Policing and fair play

Physical violence comes from somewhere. Beliefs and power structures are formed by words. Police sometimes defy rules in ways that are more "civil" than physical: lying, half-truths and misinformation, insubordination to elected leaders. Do we tolerate more rule-defying by police than by other public servants? If so, why? What are the effects? What can be done about it?


"Nothing is more dangerous than a group of men who have realized the rules don't apply to them." —Portland author Rene Denfeld. twitter

Databases of police misconduct

According to Criminologist Philip Stinson, 6.3% of the 10,000 local officers from 2004-2015 lied, and the problem is likely even more widespread than the data suggests. For links to several relevant databases, see Police Crime Database


Law enforcement entities often research groups they deem subversive or adversarial. Research can involve infiltration, and disingenuous rabble-rousing ("agents provocateur"). Overly zealous approaches can cause harm, and are sometimes explicitly illegal. Law enforcement infiltration


1870s Portland Police plant fake story to embarrass the daily paper. See Defrauding the Daily Bulletin

In the 1970s-80s, police in Portland conducted covert surveillance and infiltration of groups they considered subversive, including organizations like the Bicycle Repair Collective and People's Food Coop. An officer stole and continued building the files after the practice was explicitly outlawed, and upon his retirement. Portland Tribune

In 1981 eight Portland narcotics officers were implicated for misconduct in connection with a raid on a biker clubhouse. Among other things, they had planted evidence in order to obtain convictions. District attorney Mike Schrunk, freshly elected to a position he would occupy for 32 years, asked the governor to pardon 58 people who were impacted by those officers' actions. Wikipedia

In 1992 a young man fired shots at Portland police, but did not injure them. The president of the police union called the judge ahead of the sentencing hearing, to recommend a strong sentence. The judge stated that he was "flabbergasted" to receive such a call. 40 officers attended the hearing; the union president stated to the media that the officers were there to "let the judge know we as a class of people are watching what he does." [Oregonian, June 16, 1993]

In 2019, Alameda County Sheriff's deputy Alan Strickland tussled with the owner of the Toronto Raptors when the basketball team won the championship. Initially the sheriff's department requested a charge of "battery of a peace officer"; later, Strickland filed federal charges. Video footage released later showed that Strickland had shoved the civilian first (twice). Strickland was previously convicted of insurance fraud in 1994 in a different jurisdiction. KTVU followup Strickland dropped his suit , and returned to "desk duty." See also Washington Post

Customs and Border Patrol failed to adequately safeguard 184,000 photos harvested by a contractor in connection with facial recognition activities; the photos were transmitted to the Dark Web. For about a year, CBP and DHS denied any wrongdoing, until the Inspector General admitted it in Sept. 2020. Vice Motherboard

In 2019 Portland police made a public claim that protesters were throwing milkshakes mixed with quick-drying cement. Snopes has rated the statement "false." snopes

Vallejo police captain John Whitney lost his job in 2019 when he worked to end a decade long practice in which police would bend the points of their star-shaped badges, creating what they referred to as a "Badge of Honor," to indicate they had killed somebody while on duty. Open Vallejo

In Hong Kong, a magistrate ruled that a police officer and his superior had "covered a lie [about a civilian assaulting an officer] with another lie" during a period of civil unrest in August 2019. South China Morning Post

Twitter mega-thread capturing police abuses in the early days of the George Floyd protests, around the U.S. Chad Loder thread

In San Jose, police fired rubber bullets directly at Derrick Sanderlin who had been their paid consultant on implicit bias, inconsistent with their own training. San Jose Inside

In 2020 the New York police claimed that bail reform and COVID-19-related releases had driven a spike in shootings, but the police's own data contradicted that claim. New York Post

In 2020 police in Buffalo shoved a 75 year old peace activist, who was attempting to communicate, to the ground, badly injuring him. The initial police statement claimed that he was "injured when he tripped and fell." New York Times .

In 2020 when Portland mayor and police commissioner Ted Wheeler ordered the police to cease using a particularly toxic form of tear gas, the Police Bureau published a press release objecting to the order, without informing Wheeler's office. MSN

A Portland police officer was relegated to "desk duty," purportedly as discipline for having used excessive force numerous times over the summer of 2020. The "desk duty" included adjudicating use-of-force complaints against his colleagues.

In December 2020 ProPublica published a report on 600 instances in which the NYPD commissioner overruled the findings of the citizen review board. ProPublica