Responding to San Jose Mercury News articles raising concerns about the use of force by local police officers, Police Chief Rob Davis announced new layers of internal review to guard against officers' misusing their fists, batons, Tasers, and guns to subdue suspects. Even as the chief announced new internal boards of officers, and Mayor Chuck Reed expressed "significant concerns about how and when force is used," critics and outside observers expressed skepticism that any new reviews by the police themselves would be credible.
"It's the fox guarding the chicken house," said Peter Keane, Golden Gate University law professor who was formerly a San Francisco police commissioner. He added of internal review panels: "You can't expect them to come up with any meaningful review. " The Mercury News reported its own detailed review of the police use of force showed repeated instances in which incidents that began over seemingly-innocuous situations, such as jaywalking and missing bike lights, ended with police using force, often the first blow, against suspects they believed uncooperative and potentiallydangerous.
Hundreds of times a year, interactions between San Jose, Ca., police and residents where no serious crime has occurred escalate into violence, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Many times the reason for the encounter is as innocuous as jaywalking, missing bike head lamps, or failing to signal a turn. Often, as the incidents develop, police determine the suspect is uncooperative and potentially violent and strike the first blow.
While many of those incidents raise questions about whether the police response was excessive, the department almost always dismisses such complaints about its behavior and limits public scrutiny of the cases, moves that tend to heighten distrust of the department, particularly in minority communities. The newspaper reviewed 206 court cases in which the most serious charge against the defendant was the misdemeanor crime of resisting arrest or delaying or obstructing a police officer. Of those, 145 — 70 percent of the cases — involved the use of force by officers. Around the nation, many police departments closely monitor cases of resisting arrest because of a concern that the loosely defined crime is a "cover charge" used by errant cops to justify unnecessary force. San Jose police officials last month said, in response to Mercury News questions, that they were instituting a policy to begin tracking such arrests.
A rookie Dallas police officer erred when he cited a woman earlier this month for being a non-English speaking driver, reports the city's Morning News. Officer Gary Bromley issued a citation Oct. 2 to Ernestina Mondragon, 48, after stopping her for making an illegal U-turn. No such language charge exists. A police spokesman called it a "sincere mistake," although he added, "There's no excuse for it."
That charge and a charge of failure to present a driver's license were dropped. Bromley, 33, is a trainee officer. Mondragon's daughter Brenda Mondragon said her mother was rushing to take her younger sister to school that day and did not see the "no U-turn" sign. Records show Ernestina Mondragon has a driver's license, but her daughter said she had forgotten it. She said her mother, a native Spanish speaker, speaks limited English.
In at least 120 cities, civilian review boards address situations where police are otherwise left investigating fellow officers, reports the Charleston (WVA) Gazette. "So much of this movement is to increase the confidence in police. If I'm doing my job as an oversight agency, then that should be consistent with the objectives of the police," said Philip Eure, president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement and director of the District of Columbia Office of Complaints -- Washington's police civilian review board.
Of the 20 largest U.S. cities, only three do not have some type of civilian review of police. In one of those -- Jacksonville, Fl. -- community leaders are pushing to have one put in place. Frank Crabtree, director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Charleston, said in recent controversial West Virginia cases, a civilian review board could go a long way to satisfying public curiosity about what happened. It could provide a level of police accountability not now found in West Virginia, he said.
Four years after the New Orleans Police Department was accused of acting lawlessly in suppressing violence in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, dozens of officers, some from an elite unit, have been interviewed by the FBI or faced subpoenas to testify before federal grand juries, the New York Times reports. FBI agents seized files from the department’s homicide division.
If indictments are brought against officers, some of whom have been celebrated as heroes of the storm, the impact — on the city’s race relations, on the coming mayoral election and on the essential but already brittle relationship between police officers and citizens — could be profound. "Any one of those federal probes could be viewed as the most significant investigation in any FBI office in the country," said Rafael Goyeneche III, a former prosecutor who is the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a nonprofit organization that focuses on crime and corruption in Louisiana. Unlike many federal civil rights investigations, which often involve only a few officers, he said, “these are much more extensive.”
The most commmon lie that police officers tell is "I can't recall," according to Karen Kruger, a Maryland prosecutor who spoke Monday at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in Denver. Kruger was on a panel concerning police deception, reports PoliceOne.com. As she put it, “Why should I even go to a session entitled ‘Police Officer Lying: Is Any Deception Acceptable’? Isn’t the short answer to that ‘no’?”
She continued, “Deception during interrogations to coerce a confession — that’s just good police work — and the entire enterprise of undercover work is a complex, multi-layered deception. There are also lies justified by investigative necessity, and conduct intended to deceive that is not malicious in nature.” About the “I don’t recall” tack, she said, "Oftentimes during internal affairs investigations an officer will remember every last detail about that day — what he had for breakfast, what uniform he was wearing, and everything else — except for that critical moment during an incident.”
A central Kentucky drug task force is using satellite-based tracking devices, sometimes without warrants from judges, to keep track of suspects in their cars, reports the Richmond Register and the Associated Press. Some members of the local legal community are concerned. The Central Kentucky Area Drug Task Force has spent $18,000 on a variety of systems designed to allow officers to track vehicles covertly using GPS satellites.
Task force director Rick Johnson said his agency uses three such devices and has installed them without obtaining warrants. He said he hadn't even notified the prosecutor of the use of the devices "because he hasn't asked which cases they're being used in."
But prosecutor David Smith said he expected information of that nature to be submitted to his office without prompting. "I would think that it should be included in his case report," Smith said. Defense attorneys say using the tracking device without a judge's approval may be skirting the law. "It is disappointing that anyone in law enforcement defends this practice," said Wes Browne, a former prosecutor now in private practice.
The city of Detroit and the U.S. Justice Department have recommended a former U.S. associate drug czar who has extensive municipal police experience as a new federal monitor for the Detroit Police Department, the Detroit News reports. Robert Warshaw of Police Performance Solutions LLC is subject to the approval of U.S. District Judge Julian Abele Cook Jr.
The proposed successor to Sheryl Robinson Wood was recommended after 14 candidates were chosen for interviews from about 25 applications. Wood resigned in July after the FBI discovered text messages exchanged between her and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick that pointed to a personal relationship and meetings between them that the federal judge overseeing the case deemed inappropriate. Warshaw was associate director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1997. He was deputy chief of police in Miami and chief of police in Rochester, N.Y., and Statesville, N.C.
More than 180 complaints were filed against Milwaukee police officers in the first half of the year, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The 66 formal ones marked a 13.8 percent increase over that number for early 2008, itself a record year for complaints. The numbers don't reflect a corresponding increase in police misconduct, said Michael Tobin, executive director of the city's Fire and Police Commission. He attributes the jump to the fact it has become a lot easier to file a complaint since an overhaul of the commission last year. "We're much more accessible," Tobin said, and registering a beef about a police officer "is a much different, much simpler process."
Prompted by a consultant's report, a Supreme Court opinion,and growing citizen frustration, the commission announced last year major changes in how it would handle complaints. The Milwaukee Police Association sued the agency, saying the new approach was unfair to officers. The lawsuit was dismissed last month after the commission and the union agreed to new parameters about mediation. Complaints are categorized as being about procedures, services, discourtesy, disparate treatment, or use of force. There were four informal complaints of officers' use of force, and 12 formal complaints about force. When a citizen has a bigger issue, the commission can send the matter to an outside mediator. "Most people are very satisfied" with that process, Tobin said. "And officers like it because there's no discipline involved." He said both sides get a chance to vent, but usually learn something in the process, as well.
A landmark reform started 16 years ago by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to weed out problem deputies has been remarkably successful in identifying officers who have the potential for misconduct and excessive force, says a study reported by the Los Angeles Times. It concluded that there is a strong link between the number of complaints filed against a deputy -- proved or not -- and the possibility that the deputy will eventually get into serious trouble and become a liability for the department.
The monitoring system, which tracks complaints, conduct, and use of force, was established in 1993 after a scathing report by a special commission found a "disturbing" pattern of excessive force and mistreatment of minorities in the Sheriff's Department. The early-warning system was the first of its kind in the nation, according to Merrick Bobb, special counsel for the county Board of Supervisors. Known as the Personnel Performance Index, the system has succeeded in identifying deputies with a likelihood of getting into trouble and has allowed the department to mentor the officers and monitor their behavior, Bobb said. The study examined the records of 561 deputies and found that officers who had been named in use-of-force complaints, even if the accusations were unproved, were more likely to be involved in shootings and successful lawsuits against the department.