They Can Do That?! 10 Outrageous Tactics Cops Get Away With
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3. Preemptive visits and harassment. One of the favorite tactics of police departments is targeting activists a day before a large event. We saw this on May Day in New York City, as cops descended on several activists' apartments before the day of action, and in Chicago before the massive No NATO protests. The Cleveland 5 were also arrested before May Day, and back in 2008 the RNC8 were also preemptively arrested.
4. Creating call logs from stolen phones. If you lose your phone in NYC and report it to the police, they'll help you find it. So far, so good. Where the agreement turns pear-shaped, however, is what they do with your call logs. The NYPD subpoenas your call log from the day it was stolen onward, under the logic that the records could help find your phone.
But -- and here's the kicker -- they get info for the calls you made on the day it was swiped, and possibly even info from your new cell phone if you keep your number. The information is added to a database called the Enterprise Case Management System, and the numbers are hyperlinked for cross-referencing. The call logs, all obtained without a court order and often without the victim's permission or knowledge, could “conceivably be used for any investigative purpose,” according to the New York Times.
5. Consent searches. Sometimes a cop gives you a command, but phrases it as a question, like, “Would you open your bag so I can look inside?” If you're anything like the vast majority of people in the United States, you have no idea that you're under no lawful obligation to answer in the affirmative. You can, legally speaking, ask if you are being detained, and if the answer is no, you are free to walk away. Or at the very least, not open your bag.
Cops are aware that they can intimidate someone they decide to search, and once they obtain “consent” – e.g. “Yes, man with a gun who is towering over me, you can look in my bag” – any evidence of criminality they find can be used in court. This method of searching people was developed, like several other tactics on this list, during the early 1980s when the Reagan administration ramped up the so-called war on drugs.
Many critics argue that the very idea of a “consensual” interaction between police and the public is impossible, if the police initiate contact. As Justin Peters writes, “[Police] know the average person doesn’t feel they’re in a position to decline a conversation with a cop.” A common tactic is for officers to say they'll let someone off with a warning, then proceed to ask a bunch of questions, even though the person is technically free to go.
6. Stop and frisk. You've probably heard about stop and frisk by now, but for years this odious tactic – and close cousin to consent searches – went woefully underreported in establishment media. The NYCLU released staggering statistics for the year 2011 detailing the massive size of the program in New York City. One particularly memorable figure was that the NYPD stopped more young men of color than there are men of color in NYC. (More information at stopmassincarceration.org.)
7. Pretext stops (Operation Pipeline). The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that cops are free to use minor traffic violations as a pretext to pull over people they suspect of committing drug crimes. Once pulled over, the police obtain “consent” – “Would you get out of the car and empty your pockets?” – and can go on fishing expeditions.