As Michigan State Police investigators sort out the shooting of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detoit, one aspect is clear: Detroit taxpayers will pay, reports the Detroit News. Experts say the family's lawsuit against Detroit surely will result in a multimillion-dollar payout. For the financially strapped city, that would only add to the more than $39 million paid out in police lawsuits between July 2006 and June 2009.
About half of that -- $19.1 million -- can be traced specifically to police misconduct allegations, including $7.3 million in payouts for 18 people shot by police. They range from $2.5 million for a man who was shot in the head and still lives with the bullet fragment to $25,000 for a woman shot in the leg at a backyard party by an officer aiming at a charging dog. The multimillions in payouts for legal settlements and jury verdicts continue despite the department being under federal oversight since 2003 for allegations of police brutality and ill treatment of prisoners. For a city with an estimated $300 million deficit, the lawsuits are a "vicious cycle," said City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown, a former Detroit police officer.
A New York governor’s task force studying mistaken-identity confrontations between police officers found that racial bias, unconscious or otherwise, played a clear role in scores of firearms encounters over the years, most significantly in cases involving off-duty officers who are killed by their colleagues, reports the New York Times. The task force, formed last June by Gov. David Paterson to examine confrontations between officers and the role that race might have played, conducted what it said it believed was the first “nationwide, systematic review of mistaken-identity, police-on-police shootings” by an independent panel outside of law enforcement.
“There may well be an issue of race in these shootings, but that is not the same as racism,” said Zachary Carter, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who served as task force vice chairman. “Research reveals that race may play a role in an officer’s instantaneous assessment of whether a particular person presents a danger or not.” The task force found that 26 police officers were killed in the U.S. over the past 30 years by colleagues who mistook them for criminals. It found that it was increasingly “officers of color” who died in this manner, including 10 of the 14 killed since 1995.
The low rate at which the St. Louis Police Department sustains physical-abuse complaints against officers — the subject of scathing comments by a federal judge in 2008 — has increased significantly in recent years, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. At about 3 percent, it remains only half the rate reflected in a federal study of the nation's large departments. "Sustained" means an internal investigation showed that a complaint was supported by evidence.
In 2008, U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber accused the Board of Police Commissioners of turning a "blind eye" to abuse complaints, after evidence in a civil suit showed that only one of 322 complaints had been sustained in a five-year period. In 2006-08, the department reported 123 complaints of physical abuse. Four of those, or 3 percent, were sustained, 82 percent were not sustained and three were withdrawn. In a 2002 study of state and local law enforcement agencies with more than 1,000 officers, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 6 percent of their complaints were sustained and 42 percent not sustained. The report pointed out that the statistics' meaning was not always clear. Departments used different counting methods. Moreover, a low rate of complaints could mean that officers were performing well or that the process was inaccessible. St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom cautioned that the numbers in St. Louis and nationwide may not be comparable.
A little more than a week after Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked the U.S. Department of Justice to take the first steps that could lead to federal oversight of the New Orleans Police Department, federal and city officials announced they will discuss the request in two forums on Monday. A news conference was to be held noon. Among those expected to attend are Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, Landrieu, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and new NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas, reports the city's Times-Picayune.
The same officials will hold a town hall-style meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Superdome, according to the mayor's office. Civil intervention in the NOPD was expected even before Landrieu announced two days after taking office that he wanted the Justice Department to take a deeper look at the department. While the agency has at least eight ongoing federal investigations of alleged criminal misconduct by NOPD officers, Landrieu is asking that the Justice Department conduct a civil investigation of the agency's "patterns and practices." That kind of probe can lead to a court-backed consent decree that mandates specific changes within the department, such as within internal affairs investigations or use-of-force policies. A federal monitor often checks to make sure these changes have actually happened.
Nicholas Beltrante, an 82-year-old military veteran, former D.C. police officer and longtime NRA member, is an unlikely police watchdog. But he has become a critic of the tight-lipped Fairfax Police Department, and his dogged efforts and growing disillusion have created a groundswell, with county residents launching an effort to create a citizens group to oversee the department, reports the Washington Post.
Fairfax police and politicians say they're open to the idea. Beltrante said he was moved to act after concluding Fairfax police "are sort of out of control. Not all of them. A small number." Citizen groups overseeing police departments are not a new idea. Philip K. Eure, executive director of the D.C. Office of Police Complaints and president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, said there are 150 citizen groups involved in police oversight around the country, including in most large cities. Fairfax's police force is "one of the largest law enforcement agencies without any form of public review," he said.
Guatemala is becoming a regional model for crime fighting and efforts to root out corruption, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) began work as an independent investigative body two years ago under an agreement between the United Nations and the Guatemalan government. Wielding unprecedented power for a nongovernmental group, it has forced the removal of thousands of police officers, prompted the arrest of dozens of corrupt businessmen and officials, and solved some of the country’s most heinous crimes.
Now, other poor countries are looking to duplicate CICIG’s success, with Honduras and El Salvador joining Guatemala this month in asking the United States for help in creating a similar regionwide body. “There is clearly increased demand from states around the world that are looking for the UN to help strengthen institutions and combat crime,” says Andrew Hudson, senior associate at Human Rights First, an advocacy group in New York. “CICIG has become a model because it is equipped with a unique set of tools. The key is that it’s embedded into the local context and it’s doing field-based investigations while also strengthening the Guatemalan institutions.”
More than 80 San Francisco police officers have criminal histories or misconduct records that the Police Department withheld and prosecutors did not disclose to defense attorneys in cases in which officers testified, a failure that could put hundreds of felony convictions in jeopardy, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The potential fallout could be far more severe than that caused by the cocaine-skimming scandal at the police drug lab, which prompted prosecutors to dismiss more than 600 narcotics cases.
"We are not potentially talking about possession of cocaine cases - we are potentially talking about very serious felonies," said Lael Rubin of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office who oversees that county's disclosure process and leads training seminars on the subject for prosecutors in California. "This is huge," said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose lawyers represent the majority of felony defendants tried in the city. "It will make the problems at the crime lab look like small potatoes."
A New Jersey trooper has benefited from law enforcement "professional courtesy" by being released without charges or citations in at least 10 traffic stops over a 14-month period, including one apparent DWI, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. In one instance, Trooper Sheila McKaig, 41, a nine-year veteran, admitted to the local officer who pulled her over that she had drunk "a lot" before getting behind the wheel. But instead of being charged, McKaig was driven to the township’s police station, where fellow troopers picked her up.
It was the third time in three months in early 2008 that an off-duty McKaig was stopped by police after drinking. Each time no blood-alcohol test was given, no charges were filed and no ticket was written. Today McKaig is still on the road as a state trooper. The file on McKaig’s motor vehicle stops was part of state police disciplinary records requested by the Star-Ledger and provided by the Office of Administrative Law. The incident report was obtained from local police under the state’s Open Public Records Act. Officials say McKaig used the breaks to turn her life around and has now stayed sober for two years.
Depending on your point of view, the arbitration system that Philadelphia police officers use to appeal firings and other punishment is either a broken, biased process or the purest form of justice, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. It either allows rogue cops to remain on the streets or protects good officers from capricious, often politically motivated judgments. Because the police union wins most arbitrations, one thing is certain: It is very difficult to fire a Philadelphia officer. Through arbitration in the last five years, the union has returned about two-thirds of dismissed officers to the force.
In the latest high-profile case, an arbitrator on March 12 overturned the firings of two officers videotaped by a news helicopter kicking and punching three shooting suspects in 2008. The arbitrator also reduced the suspension of three others to reprimands, and restored a demoted sergeant to his rank. The case highlighted the union's long-held advantage in arbitration. Police commissioners and mayors have been complaining about the disparity for years, saying the system needs to be reformed, and one former commissioner even calls the system heavily weighted to favor the union. Former Police Commissioner John Timoney said he remembered winning just one hearing during his tenure from 1998 through 2001, after he fired an officer for shooting an unarmed motorist. "That was the one that severed whatever relationship I had with the union," he said. "It's just not a good system, but Philadelphia is a very pro-labor town." Former Fraternal Order of Police president Richard Costello said that the city simply failed to make its case to the arbitrators, and that it shouldn't blame the system.
Eight Philadelphia police officers who were fired or disciplined in 2008 after a television news helicopter captured them beating three shooting suspects are getting their jobs back or having their punishments reduced, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The arbitrator, from the American Arbitration Association, ruled that those suspended should receive back pay, lost overtime, and a reprimand. The decision further vindicates the officers, who were all cleared of wrongdoing by a Philadelphia grand jury.
"This is something we expected from Day One," said John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge. "Now they can look forward to coming back to work and moving on with their lives. I'm sure it's a big relief, not just for them but for their families." Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, criticized by the union as acting too quickly in firing the officers in the weeks after the footage made the news, said he disagreed with the reinstatements. Police unions say arbitration protects officers' rights, but administrators fear the process allows corrupt officers to return to work. Officers who have been fired for criminal infractions have been reinstated years later - often with back pay - after fighting their dismissals. Former Police Commissioner John Timoney has described the system as "mind-boggling" because of decisions that forced him to rehire officers fired for drug use, drunken driving, and domestic violence.