National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

“So, where does one find the officer safety exception to the Constitution?”

Officer safety is important. Public safety is also important. Police should follow the law and respect the rights of citizens as part of their day-to-day jobs to keep both themselves and the public safer.

Over at Law and Order, a magazine for police management, three experienced leaders in law enforcement training and leadership explain the ethical and professional imperative of constitutional policing:

Federal Constitutional law governs a number of the most critical and often high-risk police actions: use of force, seizures of persons, investigative detentions and arrests, searches of persons, vehicle stops and searches, entry into private premises, and the concepts of reasonable suspicion and probable cause.

Violations of the Federal Constitution can cause evidence suppression in major cases, massive civil liability, career devastation, and even criminal prosecution of law enforcement officers. But avoidance of these horrendous negatives is not the best reason for an officer to follow the Constitution. The best reason is a shining positive: keeping faith with the oath of office.

On the day an officer takes that oath, the Constitution becomes more than a legal obligation. It becomes an ethical duty, a matter of promise keeping—keeping the most solemn promise made in a law enforcement career—to support, uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.   But however lofty that promise, it is hollow—without a thorough understanding of what the Constitution requires of us.

Our training helps provide that understanding by teaching what we can and cannot lawfully do under the United States Constitution. This knowledge is a powerful tool for achieving investigative goals. It also helps us stay out of trouble. Most importantly, it empowers us to attain the ethical standards that we have so ardently pledged, adding meaning and value to our oath of office—the promise made to a community by those who police it, the promise in exchange for which one is allowed to be a police officer.

[…]

Awareness and self-discipline are the first lines of defense. Positive peer pressure must be normative and organizational discipline should enter the picture as necessary.

More demand for accountability and transparency grants us opportunities to build stronger relationships with our communities that enhance officer safety in the most comprehensive sense. This atmosphere expands trust and exposes the true villains in our communities. We are not soldiers fighting a war, but servant leaders striving to find a way to inspire others to be accountable and to participate actively in securing safety and prosperity for all law-abiding community members, including police officers.

You should read the whole thing here.

H/T: Prof. Sean Stoughton

More on the John Geer Shooting

From the Washington Post:

How and why Geer died that afternoon in August 2013 after police responded to a domestic dispute at his home have remained a mystery, as police and prosecutors have declined to comment on the case for 17 months. But Friday night, under a court order obtained by lawyers for the Geer family, Fairfax released more than 11,000 pages of documents that shed new light on the police shooting….

Mike Lieberman, an attorney for the Geer family, said: “If this was a similar situation involving two ordinary citizens, there is little doubt that any individual who shot an unarmed man who was holding his hands up in the air and claiming that he did not want to hurt anyone would have been arrested and charged.

“Within days of the shooting, the police department, at the highest levels, knew of the gross discrepancies between Officer Torres’s version of the events and the accounts provided by every other eyewitness.”

According to the report, the local prosecutor was unable to get information from the police department about the officer who shot Geer.  Why did the police department withhold the information?  Hmm.

Police Arrest Public Defender

San Francisco Public Defender Jami Tillotson was arrested by police officers in the hallway of a courthouse for “resisting arrest.”  The false arrest was captured on tape.  Tillotson made the work of the police inconvenient, but that is not a crime.  Yet,  it is telling that the police think it is.  And if the police are willing to arrest a public defender in a courthouse hallway while being videotaped, what sort of illegal searches, detentions, and arrests occur in the neighborhoods?

More here.

Problems in Minneapolis

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The Minneapolis Police Department must revamp its system for identifying and weeding out problem officers if it hopes to regain public confidence, according to a new U.S. Department of Justice report.

A full version of the report, prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, was released Wednesday at a community meeting at police headquarters. The study comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of police conduct, following a series of high-profile police encounters across the country….

But several speakers at the meeting said the recommendations didn’t go far enough.

Longtime civil rights activist Spike Moss said federal officials had previously intervened, but had little to show for it. He wondered whether this time would be any different.

SWAT Team Raids a Poker Game

From the Washington Post:

On a quiet weeknight among the stately manors of Great Falls, ten men sat around a table in the basement of a private home last November playing high stakes poker. Suddenly, masked and heavily armed SWAT team officers from the Fairfax County Police Department burst through the door, pointed their assault rifles at the players and ordered them to put their hands on the table. The players complied. Their cash was seized, including a reported $150,000 from the game’s host, and eight of the ten players were charged with the Class 3 misdemeanor of illegal gambling, punishable by a maximum fine of $500….

[The police cut the players] a deal: stay clean for six months and the gambling charge would be dismissed, and eligible to be expunged from their record. And for those who had cash seized from them — one player had more than $20,000, the regular player said — the police agreed to return 60 percent of the money, and keep 40 percent….

The regular player said the police told him, “The reason we’re here is there are Asian gangs targeting these games,” and it’s certainly true that some private gambling events in Fairfax County have been robbed by nefarious elements. The player said he wanted to respond, “So you robbed us first,” but he did not.

When Cops Cause Automobile Crashes

From NBC News:

On Nov. 23, 2007, Jessica Uhl, 18, and her sister Kelli Uhl, 13, were in heavy post-Thanksgiving Day traffic on Interstate 64 as they headed home to their mother, Kim Schlau, in Collinsville, Illinois, after a holiday photo session at their father’s home in the Illinois town of Mascoutah.

Matt Mitchell, an Illinois state trooper, was also on Interstate 64, responding to a call while talking on his cellphone and using his police computer. He crossed the median and plowed into the sisters’ car at an estimated speed of 126 mph, killing them both instantly. Mitchell pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and reckless driving, lost his license, and can never be an officer again.

“After we learned all of the facts, we knew that this crash was completely preventable,” Schlau said. “I had no idea that a lot of police officers have more training with their firearms than they do with their driving, yet they drive every part of their job.”

Police officers are often brave and heroic, and their jobs are harder than ever, frequently requiring them to talk on their cellphones and police radios and even type on computers as they drive. The results can be tragic.

The Tamir Rice Case

From the New York Times:

Within two seconds of the car’s arrival, Officer Loehmann shot Tamir in the abdomen from point-blank range, raising doubts that he could have warned the boy three times to raise his hands, as the police later claimed.

And when Tamir’s 14-year-old sister came running up minutes later, the officers, who are white, tackled her to the ground and put her in handcuffs, intensifying later public outrage about the boy’s death. When his distraught mother arrived, the officers also threatened to arrest her unless she calmed down, the mother, Samaria Rice, said.

Officers Garmback and Loehmann did not check Tamir’s vital signs or perform first aid in the minutes after he was shot. But Officer Garmback frantically requested an emergency medical team at least seven times, urging the dispatcher to “step it up” and to send medical workers from a fire station a block away. It would be eight minutes before they arrived.

California’s Secretive Policies

From the Sacramento Bee:

California has one of the nation’s most restrictive laws for public access to information about police officer misconduct. State law bars disclosure of all police personnel records – a restriction that prevents the public from finding out which officers have engaged in serious misconduct. What’s more, courts and police agencies have interpreted that confidentiality broadly to cut off public access to nearly all information that might be used in personnel decisions, including internal affairs investigations and hearings on civilian complaints.

Under California law, civilians who file complaints against officers find out little about what happens next. To avoid violating state law, departments often don’t disclose even whether the officer was found to have violated policy, much less exactly what policy the officer violated, what kind of discipline resulted, or any explanation of why the department reached the result it did.

Worst of the Month – December 2014

It goes to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Seven now-former deputies conspired to hide a career criminal from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI was investigating allegations of abuse and poor conditions in the L.A. County Jail, and the inmate in question was apparently willing to testify against the sheriff’s department. To protect themselves, the deputies effectively kidnapped the prisoner to obstruct the federal investigation. According to the news report, the prisoner’s “name was changed, his records jacket was hidden and computer records were altered to make it appear that [he] had been released from LASD custody.”  The last of the former deputies was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in the cover-up in December. The other six former deputies involved were also convicted and sentenced.

Worst of the Month — November 2014

The worst police misconduct in November goes to the Cleveland Police Department.

To begin with, in late November, a Cleveland officer shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice.

The press reports based on the police accounts at the time of the incident read:

A rookie Cleveland police officer shot a 12-year-old boy outside a city recreation center late Saturday afternoon after the boy pulled a BB gun from his waistband, police said.

Police were responding to reports of a male with a gun outside Cudell Recreation Center at Detroit Avenue and West Boulevard about 3:30 p.m., Deputy Chief of Field Operations Ed Tomba said.

A rookie officer and a 10-15 year veteran pulled into the parking lot and saw a few people sitting underneath a pavilion next to the center. The rookie officer saw a black gun sitting on the table, and he saw the boy pick up the gun and put it in his waistband, Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeffrey Follmer said.

The officer got out of the car and told the boy to put his hands up. The boy reached into his waistband, pulled out the gun and the rookie officer fired two shots, Tomba said.

As detailed in this video report by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, the initial reports by the police do not jibe with video evidence in several major respects.

The video shows Rice, alone, playing with his toy gun and also with the snow, as 12 year olds are wont to do. He was not, as the police said, with “a few people” in the pavilion. Other police reports to the press said the shooting officer got out of his car and told Rice three times to put his hands up. The video, unfortunately without audio and recording at the speed of two frames per second, shows the officer shooting Rice within 1.5-2 seconds after exiting the police vehicle.

The officers also waited several minutes before administering CPR to the fallen boy.

The original call that drew the police to the park in the first place said the person with the gun in the park was likely a minor and likely was a toy gun. Apparently, this information was not relayed to the responding officers, who called-in the shooting victim as “possibly 20” years old.

The officer who shot Rice “was specifically faulted for breaking down emotionally while handling a live gun” according to subsequent reporting. The internal memo that informed the report concluded that the officer be “released from the employment of the City of Independence [,Ohio].”

And here’s the thing: The Cleveland Police hired the officer without checking his personnel file from his previous law enforcement job, where he was deemed unfit!

The Department of Justice took a close look at the Cleveland Department and issued a highly critical report:

The Justice Department report on Cleveland cataloged many instances of unjustified force, including officers who assaulted, pepper-sprayed and even Tasered people already being restrained. In one case last year, the police fired two shots at a man wearing only boxer shorts who was fleeing from two armed assailants. In a 2011 case, a man who had been restrained on the ground with his arms and legs spread was then kicked by officers. He was later treated for a broken bone in his face.

The city’s policing problems, [Attorney General] Holder said, stemmed from “systemic deficiencies, including insufficient accountability, inadequate training and equipment, ineffective policies and inadequate engagement with the community.”