C-SPAN Interview on the Federal Role in Handling Police Misconduct

With Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, there will be a drastic decrease in federal interventions over local police departments.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my view is that the Right is wrong if they think there are no systemic problems in American policing.  However, the Left is wrong to think the feds can come riding to the rescue to fix those departments.  That’s another example of the triumph of hope over experience.

More on my thesis here.

A “Good Start” in Wisconsin

In many states, officers will quit a department before they are fired or while they are under investigation for misconduct and take a job elsewhere, effectively wiping their own slate clean and starting over. In certain cases, this can endanger a new community because a bad officer simply moved jurisdictions. One tragic example: the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio resigned from another department that was about to terminate him for his ineptitude with firearms.

USA Today’s Jonathan Anderson has a report today about the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s laudable efforts to reduce the likelihood of hiring problem officers.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice earlier this year began requiring law enforcement agencies to report when officers resign amid an internal investigation, quit in lieu of termination or are fired for cause.

The Justice Department will warn agencies about the officers should they seek employment elsewhere, according to Christopher Domagalski, chairman of the state Law Enforcement Standards Board, which oversees training and certification of police officers in the state.

“What we’re trying to do is eliminate the opportunity for somebody to slip through the cracks,” said Domagalski, who also is chief of the Sheboygan Police Department.

The change is aimed at identifying officers who switch jobs or hop around to different agencies after committing or being accused of wrongdoing.

As a professor notes later in the piece, this is a “good start” but not sufficient to completely eliminate the practice because, like many states, Wisconsin cannot decertify an officer unless the officer has been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors like domestic violence.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to see state officials taking police misconduct seriously.

You can read the whole report here.

Worst of the Month–March 2017

For the worst of March, we look to the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department scandal that has finally come to a close. Now-former Sheriff Lee Baca was found guilty of obstruction of justice for trying to hide various civil rights violations that were happening at the jail and within his department. Ten other officers, including Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, were convicted and sentenced to prison terms for beatings of inmates, general jail conditions, and hiding information from the federal government.

Before this scandal came to light several years ago, other LASD deputies were tried and convicted for sexually abusing inmates and other civil rights violations.

While some officers we cover are certainly bad apples, some departments create and maintain cultures of impunity for abusive officers. This allows misbehavior to become commonplace and even an integral part of how a department manages itself. This is a sad chapter in LASD’s history and hopefully the department can move on and regain the trust of the community it serves.

Justice Dept Reviews Consent Decrees

Yesterday, it was reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviewing previous and pending consent decrees between the Department of Justice and local police departments around the country.  My view is that both the Left and Right misdiagnose the problem.  The Right does not really appreciate the scope of the police misconduct problem, but they’re right that it is primarily the responsibility of local officials to address the problems that do exist.  The Left knows scope of the problem, but too often seeks federal intervention which does not have a great track record and has the enabling effect of letting local officials escape accountability for their fecklessness.

Note this headline from today’s Business Insider:   “Police departments vow to move forward on reform despite Sessions’ move to roll it back.”  You mean departments are going to clean up their act if the Trump administration takes no action?  Perfect!

I elaborate more on this policy matter here.

Worst of the Month — February

So for February, we’ve selected Pima County, Arizona for the conduct of (the now former) Sheriff Christopher Radtke and the very peculiar leniency shown to him by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Federal prosecutors charged Radtke with several felonies for money laundering and theft.  According to the newspaper accounts, Radtke admitted that for years he made it appear as if his office was donating seized cash and assets from criminal suspects to a sheriff’s auxiliary fund when that wasn’t the case at all.

Ordinary citizens go to prison for embezzlement, but not Radtke.  No prison time and a very generous pension.

Here’s an excerpt from one report:

The plea bargain dismisses all felonies, with Radtke admitting to three misdemeanor theft counts. He agreed to not seek employment as a law-enforcement officer or with Pima County government. In return, prosecutors will request one year of probation without incarceration and will not prosecute Radtke for other offenses.

The deal allows Radtke to receive an $82,800 annual pension from the state Public Safety Personnel Retirement System and a one-time $505,000 payment from the system’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, according to the retirement system’s records. Within six years, Radtke will receive more than $1 million in state retirement benefits.

Had Radtke been convicted of any of the felony charges against him, he would have been required by law to forfeit his state pension because the crime was committed in the course of his role as a public official for a government employer.

The plea was accepted by Magistrate Judge Eric Markovich. Sentencing is scheduled for April 7 in U.S. District Court in Tucson.

Remarkable.

Hundreds Protest the Actions of an Off-Duty Cop in California

From the Washington Post:

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Anaheim, Calif., for a sprawling protest Wednesday night that was sparked by video footage showing an off-duty Los Angeles police officer firing his gun during a confrontation with teenagers a day earlier.

No one was hurt during the shooting, but the episode was recorded and widely shared across social media, sparking anger in the area and leading to a standoff on Anaheim’s streets between demonstrators and police. The officer involved has been placed on leave, while two teenagers were arrested after the incident.

Authorities have not identified the officer involved, but promise a thorough and impartial investigation into the incident.

Worst of the Month — January

So for January we have selected the case of Philippe Holland, who was an innocent man shot by Philadelphia police.

According to news reports, here is what happened: Holland was a college student who worked part-time delivering take-out food.  Two  years ago, he was delivering a cheeseburger to a house when two officers in plain clothes responded to the area because of a report about gunshots.  Holland says he thought he was about to get robbed because the officers approached him without identifying themselves.  Frightened, Holland jumped in his car and tried to drive away quickly.  The police officers opened fire and Holland now has a permanent seizure disorder and has bullet fragments in his brain.

Last month, the city agreed to pay $4.4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Holland, reportedly the largest settlement for a police shooting in the city’s history.

The officers involved in the shooting–Kevin Hanvey and Mitchell Farrell– claim that they feared for their lives and thus had to shoot.  They were not prosecuted.  Even after the passage of two years the department says their discipline is yet “to be determined.”  Hmm.

Worst of the Month — December

For December we’ve selected two former police officers from East Point, Georgia, who were found guilty of criminal charges last month in relation to the killing of Gregory Towns.

Here’s the background: Two police officers, Marcus Eberhart and Howard Weems, were responding to a domestic disturbance call.  When they arrived on the scene, Gregory Towns tried to flee on foot.  The police caught him and placed him in handcuffs.  When the officers ordered Towns to stand up and walk to the police car, he said he was exhausted and too tired to walk.  Frustrated, the police responded by tasing Towns so that he would comply with their commands.  Towns was tased several times and he died.

At their criminal trial, the officers told the jury, via their legal counsel, that Towns died from an illness unrelated to the tasing, but if they did not believe that, the jury should understand that the tasing was the only way to get Towns to the police car.