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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

The State of Police Misconduct Reporting in the US

redactedrecordA popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. -James Madison

Seven years ago, in 2002, the United States Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics compiled reports from police departments with 100 or more active law enforcement officers from across the nation in order to generate a report on how extensive the problem of excessive use of force might be among police departments nationwide.

Even then, in what was and still is the largest and most comprehensive survey of police misconduct ever performed in the US, that report only gathered statistics from 5% of US law enforcement agencies which represented a little over half of the law enforcement officers in the US at the time.

In that 2002 report it was estimated that only 19% of police departments nationwide had a civilian oversight component that would release annual reports on police misconduct complaints and investigative outcomes for that agency.

Today, in 2009, the numbers are not much improved as a quick review of the largest police departments in the US reveals that only half of the most populous cities in the US have a publicly available police complaint reporting system and only 66 police departments nationwide have a civilian police review component that releases police complaint statistics according to NACOLE.

When we contrast this to the nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies who participate in the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting system (UCR) we can estimate that only 0.38% of law enforcement agencies in the US have a registered civilian oversight component that reports on police complaint statistics with any degree of regularity.

Even among the organizations that have publicly available reports on police complaints and disciplinary findings there is a great deal of variance in how reports are handled, how they are investigated, and what information is presented to the public within those reports, as seen below:

City Year Complaints Sustained Brutality B Sustain
New York 2008 3778 4.0% N/A N/A
San Francisco 2008 1021 3.8% 112 9
Chicago 2008 9578 0.4% 1723 N/A
Houston N/A
Phoenix N/A
Philadelphia N/A
San Antonio N/A
San Diego 2007 110 6.3% 36 2
Dallas N/A
San Jose 2007 547 8.4% 174 2
DC 2007 440 4.3% 101 N/A
Seattle 2008 1319 1.4% 98 2
Portland 2008 453 3.7% 46 1
Denver 2008 1139 16.8% 209 N/A
Denver Sheriff 2008 570 34.3% 28 N/A
Compiled from each department’s most recent annual report with ten most populated cities listed first.

As the table above illustrates, reporting standards vary widely from department to department with some equally unpredictable variances in the rate of sustained findings for complaints that skew any possible attempts at finding a mean national average of sustained complaints.

Given that there is no real standard methodology in reporting, let alone a national standard for investigative and auditing methods, it’s clear that using statistics reported by law enforcement agencies would be an unreliable method of determining the extent of police misconduct in the United States.

So, how can we determine what the extent of police misconduct might be in the United States as a whole? The answer is that we currently cannot tell how extensive the problem is and whether it’s getting worse or better.

In fact, there really aren’t any definitive facts available with which we can make any real comparison of police departments in regards to which might be problematic or which ones have a good handle on the problem of police misconduct.

Given this lack of knowledge, it’s little wonder why law enforcement agencies and police organizations continually win their fights against reforms supposedly designed to reduce the rates of police misconduct, it’s because nobody can point to any hard facts that indicate whether or not the problem of police misconduct is any better or worse in any given department.

This lack of information makes it impossible to make any informed decisions about police misconduct policies and legislation, how best to address the needs of police misconduct victims, or even how insurance carriers can make informed decisions on which departments are more at risk for costly litigation due to police misconduct.

Because of this fundamental lack of reliable information, it is truly impossible to have an informed discussion about police misconduct other than to acknowledge that it exists and causes a wide variety of harms on an individual level, economic level, and a societal level overall.

…which is why I’ve created this site and started work towards a National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project. While the current methodology is crude, gathering statistics from news reports concerning police misconduct and comparing those to publicly released statistics from law enforcement agencies, it’s the only method we have available to us and, sadly, nobody else is doing anything like it presently.

Hopefully, at some point, we’ll have enough information to start making that informed debate and building policy recommendations based more on fact than speculation. In the end, hopefully this will do more for reducing police misconduct and improving trustworthiness between citizens and those they entrust to enforce the laws we are all governed by, police and citizen alike.

Once a High-Valued IT Professional, Now Homeless and In Search of Justice

The following article was originally published on our old site and is based on a reader’s email with his permission.

Early in 2005, James E Simmons III flew into Seattle Washington to work as a consultant. With several years-worth of experience in information technology security and regulatory compliance, his skills were highly valued, sometimes bringing in over $90 an hour on each contract gig.

James says that he first ran into trouble one night in 2005 when he was returning home from a jazz club and asked a Seattle police officer where he could catch a cab. The officers didn’t answer him, but instead questioned him about a cigarette he was holding and jumped out of the cruiser after James replied that it was nothing and dropped it.

The officers claimed that the cigarette was a joint and that it contained crumbs of crack when they arrested and held him for four days, which cost him his contract gig. However, when the case went to trial a year and a half later, the charges were dismissed when the two officers who arrested him didn’t bother to show up at court and because of a lack of actual evidence other than the word of the arresting officers.

Fortunately, that time, even though he was arrested, he was able to continue working in the IT field since the case was dismissed. But, unfortunately, he returned to Seattle again for another contract job… and something even worse happened.

According to James, he was waiting at a bus stop when King County Sheriff’s Deputy James Schrimpsher accused him of selling crack. In Schrimpsher’s report, Schrimpsher claims he had seen Simmons sell from two different bus stops while he was working the Metro Transit patrol and when he attempted to detain Simmons at the second bus stop that he had bitten his arm during arrest so Simmons was charged with assaulting an officer and possession with intent to distribute.

However, Simmons claims that Schrimpsher fabricated his account of seeing Simmons deal at two locations because the first location Schrimpsher cited in his report didn’t even have a bus stop, at least according to an investigator hired for his defense who went to photograph the locations mentioned in Schrimpsher’s report.

Simmons also claims that he never bit Schrimpsher and that this was a cover story for when Simmons was stomped on until his collar bone broke and then tasered until he defecated, and then tasered again in, what Simmons claims, was an apparent attempt to humiliate him by forcing him to defecate himself again. Simmons also says that the evidence used against him was never found on his person, but happened to be in the cruiser already when he was thrown in by Schrimpsher.

When the case went to trial, Simmons was found not guilty of assaulting an officer but was still convicted to 12 months on charges of possession with intent based on deputy Schrimpsher’s testimony, despite the contradictions raised by defense investigators.

Of course, Simmons’ allegations may seem questionable until we consider Simmons’ background as a gainfully employed IT professional who made good money… why would he be dealing crack cocaine without the need to do so and with the risks being so huge?

Simmons further claims that the only reason officers singled him out is because he is black and was well-dressed. While his claims that he was framed because of his race might cause some to be skeptical, consider that the number of complaints of racial profiling have been rising in Seattle and that police haven’t been above retaliating against people who have reported racial profiling incidents either.

If that’s not enough to give a bit of credibility to James Simmons’ story, consider this as well…

Late in 2007, King County Sheriff Sue Rahr took disciplinary action against two officers for dishonesty in relation to a drug bust the two performed in December of 2006, while working on a Metro Transit detail. One of the deputies resigned and the other deputy, James Schrimpsher, was fired in December 2007.

When officers are disciplined on grounds of dishonesty, especially when it relates to arrests or prosecution efforts, that officer is placed on a Brady list which is distributed to defense and prosecuting attorneys to inform them that the officer’s testimony should not be considered reliable.

This is why, in general, when officers get in trouble on allegations of dishonesty or perjury, the cases which depended on their testimony are supposed to be reviewed to determine if any relied entirely on their word and if there were any reasonable claims of impropriety.

When King County deputy Schrimpsher was terminated, prosecutors claimed that they performed just such a review, but it only turned up one ongoing case that they subsequently dismissed. But was that really the only case that should have been dismissed or overturned?

If that wasn’t enough, also consider that Schrimpsher, during his time with the Phelps County Sheriff’s Department in Missouri as a Detective he apparently cost the county a case against a suspected drug dealer due to his mishandling of evidence, at least according to this court document filed in October of 2004.

So it seems that Schrimpsher not only has a questionable history handling drug evidence, but also has skipped between at least two departments with his last jump from Phelps County to King County resulting in a rather steep drop in rank.

Simmons says that he is now unemployed and homeless because of the conviction, which makes it impossible for him to find work in the IT field in which he was once a hot commodity. He’s since turned to alcoholism because of the trauma being beaten and convicted have caused. Even still, now he wants to try and do something about what happened to him, but has been unable to find an attorney who would take his case on a pro-bono basis, since he’s now homeless and unemployable.

It would seem to me, independent of whether Simmons’ claims are factual or not, that the firing of Schrimpsher on grounds of dishonesty would merit his case being seriously reviewed in order to determine whether this was another case of dishonesty on Schrimpsher’s part or not.

The fact that Simmons did have so much to lose adds to the credibility of his claims, as well as the fact that, before the arrests, he had a security clearance as well.

With all of these factors in his favor there would seem to be enough probable cause to, at the very least, ask some very serious questions about the case against Simmons… a case which he claims was based on nothing more than the word of a cop that racially profiled him, lied about his reasons for beating him, and who was later fired for allegations of dishonesty in another drug bust case.

If you would like to contact James Simmons or have information that could help him, please let us know at news@injusticeeverywhere and we’ll pass the information along to him. He’s still desperately looking for an attorney to help him clear his name so he can take back the life he once had.

Police Misconduct Reporting Statistics for April 2009

UPDATE: For more current statistics, including our 2009 Annual Report that contains all data from 2009, please visit our Police Misconduct Statistical Report menu page.

General Statistics
495 – Reported instances and alleged instances of police misconduct.
16.5 – Reported instances and alleged instances per day on average.
$9,144,000 – Dollars paid out through civil settlements and judgments.

US Police Misconduct Density Map

Top 10 Worst States
1. CA 49
2. NY 43
3. FL 37
4. TX 32
5. PA 28
6. IL 21
6. MI 21
7. LA 16
8. AZ 14
8. GA 14
8. WA 14
9. OH 13
10. MD 12
10. NJ 12
10. TN 12

Top 10 Worst Cities
1. New York, NY – 11
2. Philadelphia, PA – 10
3. Chicago, IL – 8
3. Dallas, TX – 8
5. Baltimore, MD – 6
5. Los Angeles, CA – 6
5. Minneapolis, MN – 6
8. Orange County, CA – 5
9. Spokane, WA – 4
9. Denver, CO – 4
9. Detroit, MI – 4
9. Greece, NY – 4
9. Oakland, CA – 4

Police Misconduct by Type
Brutality 96
Sexual 60 (of which, 18 involved minors)
Theft 44
Shooting 40
DV 35
Color of Law 32
DUI 27
Wrong Arrest 20
Assault 16
Drugs 13
Racism 11
Perjury 8
Mistaken Raids 4
Animal Cruelty 3
Other 75
Unspecified 4

Graphical view of misconduct types

Misconduct Case Status/Outcomes

Terminology
Misconduct Types:
Assault – Physical violence occurring while off-duty

Brutality – Physical violence occurring while on-duty

Sexual – Sex related incidents including rape, sexual assault, harassment, coercion, prostitution, sex on duty, incest, and molestation.

Theft – includes robbery, theft, shoplifting, fraud, extortion, and bribery

Shooting – gun-related incidents both on and off-duty, including self-harm

Color of Law – incidents that involve misuse of authority

Perjury – includes false testimony, dishonesty during investigations, falsified charging papers, and falsified warrants.

Misconduct Status/Outcomes:
Allegation – First stage of a misconduct complaint, can be from victim, witnesses, relatives of the victim, and other sources. Simply an allegation of misconduct.

Investigation – Second stage of a misconduct complaint, can be an internal investigation, criminal investigation, external investigation, or a DOJ/FBI civil rights investigation.

Lawsuits – Civil complaints filed in court, generally requires more evidence than a simple allegation, but still within the realm of allegations.

Charges – Criminal complaints filed in court, generally requires more evidence than a simple allegation, but still within the realm of allegations.

Trials – Criminal trials in court, requires enough evidence to establish probable cause, higher threshold than civil litigation or criminal charges, but still allegations.

Judgments – These are rulings that support a civil litigation complaint but also include settlement agreements that are typically, officially, said to not be admissions of guilt. Should be considered a confirmed case of misconduct.

Disciplinary – Results of investigations that confirm misconduct complaints but do not result in termination of employment.

Firings – Results of investigations that confirm misconduct severe enough to warrant termination of employment.

Convictions – Results of criminal trials that confirm allegations serious enough to warrant criminal charges. These include both rulings and guilty pleas.

Methodology
Information Gathering:
Data is gathered from various media outlets by manual searches and review of daily news stories several times a day. There are no sufficient key terms that work well enough to automate this data gathering tasks, the results must be vetted by human intervention.

Information Storage:
Confirmed stories about police misconduct that have been vetted to ensure that the story is about a case of misconduct or allegation of misconduct are published to a Twitter-based National Police Misconduct NewsFeed. From there, the stories are copied to a spreadsheet where they can later be sorted and analyzed.

Data Analysis:
At the first day of the month, data from the previous month is sorted and analyzed in the spreadsheet. All duplicate stories, stories that are informational, stories involving policy, and legislative issues are purged from the spreadsheet. Any items involving a status change about a specific incident are culled so that only the latest status story remains to avoid duplicate data.

Data Presentation:
After all data has been analyzed it is presented on this site by General, Geographical, Type, and Status datasets.

Important Notes:
The data collected and presented here should only be used to provide a very basic and general view of the extent of police misconduct within the US. It is, by no means, an accurate guage that truly represents the exact extent of police misconduct since it relies on the information voluntarily gathered and/or released to the media, not from information gathered first-hand by independent monitors who investigate complaints of misconduct since no such agency exists nationally.

This information has been gathered here because nobody else is gathering it and the national government has not gathered it for several years. Keep in mind that geographical distribution of misconduct reports can be representative of concentrations of corruption or permissive attitudes towards abusive police policies or can be indications of more open information sharing between police agencies and local media along with departmental efforts to reduce misconduct by actively engaging problematic officers. There is no real way to determine which is the case since there is no independent monitoring and investigation into allegations of police misconduct.

For these reasons, this information should not be considered scientific or used for research since there are so many variables involved. The information shown here should only be considered informational in nature.

As always, I appreciate any recommendations, advice, requests, and general comments.

Thank you.

Police Misconduct – Widespread or Deep-seated?

policeline

While the National Police Misconduct NewsFeed project has just begun to give us a glimpse at the possible breadth of America’s police misconduct problem, it sometimes fails to show just how deep it runs perhaps.

Sure, when most people think of police departments where corruption and misconduct run deep, we think of big cities like Chicago, Oakland, New York, or Philadelphia. So, does that mean smaller cities and towns are exempt from the problem of deep-seated police corruption and a culture of misconduct?

Furthermore, when we see more than one story of misconduct being reported from a specific location, is this just coincidence, or is this indicative of a deeper, more disconcerting problem?

Still sound confusing? Then consider some of these cases, buried deep within the police misconduct news feed:

Spring Lake Police Department in North Carolina was told it’s officers may no longer make felony arrests in 2007. But recently things have gone from bad to worse as two of it’s officers have been arrested on multiple felony charges and the state’s district attorney is promising even more arrests while also admitting that he has to dismiss a majority of the misdemeanor charges filed against suspects by the department as well.

To sum it up, the department is so corrupt, so inept, that it cannot be trusted to even make a simple misdemeanor arrest, effectively shutting it down and forcing an already thinly stretched county sheriff to pick up the extra slack.

Think of it… an entire department of bad or inept cops. Would that make you feel a bit less secure if you lived there? No? How about this…

Cuyahoga County Sheriff Gerald McFaul left the Sheriff’s Department in tatters as he resigned under civil and criminal allegations of nepotism, political favoritism, and a publicized search of his office and home by FBI and IRS agents.

After his departure the county requested an audit of the department and has recently found out that nearly half of their officers were never given civil service exams but instead were hired at the recommendation of friends and family within the department… in fact, many were members of the sheriff’s own family or recommended by them without any other real qualifications. But since they’ve been employed for so long, the county can’t fire them.

Still not wondering how entire departments could be problematic like this? Here’s some more…

Since the beginning of this year, 1/3 of Smith Township’s police department, near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, have been arrested on criminal charges that include burglary, assault, perjury, and drug possession. One officer alone was accused of assaulting a 59 year old man and later accused of attacking a 19 year old fast food worker while on duty, just because he thought the kid was talking about him.

Then last week they found themselves in the crosshairs of a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive force was used when officers arrested a couple after a concert. Smith Township’s residents have taken to describing their police officers as incapable of controlling themselves and scary…

Would you be scared living there too? No? Well how about here…

Greece New York’s Police Department is missing most of it’s command staff, including it’s chief, as they are suspended pending criminal and civil charges… in fact, many of the department’s police officers are too. Things have gotten so bad in Greece that state officials have come down to do a complete audit of the department that has been in the news, in a bad way. So often, in fact, that the city recently canceled a ceremony that was supposed to honor the department because, well, I guess there wasn’t anything left to really celebrate about it.

Does a police department with nothing left to honor make you think twice about how your own police department might operate behind closed doors? No?

Then I have one more place to tell you about… the place where cops like those who end up listed on the news feed go…

Because, if you’ve ever wondered where all the cops fired for misconduct go when they try to find a new job in law enforcement, wonder no longer… they went to the Maywood Police Department in California where they nicknamed themselves “The Police Department of Second Chances”…

Well, looks like they’ll be hoping for third chances now that the effort to cut costs by lowering standards and recruiting officers from disciplinary hearings instead of job fairs and academies has resulted in a blistering audit by the California State Attorney General who found an environment of gross misconduct and widespread abuses against the citizenry.

So, would you want to move your family to Maywood and trust their safety in the hands of a department full of “second chances”?

As I said, the news feed does give us a glimpse into how widespread the problem of police misconduct is… but, just how deep does it run in each police department? Maybe that will become more clear in time as well.

In the meantime, maybe we should all start asking ourselves this question about our own local police force… before your department ends up in my feed too.

The Politics of Truth


In 2007, several incidents of police misconduct, including allegations that officers who lied were never punished, brought public outrage to a head in Seattle Washington and prompted city officials to create 2 review boards to look into the Seattle Police Department’s policies and methods of dealing with allegations of misconduct and disciplinary actions against officers.

The results of those efforts were touted and the city proudly declared that they implemented all of the recommended reforms suggested by those reviews in 2008… though, in truth, they really didn’t.

The problem was that Washington State requires Seattle to negotiate all disciplinary policies with the police officer’s union, which is about the same thing as if they were to require each school to negotiate rules and discipline with their students or requiring jails to negotiate terms of discipline with their inmates.

So, 11 of the recommended reforms had to be approved during contract negotiations between the city and the union. After initially suggesting that they would not negotiate any changes to disciplinary policy, the union changed tact and said that they would sell some of the reform items, after modifications, in exchange for more pay. So, the city and union picked and chose which reforms the city could afford to pay off the union to accept.

One of those reforms that was altered and then bought involved a proposed policy that would force the chief to fire any officer who was dishonest during the internal investigation process… The union said that was unacceptable unless the city added that the finding of dishonesty could only be used if the city established an INTENT to mislead with clear and convincing PROOF. The city relented and bought that modified reform, as worded below:

In the case of an officer receiving a sustained complaint involving dishonesty in the course of the officer’s official duties or relating to the administration of justice, a presumption of termination shall apply. For purposes of this presumption of termination the Department must prove dishonesty by clear and convincing evidence. Dishonesty is defined as intentionally providing false information, which the officer knows to be false, or intentionally providing incomplete responses to specific questions, regarding facts that are material to the investigation. Specific questions do not include general or ‘catch-all’ questions. For purposes of this Section dishonesty means more than mere inaccuracy or faulty memory.

Fast forward to the present day and we find that the city bought and paid for a reform item that it can never enforce because, as the union bragged shortly after the contract was agreed upon, there is no real way to prove intent and that, so long as an officer is smart about it, all they have to do is say that any inconsistency found in testimony was a lapse of memory and all would be well.

Only now has the city realized their blunder as the union has overturned two rulings of dishonesty upon appeal which resulted in the rehiring of one officer who was fired on a finding of dishonesty involving a case of alleged brutality.

And now with a third case where the city attorney forced the police chief to change his planned disciplinary actions against another officer who was found to have been dishonest during his investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.

So, will the city keep telling citizens that they enacted all the reforms that were supposed to improve police accountability now? Will the press keep parroting the city’s releases without doing research of their own to verify those mistaken claims?

Or will this new development cause people to reexamine the problems with police accountability in Seattle and Washington State as a whole and finally discover that the root of the problem cannot be solved at the local level because the problem is that the state is forcing cities to let their police officers dictate if, how, and why they can and can’t be held accountable for their actions?

Probably not.

From The Twitter Files – The Oddball Cops of April

As the end of April draws near I’m getting ready to compile the statistics from the first month of the national police misconduct tracking project.

In case you didn’t know, that project, of which the National Police Misconduct News Feed on Twitter is but a by-product, is an attempt to gather statistics on the extent and types of police misconduct in the US, as well as localities where misconduct may be more prevalent than others.

As I compile these stories of police misconduct, I keep thinking about posting up the worst of them each week or so… but so many of them are so horrific to me that the lists each week would be too long for a mere blog post.

So, instead, I’ve decided to post a brief list of the weirdest stories I’ve seen this month and post them for your review.

I think that cop just gave you the finger, kid
A Tolleson Arizona police officer assigned to a local elementary school, where the grade-school kids are apparently so dangerous that he needed to carry his gun around, appears to have accidentally shot his own finger off while standing in the school doorway.

At the time there was no reported need for the officer to be, erm, fingering his weapon, and there was no word in the report on whether or not there were any small children nearby at the time. But the officer was last reported to be in the hospital while his department looks into the incident.

This cop certainly deserves the finger though!
Ever here that lame urban myth about police officers who were so corrupt that they would charge victims of police brutality with assaulting the cops fists with their faces?

Well, in Albany New York, they seem to delight in turning nightmarish myths into reality now that the Albany police department has charged a man with felony assault… are you ready for it?

…because an officer broke his finger while punching him in the face.

What does it take to be a police chief these days?
Well, for the city of Columbus New Mexico, apparently, it takes a bit of criminal experience. Apparently, after sifting through resumes of potential candidates, the city of Columbus New Mexico picked an interim police chief who might have intimate knowledge of the criminal mind.

To be precise, their new chief comes with a value-added criminal record that includes indictments for extortion in 1996 and allegations of stalking and harassment in 2001. If that’s the kind of person they want leading their police, I hate to see the requirements for the officers that will serve under him.

Can you say “backfired”?
Philadelphia’s police union was furious when a judge ordered a picture they put up of a recently killed officer because it gave the appearance of bias in his courtroom when the officer’s accused killer was scheduled to appear.

So, the union has been demanding that he be fired and have even gone so far as to illegally remove his parking sign from the court parking lot in retribution. But, citizens don’t appear to agree with the police union’s sentiment that the judge offended everyone in the world by trying to keep the court impartial and have held protests in support of their besieged judge.

Speaking of unions…

Teamsters vs Police
No, this isn’t a story of cops busting up union picket lines like back in the old days. This time, it was the story of the Teamsters and the Fraternal Order of Police who were in a pitched battle to represent Nashville TN police officers.

One enterprising Nashville Tennessee cop and Teamster’s union representative was caught breaking into the rival union’s camp for underprivileged children and installing cameras in an attempt to discredit the FOP in 2007.

Now he’s facing 10 months in prison and a Shelby County deputy will be joining him for pleading to perjury in connection with the case.

Buy that cop a leash?
A Pittsburgh Pennsylvania police sergeant cost city $500,000 in a settlement against the city over an incident where the officer had choked a fellow officer last year. Now, you might think that, well, maybe the cop was told not to do that sort of thing again, or maybe disciplined, fired, or even prosecuted?

Nope… and now Sgt. Chokey McChoker been accused of choking yet another cop in new lawsuit against the city. If that’s what this Sgt does to coworkers and subordinates, I sure hate to see what this cop does to citizens.

Will it really be that big of a surprise, Surprise?
The city of Surprise Arizona recently fired two of it’s police officers but has remained very tight lipped about exactly why the two officers were fired. Of course, whenever there’s a secret like that, the press gets interested. So, the local paper sued after the city denied a FOIA request for the disciplinary reports.

The police department and city officials have given a very odd reason for their refusal in that they say the reports will cause a “chilling reaction in the community’s trust in their police department”… and the judge isn’t buying it and has ordered the city to be a bit more precise about exactly why this case, while not associated with any known criminal charges, will chill the hot Arizona city to the bone.

The Peter Police Principle?
A Reno Nevada police detective who ran a program that travelled around different schools to warn teens about the dangers of drinking & driving was recently arrested… yep, you guessed it, for driving while under the influence.

Petered again?
A Manitowoc Wisconsin police officer who worked in the notorious anti-drug D.A.R.E program was convicted for, you guessed it again, being involved in an accident while under the influence. The chief won’t disclose that officer’s discipline, but we know it’s not a dismissal.

A forfeiture fit…
Auditors recently began to question why a Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota joint gang taskforce used $16,000 of funds obtained by forfeiture in various drug raids to fund a “working vaction” trip to Hawaii. So, what did they do in response?

…fit to be tied?
They apparently held a secret, and quite illegal, meeting to discuss ways they could spin the story when they found out the local paper was getting ready to print a story about the whole scandal. I guess they decided to go for double or nothing.

Is sharing really caring?
Culpeper Virginia police officers sure love to share… in fact, after arresting a young man for a DUI, officers decided to look through the suspect’s cell phone and found pictures of his girlfriend in the nude.

The officers called all their pals in the department to come take a look… and agreed they were so interesting they even called out over the radio and invited officers from other departments to come see.

Now those brilliant officers are faced with a lawsuit seeking $350,000 in damages which may jump now that the plaintiff’s lawyers have discovered evidence that the images were distributed outside of the department.

Raising Arizona Florida -or- Chips Ahoy?

Deputy Chip’s Crew

The wife of sheriff’s Deputy Charles “Chip” Buckner III apparently thought it would be a lark to take his police cruiser out on the town with her mom and a 19 year old, um, friend.

Well, after swerving all over, and then pulling a u-turn in front of another cop, they got pulled over and arrested… for a lot more than just a joy ride.

It appears that Gail Buckner, the deputy’s wife, was a felon and so was the 19 year old guy she and her mom were with. So, in addition to grand theft they also got busted for impersonation, felon in possession of a firearm, and firearm theft.

The hubby deputy has since resigned while the sheriff’s department looks into how the whole debacle came about.

To Speak Ill Of The Dead Says Something Of The Living


As I progress through the police misconduct tracking project and review each day’s stories of police misconduct, one of the many things I think about as I enter each dismal story of police misconduct that occurs across the US into Twitter and into my tracking database is; “which one of these stories might grow legs and go national this time?”

It’s a difficult thing to figure out, after all, since each story is deserving of equally broad attention to me. Whether it’s a story about several officers being arrested on allegations of raping prostitutes, some of them children, in Memphis or a story about thousands of cases falling into question or being dropped because of multiple allegations against officers of lying on warrant applications for drug raids in St. Louis… all of these stories need to be heard and all of their victims are equally deserving of a loud voice.

When a story of police misconduct does hit the national mainstream media though, I try to figure out what it is about that story that sparked broad interest out of the multitudes of stories put out each day across the US. I do this because it helps me figure out just what the public is willing to hear and what they believe about the issue of police misconduct.

The latest story going national appears to be the story about an Erie Pennsylvania police officer who decided it would be great for laughs at a local bar to denigrate the dead, speak ill of those who mourned that homicide victim, and jest about tasering and clubbing suspects… and who didn’t think it was a problem until the video of his performance ended up on YouTube.

So concerned was he, that he and a fellow officer, the officer put in charge of the investigation into his performance on that video, went down to the workplace of the videographer’s relative to threaten him into a state of crying hysterics, saying if he didn’t do everything he could to make that video go away that there would be consequences for his relative.

Incidentally, it’s also interesting to me why the video itself is still getting all the national interest while the backstory of the subsequent efforts by the police to investigate and punish the person who took the video instead of investigating and disciplining the officer shown on the video.

Most curious to me, though, was why a story about an officer’s words, his state of mind, would capture attention more than an officer’s actual harmful acts of misconduct? After giving the matter some thought, I think I’ve happened upon an answer.

The video shows what we’ve only guessed at so far in the way it gave us a startling glimpse at how some police officers really think. It affirmed our inner-most fears about the police in this nation, that many really do consider everyone who isn’t a fellow law enforcement brother as an enemy, whether that person is a victim, an innocent bystander, or a suspect… It gave us notice that, to many of them, we are all the same to them and worthy of the same amount of respect, which is very little going by how he talked about the shooting victim and his grieving mother.

It made people pause, I think, to consider that… if this is the way this officer held a shooting victim and his mother in his regard, how might this affect how he treated others throughout his career? After all, if he considers the loss of a life and the grief of a mother in such disregard, how then does he treat the living?

More than this, I think, it makes people wonder how many officers like this might be working for their local police department and how many times their own city’s police officers might have spoken ill about their family or friends who have died or have been victimized in some way… or how they will treat them when they are suffering or how they will be described as they slowly die and officers stand around to watch.

I think that, perhaps, this video gives us the most startling, and frank, insight into the “Us vs Them” mentality many police officers have towards the general public to date… and I suppose that I shouldn’t be shocked that this glimpse was so disturbing as to merit national attention, especially since so many are still so ignorant of that mentality and the capacity for abuse that it nurtures.

Beyond this, though, are his actions after his public commentary in a public place went more public than he anticipated. His attempt to bully and threaten the family of the man who took the video was merely an effort to save his own job, in his own words in fact… which goes to show that not only does he hold others in such low regard as to mock their suffering, but that he holds others in such low regard that his job is more important than their rights and freedom.

So, why did the video make more headlines than the police response to that video? Maybe it’s because both of the stories together would be too large a glimpse into an officer’s disturbing psyche when it seems that even this small picture into the mind of a problematic cop in a short video clip may already be too much for the public to stomach.

Is Reporting Police Misconduct Career Suicide?

On December 23, 2008, King County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Bonnar was acquitted of federal deprivation of civil rights charges that were filed against him on allegations that he had used excessive and unnecessary force when he arrested 41 year old Irene Damon. After reading the verdict, the judge in this case offered a stinging rebuke for Bonnar by suggesting that despite the jury’s decision that there was ample evidence that Bonnar’s conduct was not appropriate.

On March 13, 2009, King County Sheriff’s Deputy Don Griffee was acquitted of fourth degree assault charges that were filed against him on allegations that he had punched 21 year old Johnny Bradford while he was handcuffed in the back seat of a cruiser. Despite the verdict, jurors said they felt that Bradford’s testimony was believable, but that Griffee had offered a case of plausible deniability that prevented them from finding him guilty beyond all doubt.

On February 26, 2009, King County Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Schene plead not guilty to fourth degree assault charges that were filed against him on the basis of a video recording of him kicking, punching, and manhandling 15 year old Malika Calhoun in a holding cell. The video was released to the media a day later and it sparked outrage all over the world which prompted the US Department of Justice to consider pressing federal civil rights violation charges against Schene.

These cases are not uncommon in that there were allegations of abuse leveled against police officers.

These cases are not noteworthy just because they all came from the same precinct and police department.

Nor are they uncommon because of the results in which evidence and testimony that would convict a normal person were insufficient to convict a cop. After all, when 73% of white Americans do not believe police officers ever use excessive force, it’s nearly impossible to find an unbiased jury pool out there.

No, these cases are incredibly unique in the world of police misconduct in that, in each of these cases, it was a police officer who brought these allegations to the attention of their department, that the department listened to the officers who complained and investigated the accusations, that the department recommended charges in response to them, and did not silence the allegations and punish the officers that reported them.

Yes, these cases are incredible in that the officers who reported them didn’t face retribution for doing so… at least not that we can tell yet. But, will that culture within that department last after the sheriff is gone? Or will the union work to shift things back to an environment where officers are afraid to tell the truth in fear of retaliation from fellow officers and supervisors?

Indeed, a good portion of the reason why police officers do not report incidents of misconduct isn’t just because of the cultural pressures not to snitch that their fellow officers put upon them. It’s that the “no snitching” culture is actually enforced by practice within police departments across the US and that it’s expected that officers who report misconduct will be punished by their departments and eventually forced out or fired on allegations that normally wouldn’t result in termination.

That fact was recently reinforced when a reader commented to a story we published in February detailing the surprising number of police department heads who have been embroiled in allegations of misconduct in recent months. That reader posted this in response to that story:

“I can explain why most good officers do not step forward. I was an officer that stepped forward to report about one of the Chiefs on this very list and now I will never be a police officer again.

No agency would take me and it has caused many sleepless nights for me but I have come to terms with the fact that I did what was right. Seeing the justice that was done here makes me feel like I did right but that isn’t good for a person who has only police work to fall back on.

Reporting abuse over another cop, let alone a chief, is career suicide.

At first the reader who posted this wished to remain anonymous and not have the details of what he was referring to made public, and for good reason. But now he’s given us permission to tell the rest of his story of how police officers in America are usually treated when they try to bring misconduct allegation to light.

Here’s what he told us about what happened to him in a follow-up email:

“I was employed in Roberts, Wisconsin for a few years as a patrol officer. All was well until the day that the board decided that the part time police chief job needed to be full time.


The village board decided to hire Ricci Prein and all seemed well at first. At least until one evening when I found Chief Prein drinking while working on a squad car in the municipal garage. I found this to be a compromising position so I reported it to the board.


From that day on I was written up for any crazy thing such as the squad car being on the low end of full gauge or the oil dipstick, or not getting trash to the curb by 3 am when it got picked up at 3 pm that day.


I was also written up on several occasions for my military reserve service and when he was told he was wrong for doing so he still refused to retract anything. The harassment finally got so bad that one day I decided it was enough and I resigned from the department.


After my resignation I was unable to find a job for many years because of the things he would tell prospective employers about me. I tried to take it to court but the fact that I had no money and no lawyer in the area would handle it because of conflict of interests, I gave up. I was still lucky enough, if you call it that, to be called to active duty in the current war 2 times, which helped pay bills.”

This, sadly, is what usually happens when officers report incidents of misconduct, whether it’s against another police officer or a supervisor. There are few real protections against retaliation for reporting misconduct and there is little impetus to change that since city governments benefit from this culture of retribution since it prevents officers from testifying in civil rights violation cases that could cause embarrassment to local governments and loses in court.

Most of the time, the story ends there. The police officer never finds work again and the culture of corruption continues on unabated and even more secure after examples have been made of officers who dared to cross the blue wall of silence.

But not in this officer’s case:

“After my deployments I returned home and wondered how to address this. I finally decided to run for the village president position (mayor). I won the election and there by became Prein’s boss.


Now, I didn’t do anything to him personally, all I did was bring current concerns to the village board as should have been done in the first place when I reported the issues I had seen. I even abstained from any votes pertaining to those allegations. All this being said and done, the board finally made the decision that he was wrong all the time in the past and that he needed to be fired.”

Ricci Prein was eventually fired in July of 2008 on five counts of misconduct in office, seven months after the village board laid out their case against him, and years after this officer first made his concerns known to the village board. However, he proved he wasn’t done getting back at that officer yet.

The officer’s name is Eric Fisher and he had recently run for re-election as village president. He might have won if it weren’t for constant public attacks made by ex-chief Prein made via letters to the editor in the local paper that not only attacked Fisher, but also his wife. That election ended yesterday with Fisher losing to his rival by 44 votes.

So, yes, Fisher is right in that, in most cases, reporting police misconduct can be a matter of career suicide. When we ask ourselves why officers won’t report the misconduct they see and we say that it’s because they are bad officers, we should remind ourselves of what happens to the good ones and how little support they receive from their community. For us to have better expectations from them, we must expect to support and reward them ourselves.

But, fortunately in this case, Fisher found another calling and this story still has a positive ending where most might not. Fisher now works at a high school with special education children. While it doesn’t pay what a police officer gets, it’s something that Fisher can put his determination towards good use once again.

He ended his story by saying this:

“I can never be a cop again, but hey, I love what I am doing now and hopefully when we recover completely from all this I will finish my degree in teaching and become a full time teacher.”

While police unions would use cases like this as an argument that they need even more layers of appeals and protections to fight allegations of misconduct made against officers, this isn’t true. The answer to the problem of retaliation against officers who report misconduct isn’t to make it harder to discipline officers found to have committed acts of misconduct.

The answer is simple actually. As Karl Mansoor, an ex-police officer and law enforcement ethics instructor who fought his own battle against retribution for reporting misconduct, tells his readers… the answer is to make the complaint, investigation, and disciplinary processes transparent to the public in order to remove the incentives that keep misconduct and the retribution suffered for reporting it a secret.

The best solution to the problem of police misconduct and the culture of silence prevalent in police departments across the nation is to shine a little light on them.

Where Norm Stamper Gets It Wrong

Image of Norm Stamper, retired Seattle Police Department Chief of Police

Normally, I respect and agree with most of what ex-Seattle Police Chief, and current member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Norm Stamper has to say about the issue of police misconduct and brutality. He has a pretty firm grasp, as an insider, of many of the issues involved in the complex issue of how American policy and culture itself enables and encourages police brutality.

However, in his latest piece over at The Huffington Post, I found some fault with what he had to say about the shooting deaths of four Oakland police officers earlier this week and how he believes we should react to it.

Mind you, I agree that we shouldn’t seek to connect too closely the deaths of those officers and the hardship it brings to their families with the severe problems with police brutality and misconduct in Oakland. I also agree that we should treat their deaths as we would any other regrettable and senseless loss of life done intentionally to another human being…

After all, we don’t know what kind of police officers they were, whether they were good or bad… and it doesn’t matter anyway because no matter what they didn’t deserve to be killed. They deserve all the respect that any other person should get when they die. However, it’s clear that we never do treat police officers like we do other people, and Norm doesn’t want us to.

Just consider the response to their deaths so far… consider, for how much coverage we might think the shooting death of Oscar Grant in Oakland at the hands of a police officer received, the coverage of the shooting deaths of four Oakland Police officers was 10 times as prominent in the mainstream media than was the highly publicized death of Oscar Grant. (yes, I counted)

Sadly, Norm pushes that this is how it should be and advocates that we should enshrine them just for being police officers, just because they died performing what he feels is the most harrowing job in the US…

But it’s not the most harrowing job in the US…

Sure, Norm does acknowledge that more people die on the job in other fields than police officers do, that’s something I made clear a few months ago when I researched the latest statistics available to us from the US government.

In per capita death rates per occupation in 2007 (the latest stats available), law enforcement doesn’t even crack the top four:
1. Fishing and Fishery Workers (111.8 per 100,000)
2. Logging Workers (86.4 per 100,000)
3. Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers (66.7 per 100,000)
4. Structural Iron and Steel Workers (45.5 per 100,000)

Law Enforcement (20.2 per 100,000)

Law Enforcement deaths barely inches into the top ten in total deaths per occupation in 2007:

Deaths by Occupation for 2007

But, as I said, Norm acknowledges this… what he is mistaken about is this:

“It doesn’t occur as often as most are led to believe, certainly not as frequently as it does on TV. There are a good number of riskier occupations–mining and construction, farming and firefighting come to mind, as does fishing on the Bering Sea in the dead of winter. But there is no job, other than soldiering, where one’s life can so quickly be cut short–at the hands of another. Sudden, violent death is an occupational hazard for police officers.”

Here, Norm is quite mistaken in his argument that we should automatically honor police more than any other person in their deaths because they are more likely to be murdered on the job than anyone else…

Here, he’s clearly wrong:

Job site deaths sorted by number of homicides

You are more likely to be murdered working as a retail clerk or manager than you are to be murdered while working as a cop. Since this is the case, I wonder why I don’t see Norm arguing that we should be erecting shrines, dedicating moments of silence, and creating hundreds of Retail Clerk Memorial Funds like law enforcement officers have?

Indeed, in those numbers we see that murder isn’t even the top cause of death for all law enforcement fatalities… that would be automobile accidents.

So, Norm’s argument that officers who die on duty should be memorialized as heroes just for being police officers due to the risks they take by becoming police officers seems hypocritical, sadly. As I said, they should be given no less respect than any other person in their deaths…

But, part of the whole problem with police misconduct is that we raise police officers up to the level of heroes in our society, we are told to trust and respect them just for being police officers, we give their testimony more sway in courts of law and courts of public opinion just for being cops, and we are told that we should memorialize them more than any other person when they die…

…even though they are just as human and fallible as the rest of us.

The problem, you see, is as Norm says it is, that insular police culture of “Us vs Them”, that culture that makes officers believe that they are better than the rest of us, that we are less human and less worthy of respect than they are…

It is that culture which enables and encourages police brutality… and by telling us we should respect those four officers who died in Oakland more than we respect Oscar Grant or any other person who dies at the hands of another simply feeds into that culture of superiority and abuse… it only serves to grow that notion of “Us vs Them”.

Especially when the argument used to convince us that we should treat police officers differently than ordinary people is flawed in it’s own right.

When Testilying Cops Make No Cents

On February 11, 2005, Tallahasse Florida Police Officers responded to a burglary alarm at Nezha’s Subs and Wings and the Magnolia Barbershop. They arrived to see the front door smashed and that both business’ cash registers were missing.

Meanwhile, a witness called police to report seeing a man in the median of a nearby street with a cash register so officers investigated and claimed that they spotted a “trail” of pennies leading to a nearby apartment. The cash register matched the type from the Magnolia Barbershop.

Officers discovered the apartment belonged to a Jay W. Smith who was a Florida A&M University student. Four days after the burglary officers visited Smith and asked for permission to search his apartment. When Smith declined they took his drivers license and refused to let him leave while officers attempted to get a warrant.

However, while attempting to get the warrant, officers received a call that the other register was found and they let Smith go and returned his license after making a copy of it for a photo lineup.

Officers contacted the witnesses who claimed they saw a black man, in his late teens to early twenties, with a cash register that night and had them look at the photo lineup. One picked out Smith and the other couldn’t pick anyone out of the lineup.

On March 3rd of 2005 Smith was arrested and held in Leon County Jail in lieu of a $2,500 bond which would never be returned to Smith.

He was charged based on a sworn affidavit by an officer named Rodney Fountain, who claimed that Smith stole one cash register with at least $100 in change in it, that there was a trail of pennies leading to his door, and that at least one witness observed him with the cash register and picked him out of a photo lineup.

Seems like an open and shut case based on solid investigative police work, right?

Yeah, probably isn’t if you’re reading about it here.

Apparently, a few problems with the case became apparent after Smith’s attorney did some investigating and found that:

The “trail” of pennies actually wasn’t a trail, it consisted of only five pennies that were near Smith’s door and in the nearby parking lot. Both of which weren’t really near the location where the cash register was actually found, there was no trail.

Oh, and about that cash register… the owner of that cash register told police that night that she cleaned it out before leaving. There was no money, let alone any change, in that cash register that night. Quite the opposite of the $100 in change the officer claimed was in it.

About that witness identification? It appears as though the officers involved neglected to mention that those witnesses both claimed that they couldn’t get a look at the person with the cash register because he was wearing a hoodie.

In fact, to make it worse, it appears as though the one witness who did pick Smith’s photo had expressly explained to the officer that he didn’t see the man’s face and could not pick anyone out. But that officer, the same Rodney Fountain, wouldn’t accept no for an answer and told the witness to “just pick one”, so the witness felt pressured and did what he was told and picked Smith’s photo randomly out of the six that were presented to him.

Now, according to a complaint filed on February 9th (pdf) in the US District Court of Florida by the Law Office of James Cook, the City of Tallahassee and several of its police officers are being sued for deprivation of rights, malicious prosecution, fabrication of evidence, false imprisonment, and a slew of other charges over Smith’s arrest.

What might have seemed like good detective work was actually a case of evidence fabrication and testilying, a term used to describe when officers lie in court testimony and sworn statements.

Do you think a case like this is rare?

No, Smith was lucky enough to have a defense attorney, Matt Willard, that took the time to look over the evidence and who spotted the anomalies that made him look deeper. If he had an overworked attorney who urged him to take a plea, we wouldn’t have ever heard about this case… just like all the others you never hear about.

So now there will be another robbery, the citizens of Tallahassee will be robbed by the officers who lied in order to arrest someone who was innocent. They won’t pay if they lose that lawsuit, the city’s taxpayers will… so, what incentive did they have NOT to lie?

None, and ultimately, that’s why they did.

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