Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Police/Security Over-Reaches: A Mentality Unfit for the Job

Absolute authority corrupts absolutely. On an organization or even a local scale, people with authority can play considerably on the ignorance of individuals to over-reach at their expense. As a consequence, surveillance and actions can be horribly excessive without there being recognition of it. Seeing an off-duty police employee wearing a bullet-proof vest and standing next to a store security guard in the entry-way of a grocery store in Phoenix, Arizona, for instance, can give at least new-comers an immediate sense of the excessive use of authority to intimidate even the innocent shoppers. As if seeing a policeman and security employee "greet" customers entering the store was not enough, I also saw a young mother with her young daughter in one of the aisles “freeze up” at the sight of the policeman (wearing a bullet-proof vest) staring at them in a confrontational posture from the end of the aisle. I could not believe my eyes. As the front doors opened as I left the store, I looked up only to see a security guard with his feet pointed right and left, respectively, in a confrontational posture. 

A security guard stands in a confrontational posture at an Albertsons (Frys) grocery store in Phoenix.

Could such practices ever be accepted as the default in the "land of the free"? It depends on the State. Furthermore, how does such ill-fitting excessiveness, which would only fit were someone reported to be shooting in the store, shift from inappropriateness to become the default—the status quo? Typically the underlying mentality is one of stubborn ignorance that cannot be wrong, backed up by an excessive and microscopic grip on real or invented authority. How is it that the more educated and broad-minded perspective in upper-echelon management comes to doubt even its common sense by being hoodwinked by the lower mentality? Excessive delegation to middle-and-lower levels of management, where the wider perspective can easily be lacking, may be part of the answer. Playing a supporting role, the value-system in the local culture may actually support the excess or look the other way in blind obedience to an ideology. Finally, if a practice beyond the pale gets its toehold in the status quo, then people can become blind to the excessiveness and treat it instead as normal. Excessiveness as the new normal. Dislodging an invasive or encroaching unquestioned trend can be very difficult given the nature of the status-quo default to act like cement. Two case studies demonstrate that an absurd over-reach by someone in the security field can occur. The first took place in Orlando, Florida. Accountability did occur, so the absurd was not allowed to become ensconced. The second was in Phoenix, Arizona. Such accountability is much more difficult there, so the aggressive over-reach of authority would likely become further ensconced in the conducive or enabling local culture. 
In September, 2019, an elementary school “resource officer” arrested two 6-year-olds at school in Orlando, Florida. At least one of the kids had committed the high crime of kicking another student. The “resource officer,” a misleading term for what was actually a policeman capable of making arrests (a resource for whom?), was subsequently fired for not having obtained permission from a “watch commander.” The militaristic term, commander, in having anything to do with first-graders, makes clear just how far the Orlando police department had overreached. Indeed, I submit that the cloak of being a resource is just as dishonest, and overreaching, as is the appropriation of military terms. A police employee is neither a security guard nor a military commando.
Of course, arresting a first-grader is such an obvious overreach that the judgment involved in the overreaching itself is arguably incompatible with the legal right to use lethal force. At least one of the first-graders was arrested for battery, fingerprinted, and had mugshots taken. That a police employee (or department) would even suppose that with a commander’s permission is appropriate or sufficient to arrest a first-grader for kicking another kid is so far-fetched that a lack of perspective, not to mention common sense, was also in the mix. Even Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala chastised the Orlando police department when she said, “These very young children ought to be protected, nurtured, and disciplined in a manner that does not rely on the criminal justice system to do it.”[1] That a police employee (and department) would interlard that system indicates a basic lack of understanding regarding that system and the fact that it has boundaries. People who have problems with boundaries should not be wielding power, for such people love power too much to exercise it realistically. For a child to make being a child a crime suggests that that child should not be allowed to play with guns, much less to be lawfully entitled to use them. 
Such an obvious overreaching mentality can also exist “under” the police, such as in security guards. In Phoenix, Arizona, for instance, the security guards on the light-rail trains have regularly over-reached beyond their authority. This reflects the culture, as the same tendency can be observe in other domains there. 
For example, some of the employees of the security subcontractor have turned on passengers simply for taking pictures inside the train. Guards have aggressively threatened to kick such passengers off the trains, using the flimsy excuse that the guards had been photographed and the erroneous claim that picture-taking on the trains was illegal. Such ignorance that could not be wrong backed up by authority that simply did not exist is inherently toxic and utterly incompatible with (i.e., a danger to) wielding even the authority that has been authorized. Beyond even the ignorance is the sheer aggressive nature that looks for any opening in which to bully another person. In fact, the dismissiveness of other people’s natural boundaries may itself be sociopathic. The aggression unleashed by efforts to hold such people accountable points to a demented perspective in which the victim rather than the aggressor is actually the aggressive party. 
It is interesting, or telling, that security employees would be so preoccupied with passengers taking pictures and yet actually refuse to do anything, whether on a platform or on a train, about a passenger known to have walked across the tracks even in front of an oncoming train. 

This man rushed across the tracks so fast his baby's carriage back wheels caught on a rail.  

Once I witnessed a man run across a street (amid oncoming cars) and across the tracks before entering the train-car that I entered. The security employee told me that he too had seen this, but could do nothing. "The street is not our property," he explained. "Aren't the tracks your property?" I countered. He did not reply. Being so reluctant to even confront such a passenger (or people smoking on the platforms) is quite a contrast to the excessive presence of the employees on a train car. 

Three security employees are clustered together in one half of a rail car. Typically none of them would be checking tickets. Imagine being a passenger surrounded by security guards! 

Looking at me leaving the train and then at the three security employees, the man in the foreground asked me if he could enter the train! When I was on the train standing next to the door, the security employee shown on the right walked over and stood in the middle between the doors, blocking the entry-way to the rest of the car. He was too big to be standing in that space, but I suppose he felt that he could do whatever he wanted as he had a badge.

That the security company put as many as six guards at a time in a car (typically not during commuter times, as office workers could be expected to complain) suggests a proclivity toward and enabling blind-spot concerning excessiveness itself. At the very least, the employees don't care whether passengers feel uncomfortable as a result. Sometimes the excessiveness is so obvious on a rail platform that customers may stand at a distance until a train comes.

Four or five security employees were on this platform. 

Twice I witnessed around fourteen police and security employees enter a rail car to check tickets. In both instances, three or four passengers were taken to the platform to be surrounded by the police and security employees as the latter wrote municipal citations! Imagine if so much attention were directed to a motorist pulled over for speeding! In effect, the passengers were being treated as criminals likely to become violent. 
Tellingly, at least one supervisor of bus drivers at a bus-transfer hub in Tempe decided to have his new van's yellow lights flashing continuously, as if the default were to treat the routine as a constant state of emergency just because one might be possible. 

Even during daylight hours, on a Sunday when the hub was virtually empty, a supervisor still felt the need to have his flashers on!

The flashing yellow lights on top of the white van are barely visible, and yet presumably someone thought they were fitting. 

People who are not willing or able to perceive when they have gone too far should not be permitted to wield power over other people. 
The relationship between excessiveness and over-reaching is an interesting one. Perhaps the former connotes being oblivious while the latter stresses the underlying motive. In both of the cases of Orlando and Phoenix, the excessiveness in the over-reaching itself was of such an extent as to be utterly transparent to the naked eye. It is perhaps a easily overlooked truism that going beyond authorized authority is itself an over-reach.
Typically when an over-reach or excessiveness is treated as part of the legitimate status-quo, or societal default, the culprits eventually go so far that they come to be viewed as a problem. For example, the decision of Allied Security in Phoenix to have the ticket-checkers/security-guards wear police-color uniforms and even separate silver badges could eventually lead to the company being charged with intentionally impersonating police. 

One of six security employees (not the one who became aggressive concerning picture-taking of half of the car)  watching passengers (rather than checking tickets) on a routine basis rather than because of an incident suspected or in progress on one car of a light-rail train in Phoenix. The obvious police impersonation, with its (intended) implications of additional authority, is no accident. Even though the employee pictured here was not belligerent, she and another employee blocked the conduit between the two sides of the car (and thus were "front and center" for any general picture-shot).

I submit that the impersonation to look like police employees was geared to intimidating customers beyond that which a security guard as such could muster. On account of the low pay, minimal qualifications (a High School diploma), and the bad (hiring) management (as reported by former employees online), it should be no surprise that the attitude toward customers has been more like that of the local police to the citizens than customer service in a company. The allure of power taken can be too much, especially if that elixir is not ideally in a customer-service attitude.
In the Phoenix Public Library, the security employees also wore silver detachable badges, at least as of 2019.  

The security employees are so numerous that a patron could easily sense that the library's management had gone too far. That the security employees intermingle with the police stationed at the library renders the impersonation problem more of problem because patrons could more easily assume that the employees also have police powers. 

The policewoman is at the left-back, next to one of the security employees. 

That the police and security employees are constantly making the rounds passing by patrons who are reading or studying does not render the library a place conducive to studying. 

At the Tempe Public Library, armed security employees with badges stood at the entrance at least by 2019. A volunteer told me that a manager had insisted that the "Welcome" desk be relabeled "Security" just in case patrons miss the point even in seeing two armed guards in front. 

Those security guards, each having a gun and taser, also made rounds through areas where patrons were reading or studying, as the video below testifies. 

At one of the pot dispensaries in Phoenix, a security guard could be seen sitting at a close proximity to the customers on whom he was keeping a direct eye. I doubt it made any difference to him whether they felt uncomfortable with his excessiveness. To him, he may not even have been excessive. 

The security guard is seated on the right, positioned to face the three customers seated against the side wall. Was the guard worried that one of the customers would suddenly explode in reefer madness? Such over-blown assumptions, while ludicrous, have existed in Arizona even as marijuana was legal in some of the other States. 

In the television series, Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith, remarks that power goes to the head of a common person like strong drink. She is referring to the village physician whom the British military put in charge of the military hospital during World War I at the Downton residence. If that could be said from her perspective of a physician, the hiring of (in many cases) inner-city youth to wear badges on trains can be expected to lead to a host of problems.  
The dynamic can be explained by appropriating Nietzsche’s philosophy in which some people are weak internally and so they cannot resist their instinctual urge to dominate even and especially the strong. The weak resent the strong for their self-confidence and surfeit of strength. Whereas the strong do not feel a need to use more power than necessary because they have more than enough strength anyway, the weak will stoop to even cruelty to exact even a bit of pleasure from the exercise of power externally; exerting power internally, as in mastering an intractable urge, requires more strength than the weak have.
If a hiring budget is inadequate to attract a certain maturity- and knowledge-level, then fine-tuning the hiring criteria will not be adequate. Unfortunately, if, as Nietzsche says, the weak cannot but be weak and the strong cannot but be strong, then training too can be expected to have limited usefulness. Organizational, governmental, and even societal accountability may have to be called on to supply the needed check on the power-overreaches. Unfortunately, in such a law-and-order culture as has existed in Arizona at least through the first two decades of the twenty-first century, security guards as well as the local police could be expected to get away with a lot. Even the state's major universities, including ASU and UA, were not immune from over-reaches by security guards given police status (a police department is reports to a city, rather than an organization), and yet students passively took it while the "academic" administrators compromised academic ways to make way for other values such as intimidation (i.e., of students). 

It was not uncommon, at least by 2019, for campus "police" to park their cars on a routine basis on sidewalks used by students to get from class to class. The assumption that they would not be concerned passing such a car belongs in a fantasy movie rather than on at an institution of higher learning (at least in principle). 

It was not uncommon for campus police to "patrol" in one place on an ongoing basis out in front where students walk. The obvious need to stick out carries with it a certain amount of ego and lack of concern for how the young students may be affected emotionally. Few, I submit, would feel that such a presence during a school day is necessary to feel safe. 

In fact, in addition to the campus police, ASU hires student security guards. The result is a sense of constantly being watched on that campus, which obviously must have had cameras too. 
Once while talking to two students representing a cause at a table, I noticed that a student security guard was taking his job too seriously, or was told to do so, by how he was so obviously watching us. I was reminded of the secret police of the Communist states in the last century. 

Notice how needlessly confrontational the security employee's posture is in this picture. 

To the extent that a local culture enables the over-reaches by casting a blind or even permissive eye, as in Arizona, the imposition of checks on authority are especially important. That Florida's authorities, in contrast, came out against the child-cop who tried to criminalize being a child suggests that not every state is as dire in this respect as is Arizona. 

1. A. Willingham, Artemis Moshtaghian, and Amir Vera, “A School Resource Officer Is Fired after Arresting Two 6-year-old Children,” CNN.com, September 23, 2019 (accessed same day).