Monday, April 13, 2015

Apparently, the Fantasy Cop Package Doesn't Include "Qualified Immunity"





Note: This essay has been updated to reflect the criminal charge against Robert Bates.

Some wealthy men of a certain age pay an extravagant fee to attend fantasy camps where they can pretend to be Major League Baseball players, or engage in brief jam sessions with patient and well-compensated classic rock performers. Others take part in “canned hunts” in which the prey are penned in and sometimes specially bred to be helpless.

Tulsa insurance executive Robert Bates bought the full Fantasy Cop package – but it was Eric Harris who paid the premium when Bates fatally shot him following an undercover “sting” operation on April 9. He now faces a second-degree manslaughter charge.


Since 2008, Bates, who spent a single inglorious year as a police officer more than five decades ago, has been enrolled as a “reserve deputy” with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. During the altercation on April 9, Bates apparently mistook his handgun for a Taser. 

Unlike the “real” peace officers on the scene, Bates’ first impulse was to apologize as his victim’s life ebbed away. That apology was probably directed not at the victim, but at the reserve deputy’s steroid-enhanced and tattooed comrades – one of whom was kneeling on the back of the victim’s head. They probably didn’t notice, given that they were too busy taunting the dying man.

“You f***g ran! … F**k your breath!” snarled one of the privileged simians in the Tulsa Violent Crimes Task Force. He might not have been aware that Harris had endured a fatal gunshot wound. In any case, he almost certainly didn’t care. It is entirely illegal for police to kill fleeing, unarmed suspect because he ran. It is also quite commonplace. This helps explain why it was that in the month of March – by one calculation – American police shot a greater number of suspects than British police did during the entire 20th Century. 

"Deputy" Bates and his victim.
If one of the full-time deputies had fired the fatal shot, the assailant would enjoy “qualified immunity” relieving him of civil liability and protecting him from criminal prosecution. Apparently, “qualified immunity” doesn't come with the Fantasy Cop Package that Bates purchased through his donations. Major Shannon Clark of the TCSO told the Tulsa World that “There are lots of wealthy people in the reserve program. Many of them make donations of items. That’s not unusual at all.”

In the seven years since he became a reserve deputy, Bates has donated firearms, stun guns, and several vehicles to the department. Without disclosing details of his training and qualifications, the TCSO lists Bates as an “advanced reserve,” in which position he was entitled to “do anything a full-time deputy can do” – except, apparently, the ability to absolve himself of legal accountability by invoking “qualified immunity.”

The selling point for the TCSO’s donor program is status, not service. This reflects the fact that, as I’ve noted before, law enforcement defines its role in terms of what police can do to people, rather than what they are required to do on their behalf.   

This sense of being elevated above the common herd offers a compelling appeal to the libido dominandi, and that allure explains why wealthy people and celebrities – such as Shaquille O’Neal, Steven Segal, and Ted Nugent – become dilettante cops. Both O’Neal and Segal participated in botched SWAT raids, which apparently is one of the perks of a celebrity buy-in. 

Furthermore, in some jurisdictions that exalted status is literally given away.


“Many assume police officers are rigorously trained before being allowed to patrol the streets,” observes the Shreveport Times. “But drive through rural Louisiana and it’s possible to be stopped by a law enforcement officer who’s never experienced a day of police academy and instruction on use of force, stressful scenarios and physical fitness that comes with it. Sometimes, an eight-hour firearms training and on-the-job guidance is all an officer gets before starting work as a salaried, gun-toting, arrest-making officer.”

Louisiana’s state law allows municipal political cliques (sometimes called “city governments”) to hire and deploy armed collection and abduction specialists (otherwise known as  “full-time sworn officers”)  and keep them on the payroll for up to a year before they become certified police officers. Some departments “simply violate the law, sometimes failing to send full-time officers to the academy,” according to Kenny Saunders, who teaches at a state-certified academy.

Motorists in rural Louisiana run an appreciable risk of being detained, harassed, or otherwise abused by a costumed stranger whose official status as a police officer is akin to that of Eric Cartman.

Let it not be thought, however, that this is a problem that can be solved by making certification standards more rigorous. A state-certified purveyor of aggressive force is just as dangerous to innocent people as one whose credentials aren’t in order, assuming that both can take refuge within the spurious doctrine of “qualified immunity.”


There are anywhere from three to five times as many private security officers – such as armed guards, private investigators, and armored car drivers -- in the United States as “sworn law enforcement officers.” A private peace officer who kills or injures an innocent person is not protected by “qualified immunity.” 

While a police officer has no enforceable duty to protect an innocent person from harm, a private security operative who fails to carry out his contractual duty of care might be liable to a civil action, and will certainly be punished in the marketplace.

In Idaho, it is possible to become a private investigator simply by advertising one’s services. If clients are willing to pay you to ask questions, or an established detective agency is interested hiring you to conduct surveillance or file public records requests,  you can call yourself a private investigator – with the understanding that you are fully liable if you are charged with a crime or hit with a lawsuit.

At present, only six cities in Idaho (interestingly, Boise is not one of them) impose a licensing requirement for private investigators. Although there is no state licensing requirement, the Private Investigators Association of Idaho (PIAI) has introduced a “Certified Private Investigator” program intended to establish professional standards in the industry.

The first requirement to become a CPI would be to carry, and maintain, at least $500,000 in errors and omissions or general liability insurance.

“Anybody looking to hire a reputable and reliable investigator should require him to have at least a half-million in liability insurance,” PIAI President Dan Landis told me in a telephone interview. “If someone gets hurt through an act or oversight, or gets arrested for the wrong reason, the investigator needs to be covered.”

Every day, police injure and kill people through bad acts or culpable omissions, and arrest people without legitimate cause – and those responsible generally suffer no personal consequences because of their supposed authority. Police are not required to carry personal liability insurance to cover such contingencies. On those rare occasions when fault is found, the financial consequences are socialized, which means that they are ultimately absorbed by the tax victims within a given political jurisdiction.

Private investigators, like other private peace officers, are not afforded that corrupt luxury. This is why the PIAI’s minimum standards for certification are more demanding that those that must be met for police applicants in many municipalities.

Applicants cannot have a criminal record of any kind. They must be bonded and pass a deep and extensive background check.  Although there is no private investigators’ academy, applicants must have “a minimum of 500 hours (verifiable) experience in the field of `private investigations.’”

Significantly, “Law enforcement, government or military experience does not qualify as `private investigations.’”

“Being ex-law enforcement doesn’t mean a thing,” Landis contends, because a police officer, in the final analysis, is merely an individual with “a gun, a badge, and a suit.”

The totems of government “authority” protect those who carry them from the legal consequences of using aggressive force. They do not confer the acumen, character, or persistence necessary to uncover facts and build a case. 

Once a cop, he became a peace officer: Spenser (r., with Hawk).
Even without formal, albeit non-governmental, certification, private investigators – unlike government-employed enforcers -- cannot succeed without producing results.

When a burglary is committed, the victim doesn’t have the option of choosing the most competent police agency (assuming one exists) to investigate the crime; he or she must be content with the “service” offered by the department claiming a local franchise within the government’s coercion cartel. Because it operates as part of a monopoly, the police department can’t go out of business, and it treats customer dissatisfaction as an “officer safety” issue rather than a reason to improve its job performance.

This helps explain why, in a country where the government confiscates billions of dollars each year in the name of “public safety,” citizens probably spend at least that much more to pay for protection of persons and property, or to investigate crimes against them – services that are supposedly provided through the state’s security monopoly.

If Robert Bates had been interested in protecting persons and property, he would have invested in a private security firm.  He preferred the power, prestige, and privilege that come with being part of the state’s coercive caste. Under the abysmal standards governing that profession, Bates may have considered himself immune to the consequences of committing negligent homicide. 

After all, every law enforcement officer is impersonating a peace officer – so why should Bates be singled out for exemplary punishment? 



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