Law & the Courts

These Are Not the Good Guys

Former Los Angeles County sherriff Lee Baca (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The Right is deluding itself about law enforcement.

Facts matter: Michael Brown was not an innocent gunned down in cold blood by police in Ferguson, Mo., and it is far from obvious that African Americans are killed by police at meaningfully higher rates than whites, and may in fact be killed at lower rates when the very different rates of violent crime in the two communitie are controlled for. For the moment, put a pin in those questions.

Is it really so difficult to believe that there is widespread wrongdoing, and widespread lying about it, among U.S. law-enforcement agencies, particularly those in big, Democrat-run cities infamous for the corruption of their other municipal institutions? Why do conservatives find it so plausible — obvious, even — that the IRS and the EPA and the Atlanta public schools are corrupt and self-serving, but somehow believe that the Baltimore police department isn’t?

It is possible that what is really at play here is an emotional response to protest culture. Seeing the Black Lives Matters miscreants and Baltimore rioters on one side of the line, conservatives instinctively want to be on the other side of the line. The same thing happened with the Iraq-war protests: When the dirty hippies take to the barricades, conservatives are drawn to the other side. That led to some bad thinking and poor decision-making about Iraq. Are we making the same mistake with regard to police misconduct and allegations of police misconduct?

Let him with eyes see.

Yesterday, former Los Angeles sheriff Lee Baca announced that he would plead guilty to criminal charges related to systemic misconduct in his department, specifically to a charge of lying to investigators in an effort to cover up that wrongdoing. It’s a Los Angeles story too bonkers for Hollywood: At one point the sheriff’s department, under investigation by FBI agents who had cultivated a prisoner to act as an informant, moved the snitch to a secret cell, where he was held under a false name to keep him away from the feds. Baca’s top aide was indicted for that. Among the evidence was a courteous e-mail circulated to jailers thanking them for “not asking to [sic] many questions.”

RELATED: Better Policing Is the Best Criminal-Justice Reform

The usual allegations of abuse and misconduct are present: prisoners raped by officers, prisoners beaten by officers, prisoners beaten and raped by other prisoners at officers’ behest, corruption, etc. When Paris Hilton was given a 45-day sentence is Baca’s jail, the sheriff unilaterally released her after 79 hours, with no legal authority to do so. He created a “special reserves” program that served as a backdoor for issuing concealed-carry permits to friends and politically connected people, with predictable results: One very special reservist was arrested for brandishing a weapon in public less than a month after being sworn in, and another very, very special reservist was shortly thereafter indicted on international money-laundering charges.

Los Angeles sheriffs’ elections are technically nonpartisan, but Baca is closely allied with the city’s Democratic political machine.

There are a great many investigations of police misconduct in Baltimore, where the local police behave more like the militia of a third-world warlord than a police agency. The results of those investigations are kept secret, even from city prosecutors. (Odd, no?) Three police officers have just been suspended on allegations of felony child abuse — and the inevitable subsequent perjury — in the matter of an underage suspect who was assaulted by police while in custody. The city has paid out millions of dollars in police-brutality and civil-rights settlements in recent years.

Baltimore, you’ll recall, is not a Republican stronghold.

#share#This happens like clockwork. Today, it is the Los Angeles sheriff. Before that, it was the Los Angeles Police Department, whose anti-gang task force became a rolling crime wave of its own, with 70 officers eventually implicated in unlawful shootings, bank robbery, drug dealing, theft, planting false evidence, framing suspects, destroying evidence of their wrongdoing and the usual perjury, perjury, and perjury. Then came Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, NYPD detectives convicted in 2006 on a raft of charges — racketeering, extortion, drug-dealing, murder and conspiracy to commit murder, running an illegal gambling ring, obstruction of justice — as part of a 20-year crime spree that ranged from New York to Las Vegas. They were armed with NYPD badges and weapons. Most of their crimes were committed in connection with the Gambino crime family, to which Eppolito was related through his father.

Our police departments have the same problems as our other government agencies, exacerbated by the fact that police are, inevitably, in the business of violence.

It isn’t always that dramatic: In Fairview, Tenn., a new police detective was just fired after responding to a prostitution ad. An NYPD officer was awarded $15 million in damages for being kidnapped and beaten inside his own home by other NYPD officers with a score to settle. Honolulu announced that in 2015 it fired a record number of officers for misconduct. A cop in Memphis is being charged with “official oppression” — though not rape — for using his position to pressure a woman into performing a sex act on him while he was on duty. Pittsburgh’s DA is refiling criminal charges against a police officer for assaulting a man while moonlighting as a security officer. A New Orleans police officer saw his 17-year sentence reduced for his conviction in burning the body of a man improperly shot by another New Orleans police officer. Elsewhere in Louisiana, authorities have settled upon “suicide” as the explanation for the death of a man in police custody who somehow managed to shoot himself in the chest while his hands were handcuffed behind his back in the back of a police cruiser.

These things will happen, you say. And that’s true: But all these things happened last Friday.

Why conservatives and Republicans should be defensive about the fact that Baltimore, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Honolulu are misgoverned to various degrees of criminality is a mystery. Conservatives with real political power in those cities are as scarce as hen’s teeth. Could it really be something so simple as the fact that we do not feel comfortable standing on the same side of a bright red line as the malefactors in Ferguson and such opportunists as DeRay Mckesson, now a Baltimore mayoral candidate, and Al Sharpton? Sharpton is a grotesque and one of the most dishonest men in American public life, but that does not mean that the people running Baltimore and its police department aren’t also crooked. Some police officers are indeed heroes. Some are villains. Most are ordinary, time-serving municipal employees like any other, and telling ourselves otherwise is sentimental rubbish.

#related#We do not have to buy into the lie that Michael Brown was shot for sport by racist police. We do not have to tolerate riots. We do not have to endorse, or even passively accept, the incontinent, often irrational, and reliably dishonest rhetoric coming from the likes of Black Lives Matters. No, we do not have to listen to Beyoncé.

We do have to deal with the facts of the case.

And those facts suggest that our police departments have the same problems as our other government agencies, exacerbated by the fact that police are, inevitably, in the business of violence.

It isn’t a few scattered misdeeds when it’s the NYPD, the LAPD, the Baltimore PD, the Los Angeles sheriff’s department, and more. That’s not a few bad apples — that’s the orchard. And it needs pruning. 

— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.

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