Study Finds Misconduct Spreads Among Police Officers Like Contagion

According to new research, reassigning police officers with a history of misconduct makes it more likely that their new peers will also misbehave.

BY KATHERINE J. WU 
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Behaviors—both good and bad—can spread between peers in any environment, including the police force. Image Credit: kali9, iStock

Nearly five years after fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014, former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke is now serving a seven-year prison sentence on a conviction of second-degree murder.

But firing 16 bullets at a black teenager holding a knife was likely far from Van Dyke’s first offense. Since he began policing in 2001, at least 25 separate complaints have been filed against Van Dyke by civilians and fellow officers, most involving excessive force. Prior to the most recent charges, none of these allegations resulted in disciplinary action, leaving Van Dyke in the employ of the Chicago Police Department until he was stripped of the position during indictments.

Van Dyke’s case is extreme. But his trajectory wasn’t anomalous. Rather than being fired, officers accused of stealing, lying, mistreating civilians, or otherwise abusing their power are often allowed to retain their roles as public servants, with some rerouted into new positions in the force as a reprimand for bad behavior.

Now, new research published today in the journal Nature Human Behavior suggests that retaining misbehaving officers in police organizations might have far worse consequences than leaving accusations unaddressed: It could actually propagatemisconduct itself.

Even the well-intended shuffle of reassignment, often doled out in attempt to stem the transgressions of offending officers, could be having the exact opposite effect, spreading misdeeds from individuals to their peers like a behavioral contagion.

“I’m really happy to see this study, because it’s very hard to do research on this topic,” says Carol Archbold, a criminologist studying police accountability at North Dakota State University who was not involved in the study. “This shows that it’s important to have accountability in place to track and identify these officers. If you don’t correct the problematic behavior, you’re just moving the problem.”

These findings confirm what’s been hinted at by prior research, including work that has focused on police misconduct in the United States. Most older studies, however, relied on data collected from surveys and interviews of police officers, making it tough to tell if patterns of misconduct were a result of the ripple effect of peer-to-peer influence, or if individuals simply choose to associate with peers with similar inclinations.

The new study, however, took an unprecedented approach. To construct an effective timeline of officers’ actions, behavioral economists Edika Quispe-Torreblanca and Neil Stewart leveraged four years of records from the London Metropolitan Police Service, analyzing data from 35,000 individual police personnel between 2011 and 2014. As officers moved from appointment to appointment, the researchers tabulated allegations of misconduct levied against them and their coworkers (a common proxy for misconduct in these types of studies). Unlike its predecessors, the study could pinpoint instances in which the track records of a misbehaving officer’s new peers took a downturn after that person came onto the scene—changes that hinted strongly at cause and effect.

“The [authors] were able to get rid of many of the issues that other research faces,” says Ojmarrh Mitchell, a criminologist at the University of South Florida who authored a commentary on the new study. “[These results] indicate a causal relationship, and that’s a remarkable finding.”

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Studies have shown that a small fraction of police officers are responsible for a disproportionate number of acts of misconduct. Image Credit: ChiccoDodiFC, iStock

The new study found that, as officers with records of misconduct transitioned between working groups within the police force, they consistently increased the likelihood that those around them would be accused of bad behavior.

This wasn’t very surprising, Stewart says. But no one had ever put an exact number to how strong these effects were—and even he and Quispe-Torreblanca were taken aback by its magnitude: For every 10 percent increase in the proportion of a police officer’s peers with a history of misconduct (for instance, adding one allegedly misbehaving member to a group of 10), that officer’s chances of engaging in misdeeds in the next three months rose by nearly 8 percent.

“Given how frequently police officers are transferred to different units in response to bad behavior, this contagion effect is really important,” Mitchell says.

The effect is also likely not restricted to wayfaring officers in transition: Though more difficult to measure, bad behavior probably also disseminates within existing groups, Stewart says.

What’s not yet clear, however, is the root of the infectious nature of police misconduct. But this is far from the first study to find that our peers hold serious sway over our actions under a variety of circumstances. “I don’t think this is a police problem as much as a human being problem,” Stewart says.

And humans tend to look to the people around them for guidance on how to behave. “We are a social species, and fitting in with a group is just a very powerful part of our nature,” says Linda Treviño, an expert in organizational behavior and ethics at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the study. “If everyone in a social context is doing things in a particular way, ethical or unethical, most people will follow their lead.”

Addressing the issue will likely require interventions on multiple fronts, Mitchell says. One solution might include improving methods of identifying and disciplining (and not reassigning) a small faction of particularly problematic officers in the force who are responsible for a disproportionately large share of police misconduct—and might be repeatedly seeding bad behavior in others. In spite of evidence that bad behavior often concentrates in a minority of corrupt cops, few officers are disciplined or fired in the aftermath of misconduct. Even among those who are terminated, some quickly end up rehired in other jurisdictions, potentially widening their reach.

“Bad officers stick around for much longer than they should,” Mitchell says. “Removal needs to be easier than it has been.”

But the larger issue at hand might be cultural, Treviño says. If police organizations as a whole remain tolerant of misconduct, these issues are unlikely to get resolved anytime soon. “Managers need to look at the entire system that is creating the social environment that supports the bad behavior,” she says. “It’s about the context you create…if there’s leadership that says, ‘We have values, this is the way we behave, this is what the expectations are,’ if a toxic person comes along, they’ll get spit out.”

Part of this overhaul might require rethinking the infamous “code of silence” that prevails among law enforcement officers, many of whom have been accused of turning a blind eye to crooked behavior amongst colleagues in the field in an effort to preserve camaraderie. Those violating the code have suffered serious repercussions, including, perhaps most infamously, Frank Serpico, who was ostracized and abandoned by his fellow police officers after whistleblowing on the NYPD’s rampant corruption in 1971.

“Police executives need to foster an environment that encourages officers to say something if they see something,” Archbold says. “It really begins and ends with encouraging officers to report…and making officers feel supported by peers and supervisors if they do.”

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Many officers maintain clean records. But for those who misbehave, there aren’t always consequences. Between 1975 and 1996, for instance, less than 2 percent of NYPD officers were terminated for misconduct. Image Credit: Travel Wild, iStock

Simply building and maintaining archives like the one analyzed in the new study, however, could increase accountability, Archbold says. Though similar compilations haven’t traditionally been common in the United States, a nationwide effort by the USA TODAY Network recently identified more than 85,000 law enforcement officerswho have been investigated or disciplined for acts of misconduct over the last decade—a “treasure trove” of data that could yield powerful follow-up research in the future, she adds.

On a smaller scale, early intervention systems that enable organizations to monitor problematic behavior could flag officers who might benefit from immediate retraining, counseling, and supervision, Archbold says. “The spread [of misconduct] can be stopped if it’s tracked, and if something’s done about it.”

In the meantime, it’s worth keeping in mind how many working members of the police force maintain clean records, Stewart says. The contagiousness of behavior remains a two-way street. There’s nothing to say that ethical attitudes aren’t transmitted between peers, too—or even that negative effects are irreversible. In their analysis, the researchers also found that when the number of deviant officers in a cohort went down, so did the chances of its remaining members engaging in misconduct.

In other words, an antidote does exist—one that’s capable of tempering the malady, even as it spreads.

“Peer effects work both ways,” Treviño says. “A strong, ethical social environment is a very powerful positive tool.”

 

KATHERINE J. WU, “Study Finds Misconduct Spreads Among Police Officers Like Contagion”, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/police-misconduct-peer-effects/

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Video shows police repeatedly punching New Jersey teen in the head during arrest

The video spurred a 50-person protest on Sunday evening, where people demanded answers from the New Jersey’s town police department about what happened.

 

Ben Kesslen, “Video shows police repeatedly punching New Jersey teen in the head during arrest”, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/video-shows-police-repeatedly-punching-new-jersey-teen-head-during-n1007641

Bridgeport man’s charges dismissed in police misconduct case

Updated 

BRIDGEPORT – Criminal charges were dismissed Tuesday against a city man whose October 2017 arrest during a pre-Halloween party led to disciplinary action against 17 police officers accused of using excessive force and lying on police reports.

“After a year and a half, I finally got justice and it feels great,” said Carmelo Mendez, as he left the Golden Hill Street courthouse. “I said all along that the police were the aggressors and now a court has seen it, too.”

Superior Court Judge Frank Iannotti dismissed the charges of interfering with police and breach of peace pending against Mendez as the case was about to go to trial. Prosecutors had entered a nolle in the case in which they were discontinuing the prosecution without comment and the judge then granted a motion to dismiss the charges from Mendez’s lawyer, Robert Berke.

The dismissal now sets up a lawsuit against the city and the Police Department.

City spokeswoman Rowena White said late Tuesday that the City Attorney’s office was unaware of the dismissal.

“Mr. Mendez has filed a lawsuit, and so we cannot comment on pending litigation,” she said.

Berke confirmed later that he will be filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Police Department but declined further comment.

“I’m going to sue the city,” Mendez said. “I need to get justice for what they did to me.”

He said he suffers from permanent eye damage as a result of the incident.

Mendez and his sister were arrested on Oct. 21, 2017, after police responded to a noise complaint at the sister’s home on Colorado Avenue. Eventually, 45 officers responded to the scene.

A report by the city’s Office of Internal Affairs, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, found that 17 officers involved in the case violated police rules and regulations including using excessive force on Mendez who had been taking video of the police response.

The OIA report states that video from the party shows Officer Michael Stanitis strike Mendez multiple times in the side of the head with the butt of his flashlight as Mendez was held on the ground by other officers. “Officer Stanitis stated he did not see any injuries on Mr. Mendez, offering that he was unable to ‘even see him at all.’” The report states that Mendez had an “S” imprint on his face consistent with the butt end of the flashlight carried by the officer.

Mendez and his sister, Wanda Mendez, were arrested. His sister was charged with assault on a public safety officer, interfering with police, inciting a riot and breach of peace. Her case is still pending.

Last week, the city’s Board of Police Commissioners began closed hearings against each of the accused officers in the case.

At his last court hearing, Carmelo Mendez told the judge he wanted a trial and Berke filed a motion for a speedy trial. Jury selection in the case was to begin Tuesday.

Last month, Carmelo Mendez sued the police department on behalf of his 8-year-old son and 13-year-old niece who he claims witnessed officers beating him up.

“They both were traumatized as they stood by and watched police beating me up,” Mendez said. “My son didn’t want to celebrate Halloween again after what happened.”

 

‘I Can’t Breathe’: 5 Years After Eric Garner’s Death, an Officer Faces Trial

Disciplinary proceedings against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is accused of using a chokehold to subdue Mr. Garner, could lead to his firing.

Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, at a protest in 2015 outside the Manhattan office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.CreditMark Kauzlarich/The New York Times
Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, at a protest in 2015 outside the Manhattan office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.CreditCreditMark Kauzlarich/The New York Times

By Ashley Southall

The last words Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, uttered on a New York City sidewalk in 2014 instantly became a national rallying cry against police brutality. “I can’t breathe,’’ Mr. Garner pleaded 11 times after a police officer in plain clothes placed his arm across his neck and pulled him to the ground while other officers handcuffed him.

The encounter was captured on a video that ricocheted around the world, set off protests and prompted calls for the officers to be fired and criminally charged.

Mr. Garner’s death was part of a succession of police killings across the country that became part of a wrenching conversation about how officers treat people in predominantly poor and minority communities.

Now, the officer who wrapped his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck, Daniel Pantaleo, 33, faces a public trial that could lead to his firing. Officer Pantaleo has denied wrongdoing and his lawyer argues that he did not apply a chokehold.

The trial, scheduled to start Monday at Police Department headquarters, has been long-awaited by the Garner family, whose campaign to hold the police accountable for what they say is an unjustified use of force took on greater significance after Mr. Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner, died in 2017.

The city paid $5.9 million to settle a lawsuit with the family after a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has fought and delayed the family’s efforts to have all the police officers involved in the encounter punished.

“It was at least a dozen more who just did nothing, or either they pounced on him, they choked him, they filed false reports,” Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said in an interview. “It’s about all of those officers who committed an injustice that day and they all need to stand accountable.”

Officer Pantaleo faces charges of reckless use of a chokehold and intentional restriction of breathing. His lawyer says that Officer Pantaleo did not use a chokehold, but a different technique that is taught to officers in training and is known as a seatbelt.

So the trial will have to settle two questions at the heart of the case: Was the maneuver Officer Pantaleo used a chokehold? And, if so, was the officer justified in using it to subdue an unarmed man during a low-level arrest?

On Thursday, the Police Department judge overseeing the trial said that prosecutors must prove that Officer Pantaleo’s actions went beyond a violation of departmental rules and constituted a crime — an unusually high bar.

Video of the fatal encounter was recorded by Ramsey Orta, a friend of Mr. Garner’s who is expected to testify at Officer Pantaleo’s trial. It captured Mr. Garner telling officers in street clothes to leave him alone after they approached him outside a beauty supply store on July 17, 2014, not far from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Mr. Garner had repeated encounters with the police and believed that he was being harassed.

“This stops today,” he told the officers before they moved to arrest him over accusations that he was selling untaxed cigarettes. As one officer tried to grab Mr. Garner’s hand, he slipped free. Then Officer Pantaleo slid one arm around Mr. Garner’s neck and another under his left arm and dragged him to the ground. On the pavement, he begged for air.

The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide and said he died from a chokehold and the compression of his chest from lying prone. The findings are a crucial issue in the trial and Officer Pantaleo’s defense lawyer plans to dispute them.

Stuart London, the police union lawyer representing Officer Pantaleo, said the technique his client used was the seatbelt maneuver taught in the Police Academy, not a chokehold. He plans to argue that Mr. Garner, who was overweight and severely asthmatic, died because of poor health.

“Those who have been able to not come to a rushed judgment, but have looked at the video in explicit detail, see Pantaleo’s intent and objective was to take him down pursuant to how he was taught by NYPD, control him when they got on the ground, and then have him cuffed,” Mr. London said in an interview. “There was never any intent for him to exert pressure on his neck and choke him out the way the case has been portrayed.”

Demonstrators protesting a decision by a grand jury not to bring criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in December 2014.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times
Demonstrators protesting a decision by a grand jury not to bring criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in December 2014.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent city agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct, is prosecuting the case against Officer Pantaleo and is seeking his termination.

But the ruling on Thursday by the judge, Rosemarie Maldonado, the deputy police commissioner in charge of trials, denied Mr. London’s motion to dismiss the case. But her ruling means that prosecutors need to prove that Officer Pantaleo’s actions rose to the crimes of assault and strangulation in order to avoid the state’s prohibition on bringing misconduct charges more than 18 months after occurrence.

Colleen Roache, a spokeswoman for the review board, said prosecutors understood their obligation when they served Officer Pantaleo with the charges last July.

But critics have said the review board’s failure to file charges sooner had made the prosecutors’ case significantly harder to prove.

The Police Department banned chokeholds in 1993 amid concern about a rising number of civilian deaths in police custody. In 2016, the department added an exception to its chokehold ban under certain circumstances, which critics said made it easier for officers to justify its use.

After Mr. Garner’s death, the Police Department spent $35 million to retrain officers not to use chokeholds, but they continue to use the maneuver and rarely face punishment.

The trial is expected to last two weeks, with testimony from about two dozen witnesses. Officer Pantaleo has not decided whether he will testify, Mr. London said.

When the trial ends, Deputy Commissioner Maldonado, will decide if Officer Pantaleo is guilty. If guilt is determined, she will recommend a penalty to Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, who will make the final decision.

Short of firing, any discipline of Officer Pantaleo, a 13-year veteran, may never become public because of a state law that shields police disciplinary records from public disclosure.

The delays and secrecy surrounding officer discipline are part of the reason that police reform advocates say the public has lost trust in the city’s process for assessing complaints against officers.

The de Blasio administration fought to keep prior abuse complaints against Officer Pantaleo secret, including one stemming from a car stop in which the occupants said he strip-searched them on the street.

The records were eventually leaked, but the administration won several court rulings broadening the scope of the secrecy law.

“It’s been de Blasio and his administration who’ve been blocking the whole time that I’ve been trying to get the officers fired,” Ms. Carr said.

Despite Eric Garner and ‘I Can’t Breathe,’ Chokeholds Still Used

Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death

The trial will revisit a painful chapter marked by months of protests with marchers chanting Mr. Garner’s final words.

Not long after a Staten Island grand jury in December 2014 decided not to charge Officer Pantaleo with a crime, two officers were ambushed and killed by a gunman while sitting in their patrol car.

To Mr. Garner’s family and their supporters, his death discredited a crime-fighting strategy that the police and mayors have cited repeatedly as helping to drive crime rates to their lowest level in recent history. The strategy relies on targeting lower-level offenses that the police believe create the environment for more violent crime.

But critics say it has resulted in racial profiling, targeting mostly black and Latino men in poorer neighborhoods.

The Police Department delayed disciplinary proceedings against Officer Pantaleo for years because of an ongoing federal investigation. But with prosecutors in the Department of Justice divided over whether to bring charges, police officials decided to allow the disciplinary process to move forward.

Officer Pantaleo and Sergeant Kizzy Adonis, who was the first supervisor to arrive on the scene where the police were confronting Mr. Garner, were stripped of their guns and placed on desk jobs. Sergeant Adonis, who has since been restored to full duty, has been administratively charged with failing to properly oversee officers, but a date for her disciplinary trial has not been set.

A state judge recently denied Officer Pantaleo’s motion to have the civilian review board removed from the case. He argued that the agency lacked jurisdiction because the person who filed the complaint was not involved or an eyewitness.

“It’s time for Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, the rest of the Garner family, and the people of the City of New York to have closure,” Fred Davie, the chairman of the civilian review board, said in a statement.

On the stretch of Bay Street where Mr. Garner died, the type of behavior that drew police attention five years ago persists. People peddle loose cigarettes and a sign affixed to a door outside an apartment building warns against selling heroin on a stoop.

“It’s a hustle block,” Christopher Sweat, a retired chef, said. “It’s a regular mood until the cops get called.”

Nearby, a plaque memorializes Mr. Garner’s death as a murder, adding, “May his soul rest in peace.” Passers-by on a recent afternoon were unanimous in their belief that Officer Pantaleo deserved to be fired.

“It was a blatant chokehold,” said Keenen Hill, 46, a maintenance man who lives in the neighborhood. “Stevie Wonder saw that.”

Laura Dimon and Ali Winston contributed reporting.

Ashley Southallm, “‘I Can’t Breathe’: 5 Years After Eric Garner’s Death, an Officer Faces Trial”, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/12/nyregion/eric-garner-death-daniel-pantaleo-chokehold.html

Claims of excessive force by Paterson, NJ police

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) — A 7 On Your Side investigation into the Paterson Police Department finds that many alleged excessive force cases are being swept under the rug with millions in settlements and an Internal Affairs Department that rarely substantiate abuse cases.

“We don’t see officers being removed from the force,” said attorney Nancy Lucianna, who has represented dozens of people in abuse cases against Paterson police. “We don’t see officers being suspended, being re-trained. They’re put right back there right on the street to offend and keep doing what they’re doing.”

Our investigation has found that since 2013, Paterson has paid out more than $2 million in settlements, much of that to people claiming police abuse.

“You see fractures with surgery, pins, plates, open-reduction surgeries on arms and legs and shoulders,” said attorney Shelley Strangler, who has won numerous settlements for her clients in abuse cases against Paterson police.

She says despite six officers being caught up in an FBI corruption probe, the abuse cases out of Paterson just keep coming.

“It’s all about discipline,” she said. “If you’re not disciplined for the use of force or for improper behavior, then you are spreading the message to all of your officers that it’s OK to engage in misconduct.”

Dennis Deluccia got an $85,000 settlement after two Paterson police officers broke his leg when he asked police if they had a warrant to search his house.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you guys just leave? Nobody called the cops here,’ and I got jumped in my own house,” he said. “And I got my leg snapped when they jumped me.”

And earlier this year, a former Paterson police officer who was caught on camera brutally assaulting a suicidal man in a hospital was sentenced to six years in prison. The officer who recorded the attack and concealed the evidence was sentenced to six months.

7 On Your Side Investigates obtained data through Open Records Requests that show there is virtually no chance of a victim of alleged abuse having their complaint substantiated by Paterson Police Internal Affairs investigators.

From 2014 through 2018, there were 183 complaints of excessive force or improper arrest investigated by Internal Affairs — and only ONE complaint was substantiated.

“The Internal Affairs function is not effective enough to properly discipline and reprimand officers,” Strangler said. “And therefore, there is this toleration, so to speak, toleration of misconduct, because the officers know that they are not going to be disciplined.”

The Paterson Police Department has ignored our emails and phone calls seeking a response to this report. However, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh earlier this year called for a top-to-bottom audit of the department, saying, “I demand accountability and transparency.”

 

NYPD flouts requirement to disclose police misconduct info, vows to post data

By ROCCO PARASCANDOLA

NYPD flouts requirement to disclose police misconduct info, vows to post data
NYPD flouts data requirement, vows to post info on police misconduct (rafalkrakow/rafalkrakow)

The NYPD has ignored for more than two years a city law requiring it to reveal statistics about officer misconduct, the Daily News has learned.

Police admitted the omission and said the information would soon be on its website.

The department declined to say why the data had not been posted, but City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) said there is a simple explanation: the NYPD’s first instinct when it comes to information is to withhold it.

’I think the NYPD has learned that the more the council and the public know about the racial disparities in policing and the lack of police accountability within the NYPD the more heat the NYPD gets to change its policies and reform its practices,” Lancman said.

“So they’ve obviously decided that withholding information they’re legally required to produce is more important to them than abandoning racially disparate practices and disciplinary processes that let officers engage in misconduct with impunity.”

The Deployment Law, a local ordinance, took effect Oct. 1, 2016. It requires police to report annually the number and percentage of cops in each police command with misconduct markers on their records: at least two substantiated civilian complaints or the use of excessive force in the prior three years, a suspension in the prior five years, or an unsealed arrest back 10 years.

The data is considered useful in spotting trends; for instance if a police unit was linked to numerous brutality complaints. It does not name officers or provide specifics that could reveal a cop’s identity.

The law requires police to post the data on the day the ordinance went into effect, and thereafter every February. But as of last week, only the 2016 data had been posted and, as Lancman noted, the numbers aren’t broken down by category of misconduct as required.

“So even with the information they have posted,” Lancman said, “what they have produced is practically useless.’’

A candidate for Queens District Attorney, Lancman said he learned almost by chance about the missing information.

Having sued the NYPD for not fully complying with a law requiring police to disclose data about fare evasion enforcement, Lancman checked if police were adhering to other laws.

The City Council also requires the NYPD to release stop and frisk data, but when it did so in Feb. 2007 it was discovered that such data had not been posted since late 2003.

How the NYPD tracks officer misconduct and disciplines its own has been headline news over the past few years. In 2016, the department stopped releasing to the media summaries of internal disciplinary proceedings against officers, reversing 40 years of practice. It cited Section 50-a of the state’s civil rights law for its action.

Section 50-a specifies that personnel records of police, firefighters and correction officers should be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without an individual’s written consent except if mandated by a court order. In the event of a court order, the personnel records in question are sealed and sent to a judge, who evaluates their relevance and releases to a petitioner only those sections deemed relevant by a judge.

Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill have advocated for the law to be amended.

 

Why Are So Many ‘Bad Apple’ Police Officers Bad in the Same Way?

Brian Encinia, a former trooper with the Texas Department of Safety, confronting Sandra Bland at a traffic stop.

Brian Encinia, a former trooper with the Texas Department of Safety, confronting Sandra Bland at a traffic stop. Photo: Sandra Bland

Brian Encinia said that he ordered Sandra Bland out of her vehicle, forced her to the ground, and handcuffed her on July 10, 2015, because he feared for his safety. “My safety was in jeopardy at more than one time,” the former–Texas Department of Safety trooper told the agency’s Office of Inspector General. “I had a feeling that anything could’ve been either retrieved or hidden within her area of control.”

But newly released footage contradicts this account. On Monday, reporters with Dallas television station WFAA aired a 39-second cell phone videocaptured by Bland that had not been previously made public. It depicts an irate Encinia threatening to “light … up” the black 28-year-old with his stun gun and demanding that she exit her car and “get off the phone,” all while Bland asks him repeatedly why a “failure to signal” called for such treatment. “The video shows that [Encinia] wasn’t in fear of his safety,” Cannon Lambert, a lawyer for Bland’s family, told the New York Times. “You could see that it was a cell phone. He was looking right at it.”

Bland was found dead in a Waller County jail cell three days later; authorities ruled her death a suicide. Nationwide protests followed. The Naperville, Illinois, native — who, before her arrest, was en route to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas — became the most prominent woman to die in police custody as a result of police violence during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Encinia was charged with perjury for lying about the circumstances surrounding Bland’s arrest, but the charges were dropped on the condition that he never seek a job in law enforcement again. As a result, Encinia — whose former lawyer told the Times that he is now “working in the private sector, supporting his wife and family and living a quiet life” — became one of the countless American police officers to face no legal consequences for demonstrated misconduct.

The gravity of Encinia’s behavior falls short of the murderousness shown by Michael Slager and Jason Van Dyke, police officers who were convicted of crimes after shooting and killing black men. But it is an edifying example nonetheless in the debate over whether cases of police misconduct are a series of isolated incidents or part of a systemic problem. Public opinion is divided on the issue — but perhaps predictably, the divide is largely racial and politically partisan. According to a 2015 PRRI survey conducted after the killings of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray, 74 percent of black Americans believed that such killings were part of a broader pattern of police behavior, compared to 43 percent of white Americans. Thirty percent of Democrats felt they were isolated incidents, compared to 65 percent of Republicans.

The position held by most whites and Republicans can be summarized as the “bad apple” theory of law enforcement — the idea that a few bad actors exist but should not reflect poorly on an otherwise-good bunch. Prominent subscribers include former–U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has deployed this argument to discredit federal oversight of local police departments. “I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong,” the then-senator said in 2017. About 67 percent of police officers agree with Sessions that these occurrences say little about policing as a whole.

But what happens in their immediate aftermath is just as illuminating in uncovering the truth as the incidents themselves. Encinia did not just order Bland out of her car, threaten her, and arrest her for apparently frivolous reasons. He lied to investigators about the threat that he believed she posed. His official account of the exchange hinged entirely on the assertion that his actions were justified because he thought he was in danger. And he is not alone in pursuing this line of reasoning. Almost every prominent police killing or assault of an unarmed black person in recent years has been followed by official claims that the officer feared for his or her safety. In cases as disparate geographically as the shooting deaths of Mike Brown in Missouri, Terence Crutcher in Oklahoma, Sam Dubose in Ohio, and the 15-year-old boy attacked in April by sheriff’s deputies in Broward County, Florida, police have invoked the fear they purportedly felt to justify their violence.

This approach has yielded dividends. Department policy and Supreme Court precedent have combined to render more or less legal the brutalization of civilians, as long as the officer in question can demonstrate that their actions were “objectively reasonable.” Of course, what is considered “objectively reasonable” shifts from state to state and case to case — such that more often than not, merely claiming to have felt fear is treated as objectively reasonable grounds for murder.

We can say with confidence that this is a systemic problem because letting these officers off the hook is a systemic act — enshrined in law and practice across the United States and carried out in official press conferences, departmental investigations, and grand jury proceedings. “A few bad apples” are not to blame for a system-wide mechanism which police can so reliably turn to for exoneration that they do so almost every time they are caught doing wrong. There is something fundamentally nefarious about the whole institution when so many such cases follow a familiar script: Commit violence against an unarmed civilian, then claim — often dishonestly — to have been so frightened that no other option was available.

Sandra Bland may have been mistreated by a lone officer on the street that day. But it was the system that empowered Encinia to treat her as he did in the first place — and that gave him confidence that even if the encounter ended with her dying, he could lie and expect to be protected.

 

“Why Are So Many ‘Bad Apple’ Police Officers Bad in the Same Way?”, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/05/sandra-bland-footage.html

Good cop, bad cop

May 6, 2019

Can civilian allegations of officer misconduct be used to prevent future incidents?

Lori Lightfoot, then president of the Chicago Police Board and Accountability Task Force Chair, discusses the findings of its report released in April 2016.

Daniel X. O’Neil

An important question following any violent death is whether it could have been prevented.

So it was with Laquan McDonald. The 17-year-old Chicago resident was gunned down in 2014 by police officer Jason Van Dyke, who had a history of complaints of using excessive force prior to McDonald’s death.

If Chicago police had taken those complaints more seriously and pulled Van Dyke from street duty, would McDonald still be alive? It’s impossible to know. But a paper in the May issue of the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy says civilian allegations of officer misconduct may be a useful tool in identifying and reining in the worst offenders on a police force.

“While these allegations and the allegation process are taken seriously, maybe they’re not taken seriously enough,” said Kyle Rozema, who co-authored the paper with Northwestern’s Max Schanzenbach, in an interview with the AEA.

Schanzenbach and Rozema, a fellow at the University of Chicago who soon will join Washington University as an associate professor, looked no further than their own city of Chicago to determine whether civilian complaints could be a reliable tool for supervisors and policymakers concerned with reining in officer misconduct.

While these allegations and the allegation process are taken seriously, maybe they’re not taken seriously enough.

Kyle Rozema

Chicago police have been involved in a number of high profile incidents, including McDonald’s death, that have caused civil unrest and been costly to the city. Chicago has paid out an average of $50 million a year between 2009-2014 to settle lawsuits stemming from police officer misconduct.

The issue is not a burden shouldered by Chicago, alone. Cities from New York to Pittsburgh andFerguson, Mo., have dealt with the fallout from incidents involving police violence.

This paper suggests that allegations of police misconduct could become a critical tool in identifying the “bad apples” who account for a disproportionate share of incidents.

Rozema and Schanzenbach collected personnel records on all Chicago police officers between 2002 and 2014, and examined newly released data on over 50,000 civilian allegations of police officer misconduct to see whether they could reliably predict whether an officer would later be involved in a legal settlement over their actions.

After controlling for factors that might bias the results—such as police officers who worked in high-crime areas—the authors found a strong relationship between misconduct allegations and future civil rights litigation. But it was concentrated among the worst officers.

 

Alleged Misconduct
The pie chart below represents allegations made against Chicago police officers between 2002 and 2014. Civilian allegations relate to interactions between civilians and on-duty police officers, internal allegations arise from reports from supervisors or fellow officers, and the off-duty allegations are mostly generated by off-duty behavior. Click on the chart to drill down to the different types of allegations made in each category.
Civilian Allegations: 61.0%Civilian Allegations: 61.0%Internal Allegations: 34.0%Internal Allegations: 34.0%Off-Duty Allegations: 5.0%Off-Duty Allegations: 5.0%Highcharts.comAll AllegationsOff-Duty Allegations: 5.00% of all allegations
Source: Table 1

 

Officers who ranked among the top-1 percent of civilian allegations against them generated almost five times the number of payouts and four times the total damages in civil rights lawsuits. For context, if Chicago had removed the worst-1 percent (120 in total) from regular civilian contact and replaced with average officers, the city would have saved over $6 million in payouts from 2009-2014.

Meanwhile, there wasn’t much differentiation among the rest. Officers below the 80-90 percentiles for allegations are little different than officers with none.

The results seemed to validate the idea that the problems in the department were largely driven by a few bad actors rather than the entire police force.

“A very important part of the story is the very worst of the worst,” Schanzenbach said. “It did confirm some of the conventional wisdom that a lot of people were making, the argument about the bad egg.”

Their paper also sheds light on a policy related to whether an allegation is actually investigated by the department. More than half of allegations against Chicago police officers were dismissed because the complainant refused to sign a sworn affidavit. The reasoning goes that if allegations can lead to severe penalties for the accused, then the allegor should be prepared to face legal repercussions if they are lying.

Still, allegations without a sworn affidavit are just as accurate at predicting future police misconduct. The findings raise concerns that the requirement, which may intimidate many complainants, is suppressing otherwise legitimate allegations that could be used to hold police accountable.

The authors stop short of drawing any definitive policy conclusions. Collective bargaining agreements and local laws will determine the extent to which these tools can be used.

But, at the very least, their findings suggest that police supervisors need to take all allegations against their officers more seriously. Not only could it save cities costly legal actions, it could save lives.

“Maybe if Van Dyke had been flagged and had a partner that night, things would have turned out differently,” Schanzenbach said. “That’s the thing that’s in the back of my mind.”

“Good Cop, Bad Cop: Using Civilian Allegations to Predict Police Misconduct” appears in the May issue of the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.

 

Chris Fleisher, May 6, 2019, “Good cop, bad cop”, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, https://www.aeaweb.org/research/good-cop-bad-cop-chicago-police-civilian-allegations

NYPD flouts requirement to disclose police misconduct info, vows to post data

NYPD flouts requirement to disclose police misconduct info, vows to post data
NYPD flouts data requirement, vows to post info on police misconduct (rafalkrakow/rafalkrakow)

The NYPD has ignored for more than two years a city law requiring it to reveal statistics about officer misconduct, the Daily News has learned.

Police admitted the omission and said the information would soon be on its website.

The department declined to say why the data had not been posted, but City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) said there is a simple explanation: the NYPD’s first instinct when it comes to information is to withhold it.

’I think the NYPD has learned that the more the council and the public know about the racial disparities in policing and the lack of police accountability within the NYPD the more heat the NYPD gets to change its policies and reform its practices,” Lancman said.

“So they’ve obviously decided that withholding information they’re legally required to produce is more important to them than abandoning racially disparate practices and disciplinary processes that let officers engage in misconduct with impunity.”

The Deployment Law, a local ordinance, took effect Oct. 1, 2016. It requires police to report annually the number and percentage of cops in each police command with misconduct markers on their records: at least two substantiated civilian complaints or the use of excessive force in the prior three years, a suspension in the prior five years, or an unsealed arrest back 10 years.

The data is considered useful in spotting trends; for instance if a police unit was linked to numerous brutality complaints. It does not name officers or provide specifics that could reveal a cop’s identity.

The law requires police to post the data on the day the ordinance went into effect, and thereafter every February. But as of last week, only the 2016 data had been posted and, as Lancman noted, the numbers aren’t broken down by category of misconduct as required.

“So even with the information they have posted,” Lancman said, “what they have produced is practically useless.’’

A candidate for Queens District Attorney, Lancman said he learned almost by chance about the missing information.

Having sued the NYPD for not fully complying with a law requiring police to disclose data about fare evasion enforcement, Lancman checked if police were adhering to other laws.

The City Council also requires the NYPD to release stop and frisk data, but when it did so in Feb. 2007 it was discovered that such data had not been posted since late 2003.

How the NYPD tracks officer misconduct and disciplines its own has been headline news over the past few years. In 2016, the department stopped releasing to the media summaries of internal disciplinary proceedings against officers, reversing 40 years of practice. It cited Section 50-a of the state’s civil rights law for its action.

Section 50-a specifies that personnel records of police, firefighters and correction officers should be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without an individual’s written consent except if mandated by a court order. In the event of a court order, the personnel records in question are sealed and sent to a judge, who evaluates their relevance and releases to a petitioner only those sections deemed relevant by a judge.

Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill have advocated for the law to be amended.

 

“NYPD flouts requirement to disclose police misconduct info, vows to post data”, https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/ny-nypd-flouts-data-requirement-vows-to-post-info-on-police-misconduct-20190506-gxsuloasfzbi5hecatefp6sj2i-story.html

Houston Police Shot Man Killed in Fraudulent Drug Raid at Least Eight Times

Dennis Tuttle and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, who was shot twice, were pronounced dead shortly after police invaded their home based on a “controlled buy” that never happened.

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Houston narcotics officers shot Dennis Tuttle at least eight times during the January 28 drug raid that killed him and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, at their home on Harding Street. The no-knock raid, based on allegations that Tuttle and Nicholas were selling heroin, found no heroin and no evidence of drug dealing. The officer who obtained the warrant, Gerald Goines, reported a “controlled buy” at the house that apparently never happened.

According to an autopsy report dated March 19, Tuttle suffered gunshot wounds in his head and neck, chest, left shoulder, left buttock (which was struck twice), left thigh, left forearm, left hand, right wrist, and right forearm (two graze wounds). The report says the chest injury “may represent a re-entrance wound of a fragmented bullet associated with one of the gunshot wounds of the upper extremities.” The officers reported that they shot Tuttle after he fired at them with a .357 Magnum revolver in response to their armed invasion of his home, during which they killed a dog with a shotgun immediately after crashing through the door.

Another autopsy report, also dated March 19, says Nicholas was shot in the torso and right thigh. Police said they shot her after she moved toward the officer with the shotgun, who had collapsed on a couch after being shot by Tuttle. They said they believed she was trying to take away the shotgun. There is no video of the raid to corroborate that account. Both Tuttle, who was 59, and Nicholas, who was 58, were pronounced dead at 5:15 p.m., shortly after police broke into their home.

The only drugs that police found in the house were 18 grams of marijuana and 1.5 grams of cocaine. Those are also the only drugs detected by the toxicology tests described in the autopsy reports: THC and a THC metabolite in Tuttle’s blood and benzoylecgonine, a cocaine metabolite, in Nicholas’ blood. Notably, the tests found no traces of heroin, fentanyl, or other opioids.

Although Police Chief Art Acevedo has said the affidavit for the search warrant was falsified, he continues to defend the investigation that led to the raid, citing a January 8 call from an unnamed woman who reported that her daughter was using drugs at the house and described Tuttle and Nicholas as armed and dangerous drug dealers. Acevedo also said neighbors had thanked police for raiding the couple’s home, which he said was locally notorious as a “drug house” and a “problem location.”

Those claims are inconsistent with the accounts of neighbors interviewed by Houston news outlets. They said that Tuttle and Nicholas, who had lived in the house for two decades, were perfectly nice people and that they had never noticed any suspicious activity at the house.

KTRK, the ABC station in Houston, reported in February that the woman who called police on January 8 was Nicholas’ mother, who was concerned about her own daughter’s drug use. But that report is inconsistent with Acevedo’s account and with what Nicholas’ mother, Jo Ann Nicholas, has told reporters. “I want her name cleared,” the grieving 84-year-old woman said in a March 25 interview with KTRK.

Four officers, including Goines, were injured by gunfire during the raid, but it is not clear where those rounds came from. It seems implausible that Tuttle, even if he fired all six rounds from the revolver, was able to hit his targets four times in the chaotic circumstances of the raid. Acevedo initially responded indignantly to the suggestion that officers were hit by “friendly fire,” but that question is part of the Houston Police Department’s ongoing investigation. This morning I asked the HPD whether the issue has been resolved but have not heard back yet.

After I requested copies of the autopsy reports on April 1, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan claimed the documents were not subject to disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act. Citing the law’s exception for information that “would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime,” Ryan sought an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who I gather disagreed.

Update, May 7: HPD spokesman Kese Smith said the department is not releasing any information on the “friendly fire” issue until it completes its internal affairs and criminal investigations of the operation. He said those investigations should be completed by mid-May, at which point the department will report its findings to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which is conducting its own investigation. The FBI is also looking into potential civil rights violations.

 

| “Houston Police Shot Man Killed in Fraudulent Drug Raid at Least Eight Times”, https://reason.com/2019/05/06/houston-police-shot-man-killed-in-fraudulent-heroin-raid-at-least-8-times/