This week, PAR continues its coverage of the overt abuses of police power by examining new data that shows just how dangerous—and even deadly—systematic over-policing can be. PAR hosts Taya Graham and Stephen Janis break down several cases that show how police use pretextual car stops to expand their power, challenge the constitutional rights of citizens, and expand the reach of the country’s law-enforcement-industrial complex.

Post Production: Adam Coley


Transcript

Taya Graham: Hello, my name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible. And today we’re going to achieve that goal by examining one of the biggest drivers of bad policing that simply does not get the attention it deserves: governmental greed, and how the need for cash is turning cops into variable bounty hunters. But, before I get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at par@therealnews.com, and please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and appreciate them. And of course you can always reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And of course, if you can please hit the Patreon donate link pinned in the comments below, we do have some extras for our PAR family.

Now, if there is one theme on this show that emerges time and time again, it’s just how much police love to make unnecessary traffic stops and profit from them. Through literally dozens of stories we have accounted how cops have pulled people over under dubious pretext and proceed to give them a ticket, or even arrest them without a real justification.

Don’t believe me? Well, consider just a few of our recent shows. There was Arizona driver Perry Taylor, who was pulled over for the mercurial crime of aggressive driving and was subsequently dragged from his car and charged with a crime. Let’s watch.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Speaker 1:   Get out of the car.

Perry Taylor:    I’m asking you to give me a ticket. I’m asking you.

Speaker 1: You’re not getting a ticket.

Perry Taylor:     You’re trying to go for your arrest quota and I’m not going to allow it to happen.

Speaker 1:       Get out of the car.

Speaker 2:      No, don’t.

Speaker 1:       Get out of the car, right now.

Speaker 2:    Don’t. Don’t man.

Speaker 1:        Get out of the car, right now.

Perry Taylor:      For what? For what?

Speaker 1:       Get out of the car.

Perry Taylor:     For what? I don’t feel safe. You see this? I don’t feel safe. [crosstalk] I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe.

Speaker 1:       Get out of the car, sir.

Perry Taylor:    Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.

Speaker 1:   Get out of the car.

Perry Taylor:  Don’t touch me. I’m getting out. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. You’re threatening my life right now. So get out of my face. Get out.

Speaker 1:   Put the phone down.

Perry Taylor:      No, I’m not putting my phone down. No.

Speaker 1:    You can leave it recording right there.

Perry Taylor:    I don’t care.

Speaker 1:      I’m trying to be at [inaudible]

Perry Taylor:       No, you’re not.

Speaker 1:       Listen.

Perry Taylor:       I asked you to give me the ticket.

Speaker 1:      Get out of the car.

Perry Taylor:       Okay.

Speaker 1:  Get out of the car.

Perry Taylor:       Let me get out of the car.

Speaker 1:     Get out of the car. Get out.

Perry Taylor:      Let me get out.

Speaker 1:   Get out.

Perry Taylor:     Let me get out.

Speaker 1:      Get out of the car.

Perry Taylor:    I’m asking [inaudible].

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:      Or, let’s not forget Georgia resident George Spradling, who drove a mile from his home to confirm that a police checkpoint had been established nearby, when police then followed him to his driveway and arrested him. Let’s watch.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Speaker 3:      I have every legal right to put you under arrest.

George Spradling:  Well, you just.

Speaker 3:       We’re doing the road check.

George Spradling: Yeah. I heard you doing a road check. I heard you.

Speaker 3:    Okay, you got your license with you?

George Spradling: I do have my license, it’s right here.

Speaker 3:  Okay.

George Spradling:  Hey Daniel, come here.

Speaker 4:      I went down there because my neighbors complained that there was a roadblock on our street, so I went down to see what was going on.

Speaker 3:    Okay.

George Spradling:   They want to give me his license. I live right here.

Speaker 3:      Okay. Might want to give me your license.

George Spradling: No, I did not [inaudible raised voices] [sound of open car door].

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:  Of course, we cannot ignore Daniel Alvarez, the Los Angeles, California, resident who is pulled over by a San Bernardino County Sheriff for driving too close to another car and issued a hefty ticket. Which, incidentally, was dropped when the officer didn’t show up in court. Let’s take a listen.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Passenger 1: No, you’re not going to violate my rights. I’m not going to do anything just because you think it’s right. No, I don’t owe you my ID.

Passenger 2: And next time.

Passenger 1:          Tell me the law that says I got to give you my ID.

Speaker 6:         I’m telling you to step out of the car.

Passenger 1:       No, that’s not the law.

Speaker 6:    It is a law.

Passenger 1:      [crosstalk] No, I am not driving this vehicle.

Speaker 6:  …Look it up on your phone right now. Look on your phone.

Passenger 1:   No, I’m not going to look up the phone that – I am not driving the vehicle. I got nothing to show at this stop.

Daniel Alvarez:  As him, as a passenger, as I’m being stopped for a traffic stop, he has to ID?

Speaker 6:  Yeah.

Passenger 1:    No, I do not.

Daniel Alvarez:  Is that true?

Speaker 6:      Can you tell me the law?

Passenger 2:     Sir, we’re asking you a question, sir.

Speaker 6:     You asking me a question?

Passenger 2:  Yes.

Speaker 6:    [inaudible]

Daniel Alvarez:     But is that the law, that he has to ID himself?

Speaker 6:    You can ask him the questions, it’s not my [inaudible].

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:   But the reason I bring up these troubling stories is because of some of the new data just released by the New York Times, which confirms what we have been reporting on about this phenomena all along. The Times examines car stops across the country because reporters wanted to understand why so many stops turned deadly. As part of their investigation, they found a whopping 400 stops resulted in police killing unarmed motorists who had been pulled over with a broken taillight, with tinted windows. But there’s more, because the Times reporters also had another question. Why, they asked, if car stops are so dangerous, do police pull over millions and millions of motorists every year? And one of the conclusions they reached points to a problem we have been reporting on this show for years: money.

That’s right. The Times found that across the country, department after department relied on cops to generate revenue. And in some cases, fines and fees for traffic stops accounted for more than half the entire budget of a town. In fact, the Times highlighted cities where police were actually given quotas for ticket writing and were disciplined or demoted if they did not meet them. And to get more on the problem and the data and what it means I’m joined by reporting partner Stephen Janis. Stephen, thank so much for joining me.

Stephen Janis:    Tay, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:   So Stephen, first I want to explore one facet of the Times report that we have done some work on, and that is how many stops end with police violence. What did the Times find about why police are so quick to resort to violence, and what did our own reporting uncover?

Stephen Janis:   Well, you know, hundreds of stops for taillights and, you know, license plates askew or whatever end up in people being dead. The police shooting or killing, in many cases, unarmed motorists, which is what the Times found, which is what we have reported on. And what’s really interesting is the reason, and it has to do with police training. We talked about this in the killology training and policing. Police are taught that motorists are deadly, that every car stop is potentially a deadly incident. It’s not true, but that’s what they’re taught. So, they tend to resort to force much faster. They tend to be trained to think that if a motorist makes a gesture, reaches for his or her wallet, that they’re reaching for a gun. And so therefore it’s the psychology of policing and the training of policing that makes it deadly. It makes car stops so deadly.

Taya Graham:      So what were the findings in terms of how intimately police is tied to revenue? And how do those numbers relate to some of the reporting we’ve also done?

Stephen Janis:     Well, for example, a city in Oklahoma collected about a million dollars of its budget from ticket revenue. But what’s really interesting is how this all is driven by the federal government. The federal government writes 600 million dollars in grants tied to writing traffic tickets. So, at least 20 states have quotas for officers in different municipalities. So basically, the federal government is creating this big revenue generator for towns, towns are turning around and making officers write more tickets. How it relates to our reporting is the fact that almost all the towns that have a large percentage of their budget from ticket revenues are under 30,000 people. And that’s what our reporting has found over and over again, that rural policing is overpolicing, and that rural police departments spend most of their time generating revenue. That’s what this report found, that’s what we reported on before, and that’s what’s happening.

Taya Graham:     Now, just from a political and philosophical perspective, why would public safety have to also be a profit center? Why are those two seemingly disparate ideas so closely intertwined in this country?

Stephen Janis:  I think because policing is so not focused on public safety in many instances. That policing is part of the capitalist ideology to kind of create a system of inequity that creates wealth for very few and leaves the rest of us behind. And part of that is the rhetorical power of policing. So, policing comes to intertwine with some of the worst aspects of capitalism. That’s why, philosophically speaking, policing in many cases is about projecting power and using that power to continue and to sustain a system of inequality.

Taya Graham:    Okay. But before I let you go, I wanted you to update our viewers on a couple of stories we’ve been following.

Stephen Janis:        Yeah. It’s really funny because people will make a comment, well, the police never talk to Stephen, but I always give them the courtesy of asking before we publish a story. But what’s really interesting is once we publish a story and it gets tens of thousands of views on YouTube, they start calling. For example, if you look at the case of Chris Dixon, the police chief from New Mexico called me and said his officer wasn’t the one who arrested Chris Dixon, it was actually the county sheriff. So, that’s actually true. But the police officer you see who’s talking to him is from the town, but I wanted to make that clarification.

And also, the Arizona State Highway Patrol called Perry Taylor – You might recall Mr. Taylor was pulled over and dragged from his car for supposedly drag racing – Well, they called him after our video was posted and said they were investigating the incident. But it’s really interesting. The internal affairs officer told Taylor, I think what the cop did was right. That just shows you the problem with policing, police can’t police themselves. But, believe me, the police get back to me. It’s just once the video comes out and they’re embarrassed that they call us. So, I just wanted to make that clear. They do call me back. It’s just after we get 50,000 views.

Taya Graham:        Now, the aforementioned pension for profit and policing is not limited to traffic stops. And that’s not the only way crony capitalists compulsively corrupt a process that is supposed to be focused on public safety. Consider this story about efforts to legalize pot in Minnesota that got little attention, but says quite a bit about the real incentive behind American law enforcement. As the Minnesota legislature was exploring the impact of legalized marijuana, there was pushback from the union which represents police officers throughout the state, that caught our attention, but received very little coverage elsewhere. Their concerns? Legalizing pot would be bad for business. Literally for their cash flow. I’m not kidding. The union said that legalizing pot possession would actually be bad for both police budgets and the paychecks of their members. It would result in fewer bonuses and overtime for cops, and fewer bodies to fill local jails and high price prisons.

The bottom line is that the union was all but admitting that a major facet of law enforcement had literally nothing to do with public safety, but instead was a means to generate revenue. We have a name for this type of warping of a public process by fiscal concerns. It’s called neoliberalism. The idea that anything the government does, it will do better under the auspices of a for-profit ethos. In other words, nothing is worth doing for the community unless there’s a buck to be made. It’s an idea that is responsible for many of the miseries that the American public endures on a regular basis. It’s why our healthcare system is both unaffordable and often ineffective. It’s why young people are consigned to a lifetime of debt just to attend college. And it’s also, according to both our reporting and the New York Times, why rural police trawl the highways like bounty hunters searching out unsuspecting motorists to fleece them for cash and belongings all in the name, supposedly, of public safety.

And let’s remember the money collected through fines and fees doesn’t even include the nearly 2 billion dollars annually police sees under the auspices of civil asset forfeiture, which is this bizarre legal process that allows cops to take property of people never charged and often not even convicted of a crime. But this mess also raises another more intriguing question about the overarching impetus for our massive law enforcement-industrial complex, a fundamental question about how we decide what is legal and what is not. It’s a query we often ignore, but it is certainly worth considering now. What exactly is a crime? What I mean is if you consider how many infractions and supposed violations of the law result in monetary gains, then how do we trust a process that decides what is and isn’t illegal? What I mean is, have we ever considered that the underlying philosophy that defines what types of behavior we deem illegal might simply be corrupt?

I was thinking about this question when Stephen and I traveled to Denver, Colorado, to work on a longer piece about Eric Brant. Brant, as many of you know, was sentenced for 12 years in prison for allegedly making threatening statements about judges, a story we’ll shed more light on later. But what made me think of the concept of what is a crime was actually something a bit tangential, but still vital to explaining why I’m asking the question. While we were there in Denver, everywhere I went, I saw billboards, signs advertising not just soft drinks or fast food, but advertisements touting marijuana. Spread throughout the city were large messages enticing me to visit a local dispensary and buy any form of weed I could possibly want. Wall to wall entreaties to visit the nearest store and pick up joints or nice boxes of chocolates infused with THC.

Of course, this is hardly news. Colorado was one of the first states to legalize pot. But what made it so striking to me was the cognitive dissonance that surrounds this relatively new, and obviously thriving business. That’s because I come from a state that, while it has legalized medical marijuana, in 2010 spent $100 million, according to the ECLU, arresting and incarcerating people for the possession of it. In my city of Baltimore alone, police would make nearly 6,000 arrests annually for simple marijuana possession. How am I, and you, supposed to reconcile, that in the state of Colorado, I can walk into a dispensary and talk to a friendly budtender and pick from a wide selection of plants to enjoy, and in the relatively nearby state of Wyoming, I can literally be locked in a cage just for having the remains of a joint in my car.

How can I, in one locale, buy THC in all possible consumable forms imaginable, and in other states have my property seized for just possessing a pipe used to smoke it. How can anyone make sense of a system where corporations can profit off a plant while people have literally lost their freedom for being near it? How can one country entertain two completely incompatible ideas? Well, I think that’s a good question. To me, it’s a uniquely American form of cognitive dissonance that I think says more about how the law is both conjured and applied than any other example I can think of. I mean, how many people are sitting in jail right now locked in a cage for possessing weed, while the Uber rich get richer off of selling it elsewhere. How many lives have been destroyed by a SWAT raid or a search warrant written at the behest of a pot arrest while major corporations are turning it into another source of propagate profits?

What I’m trying to point out is that living in the country where, on one hand, pot is a source of riches for some, and for others an absolute source of misery, literally points to the absurdity and credibility of our system of laws in general. I mean, let’s not forget the story of Dr. David Allen, who was arrested for researching the beneficial effects of marijuana after authorities tried to seize his ranch. He was uncovering the fact that pot can actually save lives, and they were simply trying to use an unjust law for unjust enrichment. The point is that the concept of turning a product of nature into a source of indiscriminate power and profit reveals just how insane our philosophy of governance and law really is. Maybe the idea that a naturally healing and proven beneficial flower is somehow twisted into a legal source of unchecked authority and profit exposes just how far astray law enforcement really is from the concept of justice.

And that’s supposed to be the idea, right? Justice, not tickets, and fees, and fines, and stats. Not charges, and prisons, and pensions for cops. The whole point of the criminal justice system is to create a community defined by fairness and equity. That’s why when we read about towns or report on cities where ticket fines constitute half of the budget, or when we hear that police have quotas to write tickets and are begging for the power to seize property, we have to stop and ask: What really is the point here? What really is the underlying goal? And how on earth does this benefit our society to turn a badge into a cash register? Well, that’s the question we will continue to ask on this show. I want to thank Intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, research, and editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.

Stephen Janis:   Taya, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Taya Graham:    And I want to thank friend of the show, Noli Dee for his support. Thanks, Noli Dee. And a very special thank you to our Patreons, including PAR super friend, Shane Busta. We appreciate you. And if you want to have me shout you out, go to our Patreon page and become a PAR super friend, or an official patron like Calvin M., Steven D., Rob B., Celeste S., PT Tumblebug, [inaudible] live, Tamara A., Dante S., and of course, my mom. Hi, mom.

And as always, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate for you. Please email us tips privately at par@therealnews.com. And of course, you can always follow us on Facebook or Instagram at Police Accountability Report or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And you can always follow me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And please like, and comment on our videos. We do read your comments and appreciate them, and I try to answer your questions whenever I can. My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

Taya Graham

Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns.

 
taya@therealnews.com
 
@tayasbaltimore

Stephen Janis

Host & Producer

Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been acclaimed both in print and on television. As the Senior Investigative Reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, he won two Maryland DC Delaware Press Association Awards for his work on the number of unsolved murders in Baltimore and the killings of prostitutes. His in-depth work on the city's zero-tolerance policing policies garnered an NAACP President's Award. As an Investigative Producer for WBFF/Fox 45, he has won three successive Capital Emmys: two for Best Investigative Series and one for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Piece.

He is the author of three books on the philosophy of policing: Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore; You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond; and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. He has also written two novels, This Dream Called Death and Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist. He teaches journalism at Towson University.