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“We Need Cops With People Skills”: Police Authority Presupposes Legitimacy And Trust

What can I do?

Not quite six months ago, a reader named Tracy posed that question to me and I, in turn, posed it to you. Tracy, a 55-year-old white woman from Austin, said she was sick of hearing about unarmed African-American men being injured or killed by police. “What can be done?” she asked. “What can I do? I’m sincere in this question. I want to DO something. What can that be?”

Well, Bob has some ideas. In an email, he describes himself as a “retired professional firefighter from a metropolitan area” whose 20 years as a paramedic often required him to work closely with police.

“I witnessed many cases of police brutality,” he writes. “A stressed patient or family member would call 911 for medical assistance. We would respond as well as the PD. A situation that required a calm and caring presence and an ambulance ride to a care center or psych ward would end up in a physical altercation with mace and cuffs.”

Bob says he and his partner would talk about what they had seen on the way back to the station, “but knew better than to alert our superiors or file complaints because we did not dare open a rift with the local PD. We (and paramedics on other shifts) needed PD backup on potentially dangerous calls. So we all kept quiet.”

Based on that experience, Bob has two suggestions. One is that we should push for more thorough screening of police applicants. “We need cops to DEFUSE situations,” he writes, “not escalate. We need cops with people skills. No more bullies. Very intense psych examinations should be part of police applicant training.”

Bob’s other suggestion? Require that non-sworn civilians be part of any investigation of police brutality. Just as you would never assign a 7-year-old to solve the mystery of the broken cookie jar, he thinks it makes little sense to ask police to investigate their own.

“Do we really think cops will give an unbiased and honest effort when investigating other cops? NO! It is always the same old game. Make the investigation last for months until it is back-page news. Discount or do not document damaging statements. Intimidate convincing witnesses. Conveniently forget to note damaging facts. When all else fails, lie or plant evidence to close cases.”

From where I sit, both of Bob’s suggestions have merit, but as we approach the first anniversary of the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice with no one yet held accountable, his second carries particular resonance. Even granting the need for thoroughness, it strains credulity to believe it takes the better part of a year — and counting — to decide whether to prosecute Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, especially given the surveillance video that shows Loehmann shooting the boy, who had been holding a realistic-looking toy gun, within two seconds after the patrol car skids to a stop in front of him.

Would the decision on prosecution proceed at such a leisurely pace had it been Loehmann who was shot? Would the prosecutor be agonizing like Hamlet almost a year later?

You know the answer as well as I do.

The impulse to cut cops some slack — “Hey, he was only doing his job” — is understandable. It is also wrong and, more to the point, shortsighted.

One of the most important weapons in a cop’s arsenal is his authority. But authority presupposes legitimacy and trust. How much of either can a police officer — or a police force or the institution of policing itself — command when they operate under such a blatantly different set of rules? A requirement that outside eyes be involved in investigations of serious allegations of police misconduct would go a long way toward rectifying that.

At the very least, it’s a conversation we are long overdue to have.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 5, 2015

October 6, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Abuse, Police Brutality | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Official Justifications For Savagery”: Police Officers Must Be Held To Higher Standard Of Conduct

The omnipresence of video cameras hasn’t restrained the impulses of violent police officers, it seems, but cameras have at least repudiated the narratives that have saved so many police from prosecution. In several cases, video footage has offered a truth that defies official justifications for savagery.

Because he was wearing a body camera that contradicted his account (stunning, yes, that he was aware he was being recorded), Ray Tensing has been charged with murder in the July death of Cincinnati motorist Samuel DuBose, whom Tensing, then a University of Cincinnati police officer, had stopped for a traffic violation. Tensing claimed that he shot DuBose because he feared for his life, but the footage doesn’t appear to show him in any danger.

Yet, the decision by Tensing’s superiors to prosecute him merely lays bare the remaining inequities in a criminal justice system that is by no means just. It is quite rare for police officers to be convicted and sent to prison for their unjustified violence, no matter the evidence against them.

(Indeed, it is still quite rare for police officers to be charged in the deaths of civilians. So far this year, 558 civilians have died at the hands of police, according to The Washington Post, which says that officers have been charged in only four cases, all of which were captured on video. In three of the cases, the victims were black, while the officers were white. In the fourth, the civilian was also white.)

Indeed, the criminal justice system is one of the last bastions of blatant racism, a pastiche of prejudices, wrongheaded stereotypes, and all-too-human assumptions. The implicit and explicit biases that color black people as dangerous and anti-social tend to let police officers, especially white officers, off the hook. Their crimes often go unpunished.

Perhaps you remember the trial of four Los Angeles cops in the brutal 1991 assault on Rodney King. Videotaped by a passer-by as they repeatedly beat and kicked a prostrate King, they were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. Yet, none were convicted in a Simi Valley courtroom.

Two of the four, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell, were later convicted after federal authorities charged them with violating King’s civil rights.

Still, U.S. District Court Judge John Davies was clearly sympathetic to the two men, saying that King had “contributed significantly to provoking the offense behavior.” While they faced up to 10 years in prison, he sentenced them to 30 months.

Now fast-forward a quarter-century. In May 2015, Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo, who is white, was acquitted of manslaughter in the 2012 deaths of an unarmed black motorist, Timothy Russell, and passenger, Malissa Williams. After other officers had ceased shooting and Russell had stopped his car — he had led the officers on a high-speed chase — Brelo jumped onto the hood of the vehicle and fired 15 shots.

The U.S. Department of Justice, by the way, considered that case when it issued a report that found the Cleveland Police Department had engaged in a long-running pattern of unnecessary force. More than 100 police officers pursued Russell’s vehicle because they believed they heard gunfire coming from the car, but Justice found it likely that the car had backfired.

Nevertheless, Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O’Donnell ruled that the “state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Michael Brelo, knowingly caused the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.” (O’Donnell presided over a bench trial — or trial without a jury.)

Law enforcement defenders would undoubtedly note that neither Rodney King nor Timothy Russell was a paragon of virtue. Both motorists failed to stop their vehicles, choosing to flee police. Their conduct was clearly wrong.

But neither King nor Russell took an oath to protect and serve. Neither man was given the badge and gun that ought to suggest a rigorous moral code and a significant degree of restraint.

In other words, police officers should be held to a higher standard of conduct. And if they behave like murderous thugs, they should be treated as such. Until they are, justice remains tantalizingly out of reach.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, August 1, 2015

August 2, 2015 Posted by | Police Brutality, Police Shootings, Police Violence | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Your Support For Brutality Or Your Life”: Plainly An Effort To Extort The Public For Support Of Police Brutality

In the latest and most open demonstration that some law enforcement officers are prone to go on strike if their tactics are challenged, two unnamed Baltimore cops blandly told CNN that citizens of the city had to choose between safety from criminals and safety from the police, per a report from Brooke Baldwin and Dana Ford:

Forty-two people were killed in Baltimore in May, making it the deadliest month there since 1972.

When asked what’s behind that number, a Baltimore police officer gave an alarming answer. Basically, he said, the good guys are letting the bad guys win.

“The criminal element feels as though that we’re not going to run the risk of chasing them if they are armed with a gun, and they’re using this opportunity to settle old beefs, or scores, with people that they have conflict with,” the officer said. “I think the public really, really sees that they asked for a softer, less aggressive police department, and we have given them that, and now they are realizing that their way of thinking does not work.”

In other words, prosecuting cops for killing Freddie Gray means criminals will run wild. Look in the other direction if some thugs wind up dead under murky circumstances, or you can kiss police protection good-bye.

I know we should not assume these two anonymous cops speak for their colleagues, but if so, they better speak up. This is pretty plainly an effort to extort support for brutality at the end of a gun–not a police service revolver, of course, but the gun hypothetically wielded by the “bad guys” because the “good guys” insist to do their job their way–laws be damned–or not at all.

Aside from the inherently poisonous nature of such demands, there’s not much question these officers are trying to stir up a public backlash against the elected officials, prosecutors and ultimately judges who are supposed to supervise their behavior. And there’s no question this is going to create a huge temptation for conservative politicians–maybe in Maryland, but more likely in far distance locations–to bring back the race-baiting law-n-order politics of the 1960s and 1970s.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 10, 2015

June 11, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Abuse, Police Brutality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Emotional Distress And Mental Anguish”: Cleveland Cops Involved In 137-Shot Barrage Claim They’re Victims Of Discrimination

Nine of the 13 Cleveland police officers involved in a 137-shot barrage that left an unarmed black man and woman dead after a high-speed chase in 2012 filed a lawsuit last November claiming that they were treated too harshly and discriminated against by the police department in the aftermath of the shooting.

Michael Brelo, the white officer acquitted on Saturday of manslaughter charges for the shooting, isn’t involved in the lawsuit. The nine other officers, eight of whom are white and one of whom is Hispanic, claim the Cleveland Police Department treats non-black cops more harshly than African-American officers when they use force against black suspects, Cleveland.com’s Cory Shaffer reported.

“The City of Cleveland, through the other named defendants, and the other named defendants in their individual capacities, have a history of treating non-African American officers involved in the shootings of African Americans substantially harsher than African American officers,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit complains that the nine officers have been placed on restricted duty for far longer than the traditional 45 days following a police shooting, preventing them from earning overtime pay and forcing them to conduct “boring, menial tasks.” This, the lawsuit says, has impaired the officers’ pay and reputation and caused “emotional distress and mental anguish.”

The city denied all the allegations of discrimination in a response reported by the Cleveland Scene’s Doug Brown in January. There has been little movement in the case since then.

The lawsuit drew almost immediate criticism when it was filed in November because it felt so tone-deaf to critics of police in Cleveland and across the country.

“Yes, Cleveland police officers involved in killing two unarmed people are saying that extra long ‘gym duty’ because of their roles in a shooting incident resulted in ’emotional distress’ and ‘mental anguish,'” the Cleveland Scene’s Doug Brown wrote at the time. “Not that they killed people, but because of gym duty.”

Over the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement rose to national prominence as several police killings of black men and boys highlighted racial disparities in police use of force, including the deaths of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

But police officers, backed by their powerful unions, have by and large rejected this type of criticism. Not only do many cops and their supporters deny claims of discrimination, but they also worry that the increased scrutiny will make it more difficult to use force in scenarios that call for it, potentially putting officers and others in danger.

The disagreement has led some police officers to lash out. In New York City, after Mayor Bill de Blasio said he taught his biracial son to be careful around police, the city’s officers appeared to protest through weeks of a “work slowdown” in which they purposely reduced their activity and carried out fewer arrests.

The lawsuit from the nine Cleveland officers is another example of cops attempting to turn the criticisms around. Instead of acknowledging the disparities in the criminal justice system and the many contributing factors, these officers are saying that it’s actually they who are the victims of systemic discrimination.

 

By: German Lopez, Vox, May 24, 2015

May 25, 2015 Posted by | Cleveland Police Department, Police Brutality, Police Shootings | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Only Officers Who Would Have A Problem Are Bad Officers”: Do Police Have A Right To Withhold Video When They Kill Someone?

In Gardena, California, south of Los Angeles, three police officers killed an unarmed man, shooting him eight times, and shooting a second, seriously wounding him. They said the men were suspected of stealing a bicycle, but in fact they were friends of the man whose bike had been stolen, the Los Angeles Times reported, and “were searching for the missing bicycle.” The City agreed to pay a $4.7 million settlement to the survivor. The whole incident was recorded on a video camera mounted inside a police car. The officers involved were allowed to view the video, but the Gardena police refused to release it to the public, claiming that making the video public would violate the privacy rights of the officers involved.

Do the police have a privacy right to withhold video shot by in-car cameras or body cams? Do public officials, acting in their public capacity, have a right to prevent the public from reviewing video evidence of their conduct? You’d think the answer was obviously “no.” When the police kill somebody, it’s not “private.”

But 15 states are considering legislation to exempt video recordings of police encounters from release under state public records laws, according to the Associated Press, or to limit what can be made public. In Kansas the state Senate voted 40-0 in April to exempt police body-cam videos from the state’s open-records act. Police would have to release them only to people who are the subject of the recordings. Kansas police, on the other hand, would be able to release videos “at their own discretion.” In Minnesota, a state Senate committee has approved a bill making most police body-cam videos off-limits to the general public, “except when an officer uses a dangerous weapon or causes bodily harm.”

The ACLU recently estimated that a thousand people a year may have been killed by the police in the United States. The whole idea of videotaping the police is to deter excessive force and other forms of misconduct, and to provide a way of resolving disputes between victims of police violence and officers claiming they had just cause. “People behave better on film, whether it’s the police or the suspect,” said Michelle Richardson, public policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, “because they realize others are going to see them.” That’s the main reason President Obama has proposed spending $75 million to help police departments buy body cams.

There’s good evidence body-cams can stop bad cops. In Rialto, California, east of LA, police officers wore cameras for a year in 2012, and as The Guardian reported, “public complaints against officers plunged 88 per cent compared with the previous 12 months. Officers’ use of force fell by 60 per cent.”

But if the police get to decide what the public will see, the entire rationale for the cameras is undermined. The police will release videos when they support the police version of violent encounters, and withhold the videos documenting misconduct.

The case for a police right to privacy is weak. Advocates say releasing videos could lead to retaliation against the officers involved and endanger their families. It’s the same rationale for refusing to release the names of police officers who injure or kill innocent people. But in those cases, the video (and the names) should be released, and protection provided if necessary for the officers and their families.

Of course most video from police body cams should not be made public. The ACLU has proposed guidelines that protect the privacy rights of the people encountering the police. For example, body-cam video shot inside people’s homes, when police respond to a domestic violence call, needs special restrictions on release, the ACLU argues. The ACLU also notes the need for restrictions on the release and posting on the internet of dash cam video of embarrassing incidents such as DUI stops of celebrities or “ordinary individuals whose troubled and/or intoxicated behavior has been widely circulated and now immortalized online.”

Police officers could withhold body cam video under the proposed ACLU guidelines if it does not document encounters with the public—for example conversations between officers in squad cars or the locker room. One other key issue in the proposed ACLU guidelines: police officers should not be allowed to turn off their body cams and should be disciplined if they do.

Progressive police officials know the body cams will help them get rid of bad cops. Denver police chief Robert White is one of those officials. Good cops should welcome body cams, he said recently, because they will “protect police from false allegations of excessive force.” And “citizens should know officers are being held accountable. The only officers who would have a problem with body cameras are bad officers.” The same goes for releasing police video.

 

By: Joe Wiener, The Nation, May 21, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Police Brutality, Police Shootings, Police Video Cameras, Police Violence | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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