Back when my grandfather Officer Vic “Whitey” Basinski patrolled the streets of Flint, Michigan between 1921 and 1946, the police did whatever they believed necessary to get information from a suspect.
While never a detective, Whitey did his share of questioning on the streets. Although he wrestled professionally while still a policeman (back when wrestling was real), I doubt if he ever abused anyone—anyone who didn’t deserve it, that is. Grandpa stood five-feet-eight and weighed about 190 pounds. He had no neck, cauliflower ears, and a bent nose, traits acquired over the years. His perpetual smile was with him when he was born.
I suppose suspects were beaten by the police in order to get information. If Grandpa beat anyone it would be a surprise to me. He died in 1992 at age 100 so I can’t ask him. He would probably smile and say, “No, Tommy, I never needed to beat anyone. They wanted to talk to me.” They undoubtedly did too. A variation on the old saying is, “You get more information with a smile and a hammerlock than you do with a smile alone.” If anyone gave Whitey any grief I think he taught them how to walk on their toes, courtesy of the hammerlock. That’s how it was.
In 1963, Arizona police arrested Ernesto Miranda for rape, robbery, and kidnapping. During interrogation, Miranda signed a confession, written by the police. His conviction netted him 20-plus years in prison. The state Supreme Court upheld the appealed verdict, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction in 1966.
It’s a little-known-fact that Miranda was retried without the confession and was convicted again on the other evidence and sentenced again to 20 years. He was paroled in 1972 and fatally stabbed in 1976.
Miranda’s case caused the police to revamp how they did business. That is, they had to advise a suspect of his right to silence, his right to an attorney, and warn him that any statements he made would be used against him in court.
These restrictions angered the police. When I first pinned on a badge in 1969, the cops still fumed about the impossible conditions “Miranda” imposed on them.
It was common in Flint to have 25-year patrolmen, unlike today’s specialty programs where advancement to one of the numerous fancy units is commonplace. The old timers I rode with complained their hands were tied. I ignored their complaints, thinking the restrictions resided solely in their own heads.
I “grew up” in police work with Miranda and it was a part of life. Many people under arrest continued to talk after being “Mirandized.” Some talked because they were innocent and were eager to prove it by giving their side of the story. Other guilty ones talked because they were arrogant, and knew they could trick a dumb cop.
In the 70s and 80s the Miranda requirements were changed several times. Legal questions such as “what is custody and what is interrogation?” were batted around. Police officers received constant updates from the District Attorney in order to stay current with the latest court rulings.
As a patrolman I once advised a suspect of his Miranda rights during a phone interview. After reading my report when the guy was later arrested, a deputy DA phoned me and told me, almost nicely, how stupid I was because advisement wasn’t necessary in a phone interview.
NEXT WEEK: The very latest on custody, arrest, interrogation, and the famed Miranda warning.