Is Our Police Learning: The Jump Out Squad Edition

I’ve been trying to write something about policing, but it hasn’t been coming together. While doing so, however, I came across this article about D.C.’s jump out squads. What’s a jump out squad?

The squads operate in a lot of American cities. They’re often welcomed by residents who’ve been under siege in a high-crime neighborhood, and are celebrated by police chiefs and mayors eager to improve crime numbers, and look swift and decisive.

They stop. Frisk. Take guns. And people want the guns gone. So despite the harm they can cause, the aggressive units often stay. But over the weekend, America saw what can go wrong when the laserlike focus of aggressive policing is set on a neighborhood.

In Memphis, it was SCORPION, or the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. And the nation gasped in horror after police released a video of the traffic stop by the SCORPION unit that ended in 29-year-old Tyre Nichols’s death and showcased crime suppression squad policing at its most lethal. It has since been shut down.

In D.C., one of these tactical units deployed to a high crime area in 2017 was called Powershift, and they had wicked T-shirts made with a stylized cross and the phrase Morgan and his friends have heard so many times: “Let me see that waistband.” It also had the letters “Jo” to stand for “jump out.”

Let’s say for the sake of argument that these are effective (given D.C.’s homicide rate, one wonders however…). This is the part that doesn’t make any sense:

“They all pull up their shirts,” said Ryan Morgan. “They know they want to see their waistbands.”

Morgan is 31 and has spent nearly half his life being stopped and searched by specialized police units rolling through his Southwest D.C. neighborhood….

Morgan said he’s been stopped about 50 times.

“I’ll never forget the first time, when I was 16. I was just walking out of my house and they jumped out the car and pulled me, pushed me up to my gate, started going through all my pockets,” Morgan said. “I yelled: ‘Dad, help! Dad, help me!’”

Police found nothing on him then, or ever, he said.

But Morgan, who owns his own production company and studied film in college, began filming the encounters. He now has a YouTube channel of jump outs, including his most recent one, when police ran a drug dog through his car after they pulled up to him. He was just waiting for someone, watching videos on his phone.

“It was a nice car, a 2017,” he said. “They said my windows were too dark. And they ran that dog through it, he scratched it all up.”

There was no arrest, no ticket for a tinted window. He just looked “suspicious” they told him.

“This is in my neighborhood,” he said. “In front of my family’s home.”

To put this in perspective, Morgan has been stopped, on average, three times per year in the same neighborhood (including in front of his home). After six or seven years and twenty or so stops without any violations (just rattle that around in your head for a while), wouldn’t good policing and appropriate allocation of resources suggest that you leave him alone. One could understand a few stops because it might not be the same police officers. But at some point, he has to be known to officers–he has been stopped fifty times!–and they still stop him anyway.

I don’t think jump outs are good policy on the whole, but, even if you do, how is this the right way to do them? At what point, does one conclude that confronting the same innocent person dozens of times is not an effective crime fighting strategy, even if you do agree with the assumptions of the approach?

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2 Responses to Is Our Police Learning: The Jump Out Squad Edition

  1. Dan Lynch says:

    Violent crime correlates to economic inequality, but TPTB don’t want to talk about economic inequality.

  2. John says:

    Let’s call it for what it is: a mugging.

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