A Rant from a Cop

People use policemen as props in their personal disputes:

Noon, its 59 degrees and I get a call from a guy whose neighbor's dog has been left in a car. I get there, the windows are cracked, and the dog has only been in there 20 minutes. It's 59 Degrees! It's not summer and if it were the dead of winter I'd say the car is a $20,000 dog house. But it turns out this guy has a running dispute with his neighbor so guess who he calls to irritate the guy a little more? Me. When I go to leave, the asshole that called this in yells, "hey, aren't you gonna do anything?" I explain why I am not and he says "great, I'm writing a letter to the paper" Holy shit. Now I'm the bad guy because I didn't embarrass your target enough for you? Grow the hell up.

When the police implement programs to let ordinary citizens report suspected terrorists, this is the kind of thing that will result.

Posted on April 25, 2007 at 1:08 PM • 36 Comments

Comments

JoshuaApril 25, 2007 2:11 PM

Yup. There are always busybodies who will abuse reporting systems however they can. One of my neighbours had a continuous dispute with my father that occasionally resulted in official action. Fun, fun, fun.

Just imagine what happens when people can ship their neighbours to Guantanamo just by dropping a few insinuations in a box somewhere at city hall. It won't be pretty.

NathanApril 25, 2007 2:12 PM

I'm confused, what does this have to do with terrorism as the link you posted in the article clearly presents several legitimate scenarios for causes of suspicion? Lets abolish the E911 and 911 systems for similar reasons because not every call is a true emergency requiring the assistance of emergency personnel....

Slow news day?

skateApril 25, 2007 2:21 PM

Indeed, the fink on your neighbor programs are evocative of the worst repressive regimes not a vibrant democracy--especially now that the administration has laid claim to dictatorial powers, including secret laws, secret arrests, secret indefinite detentions without charge, torture and secret trials.

However, even if the specific case of a dog in a car that was reported, one should not dismiss laws against leaving dogs in cars as frivolous. Dogs do not sweat and can overheat very easily and cars are like greenhouses that heat up to temperatures far exceeding those outside.

ARMApril 25, 2007 2:23 PM

"When the police implement programs to let ordinary citizens report suspected terrorists, this is the kind of thing that will result."

Really? Why? This sort of thing went on for a VERY long time before terrorism was on most people's radar. Programs to allow Joe Public to report people as terrorists are unlikely to do anything to increase the number of malicious calls to police departments in and of themselves. The problem is not the existence of publically available hotlines - the problem is the difficulty of sanctioning people who misuse them, as it's hard to prove the intent to act badly. And even making the accusation could have legal costs associated with it. And you can't just ignore Joe Jerkwad when he calls for the fiftieth time - the other half of the moral of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," is that even though the boy lied the first two times, the sheep were just as eaten when the villagers blew him off the third time as they would have been were the first two cases legitimate, and the villiagers just too worn out to respond.

This seems to me to be a classic example of a multi-variable trade-off. 100,000 eyes are better than 2, but there are costs associated with letting the general public into the game, especially when you can't be bothered to make sure they're familiar with the playbook. By the same token, that very lack of training can allow for some useful outside the box thinking, at the cost of a very low signal-to-moron ratio.

As a general rule, we're more afraid of the authorities using expanded abilities to sanction hoaxers to punish their enemies than we are of hoaxers using expanded access to the authorities to harrass their enemies. That attitude, more than anything else, makes hoaxing a low-cost method of attacking others.

Erik WApril 25, 2007 2:25 PM

The difference, Nathan, is that in the pre- 9/11 world, we (generally) only put people away for things that we could prove the had done.

In this new world, we routinely put people away for things they believe or things they might do in the future. Much less easy to disprove and retain your freedom. But at least the people doing the putting away are trying to maintain the image of impartial fairness.

And to that we will soon be adding citizen informants? Do you still not see the problem?

NathanApril 25, 2007 2:35 PM

Erik W, thanks for your feedback, I'm curious as to the people who have been "put away for things they believe or things they might do in the future" or have the been snatched so quickly and secretively that were unaware that it's even happened?

Are you by change referring to Gitmo? If so, are you also going to tell me that Islam is a religion of peace as well?

Wireless EnthusiastApril 25, 2007 2:40 PM

So the relevant question is: what fraction of the people reported to the authorities in Iraq as terrorists and sent to Abu Ghraib (or equivalent) are there for similar reasons, because they irritated their neighbors over something petty?

ARMApril 25, 2007 2:49 PM

Actually, I'd say that the relevant question are: 1) "Are the authorities (with the support of the public or not) willing to grant enough credibility to possibly anonymous tips from citizen informants that a bogus terrorism tip-off is a viable tactic of petty inter-neighbor squabbling?" 2) "Will we tolerate a robust enough caller tracking and hoax-punishing regime that potential liars will be detered, knowing at the same time that flimsy, but legitimate, tips will also trigger sanctions at times?"

Jack C LiptonApril 25, 2007 3:20 PM

Another mechanism, of which I am rather more familiar than I would want to be, is a state's "child welfare" organization (DYFS in NY, NJ and some others, CFS in Florida) where anonymous calls from non-custodial parents places custodial parents under pressure to report to the agencies.

The problem, of course, is that these agencies are, by their nature, effectively supra-legal, so they are usable as an harassment mechanism.

And, believe me, they're _good_ at that, and all without the "anonymous reporter" facing censure for misusing the system to deliver abuse.

Geoff LaneApril 25, 2007 3:28 PM

I wonder how many people in the US today could answer the question, "Who was Senator McCarthy and why was he famous?"

In the current climate, where school kids get locked up for days because of mere suspicions and to be frank, ass-covering behaviour by the security authorities, it is more and more important to watch the guards and take no bullshit.

TrevorApril 25, 2007 3:38 PM

9/11 wasn't a defining moment in the slide down a hill that leads away from civil liberties. We've always struggled between with the difference between ideals and reality.

Ask an old black man when we started trumping up stuff on people in this country.

Paul RenaultApril 25, 2007 3:42 PM

I'm with Bruce on this one. This IS what happens with the authorites call upon the population to watch each other and to report suspicious behaviour.

In Warsaw Pact countries, if you wanted at better apartment in your building, all you had to do was to claim to the secret police that you saw a neighbour with American money. Next thing you knew, your neighbour would get a knock on the door at 2AM.

Since you were a good citizen, and a recently-minted member of the Communist Party, you'd be rewarded with the now-gone neighbour's apartment.

And because the Big-Brotherlyness is encouraged by Washington, the police officer can't tell the jerk to take a long walk off of a short pier.

Stephan SamuelApril 25, 2007 3:46 PM

@Nathan,

I hate to use words this strong to describe people I don't know too well, but this statement is clearly correct: you are ignorant.

Islam is a religion of peace. CNN would have you believe otherwise, but they're wrong. They also have vested interest from many directions in making Americans believe that Islam is violent.

Nothing in the Koran or in the life of Mohammed states that it's okay to kill Americans, westerners, Christians, Jews, or anyone else. It does state that you ought to fight your oppressors, but then so does every religion and most belief systems including the life of Ghandi.

Saying that Islam is a violent religion because of the actions of a few crazy people, or even implying it, is exactly like stating that Christianity is a violent religion because of David Koresh.

The cop is right: people are clueless. Somewhere and at some point, it became okay to stop educating our children to make intelligent decisions and call the cops for everything. Consequently, they have to deal with lots of idiots. Things like what's going on with Gitmo are inevitable in this sort of environment.

Wyle_EApril 25, 2007 4:08 PM

The most appropriate response by that cop to the busybody's "Hey, aren't you gonna to do anything?" would have been "Well, I could arrest you for making a false police report, but it's not worth the paperwork."

rmgApril 25, 2007 4:46 PM

@Voodoo

I just read the article you linked to, have you? The interpretations make no sense for the quoted passages.

Not that any of this is on topic anyway. Sorry, Bruce.

UNTERApril 25, 2007 5:22 PM

@Nathan:

Perchance you've missed the tales of our network of secret prisons through-out the world, and Michael Scheuer's attitude that it's not the CIA's problem if a few innocent folks get caught up and sent overseas to be tortured? Or the known fact that at least two men have been kidnapped by our government incorrectly, to be either handed over to Syria to be tortured, or kept in our own secret prisons under God knows what conditions?

Or has your hate of Islam reached the insanity levels of Bin Ladin and ilk's anti-semitism?

UNTERApril 25, 2007 5:25 PM

@Voodoo,

You do realize that similar language is throughout the old testament, aren't you? It's pretty standard fare for the time and the place.

Seventy2002April 25, 2007 9:59 PM

As a police officer I've been handling this kind of call for over 30 years. You don't need to implement a program; there will always be a segment of the population with a psychological need to report trivia to authority.

cassielApril 26, 2007 2:50 AM

To be fair: here in the UK at least, cruelty to animals is an offence (criminal, I believe - people have certainly been imprisoned for it). A first call would probably be to the RSPCA, who have a cruelty hotline; I don't know exactly when/if the police would get involved (and a quick trawl of the RSPCA web site doesn't offer such details).

Bruce SchneierApril 26, 2007 3:13 AM

"I'm confused, what does this have to do with terrorism as the link you posted in the article clearly presents several legitimate scenarios for causes of suspicion?"

The problem is that, while the scenarios might be legitimate causes for suspicion, they're not enough. The false alarm rate for those are just too high to be useful.

averrosApril 26, 2007 5:02 AM

Seventy2002 --

> here will always be a segment of the population
> with a psychological need to report trivia to
> authority.

I'm wondering how much that segment would shrink if they had to pay for the services of police out of their own pockets.

Of course, they do satisfy that "need" out of boredom, petty spitefulness, or plain stupidity -- it doesn't cost them a dime! The rest of us is purchasing them entertaintment.

Brian ReillyApril 26, 2007 6:22 AM

What is with the "for the love of everything holly" and "holly shit"? Is this common in America? Is it seen as offensive to Christians to say "Holy shit" or something? Would the ACLU object to a public servant using a religious term such as "Holy"? Or is it that the cop can't spell?

Colossal SquidApril 26, 2007 6:41 AM

But what if terrorists had surgically implanted a bomb into the dog?
Or the dog was a member of Al-Qaeda?

"When the police implement programs to let ordinary citizens report suspected terrorists, this is the kind of thing that will result."

I'm not sure if there's such a clear cause and effect, but it does give a convenient excuse to the arseholes out there. Before now I suppose they would have invoked the dread spectre of paedophilia.
"He was looking at my kids funny, guv."

Dave AronsonApril 26, 2007 7:47 AM

@Ralph: Finding the patent in someone else's name wouldn't disprove it; he may have invented it, but not been first to file. ;-)

NApril 28, 2007 7:11 PM

@Stephan Samuel,
I don't listen to what CNN says at all. However, nor do I believe that Islam is a religion of peace. Most Muslims are (relatively) peaceful, but there are a lot of not-so-peaceful ones out there, such as the clerics. If the clerics and holy men of a religion -- the ones at the top, so to speak -- are violent, is it fair to say that the religion is peaceful?

It's quite easy to say that the Qur'an does not command Muslims to kill Jews, Christians, etc, but unfortunately, it contradicts itself many times. Mohammed himself reversed his position on peace several times. An example: at one time, he was hoping to gain support among Jews, so he told his followers to be friendly toward them. Two years later, he decided it wasn't working and reversed his earlier order, killing many Jews in the area.

Like rmg, sorry about hijacking the thread.

deputyclericApril 28, 2007 10:42 PM

In New York City, the police cars have an 800 number to call, if you see someone with a gun.

Guns in NYC are effectively banned.

So, if you live in New York, and scare criminals away from your door with the threat "go away, I have a gun", they can call the cops on you, and stand on the sidewalk laughing as you're hauled away for exercising a right that most Americans take for granted.

We already have repressive third-world style governance in the USA. Just visit NYC, Chicago, LA, or the parts of DC governed by the mayor and city council there.

SeanApril 29, 2007 6:51 AM

While citizen informants have always been around, has there ever been legal recourse against them if it can be shown that their information is only provided for spite? Maybe a fine or a countersuit for a false alarm (slander or libel)?

On the other hand, if people are afraid to report what they think is a criminal act due to fear of counter-prosecution, how many crimes that could otherwise be solved will remain unsolved because no one wants to take the chance of being wrong? Or, google Stop Snitchin' and see what comes up.

The act of removing people from airplanes because people are not comfortable with their color of skin or prayer is despicable. If said people cleared competent security, there should be no issues.

However, just as important, I do not want to live in a society where no one reports anything suspicious out of fear, because that is nothing more than a state of anarchy.

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