National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Refresher on Stop & Frisk

The Michael Brown shooting has brought attention to certain police policies and how those policies scramble the opinions of liberals and conservatives.  Thus far, most of the attention has been on the militarization of police.  In this post, I want to briefly focus on another police tactic, “stop & frisk,”  and explain why this likely plays a part in the community unrest following the death of Michael Brown.

In 1968, the Supreme Court decided a case called Terry v. Ohio.  In that case, the Court approved the “stop & frisk” tactic.   Here is an excerpt from the Court’s opinion:

We … hold today that, where a police officer observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous, where, in the course of investigating this behavior, he identifies himself as a policeman and makes reasonable inquiries, and where nothing in the initial stages of the encounter serves to dispel his reasonable fear for his own or others’ safety, he is entitled for the protection of himself and others in the area to conduct a carefully limited search of the outer clothing of such persons in an attempt to discover weapons which might be used to assault him. (emphasis added).

Several things must be noted.  First, that is a rather sanitized description of what can happen out on the street (more on that below).

Second, in the 1990s, at the suggestion of conservative intellectual, James Q. Wilson, police officials like William Bratton tasked police units to go out and pro-actively stop & frisk city residents.  (Wilson is well known for his “broken windows” work, but his misguided promotion of stop & frisk is another reminder that ideas have consequences).  The number of stops–especially in New York City–started climbing.  The liberal Michael Bloomberg also championed the tactic when he became NYC Mayor after Rudy Giuliani.

Third, what happens if the police act unreasonably and use this tactic arbitrarily against people?  Persons holding contraband get busted, but what if there are tens of thousands of stops where the police officer’s actions were unreasonable against totally innocent persons?  Absent physical injury, who would take a day off of work to see an attorney about that?  And how many attorneys would take a case where there was an illegal 20 minute detention, illegal search of the person, and no injury?  No one.  For young, black men there has been no effective redress.  Anger and tensions simmer.  And when a young black man gets killed (recall Amadou Diallo ; and the shooting of Patrick Dorismond is also worth noting) the anger boils over into the protests and unrest we have seen in Ferguson.

The white experience with police is different because the police do not typically use the stop & frisk tactic in white communities.   Here is an example of what the complaints are about:

Short version reporting on the video that went viral:

Longer version (recommended):

Because these officers were “caught on tape,” the Philly Police Department was embarrassed and so took disciplinary action.  How many bad encounters are not captured on tape?  99%?

Back to the Michael Brown shooting.  We have been told that Officer Darren Wilson rolled up on Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson and told them to move to the sidewalk.  According to Johnson, Wilson started the interaction by cursing at them.  Did Wilson lose his temper after some back talk?  Or because he was dissatisfied with the speed with which the young men were complying with his command?  Did Wilson escalate the situation by grabbing Brown’s throat, as Johnson has said?  Did Brown passively resist by backing away so he could breath? (Recall poor Eric Garner  who lost his life waiting for the police to release their grasp!).    At some point, Wilson drew his weapon and shot Brown.  Several times.

Maybe Wilson was behaving like the abusive Philp Nace in the above video.  Maybe his conduct did not come close to that.  But these are some of the questions on the minds of minorities (and others) as the investigation continues.

More background on stop and frisk here and here.

 

 

 

 

Now Reporters Falsely Arrested

From the Washington Post:

Multiple officers grabbed me. I tried to turn my back to them to assist them in arresting me. I dropped the things from my hands.

“My hands are behind my back,” I said. “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.” At which point one officer said: “You’re resisting. Stop resisting.”

That was when I was most afraid — more afraid than of the tear gas and rubber bullets.

As they took me into custody, the officers slammed me into a soda machine, at one point setting off the Coke dispenser. They put plastic cuffs on me, then they led me out the door.

 

The Michael Brown Case

The Michael Brown case is now all over the news.  The Washington Post has a front page headline, “FBI Will Investigate Shooting in Mo.”  It also has a helpful article, “What do we know about the shooting of Michael Brown, and of Brown himself.”  According to the reports, Brown had no history of trouble with the law.  He was supposed to start college this week.

Police have not disclosed the identity of the officer who shot and killed Brown.   One can imagine the rationale for that.  There have been emotional protests and some violence by crowds.   Concerns for the officer’s safety, and perhaps for family members, could be the primary rationale.   That might justify a slight delay in releasing the name, perhaps to give a  family (if there is one) a chance to make some temporary arrangements, or for the department to arrange a security plan on the chance that protesters will go to the neighborhood.  However, it has now been several days and it is now necessary and appropriate for the officer to be identified.

The authorities keep saying that their investigation will be thorough.  Good.  That’s what we want to hear.  But deeds are more important than words.   At this point, it is important to know whether the officer has been the subject of police brutality lawsuits, and what were the outcomes of those cases.  On the other hand, maybe this officer has an unblemished record.  That would be good to know as well.

Michael Brown lost his life on Saturday.   We need to find out what happened and why.   Cases like this have 2 parts–the initial incident and then the response.   As bad as the initial incidents are; an inadequate response can be even more disturbing because it can be an indication of deeper problems within the police institution.  Fecklessness or, worse, abetting criminal conduct.  So far, the police have handled the Brown case very badly.

More here.

 

Problems in Milwaukee

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Two Milwaukee police officers who admitted they were present during invasive body cavity searches that led to felony convictions against a third officer were neither criminally charged nor fired from the department after making deals with prosecutors, according to court records.

One of the two officers, Michael Gasser, was on the scene during a 2010 search that caused the victim to bleed from his anus for several days, according to Gasser’s deposition in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Not only did Gasser avoid termination, he has been allowed to continue training rookie officers — even though he told internal investigators he didn’t think there was anything wrong with the search, he testified in June.

The second officer, Zachary Thoms, admitted in a deposition that he and Officer Michael Vagnini coerced a suspect to try to defecate into a cardboard box at the District 5 police station in 2011, hoping he would expel hidden drugs.

Meanwhile, two supervisors who were in charge of District 5 while illegal searches were occurring there have been promoted to the highest levels of the department.

Problems in Newark, NJ

From the New York Times:

A three-year federal investigation has found that the Newark Police Department engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional practices, chiefly in its use of stop-and-frisk tactics, unwarranted stops and arrests, and discriminatory police actions, officials said on Tuesday.

The inquiry by the Justice Department, which found that the Police Department’s practices “have eroded the community’s trust,” said that about 75 percent of pedestrian stops documented by the police did not provide a sufficient basis for the stop. Also, it found that Newark police officers stopped black people at a considerably higher rate than white people and underreported the use of force by officers, said Paul J. Fishman, the United States attorney for New Jersey. Officials also said there was a pattern of theft of citizens’ property, mostly by officers working in the narcotics, gangs and prisoner processing units.

Note this:

Chief Campos said it was unclear if officers who took part in the unconstitutional behavior cited in the Justice Department report would face consequences.

Unclear?  Hmm.

Problems at the Border Patrol

From the Washington Post:

FOLLOWING MONTHS of damning disclosures about the use of deadly force by Border Patrol agents, Department of Homeland Security officials tightened the rules of engagement this spring. But it remains unclear whether U.S. Customs and Border Protection — with 43,000 agents, the biggest federal law enforcement agency — will end what appears to be a culture of impunity that has shielded agents from consequences and even meaningful investigations following senseless and unjustified killings.

Full editorial here.

Death by Chokehold

From the New York Times:

The 350-pound man, about to be arrested on charges of illegally selling cigarettes, was arguing with the police. When an officer tried to handcuff him, the man pulled free. The officer immediately threw his arm around the man’s neck and pulled him to the ground, holding him in what appears, in a video, to be a chokehold. The man can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” over and over again as other officers swarm about.

Now, the death of the man, Eric Garner, 43, soon after the confrontation on Thursday on Staten Island, is being investigated by the police and prosecutors. At the center of the inquiry is the officer’s use of a chokehold — a dangerous maneuver that was banned by the New York Police Department more than 20 years ago but that the department cannot seem to be rid of.

Read the whole thing.

Bizzare Police Work

From the Washington Post:

A Manassas City teenager accused of “sexting” a video to his girlfriend is now facing a search warrant in which Manassas City police and Prince William County prosecutors want to take a photo of his erect penis, possibly forcing the teen to become erect by taking him to a hospital and giving him an injection, the teen’s lawyers said. A Prince William County judge allowed the 17-year-old to leave the area without the warrant being served or the pictures being taken — yet.

I should add that it is bizarre work by prosecutors and judges too.  A near complete system breakdown.