Monday, July 28, 2014

"It's Strictly Business": Inside the Prohibition Racket

In addition to being an engine of misery, corruption, and bloodshed, the War on Drugs should be seen as a multi-tiered criminal enterprise.

At the top echelon are found the political figureheads who recite pious bromides. That’s likewise where we encounter the bureaucratic scribes responsible for crafting those cynical pronouncements and the legislation that gives them substance. The operational level consists of federally subsidized, hyper-aggressive law enforcement agencies that carry out military-style raids and seizures. This includes squalid undercover police operatives and the petty criminals who act as “cooperating informants,” as well as the strutting armored sociopaths who act on that “intelligence” by terrorizing people in home invasions that are typically carried out before dawn or after sunset.

Beneath the lurid violence of narcotics enforcement can be found the gray, undistinguished local bureaucrats who are actually in charge of such task as stealing property said to be “connected” to drug trafficking, caging the people from whom it was taken, and dividing up the spoils. Official transcripts from several meetings of Oregon’s Malheur County Commission provide useful insights regarding the retail-level business of that vertically integrated criminal enterprise.

The Malheur County War: SWAT raiders arrest a drug suspect.
For nearly two years, the Malheur County DA’s office, working in collaboration with the federally syndicated High Desert Drug Enforcement task force, has been milking revenue out of a September 11, 2012 raid on the 45th Parallel, which was a medical marijuana dispensary located in Ontario, Oregon. 

Police raids were carried out against both the co-op and more than a dozen “grow sites” in both eastern Oregon and western Idaho. A total of eighteen people were eventually charged with “conspiracy” to provide medical marijuana “for consideration,” under a version of the Oregon medical marijuana law that is no longer in effect.

During an April 9 meeting of the Malheur County Commission, Deputy District Attorney Michael Dugan, an ardent prohibitionist, explained that “Under Oregon law at that time you could not sell marijuana even to another medical marijuana participant.” (Emphasis added.)

“You have to have an enterprise or an organization,” elaborated Dugan to commissioners Don Hodge and Larry Wilson. “An enterprise can be a for-profit [or] a non-profit corporation, it can be a business, it can be an association however loosely assembled.” It isn't necessary to be directly involved in a specific illegal act in order to be “wrapped up in the RICO,” Dugan told the two commissioners. In fact, “it could be the three of us if we associated to do something illegal.”
Dugan at a press conference, September 2012.
The purpose of the April 9 meeting was to persuade commissioners to continue funding the prosecution of William Esbensen and Raymond Kangas, the co-founders of the 45th Parallel, who were the final defendants in the case. On June 6 they were found guilty in a bench trial of conspiring to provide medical marijuana “for consideration,” despite the fact that the statute under which they were prosecuted was dead-letter law.

Interestingly, in an earlier jury trial two other 45th Parallel defendants, Kelly and Kerry Rhoan, were found guilty on two RICO counts but acquitted on “conspiracy” charges.

That verdict “kind of makes me cross my eyes because in order to have a RICO you have to have … an agreement to associate, and conspiracy is an agreement to commit crimes,” Dugan recounted to the Malheur County commissioners. Somehow, the only jury that rendered a verdict in the 45th Parallel case ruled that the defendants had created an association to do something that wasn’t considered a criminal act – in this case, to distribute a legally recognized palliative medicine to people who needed it.

As it happens, the purpose of Dugan's presentation on April 9 was to entice the commissioners into underwriting what amounted to a highly lucrative illicit enterprise: Prosecuting a RICO case without a clearly established “predicate offense,” through what appears to be a fraudulent county contract with the DA’s office, in collusion with a District Judge who had obliquely indicated her willingness to inflate the charges in order to impose draconian fines that would translate into larger profits for the county.

During the September 2012 raids, Dugan boasted, “we recovered” – that is, his armed accomplices stole at gunpoint – “a number of huge globs of money so to speak.” Among those “globs” was $53,000 in cash that was seized at Esbensen’s home in Boise, money that had no proven connection to the 45th Parallel. That stolen money “was subject to federal forfeiture,” which means it was available for “equitable sharing to … local law enforcement.” The Malheur County Sheriff’s office “received about 40 grand of that; [Sheriff Brian Wolfe] could tell you more exactly, but that goes into his forfeiture fund.”

This was explained, once again, during the April 9 commissioners’ meeting. Roughly two weeks later, Malheur County DA Dan Norris reported to the commission that $15,000 from the Sheriff’s forfeiture fund would “contribute to Mr. Dugan’s employment costs.” What this means, of course, is that the money stolen from Mr. Esbensen without due process of law would be used to fund his prosecution on charges filed under a law that was no longer in effect.

Norris asked the commission to provide “an additional $15,000 from [the] General fund to continue to contract with Mr. Dugan” and said that he would “generate additional funds needed” to underwrite the 45th Parallel prosecutions, which would cost “a total of $40,000.” How would the prosecutor “generate” the additional funds? Would he hold a bake sale, perhaps? Of course not: He “requested [that] monies from anticipated judgments in the 45th Parallel case be put into the revenue side of his budget” – in other words, that the prosecution would proceed in the expectation of additional forfeitures and fines.

Significantly, before the commissioners heard DA Norris’s pitch they were favored by a presentation from Circuit Court Judge Patricia Sullivan. In what one veteran attorney described to me as a clear violation of judicial ethics, Sullivan lobbied the commissioners to provide increased “resources” – that is, funding – for the DA’s office. At the time, Sullivan was presiding over the 45th Parallel case, yet she was advocating on behalf of the prosecution’s budget priorities.

Sullivan’s role in the case was also addressed by Deputy DA Dugan during the April 9 county commission meeting, in which he described the relationship between the severity of a RICO offense and the potential windfall for the county.

“I’ve got about $35,000 in prosecution costs that I’m asking the judge to impose against the first RICO defendant” – that is, William Esbensen – “add another 2,000 or [three thousand] for the second RICO defendant and it just keeps going up that way.”

“Now, these assets, other than money that you’ve recovered [sic], I assume you’re taking vehicles…?” inquired Commissioner Hodge.

“No, this is all cash, Don,” replied DA Norris, prompting an important clarification from Dugan.

“There are some land and houses involved; I’m not sure exactly how far we’ll go in terms of that,” Dugan stated. “I know that Mr. [Esbensen] owns a number of different properties in Idaho. County Counsel would have to be, I guess, assisting in terms of how we go about getting our judgments registered in Idaho and moving forward to recover [sic] some of the properties there.” Dugan told the commissioners that “you folks have to make the decision as to how much you want … to spend in terms of going after Idaho stuff” – that is, how far they want to pursue the theft of Esbensen’s property in the name of “asset forfeiture.”

As an incentive to carry out additional seizures, Dugan predicted that Judge Sullivan would be imposing significant “compensatory fines” against Esbensen and his partner, Scott Kangas. Getting those judgments would give the DA and the county counsel’s office funding to “do the house and foreclose on the house or do bank accounts, those sorts of things,” Dugan observed.

“We’re going to have a little bit … of an advantage because paying us is going to be part of their probation,” the deputy DA gloated. “The consequence of not paying that bill is more than say not paying your phone bill.”

This is entirely true: In the latter case, a legitimate business would simply cut off its useful service from somebody who refused to pay for it; in the former, a privileged extortion ring would kidnap a victim who failed to comply with its demands, and then put him in a cage.

Under Oregon law, Dugan continued, sentences are classified in severity “from one to eleven.” As an unclassified offense, a RICO conviction can be rated anywhere along that scale.

“I’m asking the judge to classify them [the 45th Parallel charges] at an eight,” Dugan informed the commissioners. “We’ll see what she does. An eight would be a potential prison sentence with an optional probation, and if they want to do the optional probation you can bet your bottom dollar that the optional probation is going to require a lot of payment on these prosecution costs.” (Emphasis added.)

The pronoun “she” referred to Judge Sullivan, the only female judge in the jurisdiction. By showing up at a commission meeting about two weeks later to lobby on behalf of a budget increase for the DA’s office, she clearly indicated what she intended to do if she had continued as the trial judge in the 45th Parallel case. As it turned out, Sullivan was forced to recuse herself from the case roughly a week after her participation in the April 22 county commission meeting – a development that had interesting consequences for the prosecution during the sentencing phase, as we’ll see anon.

Under the new medical marijuana law, Dugan pointed out to the commissioners, the county would be able to “impose a tax per gram and it’ll be paid… In Colorado it’s a 21 percent tax and they’re making millions of dollars.”

Until the commission decides how it will profit directly from the sale of medical marijuana under the new law, however, there was still the business of how to extract what revenue it could out of the prosecution of people under the old law. Norris emphasized that it would be necessary to fund Dugan’s efforts to “finish the 45th Parallel case,” then he and the commissioners would “have more in-depth discussions about additional collections and additional use of that money to see things through and do forfeitures next year. Which I think from a business standpoint would make sense.”

The “business” Norris referred to, once again, is a clearly unethical, patently immoral, and arguably illegal enterprise. In addition to its apparent collusion with Judge Sullivan, the Malheur County DA’s office had a dubious contract relationship with Dugan.

During a February 12 county commission meeting, county administrative officer Lorinda DuBois pointed out that Dugan’s contract “was up December 31st.” This would mean that he had no authority to act on behalf of the county until and unless a new contract was completed – and this was a matter of some urgency, DA Norris insisted, because of “some issues where attorneys in the drug case are seeking sanctions against the Sheriff’s Office and I don’t have anyone working on dealing with that issue. And it’s a time bomb ticking for the Sheriff’s Office. Mr. Dugan needs to be able to get back to work” – which he apparently couldn’t do unless and until a new contract was completed.

Or – perhaps he could, according to Norris.
Good question: Judge Joyce.
“Now, as long as we have a temporary authorization for Mr. Dugan to return to work we certainly can wait until next week to get the paperwork done,” he told the commission.

“Is that legal?” inquired County Judge Dan Joyce, who clearly saw a problem in that proposal.

“It will be fine,” insisted an official identified as “Ms. Williams,” because “his contract’s going to be backdated to January anyway.” This is because “you really can’t do an amendment; it has to be a new contract from calendar year to calendar year,” she explained.

Yet somehow a curious document exists bearing the unwieldy title “First Amendment to Employment Agreement Between Michael T. Dugan and Malheur County Recorded with Malheur County Clear as Instrument Number 2013-0597.” That document, an impermissible amendment to a backdated (which is to say, likely fraudulent) contract, specified that Dugan’s employment “shall automatically end on June 30, 2014 or when [he] has worked 541 hours, whichever occurs first.”

There’s reason to believe that Dugan had expended his allotment of hours before the 45th Parallel trial was over. But that matter is academic if the backdated contract itself was invalid. Although some might regard this to be a matter of petty technicalities, it should be remembered that the defendants in this case were convicted of operating a criminal conspiracy to “deliver” a legally protect medicine in ways that supposedly violated arcane provisions of a medical marijuana law that is no longer in effect.

As noted earlier, Judge Sullivan’s participation in this case was central to the prosecution’s strategy. After Sullivan was replaced by Judge Gregory Baxter, Dugan prosecuted Esbensen and Kangas as level 4 offenders. Following their conviction, Dugan asked Judge Baxter to revise – or “backdate,” if you prefer – the offenses as qualifying for level 8 sentences, which would justify the imposition of heavier “compensatory fines” – with the threat of lengthy prison sentences as leverage.

Unlike Sullivan, Baxter didn’t appear sympathetic to the financial needs of the Malheur County DA’s office. He ruled that the defendants would be sentenced under level 4 guidelines, which meant two years of probation rather than a prison term. The final amount of “compensation” has yet to be decided, but it will most likely be a less lucrative pay-out than the DA’s office had anticipated – pending additional forfeiture actions, of course. 

Police state scrimmage: Malheur County SWAT rehearses a home invasion.
From teeth to tail, the 45th Parallel case has been a criminal enterprise on the part of the prosecution. It began with the corrupt actions of Boise-based DEA Agent Dustin Bloxham, who committed multiple felonies (including interstate wire fraud and falsifying medical records in order to obtain an Oregon medical marijuana card) during the course of an unauthorized undercover operation on a medical marijuana clinic outside his jurisdiction.

One of the key witnesses for the prosecution, Tricia Gardner, is a repeat narcotics offender and serial check forger who continues to operate a medical marijuana facility in Ontario despite a county-wide moratorium. A former staffer at the 45th Parallel, Gardner filed the necessary paperwork to open that clinic on September 10, 2012 – the day before the task force raided the co-op.

In November, Oregon voters will consider a measure that would de-criminalize recreational use of marijuana for residents who are at least 21 years of age. As Dugan indicated to the Malheur County Commission, the loosening of restrictions on marijuana use would require updating the local plunderbund’s business plan to emphasize taxation, rather than prohibition. In the meantime, they will have to be satisfied with using whatever means are at their disposal to wring the last trickle of revenue out of Esbensen, Kangas, and their fellow victims of the prohibition racket. 

A quick note... 
The gifted and principled writer Ilana Mercer recently paid me a very high compliment by describing me as "quixotic." Like the noble (albeit unbalanced) Knight of the Sad Countenance, I  focus my energies on battles against prohibitively stronger opponents. In my case, the giants against whom I contend aren't windmills. And unlike Don Quixote, I have a family for whom I must provide. I would be humbly grateful for any help you can supply. Thank you so much, and God bless.


Dum spiro, pugno!

Monday, July 21, 2014

"It Stops Today!"

“Every time you see me, you want to mess with me! I’m tired of it! It stops today!”

Eric Garner, a peaceful and productive citizen, had suffered years of pointless and unnecessary harassment by the costumed predators employed by the NYPD. He told one of them to leave him alone. Such impudence by a mere Mundane cannot be tolerated, so Garner was murdered in the street in full public view.

Several plainclothes officers were prowling Garner’s Staten Island neighborhood on the afternoon of July 17 seeking to harvest revenue by catching harmless people in the act of committing petty infractions. Police Commissioner William Bratton describes this as “stamping out petty offenses as a way of heading off larger ones.” in practice, this means authorizing police to commit actual crimes in their efforts to turn harmless people into “offenders.”

When a fight erupted in Garner’s neighborhood, the plainclothes officers – who have no enforceable duty to protect persons or property – didn’t intervene. Garner did, according to witnesses, breaking up the fight and restoring peaceful order. This made Garner conspicuous to the officers whose uselessness he had just demonstrated. 

The 43-year-old father of six and grandfather of two had been arrested on dozens of occasions and had court dates scheduled later this year for charges of marijuana possession and selling untaxed cigarettes. Even if one assumes – and one shouldn’t -- that either of those charges involved an actual crime, on the day he was killed Garner had done nothing whatsoever to justify being interrogated by the police, let alone arrested.

The first fatal mistake Garner made was to act as a peacemaker. The second was to assert his self-ownership in the face of someone employed by the contemporary equivalent of a slave patrol. Within minutes, five police officers attacked him, one of them slipping behind him to apply an illegal chokehold. Garner died of cardiac arrest after being swarmed and suffocated in front of numerous horrified witnesses, one of whom captured the entire event – from first confrontation to homicide – on camera. 

Those who visit the fetid and disreputable social media neighborhoods where police congregate anonymously and express themselves candidly will quickly learn that Garner has only himself to blame. He was an overweight, combative black man who didn’t know his proper place, which was at the feet of his betters, meekly accepting the shackles and submitting to whatever indignities they deemed appropriate. 

“Anytime a person says `I’m tired of it, it stops today,’ that will almost always end with the use of force,” insisted one contributor to an LEO-exclusive forum. “He made that decision, not the police. The Police must effect the arrest and rise above any resistance” – including verbal resistance to unwarranted harassment by the police, which as Garner’s death illustrates can be treated as a capital offense. 

Elsewhere police and their apologists – both paid and uncompensated – are caviling about the nature of the restraint used by Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who attacked the victim’s throat. Because the victim reportedly didn’t suffer significant damage to his throat and trachea, the illegal restraint wasn’t a “true” chokehold, or so the apologists insist. Under NYPD guidelines in place since 1993, this isn’t relevant: The policy explicitly and categorically forbids the use of any restraint involving pressure against the neck or throat. 

Lead assailant Daniel Pantaleo.
Furthermore, since 2011, thousands of New York residents have been arrested and convicted under a law that makes any aggressive contact resulting in “obstruction of breathing or blood circulation” a criminal offense – a felony when that act results in the victim suffering “stupor, loss of consciousness, impairment and/or physical or serious physical injury….”

 If that statute were applied equitably, as it almost certainly will not be, Pantaleo and his accomplices would be prosecuted for murder.

Atrocities of this kind happen every day across the soyuz, many of them generated by the decades-long derangement known as the war on drugs. The murder of Eric Garner demonstrates that even if drugs were “legalized,” police would still find ways to kill innocent people while collecting the state’s cut of drug proceeds: Remember, the officers who harassed, surrounded, and eventually killed Garner accused him of selling “untaxed” cigarettes.

Three days before the NYPD murdered Eric Garner, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that his Cigarette Strike Force had “seized nearly $1.7 million in cash and contraband” during its first six months of operation. Directed by the state Tax Department, the strike force is a public works project for the coercive sector, encompassing twelve federal and local law enforcement bodies.

Through the task force, participating agencies, from the Department of Homeland Security to the NYPD’s 120th Precinct – the on-duty home to Eric Garner’s murderers – have access to “crime-related intelligence” to help them collaborate in the supposedly vital task of dismantling “major cigarette trafficking organizations.”

None of this has even the remotest connection to the protection of persons and property. This is law enforcement pared down to its detestable essentials -- state-licensed aggressors dispatched to harass, detain, and kill people purely for the purpose of revenue collection.
“All these agencies realize those among us who sell illegal cigarettes are a threat to government tax revenue,” belched New York State Commissar for Taxation Thomas H. Mattox, describing cigarette sales conducted without giving a cut to the political class as “economic crimes that fill the pockets of criminals.”

The expression “economic crimes” is a Soviet-grade collectivist coinage, and Comrade Cuomo channeled the hell-dwelling spirit of Feliks Dzherzhinsky in expressing his determination to punish those who participate in black market cigarette sales.

“Cigarette smugglers should be on notice – our administration will not stand for [sic] those who break the law and steal from taxpayers,” decreed Cuomo, determined to protect his regime’s exclusive privilege of stealing from the productive public. “New York has zero tolerance for this illegal activity, and those who further it will be brought to justice.”

Or, as the killing of Eric Garner demonstrated, those suspected of violating the “zero tolerance” standard by occasionally selling loose cigarettes will be hounded beyond forbearance and then slaughtered in the streets.

Tobacco, like marijuana, is a substance with mood-altering properties. Unlike marijuana, tobacco is legal; another distinction is that tobacco, unlike marijuana, has no known beneficial uses. Apart from a handful of very small jurisdictions, sale and consumption of tobacco have never been prohibited. Instead, the parasite class has expanded efforts to impose “sin taxes” on tobacco: By some estimates, taxes account for more than half the retail price of the typical carton of cigarettes.

Two hundred and forty-six years ago, revenue agents in Boston impounded a large cargo ship christened Liberty that contained a bounty of untaxed goods. The owner of that vessel was a notorious scofflaw and extremist who had been cheating the government by withholding its cut of his commerce. 

The officials responsible for this seizure acted out of the smug assurance that the “decent” majority would support this righteous assertion of authority. They were wrong. Rather than rallying to the cause of law and order, the population turned against its government, assaulting officers and attacking their facilities. 

Acting on the principle that law enforcement “must rise above resistance,” authorities escalated their efforts to restore order, eventually sending in the military. This led to a massacre that triggered a revolution in which that same supposedly reprehensible smuggler, John Hancock, would play a significant role

Eric Garner’s exasperated proclamation “It stops today!” is cognate with “Don’t tread on me,” and his murder by an army of occupation immeasurably more vicious and corrupt than the Redcoats could precipitate a long-overdue rebellion against the omnivorous elite that army serves. This is why no effort will be spared to redirect outrage over this atrocity into racial collectivist channels, were it will serve the interest of people who encourage ordinary Americans to look with suspicion and hostility at each other, rather than directing such attention at those who presume to rule the rest of us. 

 Obiter dicta 

Last week I had the privilege of being interviewed by Jeff Deist, President of the Mises Institute, on the subject of "Police State Keynesianism":


 If you can, please donate via PayPal or the Bitcoin button above to help keep Pro Libertate on-line. We're literally struggling to keep the lights on, and could really use your help. Thank you!


Dum spiro, pugno!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Retail-Level Tyranny

Yes, but they're very good at stringing up the crime scene tape.

“The police are worthless. I don't know what we're paying them for.”

That familiar, despairing lament was voiced by a friend here in Payette after his family had lost $20,000 worth of property a burglary. The crime was solved before the police intervened: Some of the pilfered property was still in possession of the suspects, who admitted that it didn't belong to them. Working on their own initiative, my friend and his adult daughter -- the primary victim -- tracked down more of the stolen goods at local yard sales and garage sales.

A phone call to the Payette PD led to a visit by an officer who was courteous, professional, and who provided no practical help of any kind. He did arrest one suspect, a mentally deficient man who readily admitted to the officer that he had taken the property because an unspecified “they” had told him it was “all right” to do so.

Neither the responding officer, nor the colleague who took over the case when the first officer went on vacation, expended any effort to identify who “they” were, or to press charges against the accomplices. The case was closed with the arrest of a solitary man – a registered sex offender -- who “became somewhat upset [because] he was the only one who was going to be in trouble for the thefts that occurred, because he was honest,” as an investigative report summarized.
For one thing, they don't dress as well.
“The police wouldn't bother to fingerprint my stolen property,” Elizabeth Puckett, the owner of the property, recounted to me. “When I asked why, the officer said, `Well, we're not CSI.'” It shouldn't be assumed that the Payette PD is consistently insouciant about the collection of forensic evidence. A few years ago, Puckett recalls, she received a visit from the Animal Control officer (an official with whom I've had some experience) after the department received a report that “we had a dog that looked like a pit bull.”

A county ordinance enacted several years ago during a spasm of civic alarm forbids residents to “own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport, buy or sell” pit bulls or “dangerous dogs” displaying pit bull characteristics. Those who owned such dogs prior to enactment of the ban were required to register them with the police (who were exempt from the ordinance, of course), “keep $1 million liability insurance, have a microchip ID … implanted in the dog, and pay an annual pit bull license fee.” Dogs owned by people not in compliance with the edict “are subject to impoundment and destruction.”

“The officer told us that if we were going to keep it we would have to have a blood test,” Elizabeth recalled. “So I would have had to pay $100 for a blood test, and still could lose the dog if it displayed the wrong `characteristics.' So I just let the dog go.”

The same Payette Police Department that couldn't help Elizabeth recover her stolen property was diligent in taking her property, even though she had done no injury to anybody else. This is because the Payette PD, like every other agency of its kind, is involved in law enforcement, rather than the protection of persons and property. It defines its role in terms of what its officers can do to people, rather than what they are required to do for people.

No, Police Don’t Work for You

When a disgusted citizen tells an abusive police officer that he pays the officer's salary, the victim is committing a category error. Those of us who constitute the productive sector don't pay the police; they are paid by the people who plunder our property at gunpoint. Once it is understood that police employed by the people who commit aggression against our property, we shouldn't be surprised that police are of practically no value in terms of protecting property against criminal aggression. Police are properly seen as retail-level distributors of violence on behalf of the coercion cartel.

Law enforcement is a “product” we are forced to buy, and severely punished – through summary application of torture, or even by death – if we refuse. Since law enforcement operates as a monopoly, rather than through the market, there is no legitimate pricing mechanism to guide rational allocation of resources, and no way to measure “customer” satisfaction – although using the term “customer” in this context is a bit like using the term “girlfriend” to describe a rape victim.

Indeed, the institutional response of law enforcement to public dissatisfaction is to expand and escalate the behavior that inspired the discontent, and treat persistent criticism as evidence of criminal intent. Witness recent developments in Albuquerque, where outrage over serial police homicides – including the death squad-style murder last March of James Boyd, an unarmed homeless man – generated a substantial organized protest movement.

After infuriated protesters took control of a city council meeting to place the defiant APD Chief Gorden Eden “on trial,” the city government’s reaction was not to cashier the official who had instigated the outrage, but rather to impose new restrictions on citizen participation in city council meetings.

When protesters held a subsequent public “mock trial” of Chief Eden at a peaceful public demonstration, the gathering was infiltrated by a several undercover police officers, including a detective who had shot a 20-year-old in the stomach during a drug sting in 2010. As public frustration and discontent continue to rise in Albuquerque, the APD has responded to the growing dissatisfaction of its “clientele” by spending $350,000 to purchase 350 AR-15 rifles – the same type that were used to slaughter Boyd in the foothills outside the city just a few weeks earlier.

The Albuquerque Police Department, like dozens of others nation-wide, has displayed what the Justice Department calls a “pattern and practice” of excessive force. If it were a private corporation, it would be the target of lawsuits and, most likely, criminal prosecution. Unlike a private entity, however, a police department is protected by the fiction of “sovereign immunity,” and its employees are shielded from personal accountability through “qualified immunity.”

While exceptionally corrupt police departments are occasionally disbanded, their “markets” are quickly captured by other agencies that will provide the same “service.” Individual police officers who distinguish themselves through abusive and criminal behavior -- which, given the competition, is a significant accomplishment – sometimes find themselves briefly unemployed. However, they often become “gypsy cops” and find employment elsewhere as state-licensed purveyors of violence.

“Operational Security” rather than Accountability

One fact not adequately understood by the public is that even geographically local police departments are not locally accountable. Police chiefs are not elected officials; they are appointed by the municipal corporation that employs them. Police departments describe themselves as public agencies for the purpose of “qualified immunity.” However, as the recent ACLU report on police militarization revealed, an increasing number of police agencies are claiming to be “private corporations” exempt from open records laws.

This isn’t the only tactic employed by police agencies to impede transparency and accountability to the public supposedly “served” by them.

I recently filed a public records request with the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office regarding the disposal of a huge quantity of marijuana that had been seized by a nearby multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force. Undersheriff Travis Johnson informed me that he could provide “photo documentation” of the marijuana being buried at a local landfill. “The cost to produce those records will be one hour of labor at $48.11 and one CD at $10 for a total of $58.11,” according to Johnson.

Both the “labor” and materials involved in fulfilling that records request have already been paid for. The information – which, interestingly, was not provided to the defense as discovery during a recently-concluded trial – should be easy to find. All that is necessary would be for a MCSO functionary to insert a CD into a computer and click a mouse. A single CD – assuming that Malheur County buys them in bulk – would cost less than twenty cents. The market rate for an hour of labor by a “copy specialist” is less than nine dollars. The amount cited to me by Undersheriff Johnson reflects the price structure of a monopoly, which in this case is trying to impede public scrutiny of its actions by making it cost-prohibitive to pursue public records requests.

Opacity of this kind is hardly compatible with a “public service” agency. It is entirely appropriate, however, for an entity that sees the public as hostile and thus makes “operational security” a priority.

Even before “local” police agencies were effectively satellitized by the federal government they were paramilitary bodies designed to operate as occupation forces, rather than as a protective service. In creating his London Metropolitan Police, Robert Peel adapted the model he had employed in creating the “Peace Preservation Force,” a specialized unit within the 20,000-man military contingent Peel had commanded as military governor of occupied Ireland.

Peel’s Militaristic Model

Writing in the December 1961 Journal of Modern History, Galen Broekker observed that when Peel was appointed governor in 1814, his objective in creating the Peace Preservation Force was “`pacifying’ a recalcitrant population.” For several years prior to Peel’s appointment, rural insurgents called “banditti” had been fighting among themselves and occasionally attacking British outposts. Of much greater concern to occupation authorities, however, was evidence of involvement by “respectable people” in “insurrectionary activity of a political nature.”

At the time of Peel’s arrival, the crime rate in Ireland wasn’t particularly high, so he took advantage of a “lull” to “muster the forces of authority in anticipation of the inevitable trouble to come” as English authorities took aggressive action to stamp out separatism. The “Peace Preservation Force” – which was the prototype for every modern police agency – wasn’t designed to protect person and property from criminal aggression, but rather to protect a political elite. This is why Peel’s London Metropolitan Police Force was initially greeted with hostility by conservatives in the British Parliament and the public at large, who often referred to officers as “Blue Locusts.” Within a decade, however, Peel’s model was firmly entrenched in London, and migrated across the Atlantic to New York City.

As evangelists of “Manifest Destiny” carved their bloody path to the Pacific, an Americanized version of Peel’s police concept was among the chief tenets of their gospel of government-imposed “civilization.” It wasn’t until the early 1970s, however, that the latent militarism of the police was given expression when the Nixon administration declared “war” on drugs. This led to the proliferation of SWAT teams, which were modelled after counter-insurgency units organized by the CIA as part of its Phoenix Program in Vietnam.

Declining Crime, Escalating Police Militarism

Beginning in the 1970s, the official rhetoric of law enforcement became overtly martial, a tendency that has grown in crescendo. However, by most measures, violent crime has been in decline for five decades. A similar trend is visible regarding on-the-jo b police fatalities. Joseph McNamara, former NYPD Deputy Inspector, points out that police “work” is actually much safer today than it has been in a half-century or more. Law enforcement is not found in the top ten “most dangerous occupations” in the annual list compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

Yet police insist that the United States “has become a war zone,” in the words of Sheriff Michael Gayer of Indiana’s Pulaski County. This is entirely true – but only in the sense that the police consider themselves at war with the public, and have fully embraced a mindset compatible with their role as an occupying army.

As was the case when Peel created his “Peace Preservation Force” in Ireland two centuries ago, the Power Elite has been relentlessly expanding its domestic army of occupation and indoctrinating those enlisted therein to see the public as its enemy – “ in anticipation of the inevitable trouble to come.”

Just a few weeks ago, the House of Representatives recently rejected, by a dramatic margin, an amendment to a military spending bill proposed by Florida Democratic Representative Alan Grayson that would have placed theoretical limits on the transfer of war-fighting assets to local police departments. Mind you, that measure would not have shut down the Pentagon's pipeline to the police; it would have forbidden future transfers of high-capacity weaponry, including armed drones, armored vehicles, grenade launchers, “toxicological agents,… guided missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, torpedoes, bombs, mines, or nuclear weapons.”

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 355 to 62 – which means that 355 members of the House of Representatives, the branch of the federal legislature supposedly most accountable to the people, are on record refusing to rule out the transfer of nuclear weapons to your “local” police agency. Some of the most outspoken critics of Grayson’s amendment waxed indignant in condemning critics of the ongoing militarization of the police.

“This is absolutely ludicrous to think that the equipment that is utilized by law enforcement is utilized for any reason except for public safety interests, and it happens across this nation every day in a responsible way,” harrumphed Florida Republican Representative Rich Nugent, a former sheriff. Nugent is correct about one thing: Military-grade hardware and war-fighting tactics are used by police “every day”: On average, there are 124 SWAT deployments every day, nearly all of them carried out as drug enforcement raids or to enforce routine search warrants. Many, if not most, of those raids are carried out after sunset or before the dawn.

There is no country on earth where citizens are more likely to experience the “midnight knock” than the United States of America. That fact surely reflects the interests of those who want to monopolize power, rather than a market demand for “security.”

Keynesian Cops

As part of the Obama administration’s “stimulus” package in 2009, the Justice Department increased spending on its Byrne grant and COPS programs – two major conduits for local law enforcement subsidiesby more than $4 billion. At the same time, the Pentagon expanded its 1033 program, through which military-grade hardware and vehicles are provided, on concessionary terms, to local police. The predictable, and subsequently observed, impact of this example of police state Keynesianism was a dramatic escalation in police militancy toward the public. But these federally created distortions in the “security” market have created other, less visible burdens on the public as well.

The police department in Nampa, Idaho, a city of about 80,000 people with a crime rate well below the national average, was one of more than 400 to receive a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicle through the Pentagon’s 1033 program. Over the past two years, the Nampa PD also purchased a new fleet of Ford Taurus Police Interceptor patrol vehicles. However, in June Chief Craig Kingsbury went to the City Council to ask for funding to purchase a dozen additional SUV patrol vehicles because the Interceptors “aren’t popular with many of the department’s officers – they’re cramped and uncomfortable for long patrols,” reported the Idaho Press-Tribune.

In the hierarchy of public concerns, “officer comfort” apparently resides very close to the sacred imperative of “officer safety.” Rather than requiring his subordinates to adapt to their vehicles in order to serve their “customers” better, Kingsbury insists on getting another $441,000 in plundered funds to serve the creature comfort of Nampa’s costumed tax-feeders.

Question: If the need for new patrol vehicles is so acute, why doesn't the Nampa PD sell off its spanking-new MRAP, which has a listed market value of about $500,000? Like hundreds of other departments, the Nampa PD got the MRAP not because of an actual need, but because the Pentagon was willing to give it to them at practically no expense. If we were to assume that the SUV patrol vehicles are a “necessity,” the MRAP should be regarded as a luxury and liquidated as such. That’s how a market-based enterprise would operate, in any case.

However, the only market for MRAPs consists of other police departments that can get them from the Pentagon at negligible expense. Even if the people running the Nampa PD were sufficiently rational and mature to sell off their dangerous new toy, they wouldn’t find a buyer. Unless austerity is somehow imposed on the Nampa PD, the city’s tax victims will eventually be forced to pay nearly the entire price of the “free” MRAP that was provided to the department – a vehicle that has no conceivable use other than providing “force protection” during SWAT raids of the kind that have become commonplace.

Predation, not protection

Like most other police agencies, the Nampa PD devours roughly half the municipal budget, and much of that expense is devoted to salaries. In 2010, seven of the ten highest-paid municipal positions in Nampa were filled by “public safety” officials, only one of whom – Fire Chief Karl Malott – was not a police officer. Coming in at number four on that list was Corporal (now Sergeant) Jason Cantrell, who received $104,173 in total compensation – nearly as much as then-Chief Bill Augsburger. Another corporal, Chadrick Shepard, finished at ninth place on the list with an annual haul of $93,559.

The median salary for a Nampa patrol officer is $50,214 – about $4,000 more than Idaho’s median household income, and roughly $14,000 more than the typical household income in the city supposedly “served” by that police department. A “parking and compliance officer” for the Nampa PD – that is, a state functionary who writes parking tickets – can expect a starting salary of $13.50 an hour. By way of contrast, an entry-level “security officer” employed by Secure Solutions to provide protection for private and commercial property in neighboring Boise is offered $10.00 an hour.

These disparities in compensation are not the product of natural market forces, because police and private security officers are not serving the same market: The later protect property, the former protect those who prey upon it. Even in the era of the all-encompassing Homeland Security State, privately employed security officers outnumber government-employed cops by at least three to one.

If government law enforcement agencies performed the advertised function of “protecting and serving” property rights, it wouldn’t be necessary for property owners to pay for their own security services. It has been known for decades – specifically, since the Police Foundation’s year-long study of the impact of "preventive patrols" on crime rates in the early 1970s -- that government law enforcement patrols do nothing to reduce or deter property crimes, such as “burglaries, auto thefts, larcenies … robberies, or vandalism.” Private security services, such as Detroit’s Threat Management Center, provide much better protection – as do armed citizens, as Detroit’s Police Chief James Craig has admitted.

Hero: Joseph Lozito.

New York City was the first jurisdiction to adopt Peel's model of paramilitary policing. Three years ago, NYPD officer Terrance Howell, who had been sent to find a deranged slasher-killer named Maxim Gelman, who had murdered three people, watched from the operator's booth of a subway car while a martial arts expert named Joseph Lozito tackled and subdued the suspect. As Gelman slashed at the back of Lozito's head, the desperate, bleeding man pleaded for help from Officer Howell, who did nothing to intervene. It was not until after Lozito had pinned Gelman to the floor and disarmed him that Howell emerged from his secure location and told Lozito, "You can get up now." 

Howell, the "hero cop" who was photographed triumphantly escorting Gelman in handcuffs, admitted to a member of a grand jury that he had hid from the suspect out of fear for his safety. After Lozito filed a tort claim for negligence, city attorney David Santoro explained that "Under well-established law, the police are not liable for such incidents" because police have "no special duty" to protect any individual citizen -- even one who is literally bleeding to death a few feet away as he heroically subdues a psychotic murderer. 

Coward: Terrance Howell.
"Next time you hear people call cops trigger-happy or complain about their overtime and pensions, think of Police Officer Terrance Howell," pontificated the New York Daily News in a reflexive paean to the police after Gelman's arrest

Ironically, that is a very good suggestion. Here is a better one: Next time you are told that police protect the public, remember Joseph Lozito.

Where protection of property is concerned, police are much worse than useless. Their job is to enforce the will of the predatory class that employs them, which is why we would be safer without them.

Dum spiro, pugno!