National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

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.

Problems in Cleveland

From Cleveland.com:

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report in December, claiming that the Cleveland Police Department routinely violated citizens’ civil rights. But taxpayers already had been paying a heavy price: more than $8.2 million to resolve lawsuits that accused officers of brutality, misconduct or making wrongful arrests….

In a number of cases, the people who alleged brutality were the ones who called police for help in the first place.  [!!]

More than a year ago, The Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group submitted public records requests to the city, in an effort to determine how widespread allegations of misconduct were and how much police behavior was costing the city. The records were turned over on the eve of the Justice Department’s release of its report….

Mayor Frank Jackson says the settlements don’t prove any pattern of police conduct. They don’t even mean officers were at fault for wrongdoing, officials have said.
But viewed as a whole, the details show that high-level city officials were, or should have been, on notice about allegations that officers too often used excessive force, escalated confrontations and needlessly disrespected citizens in the community they were hired to serve.

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.

 

Baltimore’s Top Officials Struggling With the Basics

From the Baltimore Sun:

While seeking approval this week for a $150,000 settlement in a lawsuit alleging brutality by a Baltimore detective, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration did not tell the city spending board that taxpayers had already paid $100,000 to settle another lawsuit against the officer….

The administration vowed to provide more details about settlements after a Baltimore Sun investigation found that taxpayers had paid nearly $6 million since 2011 in lawsuits alleging misconduct by officers — including some who had been sued multiple times. The investigation also showed that city officials lacked a comprehensive system to track such misconduct.

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

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.

Problems in Minneapolis

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The Minneapolis Police Department must revamp its system for identifying and weeding out problem officers if it hopes to regain public confidence, according to a new U.S. Department of Justice report.

A full version of the report, prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, was released Wednesday at a community meeting at police headquarters. The study comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of police conduct, following a series of high-profile police encounters across the country….

But several speakers at the meeting said the recommendations didn’t go far enough.

Longtime civil rights activist Spike Moss said federal officials had previously intervened, but had little to show for it. He wondered whether this time would be any different.

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.

Is President Obama Pushing Anti-Police Hatred?

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani says that President Obama is fomenting anti-police hatred.  Giuliani was not specific about what Obama said or did to support such a claim.

Matthew Yglesias:

The cold-blooded murders of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos have sparked a lot of hot takes, but perhaps none so bold and drastically wrong than the one offered by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who cast the blame squarely on “four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police.” He said black leaders, in particular, have contributed to “an atmosphere of severe, strong anti-police hatred in certain communities.”

Giuliani went out of his way to be clear that he’s not blaming a handful of bad apples. He thinks the culprits are everyone protesting police misconduct everywhere….

Needless to say, neither the president nor any major protest leader has claimed the police are all racist or said anything remotely resembling “everyone should hate the police.”

Police union officials have gone even further than Giuliani.  They claim the Mayor of New York City is partly to blame for the murders.

More here.