Ultimately, the only people watching the watchers are those realistic enough to admit that it's necessary.
J.D. Tuccille is managing editor of Reason.com.
Years ago, members of my extended family were gangsters connected with the Genovese crime family. They had the ability, which they used, to place people in favored positions within the New York City Police Department. I know this, because my father was offered one of those slots.
This is a big part of why I've always had a problem with claims that you can trust the police, in addition to the civil liberties abuses we report at Reason. Cops can be as crooked as anybody else—and are more dangerous for it, because of their power and position. It's the old problem of "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"—"Who watches the watchmen?" The more you give the watchmen to do, the more tempting it becomes to corrupt them, and for them to let themselves be corrupted. And the more temptation for corruption, the more the likelihood that such temptation is the main attraction for people who want to be watchmen.
That temptation sometimes really is the main attraction. Remembering some of the old family stories, I asked my father for details. He told me:
The time was 1954 when I was graduating from high school and my Uncle Puggy, Watermelon King of the East Coast, who presided over the Bronx Terminal Market, told my father he was wasting his money sending me to college. He could get me a beat around the market, located in the South Bronx before it moved to Hunts Point, where I could get on the family’s payroll and get an envelope stuffed with cash every week.
Puggy was called "the Watermelon King" because the New York Daily News once published a picture of him standing on top of a mountain of watermelons. The photo illustrated an article pointing out that he extracted his cut from every banana, every tomato, every kind of fruit and vegetable known to mankind that passed through the Bronx Terminal Market. And, if you're going to be in that kind of business, it's helpful to own the people who are supposed to prevent that sort of thing from happening. Puggy did. He wanted my father to join in the lucrative fun.
My father decided not to go that route.
The law enforcement connections continued and expanded. At the end of the 1960s, that crew pulled off an art heist that was elegant in execution, but went to hell pretty quickly. As it turned out the buyers they arranged were FBI agents. But the thieves were tipped off that the buyers were feds. And they were tipped off about a raid on a house where the paintings had been stored. As my father tells me, "they probably had a plant in the FBI as well." (If you're interested, and it's a hell of a tale, you can read the full story of the heist in Gallery of Fools.)
None of this is news to anybody who remembers Frank Serpico's revelations about the NYPD. But it's also something that doesn't go away. My father's brief opportunity for a law (non)enforcement career passed 60 years ago. The Knapp Commission convened over four decades ago. But the NYPD still faces allegations of corruption, including traditional ticket-fixing, outright theft of cash and jewels, and taking bribes to deliver accident reports to doctors and clinics who then market their services to the victims.
Honest cops who blow the whistle still suffer retaliation for their pains.
Not that the NYPD should be singled out. Baltimore cops have been accused of working as muscle for drug dealers. Cops elsewhere have been drug dealers, taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by their badges to shut down competitors in the illegal but highly profitable trade and keep the opportunities for themselves
And then there are the FBI agents who got tight with Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger.
Some of this corruption overlaps with civil liberties violations committed in the course of police work. Those jewel-stealing cops mentioned above also gained a taste for gathering evidence in the absence of warrants. It's probably not surprising that police officers who engage in theft, accept bribes, and carve out illegal narcotics empires might find the Fourth Amendment an unimpressive barrier to further depredations.
There may be no way of doing entirely without professional police forces that are paid and empowered to enforce the laws to some extent (though I'm very willing to consider alternatives). Like many things in life, there's probably no perfect fix. But, so long as we have police forces, we're going to have a problem with police who abuse their positions and succumb to corruption. We'll also have a problem with people who become cops just so they can exploit the opportunity to engage in abuse and get an envelope stuffed with cash every week, offered by the likes of Uncle Puggy.
Asking police officers to suppress highly profitable activities where there's money to be had just for looking the other way is just begging for trouble.
That's enough reason to give extra thought to every job, tool, power, legal protection, and consideration given to police officers. And it's reason to turn a skeptical eye on the people we've hired to keep the peace. Because, in the end, the only people watching the watchers are those realistic enough to admit that it's necessary.
MANSFIELD — A former Mansfield police officer is among more than two dozen people arrested by federal agencies in a national child pornography case.
Robert Anderson of Lucas was arrested Feb. 7 on allegations he knowingly received and distributed child pornography, according to a complaint filed in the Northern District United States District Court.
Anderson, 69, was a patrol officer for the department for 25 years, retiring in September of 2000, according to city finance records.
“What he did in his retirement years is not a reflection of the men and women that work at the Mansfield Police Department,” Police Chief Ken Coontz commented. “It’s a disgraceful act no matter who gets charged with it.”
A hearing has not yet been scheduled, but if Anderson is convicted of the charge, he could get 10 years or more in prison. His court-appointed attorneys, Charles Fleming and Edward Bryan, could not be reached for comment.
“The weight of the evidence against the defendant is substantial, including images seized under a search warrant and a confession,” Anderson’s detention order said. “There is evidence that the defendant unsuccessfully attempted to hide additional storage devices containing illicit images of minors after his arrest.
“Although the defendant has no prior criminal history and long-established ties to the community, these are insufficient to overcome the statutory presumption in the light of the foregoing.”
The arrest was the result of an investigation that spanned three years and involved the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, Cyber Crimes Center, Child Exploitation Investigations Unit, Victim Identification Program, as well as various international law enforcement agencies, the complaint said.
Through the investigation, at least 24 people were identified as possible users of a website, identified only as “Website A.” Authorities said the site allows people to post, distribute and trade sexually explicit images of children. In many cases, according to the report, users also exchanged emails for the purpose of distributing more images.
The website is hosted outside of the United States.
“Often evidence from the images, and comments posted about the album (either by other individuals or the member who created the album), indicates that the particular poster or person who created the album has a sexual interest in children,” the complaint said, “and that these individuals’ interest in Website A lies in the ability to meet other individuals for the private trading of child pornography.”
In June 2012, Homeland Security Investigations obtained data from the website — including usernames, album names, passwords, comments and associated email addresses and IP logs — that helped lead to Anderson’s arrest.
A “Website A” member account authorities believe to be run by Anderson, titled “bob1431b,” reportedly contained six albums with at least 44 photos of young girls’ underwear and prepubescent teens in the nude, the complaint stated.
One of the albums, entitled “preview,” was found to contain 38 images, most or all including a pubescent teenager suspected to be from north central Ohio, the complaint said.
Attached to one of the photos was a comment from “bob1431b” saying, “email me for trades, I have many hot vids and pics, some homemade and hidden cam,” according to the complaint.
The investigation notes that user “bob1431b” last modified his albums in October 2012, but when authorities accessed “Website A” on Jan. 15, 2014, it was determined that the user “continued to remain active and to maintain a profile and the same or similar albums on the website,” the complaint said.
A gmail account also linked to the website’s username and traced back to Anderson revealed another 25 images and four videos containing child pornography, the complaint said.
The evidence indicated Anderson had traded child pornography with at least two other Internet users between Sept. 18 and Nov. 18, 2013. In one of the exchanges, Anderson sent nine image attachments, three of which constituted child pornography, the report said.
When Homeland Security Investigations agents raided Anderson’s home Feb. 6 and conducted an on-site preview of a thumb drive computer media device, they reported finding several other images of suspected child pornography.
Anderson admitted, according to the complaint, that he registered the email address and was the sole user of the computers in the home.
He also agreed to an interview with FBI Agent Lance Fragomeli, in which he “admitted to receiving and sending files containing child pornography. Anderson also admitted that he had saved some of these images and had created a collection which he had hidden away,” the complaint said.
SOMERSET — Patrolman Brian Dempsey, who had been the school resource officer at Somerset Berkley Regional High School, has been suspended for five days and removed from that position for misconduct and disobeying an order in that role, police Chief Joseph Ferreira said Tuesday.
That general order, Ferreira said in a phone interview, is “don’t get involved in personal relationships at the high school when you’re the resource officer.”
The chief divulged little information other than the fact the incident involved a female student who graduated in June from Somerset Berkley Regional High School.
He said Dempsey, who lives in Somerset and is a 2000 graduate of Somerset High School, will return to work Monday and will be reassigned to the patrol division on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift.
As chief, Ferreira said he can issue suspensions for up to five days without the matter going before the town administrator and Board of Selectmen.
He said there could be other internal disciplinary measures that he was not at liberty to give because of personnel confidentiality requirements.
Ferreira said he’d post the full-time school resource officer job, and expected to assign a new officer within two weeks.
Dempsey held the role for about 1½ years. He’s been on the force about five years and worked for several years before that as a police officer in Florida, Ferreira said. Dempsey holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. His annual patrolman’s salary is approximately $50,000, Ferreira said.
The Somerset Berkley District pays 75 percent of that salary under an agreement with the school for a resource officer, he said.
Ferreira did indicate what was not involved with the allegations: “No photos were involved. No physical interaction was involved. No underage drinking. Nothing of that sort,” he said.
Sources told The Herald News on Monday that the incident involved sexting between the officer and the former high school student.
Ferreira said in an interview that day “there’s nothing criminal here.”
Regional district Interim Superintendent Thomas Lynch said Ferreira told him the same information based upon the police internal investigation.
“At least it didn’t go to the next level,” Lynch said while speaking openly about the alleged violations.
Asked about the circumstances, he said, “I have no idea how long it went on for. I’m thankful that the person (the former student) did step forward because we certainly don’t want a predator working in the school.”
She issued the complaint on Feb. 10 to high school administrators. Somerset Berkley Regional High School Principal Jahmal Mosley interviewed her with a female administrator, Lynch said.
“She came forward because she probably realized as she matured that she did not want it to happen to anybody else,” Lynch said based upon information administrators gave to him. He did not speak with the former student, who is reportedly attending college.
Asked about the explicitness of the sexting messages, Lynch said, “It was highly and extremely inappropriate for a person put in a position of trust to be doing to a student. It’s just unacceptable,” Lynch said.
He said what was most important to him was that Ferreria told him Dempsey will be replaced.
“I am pleased that he will not be working in school any longer. As superintendent, that has to be my No. 1 priority,” Lynch said in a phone interview after returning from an out-of-state educational conference Tuesday afternoon.
He and regional school board Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth White both said they felt it was important to retain a resource officer at the high school. The officer is tasked with diffusing difficult situations and works as a liaison between the school administration, staff and students, as well as the police department, Ferreira said.
Ferreira said Dempsey was suspended after a one-week investigation headed by Capt. Glenn Neto, assisted by Detective Jason Matos, during which time the officer was placed on paid administrative leave. The one-week suspension without pay was meted out early Tuesday, Ferreira said.
He also spoke about what factored into his decision, and cited “punitive action disciplines” listed within the department’s certification by the Massachusetts Accreditation Commission.
Those disciplinary criteria that Ferreira provided include: seriousness of the incident, the circumstances, employee’s disciplinary record, longeveity and overall work performance, impact upon the department the incident causes, probability of future similar problems and involvement of other department employees.
“It was an isolated allegation by one person,” Ferreira said. He said two officers spoke with the young woman and to “probably 10 people overall that heard about it.”
Speaking generally about Dempsey, Ferreira said, “He’s got an excellent record of work. He’s always been a very good police officer. He has no discipline in his file that I can recall.”
In a general comment, Ferreira said, “It’s extremely unfortunate that this occurred. We did our usual procedures of a thorough investigation, and took fair and reasonable and appropriate action.”
Among other disciplines Ferreira said he could take include limiting work venues, such as not working details, and working extra days without pay for the department. Ferreira said under the state statute governing police personnel he was unable to state any such disciplinary actions he took. Lynch notified school officials about Dempsey’s reassignment, including Somerset Superintendent Richard Medeiros, who was informed that Dempsey would not be serving as Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer at Somerset Middle School. He worked with sixth-graders one day a week teaching the DARE program.
White said she was satisfied with how the incident was handled by school and town officials.
“It’s just unfortunate for things like this to happen. I’m pleased the superintendent and high school principal handled it so quickly and I appreciate the quick action of the police department.
“It’s unfortunate because you want kids to be able to trust people in authority like that,” said White, who works as an educator.
She was handling the press inquiry because regional school board Chairman Richard Peirce said he knew Dempsey and his family personally and did not want to be involved with the situation.
Lynch cited the police department as being cooperative and said he had trust in how Ferreira handled the situation and communicated what was done. He was not made privy to any aspects of the investigation, he said.
“It was dealt with swiftly, and the officer will not be working with children any longer,” Lynch said after being apprised by Ferreira of the disciplinary action and changes Tuesday afternoon.
By Tony Perry
February 18, 2014, 11:50 a.m.
SAN DIEGO — A suspended San Diego police officer is being charged with two felony and three misdemeanor counts of abusing four women while on duty, Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis announced Tuesday.
"This defendant was in a position of authority and he abused the public trust," Dumanis said at a news conference.
More women have made allegations, which are being investigated for possible charges, Dumanis said.
Christopher Hays, 30, decorated for bravery in 2012, is charged with two counts of felony false imprisonment through the use of "menace" and three counts of misdemeanor battery.
Hays pleaded not guilty at an arraignment Tuesday afternoon. He remained free on $130,000 bail posted after his Feb. 9 arrest.
Dumanis said that if Hays is convicted, he could get up to three years and eight months in prison.
Hays received a medal in 2012 for dashing into a burning building to save a woman who was trapped on the second floor. He also served with the Marines in Iraq as a lance corporal. He has been with the Police Department for four years.
One of the incidents in which he has been charged allegedly occurred during a domestic-violence call. Others involved a shoplifting suspect, a homeless woman and a woman interviewed during a street patrol.
Hays is married and the father of two. His father-in-law, Mark Jones, is an assistant chief with the San Diego department.
Hays was suspended in mid-January as the district attorney reviewed the police investigation to determine whether criminal charges would be filed.
In 2011, San Diego officer Anthony Arevalos was convicted of demanding sexual favors from women after making traffic stops. He was sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison. He was fired after the accusations were made.
The City Council has approved a total of $2.3 million in payments to women assaulted by Arevalos. One case has gone to trial.