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Investigatory Stops and the Baltimore Police Department

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice released its report on the Baltimore Police Department. As expected, they found “patterns and practices” that lead to unconstitutional policing in the City and that these adversely and disproportionately affect black Baltimoreans.

The report describes a litany of offenses and violations of basic decency perpetrated by the Baltimore Police. Each of those stories is important, but for now, I want to focus on the primary source of the violations described: unconstitutional and other investigatory stops.

The DOJ found that between January 2010 and May 2015, the Baltimore Police made at least 300,000 pedestrian stops—a number the DOJ says is almost certainly too low because of police underreporting. Forty-four percent of these stops were made in two majority black districts of Baltimore that comprise only 11 percent of the City’s population. They found hundreds of people who were stopped more than ten times during that period, 95 percent of whom were black.

One man in his 50s was stopped over 30 times in four years and was never ticketed or arrested. That probably shouldn’t be surprising, as less than four percent of these stops ended in citations or arrest. And, recalling the recent dissents in the Supreme Court decision in Utah v. Strieff, it’s likely that many of those arrests were for outstanding warrants for unpaid parking tickets and other minor violations that had no connection to a potentially illegal activity that allegedly justified the stops in the first place.

Moreover, the DOJ found at least 11,000 arrests by BPD were not prosecuted for lack of probable cause or other merit. Thousands more were detained for investigations and searches that went nowhere, with many people publicly strip-searched. One, even, was strip searched after being stopped for a broken taillight. Such unjustifiable actions serve no purpose other than public humiliation.

Black Baltimoreans were more likely to be charged with the most discretionary offenses—“failure to obey,” “trespassing,” “disorderly conduct,” and “loitering,”—and often without required notice that they were in violation of the law. Indeed, the DOJ wrote that “[r]acially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD’s enforcement actions[.]” This is something black Baltimoreans know and rightfully resent. As I’ve written before, this denial of basic rights makes Baltimoreans less secure and less safe:

If civil rights protections are widely denied, particularly to one group of people, because they are routinely ignored and capriciously violated by police officers, those rights lose all tangible meaning to that population. Mistreatment by authorities—whether official policies like Stop and Frisk, or tolerance of police brutality, corruption, or homicide—corrodes the integrity of a community. The government loses credibility by effectively nullifying its own authority by arbitrary enforcement of laws (government powers) and the protections for citizens (civil rights).

Cooperation with law enforcement must suffer as the trust required between a police department and its citizens is eroded by the rightly perceived unbalanced enforcement. Criminals become emboldened through weakened law enforcement capabilities, and the citizens become less safe. The community divests itself from the relationship with the police and societal norms become threatened.

Aggressive and unconstitutional policing is a threat to community safety. The policies that support and encourage these practices are counterproductive to public safety and actually make policing harder. They ensnare far more innocent people than guilty ones and make police-community cooperation all but impossible. Police departments should discontinue these practices on their own, for their own interest, and not wait for the DOJ to tell them what is patently obvious to the people suffering under the policies in their communities.

For a longer explanation of pretextual stops and police legitimacy, you can read my article in the in the Case Western Reserve Law Review here. A shorter piece on the importance of individual rights and policing is here.  The full DOJ report on Baltimore can be found here.

 

This was cross-posted from Cato@Liberty

‘Policing in America’ Conference

This week, Cato hosted an all-day conference, “Policing in America.” We brought together experts with different perspectives to discuss the opportunities and pitfalls facing police organizations today. The video of the event is below and will be available in the Cato event archives.

It was a great event all around. The speakers were able to distill complex problems and incentives into easy-to-understand presentations. Experts and laypersons alike came away with some new information that can be used to frame the policing debate in the months and years ahead. I encourage you to check out each panel and guest speaker in the videos below.

Welcoming Remarks and Panel 1: The Costs and Benefits of Emerging Police Technologies

Remarks by Jonathan Blanks, Cato Institute

Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, American Civil Liberties Union
Alex Rosenblat, Researcher and Technical Writer, Data & Society Research Institute
Lynn Overmann, Senior Policy Advisor to the US Chief Technology Officer at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy
Moderated by Matthew Feeney, Cato Institute

Continue Reading →

Cato Conference: Policing in America

On December 1, the Cato Institute will be hosting a full day conference, Policing in America, to examine the current state and future of American law enforcement. We have collected a diverse group of expert panelists to discuss emerging technologies and crime control strategies, as well as recurring problems like accountability and negative impacts on minority communities.

Confirmed speakers include Prof. Jerry Ratcliffe, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University; Prof. Cynthia Lum, George Mason University Department of Criminology, Law and Society and director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy; Prof. David A. Klinger, University of Missouri-St. Louis; Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Regional Center for Border Rights, ACLU-New Mexico; Prof. Samuel Walker, University of Nebraska-Omaha (emeritus); Prof. Wadie E. Said, University of South Carolina School of Law; Prof. Pete Kraska, School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University; Michael Kurtenbach, Assistant Police Chief, Phoenix, Arizona Police Department; Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project; and Prof. William Jelani Cobb, Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut.

We’re very excited about the conference and hope you can join us. More details and speakers will be forthcoming. You can register for the free event here.

 

Problems in Oakland Police Department

From Bay City News:

Oakland police officers who are fired for misconduct are reinstated at arbitration hearings 75 percent of the time because department officials and the city attorney’s office do a poor job of handling the cases, a report says.

San Francisco attorney Ed Swanson compiled the report at the request of U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who is supervising the Oakland Police Department’s slow progress in complying with a police misconduct lawsuit settlement in 2003 that requires the department to implement 51 reforms in a variety of areas….

Swanson criticized the Oakland City Attorney’s Office for what he said is its “neglect and indifference and handling of police disciplinary cases and arbitration” because it doesn’t prepare well for them. He also said the relationship between the Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office has been “dysfunctional.”

Philadelphia Police Shootings

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Roughly once a week, 390 times over the past eight years, Philadelphia police officers opened fire at a suspect. The shootings involved 454 officers, most of them on patrol. Almost always, the suspects were black. Often, the officers were, too.

Fifty-nine suspects were unarmed. Officers frequently said they thought the men — and they were almost always men — were reaching for a weapon, when they were actually doing something like holding a cellphone.

The statistics were laid out in a Justice Department report on Monday, which does not allege racial discrimination but offers an unusually deep look at the use of lethal force inside a major city police department, including information on the race of officers and suspects. It is the kind of data that has been nearly absent from the debate over police tactics that began last summer with a deadly shooting in Ferguson, Mo.

Only a handful of major departments regularly publish statistics on police shootings, and those that do are not always consistent. That makes comparing the records of police departments difficult. But even with such spotty figures, Philadelphia stands out when compared with the public data in other cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. In many years, Philadelphia saw more police shootings than New York, a city with five times the number of residents and officers.

“I want to express regrets for all who have been shot and killed in Philadelphia — civilian and police officers,” Mayor Michael A. Nutter said at a news conference Monday.

Problems at U.S. Border Patrol

One of the greatest challenges to resolving police misconduct allegations is the opaqueness of internal investigations in any police department or agency. This is true at the local, state, and federal levels.

Today, the Los Angeles Times has a report on the backlog of use-of-force cases, particularly fatal shootings, at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. There is an added wrinkle here, due to bureaucratic overlaps, that other agencies in the Department of Homeland Security share responsibility for oversight and have been unable to further these investigations.

Nearly a year after the Obama administration vowed to crack down on Border Patrol agents who use excessive force, no shooting cases have been resolved, no agents have been disciplined, a review panel has yet to issue recommendations, and the top two jobs in internal affairs are vacant.

The response suggests the difficulties of reforming the nation’s largest federal law enforcement force despite complaints in Congress and from advocacy groups that Border Patrol agents have shot and killed two dozen people on the Southwest border in the last five years but have faced no criminal prosecutions or disciplinary actions.

Customs and Border Protection, which has more than 60,000 agents and officers, saw most of its abuse investigations outsourced to a sister agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and to the Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. Internal affairs instead conducted lie detector tests, did performance reviews, and dealt with questions from outside agencies.

Read the whole thing here.

You should also check out this Cato Policy Analysis calling for the abolition of DHS.

“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

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?

Another DC Cop Arrested

From NBCWashington.com:

A D.C. police officer tried to kill his wife last month, using Lysol, a metal light post and knives to attack and restrain her in their home, according to prosecutors.

Officer Samson Lawrence has been indicted in Maryland on charges of attempted first- and second-degree murder in connection with the Nov. 24 attack, Prince George’s County State Attorney Angela Alsobrooks announced Friday….

According to court documents, Lawrence was trying to hang a projection TV in his Accokeek home when he became angry that his wife didn’t know where the screws to hang it were. He allegedly grabbed a can of Lysol and sprayed his wife in the face every time she spoke.