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By November 19, 2013 Read More →

Sacrificing personnel for products is a really bad idea

While officers are getting laid off in droves, agencies are spending tons of money on equipment like these red light cameras.

While officers are getting laid off in droves, agencies are spending tons of money on equipment like these red light cameras.

“The point is this. Whether it’s Trooper Charlie Hanger pulling over a Timothy McVeigh, or an eagle eyed rookie named Jeff Postell on patrol who spots an Eric Rudolph, our best bet in terms of stopping and catching terrorists has always been cops – not the CIA, not the FBI and certainly not DHS. Cops, as it turns out, really are our best defense against terrorism. High tech big money “solutions” have failed – repeatedly. So naturally we’ll adjust course and stop buying all this product and put resources where they’re most inclined to pay off in terms of safety – local law enforcement. And if you buy that I’ve got some land in central Nevada you might want to purchase.”

Until you start scratching the surface there would seem to be very little in the way of a connection between revelations about blanket NSA surveillance of Americans, the homeland security model of national security and organized labor.

But once one starts peeling back layers of this trillion-dollar onion it’s pretty easy to see the big picture. As in law enforcement knows, technology and automation are all the rage in the business end of the business. Traffic cops have been replaced with red light cameras and license plate scanners.

Some detectives that used to physically work crime scenes are instead using the latest technology to virtually recreate the scene through computer models.

The fleecing of the nation’s largest pension funds and gross financial mismanagement at the state and local level during the last decade have been a critical driver of lost jobs in American law enforcement. But an increased reliance on and the marketing of high-tech products to do the work once performed by police officers is another major factor.

Throw in the public’s dismal view of unions, particularly police unions, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster from a labor perspective. Why “rob the taxpayers” to pay for more high-priced cops when you can just cut a deal with Microsoft? Especially if there are “incentives.”

National security, which is what many people now refer to as “homeland  security,” has also seen explosive growth in terms of product, profits and technology. Unlike local law enforcement however, these have not been accompanied by tens of thousands of lost jobs.

That’s largely because “homeland security” is what’s referred to as a 3P – a public private partnership. The few government employees who are allowed to join unions belong to fraternal organizations that have no teeth. They can’t bargain for wages and benefits.

The private sector employees that make up the bulk of the homeland security apparatus do not enjoy collective bargaining, legal representation and the other benefits of union membership. So what’s the point here? Where are these connections we’re talking about?

It might be instructive to listen to failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the trail from a while back. Moneymen like Romney, Eli Broad and Pete Peterson are little more than the spokespersons for the forces automating and privatizing both traditional law enforcement and national security alike.

Romney made the comments in response to Obama’s comments recently when he said the “private sector is doing fine.” Romney said of Obama, “He wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.  Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. “It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

In other words, shit-canning public employees equals “helping the American people,” to guys like Mitt and his supporters – many of whom are ironically public employees themselves. But that’s a different article.

What’s at issue specifically here is a very basic question: Has the move away from human resources and the corollary increase in our reliance on technology improved public safety and national security? If you ask a billionaire like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg or a high-profile police chief that just signed a contract with a major tech firm, the answer always comes back yes.

And that makes sense. After all we’re talking big money here. And unlike the money rich and powerful interests consider wasted on cops, teachers and the sanitation guys, this revenue stays where they feel it belongs – in their pockets.

So instead of a couple of hard charging detectives with cigars in their mouths going out to get their guy, we now send requests for data to Google and Facebook. Those companies in turn charge agencies for that service. That’s called “monetization.” That’s the term frequently used to describe the process of making money on something that formerly produced no revenue.

Now making the argument that fewer cops, higher profits and more technology has hurt American public safety is a tough sell. That’s because based on the numbers reported by police agencies to the FBI, crime has been dropping in all categories for more than 30 years.

In other words even if there was a spike in crime based on fewer cops we might not be aware of it because of bogus crime stats – widely considered epidemic in some jurisdictions where political pressure, not facts, determine the numbers.

But let’s give it a little time. After all, the folks that figured out how to get rich on Operation Desert Shield are just getting their feet wet in terms of the growth opportunities presented by the public safety “market.”

But let’s look instead at the “homeland security” market where there was no impediment to the radical levels of automation and privatization of the national security state.

Americans, at least some of us, were a little disturbed to find out everyone from the DOJ to the FBI to the NSA was running blanket surveillance on every man woman and child in the nation. Many folks rightly felt this warrantless surveillance was unconstitutional.

Others say, “Hey, I don’t care what it takes for them to stop the next bombing.” Well let’s look at that in terms of the Boston bombing. If you didn’t follow the case closely you might not be aware that the brothers Tsarnev were setting off alarm bells all over the place. Russian intelligence officials notified ours that these two were credible threats. Their social media content had a markedly jihadist flavor. The older brother was kicked out of a mosque after he went batshit because the preacher was giving a talk on the lessons of Martin Luther King.

So what did the privatized, automated homeland security apparatus do with all that information? Bupkis.

When questioned about why no alarm bells went off after the elder Tsarnev flew back from Russia, Janet Napolitano said, “The system pinged.”

Sadly there wasn’t a capable person around to hear it or understand it.
So the technology failed miserably in terms of prevention. How did it do in terms of apprehension?

Enough time has hopefully passed that we can now describe the chaotic response to the Boston bombing for what it was – a world-class cluster fuck. This is not uncommon when the feds ride in and local law enforcement is essentially sidelined or relegated to a support role. Waco, Richard Jewel, the unsolved anthrax thing… let’s just say that things generally do not go very well after the FBI takes over.

Would Sean Collier still be alive if local law enforcement was running the show? Would the manhunt have lasted hours instead of a week if local law enforcement was able to coordinate with each other rather than being coordinated by federal officials? Who knows?

The point is this. Whether it’s Trooper Charlie Hanger pulling over a Timothy McVeigh, or an eagle eyed rookie on patrol that spots an Eric Rudolph, our best bet in terms of stopping and catching terrorists has always been cops – not the CIA, not the FBI and certainly not the joke that is DHS.

Cops, as it turns out, really are our best defense against terrorism. High tech big money “solutions” have failed – repeatedly. So naturally we’ll adjust course and stop buying all this product and put resources where they’re most inclined to pay off in terms of safety – local law enforcement. And if you buy that I’ve got some land in central Nevada you might want to purchase.

While insiders in the know described the response to the Boston bombing in private accurately – the public’s perception is that this thing couldn’t have gone any better.

In order to understand just how much influence the players that would privatize American policing in the way they’ve privatized national security you need to see the congressional hearings held about the Boston bombings.

There was precious little attention paid to shocking intelligence failures, an almost total lack of command and control and interagency coordination. Instead, the hearing served as a kind of commercial for DHS block grants. It’s truly a testament to the success of those who consider policing and national security “market opportunities” that the Boston bombing response is generally framed as a big success characterized by seamless coordination (interoperability) and the timely apprehension of criminal suspects.

It was impossible to come away from the hearings without getting the impression that the commerce around homeland security was a higher priority than the idea that combination of words is designed to invoke.

So a commercial/technological based approach to national security has not paid off in terms of, well . . . security.

But maybe it will have more success as cops are replaced with market solutions in the context of public safety as opposed to national security.

For the union busting moneymen that bankroll the campaigns to demonize unions and members, the sky’s the limit in terms of sales.

Consider the following from Derek Khanna writing for the Atlantic: If the justification for PRISM and associated programs is predicated on their potential effectiveness, why shouldn’t such logic be applied elsewhere? Here are several other even more effective public-policy solutions that also violate the Fourth Amendment in similar ways and are just as reprehensible. There is some dispute over whether PRISM and other reported programs are legal or Constitutional. I believe, and have argued, that third-party records should be protected under the Fourth Amendment, so that access to these records requires a warrant. This is not the perspective the courts have taken. But if we are going to use personal data obtained through PRISM for terrorism purposes in a way that violates our privacy and which I would argue violates the Fourth Amendment, why not do it for other legitimate purposes?

Speed Limits: Many accidents are related to reckless driving, and speeding can make them significantly more dangerous and deadly. What if instead of enforcing speed limits by stationing police officers to patrol our streets, a relatively ineffective and costly method of enforcement, the government instead monitored the speed of all cars in real time using cellphones. If NSA data on phone location were analyzed in real time, it could potentially determine the speed of any user. All phones traveling below 20 mph would be excluded on the assumption that they’re not driving. All phones traveling faster than 20 mph would be plotted to discern what road they are traveling on and what the speed limit is for that road.

The government could then identify drivers who were speeding and send them tickets in the mail, text them to slow down (then ticket them for opening it while driving!), or dispatch an officer to catch them. Further data analysis could identify potential drunk driving for police investigation, based upon erratic driving patterns or when phones were at known bars for several hours before being in a vehicle. Such policies could potentially save tens of thousands of lives and increase revenues from speeding fines while reducing the costs of patrolling the road. Should the government be able to use technologies like PRISM and related exposed programs to make our roads safer?

Ask the governor of a state with a massive budget deficit if he or she would be interested in saving tens of millions of pricey cops at the state police with a plan like this and odds are they’ll just say “Where do I sign?”

At the end of the day it’s pretty simple. No one makes money on traditional policing but people get rich privatizing corrections and selling cities and counties technology to replace police officers.

Considering the fact that unions are about as popular with Americans as Congress and the media (all have less than 20 percent approval ratings) there will be virtually nothing in the way of political support for your association and the interests of your members.

Hustlers, schemers and con men of every stripe have sold the government and the American people on the idea that we can have total safety if only we spend enough money on cost-plus no-bid contracts. That’s the model in effect right now.

So the next time you’re getting your ass kicked in the paper, on television or at the bargaining table by some hustler like Romney talking about how Americans want fewer cops and how the unions are only out for themselves, you could make the case this way: Cops are our best protection from criminals, terrorists, natural disasters and just about anything else that’s scary and could kill you. The function of a police union is to protect those that protect us. So the better unions do, the better police do, and  safer we all are.

Frame the issue of wages and benefits for your members not only as a matter of smart public safety, but as a critical component of national security. (Anyone in labor that uses the term “homeland security has already given up the ground necessary to mount effective resistance.)

If you want a cop to do something or buy something, you can increase the chances of success exponentially by including the word “tactical.” That same approach can work at the bargaining table.

If you can get people to buy into the idea that cops, not feds or private industry, are our best chance at saving lives like Sean Collier’s, it makes it a lot harder for people to applaud when a Mitt Romney talks about the 50,000 cops laid off in the last four years as some kind of accomplishment. No one wants to look soft on terror. This is the new “soft on crime.”

Use that.

-Mark Nichols, Editor
American Police Beat

What’s your take on the complicated issues raised in this essay? Leave your comments below.

Posted in: Intel Report

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