National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Arizona Considers Controversial Law

From the New York Times:

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey has until Monday to decide whether to sign or veto a bill requiring state agencies to keep confidential for 60 days the identities of law enforcement officers involved in deadly or serious shootings.

The bill, which passed the State Senate by a large margin on Tuesday, follows what supporters said were threats against officers here after two recent shootings as well as concerns raised by events in Ferguson, Mo., where Officer Darren Wilson fled his home after being identified as the officer who shot an unarmed black teenager.

After Ferguson, the issue of officer identification has become “one of the most emotional issues in American policing,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which conducts research on law enforcement policy and convenes meetings of police leaders….

“Police officers have this extraordinary power,” she said, “and when they decide to use their weapon and to shoot, the public has the right to know who the officer was. That kind of transparency provides the strongest form of oversight,” she said.

But without stronger protective rules, law enforcement agencies are sometimes too quick to identify officers, putting them at unnecessary risk, said John Ortolano, a highway patrol officer and president of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, which supports the legislation.

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.

Dept of Justice Report Clears Darren Wilson in Shooting Death of Michael Brown

In our view, a prominent case deserves a prominent Update.  Last week, the Department of Justice concluded its investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown.  Here is the key finding from that report:

[T]he Department has concluded that Darren Wilson’s actions do not constitute prosecutable violations under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, 18 U.S.C. § 242, which prohibits uses of deadly force that are “objectively unreasonable,” as defined by the United States Supreme Court. The evidence, when viewed as a whole, does not support the conclusion that Wilson’s uses of deadly force were “objectively unreasonable” under the Supreme Court’s definition. Accordingly, under the governing federal law and relevant standards set forth in the USAM, it is not appropriate to present this matter to a federal grand jury for indictment, and it should therefore be closed without prosecution.
Full report here. More here and here.

Will ‘Community Policing’ Help?

From the New Republic:

On January 30, the USCM released a report on strengthening “police-community” relations in American cities. The six-page report came full of recommendations for everything from “youth study circles” to new equipment. The report was completed with the help of a working group of police chiefs, including Philadelphia Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the man appointed by President Obama to chair his Task Force on 21st Century Policing in response to rising unrest around around the issue of police brutality.

Absent from their suggestions, however, was a single mention of officer discipline….

What the #BlackLivesMatter protests made clear is that communities of color are increasingly fed up with the over-policing of our neighborhoods, extrajudicial killings of unarmed black people and the failures of the justice system to hold killer cops accountable. To ignore those complaints and suggest that the issue is merely one of distrust is dishonest, and it evades the very obvious fact that police brutality is a national problem that persists, in part, because cops can get away with it.

I’ve commented before on “community policing,” but it’s worth noting again how troubling that term is. “Community policing” reframes the conversation around police reform from one that addresses police brutality to one that addresses the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color, as though they’re mutually combative. The relationship between the two isn’t the issue. It’s the manner in which law enforcement relates to communities of color that’s proven deadly, time and time again.

Comedian Chris Rock provided an apt analogy for this during his recent New York Magazine interview.

“If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, ‘Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.’ It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner.”

Similarly, ending police brutality isn’t up to the communities that are brutalized.

Read the whole thing.

 

Accountability Measures Getting Talked About. Awaiting Enactment…

From the Washington Post:

More than a dozen states are considering new legislation aimed at increasing police accountability in the wake of incidents in Ferguson, Mo.; Staten Island, N.Y.; and Cleveland that left unarmed black men dead at the hands of officers.

Dozens of bills addressing body cameras for police have been filed in at least 13 states. Other proposed measures would change the way police departments report officer-involved shootings, racial profiling and the way courts deal with low-level offenders.

“There is a concrete coherent legislative agenda that we are pushing for,” said Cornell Brooks, president and chief executive of the NAACP. “We’ve been doing this from state capital to state capital, as well as here in Washington, D.C.”

Post Editorial About Geer Case

From the Washington Post:

Everyone involved in this case has dropped the ball and dodged responsibility, enabling what now looks like a coverup in a case of police impunity.

 The police, who did not seek medical treatment for Mr. Geer or retrieve his body for more than an hour, falsely claimed Mr. Geer had “barricaded” himself inside his house after he was shot, then stonewalled prosecutors and the public for months.

The top prosecutor in Fairfax, Ray Morrogh, punted the case to the feds over a supposed conflict of interest involving a courthouse shouting match between Officer Torres and a rank-and-file prosecutor. That seems a far-fetched reason not to pursue the case.

The feds — first the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, then the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division — sat on the case for months more, saying nothing.

Fairfax’s County’s governing body, the Board of Supervisors, seems incapable of getting its own employees — namely the police and the County Attorney’s office — to conduct themselves responsibly and transparently. The supervisors have managed nothing beyond tut-tutting that things don’t look quite right and calling for a review of policies.

That mind-set seems to have infected virtually every agency in Fairfax, in addition to the feds, that should have stepped up to see that justice was done in the Geer case. The case should be presented to a jury, which can weigh Officer Torres’s account against those of other witnesses. The delay and obfuscation represent a travesty of justice

NYC Settles Lawsuit Involving Teen Killing

From the New York Times:

The family of a Bronx teenager who was fatally shot by a police officer who had barged into his apartment after suspecting him of taking part in a drug deal has agreed to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city for $3.9 million.

The agreement to settle the case, reported Friday by The Daily News, comes nearly three years after the Feb. 2, 2012, shooting of the teenager, Ramarley Graham….

A criminal case against Officer Haste collapsed in August 2013 when a Bronx grand jury chose not to indict him. An earlier case in which he had been indicted on manslaughter charges related to the shooting was dismissed by a judge on a technicality.

More on the John Geer Shooting

From the Washington Post:

How and why Geer died that afternoon in August 2013 after police responded to a domestic dispute at his home have remained a mystery, as police and prosecutors have declined to comment on the case for 17 months. But Friday night, under a court order obtained by lawyers for the Geer family, Fairfax released more than 11,000 pages of documents that shed new light on the police shooting….

Mike Lieberman, an attorney for the Geer family, said: “If this was a similar situation involving two ordinary citizens, there is little doubt that any individual who shot an unarmed man who was holding his hands up in the air and claiming that he did not want to hurt anyone would have been arrested and charged.

“Within days of the shooting, the police department, at the highest levels, knew of the gross discrepancies between Officer Torres’s version of the events and the accounts provided by every other eyewitness.”

According to the report, the local prosecutor was unable to get information from the police department about the officer who shot Geer.  Why did the police department withhold the information?  Hmm.

The Tamir Rice Case

From the New York Times:

Within two seconds of the car’s arrival, Officer Loehmann shot Tamir in the abdomen from point-blank range, raising doubts that he could have warned the boy three times to raise his hands, as the police later claimed.

And when Tamir’s 14-year-old sister came running up minutes later, the officers, who are white, tackled her to the ground and put her in handcuffs, intensifying later public outrage about the boy’s death. When his distraught mother arrived, the officers also threatened to arrest her unless she calmed down, the mother, Samaria Rice, said.

Officers Garmback and Loehmann did not check Tamir’s vital signs or perform first aid in the minutes after he was shot. But Officer Garmback frantically requested an emergency medical team at least seven times, urging the dispatcher to “step it up” and to send medical workers from a fire station a block away. It would be eight minutes before they arrived.

California’s Secretive Policies

From the Sacramento Bee:

California has one of the nation’s most restrictive laws for public access to information about police officer misconduct. State law bars disclosure of all police personnel records – a restriction that prevents the public from finding out which officers have engaged in serious misconduct. What’s more, courts and police agencies have interpreted that confidentiality broadly to cut off public access to nearly all information that might be used in personnel decisions, including internal affairs investigations and hearings on civilian complaints.

Under California law, civilians who file complaints against officers find out little about what happens next. To avoid violating state law, departments often don’t disclose even whether the officer was found to have violated policy, much less exactly what policy the officer violated, what kind of discipline resulted, or any explanation of why the department reached the result it did.