Neighborly acts weakly contradict warrior cop trend

Officer David Cogburn and a Chattanooga centenarian. (Photo Fred Fletcher on Facebook)

Officer David Cogburn and a Chattanooga centenarian. (Photo Fred Fletcher on Facebook)

By David Tulis

Chattanooga chief of police Fred Fletcher adheres to the theory called community policing. This idea sees police officers as becoming personal and social fixities in their assigned neighborhoods, being friends with all the residents, being intimates among shopkeeps, homeowners, traders, merchants and school people.

That way, if the cop is everybody’s friend, he will have a subtler and more prescient view upon newcomers, strangers, visitors, some of whom may be criminals or potential lawbreakers. If the community cop knows everyone, he is better able to ascertain from the human vibrations of his rounds what is happening by way of laws being broken or, perhaps, actual crimes being committed.

The cop, essentially, becomes part of a community or neighborhood network; he’s not just a dour surveillance post, a harsh enforcer of traffic laws, bans on self-protection and self-defense, and controls on narcotics. He genuinely comes to care for the people in their persons, and they view him as a neighbor and friend.

He enters local economy (with its personal connections) not as a fake, but as a genuine player in the humanity and culture of people in his district.

Cop as neighbor

Chief Fletcher is holding up Officer David Cogburn in this line of work. “Officer Cogburn is exactly the kind of officer you want working your district — or better yet, your grandparent’s district,” Chief Fletcher says, traipsing after Mr. Cogburn on his visits to elderly residents who live alone.

“Officer Cogburn could tell if folks were home by the cars in the driveway or the way the porch was arranged. Everyone — including neighbors — greeted him with a beaming smile and called him by his first name.”

Officer Cogburn, earning F$36,000 a year on the payroll, is like the good neighbor, the careful deacon at the church, the civic group volunteer whose committee has charge of senior members or retirees. “He took notes about special needs, inquired about family members and promised to be back next Wednesday just like he does every week,” Chief Fletcher noted.

Community policing as a theory is about 22 years old, and is practiced by at least 2,000 agencies in the United States. It reduces incidents of crime, and also the fear of crime. Community policing is “a philosophy of full service personalized policing,” says one expert, “where the same officer patrols and works in the same area on a permanent basis, from a decentralized place, working in a proactive partnership with citizens to identify and solve problems.”

This sort of police work is one that head-knocker tough-guy cops despise. Eleven of 12 cops quit the department’s street crimes response team in October after enduring a “toxic” relationship with the Fletcher administration.

So on one side is a more pacific form of police work, one involving cajolery, negotiation, threats and meetings, along with replacing air conditioner filters for old folk. On the other, a more military theory about the relationship of cop to public. This view appears to despise the idea of dealing with gang members in any other way than aggressive searches, seizures and warlike action that solves the problem of crime once and for all.

Deacon & neighbor

Chief Fletcher’s theory is quite, shall we say, local economy. He endorses the idea of community and favors the life of cities that Jane Jacobs defends in her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities that envisions personal propriety among residents of a given street or district.

He is to be commended for seeing if police departments could contribute to this life while at the same time accomplishing the task of the police leviathan — enforcing laws and ordinances and by unspoken design reaffirming the modern absolutist state with his 480 armed men.

Officer Cogburn, in this part of his duties, does what neighbors, sons, deacons, coworkers, former coworkers and friends do by way of service to shut-ins, senior citizens and the sick. These gracious acts build a “safe, orderly social environment,” Wikipedia says (community policing).

At the same time, Officer Cogburn represents a sort of occupation and pacification program by city governments operating among their own residents to the extent that cops taze 13-year-olds for being disruptive and handcuff a mortally wounded man following two barrages of gunfire.

The rise of the cop and his forcing constitutional rights into continual retreat is covered in my series by Roger Roots. “By the mid-1900s,” says this historian and attorney, “arrest had become the almost-exclusive province of paid police, and their power to arrest opened even wider. A trend toward allowing police to arrest without warrant for all crimes committed even outside their presence has recently developed, with little foreseeable court-imposed impediment.”

He traces the noxious rise of policing to the phenomenon the past 25 years of the SWAT no-knock paramilitary raid

Professional police and the modern corporate state are synonymous, and chief Fletcher is trying a way to accommodate the drastic gap that exists between the people and the state’s agents. Feverishly, community policing is put to that task. With the loss of probable cause as a basis for contact or arrest, chief Fletcher is attempting to soften the blow of probable suspicion and the virtual total authority and immunity exercised by his armed units. He is trying to humanize what many people view as a blue gang or a force of occupation, a sentiment that has risen sharply in the past year with airing of cop abuse videos in many media.

Officer Cogburn’s work in friendly service involves not just obtaining confessions and probable cause, but developing snitches, from whom tips come for often deadly no-knock raids. “These informants are sometimes no more than well-meaning members of the community who want to tip police to illicit activity,” according to Radley Balko in a 2006 study. “But more often they’re professional ‘snitches’—people who regularly seek out drug users and dealers and tip off the police in exchange for cash rewards. A third, even more common class of informants is actual convicted or suspected drug dealers themselves, who are then rewarded with leniency or cash in exchange for information leading to other arrests. The folly of using informants of such questionable repute, who hold such obvious ulterior motives to conduct raids with such high stakes and such little room for error, would seem to be self-evident. Yet the practice grows more and more common, and the judges whom the criminal justice system entrusts to oversee the warrant process have grown more and more complacent.”

Local economy calls

Local economy calls for the democratizing and rehumanizing of the public safety function. It calls for eventually removing that authority over life, death, search and seizure from state actors and returning it to a very peaceful people whose murder rates have plunged 50 percent in recent years. The idea of local economy reckons that people are mostly good, not largely evil. It shies from the presumption of guilt, the constant sniffing for probable cause under which to search someone or ask probing questions for later use in hassling that soul.

Local economy looks dubiously at friendly cops, their chats with teenagers, their providing a stream of people to be chewed up by courts and child protective service agencies for victimless crimes. Local economy views the police officer not as a keeper of the peace, but as an enforcer of the law and a feeder device for state systems. It remembers that SWAT as a police concept is nearly 50 years old, launched by Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates in 1966.

But local economy and free markets, as an ideal in Christianity, esteem common men with their concealed handguns and smart phones, and envision a way of demilitarizing the executive branch of city government, that today in Chattanooga overseen by Mayor Andy Berke.

Black protesters have demanded reforms among police departments. But they have yet to attack the premise of policing as a state control mechanism that keeps people in constant prickly subjection.

Mr. Cogburn is the last person local economy would plan to make health checks on the elderly. That is not his calling as conceived by the world of policing, though we can appreciate his good intentions.

— David Tulis hosts a talk show weekdays in Chattanooga from 9 to 11 a.m. on 1240 AM Hot News Talk Radio, covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond. Support this site and his radio station on the real airwaves in Chattanooga, on your smartphone via the TuneIn radio app or at You back David by patronizing his advertisers with specific reference to him. Even better, encourage independent media by having David run commercials for your business. Also, “buy me a coffee at the tip jar.”

See Police control crime scenes, courts tilt toward state, system blights citizen protections

Source: Radley Balko, Overkill; The Rise of Paramiliary Police Raids in America (Washington: Cato Institute, 2006), 103 pp

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