Saturday, October 19, 2013


Did former Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Mark Spencer just call the Phoenix Police Department racist?  It sounds like he did.

In an interview with Channel 12 on Friday, Spencer offered his comments on what might be described as a quota-system-in-everything-but-name being developed by Chief Garcia.  In the same report, Garcia described his new system, a disturbing cross between pre-crime and the NYPD's famously racist (and recently struck down as such) "Stop and Frisk" policies, this way:
“When [officers are] not responding to calls, when they're not actually in the process of writing a report, what are they doing? Are they in those areas that are areas that are going to be – that have a history, or that we think are areas that we want to go into to stop burglaries, auto thefts, aggravated assaults. We want to be productive. We want to stop crime before it happens. Before your home gets burglarized we want to catch the burglars. Before the aggravated assaults occur, how can we stop those?”
Chief Garcia swears this is not a quota system -- merely a vision for a more "pro-active" and more productive PPD -- and that despite asking for more civilian contacts from his officers there are no hard and fast numbers that he is requiring.  Just more.

In an statement released Friday night and tagged on verbatim to the end of a story posted at Channel 5's website (like good stenographers), Garcia tried to clarify his philosophy, saying "We will continue to proactively direct our efforts towards persons committing crimes, places where crimes are committed and behaviors that lead to crime."
The chief gives us no indication how he expects officers to know which neighborhoods are the right ones to target for increased harassment, or which people are the right ones to stop arbitrarily.  Nor does he explain how officers are supposed to stop crime before it happens.  After all, our criminal system, at least on paper, is based on people being accused of committing crimes and then having evidence brought against them, not precognition. 

So there's good reason for skepticism.  Valley residents should consider the experience of NY City with Stop and Frisk when they hear this kind of talk.  For over a year New York police officer Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded his bosses as they twisted themselves into contortions to say without explicitly stating that NYPD expected officers to create contacts, stops and arrests in order to meet productivity expectations under Stop and Frisk.  Quotas, essentially, though no one would speak the offending word.  This led to the obvious: manipulated stops, searches and arrests that naturally fell disproportionately on young people of color.  Because it turns out that cops are racist.  I know this news will shock some of you.
In fact, Tempe got a preview of what these kinds of policies might look like in the Valley during the city's short-lived and ill-fated "Safe & Sober" campaign.  Thousands of police flooded neighborhoods surrounding the university and made thousands of contacts over several weekends.  Per capita those stops rivaled those of Stop and Frisk.  After four weekends the city abruptly cancelled the effort after facing student and neighborhood resistance, and the "zero tolerance" shooting of Austin Del Castillo in broad daylight on Mill Avenue on the first morning of phase two of the operation.  Tempe hasn't released the racial breakdown of their stops, but it wouldn't be surprising at all if these numbers also skewed, just like Stop and Frisk, disproportionately against youth of color.

It wouldn't be a surprise, namely, because of the history of local police forces.  People may remember the infamous "no n***er zone" that Scottsdale cops enforced up by McCormick Ranch.  Or the racial profiling by DPS as documented by the ACLU, in which the state cops stopped and searched people of color more frequently than whites -- even though whites were more likely to have contraband on them!  Or the more recent ruling against Sheriff Joe for racial profiling.  

Indeed, here at Down and Drought we ourselves have recently documented racist behavior by Phoenix policeAnd, of course, there's the entire history of policing to go by.  So it wouldn't be outlandish at all to suspect that a rise in quotas à la Stop and Frisk, such as Chief Garcia seems to be proposing with his increase in officer productivity, would disproportionately target blacks, Latinos and indigenous people, especially youth.

Which brings us back to Mark Spencer.  Make no mistake, Spencer is a former union boss for the cops, so his main concern is the speed-up that Chief Garcia is trying to impose on officers, not the defense of civil rights.  Forcing cops to do more stops and document their activity in terms of productivity means more work for them, and it's the union's job to push back on that.  He'll use whatever excuses he has available towards that end.

But Spencer did say something very important that should be remembered.  He called the Phoenix Police Department and its officers racist.
“When you remove discretion from an officer and you mandate enforcement action our minority community partners seem to pay a higher price for that."
Spencer seems to be saying that if his former buddies are bored and forced to make busy work, that they're going to go pick on minorities to make their numbers.  As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

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