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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Points for “Some” Honesty

Countless reports on this website include stories of police officers refusing to enforce the law against family or colleagues when they have committed a crime. Sometimes the offense is a DUI, other times it is drug dealing. Covering up a crime is not only a rules violation but sometimes a crime in itself. Either way, it is police misconduct. Except, apparently, in Methuen, Massachusetts.

The Boston Globe reports that applicants to the Methuen police department were awarded points for saying they would not arrest a family member or fellow officer for DUI. When called to testify about the practice, the officers responsible for reviewing the applications were surprisingly forthcoming.  According to the Globe:

“I’m looking for some bearing, some honesty, and how quickly the person can think on their feet,” Police Lieutenant Michael Pappalardo testified.

But Pappalardo also said he wouldn’t believe anyone who claimed they would arrest their family and friends. And when candidates said they wouldn’t arrest family or fellow officers, the hiring panel noted the person “knows discretion.”

While police officers are granted considerable discretion in how strictly to enforce the laws–such as issuing a verbal warning for speeding instead of issuing a ticket or putting someone in a cab who is drunk instead of booking them for public intoxication–favoritism is an ethical breach of that discretion. Such “professional courtesy” effectively insulates police officers and their families from the law. Put another way, favoritism places them above the law.

Unfortunately, the practice is quite common. The Globe story recounts the findings of a 2008 Civil Service Commission report:

“Every police officer who testified before the commission testified that the routine and customary practice when a stop is made on a fellow police officer, is to show professional courtesy and not call in the stop,” the report said.

Police officers should have more than “some” honesty to maintain the public trust. Read the whole thing here.


A Revolving Door in Colorado

Like many states, Colorado certifies its law enforcement officers. However, the state’s barriers to decertify officers are higher than those in other states. Being dismissed from one law enforcement agency, or even convicted of a crime, does not automatically make an officer ineligible for employment in another jurisdiction. And many police officers in Colorado have done exactly that.

Yesterday, the Denver Post ran a lengthy feature describing a revolving door of dismissed and disgraced police officers within the state of Colorado. Among other things, the Post found:

  • At least six Denver officers who were fired or resigned amid allegations of wrongdoing in the past decade found work at other smaller agencies.
  • Rogue cops can negotiate to keep past transgressions secret. Nadia Gatchell was fired from the Denver police force in 2012 for lies she told superiors during an investigation into abuse of off-duty secondary employment. The officer, who previously had been disciplined in Denver for destroying marijuana evidence, was able to keep the decision to fire her out of her personnel file by agreeing to drop a Civil Service appeal. The city’s safety manager at the time, Alex Martinez, agreed to remove her dismissal letter from her personnel file and have her file reflect that she had resigned.
  • Gatchell, who declined to comment, went on to work at the Elizabeth Police Department for about a year after her firing. Now she’s working as a parole officer for the Department of Corrections, her fourth law enforcement job.
  • Officers who have their certificate for police work revoked often are repeat offenders. Of the nearly 280 officers who have been decertified in the past decade in Colorado, at least 29 had past serious personnel issues or arrests. Many more likely are repeat offenders, but how many could not be determined because many agencies in the state won’t release discipline or personnel files for public review.
  • About a third of those 280 decertified for police work in Colorado had worked at more than one police agency. Seven of those officers had shuffled to four or more police agencies before they ended up with a conviction that brought a final end to their careers in law enforcement.
  • The state’s review panel, the Colorado Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, does not always keep up with those who aren’t employed by a police agency but remain certified for law enforcement work.

According to the article, at least 18 states “require agencies to inform state review panels when an officer is fired or resigns,” but Colorado is not one of them.

The Colorado legislature passed a new law to require police agencies to disclose to any new law enforcement employer if their former officer “sustained violations for making “knowing misrepresentations” during their employment.” While this is an improvement, the new law does not require disclosure of excessive force, destruction of evidence, or other violations unrelated to lying on official documents.

The legislature also tried but failed to expand the number the offenses that trigger decertification in the last session. As a result, officers with convictions for misdemeanor child abuse, second-degree arson, and many other crimes remain eligible to be hired as sworn officers around Colorado.

Colorado is not the only state that has problems with “shuffling” bad police officers. Recall that the officer who shot twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio was deemed unfit for law enforcement by his previous employer due to incompetence with firearms. The CPD did not review that information before hiring the officer.

States should shore-up their reporting requirements and decertification procedures to prevent officers who commit serious misconduct from hopping job-to-job.

There are many more disturbing stories in Post feature here. You can read my testimony on the opacity of police disciplinary files before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights here.

The Jermaine McBean Case

From the New York Times:

OAKLAND PARK, Fla. — The witnesses who saw a Broward County deputy sheriff kill a man who had strolled through his apartment complex with an unloaded air rifle propped on his shoulders agreed: Just before he was gunned down, Jermaine McBean had ignored the officers who stood behind him shouting for him to drop his weapon.

Nothing, the officer swore under oath, prevented Mr. McBean from hearing the screaming officers.

Newly obtained photographic evidence in the July 2013 shooting of Mr. McBean, a 33-year-old computer-networking engineer, shows that contrary to repeated assertions by the Broward Sheriff’s Office, he was wearing earbuds when he was shot, suggesting that he was listening to music and did not hear the officers. The earphones somehow wound up in the dead man’s pocket, records show.

Repeat: Somehow those earphones wound up in Mr. McBean’s pocket.


Policing Double Standards

Over at the Huffington Post, Ryan J. Reilly reports that St. Louis was one of the cities to receive MacArthur Foundation grants to improve the relationship between the police and the public. When discussing the award, the police chief made some frank admissions about the double standard that infects policing in the greater St. Louis area:

In an interview ahead of the announcement, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar called the reform effort a “positive that came out of a tragedy.”


Belmar… said it is simply unrealistic for law enforcement to be able to enforce the hundreds of thousands of outstanding warrants in the county, many of them in connection with missed court dates for minor violations of municipal codes.

“I’m looking at cities that have 50,000, 39,000, 30,000 outstanding warrants today. You’re never going to catch up to that,” Belmar said. “You might have a city like Pine Lawn, which is 360 acres, that has 30,000 outstanding warrants. How can that be? The math doesn’t work.”

Belmar acknowledged that the protests in Ferguson have given a voice to populations that had been overlooked in the past.

“If you went to a very affluent area in St. Louis County, how long do you think a program would last where speed cameras were put up on arterial roads coming into subdivisions, and people were given letters saying they were going to be arrested? It would last about five hours,” Belmar said.

As Judge Janice Rogers Brown recently wrote in a concurrence in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, such double standards are not limited to St. Louis. Describing roving patrols for guns that are standard practice in Southeast D.C.—an area of predominantly poor and minority neighborhoods—she wrote:

As a thought experiment, try to imagine this scene in Georgetown. Would residents of that neighborhood maintain there was no pressure to comply, if the District’s police officers patrolled Prospect Street in tactical gear, questioning each person they encountered about whether they were carrying an illegal firearm? Nothing about the Gun Recovery Unit’s modus operandi is designed to convey a message that compliance is not required. While viewing such an encounter as consensual is roughly equivalent to finding the latest Sasquatch sighting credible, I submit to the prevailing orthodoxy, but I continue to reject its counterintuitive premise.

Georgetown is an affluent, predominantly white area that is home to many D.C. elites and features high-end shopping and dining. It is indeed difficult to imagine SWAT teams shaking down tourists and well-to-do residents for very long.

Because many neighborhoods around the United States continue to be segregated along both economic and racial lines, this policing double standard has the effect—whether intended or not—of alienating poor minorities and undermining police legitimacy in those communities. Extracting money from the impoverished and using dubiously constitutional tactics in specific areas is the wrong way to treat the people who live there.

This was cross-posted at Cato@Liberty.

Police Lies About Misconduct Exposed

From the New York Daily News:

Cop watchers armed with smartphones are not only catching police misconduct — they’re catching cops lying about the misconduct, officials said Thursday.

More and more cops are giving false statements in official documents or when questioned about their misbehavior, the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board said….

In one incident, a cop accused of misconduct during a stop-and-frisk claimed he never rifled through a man’s pockets, but video surveillance inside the building showed he did.

But even when confronted with the video, the cop denied the allegation.

“(The civilian) can say whatever he wants, that’s not what happened,” the officer said at the time.

Police Unions Lobby for Special Legal Protections

From the New York Times:

As Justice Department officials began meeting with community leaders in Baltimore this week in the early stages of their civil rights inquiry into the death of Freddie Gray, they heard repeated complaints about a state law that gives special legal protections to police officers suspected of abusing their power.

The law is similar to at least a dozen across the country, commonly known as police officers’ bills of rights. But Maryland’s, enacted in the early 1970s, was the first and goes the furthest in offering layers of legal protection to police officers. Among its provisions is one that gives officers 10 days before they have to talk to investigators….

The United States Supreme Court in 1967 determined that because police officers had in some instances been deprived of their constitutional right against self-incrimination, officers could not be compelled to give evidence against themselves, including as part of administrative investigations.

Since then, the extra layer of legal protection for officers has expanded, in large part because of the power of police unions, which have had similar rules inserted in union contracts and have frequently paid for television advertisements that label politicians who disagree with them as antipolice. In Maryland, law enforcement unions have donated tens of thousands of dollars to state and local elected officials, including to Ms. Rawlings-Blake.

New York Considers Reform Proposals

From the Times Union:

As Baltimore smoldered following the death of an unarmed man in police custody, Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered lawmakers a choice about future oversight of similar controversial cases in New York state.

If lawmakers don’t approve his call for an independent monitor to oversee legal proceedings that follow such deaths, Cuomo will use his executive powers to go even farther and create a special prosecutor who would have the power to pursue charges against officers….

Calls for greater scrutiny and oversight following the deaths of unarmed civilians emerged after Garner’s death and a grand jury’s decision not to indict any of the officers involved. But they haven’t gained traction in the full Legislature.

Senate Democrats have pushed for a creation of a special investigator within the Attorney General’s Office to investigate unarmed deaths, but Republicans who control the majority haven’t moved it forward.

The creation of a special prosecutor is opposed by many district attorneys and police unions around the state.


Settlement in Civil Rights Lawsuit

From Reuters:

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an accord on Tuesday with the U.S. Justice Department to settle findings that the country’s largest sheriff’s department systematically harassed and intimidated low-income minority residents….

The report concluded that county sheriff’s deputies, along with authorities in the towns of Lancaster and Palmdale, routinely targeted blacks and Hispanics in a “pattern and practice” of unlawful traffic stops, raids and excessive force.

The Samantha Ramsey Shooting


The family of Samantha Ramsey filed a federal civil rights and wrongful death suit Wednesday against Boone County Deputy Tyler Brockman and Boone County.

A grand injury declined to indict Deputy Brockman in November of last year in the death of 19-year-old Ramsey.

Attorney Al Gerhardstein, one of the attorneys on the case stated, “This deputy was not indicted or disciplined. He was wrong to jump onto the car; shoot while Samantha was slowing down; and wrong to shoot at this young lady at all before he jumped back off the hood.  Samantha’s shooing and death was completely unnecessary and avoidable.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Covington.  The issues raised by the shooting match those raised in numerous other police shootings across the nation where police have killed unarmed civilians, according to a release.