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April 30, 2011

FOP Extortion and the Profitable Violence of Public Intoxication

Extortion, outwresting, and/or exaction is a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either {money, property or services} from {a person(s), entity, or institution} through coercion.

Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense.

Making a threat which refers to a requirement of money or property to halt future problems is sufficient to commit the offense. Exaction refers to extortion but also means the infliction of something (pain, suffering, enduring something unpleasant).

Neither extortion nor blackmail require a threat of violence but merely a threat used to elicit actions, money, or property from the victim. Such threats could include the filing of reports, revelation of damaging facts, etc.

The PG headline reads, "City sergeant sues owner of Station Square over bar brawl". The writing is great but the headline may be inadequate. Here's the article:
A Pittsburgh police sergeant Friday sued a Beaver County man and the owner of Station Square over an injury the officer said he suffered there in 2009 while trying to break up a bar fight.

Sgt. Craig Campbell, head of the vice unit and a veteran of the city's elite Street Response Unit, was in uniform and working a secondary employment security detail at the Saddle Ridge bar on May 3, 2009, when a fight broke out in front of the nearby Matrix Bar at about 2 a.m.

When Sgt. Campbell responded to help other officers break up the fight, he said one of the combatants, Brian Richard Grimes, 27, of Beaver, kicked him in the knee from behind. Police arrested Mr. Grimes and hauled him to jail.

Sgt. Campbell said he suffered a torn knee ligament and dislocated kneecap that has required surgery and extensive physical therapy. In the complaint, filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, Sgt. Campbell accused Mr. Grimes of assault and battery and Forest City Enterprises of negligence.

[Sgt. Campbell] said Forest City, owner of Station Square, was partially liable because the company didn't hire enough security personnel to handle brawls on busy nights, putting him at risk.
According to the complaint, Forest City failed to provide adequate security despite knowledge of "heightened frequency of fights" on weekends.

Mr. Grimes was charged after the bar incident with various offenses, including aggravated assault and resisting arrest. His trial last month ended in a mistrial and a new one is coming up in the next several months, said his lawyer, Michael O'Day. . . .
I wonder if there isn't a larger story of the City of Pittsburgh allowing its police force to be hired out as security guards, providing local businesses with bouncers who, at any sign of trouble, magically transform into police officers with arrest powers and the authority to write the official version — police officers whose errors are paid for by the taxpayers and the city's insurance provider, and whose injuries are covered as if on-the-job by the City-FOP union contract.

It's a sort of reverse contracting out; instead of the city hiring private companies to provide government services, the City/FOP rents out fully-equipped, fully insured government employees to provide private services. The payment goes to the mercenaries, the politics benefit the Administration, and the liability/risk go to the taxpayers. The city (ie us) pays for all the training, uniforms, guns, bullets, Tasers, insurance, injuries, and settlements. Sweet!

Let's attempt to describe the events of "the night in question".
  • Police officer works part-time, off the clock, for private business
  • The city and union regulate, approve, and administer the arrangement
  • He's working as an independent contractor, wearing a Pittsburgh police uniform, carrying a Pittsburgh gun and a Pittsburgh radio
  • at a business down the street, some other contractors get in trouble
  • How did he know about the trouble? Pittsburgh police radio
  • He leaves his workplace to help other contractors at another site. Amazingly, in an instant they all transmogrified from private contractors into members of the FOP Pittsburgh Thin Blue Line Club.
  • He gets injured in the fight he ran over to join, and he sues the deep-pockets owner of Station Square who will in turn pass the cost along to the bar owners
  • He sues the owner of Station Square for - wait for it, wait for it - not hiring enough FOP members.
  • They arrest the kid, who is Not From Here and unlikely to have any pull. There has been no conviction (which kinda sorta means the kid is innocent).

Next time, those Station Square bars should hire more FOP members. Just saying. That's extortion. That's a shake-down, nothing more than third-world corruption. You want to run a bar? You better hire enough FOP members.

The beauty is, the FOP doesn't need to lean on the penny-ante bars directly. They just withdraw their services or file suits against the landlords, the button-down money, and then the landlords tell the bar owners to shape up and play ball. I wonder if the insurance coverage has something to do with it - if the policy says there will be off-duty cops and the FOP says No, then the business won't be making any money that night.

The PG headline might have read---

FOP Militia Leaders Extort Real Estate Company

By the way, who is responsible for the Pittsburgh Police? That would be the Mayor of Pittsburgh. Who investigates the Pittsburgh Police? That would be a panel appointed (and interrupted) by the Mayor. The Mayor (this version's name is irrelevant, it's happened before, it's the Pittsburgh machine) gains by having a tight relationship with an organized political force. The Police Department gains because this lucrative arrangement induces policemen to remain on the city's force and not leave for easier work in the 'burbs.
  • Remember when the Mayor called for (and the FOP implemented) a full-court press on public intoxication and parking violations? Remember when it disappeared as fast as it arrived, in spite of generating more revenue than it cost?
  • Is it possible that the crackdown on parking and public intoxication was actually a squeeze on the bar owners, driving their customers away in a show of force?
  • Remember the St. Patrick's Day brouhaha when the FOP threatened the city that they would withhold their efforts from their secondary assignments over a respect issue? Think about that - they threatened the city that they would stop working for private businesses? Fortunately, enough respect was paid and they were able to continue protecting the public. Glad we got past that.
  • Is it possible that the Brinksmanship Brouhaha was actually a squeeze on the bar owners, who would have lost a key business day without police "protection"?
  • Blog Staff apologizes for starting two related sentences with the word "remember", but it does allow us to sneak this in: The struggle of men against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. (Milan Kundera)
  • Do you either of those bits of kabuki theater were anything other than a dance between the Mayor, the FOP, and the bar owners?
  • Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Connect the dots and you'll see that the City, the FOP, and the bar owners are all complicit in optimizing the profitable violence of public intoxication.

Pittsburgh cops are shaking down businesses.
Pittsburgh cops are beating up honor students.
There needs to be a big change.

Extra Credit Journalism Questions

There are Pulitzer-worthy stories here! Interesting extra-credit questions:
  • How much (city) paid time off did the Sgt. get for the injury on his (private) job, which "required surgery and extensive physical therapy"?
  • How much (city) paid time off (total, citywide) did police officers get in the last year for injuries from their private jobs?
  • How much money has the City paid this year in awards, settlements, and lawyer fees over police officer's outside jobs?


Bram Reichbaum said...

A couple board meetings ago, the Director of the review board pointed out that these secondary employment arrangements are not recommended as a part of "best practices". Who has settled these best practices, I cannot recall. She did emphasize that although it's not recommended in best practices, it's not necessarily intolerable that Pittsburgh continues to do so, as long as. She floated some kind of formal inquiry that I think was not taken up by the board.

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