This is taken from California e-mail "Community Policing" question-and-answer forum.
The question was: I would like to know how it is possible for police officers to harass people and get away with it? And where can you go for help other than a civil attorney.
And the reply was:
It is not easy. In California we average one cop for every 2000 people. About 60% of those cops are on patrol, where we do most of the harassing. One fifth of that 60% are on duty at any moment and available for harassing people.
So, one on duty cop is responsible to harass about 10,000 residents. When you toss in the commercial, business, and tourist locations that attract people from other areas, sometimes you have a situation where a single cop is responsible to harass 20,000 or more people a day.
A ten hour shift runs 36,000 seconds. This gives a cop one second to harass a person, and three fourths of a second to eat a donut AND find a new person to harass. This is not an easy task. Most cops are not up to it day in and day out. It is just too tiring. What we do is utilize some tools to help us narrow down who we harass.
They are as follows:
Phone: People will call us up and point out things that cause us to focus on a person for special harassment. "My neighbor is beating his wife" is a code phrase we use. Then we come out and give special harassment. Another popular one on weeknights is "The kids next door are having a party."
Cars: We have special cops assigned to harass people who drive. They like to harass the drivers of fast cars, cars blasting music, cars with expired registration tabs, and the like. It is lots of fun when you pick them out of traffic for nothing more obvious then running a red light. Sometimes you get to really heap the harassment on when you find they have drugs in the car, are drunk, or have a warrant.
Runners: Some people take off running just at the sight of a police officer. Nothing is quite as satisfying as running after them like a beagle on the scent of a bunny. When you catch them you can harass them for hours.
Codes: When you can think of nothing else to do, there are books that offer ideas for reasons to harass folks. They are called Codes. The Penal Code, Vehicle Code, Health and Safety Code, Business and Professions. . . They all spell out all sorts of things for which you can really mess with people.
After you read the code, you can just drive around for a while until you find someone violating one of these listed offenses and harass them. Just last week I saw a guy smash a car window. Well, the code says that is not allowed. That meant I got to harass this guy. It is a pretty cool system that we have set up, and it works pretty well. I seem to have a never-ending supply of folks to harass. And we get away with it because the good citizens who pay the tab like that we keep the streets safe for them. Next time you are in my town, give me a single finger wave. That is a signal that you wish me to take a little closer look at you, and maybe find a reason to harass you.
Looking forward to meeting you.