"Tough on Crime" Means Cops Never Having To Say They Are Sorry

Politics & Current Events

It could happen anywhere, really. A gang of thugs enters a small grocery store, terrorizes and abuses the proprietors, smashes the video cameras, and makes off with merchandise. The thugs have probably selected this small grocery because its proprietors are recent immigrants, making them more helpless and less likely to seek or find redress for the thuggery.

What makes the situation notable, and not just another crime in another bodega in another bad neighborhood of America?

The thugs had badges.

Via Radley Balko — whose relentless coverage of police abuse from a libertarian perspective is both indispensable and very bad for your blood pressure — read the story of how shopkeepers David and Eunice Nam experienced official thuggery at the hands of Philadelphia Police Officer Jeffrey Cujdik and his narcotics squad. And they weren't the only ones:

The Daily News interviewed seven store owners and an attorney representing another. Independently, they told similar stories: Cujdik and fellow officers destroyed or cut the wires to surveillance cameras. Some store owners said they watched as officers took food and slurped energy drinks. Other store owners said cigarette cartons, batteries, cell phones and candy bars were missing after raids.

The officers also confiscated cash from the stores – a routine practice in Narcotics Field Unit raids – but didn't record the full amount on police property receipts, the shop owners allege.

In one case, the officers failed to document about $8,200, and in another, about $7,000, the store owners said.

In all eight cases, Cujdik applied for the search warrant and played a key role in the bust. The store owners were charged with possessing and delivering drug paraphernalia, specifically the tiny bags. In the cases that have been settled, judges sentenced the store owners to probation or less.

Cujdik, of course, is offering the standard response: these are all crooks who hate the police, making up stories as crooks always have.

But it sure sounds as if the wheels are coming off of Cujdik's wagon. Corroboration begins to emerge:

At least three former police informants who worked with Cujdik told the Daily News that he often gave them cartons of cigarettes.

"When he raided a corner store, he'd give me cigarettes," said Tiffany Gorham, a former Cujdik informant.

And there's no defending the destruction of cameras, which is the sort of thing that crooks of all stripes do:

As for those broken surveillance cameras, officers have "no reason to cut camera wires or destroy cameras," said a high-ranking Philadelphia police official, who requested anonymity. "None whatsoever."

"It would look like they're trying to hide something," the official said. "It would look like they don't want to be on the surveillance camera themselves."

Read the whole story, and Balko's whole reaction, both of which are bracing.

How can this sort of thing continue to happen? Well, part of it is the ingrained notion that police are by definition do-gooders and people arrested by the police are by definition evil-doers. That's a concept deeply ingrained in our culture, thanks in part to decades of cop shows and movies and more recently forty years of null-content "tough on crime" rhetoric. Somehow the entirely defensible concept that we should vigorously defend citizens from murders, rapists, and robbers — and that the system was giving crooks sentences that were too short — got twisted into the indefensible "thin blue line" vision of an America torn between those who support criminals and those who support cops.

This vision is most often supported and advocated by those who consider themselves conservatives. Yet there is nothing truly conservative about it — at its root, the vision is one of craven and servile acceptance of government authority. If I launched a campaign premised on the theory that IRS officials and government regulators are the good guys — and that anyone who complains about how they are taxed or regulated are by definition the bad guys, making up stories just to save themselves — nobody would see me as conservative for a moment. They'd say I had a canine view of government, unbecoming in a free man. Yet if I say that cops are by definition the good guys, and that complaints about police abuse are largely the fabrications of fee-seeking lawyers, bleeding-heart liberals, and crooks looking to get off, I will fit comfortably into the mainstream of conservative discourse. Pity.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

8 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Dave (ND)  •  Mar 20, 2009 @8:46 am

    I think the cops have been taking The Shield as a training manual.

  2. JS  •  Mar 20, 2009 @4:44 pm

    I'm starting to think no one should be allowed to serve as a police officer or politician without having to thoroughly read and be tested on the US constitution.

  3. Shell Goddamnit  •  Mar 20, 2009 @5:30 pm

    "I’m starting to think no one should be allowed to serve as a police officer or politician without having to thoroughly read and be tested on the US constitution."

    I don't understand how this applies in this case – this guy doesn't give a fart about the constitutionality of his actions – in fact I'm pretty sure he knows they're illegal. He also knows he can get away with being a bully who breaks the law. Partly because it's taken 40 yrs (per post above) to get to the point where more than three of us are actually worried about cop behavior…

  4. Linus  •  Mar 20, 2009 @9:09 pm

    I'm an attorney who has actually represented plaintiffs in suits against cops for ridiculously indefensible behavior, as well as small crap like, oh, arresting a guy because he tried to record the conversation when the cops came to serve a misdemeanor citation. I say that to give the context for the fact that when I get calls from people looking for representation for potential claims against cops, my first reaction is STILL to think "sure, buddy, sure. Innocent as the day is long, that's you." That's how ingrained it is.

  5. Paul Baxter  •  Mar 22, 2009 @12:14 pm

    I think one part of this equation is that, at least in the particular case you cite, people from OTHER cultures are being taken advantage of. I don't really know anything about law enforcement officers in Korea, but it is quite common in many parts of the world that police are well known to be corrupt and that you will probably just have to put up with bribery and other nuisances from them.

    If people are recent immigrants, they may not be aware that corrupt cops are the exception rather than the norm here and that there is at least a possibility of redress through some other avenue (contacting a lawyer or someone from a different level of law enforcement).

    In any event, this sort of behavior from people whose job it is to enforce and uphold the law is outrageous. Criminal behavior from public officers of the law (including judges and congressmen) should automatically incur the maximum possible penalty.

  6. George Wallpapper  •  May 2, 2009 @2:41 am

    I am very glad, if somebody as police officer soil my name. This is reason to leave this name and take some other.
    I don´t understand, how is possible leave so police officers run at liberty. I´d gave to so officer the chair. So behaviour is double crime.

  7. Jack  •  Aug 20, 2009 @5:18 pm

    If candidates had to be tested on the constitution then I dont think we would have nearly as many police officers as we do, and that would probably be a bad thing.

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