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.
It was a stakeout gone bad, featuring jumpy police officers, human traffickers, a roughed-up federal agent, and a multimillion-dollar twist of an ending, reports the Los Angeles Times. Sergio Lopez, an undercover U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, was tracking smugglers in 2006 when police officers in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista pulled him over.
A Mexican gang had been kidnapping residents, sometimes by posing as law enforcement officers. "What  are you doing speeding through my city?" one officer asked Lopez. Lopez, showing his badge, tried to explain. The officers handcuffed Lopez and forced him to the ground. Lopez sued, and yesterday was awarded $2.2 million by a San Diego jury that decided some of the five officers had assaulted and battered him. "We believe our officers and supervisors acted appropriately,  under suspicious and dangerous circumstances," Chula Vista police spokesman Bernard Gonzales said after the verdict.
Since 1999, at least 55 active duty New York City cops have been charged with drunken driving while on the force. All pleaded down to nonfelony charges and nearly all remained on the job, reports the New York Daily News. That includes a sergeant who seriously injured passengers in another car, another charged with resisting arrest, and four cops who had drunken-driving convictions before joining the force. The phenomenon emerges after a spate of headlines about cops charged with driving drunk. Officer Andrew Kelly was indicted in the September death of a preacher's daughter. The next month, Detective Kevin Spellman was charged with killing a grandmother. Both refused to submit to sobriety tests.
Since then, three more cops have been charged with drunken driving: one who trashed a department car at the Midtown Tunnel, another who flipped his luxury sedan onto the sidewalk in front of Tiffany's, and a third who crashed into a parked car. The number of cops convicted in drunken-driving incidents is a tiny percentage of the 30,000-member force. But the incidents occur fairly regularly, year after year. Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said any cop convicted of a felony is automatically fired. A cop convicted of a drunken driving misdemeanor or violation likely keeps his or her job. In those cases, cops usually get a suspension ranging from four to 75 days, some lost vacation days, alcohol counseling and a year of probation.
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has given lawyers from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the independent agency that investigates allegations of police abuse, authority to prosecute police officers in cases now handled exclusively by the department’s lawyers, reports the New York Times. The changes are similar to a plan from 2001, when the Giuliani administration and Kelly’s predecessor, Bernard Kerik, tried to reinforce the public’s confidence in the department at a turbulent time.
The plan died after a battle with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association led to an unfavorable split court decision in 2003. While the decision merely struck down where the trials could take place, it also lessened the resolve of public officials to give the review board the power to prosecute police officers at all. When the public spotlight moved on, the plan was forgotten. Patrick Lynch, the association’s leader, criticized the new plan, suggesting a new fight this time around. “This change is nothing more than a cynical public relations stunt, designed to placate the usual police critics,” he said in a statement.