LAPD ADOPTS REVISED FORCE POLICY; WALKER PRAISES CHANGE
The Los Angeles Police Commission on April 18, 2017 approved a revisions to the LAPD use for force, which were recommended by Police Chief Charlie Beck. The changes are seemingly small, but in fact are very important. The key new language states that “Officers shall attempt to control an incident by using time, distance, communications, and available resources in an effort to de-escalate the situation, whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so.” Sam Walker told the Los Angeles Times that this new language reflects one of the most important new developments in policing over the past two and a half years (in short, since Ferguson). The important insight is that in many, situations perhaps even most, officers have the capacity to shape the outcome. They can choose one course of action, which is likely to increase the chance that force will be used; or they can choose a different course of action, which is likely to reduce the need to use force. Related to this, important new developments are occurring in policing related to tactical decision-making. Walker told the LA Times that the new policy is “absolutely the right thing to do.”
Read the LA Times story: LAPDForcePolicy2017
AG Sessions to “Review” DOJ Investigations of Police; Walker Comments
On March 31, 2017, Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions released a memo stating that the Justice Department would “review” department investigations and settlements with local police departments over “pattern or practice” of abuse of citizens’ rights. The memo was vaguely worded, and did not include any of the rhetoric by candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign, or comments by Trump and Sessions following the election clearly indicating that they were opposed to federal intervention into local police departments. Read Sessions’ memo here: SessionsMarch2017Memo
Sam Walker told the Los Angeles Times that his 20-year review of the DOJ “pattern or practice” program concluded that across the country police chiefs had moved toward greater controls over police use of force, an emphasis on de-escalation, and toward greater transparency and review of officer conduct. Those reforms were all mandated by DOJ consent decrees, but other police departments have adopted them voluntarily. Walker also told the Times that the president and the attorney general can set a different tone regarding policing, but police chiefs have the power to nullify anti-accountability rhetoric and set their own standards of high accountability. Read the Times story here: SessionLATimes
Read Walker’s report on the DOJ “pattern or practice program here:
Walker explained to the Baltimore Sun that the DOJ program has been effective in obtaining reforms because “a judicially enforced consent decree adds real force” to any agreement to undertake reforms in a police department. Read the Baltimore Sun article here: SessionsBaltSun
Walker also told Mother Jones that his report on the DOJ program found that it has “been successful in achieving long-term reforms” in police departments. Read the Mother Jones story here: SessionsMotherJones
Walker Releases 20-Year Assessment of DOJ Pattern or Practice Program
Sam Walker released on February 24th an assessment of the 20 years of the U.S. Justice Department’s “pattern or practice” program, which resulted in 30 settlements with local law enforcement agencies mandating comprehensive reforms. Walker argues that the program has been an ambitious and unprecedented effort by the Justice Department to end systemic abuses related to uses of force, racial and ethnic discrimination, and other problems. The assessment concludes that, for the most part, the pattern or practice program has been successful in bringing about major changes in police departments. There has been backsliding in some departments, but there are no known cases of complete failure. The DOJ program has made a major contribution to police reform by establishing a set of minimum “best practices” necessary for constitutional policing. Among other issues discussed in the report, the DOJ program has highlighted the enormous challenge of attempting to transform large public bureaucracies. The report discusses these and other issues raised by the DOJ program.
Read the report here: DOJ P&P Program Feb24
2016 Elections Brings Wave of New Citizen Oversight
The 2016 elections brought a wave of new citizen oversight procedures across the country. Local elections brought new procedures in Oakland, San Francisco, Denver, Miami, and Honolulu. The Oakland Civilian Police Commission, which was approved by 83 percent of the voters, has the power to investigate citizen complaints, impose discipline, and hire and fire the police chief. Voters in Denver, meanwhile, placed the Office of Independent Monitor (OIM), which is responsible for both the Denver police and the county sheriff’s department, in the city charter,. The change makes it much more difficult to abolish the agency.
Sam Walker commented in an article in Governing that the national police crisis, which began with the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, has “created a lot of public support for a stronger form of oversight.”
Read the Governing article here: CitizenOversight2016elections
DOJ Consent Decrees: “Some Backsliding” But No Complete Failures, Walker Tells NY Times
With the end of the Obama administration at hand, there has been a flurry of media interest in the question of the impact of Justice Department “Pattern or Practice” investigations of police department and the reforms mandated by consent decrees. According to a January 2017 report by the Civil Rights Division, since 1997, DOJ has opened 69 formal investigations of law enforcement agencies and reached formal settlements (not all consent decrees) with individual departments. How successful have these settlements been in achieving reform? Sam Walker told the New York Times on January 14, 2017 that while there has been some “backsliding” in some departments, there has been no case of a complete failure. He cited the case of Pittsburgh, where a new mayor who was friendly with the police union, immediately fired the reform-minded chief, and the reforms were allowed to fade away. Los Angeles, on the other hand, has remained generally improved as a result of its consent decree.
Read the New York Times story: DOJ NYT Jan2017
Baltimore Has Running Start on its Consent Decree, Walker Tells Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore police department has a running start on the reforms mandated by the recent DOJ consent decree, Sam Walker told the Baltimore Sun. Walker identified five important areas in the consent decree where the Baltimore police department had already begun to implement the reforms. They include stops, searches, and arrests (p. 11); impartial policing (p. 30); use of force (p. 42); transportation of persons in custody (p. 76); and First Amendment Protected Activities (p. 81). With respect to use of force, for example, the consent decree stated that “BPD has recently implemented improved policies regarding officers’ uses of force, and force reporting.” With regard to stops, the consent decree stated that “BPD has recently implemented revised policies regarding Stops, Searches, Arrests, and Voluntary Police-Community Interactions.” Walker argued that these actions indicate that the Baltimore police department has already made a commitment to reform, and as a consequence will not experience the shock and learning curve that other departments have experienced with a consent decree.
Read the Baltimore Sun story: Balt Consent Decree Jan2017
Ending Police Violence Begins Long Before Courtroom, Walker Tells PBS
In a story on PBS Newshour on December 4, 2016, Sam Walker explained that ending police violence, including fatal shootings of people, must begin long before law suits ever reach the courts. The chances of getting an indictment and prosecution of a police officer for a fatal shooting has always been very low, he noted. As the PBS story noted, between 2005 and 201, an average of only about five officers a years were prosecuted for manslaughter or murder. The number jumped to 12 in 2015, mainly because of all the public attention following the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, and all of the nationwide protests that followed. That represented 12 out of an estimated 1,000 police fatal shootings that year. The way to end police violence, including all forms of misconduct, is to bring about changes in the estimated 63 million police citizen encounters every year. That an be done by adopting the new reforms of de-escalation, procedural justice, and better officer tactical decision-making so that officers choose tactics that are likely to reduce conflict and the need to use force. Walker cautioned, however, that implementing these reforms will not be easy. Policing is “not going to change overnight.”
Read the PBS story here.
Police Reform Will Survive Trump Administration – Walker
In a piece published on The Crime Report on November 28, 2015, Sam Walker argues that police reform will survive the in-coming Trump Administration. To be sure, the administration will have a terrible impact on virtually all civil rights issues: voting rights, sex discrimination, reproductive rights, immigration, and others. Police reform, Walker argues, has taken hold among many police chiefs, who recognize that the important new approaches of de-escalation, procedural justice, and training over officer tactical decision-making, make sense and will make their jobs a lot easier (fewer use of force incidents, complaints, lawsuits, etc.). The federal government has little direct impact on local police departments (except for DOJ civil rights investigations and consent decrees, which surely will end). Thus, it is very possible that the reform movement of the last few years will continue.
Read Walker’s Crime Report piece: trumppolicereform
New DOJ Investigations, Consent Decrees Unlikely – Walker
In a story in the Louisiana Advocate regarding the possibility of a Justice Department investigation of the Baton Rouge police department and a consent decree, Sam Walker commented that it was very unlikely. “The Trump administration is jut not interested in an aggressive approach to police issues,” he commented. He added that “They’re really hostile to civil rights enforcement generally.” This includes voting rights, sex discrimination, the rights of the disabled, and all other civil rights issues. Read the story: batonr-doj-inv
Walker: Police Tactical Reforms Will Accomplish More Than Prosecutions
In a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune related to the prosecution of the officer in the controversial St. Anthony, MN fatal shooting, Sam Walker commented that prosecutions of police officers are very difficult to obtain, and convictions are even more difficult. Prosecutors work closely with local police and are reluctant to bring criminal charges, he commented. Additionally, judges and juries have deep cultural biases in favor of the police, he explained.
More progress will be made in reducing fatal police shootings through improved policies and training on police tactics that through prosecution, Walker explained. Officer de-escalation of encounters with citizens will lead to fewer uses of force, including those that escalate into the use of deadly force. Procedural justice, where officers treat people with respect and answer their questions, will reduce conflict-filled encounters and, as a consequence reduce officer uses of force. The odds of increasing the number of prosecutions and convictions, by contrast, are very slim at best.
Read the Star-Tribune story: mncrimprosec