Tag Archives: police

F.B.I. Director Speaks Out on Race and Police Bias

From the Washington Post

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, delivered an unusually candid speech on Thursday about the difficult relationship between the police and African-Americans, saying that officers who work in neighborhoods where blacks commit crimes at a high rate develop a cynicism that shades their attitudes about race.

Citing the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway show “Avenue Q,” he said police officers of all races viewed black and white men differently. In an address to students at Georgetown University, Mr. Comey said that some officers scrutinize African-Americans more closely using a mental shortcut that “becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights” because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.

In speaking about racial issues at such length, Mr. Comey used his office in a way that none of his predecessors had. His remarks also went beyond what President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. have said since an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August.

Mr. Comey said that his speech, which was well received by law enforcement officials, was motivated by his belief that the country had not “had a healthy dialogue” since the protests began in Ferguson and that he did not “want to see those important issues drift away.”

Previous F.B.I. directors had limited their public comments about race to civil rights investigations, like murders committed by the Ku Klux Klan and the bureau’s wiretapping of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  But Mr. Comey tried to dissect the issue layer by layer.

He started by acknowledging that law enforcement had a troubled legacy when it came to race.

“All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty,” he said. “At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”

Mr. Comey said there was significant research showing that all people have unconscious racial biases. Law enforcement officers, he said, need “to design systems and processes to overcome that very human part of us all.”

How Militarizing Police Can Increase Violence

Does more military gear make cops more likely to act violent?

Long before the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which have brought with them countless images of heavily armored local authorities pointing guns at and firing tear gas and other nonlethal weapons at unarmed protesters, some were disturbed by what Washington Post journalist Radley Balko calls “the rise of the warrior cop” — that is, the increasing tendency of some local police forces to rely on military-style gear and tactics, even in situations that appear devoid of any real threat to officers’ safety.

The story of how this happened and the oftentimes tragic results have been well-told by Balko, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others. In short, there’s been a flood of drug-war and post-9/11 money that has helped outfit police departments, even towns where a single murder is an incredibly rare event, with gear that could help repel seasoned paramilitaries.

What’s less clear is how this gear changes the psychological dynamics of policing and crowd control. Is it true, as many people are arguing online, that “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” — that is, that simply having military gear will make police more likely to act in an aggressive manner toward civilians? How does this change the relationship between police and civilians?

At the most specific level, these questions haven’t been studied empirically. But a great deal of social-psychological research, as well as important anecdotal evidence from law-enforcement specialists themselves, suggests that militarized policing can greatly inflame situations that might otherwise end peacefully.

The so-called “weapons effect” can partly explain what’s going on in Ferguson and elsewhere. The mere presence of weapons, in short, appears to prime more aggressive behavior. This has been shown in a variety of experiments in different lab and real-world settings.

“Theory underlying the weapons effect or similar kinds of phenomena would suggest that the more you fill the environment with stimuli that are associated with violence, the more likely violence is to occur,” said Bruce Bartholow, a University of Missouri social psychologist who has studied the weapons effect. Brad Bushman, a psychologist at Ohio State, agreed. “I would expect a bigger effect if you see military weapons than if you see normal weapons,” he said.

This isn’t just about a link between visual stimuli like guns and violence, however. It also has to do with the roles people adopt, with how they respond to the presence of others who may — or may not — mean them harm. To a certain extent, if you dress and treat people like soldiers facing a deadly enemy, they’ll act like it.

“This process isn’t necessarily good or bad, but depends on the extent to which the more militaristic role fits the situation,” said Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State, in an email. “When it doesn’t fit well, it is likely to lead to more judgment and behavior errors.” Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has studied how police departments outfit themselves, said the dynamic could be particularly dangerous in the context of nonviolent protests like Ferguson (there was rioting and looting earlier this week, but there have also been widespread reports of nonviolent protests being broken up by police aggression).

“Military equipment is used against an enemy,” said Haberfeld. “So if you give the same equipment to local police, by default you create an environment in which the public is perceived as an enemy.” On the other side of these confrontations, this could have a negative effect on protesters. “We live in a democratic country, and we believe that this is our right to go out and exercise the right to [free speech],” she said. “And when you go out there and exercise that right and suddenly you are faced with soldiers — even though these are not soldiers, but police officers looking like soldiers — then something is triggered, definitely.”

Bushman said that meeting nonviolent protests with a militarized response is “really a bad idea. I can’t believe they’re doing it.” “It’s just really bad for the officers because they feel more powerful, more invincible, more militaristic, ready to attack,” he said. “And also, I think it elicits a response from the observers that, hey, this is war, and people become defensive and they have a fight/flight response.” The adoption of masks themselves in a militarized setting, on the part of police or protesters, can also contribute to violence by triggering senses of anonymity and what psychologists call deindividuation. “There’s all kinds of evidence in social psychology that that will lead people to do things that they wouldn’t do if they could be identified,” said Bartholow.

All this militarization, said Bartholow, can be contrasted “against the old kind of beat-cop model where people in the neighborhood know the police officers’ name and he’s kind of everybody’s buddy in a sense.”

Sports reduce crime in Chicago

Criminals and police are distracted by sports

Researchers Ryan Copus and Hannah Laquer found that crime in Chicago — violent crime, drug arrests and property crime — all took a nosedive when there was a game on TV between 2001 and 2013.

The study, titled “Entertainment as Crime Prevention: Evidence from Chicago Sports Games,” was inspired by retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who, during the 2011 NFL lockout issued this challenge: “Do this research. … If we don’t have a season, watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up if you take away our game … [People have] nothing else to do.”

Lewis was mocked by social scientists, police and sports columnists who said there was no data to support the linebacker’s hypothesis that sports games on TV make Americans safer.

But Copus and Laquer, doctoral candidates at the University of California Berkeley Law School, say their research shows Lewis was on to something.

“We think our paper is pretty good evidence that Ray Lewis was right. Lewis claimed that an NFL lockout would lead to higher crime, and we find large decreases in crime during games, and no evidence of short-term increases before or after the game,” Copus said.

The study compared city by-the-minute crime stats during televised NFL, NBA and MLB games and non-game days. (They didn’t include Blackhawks games, but we’ll get to that later.)

“In general, we find substantial declines during games across crime types — property, violent, drug and other — with the largest reductions for drug crime,” Copus said.

The main reason: both criminals and police love sports to distraction.

“Potential offenders are distracted by the game,” Copus said.

“We don’t think other explanations can account for that. So, for example, the fact that potential victims are inside watching the game could explain why we don’t see as much violent crime, but we don’t think it’s a very good explanation for the reductions in property crime.”

And when it comes to game-time declines in drug arrests, Copus said the research suggests that police are willing to wait until after the game to make arrests.

“Police officers might be more lax on a big game day, but it’s hard to rigorously test the theory,” Copus said. “We do see particularly large reductions in drug crime that we think are probably in part due to police officers taking it a little easy on drug crimes during games.”

The researchers didn’t pick Chicago as its test case due to our city’s reputation for shootings that earned the nickname “Chiraq.”

“We ended up using data from Chicago mostly because [police] make their by-the-minute criminal incident reports publicly available. Most cities don’t,” Copus said. “Plus, Chicago is a city known for caring about its sports teams.”

And the sports team Chicagoans collectively care about the most — Da Bears — had the biggest positive effect on crime, especially on Monday Night Football, the study found.

When the Bears won Monday night games, total crime citywide dropped 17 percent. That’s second only to the Super Bowl, which posted a 26 percent decrease in total crime, including a 63 percent dip in drug arrests, according to the analysis.

Ontario police to receive training in response to calls that involve suffers of mental illness

Saskatoon Police would benefit from this as well

Standards enforced by the province are minimal and in many cases individual forces have bolstered their training and response methods related to mental illness only after coroner’s inquests have made recommendations following tragic deaths.

A Globe and Mail investigation earlier this year found that the amount of training and how police approach people in psychiatric crises varies widely.

Ontario’s review will attempt to find best practices by consulting experts, including the province’s chief coroner and forensic pathologist, Ms. Meilleur said.

“We read too often in the paper that there’s an unfortunate incident that occurs,” she said. “I’m not attributing blame here because … the police officers arrive on the scene, they don’t know … the individual they face is someone with mental illness.”

The closing of beds and the move away from institutionalized mental-health care in Canada has put the responsibility of responding to people in crisis more and more in the hands of the police, who have limited access to health-care experts in these crucial moments.

“Health issues and health problems are always on my mind,” said Ms. Meilleur, a former nurse, who was appointed to her portfolio last October.

John Pare, the deputy police chief in London, Ont., who sits on the justice committee of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said he welcomes recommendations from the province. Police are looking to improve their response to people in crisis, he said, but health care needs to improve so police aren’t the default responders.

While officers are instructed to use lethal force when someone poses an imminent threat to a person’s life, advocates say officers could be better equipped to de-escalate crisis situations before they reach that point.

Encouraging news for the west side

According to a Saskatoon Police news release.

The two girls, ages nine and 12, reported being followed by a man driving a white extended-cab truck as they walked in the area of 33rd Street and Avenue P around 11:39 p.m., police said in a news release.

“At one point the suspicious male got out of the truck but when the girls confronted him he drove off. They sought assistance at a nearby residence and called police,” the release said.

The girls described the man as in his 30s and wearing a baseball cap. No further description was available.

Police recommend people walk in pairs or groups, stay in well-populated and well-lit areas, be aware of suspicious activity, avoid approaching strange vehicles if someone stops and attempts to talk, and report suspicious activity to parents or police.

In other words according to the release, “it isn’t safe for people to out at night on the west side”.   Wonderful.

A new perspective on crime

The NYPD is doing 360 degree panoramas of crime scenes now.

In 2009, to better record crime scenes, the New York City Police Department began using the Panoscan, a camera that creates high-resolution, 360-degree panoramic images. Each panorama takes between 3 to 30 minutes to produce, depending on the available light, and is added to a database where detectives can access it. Before the switch to the Panoscan, crime scene images sometimes took days to process. Now, soon after the photos are posted, investigators can point and click over evidence from a scene that they might have missed in the hectic hours after the crime.

The article is child friendly but the images are now as they are actual crime scene panoramas.

When police go bad

NYPD protest charges against their own bad cops

Okay, is this disturbing to anyone else?

As 16 police officers were arraigned at State Supreme Court in the Bronx, incensed colleagues organized by their union cursed and taunted prosecutors and investigators, chanting “Down with the D.A.” and “Ray Kelly, hypocrite.”

As the defendants emerged from their morning court appearance, a swarm of officers formed a cordon in the hallway and clapped as they picked their way to the elevators. Members of the news media were prevented by court officers from walking down the hallway where more than 100 off-duty police officers had gathered outside the courtroom.

The assembled police officers blocked cameras from filming their colleagues, in one instance grabbing lenses and shoving television camera operators backward.

The unsealed indictments contained more than 1,600 criminal counts, the bulk of them misdemeanors having to do with making tickets disappear as favors for friends, relatives and others with clout. But they also outlined more serious crimes, related both to ticket-fixing and drugs, grand larceny and unrelated corruption. Four of the officers were charged with helping a man get away with assault.

Jose R. Ramos, an officer in the 40th Precinct whose suspicious behavior spawned the protracted investigation, was accused of two dozen crimes, including attempted robbery, attempted grand larceny, transporting what he thought was heroin for drug dealers and revealing the identity of a confidential informant.

I guess we all can accept that there are bad cops.  There are hundreds of thousands of them in the United States and a simple law of averages say that tsome of them are going to be corrupt.  Police forces acknowledge this themselves when they have special units to investigate them or have a process where the RCMP or State Police investigate other police forces.

What really unnerves me is to see 100 colleagues supporting the bad cops and acting in a way that if they were on duty, would have an obligation to stop.

It can be put this way

“It is hard to see an upside in the way the anger was expressed, especially in Bronx County, where you already have a hard row to hoe in terms of building rapport with the community,” said Eugene J. O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The Police Department is a very angry work force, and that is something that should concern people, because it translates into hostile interactions with people.”

The behavior could be construed as violating department rules. Even when officers are off duty, the police patrol guide states, “Conduct which brings discredit to the department or conduct in violation of law is unacceptable and will result in appropriate disciplinary measures.”

It gets better.

A police official said Mr. Kelly did not condone the hostile comments made by some officers. Particularly disturbing, the official said, was a news report that said some officers chanted “E.B.T.” at people lined up at a benefits center across the street, referring to electronic benefit transfer, the method by which welfare checks are distributed. The people had apparently chanted “Fix our tickets” to the officers.

“To begin ridiculing people in the welfare line across the street doesn’t endear you to the public eye,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to be heard directly criticizing members of the force.

And there is a union angle.

Prosecutors said the bulk of the vanished tickets were arranged by officials of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union. All the officers charged with fixing tickets are either current or past union delegates or trustees.

During the investigation, overseen by the Bronx district attorney’s office, prosecutors found fixing tickets to be so extensive that they considered charging the union under the state racketeering law as a criminal enterprise, the tactic employed against organized crime families. But they apparently concluded that the evidence did not support that approach.

The Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, said the tickets fixed had robbed the city of $1 million to $2 million.

The prosecutors office is not amused.

During the investigation, overseen by the Bronx district attorney’s office, prosecutors found fixing tickets to be so extensive that they considered charging the union under the state racketeering law as a criminal enterprise, the tactic employed against organized crime families. But they apparently concluded that the evidence did not support that approach.

So let’s review.  According to the NY Times, a bad cop is under investigation for letting a friend deal drugs out of a couple of properties he owns.  While being wire tapped, he confessed to fixing tickets along with other officers, this widespread practice is actually being largely done by NYPD’s union leadership.  When charged with the crime, over 350 off duty officers start to protest and physically assault camera crews and taunt those receiving Social Assistance.

That is a huge problem and has probably set back policing in the Bronx for a generation.

The real CSI

A  come to the city

Blunders by doctors in America’s morgues have put innocent people in prison cells, allowed the guilty to go free, and left some cases so muddled that prosecutors could do nothing.

In Mississippi, a physician’s errors in two autopsies helped convict a pair of innocent men, sending them to prison for more than a decade.

The Massachusetts medical examiner’s office has cremated a corpse before police could determine if the person had been murdered; misplaced bones; and lost track of at least five bodies.

Late last year, a doctor in a suburb of Detroit autopsied the body of a bank executive pulled from a lake — and managed to miss the bullet hole in his neck and the bullet lodged in his jaw.

"I thought it was a superficial autopsy," said Dr. David Balash, a forensic science consultant and former Michigan state trooper hired by the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department to evaluate the case. "You see a lot of these kinds of things, unfortunately."

More than 1 in 5 physicians working in the country’s busiest morgues — including the chief medical examiner of Washington, D.C. — are not board certified in forensic pathology, the branch of medicine focused on the mechanics of death, our investigation found. Experts say such certification ensures that doctors have at least a basic understanding of the science, and it should be required for practitioners employed by coroner and medical examiner offices.

This is unbelievable.

For 26 years, Tim Brown, a construction manager, has served as the coroner of rural Marlboro County in South Carolina, a $14,000-per-year part-time post. "It’s been kind of on-the-job training, assisted by the sheriffs," he said.

Long before the current economic crisis began shrinking state and county government budgets, many coroner and medical examiner offices suffered from underfunding and neglect. Because of financial constraints, Massachusetts has slashed the number of autopsies it performs by almost one quarter since 2006. Oklahoma has gone further still, declining to autopsy apparent suicides and most people age 40 and over who die without an obvious cause.

Of course this isn’t just an American issue.  Ontario and later Saskatoon have had their own bad pathologists.

As criticism mounted against Smith, Ontario’s chief coroner called for a review of 45 child autopsies where the once renowned pathologist had determined the cause of death was murder or criminally suspicious. In 2007, the outside experts concluded Smith had made major errors in 20 of those cases — 13 of which had resulted in criminal convictions.

That was followed by the damning inquiry report from Justice Stephen Goudge that skewered Smith as incompetent, arrogant and unqualified. Five wrongful convictions based on his evidence have now been overturned, with many more pending appeal.

Although the issue in Ontario and Saskatoon seems to be one of oversight, not a lack of funding.

Penn gets VIP treatment after having his crotch touched by security guard

From Penn of Penn and Teller

The supervisor says to the cop, ‘He’s free to go. We have no problem, you don’t have to be here." Which shows me that the Feds are afraid of local. This is really cool. She says, "We have no trouble and he doesn’t want to miss his flight."

I say, "I can take an early morning flight or a private jet. " The cop says, "If I have a citizen who is saying he was assaulted, you can’t just send me away."

I tell the cop the story, in a very funny way. The cop, the voice of sanity says, "What’s wrong with you people? You can’t just grab a guy’s crank without his permission." I tell him that my genitals weren’t grabbed and the cop says, "I don’t care, you can’t do that to people. That’s assault and battery in my book."

The supervisor says that they’ll take care of the security guy. The cop says, "I’m not leaving until Penn tells me to. Now do you want to fill out all the paper work and show up in court, because I’ll be right there beside you."

The supervisor says it’s an internal matter, and they’ll take care of it. "If you want to pursue this, we’re going to have to go through the electronic evidence."

I say, "You mean videotape? Yeah, go get it."

She says, "Well, it’ll take a long time, and you don’t want to miss your flight. We have no problem with you, you’re free to go."

The cop says, "Your guy grabbed his crank. That ain’t right."

Crime and Corruption in Detroit

Mother Jones investigates crime and corruption in Detroit, where the police cook the books, criminals stoke the fire, and reality TV is the only way out.  This may be the best bit of writing I have read this year.  Make sure you read the entire article.

IT WAS JUST AFTER MIDNIGHT on the morning of May 16 and the neighbors say the streetlights were out on Lillibridge Street. It is like that all over Detroit, where whole blocks regularly go dark with no warning or any apparent pattern. Inside the lower unit of a duplex halfway down the gloomy street, Charles Jones, 25, was pacing, unable to sleep.  His seven-year-old daughter, Aiyana Mo’nay Stanley-Jones, slept on the couch as her grandmother watched television. Outside, Television was watching them. A half-dozen masked officers of the Special Response Team—Detroit’s version of SWAT—were at the door, guns drawn. In tow was an A&E crew filming an episode of The First 48, its true-crime program. The conceit of the show is that homicide detectives have 48 hours to crack a murder case before the trail goes cold. Thirty-four hours earlier, Je’Rean Blake Nobles, 17, had been shot outside a liquor store on nearby Mack Avenue; an informant had ID’d a man named Chauncey Owens as the shooter and provided this address.

The SWAT team tried the steel door to the building. It was unlocked. They threw a flash-bang grenade through the window of the lower unit and kicked open its wooden door, which was also unlocked. The grenade landed so close to Aiyana that it burned her blanket. Officer Joseph Weekley, the lead commando—who’d been featured before on another A&E show, Detroit SWAT—burst into the house. His weapon fired a single shot, the bullet striking Aiyana in the head and exiting her neck. It all happened in a matter of seconds.

"They had time," a Detroit police detective told me. "You don’t go into a home around midnight. People are drinking. People are awake. Me? I would have waited until the morning when the guy went to the liquor store to buy a quart of milk. That’s how it’s supposed to be done."

But the SWAT team didn’t wait. Maybe because the cameras were rolling, maybe because a Detroit police officer had been murdered two weeks earlier while trying to apprehend a suspect. This was the first raid on a house since his death.

It’s not just bad policing

Detroit’s east side is now the poorest, most violent quarter of America’s poorest, most violent big city. The illiteracy, child poverty, and unemployment rates hover around 50 percent.

Stand at the corner of Lillibridge Street and Mack Avenue and walk a mile in each direction from Alter Road to Gratiot Avenue (pronounced Gra-shit). You will count 34 churches, a dozen liquor stores, six beauty salons and barber shops, a funeral parlor, a sprawling Chrysler engine and assembly complex working at less than half-capacity, and three dollar stores—but no grocery stores. In fact, there are no chain grocery stores in all of Detroit.

There are two elementary schools in the area, both in desperate need of a lawnmower and a can of paint. But there is no money; the struggling school system has a $363 million deficit. Robert Bobb was hired in 2009 as the emergency financial manager and given sweeping powers to balance the books. But even he couldn’t stanch the tsunami of red ink; the deficit ballooned more than $140 million under his guidance.

Bobb did uncover graft and fraud and waste, however. He caught a lunch lady stealing the children’s milk money. A former risk manager for the district was indicted for siphoning off $3 million for personal use. The president of the school board, Otis Mathis, recently admitted that he had only rudimentary writing skills shortly before being forced to resign for fondling himself during a meeting with the school superintendent.

The graduation rate for Detroit schoolkids hovers around 35 percent. Moreover, the Detroit public school system is the worst performer in the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, with nearly 80 percent of eighth-graders unable to do basic math. So bad is it for Detroit’s children that Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last year, "I lose sleep over that one."

Duncan may lie awake, but many civic leaders appear to walk around with their eyes sealed shut. As a reporter, I’ve worked from New York to St. Louis to Los Angeles, and Detroit is the only big city I know of that doesn’t put out a crime blotter tracking the day’s mayhem. While other American metropolises have gotten control of their murder rate, Detroit’s remains where it was during the crack epidemic. Add in the fact that half the police precincts were closed in 2005 for budgetary reasons, and the crime lab was closed two years ago due to ineptitude, and it might explain why five of the nine members of the city council carry a firearm.

The policing ineptitude seems almost comical if it wasn’t so serious

As a reporter at the Detroit News, I get plenty of phone calls from people in the neighborhoods. A man called me once to say he had witnessed a murder, but the police refused to take his statement. When I called the head of the homicide bureau and explained the situation, he told me, "Oh yeah? Have him call me," and then hung up the phone. One man, who wanted to turn himself in for a murder, gave up trying to call the Detroit police; he drove to Ohio and turned himself in there.

There has been some improvement

The Kilpatrick scandal, combined with the murder rate, spurred the newly elected mayor, Dave Bing—an NBA Hall of Famer —to fire Police Chief James Barrens last year and replace him with Warren Evans, the Wayne County sheriff. The day Barrens cleaned out his desk, a burglar cleaned out Barrens’ house.

In Chief Evans’ defense, he seemed to understand one thing: After the collapse of the car industry and the implosion of the real estate bubble, there is little else Detroit has to export except its misery.

Evans brought a refreshing honesty to a department plagued by ineptitude and secrecy. He computerized daily crime statistics, created a mobile strike force commanded by young and educated go-getters, and dispatched cops to crime hot spots. He assigned the SWAT team the job of rounding up murder suspects, a task that had previously been done by detectives.

Evans told me then that major crimes were routinely underreported by 20 percent. He also told me that perhaps 50 percent of Detroit’s drivers were operating without a license or insurance. "It’s going to stop," he promised. "We’re going to pull people over for traffic violations and we’re going to take their cars if they’re not legal. That’s one less knucklehead driving around looking to do a drive-by."

His approach was successful, with murder dropping more than 20 percent in his first year. If that isn’t a record for any major metropolis, it is certainly a record for Detroit. (And that statistic is true; I checked.)

Without newspapers, who hold’s government’s responsible?

The Washington Post has a good article on the importance of reporters holding police accountable.

There is a lot of talk nowadays about what will replace the dinosaur that is the daily newspaper. So-called citizen journalists and bloggers and media pundits have lined up to tell us that newspapers are dying but that the news business will endure, that this moment is less tragic than it is transformational.

Well, sorry, but I didn’t trip over any blogger trying to find out McKissick’s identity and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers. And there wasn’t anyone working sources in the police department to counterbalance all of the spin or omission.

I didn’t trip over a herd of hungry Sun reporters either, but that’s the point. In an American city, a police officer with the authority to take human life can now do so in the shadows, while his higher-ups can claim that this is necessary not to avoid public accountability, but to mitigate against a nonexistent wave of threats. And the last remaining daily newspaper in town no longer has the manpower, the expertise or the institutional memory to challenge any of it.

At one point last week, after the department spokesman denied me the face sheet of the shooting report, I tried doing what I used to do: I went to the Southeastern District and demanded the copy on file there.

When the desk officer refused to give it to me, I tried calling the chief judge of the District Court. But Sweeney’s replacement no longer handles such business. It’s been a while since any reporter asked, apparently. So I tried to explain the Maryland statutes to the shift commander, but so long had it been since a reporter had demanded a public document that he stared at me as if I were an emissary from some lost and utterly alien world.

Which is, sadly enough, exactly true.