Policing in New Zealand

Reading the online version of my local paper today, I was struck by the differences between New Zealand and the United States. The top story – so I presume it’s on the front-page of the dead tree version – has the headline “Armed police brought in to arrest man in Christchurch.”

This obviously wouldn’t be newsworthy in United States or other countries with highly militarized police forces.  American officers routinely carry pistols and, if TV shows like Cops are any indication, are willing to get them out at every opportunity. Down here, the police don’t carry firearms and the use of the Armed Offenders Squad is relatively rare.

I think this is a major factor in the general professionalism and reasonableness of New Zealand cops. While there are bound to be a few sociopaths in any police force, police brutality and arrogance seem much less common here than in the States.

Compare and contrast:

To my knowledge, no reliable measures of police misconduct exist, but I don’t think this is just denominator-blindness: pointing guns at, tasing, pepper-spraying, or handcuffing people not posing any immediate threat seems to be common practice in the US, but is very rare here.

Guns and tasers give cops a greater sense of authority and dominance. It’s a cliché, but power does corrupt. I challenge anyone to watch video of the Stanford Prison Experiment and maintain that it’s possible to give person power over another without it being abused:

A bunch of normal young guys were randomly assigned to be either prisoners or guards in a mock prison. The experiment was due to run for a week, but had to be called off early after the guards became increasingly cruel – with situations eerily similar to those in Abu Ghraib – and the prisoners increasingly accepted the dominance of the guards. Normal people became either sociopaths or cowering messes depending simply on the roles they were assigned.

There are frequent calls to arm the New Zealand police, especially after an officer is killed or injured on the job, and the use of tasers is becoming more common. Needless to say, I think this is a very bad idea. Arming the police might make them slightly more capable of fighting genuine crime, but it’s almost certain to make them into a group to be feared by innocent New Zealanders.

Opposition to an armed police force isn’t based on nostalgia, as some would claim, but an understanding of human psychology. Citizens should not be afraid of their police, and police should definitely not be pointing guns at citizens without a very good reason for doing so.

UK Cop Detains and Beats Photographer for Acting “Cocky”

Prepare to get angry:

Hat tip: Boing Boing

Police State – The Militarization of the Police Force in USA

Police Thuggery in Pittsburgh

I haven’t really been following the happenings in Pittsburgh, but it looks pretty nasty. As I understand it, the protests were broken up due to the lack of a permit rather than any violence.

The US is looking increasingly like a police state.

Philip Zimbardo Interview

Believer Magazine has a very interesting interview with Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist behind the Stanford prison experiment. There’s a lot of great stuff, but I particularly liked Zimbardo’s emphasis of the inertia of institutions:

Yes, even there, you know, what comes out of that is the guilt or innocence of each of the leaders. So tribunals say, “We have the power to put leaders on trial, even though they in fact—none of them actually killed anybody—it’s just they created a policy, they created a system.” But I would hope they would go to the next level and make explicit: “In punishing this person we are really publicly declaring that this ideology produced the crimes against humanity. And so we, as an international body of humanists, of jurists, decry the horrors of this kind of system.” So you’re really sending out a message: it’s the system that’s wrong, and these people helped create it. Hitler helped create it, and Pol Pot.… But once it’s created, once the Stanford Prison Experiment was created, I’m irrelevant. If I had died during the thing, it would have gone on. The guards would have been happier. If Hitler had been killed, the whole thing would have gone on only because it had already corrupted the legal system, the educational system, the business system. With all these mechanisms in place, he became irrelevant. In fact, he would have been a big martyr.

There’s also a lot of talk about the implications of Zimbardo’s situational theory of evil for moral responsibility, how Zimbardo was sucked into the situation and became evil himself, and the war on terror.

Read the whole thing, especially if you enjoy despair.

Woman Tased in Front of Kids for Driving with Hand on Cheek, Questioning Authoritah

I’ve been assuming that the forthcoming ban on using a cellphone while driving is just an unenforceable piece of symbolic politics unlikely to do any harm. I still think that’s right, but this story from the States of a woman being pulled over for allegedly talking on a cellphone, tased, arrested, and having her kids left in a freezing car for 40 minutes made me think twice:

In January, an Onondaga County sheriff’s deputy pulled over Audra Harmon, who had two of her kids with her in her minivan. A routine traffic stop escalated quickly.

The deputy, Sean Andrews, accused her of talking on her cell phone. She said she could prove him wrong.

He said she was speeding. She denied it and got out of the van. He told her to get back in. She did, then he ordered her back out.

He yanked her out by the arm, knocked her down with two Taser shots and charged her with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. His rationale on the disorderly conduct charge: She obstructed traffic when she got out of the van. The speeding accusation: going 50 mph in a 45-mph zone. (…)

Andrews told Harmon he’d seen her using her cell phone while she was driving. In the video, he makes a phone gesture with his hand. She told him she’d been driving with her right hand on her cheek, but that she hadn’t talked on the phone for at least two hours. She says she offered to let him look at the phone to see for himself. He declined. (…)

“Are you OK? Do you need help?” [witnesses] Santorelli and her father yelled, according to Santorelli’s statement to deputies.

“I’m not OK, and I do need help,” Harmon responded. As Andrews picked her up and escorted her to his car, Harmon pleaded with the witnesses.

“Please come get my kids!” Harmon remembers yelling. The witnesses said they couldn’t do that, but they asked Harmon for her home number so they could call her husband. She gave it to them.

“I wanted these strangers to get my kids, because at that point I thought they’d be safer with strangers,” Harmon says. The kids sat in the car for about 40 minutes until their father arrived and took them home, which was about 500 yards away, she says.

Harmon said she wants to teach police a lesson: It’s OK to admit you’re wrong. She said Andrews manufactured the speeding charge once he realized she didn’t deserve a cell phone ticket. Andrews had not clocked her with a radar gun. Instead, he said in a report, he calculated her speed by following her for “several seconds.”

“I want the public to know these police officers apparently aren’t being trained well enough to know when it is justified to use a Taser,” she said.

I don’t think training is the problem. Cops are using tasers to make their jobs easier, and are not forced to answer for their unjustified use. Cases like these normally involve an inquiry, but the officer is almost invariably found to be faultless. The only way to make cops less brutal is to make them more accountable. The actions of this uniformed thug were morally equivalent to assault and kidnapping; he should be punished accordingly.

Cop Tortures Dog for No Apparent Reason

This video isn’t as horrific as some of the police brutality we see these days thanks to the ubiquity of video cameras, but the pointlessness is quite astounding. Dog barks at cop. Owners are on their way. Cop tases dog, gets a noose around its neck. Cop tases dog again once it’s already subdued from the first tasing. WTF?!

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