Bracco the Knock-O for Sheriff

by Emma Pulaski

For the first time in many years Sheriff Harder find himself in a legitimate race. Not that anyone thinks Chris Bracco will actually be elected Sheriff this time around. Bracco will walk away from this race, however, a winner no matter the election results: with an aging Harder, Bracco has gained enough name recognition, shaken enough wealthy hands, and ran a boring enough campaign that will be part of Sheriff’s races for years to come. Bracco, about half Harder’s age, has time on his side. While many in the community are at odds with Harder on jail expansion, the deployment of military grade equipment in our streets, and overly aggressive policing tactics, we should ask if Bracco will be any better. The position taken here is that Bracco is no better and no worse than Harder. Harder and Bracco differ in their view of “modern policing tactics,” but modern should in no way be equated with “progressive” or “more socially just.”

Between a Rock and a Harder Place                                                                                                                                                                                           Bracco is splitting with Harder on a number of fronts, but effectively he is calling for a deeper penetration of police and policing in our daily lives, poor persons in particular. Bracco wants to expand a program currently being used by the Binghamton City Police that encourages aggressive policing reminiscent of New York City’s illegal and racist Stop and Frisk policy (this is not just my opinion, but the paraphrase of a decision handed down by federal judge.) Bracco wants to create a county wide “Community Response Team” (CRT) which he equates with “community policing.” CRTs are small teams of officers that patrol a given swath of the city labeled “high crime.” They do not “walk the beat” but sit in their cars and wait to pull over unsuspecting individuals that don’t “look right.” Have you ever been pulled over in a poor neighborhood by two police officers (each with their own car) asking you all manner of questions that have nothing to do with traffic law? (“Where are you going?” “Where did you come from?” “Where do you work?” “What are you doing around here?” “Where do you live?” “Who is in the car with you?”) Then you’ve probably encountered a CRT.

CRTs are designed to produce high crime areas. CRTs are supposed to patrol the most high crime areas in the city. They are about

arresting as many people as possible for the smallest infraction of the law, following the famous (and completely discredited) “broken windows theory.” By arresting and searching lots and lots of people police are more likely to “find crime,” more likely to find something suspicious or illegal, like a small amount of marijuana. Once they create low level crime, then the police can extort, through the threat of incarceration and/or a lifetime of joblessness (you try to find a job with a felony record), these newly created “criminals” to tell them about more crime, hopefully a crime bigger than a dime bag. Thus, CRT units patrol high crime areas, but the “high crime area” label is produced through intensive policing. CRT units make places high crime.

This type of policing, however, does not work in areas where the residents have any financial or political resources. (Can you imagine a white homeowner being arrested on the Westside of Binghamton for drinking a beer while walking his dog around the neighborhood?) It is well documented that crime cuts across race and class lines. But it is far easier for police to “make crime” in places where they are likely to encounter limited legal and political resistance. That is not to say that poor people do not object to their inhumane and potentially illegal treatment at the hands of the police, but that poor people have less access to the financial and political resources to resist aggressive police tactics. Poor persons can complain, but who is going to listen beside an overworked public defender?

CRT units are one form of “proactive” policing, meaning that cops have to “find” the crime, rather than find out who did the crime. This is the type of policing that “justified” the death of Eric Garner in New York City for selling loose cigarettes (a tax violation) and Michael Brown in Ferguson Mo. for jaywalking (a low level ticket). Incidentally, Bracco ran the CRT units in Binghamton for a long time. At one point his tactics were considered so brutal and abusive to the communities he supervised that local persons ran a police brutality campaign against him! This is a man who made his career using very aggressive policing tactics and arresting people for petty crimes, very often dismissed. Once again we are stuck with a decision without a choice.

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