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Posted 12/23/21, updated 1/22/22


After one and one-half decades it seems that
 everything’s changed.  And nothing.

Pig with candy

     For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Would you accept candy from this cop? Sans the holiday treat, this perhaps forgettable image was the centerpiece of our banner for “Liberal Pig,” the blog’s name when we kicked things off in 2007. Alas, in academia-land (teaching was our then-gig) the oinker got little respect, so we promptly renamed the site. But our indifference to the ideological winds remains. So you can expect that this essay will as usual be rough on everyone, including the cops.

     Incidentally, it’s also our four-hundredth post. Pop a cork!

     So where have our peace-keepers landed? For a hint, let’s consider Torrance. Located in the southwest corner of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the city of 143,592 residents (2019 ACS) seems a prosperous place. It boasts a robust household median income ($93,492) and a low poverty level (6.9 percent) that have its immense neighbor (HMI $62,142, pov. 18 percent) decidedly beat. Its crime rate is also comparatively modest. According to the FBI Crime Data Explorer’s “offenses known to law enforcement” download, Torrance had 2,935 property crimes and 274 violent crimes during 2020. Its property crime rate of 20.5/1,000 seems well in line with the nation’s 19.6 and L.A.’s 21.5. And its violent crime rate, 1.9, literally sparkles: it’s only half the national 4.0 and less than one-third L.A.’s eye-popping 7.2.

Click here for the complete collection of conduct and ethics essays

       Thanks to Torrance’s favorable situation, its cops wouldn’t be expected to repeatedly come under Federal watch. Yet grab a look at that recent searing editorial in the L.A. Times. A “rot in the police culture” is how the blunt piece assesses things. And it’s not just about a single foul-up. Indeed, Torrance has been under the gun for more than two decades.

     Torrance P.D.’s current predicament dates back to 1993, when the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit alleging that the city’s hiring process for police and firefighters unlawfully discriminated against Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Torrance P.D.’s then-233 officer force had three Blacks (1.3%), six Asians and fifteen Latinos (6.4%). Fire department ranks were also minority-thin. What’s more, the Feds alleged that this wasn’t for a lack of candidates, but on purpose. Two aspects of the police hiring process were said to unfairly exclude minorities: the writing literacy exam and the background investigation. More ominously, the department was also accused of tolerating “a racially hostile environment” within its ranks.

     It wasn’t just Torrance. DOJ had advanced similar allegations against three other L.A.-area communities: El Monte, Alhambra and Pomona. Each ultimately settled with the Feds and paid damages to unsuccessful minority applicants. But although only one year had passed since the 1992 Los Angeles riots highlighted the sorry state of police-minority relations, Torrance said “no” and dug in for a fight.

     Promptly more stuff happened. On May 27, 1994 three 17-year old boys from L.A. were in a car on their way home after celebrating graduation. Two, both Black, were in front, and the third, who was White, was lying down in the back. Their path took them through Torrance. Suddenly a police car began to follow. After a time, a pair of White officers stopped the teens for “defective taillight” and “seat belt” violations. According to the youths, the cops ordered them out at gunpoint and brutally searched them. (And we mean, brutally.) Their car was also searched but nothing was found, and ultimately all were let go.

     What the cops didn’t know was that one of the kids’ parents was an assistant city attorney. A Federal lawsuit was promptly filed. It claimed that the stop and search were illegal and the force used was completely unnecessary. And as one pores through the appellate decision, a strong whiff of racial animus is clearly evident:

    ...when the officers first decided to make a U-turn and follow the plaintiffs' car, all they had seen were two young African American males driving down a major boulevard in an unremarkable manner...The officer asked [the White teen] whether he knew the two black teens, whether they were actually his friends, and how long he had known them...No comparable questions were asked of the black plaintiffs. Instead, [the officer] asked [the Black teens] “What are you doing out here?” The officer also told [one of the Black teens] “You're not supposed to be here.”

     That brought back the Department of Justice for another look. And what they discovered wasn’t pretty. Many Blacks were indeed leery of Torrance’s cops. According to a local NAACP head, Torrance police had “one of the worst” reputations for “harassing minorities.” Activists and civil libertarians considered the city’s cops as “among the most racially biased and militaristic in Southern California.” But Torrance officials disputed those assertions. Instead, they pointed to their community’s relatively low crime rate and bragged about residents’ “exceptionally high” support for the police. Mayor Dee Hardison agreed that good police departments do get “some heat from time to time.” But she insisted that her cops cops made it all work. “We catch ‘em, and the community likes that.”

     Perhaps so. But some former officers, including minority group members who failed probation, offered troubling observations. Racial epithets were supposedly in common use. Training officers spoke of the difference between “street (epithet)” and “upstanding black citizens.” And so forth.

     Even so, the Feds apparently didn’t find enough to open a “pattern or practice” investigation. And three years later, in September 1998, the judge overseeing DOJ’s hiring practices lawsuit fully absolved Torrance of wrongdoing. Not only that, but he ordered the Feds to fork over $1,714,727.50 to cover the city’s litigation expenses. His actions were affirmed on appeal.

     On the other hand, the youths’ lawsuit against the cops yielded a $245,000 judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. It, too, was upheld on appeal.

     According to the Washington Post’sFatal Force database,” five persons have been shot and killed by Torrance police officers since January 1, 2015. Except for the most recent episode, which appears to remain under investigation, each is linked to the OIS investigative report prepared by the L.A. County D.A.:

  • October 31, 2016: Michelle Lee Shirley (Black, 39, resident of Los Angeles). Ms. Shirley, a law school graduate, suffered from severe mental problems. Police opened fire after a prolonged encounter in which Shirley purposely crashed into other vehicles, including police cars, then allegedly tried to run down officers who intervened. The D.A. concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that officers used unreasonable force.
  • October 14, 2017: Michael David Lopez (Hispanic, 44, resident of San Gabriel Valley). Mr. Lopez had reportedly served two prison terms: one for assault with a deadly weapon, and another for “felony reckless evading.” Torrance police began to pursue Mr. Lopez, who was thought to be drunk, after he evaded officers in an adjoining city. Mr. Lopez sped through multiple intersections and against traffic signals but was ultimately stopped with “PIT” maneuvers. As officers approached on foot, he reached down as though going for a weapon, then revved his pickup. Two officers opened fire as the vehicle lurched towards them. According to the D.A. they acted in lawful self-defense. Three other officers also fired; the D.A. concluded they also acted legally, in defense of their colleagues.
  • June 1, 2018: Juan Carlos Perez-Victor (Hispanic, 38, residence unknown). Police were called to a commercial area where Mr. Perez-Victor was reportedly acting bizarrely and flaunting a knife. He had supposedly run up to a car and placed the knife to the driver’s window. When officers arrived Mr. Perez-Victor was uncooperative and aggressive, and they responded with pepper spray and impact munitions. Neither stopped him, and he soon charged at them with a knife. They responded with gunfire. Meth and a second knife were found in his pockets. The D.A. concluded that the officers acted lawfully, in self-defense and in defense of their colleagues. (Mr. Perez-Victor’s entry lacks his name and incorrectly identifies him as White in the Washington Post database.)
  • December 9, 2018: Christopher Deandre Mitchell (Black, 23, resident of Los Angeles). Mr. Mitchell was approached by two officers as he sat at the wheel of a parked car that a citizen had just reported stolen. Mr. Mitchell, who wore gang-like tattoos on his face, had what seemed to be a firearm on his lap. During the encounter he allegedly reached for it and persisted even when told to stop. Both officers fired their guns. It turned out that Mr. Mitchell had an air rifle whose stock had been cut into a hand grip. The D.A. concluded that the officers “acted lawfully in self-defense.” (See 4/14/23 update)
  • March 8, 2020: Desiree Nicole Garza (Hispanic, 28, resident of Torrance). In this incident, which apparently remains under D.A. review, police were summoned by “multiple” neighbors who reported “a person was breaking items inside a home and refusing to let go of a knife.” Exactly what happened when they arrived is unknown.

     Mr. Mitchell’s killing caught fire with the Black community. Termed “The South Bay's Biggest Story of the Decade” by Black Lives Matter, the tragic episode sparked demonstrations and prompted demands that the officers who shot him be fired and prosecuted. During his recent election campaign, L.A.’s new D.A., George Gascon, pledged to reopen his office’s inquiry. In June 2021 he formed a special team to “re-examine” this incident and other past uses of force. Its progress is unknown.

     Dug in or not, Torrance’s lid soon blew, big-time. On January 27, 2020 the owner of a vehicle that had been impounded by the city’s cops discovered, to his horror, that “a happy face had been spray painted on the front passenger seat and a swastika symbol on the rear seat.”  To the department’s credit, an internal investigation was promptly launched. Within a few months, two officers, including one who had shot Mr. Lopez, were no longer on the force. Both have been referred for prosecution. [See 1/22/22 and 3/21/23  updates]

     After reporting on the vandalized car, the Los Angeles Times came in for a closer look. What it uncovered (we assume, with help from a friendly insider) was appalling. It seems that during the investigation of Mr. Lopez’s death, police detectives and D.A. investigators came across years of online chatter among thirteen Torrance officers and a cop from nearby Long Beach. It featured numerous messages and images that “championed violence against Black people and members of the LGBTQ community, joked about beating up suspects and mocked the idea of internal affairs investigations into racial profiling.”

     That finally proved too much. Fifteen Torrance officers whom the Times connected to “at least seven serious or fatal uses of force against Black or Latino men since 2013” have been placed on leave. In addition, “at least 85” criminal cases in which they participated have been dismissed, and literally hundreds of prosecutions are in peril.

     After all, would you trust the truthfulness and accuracy of these officers’ reports?

     On December 8, 2021, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that his office has opened a formal investigation of Torrance P.D.:

    California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced launching an independent review of the Torrance Police Department (TPD) as part of an effort to identify and correct potential systemic failures in the department’s policies and practices. The review comes amidst deeply concerning allegations of excessive force, racist text messages, and other discriminatory misconduct, and follows a request for assistance by the Torrance Chief of Police. More broadly, the review will aim to promote public safety and rebuild trust between TPD and the community it serves.

City police chief Jay Hart is supposedly onboard. So a full reckoning seems on the horizon.

     One and one-half decades ago, when our oinker came to be, cops weren’t running around wearing body cameras. Text messaging and such was a distant dream. So just when Torrance PD’s culture began to rot we’ll never know. In any event, simply blaming cops feels like a sell-out. Torrance has more than two-hundred officers in uniform. Should all be labeled “racists”?

     As we’ve emphasized over the years, police personalities differ. When it comes to explaining officer behavior, such differences really, really matter. Let’s self-plagiarize from a couple of prior posts:

    Officer temperament is crucial. Cops who are easily rattled, risk-intolerant, impulsive or aggressive are more likely to resort to force or apply it inappropriately. (“Three Inexplicable Shootings”)

    When it comes to shaping outcomes, officer personalities and skill sets, the availability of human and material resources, and the quantity and quality of information are clearly important. And that’s not all. We’ve often mentioned “confirmation bias,” the all-too-human tendency to interpret things in a way that’s consistent with one’s pre-existing understandings and beliefs. That can affect what both cops and citizens do. (“Want Happy Endings? Don’t Chase”)

     On December 18, long-serving L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez likened Torrance’s police scandal to L.A.’s history of racial discrimination. His piece drew a letter from Torrance High School District’s first-ever Black principal. Mr. Sidney Morrison wrote that he received “outstanding support” from the police over the years. And both times that he was pulled over, he “quickly mentioned my relationship to the school district” and was treated cordially. But he pointed out that “those perceived as outsiders were treated differently.”

Whats Up map     Who might these “outsiders” be? Torrance sits next to LAPD’s Harbor Division, which serves about 171,000 residents in the communities of Harbor Gateway, Wilmington, Harbor City, San Pedro and Terminal Island. Between January 1, 2020 and December 18, 2020 – not quite a full year – this area logged 1,149 violent crimes. That produced a violent crime rate of 6.7/1,000, more than three times Torrance’s full-year rate of 1.9. Just Northeast of Torrance lies LAPD’s South Bureau. As every cop in Southern California knows, it’s been besieged by violence for decades (for a detailed account see “Location, Location, Location.”) Consider, for example, the violence-prone 77th. Street Division. Serving a population of about 175,000, it logged 3,369 violent crimes between January 1 and December 18, 2020. That yields an astronomical per/1,000 rate of 19.3, more than ten times Torrance’s.

     Switch to murder. For that we turn to the L.A. Times’ “The Homicide Report,” which tracks deaths reported by the Los Angeles County coroner. During the twelve months preceding this essay – more or less the year 2021 – Torrance suffered two murders – one by gunshot, the other by stabbing. In contrast, the largest community served by Harbor Division, San Pedro (pop. 78,900), reported four homicides, each from gunfire. During the same period Watts (pop. 175,000) lost twenty-three of its citizens to murder; twenty-one from gunfire and two by a knife.

     Below is a chart with this data. Violence is per/1,000 pop., and homicide is per/100,000 pop. Demographics are from the Statistical Atlas of the U.S. (its numbers for Torrance vary slightly from the Census.)

Whats Up chart

     Let’s return to the ex-principal’s observation that “outsiders” were more likely to catch heat from the cops. Torrance’s officers work in a tranquil city whose residents are primarily White or of Asian descent. They know there are less peaceful communities nearby. They’re fully aware that these places, which are populated by substantially larger proportions of Blacks and Hispanics, are far less prosperous if not outright poor. Torrance’s good cops – and we’re convinced they’re in the vast majority – understand that, as our “Neighborhoods” essays repeatedly emphasize, it’s not race but economic conditions that drive crime. So when danger lurks they set aside any biases or preconceptions they might have formed and strive to avoid acting on impulse. That’s what the craft of policing is all about.

     Alas, thanks to text messaging and such, we’ve learned that some Torrance cops can’t possibly meet that standard. What’s most concerning is that their hideous notions could easily affect the complex decision-making calculus that good policing requires, distorting the response to everyday incidents and placing both cops and citizens at needless risk.

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     In “Third, Fourth and Fifth Chances” we discussed the consequences of ignoring officer misconduct.  Here they are in money terms:

  • 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
  • Los Angeles County: More than $238 million since 2015
  • New York City: More than $1.1 billion since 2015
  • Minneapolis: Incalculable

But it’s not all bad news. Torrance now has the opportunity – yes, opportunity – to fix its cop shop before...well, scan the list. Second chances don’t come around real often. They ought not be missed.

UPDATES (scroll)

6/14/24  Capping an inquiry that began in August 2021, DOJ has concluded that the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Dept. have engaged in “a pattern or practice” that violates the Constitution and Federal law. Officers are accused of using excessive force, including unjustified deadly force, of discriminating against the homeless, against persons in a mental health crisis, against Black, Hispanic and Native American citizens, and against individuals “engaged in protected speech and expression.” Negotiating a court-enforced settlement is the next step.

4/8/24  More than thirteen-million bucks. That’s what New York City has set aside to recompense residents who were forced by police to remove religious head coverings. This settlement was brought on by a lawsuit from two Muslim women who had to remove their hijabs for booking photos after their arrests for violating protective orders. Those incidents took place in 2017, and the policy was discontinued four years later. By that time, “thousands” of persons of various religions had been affected.

3/12/24  Pittsburgh police will no longer respond to calls other than “in-progress emergencies.”  Chief Larry Scirotto told reporters that short-staffing requires they cut yearly call volume about 75%, from 200,000 to 50,000. According to Pittsburgh PD’s portal, complaints about criminal mischief, theft and harassment will be handled by a “Telephone Reporting Unit”. But officers will still respond to calls “where a suspect may be on scene, any crime where a person may need medical aid, any domestic dispute, calls with evidence, or where the Mobile Crime Unit will be requested to process a scene.”

1/15/24  In June 2019 former L.A. County deputy sheriff Andrew Lyons impulsively unleashed a volley of rifle fire, killing an unarmed 24-year old man whom he and his partner were trying to arrest. According to the L.A. Times, the thirty-day jail term (and two years probation) Lyons just drew after pleading guilty to assault with a firearm is “the first time in roughly two decades that an L.A. County law enforcement officer has been sentenced to jail or prison for an on-duty shooting.” Lyon’s colleague, Christopher Muse, who also fired his gun, was not charged. He was suspended for 30 days. (See 3/4/22 update)

11/6/23  Three off-duty U.S. Park Police officers and a civilian were drinking in a Virginia apartment when one of the cops decided to prank shoot another. But when he pulled the supposedly unloaded gun’s trigger the pistol fired, killing his colleague. Officer Alexander Roy, 25, has been charged with voluntary manslaughter and is being held without bond.

10/19/23  A just-released DOJ report, “Recruitment and Retention for the Modern Law Enforcement Agency” offers recommendations for dealing with the current “crisis” in recruiting cops and keeping them on the job. Its suggestions include “reconsidering” hiring standards “to better reflect modern police work”, and targeting “diverse candidates” and persons who would not usually consider embarking on a law enforcement career. Report

10/16/23  Seventeen sworn Broward County, Florida deputy sheriffs, including eight assigned to law enforcement and nine working detention, were charged with multiple Federal felonies for obtaining nearly $500,000 in PPP loans by falsely asserting that their businesses and employees had suffered financial harm because of the pandemic. Charges include submitting false information, falsifying tax returns, and committing wire fraud. DOJ news release

9/28/23  In 2018 Long Beach, Calif. police officers Dedier Reyes and David Salcedo filed erroneous accounts about a gun recovery, leading to the arrest and brief jailing of an innocent person. While their superiors and the D.A. initially chalked it up as an innocent mistake, in 2021 a reformist D.A. charged both with perjury and filing a false report, and they were fired. That case just came to trial. Agreeing with the defense that their clients had made an “honest, reasonable” error, jurors acquitted both ex-cops. (See 7/29/22 update)

8/22/23  “Learn More & Help Restore Liberty With The CSPOA Posse.” That’s the plea of the “Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association,” a group of about seventy sheriffs that was formed in 2011 to promote “Red” causes. Deeply skeptical of America’s “soviet-style mainstream media,” it supports the rights of gun owners and criticizes the “vote fraud” and “rampant...institutionalized corruption” that supposedly besets our land. CSPOA also advances sheriffs’ presumed rights to refuse to enforce Federal laws and any others they consider unconstitutional or unjust.

8/10/23  Citing examples of previous cases where male officers, including some of high rank, severely misbehaved but kept their jobs, a former high-ranking female LAPD officer has filed suit. Former Commander Nicole Mehringer and a male Sergeant with whom she was having an affair had been caught, drunk, in an unmarked LAPD car. She was fired; the sergeant kept his job. But a former male Captain who drew Mehringer’s scorn (the object of his affair is now his wife, and a deputy chief, to boot) denies there’s a double standard: “Sometimes people make themselves into more of a victim than they are...”

8/7/23  Texas’ capital, Austin, is short 300 cops. So its Mayor welcomed the squads of State troopers sent in to help out. That is, until July, when troopers, who were making plentiful stops of Blacks and Hispanics, wore out their welcome by pulling a gun on a father and son during a traffic stop. But instead of pulling them out, as the Mayor asked, the Governor sent in “dozens more.” That leaves the capital city with two police agencies. And as the city’s police chief remarked, leaves residents feeling “overpoliced.”

7/25/23  Racist texts exchanged by seventeen Antioch (Calif.) police officers over the years have led to a Federal civil rights lawsuit by four Black men whom some of the messages targeted, and by the son of a man shot and killed by two of the officers who participated in the exchanges. These messages have also led four Black murder defendants - two were named in the texts - to assert that their prosecution was racially inspired. Their claim has put the criminal case on hold while the judge investigates.

7/18/23   “Go somewhere that respects the work you do and you don’t have to beg for a great contract.” That’s what Sgt. Jerretta Sandoz, vice-president of the LAPD Protective League, the officers’ union, advised. And that was one of her milder statements. She’s since withdrawn the Facebook post, but insists that it accurately depicts officers’ struggles in a hostile political climate. Cops are leaving. Replacing them is difficult and recruitment problems keep academy classes small. A $15,000 signing bonus is planned.

4/19/23  After listening to a surreptitious tape of their chat, Oklahoma’s Governor demanded the resignation of rural McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, a sheriff’s captain and two county officials for engaging in a racist diatribe against Black persons. On the recording, a County commissioner suggests going back to hangings. “But you can’t do that anymore. They got more rights than we got.” And the sheriff goes along. He’s since promised to criminally charge the newspaper publisher who purposely left his recorder behind (and turned on) after leaving the meeting.

4/15/23  A joint Federal-local investigation is underway over the exchange of numerous “derogatory, homophobic and sexually explicit” text messages among seventeen Antioch (Calif.) police officers over a period of several years. Many of the deprecatory remarks were about Black persons. “I’m only stopping them cuz they black. Fuck them. Kill each other.” Contra Costa Co. D.A. Report

4/14/23  Two Torrance, Calif. police officers have been indicted for killing Christopher Deandre Mitchell in December, 2018. Mr. Mitchell was at the wheel of a parked vehicle that was reportedly stolen, and as officers walked up he allegedly reached for his lap. They opened fire. It turned out that Mr. Mitchell had an air rifle. Both officers were cleared by then-D.A. Jackie Lacey. Her progressive replacement, George Gascon, had the incident reviewed by a special prosecutor, who presented it to a grand jury. (See 3/21/23 update)

4/5/23  California law now requires that the State Peace Officers Commission post information online identifying officers and deputies whose peace officer licenses have been revoked or are under suspension while allegations that could lead to their decertification are investigated. Fifteen officers are presently under suspension: seven for “Egregious or Repeated Acts that Violate the Law”, four for “Dishonesty”, two for “Abuse of Power,” and two for “Sexual Assault.” Decertification list

And Torrance’s mea culpas continue. In 2020 two (now, former) officers spray-painted a swastika inside a car they impounded. Its horrified owner’s complaint led to an internal inquiry that, among other things, exposed the racist texts. Torrance just paid $750,000 over the swastika.

2/27/23  Tomorrow Chicago voters will be electing three-member civilian councils to oversee each of the city’s twenty-two police districts. These councils will help develop and implement community policing efforts and pass on citizen views about law enforcement and crime to city leaders. Council members will nominate seven civilians to a “Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability” that will oversee all of CPD. Frank Chapman, a key civil rights activist, calls this “democracy at the grassroots level.” But police leaders are expected to strongly resist the citizens’ efforts.

2/25/23  Concerns of “inhumane” jail conditions, the use of excessive force against inmates, and road deputies’ killing of citizens at comparatively high rates - 55 during 2013 to 2021 - were cited by Ray Bonta, California’s progressive Attorney General, as he announced a civil rights investigation into the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. Requested by the ACLU in 2021, the move was denounced as a “political stunt” by Sheriff Chad Biaco. He nonetheless pledged full cooperation.  Press release

2/10/23  Prospects seem excellent that many past criminal cases referred by members of Memphis PD’s “Scorpion” unit, which was disbanded after the killing of Tyre Nichols, will be dismissed. Shelby County’s D.A. has promised to review prosecutions that hinged on the testimony of officers now thought to be dishonest or facing prosecution. Hundreds of cases in which they participated are at risk, and defense lawyers are busily gearing up.

1/16/23  An investigation of a fatal police shooting led to the discovery of years of online chatter among thirteen Torrance (Calif.) police officers that, among other things, “championed violence” against minorities, joked about beating up folks, and derided internal investigations. A dozen of the cops were identified by the Los Angeles Times in 2021. A follow-up story reveals that eight are no longer employed by the agency. One who is faces trial for needlessly shooting and wounding a man who had a knife (see 8/5/22 update).

1/12/23  With LAPD beset by a recent string of officers arrested for drunk driving, the Police Commission enacted a rule that requires the blood-alcohol level of off-duty officers to be less than .04 if they are carrying a gun.  California’s BAC level for charging DUI is .08 (see 12/22/21 update).

1/5/23  LAPD’s budget is consumed by personnel expenses. So in 1998 Chief Bernard Parks helped kickstart the LAPD Foundation, a private charity that collects contributions from local notables to fund special projects and equipment. That often draws criticism from activists, including the “Stop LAPD Spying Coalition,” which has objected to the use of these funds to buy surveillance gear, drones and robots. But the LAPD insists that the donations are well spent and confer no special benefits to donors.

1/4/23  A new California law that requires law enforcement agencies to allow public inspection of records of  possible officer misconduct has gone into effect. SB 16 applies to all serious uses of force and to “sustained findings” that officers engaged in a wide variety of unsavory behavior, ranging from biased policing to filing false reports.  San Diego police have already released “more than 80 investigatory files.” Among them is an episode of a police sergeant who was disciplined for a racially disparaging remark.

12/29/22  Berkeley, California’s reputation as a progressive place is in jeopardy as the city council defers making its expected move to install acting police chief Jennifer Louis, a captain, as the agency’s permanent Chief. Only problem is, a law firm has confirmed that Louis made sexually harassing remarks to a co-worker, and the L.A. Times found other alleged victims as well. Her agency is also dogged by complaints that a supervisor had imposed arrest quotas intended to make life tough on the homeless.

12/22/22  Seven off-duty LAPD officers have been arrested for DUI in the past two weeks. Several were involved in car crashes that caused injuries, and three blew more than twice the legal limit. LAPD announced that it issued a special warning and is offering resources to officers with alcohol issues. But off-duty drunkenness is a reportedly long-standing problem in the agency. One officer is pending trial for murder in relation to a 2017 traffic accident in which his intoxication allegedly cost three lives (see 1/12/23 update).

9/6/22  NYPD’s Special Victims Division, which investigates sexual assaults, is under Federal investigation for allegedly giving rape victims short shrift. It’s being condemned for mishandling the probe of Danueal Drayton, whose release allowed him to resume his predations and murder a nurse. But detectives complain that severe personnel shortages have badly hobbled their work, forcing them to shuffle cases and focus on those with the most promising leads. (See 7/10/22 update)

8/25/22  As state investigation of their misconduct continues, fifteen Torrance police officers remain under suspension. One-hundred thirteen cases in which they participated have been dismissed, and settlements with victims and their families have run into the millions. Meanwhile the prosecution of former officers Christopher Tomsic and Cody Weldin for spray-painting a swastika in a citizen’s car has revealed yet another trove of  “anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic or transphobic remarks” exchanged by the city’s cops between 2018-2020 (see 1/16/23 update).

8/23/22  A bystander video depicts the brutal Sunday morning beating of a South Carolina man by two Arkansas Sheriff’s deputies and a Mulberry city officer. Randall Worcester, 27, was tackled to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked after reportedly resisting arrest for threatening a gas station clerk in a nearby community. Authorities report that the officers have been suspended with pay. Worcester was released on $15,000 bail. For our brief video excerpt of the encounter click here.

7/29/22  Last year prosecutors charged Long Beach (CA) police officers Dedier Reyes and David Salcedo with lying about a 2018 gun-related arrest. That case is pending. A judge has now freed another man  arrested by Reyes, as doubts have arisen about the officers’ truthfulness in that case. In 2010 Reyes shot ex-con Miguel Vargas in the back after saying that Vargas pointed a gun. But Vargas insisted he had dropped the gun. Vargas was convicted and imprisoned, but prosecutors have now dismissed the case. A full review of cases in which Reyes was involved is in progress. (See 9/28/23 update)

7/10/22  A decade-plus of complaints that NYPD sex-crime detectives “fail[ed] to conduct basic investigative steps and instead sham[ed] and abus[ed] survivors and re-traumatiz[ed] them during investigations” has led DOJ to open a pattern or practices investigation of NYPD’s “Special Victims Division.” New York City’s mayor, top lawyer and police commissioner have reportedly promised to help.

5/11/22 An investigation by the Los Angeles Times reveals that LAPD did not sustain any of the 1,073 complaints of “biased policing” filed by citizens against officers in 2021. None made the grade in either 2020, when 764 complaints were made, or in 2019, when there were 734. According to the 2019 report, there were 494 such complaints in 2018 and 514 in 2017. None of those were upheld, either. LAPD Commission president William Briggs told reporters that he was “not satisfied” with zero.

After reviewing “more than 750” complaints over the behavior (mostly, misuse of force) by NYPD officers during the 2020 demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd, New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board recommended disciplinary action against 145 officers. But NYPD has only investigated forty cases. It waived acting against 23 officers and has only agreed on penalties for ten.

4/29/22  A California State audit of three city police departments, a sheriff’s office and State corrections, which included a review of internal investigations and officer social media accounts, concludes that some officers repeatedly display bias against members of minority groups, both during on-duty interactions and online. But their agencies typically fail to act, either through discipline or training. Agencies should adopt a comprehensive approach to preventing bias, and greater external oversight is recommended.

4/7/22  In two decisions that seemingly cut against the grain of L.A. County D.A. George Gascon’s vow to go after cops who needlessly kill, his office has rejected filing charges in the shooting deaths of Kisha Michael and Marquintan Sandlin by five Inglewood police officers in 2016, and of Antony McClain by a Pasadena officer in 2017. Both episodes involved citizens who were armed and uncompliant, and prosecutors concluded that they could not disprove that officers had reasonably feared for their lives.

3/4/22  George Gascon, L.A.’s progressive D.A., launched a review of past police shootings when he took office in January 2021. So far that’s led to two cases. In August 2021 he filed assault charges against Torrance cop David Chandler over a 2018 incident in which Chandler shot and wounded a knife-armed man as he walked away. And on March 3, 2022 Gascon filed manslaughter and assault charges against L.A. County deputy sheriff Andrew Lyons for a June 2021 shooting in which Lyons unleashed a volley of rifle fire at a vehicle as its driver, who was unarmed, tried to elude arrest on gun-related charges. (See 1/15/24 update)

2/19/22  A multi-year internal investigation by the California Highway Patrol has led to the arrest of fifty-four current and former officers at the CHP’s East Los Angeles station for grand theft and fraud. They were charged this week with submitting false overtime claims while providing security for Caltrans workers during 2016-2018. Five of those charged also face other criminal counts. Complaints

1/22/22  On January 19 Kiley Swaine, the owner of the vehicle that was allegedly defaced with a swastika by two former Torrance police officers, filed a Federal lawsuit against the city and ex-cops Cody Weldin and Christopher Tomsic seeking millions in damages. In his complaint, Mr. Swaine accused the city of “knowingly tolerating Neo-Nazi/White Supremacist police officers” and of following a “longstanding custom and practice” of ignoring citizen complaints about their behavior. Civil complaint

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Posted 9/27/21, edited 9/29/21


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.

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     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.

UPDATES (scroll)

4/5/24  Just published in Criminology, “When police pull back: Neighborhood-level effects of de-policing on violent and property crime” reports findings of a study about the effects of de-policing in Denver.  Compared with prior years, a major decrease in traffic and pedestrian stops (32,000 fewer) during 2020, when the post-Floyd era took hold, was significantly related to an increase in violent crime, and that a corresponding decrease in drug arrests was tied to an increase in property crime.

12/20/23  Accounts of serious misconduct by Federal officers will be featured in a new, national database run by DOJ. Its records, which will extend for seven years, will be available to local and State agencies for  making hiring decisions. However, employees of “state, local and tribal police departments” - they are by far the most numerous of all Federal law enforcement officers - will not be included. President Biden has also called for passage of the stalled “George Floyd Policing Act”. It would, among other things, ban chokeholds and restrict “no knock” warrants.

8/24/23  Twelve of Los Angeles’ fifteen council members voted “aye” on substantial raises and bonuses for the city’s cops. Championed by Mayor Karen Bass, who wants to replace the 1,000 officers who left during the past four years with a mixture of new hires and retirees, the measure is expected to cost about one-billion over its four-year run. But the “nays” argued that the money could be most usefully spent on mental health and homelessness, two problems that beset the city.

8/14/23  Scouring stat’s of firearms assaults on police officers, a new Criminology article, “The ‘war on cops,’ retaliatory violence, and the murder of George Floyd,” concludes that there was a brief post-Floyd spike, but that the numbers have since settled to “only slightly above” what was otherwise expected.

4/5/23  Three-hundred-twenty-one LAPD officers have filed a claim, precursor to a lawsuit, accusing their agency of negligently including them in a recent mass release to a journalist of officer photos and identities, as supposedly required by state public records law. These officers, who presently or in the past worked undercover, allege that “their lives, careers and ongoing investigations” were placed at risk. “Several” undercover operations were supposedly forced to close, and “several” undercover officers have been reportedly threatened. The claim defines “undercover” broadly, to include officers who specialize in the surveillance of violent criminals. (See 3/22/23 update)

3/27/23  William Sutcliffe was convicted in 2003 on Federal charges of retaliating against a former employer by posting threats and disclosing his targets’ personal information to facilitate ID theft. He is now being sued by the LAPD Protective League on behalf of three officers whose images he posted on his website, killercop.com. Along with the images is a message, reportedly from Sutcliffe, which declares “Remember, #Rewards are double all year for #detectives and #female cops.” Sutcliffe insists he is practicing “free speech” and denies that he’s offering a “bounty.”

3/22/23  A journalist’s public-records request led LAPD to release the photo, full name, gender, rank and assignment of every active-duty police officer. “More than 9,300” entries were posted on “Watch the Watchers,” a project of the Stop LAPD Spying coalition. Alas, that included - supposedly, by error - officers on undercover assignments. Chief Michel Moore says it was inadvertent and apologized. LAPD’s release was reportedly prompted by Santa Ana PD’s loss of a lawsuit over the same issue. (See 4/5/23 update)

3/21/23  Nearly $10 million bucks. That’s what Philadelphia has agreed to pay a contingent of 343 demonstrators who were allegedly viciously attacked with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets by police officers during a May 31-June 1, 2020 protest over the killing of George Floyd. An additional $600,000 is going to the “Bread and Roses” fund, which counsels victims of police abuse.

3/10/23  Last year East Cleveland police chief Scott Gardner was suspended after being indicted for stealing $150,000 from the State. Charges were also filed against six current and past officers for crimes allegedly committed since 2012 including robbery, bribery and evidence tampering. Fast-forward to 2023. A grand jury just indicted eleven current and former East Cleveland cops (including four charged previously) for “brutally pummeling, stomping and harassing residents.” So many East Cleveland cops have been charged that county deputies have been brought in to police the town.

3/7/23  Atlanta’s plans to build a police training facility on a wooded 85-acre site has long been opposed by environmentalists. But “left-leaning protesters” have also joined in. One, nicknamed “Tortuguita,” was shot dead by police during a raucuous demonstration in January. That’s led to more conflict, most recently on Sunday, March 6, when a confrontation between cops and dozens of rioters from around the U.S. led to the arrest of twenty-three on terrorism charges. And the conflict is likely to continue.

1/14/23  An avalanche of departures and a severe shortage of applicants have left police departments in dire straits. LAPD, which once had more than 10,000 cops, now has 9,200, five-hundred short of the Mayor’s interim goal. But academy classes, which used to have sixty recruits, have shrunk to an average of thirty-four, and the next one is only expected to graduate twenty-two. In the meantime, Chief Michel Moore proposes to help bridge the gap by bringing back retired officers to serve one-year stints.

1/4/23  A new California law that requires law enforcement agencies to allow public inspection of records of  possible officer misconduct has gone into effect. SB 16 applies to all serious uses of force and to “sustained findings” that officers engaged in a wide variety of unsavory behavior, ranging from biased policing to filing false reports.  San Diego police have already released “more than 80 investigatory files.” Among them is an episode of a police sergeant who was disciplined for a racially disparaging remark.

1/2/23  Provisions in Illinois’ new “SAFE-T” Act that eliminate cash bail and institute other pre-trial changes have been placed on hold by the state's Supreme Court to “maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois” while it considers an appeal by prosecutors who object to the easings. But a prosecutor who favors the Act said that bail discriminates against the poor. He pointed to a recent example of a potentially dangerous defendant who had the means to make bail and was thus set free.

12/30/22  Only days before Illinois’ “SAFE-T” Act was set to take effect, a state judge agreed with a lawsuit against the measure by a coalition of prosecutors that a key provision - the elimination of cash bail - ran afoul of an Illinois Supreme Court decision giving judges an “independent, inherent authority to deny or revoke bail”.  Only problem is, Cook County (Chicago) wasn’t part of the prosecutors’ lawsuit, so whether “SAFE-T” will be fully operative in the state’s capital city is anyone’s guess.

12/27/22  Street takeovers featuring cars doing doughnuts continue drawing masses of spectators to South Los Angeles intersections. LAPD reported 702 during the first six months of 2022, two-hundred more than during the same period in 2021. This year they’ve led to at least six deaths, most recently on Christmas evening when a 24-year old woman was struck by a car that fled the scene. Complaints that “since the pandemic it’s getting worse and worse” have led to a flurry of lawmaking that seeks to suspend the driver licenses of participants and to increase penalties to felonies should someone be killed. (See 8/31/22 update)

12/26/22  Police officials are blaming the George Floyd imbroglio and, to a lesser extent, the pandemic for depleting the ranks and making it difficult to replace officers who leave. Recruitment shortfalls have led agencies to offer signing bonuses and other benefits, but that’s led to departments stealing experienced officers from each other. Even progressive cities that downplayed the need for armed cops are scrambling, and San Francisco’s turned to middle-aged applicants to fill its uniformed ranks.

11/7/22  Brian O’Hara, an experienced Newark cop who rose to lead the agency, then became the city’s Deputy Mayor, was sworn in as Minneapolis’ new police chief. Credited with helping Newark P.D. successfully navigate a Federal consent decree, O’Hara is expected to do the same for Minneapolis once current State and Federal inquiries wind up. Acknowledging the demand for change, O’Hara said “I'm not here to maintain the status quo.

10/12/22  On October 11, the Supreme Court summarily refused, without comment, to revisit the doctrine of qualified immunity, which shields police officers from lawsuits unless a persons’s “clearly established” rights had been violated. (Gordon, Nita v. Bierenga, Keith, no. 21-1540.) Reuters article

9/19/22  Illinois’ Will County D.A. filed suit against the SAFE-T act, which is effective January 1. Under the law, which makes Illinois the first state to eliminate cash bail, accused can be held only if there is “clear and convincing” evidence that they pose “a real and present threat to the safety of a specific, identifiable person or persons.” For many crimes, including “aggravated battery, robbery, burglary, aggravated DUI, kidnapping, vehicular homicide and all drug offenses” they can be held only if “there is a high likelihood they’ll flee to avoid prosecution.” Cops and prosecutors throughout Illinois are worried. (See 3/23/22 update.)

8/31/22  Early morning street takeovers, stunts and drag racing have beset some South Los Angeles intersections. They’ve now taken hold in Chicago, as well. Police have begun to respond with arrests and car impounds. But some citizens are impressed by the shows, which feature unimaginable stunts. “It almost looks like a movie,” said one spectator (click here for a video). (See 12/27/22 update)

8/23/22  Major intersections in south Los Angeles have become a nightly “scene of lawlessness” as Instagram messages draw hundreds of spectators to street takeovers, where muscle-car drivers spin doughnuts and stage exhibitions of speed and daring. LAPD has reported nearly 700 such events this year, issued more than 2,000 tickets and impounded more than 400 cars. Yet the madness continues.

8/2/22  A scathing editorial in the Los Angeles Times criticizes President Biden’s plan to hire more police as a wrongheaded re-do of the 1994 crime bill, which also added 100,000 cops. But according to the Times, “many of the neighborhoods they promised to protect were soon harmed by excessive force, surveillance and humiliation...We don’t need 100,000 more police to do the same thing all over again. Nor do we need 100,000 Derek Chauvins or 100,000 more cops lurking hesitantly outside classrooms for more than an hour while children die inside....” (Note: the editors did not volunteer to go on patrol)

7/27/22  Formed to combat racial profiling, a community policing task force in Elgin, Illinois is recommending, among other things, that police be prohibited from making traffic stops for petty non-moving violations, including recently expired license tags, single broken taillights, and things dangling from inside rear-view mirrors. It’s also recommending that hiring standards be changed, and that a high-school diploma or GED suffice (a bachelor’s degree is presently required.)

7/11/22  Arizona legislators approved a bill, effective in September, that bars video recording of police “activity” with a citizen within eight feet. These “activities” include “questioning a suspicious person; conducting an arrest, issuing a summons or enforcing the law; or handling an emotionally disturbed or disorderly person who is exhibiting abnormal behavior.” Violations are petty offenses or misdemeanors. Media outlets are crying foul. Bill text  Op-ed by bill backer  Note: On 9/9/22 a Federal judge blocked the law from going into effect.

5/12/22  After reviewing “more than 750” complaints over the behavior (mostly, misuse of force) by NYPD officers during the 2020 demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd, New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board recommended disciplinary action against 145 officers. But NYPD has only investigated forty cases. It waived acting against 23 officers and has only agreed on penalties for ten.

4/5/22  Beset by new State laws that vastly expand what must be turned over to the defense, “hundreds” of New York City prosecutors have left their jobs since 2020. Even minor cases now require they supply “huge amounts of paperwork”; for example, “if a defendant blew into a breathalyzer, a defense attorney is entitled to six months worth of calibration reports on that device.” Materials must also be handed over promptly, within speedy trial requirements. That, along with staff shortages, has left lawyers “struggling.” Many are finding better hours and higher pay in the private sector.

3/29/22  About 350 Chicago cops retired in 2018. Nearly twice that number – more than 660 – retired in 2021. Although the number leaving has reportedly “stabilized,” criminologists worry that the departure of so many senior officers may have left the ranks critically short of the knowledge and sensibilities that only come with rank and experience. They fear that this “brain drain” and other factors related to the anti-police atmosphere, such as a loosening of entrance requirements (see 3/22 update) brought on by a shortage of applicants, could place needed changes out of reach.

3/28/22  Fourteen million bucks. That’s what a Federal jury decided Denver must pay to twelve protesters who were doused with pepper spray and struck by projectiles fired by cops trying to squelch rowdy demonstrations in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. While the city insisted that its officers had faced an unprecedented “level of sustained violence and destruction,” police officials conceded that “some mistakes were made.”

3/23/22  An op-ed by three Illinois head prosecutors urgently calls on legislators to substantially modify the “SAFE-T Act.” Passed as a 2021 reform,  it set a January 1, 2023 deadline for eliminating cash bail (persons awaiting trial could still be electronically monitored) and eliminates repeat offender, “three-strikes” and “felony murder” sentencing enhancements. According to the writers, these and other relaxations ignores the rights of victims and flies in the face of a sharp increase in violent crime.

3/22/22  In the post-Floyd era, as struggles over policing lead increasing numbers of officers to retire and resign, the number of applicants have also shrunk. To compensate, cities including Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans recently jettisoned college requirements. Chicago, which required two years, now allows certain job and life experiences to substitute. A high school degree or GED suffice for Philadelphia and New Orleans. Some praise the moves as creating a more diverse pool. But Philadelphia’s former commissioner calls them embarrassing.

3/14/22  According to the Police Executive Research Forum, officer staffing levels declined 3.5 percent during 2019-2021. Budget issues led to cuts, and agencies experienced a 42.7 percent increase in police officer resignations and a 23.6 percent increase in retirements. Hiring was up and down, but wound up 3.9 percent lower in 2021 than in 2019. As of January 1, 2022, 94.1 percent of positions were filled. Police workforces now trend “significantly younger,” and officers seem less interested in working overtime.

2/18/22  Nineteen Austin police officers have been charged with felony assault for using excessive force on demonstrators who gathered in the Texas capital to protest the killing of George Floyd. Police Chief Joseph Chacon strongly defended his officers, saying that they reacted properly in the face of violence and chaos. But he agrees that bean-bag rounds caused injuries, and banned their use for such purposes.  So far two persons severely injured by these munitions have received settlements totaling $10 million.

2/15/22  On January 11, 2022, the announced deadline, New York City fired 1,430 city employees (less than one-percent of its workforce) for unexcused failure to obtain their initial COVID-19 vaccination. Among them were 36 NYPD staffers. At 88-percent vaccinated, substantially below the city’s overall 95-percent rate, cops and corrections workers have proven the least compliant. Thousands of employees are still in the process of gaining exemptions or otherwise trying to avoid being fired.

1/29/22  A tight labor market and a decline in public support have led increasing numbers of police officers to leave the profession. Although their average pay, $70,000, exceeds the norm, worker salaries have been going up across the U.S., and in the face of protests, moves to “defund” and “constant negativity,” the promise of less risk and stress has proven very enticing. And even as police budgets are increased, agencies face a  collateral issue, as far fewer applicants line up for available positions.

1/27/22  According to the Washington Post, only Nevada requires that private law enforcement training providers be accredited by the Intl. Assoc. of Directors of Law Enf. Standards and Training. That has supposedly enabled some questionable offerings. At the recent, non-certified “Street Cop Training Conference” in Atlantic City, which reportedly drew a large police crowd, a presenter disparaged Black Lives Matter as a “terrorist organization” and said all would be well “if people would just comply...”

1/13/22  Reformist pressures recently led Chicago to create a “Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability” to oversee the police. Ostensibly its powers include selecting the police commissioner and recommending and approving substantial changes to police practices. (For the official text click here.) Activists seem eager to move along. But a clash between the measure’s extensive provisions and the Mayor’s vision of the Commission’s authority have become evident.

1/12/22  An academic study of Seattle PD’s near-month-long withdrawal from the city’s Capitol Hill area during Floyd-inspired protests revealed that “crime significantly increased in the CHOP [Capitol Hill Occupation Protests] zone, the encompassing two-block area, and the overall East precinct service area.” (As reported in the NY Times, a increase in violence forced police to return. See 8/11/20 update.)

1/10/22  Just appointed as NYPD Commissioner, Keechant Sewell, former chief of detectives in Nassau County, issued a department-wide e-mail sharply criticizing D.A. Alvin Bragg’s decision to avoid seeking jail time for lesser crimes. Commissioner Sewell wrote that the new chief prosecutor’s relaxed approach threatened “your safety as police officers, the safety of the public and justice for the victims.”

1/6/22  Alvin Bragg, Manhattan’s new, progressive District Attorney, is forbidding his staff from filing charges for low-level misdemeanors such as fare avoidance, prostitution and resisting arrest unless a felony was also committed. A promoter of alternatives to incarceration such as community service and restorative justice, Bragg leans on his experiences growing up as a Black youth in violent Harlem. Police, though, fear that his approach will embolden evildoers and encourage lawbreaking.

1/5/22  California rings in the New Year with a host of new laws that address policing. Spurred by problems at the L.A. Sheriff’s Dept., AB 958 bans “law enforcement gangs,” AB 48 sets strict standards for the use of rubber bullets to disperse gatherings, AB 26 requires that officers intercede in and report the use of excessive force by colleagues, and AB 490 outlaws restraint and transportation practices “that involve a substantial risk of positional asphyxia.”

12/18/21  Jose Garza, Travis County’s (Austin, TX) new, progressive D.A., promised voters he would go after rogue cops. Since his swearing-in last January, five officers, two deputies, a sheriff, and a prosecutor have been indicted on charges from evidence tampering to murder. But members of his own staff, along with police and outsiders, complain that the quest for reform set back the fight against crime and led to the highest murder total in decades. It’s also led to a thinning of police ranks, with 100 officers leaving.

As required, most Chicago police officers and nearly all firefighters have reported their vaccination status. Those who haven’t (83 cops and 15 firefighters) are off the job, without pay. But nearly a quarter of each force has not been vaccinated. An arbitration decision requires that all must receive their first shot by December 31, and the second (if needed) by January 31. Those who don’t will go home without pay.

12/15/21  Former NYPD Captain Eric Adams, set to take over as New York City Mayor on January 1, selected as his new police commissioner Keechant Sewell, chief of detectives in the 2,400-strong Nassau County force. An N.Y.C. native, she will become the first female - and third Black - to lead the nation’s largest force. Commissioner Sewell will be charged with implementing her new boss’s vision, to tamp down violence and get guns off the street while eliminating police abuse and reigning in rogue cops.

12/1/21  Police unions are badly upset, but D.A.’s around the U.S. are taking second and third looks at unprosecuted, years-old fatal shootings of citizens by police. One such event is the October 2010 killing of 20-year old Danroy "DJ" Henry Jr. in Thornwood, N.Y. Henry, a Black youth, got in the middle of a bar fight, and as he left allegedly tried to run over a cop with his car (the officer wound up on the vehicle’s hood.) A Federal prosecutor later cleared the shooting as a “split-second” decision (i.e. under Garner.)

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:








-433, -3.3%




-43, -1.1%

Los Angeles



-139, -1.4%




-80, -4.4%

New York City



-2,545, -7.0%

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

De-Prosecution? What’s That?     Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job (I)  (II)  (III)     Massacres, in Slow-Mo

In Two Fell Swoops     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

Posted 5/29/21


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. (See 1/18/24 update)
  • 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.”

UPDATES (scroll)

1/18/24   In May 2021 the Washington State A.G. charged Tacoma cops Matthew Collins, Christopher Burbank and “Timmy” Rankine with crimes ranging from 2nd. degree murder to 1st. degree manslaughter. In a 2020 encounter they allegedly pressed down on Manuel Ellis with such force that he stopped breathing. But at the end of their recent trial (it lasted over two months) jurors apparently  accepted the defense argument that Mr. Ellis died from a lethal does of meth and an existing heart condition, and found the officers not guilty on every count. Each has agreed to accept $500,000 to resign from the force. (See below update)

12/14/23  In May 2021 three Tacoma police officers were charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of Manuel Ellis, a 33-year old man they detained for allegedly harassing a woman. According to the Coroner, Ellis died from oxygen deprivation. At the officers’ nine-week trial, which just concluded, prosecutors accused the defendants of ignoring Ellis’ protests that he couldn’t breathe as they needlessly pummeled, choked and Tasered him to death. But the defense attributed Ellis’ death to his aggressive behavior and addiction to meth. (See above update)

12/4/23  A revised set of rules and mandating that deputies wear body cameras are two of the major correctives revealed by Rankin County (MS) Sheriff Bryan Bailey as he awaits the Federal and State sentencing of six White former deputies who participated in the unconscionable beating of two Black men last January. A $400 million lawsuit is in the works (See 8/4/23 update).

10/10/23  One year before George Floyd, Louisiana troopers pursued a reckless driver until he crashed.  They repeatedly Tasered and mercilessly pummeled the motorist, Ronald Greene, and despite his pleas forced the obese man to lie on his stomach. Mr. Greene lost consciousness and never came to. One year later, Trooper Chris Hollingsworth, supposedly the most blameworthy, was told that he was being fired. He apparently committed suicide. Charges are pending against trooper Kory York, for negligent homicide, Lt. John Clary, for obstruction of justice, and former sheriff’s deputy Chris Hardin, for malfeasance.

8/4/23 and 8/15/23  Each of the six White Rankin County, Mississippi officers who burst into a home in January and tortured and physically abused two Black men for over an hour have now pled guilty to multiple Federal and State felonies. Their sentences, which will run concurrently, could range up to life imprisonment. Among the charges are covering up the serious wounding of one of their victims, who was shot in the mouth when an officer play-acted his murder. Three of the defendants also pled guilty to the December 2022 abuse of a White man whom they were trying to get to confess. (See 12/4/23 update)

After spending two relatively brief stints in jail, former San Diego County deputy sheriff Richard Fischer, who pled guilty to seven felonies for sexually abusing sixteen women he encountered while on the job, took advantage of an innovative home monitoring program. Instead of fourteen years imprisonment, his sentence was initially set at 44 months, but as it turns out he spent only a fraction of that locked up. Meanwhile the County continues settling his victims’ claims. So far it’s paid out $10 million to twenty-one women. And more payouts are likely on the horizon.

6/27/23  In Leon v. County of Riverside (S26972) the California Supreme Court held that a State law that confers immunity from civil liability on public employees for “instituting or prosecuting any judicial or administrative proceeding” even if done “maliciously and without probable cause” does not extend to harm that police officers may cause when investigating crime. Such as in the present case, in which Riverside County sheriff's deputies left a victim's naked body lying on the street uncovered for hours.

3/30/23  Three years ago, at the CHP’s Altadena station house, seven CHP officers, including a Sergeant, forcibly held down DUI arrestee Edward Bronstein on his stomach so that a nurse could draw his blood. Bronstein, who turned out to be high on meth, complained “I can’t breathe” and went limp. “Several minutes” passed before CPR was attempted. Bronstein died. All seven officers and the nurse are now charged with involuntary manslaughter, and the officers also face charges of assault. (See 3/17/22 update)

3/24/23  An academic inquiry concluded that in two of three studies that compared jurisdictions with and without officer body cameras their use led to significantly fewer fatalities. It’s thought that this might be the result of officers and citizens modulating their behavior while being filmed. (One study showed no effects.) In all, NIJ assigned a “promising” rating. However, the authors cautioned that the positive results could have been produced by other changes in policy in agencies that adopted the cameras.

3/17/23  In 2016 researchers randomly assigned 504 Milwaukee patrol officers to one of two groups. One group wore body cameras for eight months; the other did not. A recently published Crime Solutions study reveals no significant between-group differences on overall proactivity, number of arrests or citizen complaints. However, officers with cameras stopped significantly fewer persons in non-traffic “suspicious person” situations and conducted significantly more neighborhood “park and walks”.

1/27/23  Two young Hialeah, Fla. police officers who handcuffed a troublesome homeless man, drove him out of town, allegedly beat him up and left him on the ground were promptly fired. Lorenzo Orfila, 27, and Rafael Otano, 22, now face kidnapping, battery and other charges over the December 17th. incident. An off-duty cop soon came across the man and called 9-1-1. According to the victim, another homeless person later offered him $1,200 to recant. His money was accepted.

1/11/23  Former Muncie, Indiana police sgt. Joseph Krejsa pled guilty to Federal obstruction of justice for submitting a report to superiors that falsely cleared fellow officers from using excessive force in the 2018 arrest of Ronald Greene. Three former Muncie cops who were involved in the altercation have already pled guilty, and a fourth is scheduled for trial (see 5/14/22 and 12/6/22 updates).

12/16/22  A Louisiana grand jury indicted State Police Trooper Kory York on negligent homicide and malfeasance charges for his physical abuse of Ronald Greene following a June 2019 pursuit and traffic stop. Four other officers face lesser charges, including obstructing the inquiry. Among them is Trooper Dakota DeMoss, who allegedly denied having bodycamera footage, and a high-ranking officer who reportedly pressured investigators not to pursue charges.

12/6/22  Facing trial for a series of arrests in which he and colleagues allegedly used excessive force, former Muncie, Indiana police officer Chase Winkle, the son of the city’s former police chief, pled guilty to five Federal civil rights counts and six obstruction of justice counts for lying to cover up the assaults. In one episode, Winkle “dropped his full bodyweight” on the neck of an arrestee who had directed insults to Winkle and his colleagues. (See 5/14/22 and 1/11/23 updates)

9/12/22 In May police in Childersburg, a city of 4,750 pop. in central Alabama, were informed by a caller that a stranger was at a home whose occupants were away. Officers (they were White) encountered Michael Jennings, a middle-aged Black man watering the flowers. Mr. Jennings said he was a Pastor and a neighbor, and had been asked to help. All this turned out to be true. But the officers didn’t know him. He refused to provide ID, and after a protracted back-and-forth they arrested him for obstruction. Charges, however, were ultimately rejected. He has now sued for civil rights violations. Video

8/23/22  A bystander video depicts the brutal Sunday morning beating of a South Carolina man by two Arkansas Sheriff’s deputies and a Mulberry city officer. Randall Worcester, 27, was tackled to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked after reportedly resisting arrest for threatening a gas station clerk in a nearby community. Authorities report that the officers have been suspended with pay. Worcester was released on $15,000 bail. For our brief video excerpt of the encounter click here.

7/10/22 A decade-plus of complaints that NYPD sex-crime detectives “fail[ed] to conduct basic investigative steps and instead sham[ed] and abus[ed] survivors and re-traumatiz[ed] them during investigations” has led DOJ to open a pattern or practices investigation of NYPD’s “Special Victims Division.” New York City’s mayor, top lawyer and police commissioner have reportedly promised to help.

6/10/22  DOJ opened a “pattern or practice” investigation into the Louisiana State Police. It was prompted by a litany of allegations about trooper misconduct, including the use of excessive force, the targeting of Black persons, and the use of racial slurs and derogatory remarks. DOJ’s announcement  states that this inquiry is separate from an ongoing criminal investigation by the Civil Rights Division and Louisiana Federal prosecutors into the death of Ronald Greene.

5/31/22 In October 2020, five months after troopers stopped Ronald Greene, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards watched previously unreleased video from the bodycam of Lt. John Cleary, the ranking officer on scene, “that shows the moment a handcuffed, bloody Greene moans under the weight of two troopers, twitches and then goes still.” But the damning footage, which Lt. Cleary initially denied having, wasn’t released to the Feds until April 2021. That delay, insists the Governor, wasn’t his doing.

5/14/22 Two years ago a Federal grand jury indicted former Muncie, Indiana police officers Joseph Chase Winkle, Jeremy Gibson and Joseph Krejsa for civil rights violations (using excessive force during arrests) and obstructing justice by covering it up. One year ago a superseding indictment added counts and charged a fourth former cop, Corey Posey. So far there have been two pleas. In August 2021 a fifth former officer, Dalton Kurtz, pled guilty to obstruction. And on May 13, 2022 former officer Gibson pled guilty to civil rights violations and obstruction. Chase, Winkle and Krejsa will be tried in August. (See 12/6/22 and 1/11/23 updates)

5/3/22Testifying before a committee of Louisiana State lawmakers who are investigating the probe of Ronald Greene’s death, state police officials said they’re baffled why no trooper has yet been charged. Legislators are now threatening to hold Kevin Reeves, the agency’s former head, in contempt for refusing to fully share journals detailing his conversations with Governor John Bel Edwards. Governor Edwards has condemned the officers but says he’s keeping quiet until the Feds complete their investigation.

4/8/22  Reopening an inquiry that was suspended in favor of the Feds, Union Parish (La.) D.A. John Belton is impaneling a State grand jury to pursue a probe of the arrest of Ronald Greene. Exclaiming that “no one is above the law -- no one,” he expressed a commitment to prosecute the troopers whom video depicts badly abusing the hapless man after a car chase. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently said he was appalled by the officers’ racism and had been impatiently waiting for the Feds to act.

4/5/22  In September 2020 Louisiana Trooper Chris Hollingsworth and his lawyer met with internal affairs investigators who were probing the May 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene. Despite his clearly abusive treatment of Greene, Hollingsworth insisted that he had been the one at risk. A few days later Hollingsworth perished in a suspicious single-vehicle car crash, which seemed “consistent with a suicide”. AP posted Hollingsworth’s recorded statement to investigators.

An L.A. Times investigation revealed that LAPD officers frequently fail to comply with a policy to promptly render aid to citizens they injure. In one case they waited “more than six minutes” before approaching a knife-wielding man whom they had shot. Treating citizens as potential threats even when they are clearly incapacitated seems to be a commonly accepted practice. Some officers also worry that their non-expert intervention could hurt rather than help. But the leader of a major policing group emphasizes that the ability to “quickly pivot” from law enforcement to lifesaving is crucial.

3/17/22  In March 2020, two months before the killing of George Floyd, CHP officers forcibly held down Edward Bronstein, 38, to draw his blood. Bronstein, who was under arrest for driving while intoxicated, had become agitated, and he was handcuffed and placed on his stomach. He repeatedly complained “I can’t breathe,” then went silent. Cause of death was listed as “acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement.” CHP denies its officers were at fault, and a lawsuit is in progress. (See 3/30/23 update)

1/27/22  According to the Washington Post, only Nevada requires that private law enforcement training providers be accredited by the Intl. Assoc. of Directors of Law Enf. Standards and Training. That has supposedly enabled some questionable offerings. At the recent, non-certified “Street Cop Training Conference” in Atlantic City, which reportedly drew a large police crowd, a presenter disparaged Black Lives Matter as a “terrorist organization” and said all would be well “if people would just comply...”

12/9/21  L.A. County settled two lawsuits filed by citizens who claimed they were abused by Sheriff’s deputies. Barry Montgomery will receive $2.5 million over an 2014 incident in which he was severely beaten after pretending to be an armed gang member. He is mentally ill and was unarmed. Lyle Spruill was awarded $500,000 for a November 2019 incident that led him to spend six months in jail after he allegedly shot at deputies during a foot pursuit. As it turns out, he was also unarmed.

12/8/21  Two former Torrance (CA) police officers are being prosecuted for allegedly spraying the image of a swastika in a citizen’s vehicle last August. They’re among “more than a dozen” current and past officers being investigated for participating in a years-long exchange of text messages that berated racial and ethnic minorities and members of the LGBT community. So far their actions have caused “at least 85” criminal cases in which they participated to be dismissed.

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


Craft of Policing special topic

Are Civilians Too Easy on the Police? (I)  (II)     Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job (III)    San Antonio Blues

Blows to the Head Were Never O.K.     What Were They Thinking? (II)

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?

Posted 1/4/21


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 12 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.

UPDATES (scroll)

2/26/24  Chicago police Supt. Larry Snelling berated the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) for recommending that 28 officers pending discipline be fired. According to Snelling, its decision was based on “personal opinions and speculation” rather than facts. He was also incensed that nineteen came on a single day. But COPA insists that was due to the timeline set by the city’s labor agreement.

11/7/22  A former Northern Calif. deputy was sentenced to six years imprisonment earlier this year for the needless 2018 shooting of a mentally ill man. But he wasn’t prosecuted until last year, after he shot and killed another mentally ill man who was throwing rocks from an overpass and threatened him with a knife. Prosecutors, though, have ruled that in this instance there was insufficient evidence that former cop Andrew Hall acted illegally. (See 3/12/22 update)

11/7/22  Brian O’Hara, an experienced Newark cop who rose to lead the agency, then became the city’s Deputy Mayor, was sworn in as Minneapolis’ new police chief. Credited with helping Newark P.D. successfully navigate a Federal consent decree, O’Hara is expected to do the same for Minneapolis once current State and Federal inquiries wind up. Acknowledging the demand for change, O’Hara said “I'm not here to maintain the status quo.

10/20/22  D.C.’s city auditor issued a report that questions the effectiveness of police discipline. Officers are frequently reinstated after being dismissed; thirty-seven such cases took place during 2015-2021, and millions were awarded in back pay. Nine of these cops later got into trouble again. Most reinstatements happened through decisions by arbitrators; their involvement is backed by the union but has been prohibited by the chief since 2020. A city law to permanently bar arbitration is in the works.

8/20/22  In 1999 LAPD officer Frank Hernandez, a three-year veteran, shot an armed robbery suspect. Nine years later he shot an 18-year old person in a “controversial” incident that led the Police Commission to record its disapproval. And two years after that he shot and killed a man who was waving a knife. That shooting sparked protests but was ruled “in policy.” Most recently, in April 2020, he was caught on video severely beating a homeless person. On August 18, 2022 the now-former cop (he “separated” from LAPD in 2021) pled no contest to assault and received two years’ probation. (See also "Every Cop Needs a Taser".)

7/22/22  A Maryland judge sentenced former Prince George’s County police officer Bryant Strong to one year in jail. Strong was convicted for a 2019 encounter in which his use of force during a traffic stop left Demonte Ward-Blake paralyzed from the neck down. Strong had been previously disciplined for using excessive force and was singled out in a report for his unusually high rate of use of force during 2016-2019. In 2021 Ward-Blake was shot dead by an assailant as he sat in his wheelchair. His family is suing the County for $75 million, claiming the disability brought on by police made flight impossible.

3/18/22  A former Logan, West Virginia cop was sentenced to nine years in Federal prison for an October 2020 assault in which he severely beat an arrested person in a police department bathroom, then drug him out “and rammed him headfirst into a doorframe.” It wasn’t Everett Maynard’s first time. During his earlier tenure as a school cop he was publicly criticized for placing a Black student in a headlock after the teen disobeyed an order to remove his hoodie (Maynard is White).

3/12/22  Former Contra Costa County (CA) deputy sheriff Andrew Hall was just sentenced to six years imprisonment for needlessly shooting and killing the driver of a vehicle that other deputies engaged in a “slow-speed car chase.” That incident, though, happened in 2018. It wasn’t prosecuted until last year, six weeks after Hall shot and killed a mentally ill homeless man who flaunted a knife. That episode remains under investigation. Families of both dead men have received multi-million dollar cash settlements.

3/10/22  Over $3.2 billion. According to a new study, that's what twenty-five major police and sheriff's departments in the U.S. paid to settle citizen lawsuits over employee misconduct during the last decade. Worse yet, nearly half the toll ($1.5 billion worth) involved cops who had been named in more than one settlement. Those payouts also exceeded the norm by about $10,000. Study

12/31/21  Pennsylvania trooper Jay Splain has shot and killed four persons, each mentally troubled, since he was hired in 2004: an armed, suicidal man in 2007; another suicidal man in 2017; a mentally ill woman who threatened with her car in 2020; and, last month, a distraught man who used his car as a weapon. All the shootings but the most recent, which is still being assessed, were deemed justified. On May 20, 2022 the New York Times reported that the D.A. who is deciding whether to prosecute Trooper Splain, and who decided in his favor in the 2020 shooting, is married to the trooper’s then-supervisor.

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.”


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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Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job (III)     San Antonio Blues     Watching the Watchers

Tenacity is Great - Until it’s Not     What’s Up With Policing?     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

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