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Missing persons and the cops

This is about my recent experience with seeking help from the cops. The question it raises is:

What do you do when someone you care about goes missing? Is there an alternative to calling the cops, for those of us only too aware that people in physical or mental distress who need help stand an unreasonably high chance of being shot dead by those who are supposedly sworn to "protect and serve"?
The other day, I had a very uncomfortable dilemma. I admit I probably handled it badly. I'd love to hear advice from others about alternatives I could have pursued.

The problem was, my father went missing for several days. He is getting along in years, has some mild dementia, and is prone to getting confused and losing his bearings sometimes. He also suffers some vision impairment. I worry that he could get injured or taken advantage of by someone if he's not careful.

Now, I generally know better than to deal with cops, if I can possibly help it, most of the time. Because people who need their help all too often wind up dead at their hands. And, having done a lot of observation and thinking about the matter, I think I have a pretty good inkling about why that is.

American police psychology makes them unable to relate to the community in a healthy way. This psychology, in turn, is promoted by the world of corporate media, the same corporate media that brings us sensationalist fearmongering about "criminals" and "terrorists" and glamorizes the cult of personality around all kinds of authority and status symbols: police, "Rambo," the military, political and business leaders, etc. It is a fascist propaganda system and it induces a fascistic, paranoid psychology, of which police officers partake, not unlike other social groups.

In short, American cops watch too many American cops shows. No big surprise there. And they buy into the same mythologies that are promoted by those shows to the rest of the society. Like the notion that police work is somehow an exceptionally dangerous, high risk occupation. (But as a matter of fact, mythology is precisely the word for this fantasy. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to the US government's own Bureau of Labor Statistics:  http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/12/305421.shtml).

But despite knowing this, I felt very torn. I felt compelled to do _something_, to prove to the world that I'm a conscientious son. I felt that surely I would be expected to file a missing person's report, and if anything happened to him, surely people would quiz me as to why I didn't do so. So admittedly, I panicked just a bit, and then just decided that, politics be damned, it was more important to think about my father. And then it helped to rationalize that, "hey, he's a well-to-do, elderly white man -- what does he have to worry about from cops?" It's horrific that we live in a society where people can still trade on such racial privilege. But it's a fact of life.

So I called them. And I had an interesting experience -- although maybe one that I would sooner have done without.

Two officers came out to take the report from me. And interestingly, it was almost as if they were handpicked by central casting to allay my concerns.

Both were women. The older one was a white lady. The younger one -- a trainee about to enter the academy, as it turned out -- was a demure, pretty young Chicana or mixed race person. So much for all my mental stereotypes of the cops as a gang of macho, triggerhappy white male yahoos.

But what happened next more than confirmed everything I already thought and knew. After giving a brief description of my father, the circumstances of his disappearance, the steps I had taken so far, etc, the senior cop asked me for some "identification." So I gave them both a couple of business cards (they met me at my work, downstairs in the lobby; my business cards are imprinted with my work's business address, office phone number, and email). "No," the officer said, "I need ID; just routine, to make sure you are who you say you are."

Since I had already decided to seek their help, I was in no frame of mind to make an issue of it. But the absurdity of it still struck me. Who else on earth is really so suspicious that they would refuse to take a business card from someone, while standing right there outside their place of business, but would demand "official ID"?? And what is really the probability of anyone ever involving the cops in such an elaborate ruse as to print fake business cards and distribute them to the cops in front of the real address listed on them?? (I had called them originally from the same number on the cards, of course. And they, with their cop resources, like reverse phone directories, can readily verify such things.)

So I showed her my driver's license ("no, can you take it completely out of your wallet, please?", not an easy feat with my wallet in particular).

Next, the senior officer said we should start out first by going to my father's residence. Maybe he wandered back home just as we were speaking. Or maybe we could find clues there as to his whereabouts. I agreed that that made sense.

"Why don't you ride with us? You can show us exactly where it is. That's probably fastest." I agreed.

But next, she said, "Now, I don't want to shock you, but do you mind if I ask if I can pat you down for weapons? We have to do this. Those are the rules, you see, for anyone who rides with us. And we can't treat anyone special. I'm sure you understand."

Now just imagine the scene: here I am, right outside the lobby of my workplace, around lunchtime, with my coworkers upstairs but potentially striding by at any moment to see me being patted down and escorted into a squad car! Not really the kind of image of yourself you want to leave people with at work. "Don't worry, we'll explain the situation if anyone you know happens by." Gee, thanks officer!

But having already slid down the slippery slope this far, I bit my lip, and continued to go along with the shenanigans. On the way over, the senior officer made polite small talk with me in the car -- to break through the awkwardness of escorting a passenger in her glass-and-steel-bars cage of a rear seat. An unupholstered, quite uncomfortable hard plastic seat. A tiny detail that probably never occurs to anyone and that you would never think of if you've never been stuffed forcefully into such a place before with your hands cuffed behind your back. (No, at least she didn't insist on putting the handcuffs on me! Thank goodness for small mercies, and count your blessings!)

As it turned out, it was just as the officer had suggested: In the time while we had spoken, my father had slipped back into his apartment, after going missing without a trace for three days. Turns out he'd decided to hop on a plane to the East Coast, to indulge some sudden nostalgic impulse that had seized him. Without telling anyone, or even pausing long enough to pay the rent on his apartment, which was late. In fact, he was in such a rush, he even left his front door unlocked -- quite unlike him usually, because he's exceptionally paranoid about theft. All of which had contributed to my worry and finally led me to call the cops.

At the time, while calling them, it occurred to me that there were a lot of other things I perhaps could have or should have done first. I could have checked in with all the local hotels -- sometimes, he has wandered off to stay at a local hotel for a day or two by way of simulating a "mini vacation." I could have left little flyers up in the neighborhood. Etc. But in retrospect, it appears none of these would have helped track him down at all, in this particular case. So I'm still left with the dilemma, because part of why I thought it prudent to call the cops in the first place is that they have access to information for tracking the whereabouts of private citizens that the rest of us don't. An ironic benefit provided by the police state.

Of course, it's not as if they are really that liberal in dispensing such "benefits," dontcha know. Certainly not enough to help worried relatives track down their loved ones, in most cases. Not unless you have concrete reasons to suspect foul play. Privacy rights and all. (Not privacy for private citizens from THEM, the cops, of course, just privacy from your relatives or others who care about you. I'm sure it's probably the letter of the law, or official policies, or what-not, and all very well intentioned, perhaps. But this is the very ironic upshot of it.) The senior cop even warned me soon before going to the apartment that they probably wouldn't be able to do much more for me.

To be clear, I don't fault the cops who showed up for any of this. They acted earnest and concerned and, aside from the weird, fascistic ticks I've described, which they attributed to "policy" -- and which I'm prepared to believe -- they acted impeccably courteous.

So why on earth did I even bother calling them in the first place? Just social pressure? Was there really any practical benefit at all? And if not, what should I have done instead?
Huh? 07.Jan.2006 12:05

me

Sounds like they went out of their way to be helpful, even giving you a ride to your father's home to check on him.

Did it occur to you that since one of the officers was a trainee, that the other officer was doing every thing exactly by the book as a teaching tool?

Maybe the pat down was a way of demonstrating to the new officer how to tactfully explain that "You know, I really don't feel comfortable having someone ride behind me in my patrol car if I don't know for a confirmed fact that they do not have a weapon."

So they were helpful, courteous and conmcerned. Sounds like they were fascist robots. Perhaps instead of writing to Indy about them, you could have sent a note to their supervisor complimenting them for their compassion. Maybe a few positive contacts like that and they wouldn't develop that "us versus them" mentality. Did you think that maybe that attitude develops after they see that being courteous, helpful and caring still gets them complained about?

did you notice? 07.Jan.2006 13:40

Theodore

Did you notice that I made a point of complimenting them personally here, and explicitly stated "I don't fault the cops who showed up for any of this"?

I don't think you really read the article, or "got" the point I made about the institutional psychology of police. Otherwise it would be obvious to you that no amount of "kind words" about individual cops is going to change the underlying problems I spelled out.

Pat Down 07.Jan.2006 14:59

been there

The Pat Down has been a policy for most departments for years. It was put in place after an Oregon State Trooper was nice enough to give the passenger of a DUII arrestee out of the area where the arrest took place. That Officer was shot in the back of the head with a .357 Magnum by that passenger he was being nice to. As far as seeing your identification, by state law you would have had to sign the missing report to get in in the computer for other police to be aware of the missing status of your father. They needed to confirm your identity before letting you sign a legal document.

Don't know the answer... 07.Jan.2006 15:28

anon

I sympathize with your dilemma. If something had happened to your dad, it would seem to me that it'd be better to have reported it. But as you've seen, there really isn't much they would have done unless there were signs of foul play. In my opinion, they should have told you that before putting you through all the other BS (pat down, etc.) which, though it may be procedure, isn't what a concerned citizen should have to be put through when seeking help.

I understand your point exactly, Theodore, having been through the same type of thing many times. I'm sorry to say that any time I have had to deal with cops - whether I was on the right side of the law or not - I've been treated like a criminal. That devisive attitude - that us (cops) against them (the public) mentality poisons relations and, I believe, negatively influences their actions.

Imagine the physical and emotional strain of being constantly on guard, always afraid, perpetually suspicious. Add to that, the hype from the media: crazy meth heads with superhuman strength, shows like COPS, etc. Mix in a little class or race warfare - no one who's poor or has dark skin or a prior record is worthy of consideration or respect. Shake well with the macho "brotherhood" mentality and disillusionment with the system - the ends justifies the means. And it's no wonder they make horrible decisions.

I'm not excusing them, please understand. But their actions have been condoned by the media, the government and much of the public for too long. I'm thankful for a forum like IndyMedia that keeps these problems in the forefront and for folks like you that write in about their experiences. Don't let posters like the one above deter you. This is important. Knowledge is power.

statistics and rationality vs "policy" 07.Jan.2006 16:04

Theodore

You can cite all the anecdotal cases in the world. It all gets back to statistics. And the statistics don't lend support to the policy. (Once again, see  http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/12/305421.shtml)

Ordinary people who give hitchhikers rides don't typically pat their passengers down first, even knowing that there have been many instances when hitchhikers have assaulted the drivers who did them a favor.

If you think cops need to behave differently than "ordinary people," then your belief should be supported by something more tangible than one anecdotal account. If you are just explaining to me the policy and its origins, then we should both be able to agree that if the policy really is based on nothing more than the anecdotal event you describe, the policy is neither rational nor prudent. You might think it's prudent if you value "safety" above all else. However, even then, accepting such a premise, you'd still be wrong.

The price of enforcing a society of extreme paranoia, particularly among the police, for the sake of promoting "safety," is to paradoxically create a MORE UNSAFE society as a whole. The biggest factor in promoting safety is promoting trust. When you erode that bedrock "social capital," as some Libertarians call it, no amount of weapons, training, or policies and procedures will buy it back again.

Fortunately, most ordinary people in the real world don't have to rely on elaborate policies and procedures to keep themselves "safe." They know intuitively that they can use their discretion on a case-by-case basis. For example, an ordinary person using common sense could evaluate the relative danger posed by someone who calls from a place of business, relates a missing person account, and gives them a business card with the same physical location on it. An ordinary person will probably conclude that the odds of someone constructing such an elaborate ruse for the purpose of doing something untoward is very slim, and therefore there is no need for special precautions in this instance for dealing with this person.

As I made clear, their is a price paid for taking an irrationally obsessive policy approach to safety, and codifying it in procedures that leave no discretion to individuals. For example, few people want to be seen in front of their coworkers being patted down and escorted into a squad car. The whole business is sufficiently distasteful that next time, I would be inclined to hold off calling the cops and figure out a different approach. That's unfortunate, because while I'm paying for their "services," those services are rendered less useful and desirable because of irrational and obsessive policies supposedly designed for safety. But meanwhile, if those services really could be of value -- if, for example, unbeknownst to me, my father really were in some danger and approaching the cops sooner rather than later could mitigate that danger, then "safety" has not been served by these policies, but disserved.

BTW: As far as the ID goes, the officer explicitly stated that she would not take a formal report from me at that time. So demanding ID from me had nothing to do with anything germane to the particulars of the case. It was clearly just another formal, automatic procedure. And again, a procedure that would be bizarre if any ordinary person were to engage in such behavior. Also, an offputting procedure that does not inspire confidence in the one requesting help. If the moment had arrived to file a formal report, and there were a formal policy requiring showing picture ID in order to proceed, that would be an entirely different matter. But to reject someone offering you a business card and simply mechanically demand that someone present official papers before you will have any further interactions with them is not a very intelligent approach, if the goal is to win confidence and mutual trust between people.

You Never Know 08.Jan.2006 07:41

Vic

Involving the police is a risky move. Last May my band was playing at Dr Johns in Oregon City. Towards the end of the night someone took our brand new digital camera from our table. I asked that the bar owners call the OC police so I could file a report.....bad move. They got there and called me outside to take the report. I am 6-5" with a shaved head but was polite and courteous...in my mind , they were there to take my report. Once we got outside , three of the officers got me in a corner and were right in my face...I finally got mad and told them "Look , I am the guy who called you! I am not the bad guy here! Back off !" Well , I ended up getting knocked down to the concrete and hauled away ...people who were there watching said they were gunning for me from the start.Must have been a slow night. I will always think twice before calling the cops. Most of the people I know are more afraid of the police than they are "criminals" I have friends who live in the Gaza Strip and there are more shootings in Portland / Clackamas County than there are in the Gaza Strip !

Fascists that stick to routine, or fascists that improvise? 08.Jan.2006 17:03

confused

"As I made clear, their is a price paid for taking an irrationally obsessive policy approach to safety, and codifying it in procedures that leave no discretion to individuals."

Okay, so you want the police to have the discretion to choose who they pat down before putting them inside a car. Do you really trust the police to properly decide who they will pat down? Do you really think they will rationally apply this discretion, or just pick and choose who seems to be the most "criminal"? You start down the slippery slope of profiling with arguments about discretion in how rules are applied.

"American police psychology makes them unable to relate to the community in a healthy way. This psychology, in turn, is promoted by the world of corporate media, the same corporate media that brings us sensationalist fearmongering about "criminals" and "terrorists" and glamorizes the cult of personality around all kinds of authority and status symbols: police, "Rambo," the military, political and business leaders, etc. It is a fascist propaganda system and it induces a fascistic, paranoid psychology, of which police officers partake, not unlike other social groups."

You claim they are fascistic and paranoid, but want them to have discretion? I'd rather they just pat everybody down that gets into the police car. If you don't want a pat down, don't accept a ride.

"Discretion" not = "License" 08.Jan.2006 19:30

Theodore

I think you have a basic misunderstanding here: Giving cops "discretion" in the context I'm using the word is not the same thing as giving them "license." "Discretion" in this context means they are not required to impose irrational, repressive procedures. But "discretion" by no means implies that they have any greater LICENSE to impose such repressive procedures. As a matter of fact, it works THE OTHER WAY AROUND. If they don't impose a certain repressive procedure on people ORDINARILY, then it actually makes it easier for civil libertarians to argue the case against them when they do so arbitrarily against a certain group of people. "WHY DID YOU DO THIS AGAINST PERSONS X, Y, AND Z, WHEN YOU DON'T USUALLY DO THIS AGAINST PERSONS A, B and C??" The cops are then forced to articulate a rational basis for their actions. They can't just say it was "standard operating procedure." Get it?

I can see your point in a way, although there are still other problems with your logic: you assume that by forcing the cops to impose the same baseline of fascistic procedures on everyone, that the result will be to reduce the discretion they have to apply even more fascistic procedures against those they especially despise. But that's not really the way it works. Instead, everyone WILL get heavy handed treatment, but SOME will STILL get it EVEN HEAVIER. This is in fact the result we see.

Perhaps you will argue that this might somehow radicalize more middle class people. In a few instances it probably has. However, it's not really clear to me that this effect isn't outweighed by the ability of people to learn to adapt and accept ever more outrageous authoritarian abuses as the new norm, provided they get phased in gradually enough.

The truth is, once you apply the logic and psychology of fascism to a society, you can't do it in a way that's "fair." Fascism is never about fairness. Fascism is about unchecked and unaccountable authority. Normalizing arbitrary procedures and decrees and saying "Don't worry: we apply these uniformly! Everyone will be subjected to the same arbitrary, extreme invasions!" doesn't work.

Imagine if we applied your argument to the judiciary: "Judges are a bunch of elite pigs. Let's not give them any discretion in sentencing." Voila, Measure 11! Ask Rob Los Ricos Thaxton what he thinks of your logic.

discretion 09.Jan.2006 11:45

alive today

when I was pre legal(a teen) my dad reported me for stealing his car. The trooper who came to the house said we wouldnt call it in because the cops that located me would probably chase me down and kill me.
Thats what i call discretion.