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“Consensus” Use of Force Policy by 11 Police Groups Takes Two Steps Backwards, Two Steps Forward

A National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, signed by 11 police leadership groups on January 17, 2017 took two steps backwards and two steps forward. The two steps backwards involve the policies on warning shots and shots at moving vehicles.

The warning shot policy does include some limitations (“use of deadly force is justified;” “will not pose a substantial risk of injury or death”), but there is a notable lack of detail that would clarify exactly when warning shots can be fired. Warning shots were first prohibited by the New York City Police Department in 1972. Virtually all departments today prohibit them today, on the grounds that they pose a serious risk to community residents.

The shots of moving vehicles policy also contains qualifications that limit when shots can be fired (the “person in the vehicle is threatening the officer or another person with deadly force by means other than the vehicle;” the driver “deliberately intended to strike an officer or another person” with the vehicle). The New York City Police Department banned shots at or from moving vehicles in 1972. Shots at moving vehicles are banned by most departments today because of the high degree of risk to by-standers in the vicinity. The new “Consensus” policy opens a door that most departments have for years felt it best to keep closed.

The new “Consensus” policy actually does not represent a consensus among national law enforcement groups. The two national sheriffs groups declined to sign the report, according to the Washington Post, because they felt it was too restrictive rather than too lax. The report was also not signed by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) which issued a very progressive report on police use of force a year ago. The PERF report recommended that police departments adopt more restrictive policies and move to a higher standard than set by the Supreme Court. The report also offered detail discussions of how better training on tactical decision-making can reduce the need to use force in the first place. The “Consensus” report clearly appears as a rebuttal to the PERF report.

The two positive aspects of the Consensus report involve a recommendation of de-escalation and also that officers “have a duty to prevent or stop the use of excessive force by another officer.”

Read the Consensus report here.

Read the 2016 PERF report here.

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DOJ Enters Consent Decree with Baltimore, Files Finding Letter on Chicago

Rushing to complete major investigations of police departments before the advent of the Trump administration, the Justice Department signed a Consent Decree with Baltimore on Wednesday, January 12 and issued its Findings Letter on the Chicago Police Department on January 13th.

Read the Baltimore Consent Decree here: Baltimore ConsentDecree 2017

And the Chicago Findings Letter here: ChicagoFindings2017

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DOJ Issues Report on Pattern or Practice Reform Efforts Since 1994

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department on January 4, 2015 issued a 53-page report on its activity related to pattern or practice investigations of police departments since 1994. The report officers the most complete data available on the number of investigations and settlements. (It does not, however, include either the January 1917 consent decree with Baltimore or the January 1917 Findings Letter on the Chicago Police Department.) Read the report here: DOJP&PReport2017

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NYU School of Law Policing Project Tackles Democratic Governance of Police

The Policing Project at NYU School of Law is undertaking efforts to strengthen democratic governance of the police. Current projects involve Camden, New Jersey; Cleveland, Ohio; New York City; and Tucson, Arizona. Related projects include Community Advisory Boards and Youth Engagement. The Policing Project is directed by Professor Barry Friedman of NYU Law School. An additional project involves drafting Model Rules and Policies for the police. To that end, Professor Friedman is the Reporter for the American Law Institute’s Principles of Law, Police Investigations, which is currently in process.

Learn more about the NYU Policing Project here.

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Police Unions Fought Even Basic Police Reforms in 2016

Police unions across the country continued to fight important police reforms, including reforms that enjoy wide support among police and criminal justice experts.

In Boston, the police union fought the adoption of body cameras. First, the union pressured the department to make them voluntary for officers; then it discouraged its members from volunteering; and finally it went to court to block their implementation altogether (the suit failed). Read the story: bostonunionbodycams

Body cameras are rapidly being adopted by police departments across the country, and are supported by virtually all police chiefs.

Even when union opposition efforts fail, they succeed in polarizing the community and delaying the eventual reforms.

In Newark, the police union went to court to block the implementation of a new civilian review board, which was part of the consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. Read the story: newarunioncitizenreview

In Baltimore, the police union also went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to block the implementation of a new civilian review board. Read the story: baltunioncitizenrev

Civilian oversight of the police has gained broad public support in recent years. The National Association for Civilian Oversight of the Police (NACOLE) estimates that there are about 150 civilian oversight agencies in the country. The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended some form of citizen oversight for all communities Read the Task Force report here.

In San Francisco, the police union sponsored inflammatory television ads opposing a new use of deadly force policy for the SFPD that would prohibit shooting at moving vehicles. Read the story: sf-unionshootingvehicles

The New York City Police Department banned shooting at vehicles in 1972, and virtually all police departments have done the same.

Finally, and most seriously, the national Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has recommended to the in-coming Trump administration “de-prioritize” “some or all” the recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Read the FOP statement: foptrump

In short, the FOP stands in opposition to the best thinking in policing, which is represented in the President’s Task Force report.

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Invisible Institute Publishes Powerful 4-Part Series on the “Code of Silence” in the Chicago Police Department

The Invisible Institute, a project of activist journalists and lawyers in Chicago, has published a powerful four-part series on the “code of silence” in the Chicago police department. The series was written by journalist/lawyer Jamie Kalven. The series details how the department covered up narcotics dealing by Chicago police officers and then retaliated against offers who were fighting to expose the corrupt officers. Read the report.

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San Francisco Blue Ribbon Commission Issues Harsh Report on San Fran Police Department

In response to a series of scandals in the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), the District Attorney created the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability and Fairness in Law Enforcement. The Panel’s report in July 2016 was a thorough and harsh assessment of a broad range of issues in the SFPD, including the lack of openness and transparency, inadequate investigations and discipline of officer misconduct, the lack of a commitment to community policing, and the adverse effect of the officer police union on standards of accountability.

Read the Blue Ribbon Panel report here.

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Mayor’s Task Force Issues Blistering Report on Accountability Failures in the Chicago Police Department

In response to the release of the explosive video of the 2014 fatal shooting of Lacquan Macdonald by a Chicago police officer, Mayor Rahm Emanuel created a Task Force on Police Accountability in the Chicago Police Department. Released in April 2014, the Task Force report was a blistering analysis of the failure of all police accountability mechanisms in the department. Few officers were ever disciplined for misconduct. The citizen review agency, IPRA (Independent Police Review Authority) was completely ineffectual. The police union played a major role in shaping the culture of the department and minimizing discipline of officer misconduct.

Read the Task Force on Police Accountability report here.

Read the Executive Summary here.

Read the List of Recommendations here.

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PERF Issues Major Report on Re-Engineering Police Training

In 2016 the Police Executive Research Forum issued a report on Re-Engineering Training on Police Use of Force. The report is the best and most important statement of all the new thinking on police training. It begins with a major critique of the current training practice of over-emphasizing use of force and failing to provide adequate training on de-escalation and tactical decision-making. Read this important report: perfreengineeringtraining1

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“From Warriors to Guardians”: Don’t Miss Sue Rahr and Stephen K. Rice’s Major Statement on Rethinking Police Culture

The essay From Warriors to Guardians: Recommitting American Police Culture to Democratic Ideals (2015) is the most important discussion of American police culture in decades. The essay presents a sharp critique of the “warrior” mentality, which reinforces conflict between the police and the public, and argued for a “guardian” outlook, which emphasizes trust and cooperation between police officers and the communities they serve. In particular, the essay offers a critique of how traditional police training reinforces the “warrior” mentality. Read the report: warriorstoguardians

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