Policing the Police: The Rapid Report System

Who polices the police? We do -- thanks to the NAACP's Rapid Report System.

[The Rapid Report System is] a quick, effective way for citizens to report instances of police misconduct, and to help public safety officials move beyond the “tough on crime” policies that have lost their effectiveness.

Witnesses to police misconduct can document their observations by sending text messages and forwarding pictures and videos taken with a cell phone to a central location. Web-based reporting is also available.

Why is the initiative necessary? [more ...]

“Research has shown that there are many barriers to reporting incidents of police misconduct, including intimidation at police departments and a lack of trust in the integrity of the system, among other reasons. This breakdown leads to an absence of public safety and a deterioration of the quality of life in many communities of color. But public safety is a civil and a human right; and so we want a more accurate count of these incidents,” [NAACP President and CEO Benjamin] Jealous said.

The likely* case of racial profiling involving Henry Gates provided a recent example of the need to police the police.

The NAACP’s Rapid Report System is brand new but the prejudice and bigotry it is designed to ameliorate is as old as time. We commend Professor Gates for recognizing that what happened to him also happens to uncounted, lesser-known black Americans each day. The outrageous incident reminds us that America will not be “post-racial” until it can achieve post-racism – and that much hard work remains before we arrive at that place.

The Rapid Report System provides a way for us all to contribute to the hard work of ending police misconduct, whether or not it's racially motivated.

*Addendum: Although this post is about the Rapid Report System, not about the Gates arrest, one of the comments below challenges my allegedly "irresponsible" inference that the Gates arrest likely resulted from racial profiling. The commenter asked me to explain that conclusion. I did so here.

< Thursday Night Open Thread: Love is a Rose | This is Your Drug Czar on Drugs >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    If you are guilty (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by eric on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 09:21:16 PM EST
    of speeding, then you are guilty.  But YES, beware.  Do not talk back to police in this day.  They do demand respect.  You might have been Tazed or arrested on disorderly conduct if you raise a ruckus.

    It used to be that I would encourage people to say "Yes, Sir/No, Sir" to police to show respect.  Now I recommend this because of fear.

    A few years ago, I made an under-the-breath comment about a traffic cop, just because he directed me the wrong way, and ended up in the back of a squad car.  I know my place.  These fascists OWN you if they say so.  Pretend like they can take you, Taze you, and put you in jail at any given time.  Because they CAN.

    Forgot about the tazer (none / 0) (#21)
    by nycstray on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 09:35:50 PM EST
    that's another thing that would make me watch my tongue. And would keep me from more "active" public protests, sad to say. I wouldn't trust the person with the tazer to be sensitive to my size etc.

    I totally agree with your last para. That's basically how I feel if I would find myself in a situation with the cops. Do my best to get out of it "pleasantly" and get far far away. It's also how I feel walking down the streets with random men on them  ;)


    Indeed (5.00 / 2) (#23)
    by eric on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 09:42:08 PM EST
    because the Tazer has morphed from a substitute to "lethal force" as it was originally presented, to an instrument to gain "compliance".

    The "don't taze me bro" incident is instructive.  One can be tazed not because you present a physical threat, but rather just because you are doing something objectionable.


    I'm a slightly built female (none / 0) (#27)
    by nycstray on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 10:34:36 PM EST
    I live my life knowing what force can do just by understanding my size/gender against others. I lose. And all "objects" of force can kill me. I would be at serious risk to be tazed at an "adult" level. And I seriously do not trust cops to know that. I also do not trust them to know that with others and their size/health. It's very scary, imo.

    I seriously do not like being handicapped in this way, but I do recognize it. I, and others, would be stupid not to.


    As Digby Said (5.00 / 1) (#29)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 11:03:01 PM EST
    The cop arrested him for failing to be properly deferential, which the last I heard, was not illegal.

    But let's face it ---- Gates was lucky they didn't taser him, wasn't he?



    Word. (none / 0) (#39)
    by Xclusionary Rule 4ever on Fri Jul 24, 2009 at 07:23:12 AM EST

    This is a great idea (5.00 / 1) (#37)
    by mexboy on Fri Jul 24, 2009 at 04:32:57 AM EST
    I used to think like a lot of people here about cops until I became the victim of one of them.

    I followed all the rules, complained to internal affairs and they had a buddy of his, from his own department, investigate my claim. Their conclusion: inconclusive. They couldn't tell who was lying, me or the cop. How about that?

    So, yes. I believe Gates has every right to yell to an intruder, in his own home, and the cop should have apologized for the misunderstanding and calmed him down. Cops need to remember who they work for and who pays their bills. We do. And their job is to protect us; not have power over us.

    Was race a factor in this? How could you say it was not?

    I didn't comment on this before because it angers me so much and just brings back those painful memories, but I've had it with people being apologist for that cop.

    As a former member (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by Lacy on Fri Jul 24, 2009 at 07:53:53 AM EST
    ofthe law enforcement crowd (DOJ, 10 years), I can vouch that very few reports by the overwhelming majority of LE are literal truths.  There is repeated training to drill into every cop or agent's head that "It's all in how you write the report".

    As a result, every police report is first and foremost a self-serving "testament" to the angle the writer seeks to promote, and rarely truthful.

    My trial experience (witness only) has been to observe that lies and distortion are SOP. My experience with prisoners and the convicted has been to see LE also lie to claim a pervasive protesting of innocence...What you hear are  admissions of guilt but anger at the "system" by accuseds who have been lied about, unduly vilified, and even manipulated by LE to implicate others, guilty or not, to pad a prosecutor's numbers.

    Recidivism? The above facts typically create a sense of victimization that works against rehabilitation. Those who serve their time typically exit with hostility toward a system that, by design, frames any accused as an adversary of society.

    Our county right now has no policemen on duty. They have all called in with "blue flu". Actually they conspire to do this to try to force pay hikes and more overtime. Just another case of "Will lie whenever I want". But the dumbaxx public believes they tell absolute truths in reports and on the stand. Sorry, but LE are the best trained liers on the planet. It comes with the sense of being above the law.


    My wife (4.50 / 2) (#26)
    by eric on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 10:23:12 PM EST
    who practices in the area of criminal defense, gets a lot of calls from people that claim that the police have done bad things like stopping cars and harassing people for no reason.  These calls are from people that were never charged with anything.  The only offense is driving while black.

    If the police don't find anything, there really is no remedy.  If they actually find something illegal, there may be an argument to suppress the evidence.  But if they stop you and ransack your car and find nothing, too bad for you.  I have long thought that I would like to see a program where people can put a camera in their own dash that records what really happens.  Keep that camera there at all times.

    This entire discussion makes me sad. (5.00 / 2) (#32)
    by caseyOR on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 11:39:11 PM EST
    People are disagreeing about different things here, but many seem to agree that Gates was crazy to challenge this police officer. Crazy to demand information and refuse to submit. Crazy to not act deferential to this cop. Some have come very close to suggesting that Gates was "asking for it." That he should have known that anything but subservient behavior toward Crowley would get him busted. Even though Gates had not committed a crime and Crowley knew Gates had not committed a crime.

    Instead of outrage that the cops so clearly abused their position, people are resigned to this kind of abuse of power. People accept it and taylor their behavior in a way that perpetuates it. It becomes Gates' fault because he "made" the cop arrest him.

    When did we all become battered women who accept the police as our collective abusers? This is so frikkin sad and more than a little terrifying.


    Agreed (none / 0) (#41)
    by eric on Fri Jul 24, 2009 at 01:41:23 PM EST
    but the cops have the guns.  What can you do?  And the entire country seems to be lulled into police worship.

    Irresponsible post (2.00 / 0) (#3)
    by heineken1717 on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 07:57:08 PM EST
    TChris, please identify what makes the Gates case "likely racial profiling."

    The cops were CALLED to the house. Gates was uncooperative and yelled at the cops in a rage. He initially refused to show his driver's license, which is the refusal to obey a lawful order, also known as disorderly conduct. The arrest was valid, and had NOTHING to do with race.

    Please provide evidence of racial bias or delete this irresponsible post.

    Please (5.00 / 4) (#7)
    by Steve M on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 08:00:23 PM EST
    show the evidence that refusal to show a driver's license constitutes disorderly conduct under the law, because that claim is flat-out ridiculous.

    Except for (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by eric on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 08:41:18 PM EST
    he by the cops own ADMISSION, (read the report), there was no doubt that this was Gates' house.  He was not arrested because there was any doubt about his ID or is right to be there.  He was arrested because the cop didn't think Gates should have been so angry and should have been more deferential to the power of the cop.

    OK, here it is. (5.00 / 4) (#22)
    by TChris on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 09:40:31 PM EST
    First, the refusal to obey a lawful police order is generally classified as obstructing an officer, not as disorderly conduct.  More to the point, what's "lawful" about demanding a drivers license from a person who isn't driving? And even more to the point, Gates provided the officer with his picture ID from Harvard, thus complying with the officer's request for identification.

    Second, the d/c arrest was premised on Gates' argument with the officer. The argument arose from the officer's refusal to provide Gates with his name and badge number as the law required.  Gates had a legitimate cause for anger, given that the officer "continued to question him even after he explained that he had been forcing open a jammed door to his own house and showed identification confirming that he lived there."  The officer then inexplicably radioed for the assistance of the Harvard Police despite his knowledge that Gates was in his own home, committing no crime.  Angry criticism of a police officer who continued an investigation that had clearly become pointless and who refused to identify himself fully is an exercise of free speech, not disorderly conduct.  You might be interested to learn that the d/c charge was so bogus that it has since been dropped.

    Third, my post used the word "likely" because I cannot read the officer's mind.  I infer that Gates' race probably played a central role in the officers' conduct from the circumstances.  Cornell West asks a good question:  would the officer have reacted in the same way if Alan Dershowitz had accused him of misconduct?  The officer's refusal to provide a badge number suggests guilty knowledge.  What explanation is more likely than racial profiling for the officer's questionable conduct and bogus arrest?

    The only other reasonable explanation, as Lawrence Bobo writes, is that the officer's conduct was influenced by class differences.

    It is possible that one element of what happened involved a policeman with working-class roots who faced an opportunity to "level the playing field" with a successful Harvard professor.

    I agree with Bobo that "even if class mattered, it did so mostly because of how, in this situation, it was bound up with race."

    This is how Gates looks at it:

    Now it's clear that he had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someone's house, probably a white person's house, and this black man had broken and entered, and this black man was me.

    As I said, I wasn't there, I can't know for sure.  I can only draw inferences from the reported facts.  My inference from the facts stated above is that Gates is probably right.


    Did the officer "refuse" to give the (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Anne on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 10:01:43 PM EST
    badge number, or was the officer trying to defuse the situation - calm Gates down - while Gates was shouting over him demanding the information?

    Now, I wasn't there, either, but the story that seems to be coming out is that Gates was belligerent and loaded for bear from the moment the officers appeared, that at every step of the way it was Gates making accusations and inferences.  Why does no one consider that it was Gates who was reacting to the officer on the basis of his own racial profiling, i.e., "this white cop must be assuming I'm a burglar because I'm black and this is a nice house in a nice neighborhood."  Yeah, I know people are going to lose their minds here and tell me I have no idea what the black man has been through, and cops have been harassing black men for years, and I have no right to make that accusation - but - is it even possible that this black man jumped to his own conclusions and never even bothered to consider he was wrong?  White people are, actually, capable of dealing with people as people and not as whatever their racial identity is, but I guess that wasn't even considered because the particular white man in question is a cop, and we know what they're ALL about.  That's kind of a profile all on its own, and is no more valid than any other kind of profiling.

    I think a lot of people are seeing what they want to see, building the story that works for them, which is all they can do because none of us was there, and none of us is privy to what was actually going on in each of these individuals' minds.

    That Gates is already thinking of a book as a result of this incident makes me more than a little skeptical about the whole incident.


    Irrelevant (5.00 / 3) (#25)
    by eric on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 10:08:47 PM EST
    The officer knew that Gates was properly in his own residence.  We know this from the report.  The arrest was happened because the cop didn't like the way Gates was acting towards him.  Was race a factor?  Who knows.  But the cop arrested a person for being (allegedly) angry and disrepectfull in his own home.  The cop knew it was his house and was satisfied with that.  But Gates didn't bow down to authority and was angry and arguably disrespectful toward the cop.  This is not illegal.

    To The Point (5.00 / 0) (#28)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 10:57:39 PM EST
    Right on.

    Perhaps class was the issue (5.00 / 2) (#31)
    by MKS on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 11:32:41 PM EST
    But maybe class in a different way.  The cop had a huge chip on his shoulder.  That Gates was a professor did not help--and at Harvard to boot.  So, the cop was going to show Gates who was the boss.

    I saw a video of the cop.  Can't stand the guy.  He had a smirk on his face when asked about Obama and said he didn't vote for him.  Put his chin way up in the air.  Had this cop attitude--not all that smart but ego-driven arrogant and proud of being a bad-as*.

    TPM explores the basic problem that some cops have....They have awesome power given to them by society and need to be very careful.  Here is a very good TPM discussion entitled "Too Big a Taboo."

    Bottom line:  When the cop went out on the porch he should have kept on walking out to his car.  But, no, he stayed on the porch to argue with Gates.  There was no reason for that.  He knew at that time it was Gates's house.


    none of this is racial (none / 0) (#35)
    by heineken1717 on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 11:56:03 PM EST
    Your evidence here goes towards an argument that the police officer acted improperly. I disagree, but that's fine, we can agree to disagree. But your evidence has nothing to do with race. My problem with your post, once again, is your bringing out the race issue with no evidence that any improper behavior by the officer had racial implications. It seems that you are just making an assumption because the officer is white and the suspect is black. Is every white cop who arrests a black man likely a racial profiler?

    Race is likely a factor (5.00 / 0) (#38)
    by Xclusionary Rule 4ever on Fri Jul 24, 2009 at 07:16:31 AM EST
    Normally it would be illogical to assume a racial motive; however, context and history are important here. Cops are different, especially these days. A white cop who does not profile every day is the exception rather than the rule. To them, law enforcement is a war and citizens are the enemy. They have too much discretion. BTW black cops profile too. And the worst situation lately is profiling Hispanics. Bottom line: they're not pursuing the DC charge. Prosecutors stand behind cops when there's nothing to hide.  

    How about the photos of him around the house? (none / 0) (#6)
    by blogtopus on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 07:59:57 PM EST
    That might have worked? Maybe not.

    I think it may have to do with the 'priming' of the police by the call-in. Two African Americans were breaking into a house. Not, two men. So obviously, something must have been wrong, no?

    Not an irresponsible post. But could use a clarification maybe.


    huh? (none / 0) (#9)
    by heineken1717 on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 08:06:39 PM EST
    Certainly not the photo, because one of the cops is black. And how could a photo be evidence of anything other than the fact that the suspect is black? That's not evidence of profiling.

    As for the call, I don't get your point. A citizen called it in. Are you trying to say the cops would not have shown if the caller had just said "two men"? Really?


    The RRS sounds like a good idea. And (none / 0) (#1)
    by tigercourse on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 07:46:06 PM EST
    I think the cop acted quite inappropriately, but I don't see how absolutely everyone can be so sure this cop and his African American partner are racists.

    I'm white as snow and I've been stopped and questioned/harrased by police for doing far less then Gates did.

    Can't he just be another jackass cop high on his own power and not an automatic racist?

    Also, I'd like to know which "tough on crime" policies they mean.

    I agree with you (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by blogtopus on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 07:57:52 PM EST
    I hope the NAACP makes it clear this doesn't only apply to minorities, because it shouldn't.

    Sure (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 07:59:45 PM EST
    Can't he just be another jackass cop high on his own power and not an automatic racist?

    And all the blacks and hispanics who get stopped on a regular basis are encouraging all the jackasses.

    Same logic: women in high skirts encourage harassment and worse.

    Your argument that, being white as snow, and there being just a bunch of good ole boys aka: jackass cop high on [their] own power, is a nice fantasy. But in the real world the racial disparity for those arrested, convicted and in prison, is really sick, and a huge problem.

    I agree with you and also applaud the NAACP's Rapid Report System. There should be no excuses for children and adults having to fear the police just because they have dark skin.


    Of course he could be (none / 0) (#8)
    by blogtopus on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 08:06:15 PM EST
    He could have been high on power. Was there a previous call this cop answered with a white professor breaking into his own home and the cop DIDN'T arrest him / handcuff him? No? Then the possibility is there.

    Absolutes don't help anyone, Squeaky. No matter the likelihood, nothing should be declared as absolute unless a) You were there, b) You can read the cop's mind, and c) We have prior examples of his racism.

    I totally agree that the man was likely treated this way due to racial profiling, but don't start shouting to the heavens about your certitude (and don't start shouting down those who have the same right to their opinion as you).


    Not The Point (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 08:20:17 PM EST
    The point is that many seem to have a kneejerk reaction defending the police. Juries, judges, and evidentially the public. The fact is that along with this there is clear evidence that racism is prevalent in our legal system, from cops through the legal process to parole officers.

    To offer apologies for cops, in light of the NAACP effort here, seems way out of place to me. Really it is tantamount to blaming sexy women for getting raped.

    No one has said that Crowley is a racist here either. Clearly he was stupid. Likely that there was profiling, imo.


    Didn't Gates imply/call (none / 0) (#13)
    by nycstray on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 08:42:01 PM EST
    Crowley a racist?

    Personally, I have to wonder why they aren't calling the person who called it in to the mat also. Crowley was responding to a call and perhaps hadn't been profiling at the point Gates decided he was . . .

    Many also have a knee jerk reaction to defending against the police. It swings both ways. Sometimes they are both wrong, sometimes only one is.


    Only (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by eric on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 08:44:39 PM EST
    one of the people arrested the other.  That is the difference.  Cops can't arrest people for not liking them.

    Gosh darnit! (none / 0) (#16)
    by nycstray on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 08:51:45 PM EST
    Gates should have done a citizens arrest!  ;)

    Has it been proven that's why Gates was arrested? My jury is still out on this one . . .


    Sorry, I missed the "here" (none / 0) (#15)
    by nycstray on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 08:45:57 PM EST
    in your last thought!

    No, it's not the same logic at all. (none / 0) (#17)
    by tigercourse on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 09:00:20 PM EST
    How do you get any of what you wrote from what I did?

    I Dunno (none / 0) (#30)
    by squeaky on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 11:15:04 PM EST
    Seemed to make sense.

    I think the cop acted quite inappropriately, but I don't see how absolutely everyone can be so sure this cop and his African American partner are racists.

    No one has said that Crowley is a racist here either.

    I'm white as snow and I've been stopped and questioned/harrased by police for doing far less then Gates did.

    racial disparity for those arrested, convicted and in prison, is really sick, and a huge problem.

    Also, I'd like to know which "tough on crime" policies they mean.


    Giuliani's critics allege his lifelong penchant for the pursuit of crime is tainted by racism.

    According to the City Journal, Giuliani's critics claim that he lowered crime in New York City by allowing police officers to oppress black and Latino New Yorkers with brute force.

    Love this idea (none / 0) (#2)
    by blogtopus on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 07:56:39 PM EST
    Don't the police understand that this helps them, too? Well, the honest ones, anyway.

    How about having the police cruiser cams streaming their content? That way, they can't 'lose' the footage, and people can see things happening, well, as it happens.

    Cruiser cams and personal audio (none / 0) (#33)
    by MKS on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 11:39:36 PM EST
    recording devices should be helpful...BUT only if they are not "lost" by the cops when they contain damaging information.

    i think the idea is great (none / 0) (#11)
    by The Last Whimzy on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 08:21:01 PM EST
    i also think the idea should be implemented and controlled by an organization that could file complaints and pursue justice without turning everything into a racial thing.

    it would be comforting to see if they would receive documentation from a white person who was mistreated by an african american cop?

    i suppose the assumption might be that such an incident would be an impossibility by definition, but i wouldn't agree with that assumption.

    TPM also explores just how (none / 0) (#34)
    by MKS on Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 11:50:18 PM EST
    dangerous being a cop is.  Link.

    Turns out being a cop is not as dangerous as my old job of being a construction worker/roofer (#6 on the list.)  

    My God People Focus (none / 0) (#36)
    by BeAware on Fri Jul 24, 2009 at 02:08:51 AM EST
    This is about where to we go now that this whole incident happened, its not about the incident itself. Please stay focused on the issue at hand as our inability to do this is the very thing holding this country back.

    I think policing the police is a great concept, but is it possible to do it in such a way that brings about real accountability. How can you create an entity that law enforcement would react and respond to the same way we do to them? Thats essentially what is needed, another layer of authority, a chain of command that is responsible for for micro managing its forces.

    You can imagine this easily if you think about how we fight wars today. Before a soldier can make a combat decision, unless the situation be life threatening, he has to radio command. Whether it be to take a shot on somebody hes got in his cross hair, or to detain somebody he found suspicious. We have officers with to much power, they act of their own accord and don't have to get there opinions and actions approved. Thus they make mistakes.