Shocking New Scandals Underscore Need for Civilian-Led Policing
From an Atlanta cop saying ‘We only kill black people,’ to a Baltimore sergeant’s indictment for federal racketeering charges, the scandals highlight a need for fundamental reform, says police whistleblower Michael Wood
DRIVER: No, no, no. I’m just seen way too many videos of [traffic stops].
POLICE OFFICER: But you’re not black. Remember? We only kill black people. Yeah, we only kill black people, right? All the videos you’ve seen, have you seen any black people get killed?
JAISAL NOOR: “We only kill black people.” That’s a white officer from Georgia who’s under fire for making those comments during a traffic stop. Yet another video that’s emerged showing the biases in the U.S. criminal justice system that reform does not seem to be able to effect. This comes as an eighth officer has been indicted in one of the biggest police scandals in Baltimore police history. Now joining us to discuss all of this is Michael Wood. He’s a former Baltimore police sergeant. He’s now retired, Heads Up civilian led policing, and he’s a former Baltimore police whistle blower as well. Michael, let’s start off with this dash cam video that’s been released from Georgia. It’s going viral like so many of these videos do for their shocking content. What’s your reaction to this? Are you surprised that this officer made these comments trying to calm down this woman in this traffic stop?
MICHAEL WOOD: Why would anybody be surprised about what police officers do these days. I don’t know why that would be. When I’m watching this I’m really just hoping that people can wrap their heads around the concept that these things are reflections of the culture of policing. And it’s not unique to Georgia. It’s not unique to some other town. This is the way it is where you are. This is the system that we have set up in America. If we think that punishing this one cop and not looking at the entire system, these cops that say things like this, he’s definitely being defensive, he’s saying things that aren’t proper, but this is because he’s been trained to be that way. There’s a supervisor that has allowed this behavior. There’s an entire chain of command that sends the officer out there to get tickets, and then says these things behind the scenes that creates these people that go out and say these things. And we don’t want to look at the real thing. The command that’s pulling these things.
There are puppet masters to these police officers, and if we focus on the ignorance or the behavior of one video, then I think we are really missing what we should be looking at. And that’s the ones who are pulling the strings to create all this.
JAISAL NOOR: Speaking of supervisors, I also want to get your response to an indictment that just happened in Baltimore. It’s part of one of the biggest police scandals in history. An eighth Baltimore cop, a sergeant, was indicted and ordered held until trial, he and his fellow co-defendants are accused of robbery, racketeering, drug dealing, overtime fraud, illegal activities so brazen, prosecutors say the officers who are part of a gun task force were running a veritable criminal organization inside the Baltimore City Police Department. Talk about your reaction, some of these charges, the first seven came down in March, but over the last day details have emerged on this eighth indictment which is a sergeant, and the judge in the case said, “More charges might be coming down.” Give us your reaction to this.
MICHAEL WOOD: Again, no one should be surprised, and this a more example of, I think there’s this really really high rate of criminality among policing which shouldn’t shock us because of this culture we continually talk about. At one point in time I had realized that in my tenure, right around I was about ten years into Baltimore Police Department, I realized that I had known over a hundred cops that had been arrested and tried for some kind of event on duty or off duty getting arrested, whether it was DUIs or racketeering or the towing scandal or murder, and these things shouldn’t at all surprise us. But there was 3,000 cops, and that was a hundred people that I knew. That’s way higher than the average citizen would be. That’s way higher than their criminality rate. We don’t ever catch, we don’t catch citizens at a very high rate. So what do we catch cops at? That has to be an even lower rate that we catch police at.
So how much is this really going on? And how the heck did I not see a lot of those kind of things that were occurring when it was happening right next to me. A lot of this goes back to these gun trace task forces, and I’ve talked about the gun trace task force before. And let’s talk about those puppet masters again. When I talked about these and I watched them do this, these gun trace task forces go from car stop to car stop, they search things, they have money, the root through everybody’s cars and houses, and they write search warrants, and they’re constantly pressured to do this.
There’s a selection process. They take the cops from patrol who arrest the most people, and when you arrest the most people and you’re doing the most reports you’re usually doing the most short cutting and the most corruptions to put as many people in prison if that’s your goal. So they end up picking from patrol, the people who lock up the most. And skirt the most rules. Then they take from those people and they make them street enforcers. And then those street enforcers, they take the best out of that and the best out of that until you get to these gun trace task forces, which is essentially a selection process for the ability to be completely corrupt and then put many people in prison as possible without getting caught. That is essentially their job.
And so it should not surprise anyone that these are the results that happen. If we do not ever step up and focus on the command staff, and the puppet masters that are controlling all these puppets, then we’re never gonna find any resolution. And all I can really do at this point in time is be like, “We’ve been talking about this for years. We’ve been watching about videos for this over years. We keep seeing case after case after case and that we keep looking to the same meaningless things to actually do reform.” We must completely rebuild this thing and think about what policing is. It can not be this system that is institutionalized and structured to create people like this. This is what the system is designed to do. It is a colonial roots of oppressing societies. We are in control of this country and we can stop and change this. That’s really my big take away.
JAISAL NOOR: And the context, for people who aren’t familiar with Baltimore, is that Baltimore has a historic murder rate, crime is skyrocketing, people want to feel safe but the police aren’t doing it. And among the allegations in the indictment is officers stealing money from citizens who hadn’t committed a crime, including in one case $200,000 dollars, filing false police reports, extorting from innocent civilians, targeting residents who had money, illegally entering their homes to steal it, and the sergeant charged today even brought his son to one of these scenes and his son stole money. It’s unclear if his son has been charged yet.
The issue of impunity, when the media covers this it’s not even talked about that obviously the entire system of police accountability of police control needs to be transformed. I think the people of Baltimore and other cities are tired of hearing about reform. They want some systemic change and we know that you’ve been working on this, you have a plan for this, tell us what this would look like.
MICHAEL WOOD: Every town it would look different. So let’s just go from the very beginning that when you say the police aren’t addressing crime, and Baltimore is one of the towns that is breaking a lot of trends and has escalating crime, which most cities don’t, most cities are still reducing crime, because the national trend is to reduce crime. What we have to understand is like look at Baltimore and their policing. If that was the policing standard and that was professional policing, it’s completely the most ineffective policing that there could possibly be. So what we are really looking at is that policing in America is as we have defined it, is absolutely incapable of solving crime. It is not incentivized to solve crime. Remember cops are judged not by how many people they arrest, not by how much safety they provide. Mayors say, “Oh look, my police department is doing something great. We got killings down.” But you can get killings down by putting a lot of people in prison and doing mass incarceration on a temporary time line.
We’re not structured and incentivized in policing to have long term goals. So that’s where we end up with this fundamental breakdown. Is that the community wants policing to be a certain thing, and they expect certain outcome. But they have no input into the entire system to determine what their inputs will be. The input comes from politicians. And these politicians we already know don’t serve their constituents, but even if they could they are looking at four to eight year goals. And policing and crime and humanities, these are not things that operate and can function in four to eight year goals that are aligned to a political campaign. They have to be aligned to the interest of the community. And the easiest representation of this is that lead poisoning is the number one correlate that we have to violent crime reduction.
Lead poisoning has a 20 to 22-year goal payoff in its abatement to its impact on crime reduction numbers. So someone or any system that has four to eight-year goals can never address the number one thing we know that can reduce crime, is environmental poisoning. So we have no system in place that can actually fight the causations of crime. We would rather know as many details as possible about the person that committed a robbery and know nothing about why they committed the robbery and what we could do to prevent that robbery from occurring in the future.
So we have to recognize and accept that this system is not structured to do that. We have to get rid of that and build something from scratch which aligns the outputs that you want with the input that you want. And then you have a say for. So what this would look like in your average town is something like a CEO board of representation, it comes from like a jury pool style selection where you do a type of draft which is more nuance and you have to get into details of that, but those board of people would form a board and if you think of your board as the oversight board that we seem to really accept, if you have an oversight board that judges when a cop does something wrong, recognize that you believe that you should have a say in what happens when it goes wrong.
And I agree with you completely. The problem is there is that the officer is being incentivized and being controlled by something that is not at all what you want. So you’re judging the outcome of something of you’re not controlling the input to that ends up blaming the officer and missing the entire thing that set up the structure and set up the situation which is you not being in charge of your actual police department. What I want to do is take that board, move it all the way up to the top, and you start controlling the inputs of what go into the system. And that’s a really big difference. Essentially right now what policing in America does, it’s the people who own Nordstrom’s are determining what the people at Wendy’s gets to eat. That’s a ridiculous system.
I think that you should be able to go in and order what you want from your police department to do, stop arguing over which police chief will come in and tell you how you will be policed and you start telling police chiefs how they will run their police department underneath of you. And if anyone wants to find out more about that you go to Civilian Led Policing (dot) org where we draw this all out. But as a simple concept that’s about where we are.
JAISAL NOOR: Alright Michael Wood, thank you so much for joining us and getting out these ideas that seem to be addressing the root causes of violence and of crime and of police abuse, instead of just trying to reform it which is all that’s talked about. And it’s been talked about for years now. And we get the same results and nothing seems to change, and violence and homicides are only increasing. So I think people are ready for something new. Michael Wood, former police whistle blower, retired police sergeant, thank you so much for joining us.
MICHAEL WOOD: Thank you Jaisal.
JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.