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A Tale of Two Suspects

| February 21, 2019

An alleged hate crime involving an attack on Jussie Smollett quickly spiraled into charges against the complainant himself as Chicago Police uncovered evidence that his story was untrue.  Filing a false police report is a felony in Illinois, and the Cook County State’s Attorney approved the felony charge against Smollett. 

The basis of charges for Smollett resemble another high profile suspect in recent memory: Roger Stone. Both suspects’ were charged for crimes that amount to lying.  Both were high-profile personalities, one in the realm of politics and the other in entertainment.  Both were in the news for weeks leading up to the charges and both knew charges were likely imminent.  For one suspect, a team of special agents dressed in military-style battle gear swarmed his home and banged on the door before dawn in anticipation of a raid, only avoided by a cooperative suspect managing to get out of bed and answer the door for them in time to avoid the inevitable door-smashing that would have followed.  For the other suspect, the police announce that they are talking with the suspect’s attorney to “negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest.”  What differentiated the two non-violent suspects and the corresponding reaction by law enforcement?

The suspects and their situations were remarkably similar, but law enforcement’s response to the suspects was not.  The real difference was not with the suspects, but rather with the law enforcement agencies.  The FBI conducted the pre-dawn raid on Roger Stone’s house, while the Chicago Police Department announced the desire to negotiate a reasonable surrender for Jussie Smollett.

There is a difference between policing and law enforcement, even while policing includes law enforcement.  Our police do a lot more than just enforce the laws.  They are a part of our communities, they provide service that improves the quality of life for residents, prevents crimes before they occur, and involve themselves in the culture of the communities they protect. They work the same beats in the same cities, sometimes for their entire career.  They know the people and the people know them.  The elected officials in the communities select the Chief of Police, giving the community a mechanism to hold their government and their police department accountable, ensuring the police are a reflection of the community.

The FBI does not do policing, they simply enforce the laws.  Agents often move to various cities, or even other countries, throughout the course of their careers, they cannot claim ties to any particular community.  As a result, they are not easily held accountable for poor discretion, which is what a pre-dawn raid on a compliant suspect for a non-violent offense is.  The FBI are not the police, but they sure could learn some lessons from them.

No one would accuse the Chicago Police Department or its 12,000 officers of being soft.  They have a full-time SWAT team that could mount a spectacle that would make the FBI raid look like child’s play.  Yet, they chose to try to negotiate a reasonable surrender because this suspect did not warrant that kind of response.  Maybe it is this difference that matters most: the police are connected to the people they serve, but an FBI agent is so far removed from the community that they are also removed from recognizing the difference between reasonable and unreasonable enforcement tactics.

*Spoiler alert: It worked exactly as expected.

Photo: Screenshot (ABC News)/(FOX 29 – Philadelphia)

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Randy Petersen spent 21 years as a police officer working in the patrol, investigations, training, and administrative divisions.  He retired as a patrol watch commander in 2014 and became the director of a police academy here in Texas.  He is currently the Senior Researcher for the policing initiative at Texas Public Policy Foundation.

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