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A “good cop” story
September 12th, 2008 by Ken Hagler

Two cheers for police cor­rup­tion.

So there are a lot of cops who are involved, some­how or anoth­er, in the drug trade. Some­times they sling the drugs them­selves; often, they just pro­tect drug deal­ers from arrest. Like any form of Pro­hi­bi­tion, gov­ern­ment Drug Pro­hi­bi­tion cre­ates a con­di­tion in which there are lots of black mar­ket oper­a­tors who are will­ing to pay bribes, and lots of cops who are will­ing to take them, in order to keep the drug trade run­ning with­out police inter­fer­ence. The cost of the bribe is a drain, but the prof­its from a well-run drug deal­ing out­fit make up for it, and the cost of the bribe is less than the cost of get­ting locked up in prison for sev­er­al years. In fact, the Drug War Chron­i­cle runs a reg­u­lar fea­ture called This Week’s Cor­rupt Cop Sto­ries, which I guess is intend­ed to show how the con­di­tions fos­tered by Drug Pro­hi­bi­tion inevitably pro­duce police cor­rup­tion. A point which is pret­ty well con­veyed just by the fact that they have plen­ty of sto­ries to run every sin­gle week, as much as by any of the indi­vid­ual sto­ries that they run.

But there’s a prob­lem with the word cor­rupt. To become cor­rupt is to become impure, dam­aged, or worse. To be cor­rupt is to be doing some­thing wrong — and when we apply it to peo­ple, it usu­al­ly means that some­one is bribed into doing some­thing depraved in exchange for some form of mate­r­i­al reward — most com­mon­ly vio­lat­ing per­son­al or pro­fes­sion­al ethics in exchange for mon­ey. But pro­tect­ing a drug deal­er from arrest is only uneth­i­cal if you have an eth­i­cal oblig­a­tion to arrest drug deal­ers. If, on the oth­er hand, Drug Pro­hi­bi­tion is unjust — if enforc­ing drug laws means vio­lat­ing the rights and the free­doms of inno­cent peo­ple, often by lock­ing non­vi­o­lent offend­ers in a cage for years at a time even though they vio­lat­ed nobody else’s rights — then cops have no eth­i­cal oblig­a­tion to arrest drug deal­ers, because nobody has an eth­i­cal oblig­a­tion to do an injus­tice to inno­cent peo­ple. Then a lot of what com­mon­ly gets called police cor­rup­tion is real­ly noth­ing of the sort; so-called cor­rupt cops may be turn­coats in the Drug War, but they are turn­ing from the wrong side to the right side. Those who pro­tect drug deal­ers from arrest are no more dirty than cops in ante­bel­lum Amer­i­ca who refused to turn fugi­tive slaves over to the slave-catch­ers, or cops in Nazi Ger­many who refused to turn hid­ing Jews over to the Gestapo.

Of course, some­one who has to be bribed into doing the right thing may not deserve blame for what she does; but she prob­a­bly doesn’t deserve praise either. And so-called cor­rupt cops may in fact do oth­er things that do deserve blame. (Many, if not most, of the narcs or patrol cops who get involved in the drug trade do end up act­ing much like Ter­rence Richard­son in Hous­ton — that is, as thieves, thugs, or shake-down artists, using their police pow­er or threats of vio­lence in order to intim­i­date and coerce com­pet­ing drug deal­ers who don’t have the same con­nec­tions to the Gang­sters in Blue. But here the prob­lem isn’t that the cop is sling­ing drugs. The prob­lem is that the cop is crack­ing skulls of oth­er peo­ple who sling drugs, and get­ting the drugs he slings by steal­ing them from oth­er drug deal­ers.) Hence the two cheers, rather than three. But then con­sid­er a case like that of Keenan Col­son, a cop in Lake Wales, Florida:

Lake Wales police offi­cer Keenan Col­son, 50, was arrest­ed Wednes­day by the Polk
Coun­ty Sheriff’s Depart­ment on mul­ti­ple charges stem­ming from infor­ma­tion he leaked to
25-year-old Clay­ton Hoer­ler, a known crim­i­nal offend­er, includ­ing blow­ing the cov­er of an
under­cov­er cop, said LWPD Chief Her­bert Gillis.

[…] Col­son faces one count of con­spir­a­cy to engage in a pat­tern of rack­e­teer­ing action,
five counts unlaw­ful use of two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tions device, and four counts unlawful
use of com­put­er access after he was tied to an inves­ti­ga­tion that ulti­mate­ly net­ted 18
peo­ple arrest­ed in con­junc­tion with what was described by coun­ty law enforcers as a
vio­lent mar­i­jua­na dis­tri­b­u­tion ring.

Polk Coun­ty Sher­iff Grady Judd agreed with Gillis, not­ing in a phone inter­view Thurs­day that the blame rests sole­ly on Col­son and his actions.

It’s impor­tant to point out we don’t in any way sus­pect any­one oth­er than Keenan Col­son. We don’t want to leave any impres­sion of that being any­thing oth­er than an eth­i­cal police depart­ment. They run a great shop there. The men and women there are very ded­i­cat­ed. This is just one crooked cop, he said.

But it was one cop nobody seems to have expect­ed to com­pro­mise the integri­ty and safe­ty of his fel­low police officers.

Colson’s actions sent shock waves through­out the LWPD.

Cap­tain Patrick Quinn said he was hurt and shocked because he regard­ed Col­son as the rock, a man who was always there, went to his calls, took his reports, was dependable.

Quinn, who was not involved in the inves­ti­ga­tion, was briefed about the sit­u­a­tion on Tuesday.

Sev­er­al peo­ple fall from grace, he said. That stinks, that hurts. We hire peo­ple, unfor­tu­nate­ly peo­ple are going to do stu­pid things sometimes.

Quinn said Col­son made a bad choice and was going to have to answer for his bad choice, but added that every­one in the depart­ment was upset.

We have lost a mem­ber of our fam­i­ly for his bad choice, he said.

What frus­trat­ed the chief so much is the con­cept that the lives of oth­er offi­cers were put in dan­ger. Under­cov­er work presents chal­lenges of it own, he not­ed, call­ing it one of the most dan­ger­ous jobs in law enforce­ment because of its vulnerability.

And for Keenan Col­son to iden­ti­fy to crim­i­nal offend­ers, this under­cov­er offi­cer, this under­cov­er deputy, could have caused him to be killed, and could have caused the deputies that were work­ing with him, the under­cov­er offi­cers to be injured, he said. That is some­thing that will nev­er be forgiven.

Gillis said Colson’s arrest was about jus­tice for the police offi­cers that are doing a good job every day. And it is those who trust­ed Col­son that won­der what went awry with him.

Hav­ing had no pri­or indi­ca­tions to believe that Col­son was capa­ble of betray­ing his fel­low offi­cers, the chief described Col­son as a very lik­able guy, very respect­ful, very qui­et, very courteous.

How he got hooked up with a known crim­i­nal offend­er still stumps inves­ti­ga­tors, Gillis said.

Judd said he isn’t sure of the con­nec­tion either, but said inves­ti­ga­tors did believe there was a pri­or rela­tion­ship. In the late 1990s, Col­son was an offi­cer in Lake Hamil­ton, and Clay­ton Hoer­ler, iden­ti­fied as being one of the alleged ring lead­ers, appar­ent­ly lived in Lake Hamil­ton at that time as well. Hoer­ler, 25, was iden­ti­fied this week by the coun­ty sheriff’s office as being a Lake Alfred resident.

We know from the inves­ti­ga­tion that they were good friends, Judd said. We know they dis­cussed crim­i­nal activ­i­ty freely, and that Col­son give him intri­cate instruc­tions in how to avoid arrest and how to pro­tect him­self from covert inves­ti­ga­tion. He was cer­tain­ly the con­sul­tant for Hoerler.

Kathy Leigh Berkowitz, The Polk Coun­ty Demo­c­rat (2008−08−18): Lake Wales Police Offi­cer Arrest­ed for Leak­ing Information

If that’s what Keenan Col­son did, then good for Keenan Colson.

The Drug War is an aggres­sive war by the gov­ern­ment against inno­cent peo­ple. Nei­ther using mar­i­jua­na, nor sell­ing mar­i­jua­na vio­lates any­body else’s rights. Like all so-called vic­tim­less crimes, it is in fact not a crime at all in any moral sense; crimes have iden­ti­fi­able vic­tims, and con­sen­su­al exchanges between will­ing par­ties have none. Cops who use force to shut down drug deal­ing out­fits — and that is the only way that cops shut any­thing down, by beat­ing peo­ple, taser­ing them, pep­per-spray­ing them, pulling guns on them, restrain­ing them, hand­cuff­ing them, con­fin­ing them in police cars and hold­ing cells, and ulti­mate­ly by hav­ing them locked up in cages for years at a time, all of it backed up by the threat of inflict­ing pain, injur­ing you, or killing you if you should resist their orders — those cops, I say, are using vio­lence against peace­ful peo­ple; they are hurt­ing, restrain­ing, and impris­on­ing peo­ple who have nev­er vio­lat­ed the rights of any iden­ti­fi­able vic­tim. If they come after your friends on the basis of these unjust drug laws, then, moral­ly speak­ing, they are the crim­i­nals, and using your con­nec­tions and your knowl­edge of the sys­tem in order to defend your friend and his liveli­hood from their aggres­sion — by telling him how to avoid detec­tion, by telling him how to keep from get­ting unjust­ly arrest­ed, and by expos­ing the under­cov­er police spies who have been sent to infil­trate his cir­cle and facil­i­tate the narcs’ efforts to seize inno­cent peo­ple and lock­ing them in cages for the next sev­er­al years, is not cor­rupt. It’s cer­tain­ly not an unfor­giv­able sin. That’s pro­tect­ing the inno­cent, and doing so while putting your­self at con­sid­er­able per­son­al risk from the same uni­formed gang that you are try­ing to pro­tect your friend from. It is, in fact hero­ic, and Keenan Col­son deserves the title of hero far more than the vast major­i­ty of the arro­gant, preen­ing, enti­tled cops who nev­er stop hol­ler­ing about their own hero­ics and the pro­tec­tion they inflict on unwill­ing recip­i­ents every day.

Mean­while, the police chief in Lake Wales has decid­ed to engage in a low form of farce:

If your offi­cers do com­mit crim­i­nal acts, they need to be arrest­ed just like any­one else, the chief said. A lot of times things may be han­dled where peo­ple may be just ter­mi­nat­ed or let go. That’s not the way you are sup­posed to do things, that’s why I told the offi­cers around here hold your heads up. We’ve been through a lot, we’ve been in the paper a lot with our offi­cers who have done stuff wrong.

We are going to hold offend­ers account­able, because we hold our peo­ple account­able. To me that is a good thing because we hold our­selves account­able first, we hold offend­ers account­able sec­ond. And that’s a posi­tion you want to be in law enforce­ment, that’s account­abil­i­ty, that’s integri­ty, he added.

Kathy Leigh Berkowitz, The Polk Coun­ty Demo­c­rat (2008−08−18): Lake Wales Police Offi­cer Arrest­ed for Leak­ing Information

That’s bull­shit, is what that is.

When cops harass, unjust­ly imprison, beat, hurt, tor­ture, rape, or kill the peo­ple that they con­temp­tu­ous­ly dis­miss as civil­ians, there isn’t a damn bit of account­abil­i­ty. They may be trans­ferred to anoth­er precinct; they may be giv­en a paid vaca­tion for a few months before fel­low cops exon­er­ate them in admin­is­tra­tive hear­ing for a few months; in real­ly extra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances, where evi­dence of guilt is unde­ni­able and has also, by the way, been reeased to the pub­lic, some­one might actu­al­ly lose their job over it. But they will almost cer­tain­ly nev­er face jail time, or any crim­i­nal respon­si­bil­i­ty what­so­ev­er, for what they do. As the vic­tim, you might, if you are very lucky, get an Oops, our bad; real­is­ti­cal­ly, what you’re more like­ly to get is Fuck you, civil­ian.

The rea­son that Keenan Col­son has been arrest­ed and is now threat­ened with jail has exact­ly noth­ing to do with any gen­er­al com­mit­ment by the police force to account­abil­i­ty or integri­ty. The unfor­giv­able sin for which he is being arrest­ed and pros­e­cut­ed is the fact that he gave out infor­ma­tion that messed with the game of the oth­er cops who were com­ing after his friend. Cops pro­tect their pow­er, and they’ll do just about any­thing to any­body who endan­gers that by valu­ing the safe­ty of a friend over the abil­i­ty of his gang broth­ers to go on with their activ­i­ties unim­ped­ed. Keenan Col­son is only the lat­est to get the long knife treat­ment for the unfor­giv­able sin of act­ing like a respon­si­ble human being at the expense of gang loy­al­ty. He won’t be the last.

(Via Drug War Chron­i­cle 2008-08-29 and Drug War Chron­i­cle 2008-08-22.)

[Rad Geek Peo­ple’s Dai­ly]

Every so often I read a sto­ry about a good cop. Of course such sto­ries inevitably have bad end­ings for the good cop.


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