National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Problems in San Diego

From NBCSanDiego.com:

The San Diego Police Department enforced an “unwritten policy” that encouraged police misconduct and led to scandals involving former officers Anthony Arevalos and Christopher Hays, a new lawsuit against the department alleges….

The lawsuit claims officers felt they could get away with such inappropriate behavior after former SDPD Chief William Lansdowne and other officials disbanded the anti-corruption unit called the Professional Standards Unit (PSU) around 2003.

“The elimination of the PSU, this specialized unit, was a signal and affirmation to the SDPD, its police officers and its supervisory officials that those police officers who chose to exploit their positions of power, authority and trust by victimizing members of the very community they had sworn to protect would not be investigated, prosecuted, pursued or punished for their actions,” the lawsuit reads.

As an example, the court document claims another officer reported to his supervisors that Arevalos had taken Polaroid pictures of a nude, mentally disabled woman, taunting her to pose in a lewd manner with his baton.

Instead of punishing Arevalos or reporting the incident up the chain of command, the lawsuit claims his superiors instead destroyed the pictures and evidence of the incident and intimidated the officer who had reported it.

The lawsuit says the alleged cover-up is part of a “long-standing, unwritten SDPD policy that encouraged a two-tiered system of justice.”

That system includes laws that apply to ordinary citizens and a set of privileges and immunities that apply to SDPD officers and other members of the law enforcement community, according to the suit.

Additionally, the SDPD is accused of instituting a process that prevented the public from lodging complaints against officers directly with the internal affairs unit.

Trouble in the LA Jail System

From the Los Angeles Times:

The deputy described beating inmates unprovoked, slapping them, shooting them with a Taser gun and aggressively searching them to pick a fight — something he learned “on the job.” He would huddle with other jail guards to get their stories straight and write up reports with bogus scenarios justifying the brutality. If the inmate had no visible injuries, he wouldn’t report the use of force, period..

He did all this with impunity, former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Gilbert Michel testified Tuesday, knowing that even if inmates reported the abuse it “wouldn’t go anywhere.” If they were to put it in writing and drop it in a complaint box, it was his fellow deputies who opened that box too….

From the witness stand, Michel, broad-shouldered with short-cropped hair, described a culture among deputies guarding the high-security floors of the jails that led to excessive force and frequent coverups. He matter-of-factly recounted incidents in which he said he and at least five other sheriff’s employees brutalized inmates on the third, or “3000,” floor of Men’s Central Jail, then falsified reports to legitimize their actions.

Problems with the Border Patrol

From the New York Times:

On Feb. 16, 2010, a Mexican teenager caught trying to cross into the United States near Douglas, Ariz., filed a formal complaint accusing a Border Patrol agent of punching him in the face during his arrest.

Three months later, a pregnant woman in or around El Paso reported that a Border Patrol agent had kicked her during an apprehension, causing her to miscarry.

In both cases, records show, no disciplinary action was taken. And it was no different for the vast majority of cases that reached United States Customs and Border Protection’s internal affairs office, according to new data obtained through a public records request by the American Immigration Council, a Washington-based immigrant advocacy group. Of 809 abuse complaints against agents within 100 miles of the Southwest border from January 2009 to January 2012, only 13 led to disciplinary action, and typically that meant counseling, internal affairs records showed.

“These stark findings exemplify the culture of impunity that prevails at C.B.P.,” said Melissa Crow, director of the council’s Legal Action Center. “Given the tremendous resources appropriated to C.B.P., the agency must do a better job of holding its officers accountable.” …

[U]nder increasing scrutiny from Congress for its use of force and lack of transparency, the 44-page list of complaints is now among the most comprehensive — and damning — publicly available portraits of alleged border misconduct.

It shows that in 40 percent of the cases with internal affairs, no decision had been made or reported, in some cases for more than three years after complaints were filed. And in the other 60 percent where a conclusion had been reached, “no action” was the end result 97 percent of the time.

Buffalo Police Officers Suspended

From the Buffalo News:

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda this afternoon announced that six police officers have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into an April 19 incident captured in a YouTube video that showed one of the officers slapping and kicking a man after he had been subdued and was lying on the ground in handcuffs.

Earlier this morning Derenda held a news conference, where he condemned the officers’ actions.

“The Buffalo Police Department does not condone or tolerate inappropriate behavior,” Derenda said, adding that he has spoken with U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. and Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III about the incident.

He would not say whether a federal investigation has been opened into the alleged police brutality.

After receiving a copy of the video emailed to Derenda and Mayor Byron W. Brown late Friday, the commissioner said he immediately instructed his Internal Affairs Division to start an investigation, which continued through the weekend and is nearing completion.

Brown told The News today that he watched the video.

“Certainly, when I saw the video, I was extremely and deeply concerned about what I viewed,” Brown said. “I told Commissioner Derenda to conduct a swift and complete investigation. We have made it clear that we will not tolerate inappropriate behavior by police officers.“

The man who allegedly was assaulted has been identified as John Willet, 22, of Williamsville. He has been charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, suspected heroin and crack cocaine; unlawful possession of marijuana; resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration.

Teaching Them a Lesson

From the New York Times:

The confusion and trouble began that day when Officer Anthony Giambra arrived at the apartment door a few minutes after the 911 call, as an ambulance and fire truck pulled up outside. Ms. LaFont started to tell Officer Giambra about her husband’s condition, but the dog broke loose and raced into the street. She went after the animal.

When she returned, Officer Giambra had thrown Mr. Peltomaa up against a hallway wall and was trying to handcuff him. The professor’s surgical wound was pressed hard against the surface, she said. She gripped the officer’s shoulder and yelled at him to stop. “You’re under arrest,” the officer told her, as another officer hustled her back into her apartment and handcuffed her….

Mr. Peltomaa denies he ever fought with Officer Giambra, though he recalls being confused about why he needed handcuffs to go the hospital. After he was cuffed, he said, the officer shoved him down face first on the tile floor, splitting open his chin and dislocating his thumb.

Then the officers flipped Mr. Peltomaa over, grabbed him by his clothes and dragged him to the ambulance. Ms. LaFont said she was taken to the precinct and put in a squalid cell. Officer Giambra, munching a candy bar, told her Mr. Peltomaa was fine and would be home before she would. “He said he needed to teach me the lesson that you are never allowed to touch a police officer,” she recalled.

Groups Protest Dallas Police Dept

From the Dallas Morning News:

The families of several men killed or wounded by Dallas police officers lambasted the department Thursday for what they said was a pattern of excessive force, civil rights violations and police brutality under color of law.

The newly formed Mothers Against Police Brutality held a news conference at City Hall where they called for a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Dallas Police Department’s deadly force practices.

“It is not a black problem,” said Collette Flanagan, whose son Clinton Allen was fatally shot this year by a Dallas police officer. “It is not a Hispanic problem. It’s not a poor people’s problem. It is our problem” ….

Late Thursday, Police Chief David Brown issued a statement saying that he shared many of the group’s concerns.

“I look forward to working with this group, and moving forward towards positive changes for our department,” Brown said.