The Value of a Cop

Detroit Gang squad cop Nevin Hughes must have been one heck of an officer.  Not just tough, but something truly special.  After all,  Hughes had been sued eight times over his 15 year career and cost the taxpayers more than $677,000 in damages.  He had to be some sort of supercop to be worth that much.

And now it’s happening again.

This time there’s video, and so it now requires stern warning number 3:

When video surfaced last month of Detroit Gang Squad officer Nevin Hughes apparently roughing up a customer at a local gas station, Chief Ralph Godbee vowed that “alleged behavior of this nature will not be condoned or tolerated.”

Does that mean it was condoned and/or tolerated the last 8 times?  You bet, to the tune of more than a half million paid out to the public.  Aside from the pain, humiliation and injury, running into Officer Hughes was like winning the Detroit lottery, even though the price of the ticket was a bit steep.

Hughes is currently on restricted duty as Internal Affairs reviews accusations made last month by Harrison Township resident DeJuan Hodges-Lamar, who says the officer assaulted him at a Zoom gas station on Detroit’s east side in 2009.

The suburban college student claims he was sitting in his SUV awaiting an open pump when Hughes snatched his keys from the ignition, put him in a choke hold and — as captured by a surveillance camera — threw him to the ground.

It’s difficult not to notice that Hodges-Lamar is black, one of the foremost indicia of gang membership.  If you ask any lawyer who defends people accused of gang violence, breathing is also a primary indication of gang membership.  Wear a red shirt? Gang member. Blue shirt? Gang member. Tattoo? Major gang member.  Black of Hispanic? Do you really need to ask?

The cops who work gangs will tell you about how violent they are, and indeed, it’s true.  Some gangs are terribly violent.  Worse still, they’re often random in their violence, beating, sometimes murdering, people who no reason other than to prove their machismo and worthiness of being in the gang. 

It’s not an easy job, working the gang beat.  And to allow a gang member the courtesy of even momentary respect is to risk one’s life.  This would violate the first rule of policing.  And yet, not every young person a gang cop comes across is a gang member.  Sometimes, black and Hispanic young men are just black and Hispanic.  I know, but it’s really not a crime.

Gang cops become jaded pretty quickly.  They see gang members everywhere.  They see gang members as subhuman.  They see every young person of color as subhuman, and a potential threat.  The good ones know how to turn it down. The bad ones can’t, and treat them harshly.  The really bad ones see no problem with doing so, and become as violent, if not more, as the gang members they are there to police. 

This isn’t one of the easier jobs in law enforcement, attempting to deal with the proliferation of gang members.  But nobody promised cops that their job would be easy. And nobody said it was acceptable to assume the methods of your enemy, to pre-emptively assume all black and Hispanic youths to be criminals and violent, to physically harm them before they have a chance to harm you.

But this doesn’t seem to concern those in law enforcement charged with assuring the public that their officers aren’t worse than the criminals.  The people of Detroit have more than $677,000 reasons to believe that Chief Godbee is blowing smoke, “concerned” now only because a video has emerged that makes him and his department look bad.  That the taxpayers paid out such a huge sum meant nothing, and Nevin Hughes was sent out to the street to harm again.

And lest we believe that the eight prior cases exhausts Hughes’ potential for abuse, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume that there were a couple other instances where someone was beaten but failed to sue.  Or assaulted by whose injuries weren’t sufficiently severe to capture a lawyer’s interest.  Or whose constitutional rights were violated, which didn’t sufficiently surprise the citizen to take any action in response.  Cops inclined to be violent toward people tend to do so with unfortunate regularity.  Not everyone ends up suing.

Yet Nevin Hughes remained on the force, out on the streets working the gang squad, and nobody cared.  Yup, he must have been one heck of a cop, valued more than the amount of the payments to his victims.  That or the Detroit Police Department doesn’t mind that its officers are just as bad as the gang members, and that the citizens of Detroit paid gravely for this cop, both in money and blood.

One comment on “The Value of a Cop

  1. Billy

    It’s remarkable how much money municipalities, local government, and states shell-out to keep “tough-guy” cops on the payroll. Of course, that’s setting aside considerations of the damage to little things like liberty, justice, and respect for law enforcement and the law.

    In Cleveland, a so-called Supercop recently-retired after 35 years and got his own right wing radio show. During his reign the Supercop shot 12 people, killing 5 according to the Wikipedia entry on him. The last guy he killed, an unarmed bank robber was in the process of fleeing when the off-duty Super Cop commandeered a private auto chased the robber down and shot him in the back. Can’t tell you how much the serial-shootings and bizarre abuses of citizens have cost the City of Cleveland, but a recent TASER complaint versus this guy and the City are mentioned in this morning’s Plain Dealer.

    Maybe the economic recession will operate to finally bring these local communities and governments to their senses–well, except for Maricopa County, AZ which shovels out millions for the honor of hosting America’s toughest Sheriff.

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