Monthly Archives: August 2014

Police theory.

reprinted without permission from

Are Police More Damned Trouble Than They’re Worth?
Modern police forces have become little more than a new set of predators from which the public needs protection.
J.D. Tuccille | August 28, 2014

In the spring, months before Michael Brown was shot and Ferguson erupted in reaction, whoever writes New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton’s blog for him posted, “In my long police career I have often drawn inspiration from a great hero of mine, Sir Robert Peel. Peel founded the London Metropolitan Police in 1829.” The post listed the nine “Peelian Principles” attributed (probably spuriously) to the founder of modern policing and formulated to combat crime in a rapidly modernizing city. The principles are remarkable both for the high ideals to which they aspire, and the minimal resemblance they bear to the actual forces over which Bratton and his counterparts around the United States actually preside.

Given the grim reality of law enforcement in today’s America, it’s hard to believe anything like those ideals could ever be met.

The background to the principles is no mystery. Peel and friends wanted to consolidate London’s constables, night watchmen, and police forces in the growing city. But “people were suspicious of a large force, possibly armed,” the U.K.’s National Archives note. “They feared it could be used to suppress protest and support military dictatorship.” People feared this because the army had been used to do exactly that. In addition to the guiding principles, the police were given blue uniforms to distinguish them from military red. They originally weren’t even allowed to vote to minimize their influence over government policies.

Interestingly, Bratton’s version of the first principle reads, “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.” But the original version says, “To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.” Maybe New York City’s police commissioner drew from an altered-by-repetition version of the principles. Or maybe he just had difficulty seeing modern armored vehicle-riding, assault rifle-toting, police as an alternative to military force.

The principles also specify that police “use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.” That doesn’t mean cops have to be pacifists. But it’s hard to reconcile a preference for persuasion with the over-the-top police occupation of Ferguson, or the promiscuous use of militarized SWAT teams to kick in doors as a matter of routine. Only 7 percent of SWAT uses compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union involved a “hostage, barricade, or active shooter”—79 percent were to serve search warrants.

It’s also hard to reconcile a dedication to the “minimum degree of physical force” with the warning to the public in the pages of the Washington Post, penned by Officer Sunil Dutta of the Los Angeles Police Department, that “If you don’t want to get shot…just do what I tell you.” Dutta and his colleagues apparently don’t agree that “to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public,” as the principles would have it.

Public Domain

For that matter, willing cooperation requires that the public knows what the police are up to in order to have any sort of opinion on the matter, willing or otherwise. So when police forces actively conceal the use of techniques and technology, such as cellphone-tracking stingray devices, from public scrutiny and judicial oversight, cooperation isn’t even being sought.

And when that concealment is not an isolated incident, but involves departments from coast to coast deceiving the public on the advice of the federal government, it’s obvious that, at least in this country, Sir Robert Peel’s heirs have lost any interest in the idea that they are “only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen.”

Modern saturation policing—when cops swarm a neighborhood or randomly throw roadblocks over major roadways—is openly intended as a form of intimidation. The Tennessee Highway Patrol plans “driver’s license, sobriety and seatbelt checkpoints, as well as saturation patrols and bar and tavern checks” over Labor Day weekend to scare the public into compliance with a laundry list of rules and regulations. It’s probably more effective at making people afraid to leave the house on a holiday lest they trip over lurking troopers. It’s also at odds with the idea that “the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action.”

It’s not that there was ever a golden age of policing. Within a few years of the Metropolitan Police Department’s creation, peelers were sent after Chartist political demonstrators (though they did avoid the sabers-swinging tactics that the military brought to such occasions with bloody enthusiasm). Police officers were frequently drunk and corrupt.

It’s also unclear that the new police actually reduced crime, with criminal court proceedings continuing at the same pace before and after the creation of the force.

Valerian Gribayedoff/Public Domai
When the idea of professional policing crossed the Atlantic Ocean, the force Bratton now leads trumped the British example. It managed not just corruption, but an actual riot between two rival departments in 1857. Fifty-three officers were injured before the state militia intervened.

But, all that said, there’s a reason for the creation of such institutions as constables, night watchmen, thief-takers, police, and other efforts at keeping the peace. People don’t want their property stolen, their persons abused, or their lives taken; they want to deter and punish the predators among us, and they don’t always feel up to doing the jobs themselves.

But modern police forces have gone dangerously off-track. They’ve become little more than a new set of predators from which the public needs protection. That Dutta’s column was actually a response to public outrage over police conduct shows how disconnected policing has become from the people it supposedly serves.

Bill Bratton was on to something when his blogger invoked the Peelian Principles. Those nine points, intended to appease a justifiably skeptical audience, were never perfect, and they’ve always been implemented by flawed human beings. But the ideals to which they aspire are a hell of a lot better than what we have now.

J.D. Tuccille is managing editor of

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Posted by on August 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


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New School Year Day One 2014

New School Year Day One 2014

Today was the first day of school for the Ampersand School. This is my third year teaching here. Actually it’s only my second under this name. Two years ago we were known as Lawton Chiles Prepatory school.

We came to this year with a much longer sense of community. We spent a week planning. This wasn’t planning like most other schools, and believe me, The Ampersand School is not like most other schools. It may not be like any other school. We spent the first week of planning discussing our culture. We knew what we didn’t want to do. We knew what had been working when done well. We really wanted to flesh out what a way to make it simpler, not more complex.

We have designed a flowchart and brainstormed about a virtual tour. A lot of what was on our virtual tour – concrete stops we’d like to see as well as ethereal and theoretical showcases- we decided we could put into practice. When asked to create a virtual tour I decided to start at the dumpster. I wanted to use the dumpster as a metaphor to show what we had thrown out, and then it dawned on me that we don’t throw everything out from what is known as mainstream schooling, some of that we recycle. That idea went a long way.

A rough exclamation of the flowchart, I will try to post the actual flowchart in the future, it starts with a theme a broad based idea which the faculty suggests. From there the action starts. He goes a right into exploration. We start exploration by reading texts. Close reading of novels offers us the chance to not only read for completion and comprehension and vocabulary but also for a deep understanding of all the places the content can bring you. Whenever you hear of a setting or an idea or a freezing that makes you say, “what is that?” you have an opportunity for exploration. For example, if in reading Dracula you are engrossed in the story, but you keep hearing about old tribes and if they cities of old Eastern Europe that you’ve never heard of before, you explore that and that becomes what your Dracula unit is all about. Listen, if you want to do a book report, I suppose that’s good too.

But today was day one. I decided to go with culture. I let them know that this is a safe place to be vulnerable and take risks- even fail. What is more vulnerable than a teenager giving and receiving compliments? We didn’t force it. We made it fun. I read them a story about giving Warm Fuzzies and avoiding Plastic Fuzzies and Cold Pricklies. We constructed little cans covered in paper and other objects n which we could receive written compliments and other warm fuzzy gifts. It was purposefully silly and immature. It was intentionally designed to introduce community and culture of caring support. Teenagers see themselves most clearly in the reflections of others.

It was fun. How did you start your year? Essays about summer break? Neat. IMG_6108.JPG




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Posted by on August 18, 2014 in The Ampersand School, Uncategorized


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