The creative landscape is changing. Technologies like Pro Tools, the iPod, and peer-to-peer networks have become mainstream in the digital age, creating a wild frontier of sorts in music. Independent artists can reach mass audiences once forbidden to them. These technologies are fostering the rise of “semiotic democracy”—where more and more people are no longer passive consumers of mass media, but active participants in creating culture. Cops vs Lawyers, Issue 3

السبت، أيلول ١٠، ٢٠٠٥

Cops vs Lawyers: State of Emergency

Interview by Mike Conway
Image by Granger Davis

The City of Richmond recently found its culture of street crime under intense media scrutiny. Headlines spoke nightly of “Richmond’s renewed state of gang violence”. But in all memory, blocks in the 948’s were always hot. Inspired by the hype, citizens lobbied for a state of emergency: curfew, checkpoints, perhaps the National Guard—drastic stuff. Luckily, it was ruled a “bad idea.”
It all begs the question “how far would folks go for security?” We spoke with both Richmond’s Public Affairs Officer, Lieutenant Mark Gagan, and the North Cali ACLU’s Police Policies Director Mark Schlossberg about emergency states and so-called “gang violence”...

Is declaring a state of emergency the right way to go?
GAGAN: No. Funding was already given to us by voters, regardless of whether we created a state of emergency [or not], that was sufficient enough to create 15 additional officer positions. We divided [them] into three groups. The first and most visible would be officers on uniformed patrol, focused on the high-crime areas, doing what is called self-initiated activity. Another component would be an intelligence unit. These will be undercover detectives who will work with probation and parole officers to follow people involved in criminal activity. The third component is a bit longer commitment, which is officers in schools having a different type of relationship with the youth. Those officers will then be able to identify which kids are behaving in a way that leads to serious criminal activity.

Schlossberg: No. It strikes me that a lot of communities plagued by violence generally have underlying problems that give rise to violence. Those problems include lack of economic opportunity, poor schools, and generally unstable environments. It doesn’t take a lot to see that people want to look for something more. In order to address the issues that give rise to violent crime, you need to look at those underlying problems. Law enforcement alone will never be able to solve problems of gang violence without a broader social approach to those underlying causes. You can’t solve criminal problems with a purely law enforcement approach. Police officers can’t enforce jobs, they can’t enforce schools, so they can’t enforce broader stability.

How are police identifying gangs and gang activity?
We see territorial behavior as well as graffiti and even certain criminal activity that indicates an area is a gangland. The ironic thing about that is being able to prove gang-related crime is more difficult. Guys may be loitering and congregating in a gang area that they also happen to live in, but that doesn’t always mean they’re engaged in criminal activity. We don’t always know the motivations for a homicide, but there are times we suspect gang activity based on location, number of shooters, or the fact that other gang members were shot the night before.

Schlossberg: Without talking about a specific community, [detecting gangs] ties into the issue of racial profiling where officers will view certain members of a community as more likely to be a gang member, more likely to be a criminal. Then you get disproportionate interactions with law enforcement. And even if they don’t rely [solely] on race, they may use it in combination with other factors. [However] police should investigate gang activity like they investigate any criminal activity. You employ all the kinds of investigative tools that you do generally.

How do you discern between gangs and civilians?
You don’t want to alienate civilians. And that’s where our intelligence officers put the most effort into: learning how to deal with the community and re-evaluate our interventions. Just because teenagers are hanging out in certain areas or listening to certain types of music does not mean they’re involved in gang activity, and it would be a huge mistake to treat them as such. And now you have a situation where [we’re] trying to clean up the streets and protect people, but we’re actually alienating those people we’re trying to protect.

Schlossberg: Community policing and outreach is important. [But] community policing is only effective when you have the trust of that community. And if law enforcement stops people of color at higher rates, it undermines that trust and ultimately makes it more difficult for police to solve crimes. There needs to be strong accountablity systems to make sure that if there is police misconduct, that it’s dealt with swiftly and a community can have confidence that its police department is held to high standards.

What tools are officers given to develop this approach to gangs?
The most valuable tool I think our officers are given is the daily roll call, where officers interact with one another and expand upon certain situations and experiences from the day/shifts before. This is where the real specific and sophisticated techniques are given. We don’t have specific courses we give our officers. However, we have daily briefings where detectives and and others with insight into the community address the patrolmen that work the area and explain the crime trends. We have an elaborate crime analysis, and detectives track specific individuals known to be involved in criminal activity.

Schlossberg: Police are like everyone else. They’re drawn from a society that has a problem with race. When you get people from society generally and you give them the power of the badge--—in some instances you put them in a police department that traditionally has had problems with race—then those attitudes are reinforced through discussions and comments. That’s not to say that police officers are constantly thinking “There’s somebody who’s African American; I’m gonna pull them over.” But if you have unconscious bias, you’re gonna probably pull over more people of color. It’s a problem of law enforcement, but it’s clearly a problem of race and society that goes way beyond that.

Parting thoughts: what’s to be done?
I have to say that if you asked me this question a couple of months ago, I wouldn’t know for sure. But now, I am certain that it has to start with the community and the family members of these people that commit crimes. There needs to be more honesty about what some of the youth in our community are doing. We’ve had homicides where kids have been murdered with $1500 cash, rock cocaine and a gun on their person, and family members tell us that the child wasn’t doing anything illegal. It doesn’t mean that is was okay that they were killed; it’s not okay. But we have to look at what behaviors contribute to this violence. Violence continues to exist because the community as a whole has not sent the message that we will not accept this. The police can not do this alone.

Schlossberg: Richmond has a police commission that is really a de-fanged entity. The Police Commission in Richmond really needs to be strengthened in a way that allows more open access to records, and that gives the commission more power to give policy recommendations. Generally, police departments and police unions resist independent oversight. The police unions have a powerful lobby in Sacramento because they have a lot of money and their endorsement is valuable. In the last 15 years, not one proactive police accountability measure passed in the legislature. Yet there have been several measures that have whittled away at police accountability.