National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Police Unions Lobby for Special Legal Protections

From the New York Times:

As Justice Department officials began meeting with community leaders in Baltimore this week in the early stages of their civil rights inquiry into the death of Freddie Gray, they heard repeated complaints about a state law that gives special legal protections to police officers suspected of abusing their power.

The law is similar to at least a dozen across the country, commonly known as police officers’ bills of rights. But Maryland’s, enacted in the early 1970s, was the first and goes the furthest in offering layers of legal protection to police officers. Among its provisions is one that gives officers 10 days before they have to talk to investigators….

The United States Supreme Court in 1967 determined that because police officers had in some instances been deprived of their constitutional right against self-incrimination, officers could not be compelled to give evidence against themselves, including as part of administrative investigations.

Since then, the extra layer of legal protection for officers has expanded, in large part because of the power of police unions, which have had similar rules inserted in union contracts and have frequently paid for television advertisements that label politicians who disagree with them as antipolice. In Maryland, law enforcement unions have donated tens of thousands of dollars to state and local elected officials, including to Ms. Rawlings-Blake.

Fraternal Order of Police Opposes Bad Cops

James Pasco, executive director of the National FOP, as quoted in today’s Wall Street Journal:

The fact of the matter is no self-respecting member of the law enforcement community holds any brief for a bad cop.

Of course.  It would be news if Mr. Pasco would have said the opposite.  Yet, too often police unions lobby against measures that would bring greater accountability to the bad cops.

 

Freddie Gray Funeral

From the Baltimore Sun:

In a funeral service Monday that was both personal and political, family, friends and strangers alike said farewell on Monday to Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man whose death from injuries sustained in police custody has sparked a national furor…

[S]peaker after speaker drew both cheers and tears.

“The eyes of the country are all on us,” former judge and Gray family attorney William “Billy” Murphy told the crowd. “They want to see if we have the stuff to get this right.”

Murphy denounced “the blue wall” that he said protects police from accountability.

“Let’s don’t kid ourselves. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for video cameras,” he said of the cellphone recordings made by bystanders of Gray’s arrest on April 12. “Instead of one cover-up behind that blue wall after another cover-up behind that blue wall … and one lie after another lie, now we see the truth as never before. It’s not a pretty picture.”

Gray was transported in a van to the Western District police station, emerging with what turned out to be a severed spinal cord and crushed voicebox, dying a week later.

Here is a Cato Institute podcast interview with Billy Murphy about police tactics, minorities, and constitutional rights.

The Walter Scott Case

My opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times:

A generation ago, when someone complained of police misconduct, we would learn that a police spokesperson denied the accusation and that was that. Because we were not there and did not know those involved, it was impossible to draw any conclusions. There was also an understandable reluctance to believe that the local department would spread falsehoods. Now more and more incidents are captured in cellphone videos, and that means citizens can judge for themselves whether the police broke the law. Smartphones are providing us with a glimpse of the widespread abuse that policymakers have been ignoring for years and changing the world of American policing….

To a certain extent, the authorities in South Carolina deserve praise for how they handled this incident. They disclosed the identity of the officer and his disciplinary record. They turned the case over to an independent agency to avoid a conflict of interest, and those investigators followed the evidence. Many people will say that the system “worked.” Did it?

Read the whole thing here.

Btw, with this case making national news, it is a good time to blast a note to all your friends and contacts about Cato’s Police Misconduct Reporting Project.  Just a quick note saying something like “check out this website–police misconduct is more common than you may realize.”  And don’t forget to Like us on Facebook.  Thank you for considering.

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.

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.”