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In a Turnaround, Chicago Releases Videos, Audio Recordings, and Internal Reports

From the Chicago Tribune:

The Emanuel administration posted evidence online Friday morning from nearly 90 pending investigations of police shootings and other incidents, marking a watershed moment for a city that fought for decades to keep videos in excessive force cases hidden from the public….

As many as half of the cases still under investigation by the city’s police oversight agency include dashcam videos, surveillance footage and audio, including a handful deemed “sensitive” because they depict citizens being beaten or shot, city officials said.

The move marks the official rollout of a new policy to release video of shootings by police within 60 days of most incidents — an unprecedented shift toward transparency that even longtime critics of the secrecy of the Police Department have praised as an important step.

More Police Transparency, Not Less

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a piece I wrote about pending legislation in Pennsylvania to anonymize officers under investigation for use of force. The proposed legislation is supposed to increase officer safety. A snippet:

Of course, officer safety is important. But there is scant evidence that specific police officers or their families – in Pennsylvania or elsewhere – have been targeted and harmed by criminals because they were named in use-of-force incidents. (While police officers have been the tragic victims of ambushes, including in Philadelphia, the indications are that officers are, as New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said in 2014, “targeted for their uniform,” not their actions.)

At best, these bills provide a remedy for something that has not been proven to be a problem. At worst, they protect officers with documented histories of violence and, ironically, give the majority of officers a bad rap.

Internal and criminal investigations are by their nature kept from the public eye, and for good reason. But the community should know if its public servants are under investigation for inappropriate violence and who they are. If one officer out of a thousand does something bad, but no one can say who he is, all officers fall under suspicion because the so-called bad apple is indistinguishable from everyone else.

As we saw in the John Geer shooting in Virginia, when police withhold information from the public about inappropriate uses of force, silence can seem like a cover-up. States and police agencies should look for ways to increase transparency after questionable uses of force, not put up new barriers to information.

Read the whole thing here.

Guilty Plea in John Geer Case

Jury selection was scheduled to start today in the trial of former Fairfax County, Virginia officer Adam Torres for the 2013 shooting death of John Geer. Torres instead pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

As regular readers of policemisconduct.net may recall, Geer was killed while standing inside the front door of his home with his hands up. The Fairfax County police had been called to the home because of a domestic disturbance.

The Washington Post’s  Tom Jackman has been diligently covering this case since the shooting. Fairfax authorities were reluctant to release the name or status of Torres, waiting over a year to do so and eventually fire and charge him in the case. The delays and secrecy surrounding the incident led to a Post editorial headline that declared the case “looks unmistakably like a police coverup.”

Today’s plea agreement included a recommended sentence of 12 months—Torres is currently held in jail without bond—but Judge Robert J. Smith rejected that sentence and ordered a sentencing recommendation memo and a hearing for June 24.

We will continue to follow this case as it moves to the sentencing stage.

Read Jackman’s full write-up of today’s plea and the case history here.

Chicago’s Police Accountability Task Force

Last December Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel formed a task force to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the Chicago Police Department.  That move followed calls for Emanuel’s resignation in the wake of the video release of the Laquan McDonald shooting.

The Task Force released its report yesterday.  Here is an excerpt:

The public has lost faith in the oversight system. Every stage of investigations and discipline is plagued by serious structural and procedural flaws that make real accountability nearly impossible. The collective bargaining agreements provide an unfair advantage to officers, and the investigating agencies—IPRA and CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs—are under-resourced, lack true independence and are not heldaccountable for their work. Even where misconduct is found to have occurred, officers are frequently able to avoid meaningful consequences due to an opaque, drawn out and unscrutinized disciplinary process… Any one of these metrics in isolation is troubling, but taken together, the only conclusion that can be reached is that there is no serious embrace by CPD leadership of the need to make accountability a core value. These statistics give real credibility to the widespread perception that there is a deeply entrenched code of silence supported not just by individual officers, but by the very institution itself….Simply put, there is no ownership of the issue within CPD leadership or elsewhere, and thus there have been no substantive efforts to address these problems which continue to cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year.

The full report is close to 200 pages and we have not yet studied the whole thing.  Most of the criticism is directed at the police department itself–and it is damning.  The executive summary says little about Mayor Emanuel or his culpability.  Hmm.

Washington Post Tallies Fatal Shootings Where Officers Are Not Identified

From the Washington Post:

Nationwide, 210 people were fatally shot last year by police officers who have not been publicly identified by their departments.

In 2015, police in the United States shot and killed 990 people, according to a Washington Post database of fatal police shootings. The vast majority of those killed by police were armed with guns or had attacked or threatened officers or civilians. The Post is continuing to track fatal shootings in 2016, recording more than 250 through March. The Post is also filing open-records requests seeking additional information about each shooting, including information about the officers involved, data that is not tracked by any federal agency.

For 2015, reporters obtained the names of officers responsible for 780 of the 990 shootings. In about 600 shootings, officers’ names were disclosed by police departments in news reports. In a handful of cases, names came to light through lawsuits or leaks to the news media. Where the names remained unknown, The Post contacted the departments and requested the officers’ identities.

In 145 fatal shootings, the departments declined to release the names to The Post, citing pending investigations, state or federal records laws, agreements with police unions or department policies. In another 65 fatal shootings, the departments did not respond to multiple requests for information.

Former Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey is interviewed and he notes that a double standard is often employed.  When the shooting death is deemed heroic, the officer is identified.  When the shooting is questionable, the officer is not identified.  Read the whole thing.

For additional background on transparency and policing, go here.

‘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 →

Protests in Chicago: The Laquan McDonald Shooting

From the Chicago Tribune:

Hours after a Chicago police officer was ordered held without bond on a first-degree murder charge, the city released a shocking police dash-cam video that captured the white officer opening fire on an African American teen on a Southwest Side street, striking him 16 times and killing him.

The video is about six minutes long and appears to show 17-year-old Laquan McDonald running down the middle of Pulaski Road near 41st Street when Officer Jason Van Dyke, standing next to his SUV, opens fire….

The case marks the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality in nearly 35 years. Van Dyke faces a minimum of 20 years in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

The charge comes less than a week after a Cook County judge ordered the release of a video that Emanuel’s administration had long sought to keep out of public view. As the mayor urged prosecutors to conclude their investigation Monday, he met with community leaders and aldermen to defend his handling of the controversy amid criticism that City Hall has not done enough to address police misconduct.

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.

 

New York Law Hides Police Misconduct

From New York Times editorial:

The uniquely restrictive New York State law that is used to conceal the disciplinary histories of police officers — even some who have committed crimes — reared its head again last week in misconduct proceedings against the officer who brutalized the retired tennis player James Blake during a mistaken arrest in Manhattan last month.

The public has the right to be kept informed of police misconduct cases, especially at a time of heightened concern over police brutality. But when the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated excessive force charges against James Frascatore, the officer who attacked Mr. Blake, it was allowed to release its findings to Mr. Blake’s lawyer but was barred from making them available to the public. Had Mr. Blake’s attorney not released the information, the public would still be in the dark.

The state law on officers’ histories is the only one of its kind in the nation. It was enacted in 1976 to prevent criminal defense lawyers from using freedom-of-information laws to gain access to personnel records for information to use against officers in trials.

The law says an officer’s personnel record cannot be publicly released or cited in court without a judge’s approval. But municipalities and courts have since broadened the definition of “personnel record” to shield almost any information.

For additional background, go here.

Fairfax Officer Charged w/Murder

From the Washington Post:

A former Fairfax County police officer was charged with second-degree murder Monday, nearly two years after he shot and killed an unarmed Springfield man who stood with his hands raised in the doorway of his home.

The indictment of Adam D. Torres in the killing of 46-year-old John Geer, who had a holstered gun at his feet when he was shot, marks the first time in the 75-year history of the Fairfax County Police Department that an officer has faced criminal prosecution in connection with an on-duty shooting.

Geer’s slaying in August 2013 sparked protests, shook trust in law enforcement and prompted county officials to begin a broad review of the department’s use of force and the way it communicates with the public about police shootings.

Reporter Tom Jackman with the Post has been following this case from the beginning and has done excellent work.