National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Boston Globe Looks at Police DUI Cases

From the Boston Globe:

Simpkins is one of at least 30 Massachusetts law enforcement officials who have been charged with drunken driving while off-duty since the start of 2012, a Globe review has found. The crashes collectively killed three people and injured more than a half-dozen others.

Though some officers resigned or were placed on unpaid leave after the charges, a majority kept their jobs, sometimes after a short suspension.

The drunken driving tally is almost certainly low because not every arrest is widely reported and officers sometimes let their peers off the hook, a practice known as “professional courtesy.” …

The Globe also found the vast majority of officers, like Simpkins, refused to take a breath test, making it harder to prosecute them criminally for drunken driving. And departments frequently went out of their way to accommodate them — keeping officers on the payroll even after they temporarily lost their licenses for refusing the test and could no longer do their regular duties….

The Globe’s findings saddened Ron Bersani of Marshfield, whose 13-year-old granddaughter was killed by a drunk driver in 2003, inspiring “Melanie’s Law” to combat drunken driving.

“I think people in public service should be held to a higher standard, but that is apparently not the case,” said Bersani, grandfather of Melanie Powell. “It is enormously frustrating.”

Police Departments on Trial

From the Economist:

So far much of the debate within America has focused on race. That is not unreasonable: the victims were all black, and most of the policemen involved were white. American blacks feel that the criminal-justice system works against them, rather than for them. Some 59% of white Americans have confidence in the police, but only 37% of blacks do. This is poisonous: if any racial group distrusts the enforcers of the law, it erodes the social contract. It also hurts America’s moral standing in the world (not aided by revelations about the CIA’s use of torture—see article). But racial division, rooted as it is in America’s past, is not easily mitigated.

There is, however, another prism through which to examine these grim stories: the use of excessive violence by the state (see article). It, too, has complex origins, but quite a lot of them may be susceptible to reform. In many cases Americans simply do not realise how capricious and violent their law-enforcement system is compared with those of other rich countries. It could be changed in ways that would make America safer, and fairer to both blacks and whites….

In many ways America remains a model for other countries. Its economic engine has roared back to life. Its values are ones which decent people should want to spread. Yet its criminal-justice system, the backbone of any society, is deeply flawed.

 

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.”

Cop Car Crashes

From WJLA:

They’re sworn to serve and protect. But police officers are not immune to causing harm, especially behind the wheel. An ABC7 I-Team investigation discovered police officers in the D.C. area have been found at fault in hundreds of accidents, causing deaths, injuries and thousands of dollars in damages….

Some of the accidents also resulted in injuries, not just to officers, but also members of the public. In Montgomery County, which supplied the most detailed and comprehensive records, eight civilians have been injured since 2010 in police-involved accidents in which the officer was classified as responsible. Those incidents include a 2013 accident in which a person was hurt after being struck by an officer who didn’t see them walking through a parking garage.

The video that details the last seconds of Ashley McIntosh’s life has logged more than 240,000 views on YouTube. But for the Fairfax County woman’s mother, Cindy Colasanto, seeing it just once was enough.

“I can’t even tell you how I felt, how devastating it was to see,” Colasanto said.

Colasanto fought in Richmond to change laws requiring police lights and sirens after being forced to watch her daughter’s life end on a dash camera. McIntosh was killed by a police cruiser that slammed into her car. The officer had run a red light at a high rate of speed without using a siren.

Good reporting.

NYT on Police Misconduct: Millions of Americans Subjected to Intimidation

New York Times editorial:

The Justice Department report describes the Cleveland Police Department as something far closer to an occupying military force than a legitimate law enforcement agency. The officers, for example, seem to take a casual view of the use of deadly force, shooting at people who pose no threat of harm to the police or others. In one case in 2013, for example, they actually fired at a victim who had been held captive in a house — as he escaped, clad only in boxer shorts.

The report cataloged numerous incidents of wanton violence, with officers beating, pepper-spraying and Tasering people who were unarmed or had already been restrained. Officers escalated encounters with citizens instead of defusing them, making force all but inevitable.

The record in Cleveland is extreme. But aspects of illegal police conduct can be found in cities all over the country, subjecting millions to intimidation and fear that they could be killed for innocent actions.

Subjecting millions to intimidation.  Stop what you’re doing and think about that.

The Wire: Police Commanders Discuss Prospects of Grand Jury Indictment for Brutality Case

Does this scene from an HBO show tell us that the outcome in every grand jury case involving police misconduct is preordained?  Of course not.  Do prosecutors exert their power and influence to have grand juries refrain from criminal charges against police officers — even when the available evidence is incriminating?  It happens.

Cato study on grand juries here.

The Eric Garner Case: Time to Open Your Eyes

Harry Siegel in the New York Daily News:

Garner had a heart attack in the ambulance, and died.

As he lay dying, he was treated like a piece of meat. By Pantaleo. By the other cops on the scene. Even by the medical technicians.

Had Garner been treated with basic human dignity after he was violently, and needlessly, taken down, he might not be dead.

I’m no lawyer, but this is section 125.15 of New York’s penal code: “A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when: 1. He recklessly causes the death of another person.”

So I’m stunned, and saddened, by a Staten Island grand jury’s decision to level no charges against Pantaleo.

Anyone unsure why so many people of color are upset with the police, and suspicious of the American justice system, put your politics down, open your eyes and watch the videos.

Regular visitors will recall that we selected the Garner case as the ‘worst of the month’ for July.

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Small request:  If you believe the work we’re doing here at policemisconduct.net is important and worthwhile, would you take a moment to blast a link to our site to all your Facebook contacts and other social media?  Since the president, mayor of New York, members of congress, and most media networks are now focused on police wrongdoing and what might be done about it, seems like a good time to pass the word about this site and perhaps remind skeptics that there are many more cases and victims out there.  With your help, we should be able to double or even triple the number of persons who check our site regularly.  Thanks for considering.

How Many Police Killings Are There Annually?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a front page story titled, “Hundreds of Police Killings Uncounted in Federal Statistics.”

Here is an excerpt (sorry for no link; there is a paywall):

A Wall Street Journal analysis of the latest data from 105 of the country’s largest police agencies found more than 550 police killings during those years [2007 – 2012] were missing from the national tally or, in a few dozen cases, not attributed to the agency involved. The result: It is nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police each year.

Public demands for transparency on such killings have increased since the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo. The Ferguson Police Department has reported to the FBI one justifiable homicide by police between 1976 and 2012.

Law-enforcement experts long have lamented the lack of information about killings by police. “When cops are killed, there is a very careful account and there’s a national database,” said Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University. “Why not the other side of the ledger?”

Good question.

However, there is an unstated bias at work here.  It is in the unfortunate title of the Journal article quoted above.  “Uncounted in Federal Statistics.”   But the Journal is hardly alone.  The bias/assumption is that the FBI “oversees” police departments across America.  Thus, it follows that those departments ought to be reporting data to the FBI.   This is incorrect.   Local police do not report to the FBI.   Often departments cooperate with one another.  Cooperation should not be confused with a legal obligation.

To clarify, we should know how many police killings there are.  We should even know more than that.  [If a guy is shot 5 times by an officer and is hospitalized for 8 months and manages to live, but is paralyzed, why should that incident not also be counted? ]    Governors should be responsible for this data-gathering task, not the federal government.   Btw, the article says, “Also missing from the FBI data are killings involving federal officers.”   Good grief.   Let the feds start there.  FBI, DEA, IRS, etc

Kudos to the Wall Street Journal for pressing police agencies around the country for this information.  Good reporting.

Related articles here and here.

Is There a Connection Between Police Unions and Abusive Cops?

Conor Friedersdorf:

There are, of course, police officers who are fired for egregious misbehavior by commanding officers who decide that a given abuse makes them unfit for a badge and gun. Yet all over the U.S., police unions help many of those cops to get their jobs back, often via secretive appeals geared to protect labor rights rather than public safety. Cops deemed unqualified by their own bosses are put back on the streets. Their colleagues get the message that police all but impervious to termination.

That isn’t to say that every officer who is fired deserves it, or that every reinstated cop represents a miscarriage of justice. In theory, due process before a neutral arbiter could even protect blue whistleblowers from wrongful termination. But in practice, too many cops who needlessly kill people, use excessive force, or otherwise abuse their authority are getting reprieves from termination….

Society entrusts police officers with awesome power. The stakes could not be higher when they abuse it: Innocents are killed, wrongly imprisoned, beaten, harassed—and as knowledge of such abuses spreads, respect for the rule of law wanes. If police officers were at-will employees (as I’ve been at every job I’ve ever held), none of the cops mentioned above would now be walking the streets with badges and loaded guns. Perhaps one or two of them deserved to be exonerated, despite how bad their cases look. Does the benefit of being scrupulously fair to those individuals justify the cost of having more abusive cops on the street?

Read the whole thing.