Plant It and It Will Grow

It really shouldn’t require a business owner to mount seven video cameras around his place of business to protect himself from the police. On the other hand, had Donald Andrews not done so, he would be staring down a two to seven year sentence rather than pondering the ad damnum of his suit against the cops.

The video is, to be blunt, perfect. Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, not to mention Turley and Reason, the video from Andrews’ head shop in Scotia, New York, did the trick:

The procedure that police are supposed to employ when using a rat to set up a bust is to search him before allowing him to enter the premises to be sure that he doesn’t have any drugs on him that could be planted. Inherent in the use of an informant working off a case is that they will do what they have to do to save themselves, including planting drugs so that someone else gets busts. The bust inures to their benefit as a crime they’ve helped to “solve.” That’s the coin of the rat’s realm.

The local cops blame the rat:

Neither the Schenectady County Sheriff nor the Scotia Police Chief were available to be interviewed about the apparent planting of evidence.

By phone the Sheriff acknowledged proper procedures were not followed but denied his investigators purposely framed the suspect.

The Sheriff blamed the informant, who has taken flight.

Of course, the issue here isn’t whether the Scotia police “purposely framed the suspect,” but whether their acknowledged failure allowed the rat to frame the suspect. In other words, they have an active role to play in making sure this doesn’t happen, and they failed miserably. Chalking it up to improper procedures ignores the core problems in using rats as a crime fighting tool: they’re rats. Every incentive exists for them to do wrong, and requires the police, who have elected to use a rat as their ally, to do everything necessary to prevent an innocent person from being framed.

But in this particular case, a secondary concern makes the police claim and blame a bit more dubious.

Charlie writes, “There is a smoke shop in Scotia NY, owned by a young black man.  There are many, many smoke shops in the capital region, but the rest are owned by white people.  Undercover police decided to send an ‘undercover agent’ (an informant facing his own jail time) to investigate.

This is the old Casablanca question (of all the gin joints…) and inherently gives rise to the question of why, given that there are many smoke shops in Scotia, the police, or perhaps the informant, targets the one smoke shop owned by a black man. It doesn’t prove he was targeted because of race, but it sure emits an unpleasant odor.

Once the video went public, the rat absconded. There’s a shock, though his disappearance as well precludes anyone from asking whether the local cops might have suggested that he pick the one gin joint smoke shop owned by a black man. Another question unanswered.

The big question remains why police embrace the use of one criminal to catch another. As Turley asks, why not send an undercover officer into the smoke shop rather than a rat? Perhaps a small department doesn’t have the ability, an unknown officer whose appearance isn’t too obvious.

But more likely is that rats are unpaid workers with a huge incentive to make cases for their own benefit. A police department using rats can double its investigative size without spending a dime by using informants working off cases, and they have access to places that officers might never be able to go. The trade-off is that they are, by definition, not honest and reliable people, and the incentive for them to lie and frame someone else is huge.

In this instance, however, there is one final, bizarre aspect to the frame-up. Who leaves a vial of crack sitting on top of a counter? It’s lunacy, except to the cops who find it and are so blind to the obvious that they don’t see any reason why this might be a problem, suggesting a grossly inept frame up. But then, they wanted to catch a drug dealer and they did, and even the worst, most ridiculously wrong evidence was good enough in Scotia.

Without a camera in his shop, Andrews might well be wondering who his cellmate might be today instead of how much he will take in settlement of his claim.  “But for video” strikes again, but it really shouldn’t have to be this way for a business to survive the existence of a police investigation. Not even when the business is owned by a black man.  Not even in Scotia.

7 comments on “Plant It and It Will Grow

  1. ExCop-LawStudent

    The first rule of using a CI to make a buy is that you completely search the CI before he goes into the buy location, just to prevent this type of BS.

    Very shoddy police work.

    1. SHG Post author

      Didn’t I say that?

      And we need to break you from using CI, the government’s preferred name that makes a rat seem less rat-like and more law-ish.

      1. ExCop-LawStudent

        Yes, you did, and it’s force of habit over 20 years. I don’t think you want me to use the descriptors that cops use between each other to describe the rat/CI. It’s not suitable for polite conversation. ;p

        The problem with the rats is they are normally expected to bring in a good arrest(s) so they can “work off” their own drug charge. They have a motivation to do this type of crap, and the police officers are supposed to prevent it by following proper procedures.

        However, the officers have their own incentive to make the arrest, as part of the failure of the war on drugs, they are judged based on arrests, not the quality of their work. It is sort of like the use of a body count in a war – it doesn’t mean anything in determining who is winning the war.

        1. SHG Post author

          Good insight. Therein lies the problem with “trust” and incentives, and how disincentives undermine trustworthiness because the presumption that cops will do the right thing even though culture and incentives are contrary is unfortunately an insufficient basis upon which legitimate and honest law enforcement can rely.

  2. peter

    Informant missing. Could be that he has realised that he faces jail time for planting evidence. Or could it be he is the only one who could tell the world exactly what he had been instructed to do by the police.

  3. Jack

    Reading this, I can’t help but hear Dave Chapelle saying “Just sprinkle some crack on him.” over and over in my head.

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