California, Illinois AGs Take on Police Reform
Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California, announced on February 5, 2018 that the California Department of Justice had entered into an agreement with the City of San Francisco to serve as the monitor for the implementation of reforms in the San Francisco Police Department. The 272 reforms had previously been recommended in an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department’s Collaborative Reform program. On September 17, 2017, however, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions terminated the Collaborative Reform program, leaving the San Francisco reforms in limbo.
The action by the California Attorney General is one of two steps taken by state attorneys general to fill the void in police reform efforts left by the Trump Administration’s cancellation of both the Justice Department’s “pattern or practice” program and the Collaborative Reform program. In August 2017 the Illinois Attorney General filed suit against the Chicago Police Department for civil rights violations, and initiated the process of negotiating a consent decree which would require reforms in the CPD. The U.S. Justice Department had completed an investigation of the CPD in January 2017, but did not have sufficient time to negotiate a consent decree while Eric Holder was still in office.
Sam Walker hailed the actions by the California and Illinois AGs as filling the void left by the Trump administration’s disinterest in police reform. It’s going to “be kind of a beacon,” he told the Sacramento Bee, serving as a model for other state AGs.
The San Francisco action was requested by the Mayor of San Francisco, the police chief, and the City Attorney, indicating the strong support for reform in the SFPD among local officials. Under the agreement, Attorney General Becerra will review the SFPD’s implementation of the 272 reforms and submit independent reports on the status of implementation.
Read the AG’s press release: CAAGSFPressR
Read the Bee story here: CAAGSFBee
Read the Memorandum of Understanding here: CAAGSFMOU
Trump Endorses Police Brutality; Walker Calls it a Crime
In a speech to police officers on Long Island on Friday, July 28th, President Donald Trump endorsed police brutality. When handling criminal suspects (who he labelled as “thugs’), Trump said “Please don’t be too nice.” He gave the example of officers placing their hands over a suspect’s head when placing him into a patrol car so he does not hit his head. “You can take the hand away, OK?,” Trump advised.
Trump’s comments were immediately and condemned by law enforcement leaders from around the country, including Charles Ramsey, the co-Chair of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the IACP, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), and many others.
Sam Walker in The Crime Report argued that Trump’s comments were a criminal offense: he incited people to commit criminal violence by deliberatively injuring them. He compared it to a mayor of university president telling a group of people to go out and beat up some immigrants.
The criticisms from around the country caused the White House to issue a statement claiming that Trump was only “joking.” The incident, however, is another example of how Trump does not realize the responsibilities of being president, and that presidents cannot joke about serious matters.
Read Walker’s commentary: TrumpPoliceWalkerComment
Read a news story in Trump’s comments: TrumpBrutalitySpeech
WAPost: Police Shootings in Mid-2017 Same as 2016; Sam Walker Comments
The Washington Post reported on July 1, 2017 that the number of people shot and killed by the police in by mid-2017 (492 people) was nearly identical to the number at this point in both 206 and 2015. Sam Walker commented that people have unrealistic expectations about how police reform occurs in the U.S. There are 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies, all of which are governed by local authorities with minimal controls over such key issues as use of deadly force policy, training, and discipline. In this highly decentralized context, it extremely difficult to effect changes in police practices that will cover all departments.
Read the Washington Post story: ShootingsMid2017WAPO
Washington State to Vote on New Police Deadly Force Law, With Important Training Provisions
Community organizers in the state of Washington have launched a campaign to put a referendum on the ballot in 2018 that would revise state law and lower the current high bar regarding criminal prosecution of police officers for shooting and killing people. Current law requires that prosecutors prove that the officer had, in effect. “evil intent.”
The referendum also includes provisions mandating training for all officers in the state related to dealing with persons having mental health problems, and also on de-escalation. Sam Walker commented that putting these issues into state law will guarantee that all law enforcement agencies in the state will be covered by the requirements. One of the problems in the U.S., he explained, is that we have 18,000 law enforcement agencies (15,000 police; 3,000 sheriffs), without any process for guaranteeing that important reforms reach all of them.
Read the story in Vice News: WashStateReferendumJuly17
San Diego PD Unveils New EIS; Sam Walker Comments
The San Diego police department in in mid-June 2017 unveiled a new early intervention system (EIS), a management tool designed to identify officers with repeated performance problems and to correct those problems. After a series of sex scandals involving SDPD officers several years ago, the department’s existing EIS was found to be non-functional. An investigation found that the once-highly regarded police department had suffered from a number or management lapses, some of which were related to the city’s financial crisis and a reduction in the number of officers. Sam Walker commented that many police officer performance problems stem from personal and family problems. Traditional police discipline systems, he added, often fail “to engage an officer” and address off-the-job issues.
Read the story: SanDiegoEIS2017
Walker Tells NY Times: We Can’t Arrest Our Way Out of the Opioid Crisis
In a New York Times article on the national opioid drug crisis on June 12, 2017, Sam Walker commented that “if people think we are going to arrest our way out of the opioid crisis, they’re wrong.” The public backlash against the “war on drugs” has led to a growing national consensus that an arrest and imprisonment approach to social problems such as drugs is the wrong approach. Citing research in the area of public health, Walker added that the police do have a role regard opioid drugs: they “can play a critical role in a very broadly based social and medical response.”
Read the New York Times article: OpiodsNYTimes2017
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