National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

How Many Shootings?

From the Washington Post:

HOW MANY times a year do U.S. police officers employ deadly force, and how many people die as a result? What are the races and ethnicities of those involved? How often are the objects of police force armed or unarmed? These are just some of the questions people have asked in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — and they are perfectly reasonable queries.

Thousands of New Yorkers Protest

From the New York Times:

Thousands converged on an overcast Saturday at the site of the encounter, the start of a protest march linking Mr. Garner’s death to lethal police actions past and present, from New York City to Ferguson, Mo., where a white officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9.

Signs and slogans touched on details of the deaths as well as broad policies that protesters argued encouraged bad behavior by officers.

“ ‘Broken Windows’ Kills,” a sign read, a reference to the aggressive policing of minor offenses like selling untaxed cigarettes, the crime Mr. Garner had been accused of committing.

Chants of “I can’t breathe” — Mr. Garner’s words as he struggled with officers — mixed with those borrowed from Ferguson: “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

For days, march organizers and Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized that the demonstration on Staten Island would not devolve into the sort of violent confrontation with police officers that had plagued the protests over the death of the Ferguson teenager, Michael Brown. By late afternoon, the march had ended and the crowds were heading home. The police said all had been quiet and there had been no arrests….

During the demonstration, community affairs officers in royal-blue shirts and baseball hats offered a stark contrast to the militarized posture of police officers in the aftermath of Mr. Brown’s death. Uniformed patrol officers controlled crowds at the ferry terminal and appeared interested to keep a respectful distance from the marchers along the route.

Feds to the Rescue?

James Bovard on Attorney General Eric Holder’s record:

Attorney General Eric Holder arrives today in Ferguson, Missouri, in response to the unrest after a local policeman shot 18-year-old Mike Brown. Holder assured the people of Missouri: “Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent.”

But Holder’s own record belies his lofty promise. As the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997, Holder was in charge of policing the local police. When police violence spiraled out of control, he did little to protect Washington residents from rampaging lawmen…

There was such a dearth of oversight from Holder’s office that Washington police failed to count almost a third of the people killed by their officers between 1994 and 1997. Even when police review boards ruled that shootings were unjustified or found contradictions in officers’ testimony, police were not prosecuted. In one case, a police officer shot a suspect four times in the back when he was unarmed and lying on the ground. But Holder’s office never bothered interviewing the shooter….

As the smoke clears in Ferguson, Missouri, Americans have no reason to presume that either the local police or the feds have the market cornered on truth or justice.

Read the whole thing.

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.

 

 

 

 

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 Los Angeles

From the Los Angeles Times:

The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes during a one-year span ending in September 2013, including hundreds of stabbings, beatings and robberies, a Times investigation found.

The incidents were recorded as minor offenses and as a result did not appear in the LAPD’s published statistics on serious crime that officials and the public use to judge the department’s performance.

Nearly all the misclassified crimes were actually aggravated assaults. If those incidents had been recorded correctly, the total aggravated assaults for the 12-month period would have been almost 14% higher than the official figure, The Times found.

The tally for violent crime overall would have been nearly 7% higher.

Numbers-based strategies have come to dominate policing in Los Angeles and other cities. However, flawed statistics leave police and the public with an incomplete picture of crime in the city. Unreliable figures can undermine efforts to map crime and deploy officers where they will make the most difference.

More than two dozen current and retired LAPD officers interviewed for this article gave differing explanations for why crimes are misclassified.

Some said it was inadvertent. Others said the problem stemmed from relentless, top-down pressure to meet crime reduction goals.

If the information is deliberately manipulated to make the department look good, what else is the department willing to do?

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.