Seattle Passes Historic 3-Part Police Oversight Ordinance
The City of Seattle on Monday, May 22, 2017 passed a historic ordinance creating a three-part system of oversight of the Seattle Police Department. The three parts include a revised version of the Office of Police Accountability, within the police department, a new Inspector General, and a revised version of the Community Police Commission, which had been created under the consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. The ordinance passed unanimously.
Sam Walker commented that “This is breaking new ground nationally and it is a very exciting experiment.” No other city or county in the U.S. has three separate forms of police accountability.
The OPA was a unique insider/outside form of oversight when it was established several years ago. Inspectors General, also known as police auditors in other jurisdictions, exist in San Jose and New York City. The Community Police Commission is a relatively new concept that has also been mandated by Justice Department consent decrees in Cleveland and Portland, Or.
Read the Seattle Times story: Seattle 2017Ordinance Seattle Times
Read the City Council Press release: Seattle 2017Ordinance CityCouncilRelease
Police Sexual Abuse of Teen Girls Continues
Police sexual abuse continues across the country, almost twenty years after the issue became a national controversy and the IACP issued guidelines on how police departments can and should prevent all forms of sexual misconduct by police officers.
A story in the Louisville Courier Journal on May 18, 2017 reported in the past 40 years at least 137 girls and 26 boys have allegedly been raped, seduced or “otherwise exploited” in 28 states. The youngest victims reported to be 13 years old.
The issue of sexual abuse of women of all ages became a national controversy as a result of a 2002 report on Driving While Female by Professor Sam Walker of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Dawn Irlbeck, now a professor at Creighton University. A follow-up 2003 report Police Sexual Abuse of Teenage Girls focused on teenagers enrolled in Police Explorer programs.
In response to the national controversy, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) published a 2011 report on Addressing Sexual Offenses and Misconduct by Law Enforcement.
Read the 2017 story from the Louisville Courier-Journal and USA Today: DWBLouisville2017
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