Via boing-boing comes this amazing story of campus cops gone wild at the University of Florida. (Note that since UF is a public university, the cops are subject to the same constitutional constraints as other cops.):
Phil Sandifer, a grad student in English at Gainesville’s University of Florida … was harassed by campus cops for publishing fiction on his LiveJournal. The cops — acting on a tip that appears to have originated from people displeased with Sandifer’s Wikipedia editing style — argued that because Sandifer’s story depicted a murder, he should be fingerprinted and have his DNA taken in order to ensure that he wasn’t responsible for any unsolved murders.
As I investigated this story, the campus cops stonewalled me, but used the fact that I was leaving messages for them to attempt to frighten Sandifer into allowing them to fingerprint and DNA-sample him, saying that a journalist was on the story and he’d better exonerate himself before the story broke. They went to Sandifer’s (righteously angry and uncooperative) faculty advisors and, in front of them, leaned on Sandifer for his biometrics and threatened to retrieve his DNA from his garbage if he wouldn’t concede to a DNA swab.
Mitchell J Silverman, an attorney in Hollywood, Florida, used the state’s sunshine laws to get hold of the police reports on the event.
The report is remarkable for what it doesn’t say: it is an apparent fabrication that contradicts the eyewitness reports of everyone I spoke to involved in this story.
Dispiriting though it is, all I can muster about this story is a gigantic shrug. Police departments across the country contain bad actors like this, University departments hardly exempt.
When I was at Cal, scuttlebutt was that young women did not call the University Police if they thought there was a problem, but always and ever the City of Berkeley Police only. Sexual harrassment of students was hardly the UC cops’ only misdeed, just its worst. When I lived in lovely West Oakland (of subsequent Riders infamy), I did not look on the cops as allies. I got pulled over a couple blocks from home once, since I drove a rickety Volvo 544 (which really was unsafe, truth be told). I am quite convinced I was let off only because I was a) sober and b) white. That I had done nothing wrong did not enter the equation, nor did the car’s poor brake function.
You want to believe law enforcement by and large does its best, and by and large it does. However, the more vulnerable and powerless the population (the indigent, nonwhites, ‘kids’), the less check on their behavior, and the worse the result when you have bad cops and poor management.
Kudos, while I bitch, to the Berkeley PD, who always struck me as pretty well-run.