August 05, 2009

"Come See the Undercover Police!"

A curb sign in a grubby neighborhood says, “Undercover Police Area.” I fail to understand: if you want them to be hidden, why announce they’re here? Is this some politically correct fair-play idea, that you can’t arrest criminals without a warning?

Okay, so the purpose is to stop people from committing crimes in the first place, and then the undercover cops won’t have to reveal themselves and the street will remain safe.

But if that’s the purpose, why not put a uniformed cop on the street? That would have a stronger deterrent effect. However, there’s no such thing as a beat cop anymore; it’s an institution from the dim archaic past; the physical and political structure of the modern city makes it almost inconceivable.

So what you have is a cop who can’t visibly safeguard the community. The message is, “We’re not here to answer your distress calls, to break up your fights or report your stolen bicycles; we’re only here to send you to jail.”

I wonder why poor people and minorities distrust the police.

The only useful reason I can think of for putting up that sign would be if there were no undercover cops present. The sign would have a deterrent effect without involving any use of manpower, and undercover cops could be stationed in places without signs. But that would be laughably easy to see through, and in a month or so the sign would just be a waste of metal.