts and found some interesting clauses:

• A majority of the contracts call for departments to erase disciplinary records, some after just six months, making it difficult to fire officers with a history of abuses. In 18 cities, suspensions are erased in three years or less. In Anchorage, Alaska, suspensions, demotions and disciplinary transfers are removed after two years.

• Nearly half of the contracts allow officers accused of misconduct to access the entire investigative file – including witness statements, GPS readouts, photos, videos and notes from the internal investigation – before being interrogated.

• Twenty cities, including San Antonio, allow officers accused of misconduct to forfeit sick leave or holiday and vacation time rather than serve suspensions.

• Eighteen cities require an officer’s written consent before the department publicly releases documents involving prior discipline or internal investigations.

• Contracts in 17 cities set time limits for citizens to file complaints about police officers – some as short as 30 days. Nine cities restrict anonymous complaints from being investigated.

Law enforcement is the idea that a handful of trusted individuals can be given power over everybody else. Theoretically this idea could work if the trusted individuals are held to a higher standard that everybody else. In practice those individuals are almost always held to a lower standard. Handing out authority without accountability is a recipe for disaster.

Consider the first point in the above excerpt. If an officer has a history of violent behavior it might not show up because records of previous incidents were purged. This seems rather odd when you consider how permanent criminal records are for you and me. A criminal record for an average individual can haunt them for the rest of their life. And we’re told that such records are necessary because recidivism is a very real threat. I guess badges guard against liability and recidivism.

The second point is also an interest double standard. If you’re arrested you will be interrogated before you’re allowed to see any of the evidence collected against you. In fact, you generally only get to see the evidence against you after you’ve been charged and your lawyer demands it from the prosecutor. But in many cities officers accused of wrongdoing are allowed to view all of the evidence against them before they are interrogated.

Police union contracts are giant double standards that give law enforcers a significant advantage when it comes to accusations of wrongdoing. This makes it difficult to holding bad cops accountable. The fact that holding bad cops accountable is difficult encourages unsavory sorts to pursue a career in law enforcement. I think you can see where this road ends.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 17th, 2017 at 10:30 am

It’s Good to be the King’s Men

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Life can be difficult down here in the trenches. For example, when somebody dies due to our misdeeds or negligence we usually end up facing criminal charges and being sentences to rot in a cage for years. Not so for the king’s men. The Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of protecting police from their negligence:

The case revolved around the fatal police shooting of Samuel Paulie in New Mexico. Police officers arrived at the Paulie brothers’ home after two women called police to report one of the Paulies allegedly driving drunk. According to the facts presented in the ruling, police determined after talking to the women that they did not have probable cause to arrest Paulie but wanted to go to his house anyway to “get his side of the story,” to see if he was drunk, and to see if there was anything else going on. The officers went separately. The first two officers to arrive didn’t identify themselves as police, instead telling the Paulies they were surrounded and to come out or they would come in, causing the Paulies to believe they were being targeted for a home invasion and to arm themselves.

That’s when the third officer, Ray White, the plaintiff of the case that made it to the Supreme Court, arrived, just in time to hear the Paulies yell “we have guns.” He took cover behind a wall. Sam Paulie then exited his house with a shotgun, firing one shot that didn’t hit anyone. One of the officers shot at Paulie but missed. Then White left his cover and fired at Paulie, killing him.

The Supreme Court ruled that White deserved qualified immunity (a concept that, in essence, protects government employees from liability and civil damages so long as “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known,” as the Supreme Court decided in the 1982 case Harlow v. Fitzgerald.

This is an example of police negligence leading to death. The police didn’t announce themselves but threatened Mr. Paulie. Under such circumstances it’s easy to see to see why Mr. Paulie might think his home was being invaded by a nongovernmental gang. Office White arrived on the scene after his cohorts had already made a mess of things but he didn’t bother alerting Mr. Paulie that he was in office either. Apparently the department doesn’t train its office to say, “We’re the police.”

Some people will likely side with Officer White by claiming he acting in self-defense. But such a defense generally requires that one demonstrate that they didn’t create the situation. In Minnesota we call this being a reluctant participant. If you created the situation then you generally can’t claim self-defense. Unless, of course, you have a badge.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 12th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Winning the Battles Just to Lose the War

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What happens when you’re winning battles but end up losing the war? I’m not sure. Perhaps somebody should ask the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI):

Rather than disclose the source code that the FBI used to target a child porn suspect, federal prosecutors in Tacoma, Washington recently dropped their appeal in United States v. Michaud.

The case is just one of 135 federal prosecutions nationwide involving the Tor-hidden child porn website Playpen. The vast effort to bust Playpen has raised significant questions about the ethics, oversight, capabilities, and limitations of the government’s ability to hack criminal suspects.

For those of you who haven’t been following this story, Playpen was a child pornography site hosted using a Tor hidden service. The FBI managed to identify the server the site was being hosted on and take over the job of hosting and improving the site. Why would the FBI host and make improvements to a child pornography site? The agency’s justification was that it was using the site to distribute malware that revealed the identity of individuals accessing the site. Using this tactic it managed to bring charges against 135 individuals.

However, the FBI has been unwilling to reveal the exploit it used to reveal the users’ identities. Its obsession with secrecy is so strong that it’s letting suspected child pornographers walk rather than reveal the exploit, i.e. the evidence, to their defense attorneys. The FBI won the battle to identify individuals who accessed the site but is losing the war.

The FBI’s unwillingness to follow through to prosecute these suspects raises a lot of questions. The most obvious one, I believe, is if the FBI was unwilling to prosecute these individuals, why did it use government funds to host and make improvements to a child pornography site? The fact that the agency even utilized that tactic raised significant moral questions but its failure to follow through just makes the act even more despicable. Another question I have is, why do people still look at the FBI has anything other than a criminal organization? Between manufacturing cases of terrorism and distributing child pornography the agency stands guilty of significant crimes.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 11th, 2017 at 11:00 am

To Serve and Protect

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It’s winter, which means Mother Nature is doing her best to kill us in even more brutal ways than normal. One of her favorite weapons is snow. Snow can turn a smoothly operating highway into a parking lot. Some brave humans attempt to defend us against her frozen water by removing it from our roads. However, their job is rather difficult to do when America’s heroes are out punishing them:

Whenever it snows, Mitch Fisher is ready to help his neighbors, whether it’s clearing the sidewalks or trying to clear the street. When the area’s Christmas storm hit, he was out plowing his street with his ATV.

“I take care of the neighbors. They’re all elderly and I like to help them out,” Fisher said.

On Wednesday, however, a Pocatello police officer cited Fisher for an infraction — placing or depositing material on a public right of way. It carries a cost of more than $200.

As usual, the police are claiming it was a safety issue. Either snow on the road isn’t a safety issue or the police are trying to justify extortion. Take your pick.

I’m quite familiar with what Mr. Fisher was doing because my father does the same thing whenever it snows. Since he has a tractor with a bucket on the front he can move a lot of snow quickly. Because of that he often plows his driveway and the neighbors’ driveways. All of the snow is dumped on his or the neighbors’ lawns so it’s out of the way. By doing this his neighbor’s are happy. However, it’s an example of somebody voluntarily acting to make lives better and we know that the State doesn’t want that.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 10th, 2017 at 10:00 am

The Double Edged Sword of Body Cameras

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As the public’s trust in law enforcers diminished demands were made to monitor working police officers. These demands resulted in calls for making officers wear body cameras that recorded their actions while they worked. In response many law enforcement agencies started buying body cameras and issuing them to the police. This satiated many peoples’ demands for police monitoring but some of us pointed out the limited utility of body cameras due to the fact that the departments usually controlled the footage. So long as body camera footage isn’t made available to the public in some manner it’s far too easy for departments to make any footage that incriminates their officers disappear down a memory hole.

Since no standards exist regarding the availability of police body camera footage states, counties, and cities are making up their own rules as they go. Locally a Hennepin County judge recently ruled that police body camera footage is off limits to the public:

So Hennepin prosecutors met with the chief judge and representatives of the Hennepin Public Defender’s Office, which handles 45,000 cases a year. The result was Bernhardson’s order, which asserts that prosecutors and defense attorneys have to follow the guidelines of the law, which save for “certain narrow exceptions,” classifies body camera video as off-limits to the public.

As the article points out, there are some difficult privacy questions regarding police body camera footage. However, body cameras are of limited use if such footage is classified as off-limits to the public. Under such a system body cameras allow law enforcers to use the footage as evidence against the people they arrest but don’t allow the public to use the footage to hold bad law enforcers accountable.

This lopsided policy shouldn’t surprise anybody. Law enforcement departments wouldn’t willingly adopt body cameras if they could realistically be used to hold officers accountable. But they would jump at the chance to use such devices to prosecute more people because then body cameras are a revenue generator instead of a liability. The State, having an interest in appeasing its revenue generators, has been more than happy to give law enforcers a ruleset that gives them the benefits of body cameras without the pesky downsides.

What does this mean for the general public? It means everybody should record, and preferably livestream, every police encounter they are either a party to or come across.

What Ignoring the Problem Gets You

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What happens when you ignore a problem for an entire year? The problem doesn’t go away:

Despite ongoing national scrutiny of police tactics, the number of fatal shootings by officers in 2016 remained virtually unchanged from last year when nearly 1,000 people were killed by police.

Through Thursday, law enforcement officers fatally shot 957 people in 2016 — close to three each day — down slightly from 2015 when 991 people were shot to death by officers, according to an ongoing project by The Washington Post to track the number of fatal shootings by police.

The Post, for two years in a row, has documented more than twice the number of fatal shootings recorded by the FBI annually on average.

Why hasn’t anything been done to reduce the number of people being shot by police? Because the politicians rely on the police to be revenue generators and too many people worship the police as heroes.

I’ve written a lot about how being revenue generators makes politicians wary of curtailing bad law enforcement behavior. To summarize that point, the politicians don’t want to risk upsetting their biggest revenue generators because they might generate less revenue. If police officers are punished for shooting an innocent person during a no-knock raid they might be less inclined to go on the next no-knock drug raid and that would cut into the State’s civil forfeiture profits.

Hero worship is another problem. Whenever an individual rises to the status of hero they get a tremendous amount of leeway. Obviously bad behavior is explained away by the hero’s worshippers. After all, the individual is a hero and therefore can do no wrong. Ever since 9/11 law enforcers have been elevated from civil servants to heroes.

We see this come into play whenever an officer is in the news for doing something questionable or outright terrible. Cop apologists crawl out of the woodwork and find any excuse to justify the officer’s actions. Did the officer shoot a carry permit holder during an otherwise routine traffic stop? While the carry permit indicates that the victim wasn’t a felon or domestic abuser the cop apologists will still cite mundane nonsense like traffic citations as justification for the officer’s actions.

This hero worship also influences the actions of those who are tasked with holding law enforcers accountable. No politician, even a lowly municipal one, wants to be the person known for going against a hero. It’s bad for their public image and reelection efforts. So most of them are willing to turn a blind eye towards any issues involving law enforcers.

I imagine 2017 will also see approximately 1,000 people killed by police. Until law enforcers stop being revenue generators and stop being viewed as heroes the motivation to curtail their bad behavior won’t exist.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 4th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Officers You Don’t Want

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The city council member in St. Paul is worried. The council recently voted to make the whole cycle of “We investigated ourselves and found that we did nothing wrong.” cycle more difficult by remove two officers from its Police Civilian Review Commission. Because of that vote the member is now concerned that many officers will vacate the force:

Some St. Paul city leaders are a little concerned they might see a larger than normal exodus of veteran police officers in 2017.

One city council member told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS morale in the St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) is the lowest he remembers in his 20 years as a member of the city council.

“Police on the street are disappointed and dismayed by the recent city council vote to strip two police officers from the city’s Police Civilian Review Commission, because they see it as the council not having their back and not supporting them when they put on bullet-proof vests to go to work everyday”, said City Council member, Dan Bostrom, who is a retired SPPD officer and was first elected to the city council in 1996.

Not surprisingly, the council member in question is a retired police officer.

Review bodies aren’t supposed to have the backs of or support the individuals they’re tasked with reviewing. They’re supposed to be a third-party that can perform a more impartial review when complaints are made against the individuals they’re tasked with reviewing. Judges doesn’t ask juries to have the backs of defendants. Electrical inspectors aren’t told to have the backs of the electricians whose work they’re tasked with inspecting. Medical review boards aren’t told to have the backs of doctors they’re tasked with reviewing. So why is a civilian review body tasked with reviewing complaints against police officers expected to have the backs of those police officers?

I would argue that any officer who leaves a department because the review body overseeing that department doesn’t have the officers’ backs is somebody who shouldn’t be a police officer. If an officer is afraid of a more impartial review of their behavior then they are probably aware that their behavior is at least questionable if not obviously corrupt.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 3rd, 2017 at 10:30 am