Monday, November 28, 2005

Crimes or Mistakes?

Betty Brock Bell has been a Justice of the Peace in Harris County (which includes the city of Houston, Texas) for the past 20 years. Recently she was tried and convicted of "Tampering With a Government Document, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in a state (prison) jail. She had been charged with fraudulently renewing a handicapped parking tag in her dead mother's name. She had also been charged with perjury for telling a grand jury that she was conducting a personal "sting operation" to see how easy it would be to obtain the handicapped tag by fraud in order to explain why she had renewed her dead mother's tag.

Judge Bell happens to be an African-American and during the sentencing part of the trial, her character witnesses, mostly prominent members of Houston's black community, pleaded to the jury that she be given probation, rather than jail time, for making a MISTAKE. A State legislator even referred to her offense as a "simple error."

Until I retired as a criminal justice educator, I always believed that a crime is a crime is a crime. In recent years, however, the definition of crime seems to have changed depending on where the perpetrator fits into society. When a member of the underclass commits a crime it is still a crime. Now, however, when a privileged member of society commits a crime it is called a MISTAKE. Executives who have been convicted of corporate crimes are said to have made a mistake. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Vice President's former Chief of Staff, is said to have made a mistake in his appearance before a federal grand jury. The only mistake Judge Bell and other privileged criminals made is that they got caught.

Perhaps we should revise our laws and establish a new two-tiered Socio-Economic Penal Code wherein the underclass are charged with committing a crime and the privileged, for the same offense, are charged with committing a mistake. And, of course, the punishment for a mistake is much less severe than that for a crime.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


THE BLOGGER OF BARKGROWLBITE. A retired Professor of Criminal Jusitce, with 25 years of experience as a college educator, and 13 prior years as a peace officer, half of that in narcotics enforcement. A Life Member of the California Peace Officers Association, the California Narcotic Officers Association and the Texas Narcotic Officers Association. Previously served on the Board of Directors of the Intrnational Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association. The author of articles published in law enforcement journals and other publications.

WHAT IS THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM? The criminal justice system involves the police, the courts, and corrections. Corrections consists of prisons, probation, and parole. There are many problems throughout the system. Police are the first line of defense in the protection of society. There is both good and bad policing. The media is prone to emphasize bad police behavior, while generally ignoring good policing, which is what we have 90% of the time. I will not defend bad policing. However, bad policing, or good for that matter, is often seen in the eye of the beholder. Minorities with a history of ill treatment by the police are likely to judge police behavior in that context. Immigrants from third world countries with a history of police suppression will be distrustful and fearful of law enforcement in this country

WHY IS POLICING SO DIFFICULT? Dealing with people is what policing is really all about. And you thought it was about protecting and serving the public. That requires dealing with people, and that is what makes policing the most difficult job in our society. Since parents and children, siblings, spouses, and friends get into fights, it is easy to understand that when police deal with strangers, often in a confrontational situation, the proverbial shit is likely to hit the fan. Another problem built into the job is that the police regulate people's behavior and no one likes to have their behavior corrected.

WHAT CAUSES POLICE MISCONDUCT? Police officers are subject to the same emotions experienced by all humans. Two of these, anger and biases, are usually the basis for acts of police misconduct. True excessive force, or police brutality if you like, may result when officers lose their temper in the face of provocations. Biases against minority, ethnic, religious, and non-conforming life-style groups can result in rude police behavior or exacerbate loss of temper. I worked in a part of California which had a large number of Hells Angels, the most notorious outlaw motorcycle gang. Because we usually treated the Angels with contempt, many of our confrontations became painful experiences for both them and us.

THE GOLDEN RULE. In the film HELLS ANGELS FOREVER, one of the Angels referring to problems in dealing with the police, said "Treat me with respect and I'll treat you with respect. Treat me like an asshole and I'll treat you like an asshole." I could not have said it any better. Of course, treating someone with respect is not the same as respecting an individual's non-conforming and anti-social life-style. Police officers can make their jobs easier by applying the Golden Rule whenever possible - treat others as you would want to be treated yourself.

BARKGROWLBITE BLOGS. Posts will consist of information and personal views on criminal justice matters, on domestic, foreign and academic affairs and, because I came to America in 1936 as a refugee from Nazi Germany, on the survival of Israel as a Jewish state. This blog will not be politically correct! Occasionally, some tongue-in-cheek items will also be posted.