Posted 9/27/21, edited 9/29/21
FULL STOP AHEAD
Floyd and the virus upend policing. Some cops react poorly.
For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Rebelling against shots was once consigned to society’s fringes. No longer. Two months ago, as municipalities across the U.S. struggled with their vaccination refuseniks Southern California’s progressives stepped to the plate. On July 27th. Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez announced that Los Angeles city employees would be required to “either submit proof of [COVID-19] vaccination or a weekly negative test.” An ordinance to that effect was enacted in August. Approved on a 13-0 council vote, it requires that city employees be fully vaccinated by October 19 “unless approved for an exemption...as a reasonable accommodation for a medical condition or restriction or sincerely held religious beliefs.” Exempted employees, however, will be required to submit to weekly testing.
San Diego soon followed with a similar law. Its deadline for employees to get vaccinated or exempt is November 2.
Click here for the complete collection of conduct and ethics essays
Well, that’s as it should be. Vaccination has long been an integral part of a “social contract” which calls on citizens to give up certain freedoms in exchange for the benefits they accrue from society and the state. So job done, right? Not exactly. You see, it seems that in both Los Angeles and San Diego an aversion to (literally) roll up one’s sleeves “infected” a goodly number of emergency responders. As of the first week of September, 53 percent of Los Angeles’ police officers and 41 percent of its firefighters reportedly lacked their full complement of shots. And many remain ill-disposed to get poked. Insider data obtained by KNX-1070 radio reveals that over 3,000 LAPD employees – about one out of every four in a force of 9,000 officers and 3,000 civilians – intend to seek exemptions.
What’s more, some aren’t just asking. With assistance from a legal nonprofit that peddles the notion that vaccination mandates “are unreasonable and impede on the religious rights of individuals,” six LAPD employees filed a Federal lawsuit that seeks to block the ordinance. Calling it an “overbroad and unwarranted intrusion into the confidential medical conditions of Plaintiffs and thousands of employees,” they argue it violates “fundamental Constitutional rights to bodily integrity, including, especially, to be free from unconsented to or coerced medical treatment.”
Coercion seems the key concern. According to the plaintiffs, the vaccines’ emergency-use approval affords individuals the choice “to accept or refuse administration.” But the ordinance makes full vaccination “a condition of employment.” So police employees really have no choice. To keep their jobs they must either submit to poking or, should they gain an exemption, endure “onerous” and “intrusive” weekly testing. Several plaintiffs revealed that they’ve had COVID, thus acquired a natural immunity that’s supposedly better than what vaccination offers. Yet the ordinance ignores this advantage. It’s also alleged that the city failed to outline a detailed process and allot “a reasonable time” to prepare and submit requests for exemption.
Ditto San Diego. In an online rant, a cop urged his colleagues to “stand up for our God given freedoms” and reject the mandate. Nearly half of San Diego’s 2,000 police officers remain unvaccinated. Ninety percent who responded to a union survey oppose mandatory shots, and sixty-five percent indicated they would consider resigning if vaccination was required.
L.A.’s powerful officer union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, seems to support officer vaccination. However, it worries that enforcing the ordinance would lead to even more cops leaving and could have a “debilitating and catastrophic impact” on public safety. Instead of shots, it suggests that weekly testing would create “an appropriate balance” between personal rights and public health. Same-o, same-o in San Diego, whose police union has drawn a “line in the sand against mandatory vaccinations.” But its president, Jack Schaeffer, says that the alternative of weekly testing is fine. So far both cities seem to be sticking with their deadlines. So we’ll see.
To avoid such battles other communities have considered fully exempting the police. After warnings from the police union that a mandate would “exacerbate an already dangerous staffing crisis,” Portland moved to exempt officers from a regulation requiring that city workers get poked. Cincinnati, which is supposedly “struggling to retain and attract enough police officers,” is leaning towards the substitute of weekly testing. Struggles between cities and their cops are also underway in San Jose, New York City and Chicago, whose police union leader likened mandatory vaccination to the Holocaust. (He apologized.)
Yet doesn’t the “social contract” cut both ways? Officers chronically complain about citizen non-compliance. So shouldn’t the badge-carriers set the example? Problem is, vaccination mandates are coming at a time of severe disruption to the police workplace. George Floyd’s killing brought on a flurry of rulemaking that sought to limit officer discretion and insure that cops got penalized for the blunders they did make. Consider, for example, the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act”. Although it never made it out of the Senate, the proposed Federal law would have abolished the defense of qualified immunity, which protects officers from private lawsuits. It would have also required that jurisdictions receiving Federal law enforcement funds adopt Federal use-of-force standards and participate in a national police misconduct registry.
Meanwhile, California State Senate Bill 2 sits on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk. [See 10/1/21 update.] If he signs it, State authorities could investigate alleged police wrongdoing anywhere in the Golden State and, should they find misconduct, revoke officers’ peace officer status – meaning, put them out of a job – no prosecution necessary. According to the measure’s author, a Los Angeles-area State Senator, “we’ve seen 150 years of police policing themselves and it doesn’t work.” There have even been moves to do away with police departments altogether. Minneapolis voters will have a chance this November to “replace” their police force “with a Department of Public Safety which could include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary...” (emphasis ours).
“Replacing” cops, though, seems an incomplete remedy. What the Minneapolis initiative wouldn’t “replace” is criminals. If it takes effect – and we doubt it will – and if crime keeps taking place – and we’re sure it will – someone will still have to interact with suspects and witnesses, gather evidence and make arrests. They’ll quickly discover what their badge-carrying forerunners well knew: policing doesn’t come close to providing the clarity that practitioners of more peaceable occupations take for granted. Is that citizen reaching for a cell phone or a gun? Would being “nice” gain compliance or encourage flight? Essays in our “Compliance and Force” section frequently refer to the reluctance by some members of the public to voluntarily comply with officer orders and requests. Check out “Dancing With Hooligans.” It’s somewhat colorfully subtitled “For street cops every day’s a reality show. And that reality is often unpleasant.”
No, officers don’t always behave wisely. As we’ve often pointed out (e.g., “Speed Kills”) rushed, “split-second” decisions can easily precipitate tragic endings. Cop personalities also vary. Some officers are chronically impulsive; others seem unwilling to accept even a smidgen of risk. Still, deciding whom to stop or chase, when to use force, and, most importantly, how much and of what kind, requires that cops exercise considerable autonomy. Yet the trend is clearly to tighten that leash. Consider Chicago’s mammoth new foot-chase policy. Characterized as a “no-foot-chase policy” by the leader of the police union, the new rule was adopted without significant officer input. Coming in at (our count) 5,777 words, three times the length of its predecessor, it forbids foot chases when, among other things, “the established reasonable articulable suspicion or probable cause is solely for a criminal offense less than a Class A misdemeanor (a sentence of less than one year of imprisonment) and the person...poses no obvious threat to the community or any person [or] has no obvious medical or mental health issues that pose a risk to their own safety.”
Got it? Now implement that on the street!
Something else accompanied the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd. As rulemaking soared, so did homicide. Milwaukee had 190 murders in 2020. That’s supposedly “the most ever recorded” and nearly twice its previous year’s toll. Notoriously violence-fraught Chicago endured half-again as many murders in 2020 as in 2019 (there’s been an appalling 558 so far in 2021.) Los Angeles and New York City endured steep 2019-2020 increases as well (47 percent and 38 percent respectively). And our nation’s violence-troubled capital experienced a lesser but still considerable jump of 19 percent.
Why did murder sharply increase? Some attribute it to an exit of cops. “Elevated police turnover following the summer of George Floyd protests,” a recent article in Criminology & Public Policy, confirmed that an exit did occur. We were able to readily gather the number of sworn officers pre- and post-pandemic for Milwaukee, New York City and Los Angeles. Data for 2019 came from the UCR. Since its 2020 release is not yet in, we used city-linked websites for more recent numbers. (Click here for Milwaukee’s 2020 numbers, here for New York City’s 2021 numbers, and here for L.A.’s 2021 numbers.) Sworn employee staffing modestly declined in each city; all were in the five-percent range. Milwaukee reported 1832 sworn officers in 2019 and 1738 in 2020 (-5.1%). New York City went from 36,563 in 2019 to 34,770 as of September 2021 (-4.9%). Los Angeles, which had 10,002 officers in 2019, reported 9,432 as of August 2021 (-5.7%). [Note: See 9/29/21 update for 2019-2020 comparo using newly-released UCR data]
Cause and effect, right?
Well, not so fast. While the “elevated turnover” article did mention that “fewer officers per capita have been linked to higher crime rates,” it didn’t probe further. And to complicate things, another article in the same issue, “Crime, quarantine, and the U.S. coronavirus pandemic” reported that property crimes, drug crimes, robberies and aggravated assaults went down. At some point, a reduction in sworn staff would likely lead to more crime, of whatever kind. But whether a relatively small decline (five percent) would precipitate a spike in murder seems questionable. After all, the ninety-five percent of cops who remain are still doing their jobs, right?
Well, not so fast. To be sure, intensively patrolling afflicted areas to discourage gunslinging and other loutish behavior had become a popular police practice. “Geographically focused” and “hot spots” have been deemed successful at preventing crime by both NIJ and independent scholars (“Hot spots policing and crime reduction”, Journal of Experimental Criminology, 2019). Unfortunately, when these approaches are implemented, productivity pressures and the uncertainties of the street can create an abundance of “false positives” – meaning that lots of citizens get needlessly hassled (“Turning Cops Into Liars” and “Driven to Fail”). High-crime areas are often predominantly populated by citizens of color, so they bear the brunt of these errors (“Scapegoat I” and “Scapegoat II”). Bottom line: by the end of the last decade, blowback over alleged racial profiling led police departments – New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, to mention three – to throttle back. That easing became even more pronounced after George Floyd.
Something else might also be at work. In a recent assessment, the typically “progressive” New York Times blamed an increase in the Big Apple’s gun violence on a purposeful slowdown by disaffected cops. If so, it wouldn’t be the first time that officers have held back. Intense criticism and heightened oversight brought on by controversial shootings propelled “police slowdowns” in Baltimore, Chicago and Minneapolis during the mid-2010’s (see “Police Slowdowns”). Now consider all the negative, anti-police sentiment that followed the killing of George Floyd. All those new, complex rules. Really, one would expect cops to become at least somewhat disenchanted. Who wouldn’t?
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And let’s look beyond police behavior. “Has COVID-19 Changed Crime? Crime Rates in the United States during the Pandemic,” a recent article in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, suggests that increased stress and reduced personal mobility brought on by the virus created a “rampant opportunity for intimate partner violence, serious batteries, and homicides.” So throw that in as well. Somewhat fewer, decidedly less-enthusiastic cops applying less-than-optimal strategies at a time when citizens are going bonkers. Are we closer to explaining the severity of the murder spike?
Well, back to the future! LAPD recently brought back that “bad old” hot spots approach for another go-round. Ditto, Chicago and New York City. And we’re happy that a proven approach is getting a second look. Applying effective strategies while assuring that targets are selected with great care is a perfect mission for those highly autonomous public servants we call “cops.” As to that, we cut them no slack. While the “exchange agreement” entitles them to certain benefits – like a good salary – it doesn’t give them the right to “slow down” or otherwise slough off. Police officers have awesome responsibilities. They must strive to do their best no matter how often managers and public officials change their ever-loving minds. In the end, if a cop can’t do their daily best on the street, it really is best that they resign.
11/17/21 Short-circuiting his intended firing for posting inflammatory comments online and making allegedly false statements against former bosses, Chicago FOP President John Catanzara retired from the force. But he intends to remain as the police union leader, and possibly run for Mayor. His retirement paperwork bore the handwritten comment: “Finally!!! Let’s go Brandon.”
11/12/21 Eric Adams, New York City’s newly-elected Mayor (he’s Black and an ex-cop) vows to carry through on a campaign promise to restore NYPD’s plainclothes anti-crime units, which focused on getting guns off the streets. They were disbanded last year because they apparently generated too many citizen complaints. And civil rights activists strongly object to their return. Should that happen, “there will be riots, there will be fire and there will be bloodshed,” promises BLM leader Hawk Newsome.
11/3/21 By a 56.1% to 43.8% margin, Minneapolis voters turned down a ballot measure to replace the police department with a “public safety” agency that did not necessarily include armed officers. Citizens dismayed by the killing of George Floyd but beset by a jump in violence were put off by the proposed agency’s vague shape and function. “I think we need to do some changes, maybe make some reforms, but...they've had a year to come up with something other than...Oh, we're going to do this or that.”
11/2/21 Eighty-five percent of New York City’s 380,000 municipal employees have been vaccinated. Yesterday, as a get-poked-or-request-an-exemption deadline passed, 9,000 wound up on unpaid leave. As of today, eighty-nine of NYPD’s 35,000 officers and forty of its 17,000 civilians have been sent home without pay. About 6,000 cops remain on the job awaiting action on their application for a medical or religious exemption. There has been “a spike” in early retirements, including of officers with unvested pensions (less than five years on the job.)
11/1/21 “We need the police -- there’s no other way I can say that.” Bishop Divar Kemp, a Baptist minister in Minneapolis’ violence-beset North side, is all for reform. But he opposes replacing police with an agency that offers a “comprehensive public health approach to safety,” as the ballot measure being voted on tomorrow would do. Sponsored by the progressive “Yes 4 Minneapolis,” it would not require the use of armed officers, and leaves it to the Mayor and City Council to decide how best to proceed.
10/27/21 L.A. City employees, including police, who have not been vaccinated must submit to twice-weekly testing at their expense. Those not fully vaccinated or who fail to get a medical or religious exemption by December 18 will ”face corrective action.” Employees who are ultimately approved for exemptions will be reimbursed. For the official rules click here.
10/26/21 Police are resisting vaccination mandates around the U.S. Legal challenges are pending in Los Angeles and New York City, and Massachusetts cops are reportedly resigning en masse. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking advantage. A well-known anti-vaxxer, he’s offering like-minded cops in New York, Minneapolis and Seattle $5,000 to come join a Florida force, no shots required, no questions asked.
10/21/21 New York City is requiring that all city workers get their first shot by October 29. Those who don’t will wind up on unpaid leave. While the police union objects, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea feels that the rule “makes sense.” Seattle’s new vaccination mandate has led to the firing of six police officers; 93 others are off the job seeking exemptions. Washington state fired 127 troopers, and in Massachusetts “at least” 150 troopers are reportedly resigning.
10/20/21 As of 10/19 twenty-one Chicago police officers who declined to report their vaccination status, as was required by October 15, have been placed on unpaid leave. Supervisors are calling in each violator “for counseling,” and Chief David Brown said that “many [resisters] have decided to comply with the city mandate after getting more information.” Those who still refuse - Mayor Lightfoot said the number is small - are being laid off. But the police union’s president says it could reach “thousands.”
10/18/21 According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, “COVID is the #1 killer of LEOs in 2020 and 2021. Getting vaccinated is just as important as wearing your vest and your seatbelt.” ODMP reports 362 officer line-of-duty deaths so far this year. COVID-19 led to 231, and hostile gunfire caused 49. Comparable figures for 2020 are 374 deaths, 245 attributable to COVID-19, and 45 to hostile gunfire.
10/14/21 Chicago has required that all city employees report their vaccination status by tomorrow or be placed on leave without pay. Those who lack shots can substitute weekly testing until the end of the year. But FOP president John Catanzara has advised officers to ignore these demands and turn in forms declaring themselves as “conscientious objectors.” Should they be sent home the city would lose half its already skimpy police coverage. City council members and ordinary residents are predictably aghast. Former FOP president Dean Angelo, Sr., 67, died from COVID-19 complications two days ago.
10/3/21 According to the NLEOMF, line-of-duty officer deaths “are on a pace to exceed the 295 law enforcement fatalities recorded in 2020, which was the second highest total on record.” COVID-19 has been by far the largest cause of deaths during 2020-2021. Of the 155 officers who perished during the first six months of 2021, 71 died from a COVID-19 infection contracted while on duty. Thirty-eight lost their lives in traffic incidents and 28 by gunfire. Eighteen deaths were attributed to other causes.
10/1/21 A secret service agent who served on President Clinton’s protective detail, a border patrol agent, a Foreign Service officer, four Air Force officers, and three Federal contract workers have filed a lawsuit that seeks to block President Biden’s vaccination mandate. Sources report that the secret service agent’s objection has considerable support from within the ranks.
California Governor Kevin Newsom signed a package of measures intended to reform policing. They include SB 2, which authorizes the decertification of officers whom State investigators determine “engaged” in misconduct, AB 48, which prohibits officers from aiming rubber bullets “at the head, neck or other vital organs,” and AB 89, which calls for new state college degree programs for prospective cops. SB 2’s provisions were opposed by the state’s police chiefs, who worried that persons who lack knowledge about the police workplace would be making career-ending decisions.
9/29/21 Here are sworn officer comparisons using UCR 2019 and just-released 2020 UCR data:
New York City
9/29/21 At a meeting of LAPD’s civilian Police Commission, president William Briggs slammed officers for refusing to be vaccinated, thus “willfully, intentionally and brazenly endanger[ing] the lives of those who they have taken an oath to protect.” He said it was “extremely dubious” that nearly three-thousand had “legitimate” religious or medical examptions. LAPD’s union leader called that assertion “unjustified, bigoted, and reckless.” LAPD Chief Michel Moore, who reports that about one in four officers have contracted the virus, encourages vaccination to protect officers, their families and the public. “I follow the science and not the rhetoric and the misinformation, and I believe it’s critical that they do the same.”
9/27/21 “A stunning amount of gun violence.” That’s what a Portland commissioner says. The city, which we reported had 35 murders in 2019, suffered 54 in 2020 and sixty so far this year. There were 94 homicides between June 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. In a city that’s 5.8 percent African-American, thirty-nine of the victims - 41.5 percent - were Black. Portland PD also has a serious shortage of cops: authorized for 916, it has 793 on the job. One-hundred fifty officers left in the last 13 months.
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Use of Force section Stop & Frisk/Hot Spots section COVID-19 section George Floyd section
Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job Is the “Cure” Worse than the “Disease”? Regulate. Don’t “Obfuscate”
Turning Cops Into Liars R.I.P. Proactive Policing? Scapegoat (I) (II) Driven to Fail
Speed Kills Police Slowdowns (I) (II) Dancing With Hooligans Making Time When Cops Kill
Of Hot-Spots and Band-Aids
ANOTHER VICTIM: THE CRAFT OF POLICING
Ronald Greene succumbed to police abuse one year before
George Floyd. How they perished was appallingly similar.
For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. “Let me see ‘em...let me see your [curse] hands...[curse]...” Louisiana State Trooper Dakota DeMoss’ body camera graphically captured what happened (and what was said) during the early morning hours of May 19, 2019 when he and a colleague forcefully extracted the driver of a recklessly-driven vehicle that crashed after a prolonged pursuit. (Click here for LSP’s video channel, here for the full bodycam video of the initial encounter and here for our edited clip of the arrest.)
Ronald Greene, 49 isn’t armed. Neither does he forcefully resist, at least in any conventional sense. But his confused mental state, clumsiness and immense size (shades of George Floyd) clearly irritate the officers, and one promptly shoots him with a Taser. That rough handling – and virtually non-stop cursing – continues as troopers drag Mr. Greene from the car and place him on the ground, belly down. That’s when the impaled dart comes into view (left.) An officer – according to news reports, DeMoss – tells Mr. Greene to “put your hands behind your back, [curse]” but the scared, disoriented man seems unable to comply. Arms outstretched, he whimpers “I’m sorry.” After some blows and a long string of unproductive curses, a trooper delivers another jolt through the Taser (right). Mr. Greene continues whimpering and begging for mercy, but troopers ignore his protests and, handcuffs affixed, order him to lay on his stomach.
Click here for the complete collection of conduct and ethics essays
Unlike what happened to George Floyd, once Mr. Greene was handcuffed he wasn’t constantly pressed into the ground. Still, troopers repeatedly warned him to stay on his stomach and occasionally applied force to that effect. Our top image, taken at 5:40 am, about twelve minutes into the encounter, depicts an officer pressing on Mr. Greene as he orders “don’t you turn over, lay on your belly, lay on your belly” (click here for a brief video clip.) But a few moments later another bodycam video (click here) shows two troopers watching over Mr. Green as he partially sits up.
Many other aspects of this encounter resemble what happened to George Floyd. Troopers handled Mr. Greene very roughly, especially at first. They forcefully extracted him from his car, delivered multiple blows with their fists and jolted him repeatedly with a Taser. Mr. Greene. like Floyd, behaved oddly, mumbling supplications to Lord Jesus in a high-pitched tone of voice. As it turns out, he was also under the influence of a powerful drug: in his case, cocaine. Rough treatment, frail mental and physical health and chemical intoxication comprise the bedrock of the syndrome known as “excited delirium.” A Minneapolis cop thought that it applied to George Floyd. Louisiana’s Union Parish Coroner reportedly identified it as the underlying cause of Mr. Greene’s death: “cocaine induced agitated delirium complicated by motor vehicle collision, physical struggle, inflicted head injury, and restraint.”
Throughout the first fifteen minutes or so Mr. Greene was conscious and talkative. But as time passed he became unresponsive. This image, taken about 5:46 am, depicts troopers as they begin rendering aid. An ambulance was called. Unlike what happened to Mr. Floyd, troopers closely attended to Mr. Greene after his collapse (click here for a clip.) Alas, it proved too little, too late.
It’s not that Mr. Greene shouldn’t have been arrested. He was mentally and physically unwell, under the influence of a narcotic, and in no shape to drive. Mr. Greene reportedly ran a stop sign and a traffic light, and during the chase a trooper anxiously radioed that “we got to do something” as Mr. Greene’s car was speeding down the “wrong side of the road” and “could kill somebody.” Yet watch that video clip of the arrest. Mr. Greene’s handling by the two troopers who first encountered him was abominable. Here’s what one of these officers (we think, DeMoss) told another trooper by radio as an ambulance rushed Mr. Greene to the hospital (click here for the clip with audio):
Well, I think this guy was drunk...and I think he was wet...and I beat the ever-luving ‘fuck out of him, choked him and everything else trying to get him under control...and we finally got him in handcuffs when [someone else] got there, and the sonofabitch was still fighting with me and still wrestling with me...gotta hold him down since he was spittin’ blood everywhere. And all of a sudden he just went limp. Yeah, I thought he was dead. We set him up real quick...he’s on an ambulance enroute to...and I’m haulin’ ass trying to catch up to them.
Tragically, the recipient of that transmission, Trooper Chris Hollingsworth, an 18-year veteran, reportedly perished in an off-duty auto accident “shortly after learning he was being fired for his role in Greene's death.”
If all we expect from police is to handle recalcitrant persons however they wish, our “Selection and Training” section – indeed, our entire website – is superfluous. When it comes to the arrest of George Floyd and Ronald Greene, my non-police neighbors would have done better. Of course, so would most other cops. Officers run into clearly troubled characters such as Mr. Greene as a matter of course. And as a matter of course they apply patience and some good-natured persuasion to avoid needlessly turning to force. When involved in fraught encounters, most cops follow the rules of their intricate and demanding craft. They brush off intrusive thoughts such as anger and frustration because they know that getting emotional can poison their decisions. As we’ve said before, there’s absolutely nothing new about the trendy concept of “de-escalation”; cops who respect their craft – and we assume they’re in the vast majority – have faithfully practiced its precepts since the times of Robert Peel.
Yet cops are human, so exceptions keep popping up. Minneapolis was one. We quickly “diagnosed” ex-cop Chauvin’s actions as an effort to discipline and humiliate. It’s why our essay, posted eleven days after the tragedy, was entitled as shown. What happened to Mr. Greene in Louisiana seems equally appalling. Whatever notions of “craft” the first officers on scene might have had were instantly extinguished by waves of anger.
But the troopers were experienced cops. This wasn’t their first pursuit. They weren’t assaulted or shot at. So why all the rage? In “Angry Aggression Among Police Officers” (Police Quarterly, March 2003) Sean P. Griffin and Thomas J. Bernard surmise that the chronic stressors of policing can make officers aggressive, and that they’re prone to take it out on the most vulnerable. So who might that be? As Jeannine Bell argues in “Dead Canaries in the Coal Mines: The Symbolic Assailant Revisited,” (34 Georgia State University Law Review 513, 2018) citizens who fit a certain Black male stereotype may be at particular risk. She cites the examples of Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. And now we can add George Floyd. And Ronald Greene.
We’re not arguing that police abuses are inevitable. Officer personalities vary, and at least in this writer’s experience, most cops seem to handle the burdens of their craft rather well. Unfortunately, agencies have failed to correct officers who repeatedly goof up. As we discussed in “Third, Fourth and Fifth Chances,” failure to reign in errant cops can easily lead to disaster. And we have a ready example. On February 8, 2021, nearly two years after his force-rich, expletive-laden confrontation with Mr. Greene, Trooper DeMoss and two LSP colleagues were booked by their own agency on misdemeanor charges of “simple battery and malfeasance in office” for using excessive force and turning off their body cameras during a 2020 traffic stop.
And just as we “go to press” the craft of policing suffers additional blows:
- Washington State authorities announced the arrest of three Tacoma police officers on murder and manslaughter charges for needlessly pummeling, choking and Tasering Manuel Ellis, a 33-year old Black man, during a seemingly minor encounter on March 3rd. Mr. Ellis complained that he couldn’t breathe, and then he died.
- Los Angeles prosecutors filed perjury charges against a promising L.A. County sheriff’s deputy for lying during a preliminary hearing. Deputy Kevin Honea, 33 testified that he found a handgun in the front of a vehicle. Its ready availability helped bind over the car’s occupants on robbery charges. In fact, a motel security camera showed that another deputy found the weapon in a box in the car’s trunk.
Would Trooper DeMoss be facing charges over a year-old traffic stop had Mr. Greene’s death not become a matter of national interest? Would the speedy decision to prosecute the Tacoma officers – we haven’t looked into their culpability, but things look bleak – have happened in the absence of Derek Chauvin’s trial and conviction? Ditto, Deputy Honea. While his superiors ascribed his testimony to “sloppiness” and levied a brief suspension, L.A. County’s new, progressively-minded D.A., George Gascon, took a far sterner approach.
Examining policing under a microscope is no longer a thing of the “future.”
What’s our takeaway? As we pitched in “More Rules, Less Force?” positive change can’t be accomplished by simply making more rules. Instead we must focus on “craft.” Police must redouble their efforts to advance the practice of their demanding vocation. In “Why Do Officers Succeed?” (Police Chief, July 2020, p. 26) we suggested that agencies collect examples of good work within their own ranks and use them “to stimulate dialogue about quality policing and the paths to that end.”
Officers could be asked to describe recent episodes of fieldwork whose outcomes they found especially gratifying. Examples might range from the seemingly mundane, such as gaining critical information from a hostile resident, to the more noteworthy, say, peacefully and safely taking a dangerous and combative suspect into custody. To learn how these successes came about, officers would be asked to identify the factors they believe helped produce such good results.
Imagine roll-call sessions that focus on craft. And supervisors and senior officers who convey their perspectives about what makes for quality policing to young cops. And should the “uncrafty” take place, promptly step in.
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No, that’s not dreaming. And while we don’t discount formal training, the actual workplace seems to exert the greatest influence on how things actually get done. It’s where craftspersons – nurses, physicians, soldiers, plumbers, automobile mechanics and, yes, cops – get “broken in” to their demanding occupations. Naturally, agencies would have to pitch in. Most importantly, they would have to reel in pressures to make “numbers” that, as we’ve repeatedly complained, can stretch the notion of quality to its breaking point.
Or we can keep driving down this unimaginative, bleak road. It does have an end. It’s called “defunding.”
11/11/21 During a February, 2019 search of a Chicago residence that turned out to be based on faulty information, officers reportedly brutalized its occupant, Anjanette Young, whom they handcuffed while naked. A recently released report recommended that six officers be disciplined and that a sergeant be fired. Among the findings was that the participants had insufficient training in conducting search warrants, and that “meaningful and effective supervision” was lacking. Click here for bodycam video.
10/16/21 Louisiana State trooper Carl Cavalier, a Black man, wasn’t present during the stop of Ronald Greene. But when he found out about it he gave media interviews that described what happened as a “murder” and the response as a “coverup.” Cavalier, who has sued the department for discrimination and published an unauthorized novel about his experiences, has just received notice that he is being fired for disloyalty, unbecoming conduct and violating policies about public statements.
9/17/21 With time and money running out and only 200,000 of the required 580,000 voter signatures on hand, recall backers suspended their effort against George Gascon, L.A.’s progressively-minded new D.A. But they vow to be back. Gascon’s moves to end cash bail and prohibit assistant D.A.’s from seeking death penalties and sentence enhancements angered crime victims and many of his own deputies.
9/12/21 A Louisiana State Police panel formed to review bodycam videos from prior stops by officers from the same Troop that tangled with Ronald Greene was “abruptly disbanded.” According to the AP, the footage depicts beatings and excessive uses of force dating back to 2019. A police official recently retired after admitting he routinely approved use-of-force reports without watching the videos. Federal investigators examining Greene’s beating are reportedly looking into these incidents as well.
9/9/21 Loveland, Colorado settled a lawsuit filed by the family of Karen Garner, a 74-year old woman whom two police officers violently arrested in June 2020 after she reportedly shoplifted $14 worth of goods from a Walmart. Garner, who suffers from dementia, says she forgot to pay. Both officers resigned. In May 2021 one was charged with assault, and the other with not intervening and failure to report. A video depicts the officers in the station, laughing after the arrest. One said “I love it. This is great.”
6/30/21 In December 2015 St. Louis police arrested Nicholas Gilbert for trespassing and placed him in a cell. Gilbert acted as though he was suicidal and became violent. Officers handcuffed and shackled Gilbert and forcefully held him down on his stomach. After fifteen minutes. Gilbert died. His family’s Federal lawsuit was rejected by a District Court which found that the officers had qualified immunity. On appeal, a Circuit Court held that constitutionally excessive force wasn’t used. But in Lombardo v. St. Louis (no. 20-391, 6/28/21) the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Circuit to consider whether prone positioning was reasonable given its known dangers and the agency’s own warnings about its use.
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The Craft of Policing Why Do Officers Succeed? Production and Craftsmanship
Quantity and Quality special topic Third, Fourth and Fifth Chances Turning Cops Into Liars
Violent and Vulnerable Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job De-escalation Is it Always About Race?
More Rules, Less Force?
THIRD, FOURTH AND FIFTH CHANCES
Some cops repeatedly avoid meaningful sanctions.
Then disaster strikes.
For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Let’s begin with a colorful quote:
Lots of times some skell [a mope] is fighting a cop tooth and nail, then a cop loses control, which is easy to do, and then you lose your temper and somebody videotapes you, and the next thing you know you’re losing your job.
Retired NYPD sergeant Mike Bosak’s words aptly describe the potentially career-busting perils his former colleagues faced on the morning of April 10, 2009 when a horde of student protesters burst through the doors of The New School, a local university. Video footage taken inside the institution depicted officers going about their business calmly as students staged a sit-in. But what happened in the chaos of the streets was something else, with officers chasing protesters in a helter-skelter fashion reminiscent of the Keystone Cops.
That’s what worried the former sergeant. Watch as that angry cop aggressively approaches a student who’s yelling “shame on you!” and shoves him to the ground. Fortunately the shovee was not seriously hurt. But imagine the consequences had the young man’s head forcefully struck the pavement. Such as what happened to the senior citizen protester in “Gold Badges”.
Your writer can personally attest that officers habitually shrug off taunts and worse. Yet many cops are burdened with colleagues who repeatedly manifest poor self-control. As headlines regularly remind us, when armed humans lose their cool the consequences can be dreadful. In a recent investigative piece, “The Bad Cops: How Minneapolis protects its worst police officers until it’s too late,” the Minnesota Reformer reviewed records of citizen complaints against Minneapolis officers between 2013-2019. It found 1,924. Sixty percent were closed without action. Thirty-five percent led to “coaching”; two percent to “mediation.” Discipline was imposed in three percent of cases. Those 53 included 24 suspensions, 22 letters of reprimand, one demotion, and a relatively measly six firings.
Click here for the complete collection of conduct and ethics essays
Over the years Minnesota news outlets have chronicled the saga of a certain veteran officer and police union functionary. We’ll refer to him as MPD1. According to Minnesota Public Radio MPD1 was the subject of “more than 30” complaint investigations between 2000-2016. While most were apparently closed without action, he received two letters of reprimand in 2012 and was suspended twice in 2013.
MPD1’s first incident of note happened in 2011, when he and another officer severely kicked a man whom they suspected had a gun. Their target, whom they rendered unconscious, turned out to be unarmed. He sued, and the city eventually paid out $85,000. Yet that didn’t slow the officer down. One year later an online video shows MPD1 choking one activist and dousing others with pepper spray. Those scenes are followed by a clip that depicts his rough handling of a news photographer during an earlier encounter.
Fast-forward to December 2013. That’s when MPD1 allegedly kicked a handcuffed prisoner in the face as he sat in a patrol car, breaking the eighteen-year old’s nose and jaw and knocking out his two front teeth. Again there was litigation. And again officer MPD1 remained on active duty. Eight months later, in August 2014, he and a partner responded to a domestic disturbance call. A video of the encounter shows MPD1 pushing a woman to the ground right after she opens the front door, then again once he’s inside (top photo). He also allegedly called her a profanity.
That proved too much for Chief Janee Harteau. She placed MPD1 on leave. Her words clearly foretold her intentions:
Public trust and procedural justice is vital in our ability to effectively protect and serve, and as a result I have lost all confidence in [MPD1’s] ability to serve the citizens of Minneapolis due to his poor judgment and his lack of integrity.
MPD1’s behavior does seem awfully heavy-handed, and he was fired. But in October 2016 an arbitrator decided that his conduct, while out of line, didn’t warrant termination. Punishment was reduced to a week’s suspension and MPD1 was awarded back pay. Chief Harteau promptly communicated her displeasure:
I am disappointed in the arbitrator's decision. These rulings hinder my ability, as a Police Chief, to create an effective culture of accountability within the Department.
So she took another tack. Minneapolis had paid $360,000 to the victim of the 2013 kick-in-the-face. But its internal investigation of MPD1 was set aside when he was fired for pushing the woman. Keeping MPD1 on paid leave, Chief Harteau reopened the earlier case, and in February 2019 fired him again. This time the arbitrator (same one as before) saw things differently:
This amounts to six serious use of force violations in the period from 2012 to 2015. This pattern of continued use of force violations poses a significant problem for the MPD. This conduct damages police-community relations and subjects the City to the potential of significant civil liability.
MPD1’s termination was final in November 2019. But he’s not the reason why Chief Harteau lost her job. That can be blamed on another officer. We’ll refer to him as MPD2. In July 2017 he shot and killed Justine Damond Ruszczyk as she walked up to his idling patrol car. MPD2 didn’t realize that Ms. Ruszcyk was the 9-1-1 caller and found her unexpected approach frightening. At the time MPD was already in the hot seat over a series of incidents, including the killing of Jamar Clark two years earlier. So after promptly agreeing that “Justine didn’t have to die” Chief Harteau resigned. State agents assembled a case against MPD2. He was convicted of murder and manslaughter in 2019 and sentenced to 12½ years. Minneapolis settled the family’s wrongful death lawsuit for $20 million.
MPD2 had only two years on the job when he killed Ms. Ruszczyk. During that time he amassed three complaints: one led to a lawsuit, and two remained under investigation. If that doesn’t seem like much, consider keeping up that pace for, say, nineteen years. That’s how long former MPD officer Derek Chauvin had served when he was filmed kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. By then he had accumulated eighteen complaints. But “only” two led to discipline! Update: During the hiring process two psychiatrists questioned MPD2’s “fitness for duty,” in part because he seemed more likely to become impatient with citizens over minor matters. MPD2 had also “reported disliking people and being around them.”
It’s not just Minneapolis. Troubled officers have been linked to tragic events across the U.S. “Should Every Town Field Its Own Cops?” offered several examples. Among them is the well-known 2014 episode where a rookie Cleveland cop shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy who was playing with a toy gun. Cleveland hired the officer even though his former agency asked him to leave after only one month for behavioral reasons. His applications were rejected by a long string of departments, but Cleveland took him on anyways.
Litigation over police misconduct has bedeviled American cities. Recent pieces in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal reveal that local governments have been forking over eye-popping amounts to settle claims of officer abuse:
- Chicago: About $253 million since 2015
- Dallas: $3.7 million since 2015
- Detroit: $28.5 million since 2015
- District of Columbia: More than $40 million since 2016
- New York City: More than $1.1 billion since 2015
- Los Angeles County: More than $238 million since 2015
Neither article tracks the damage caused by cops with dodgy histories. However, according to the Washington Post, five D.C. settlements since 2015 involve the same cop. One payout, for $25,000, was supported by video that “shows [the officer] pinning [the complainant’s] arms with his knees, pummeling him and showering him in pepper spray.” This officer was also twice accused of harassment in 2016. Both complaints were sustained and he got “additional training.” And yes, he’s still on the job.
Thanks to all the attention, the issue of so-called “bad apple” cops may be gaining more traction. But one well-traveled expert isn’t holding his breath. “The review process,” says former police chief Daniel Oates, “is staggeringly favorable to bad cops.” Mr. Oates, a lawyer who commanded NYPD intelligence and led the Ann Arbor, Aurora and Miami Beach police departments blames chiefs’ powerlessness on “a combination of state and local laws, union contracts, and past labor precedents.” State peace officer “bill of rights,” as in Florida, and civil service commissions that seem eager to reverse disciplinary decisions only add to the difficulties.
On the other hand, strict controls have reportedly led to officer “slowdowns.” It’s not just about rogue cops. Citizen fears about overly passive officers can erode a chief’s standing as well. In fall 2020, as she prepared to assume the prestigious mantle of IACP President, then-Santa Monica police chief Cynthia Renaud came under withering fire over her alleged failure to unleash the troops so they could effectively counter the “widespread looting and vandalism” that beset the coastal enclave. Indeed, the pressure became so pronounced that Chief Renaud reluctantly retired.
So what can be done about “bad apples”? At present, the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training maintains a national, non-governmental index that identifies officers who have been decertified by state peace officer licensing authorities. It’s for agency use only. In June 2020 President Trump issued an executive order directing DOJ to develop a database that, in addition to decertifications, includes on-duty criminal convictions “and civil judgments against law enforcement officers for improper use of force.” That remains a work in progress.
USA Today has also stepped in. Working with the Citizens Police Data Project, which focuses on Chicago cops, it has assembled information on “at least 200,000 incidents of alleged misconduct” involving about 85,000 law enforcement officers across the U.S. At present, searches are limited to decertified officers.
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According to the Los Angeles Times, a national registry of officer misconduct was first proposed in the 1994 Federal crime bill. However, we found that the enacted provision restricts using data to “research or statistical purposes” and prohibits including “any information that may reveal the identity of the victim or any law enforcement officer.” So its utility in controlling rogue cops seems nil.
Policing is a craft whose proper exercise requires a great deal of skill and courage. Good cops – and they’re the vast majority – don't want to work with thoughtless, impulsive colleagues. No doubt there are many officers, managers and chiefs who would very much like to improve things. But given our deeply polarized sociopolitical environment, substantial improvements will likely have to wait. For the foreseeable future, third, fourth and fifth chances will in many places remain the norm.
10/28/21 Murder charges were filed against the Long Beach (CA) school officer who shot and killed an 18-year old female occupant of a vehicle on September 27 (see 10/1 update). Eddie F. Gonzalez, 51, has already been fired for violating policy, which prohibits shooting into a vehicle except as a “final means of defense.” According to a news report, the officer previously served two very brief stints with local police agencies, one of which “chose to separate” him from his job.
Murder charges were preferred against a veteran New York State Trooper who became involved in an altercation with a driver he stopped for speeding. When the allegedly scared motorist tried to flee the trooper pursued him and repeatedly rammed his car, causing it to flip. In the crash, the driver’s eleven-year old daughter was killed. Trooper Christopher Baldner, 43 was also charged in the same indictment with ramming another vehicle in 2019. He had also reportedly rammed a car in 2017.
10/4/21 Signed into law by Governor Kevin Newsom, California Senate Bill 2, “The Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021,” was prompted by a lawmaker’s concern that rogue officers moved freely among agencies. SB2 authorizes the state’s Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to investigate “serious misconduct” by police officers. A “Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory Board” will review the findings and return its recommendation. A two-thirds vote of the Commission is then required to revoke a peace officer’s certification and make them unemployable as a cop.
10/1/21 School police in Southern California are drawing attention over the use of lethal force. In Long Beach, a school cop walked up to a car to confront teens who participated in a fight about a block away from a high school. As he reached the passenger door the vehicle sped away, nearly knocking him down. He opened fire. His bullet struck and fatally wounded an 18-year old girl who participated in the fight. No guns were found in the car and the officer’s actions are drawing severe criticism. Click here for a video compilation. And in Los Angeles, school police summoned by campus officials about a threatening man shot and wounded the suspect when he charged at them, firing pepper spray and holding a knife.
9/4/21 A proposed California law that would authorize the state’s Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to decertify officers for serious misconduct has drawn opposition from police officer groups. A major concern is that seven of the nine members of a proposed oversight panel would not be required to have police experience, potentially rendering their decisions “biased” and “amateurish.”
2/2/21 Two prior uses of force by Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis officer who held down George Floyd by leaning on his neck, will be introduced at his murder trial. One is a June 2017 arrest in which he did the same to a woman, and another is a similar incident in 2015. But the judge denied prosecutors’ bid to bring up other instances of alleged physical abuses by Chauvin, or any by officers Thao and Kueng, who are being tried separately. Defense requests to introduce Floyd’s prior arrests, including one in which he allegedly behaved similarly to the fatal encounter, were also denied.
1/22/21 In June 2020 a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed Andres Guardado, 18, when the youth, who was lying on the ground at the end of a foot chase, allegedly reached for a gun. Guardado sustained five bullet wounds, all in the back. Other than being seen with a gun, he was not suspected of a crime. In December 2020 the two deputies who chased Guardado were relieved of duty over an April 2020 traffic crash. An informer has also said the deputies sought to join the “Executioners” clique, which their lawyer denies. For more see Want Happy Endings? Don’t Chase.
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Backing Off Damn the Evidence - Full Speed Ahead! Another Victim: The Craft of Policing
A Risky and Informed Decision Want Happy Endings? Don’t Chase Gold Badges Can be the Problem
Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job Informed and Lethal Police Slowdowns (I) (II)
Should Every Town Field Its Own Cops? Three (In?)explicable Shootings