The Human Costs of Police Misconduct vs. The Costs of Reform
Recent public debates over the costs of police reform, particularly Justice Department consent decrees with seriously troubled departments, have all focuses on the dollar costs. A recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that the Settlement Agreement in Oakland, California (the result of a private law suit and not DOJ intervention) has cost $13.6 million over 13 years, not including the costs of new computer technology and body cameras, and new staff positions. (No other city has failed to comply with court-ordered reforms for such a long time, it should be noted.)
Former Oakland police chief Anthony Batts (2009-2011) stated that “It’s outrageous. That’s a lot of money for a city like Oakland. It could have been spent on Head Start programs.”
Sam Walker replied in the Chronicle that “It’s offensive to this of this just in terms of the dollar cost, because there’s a human and social cost when people are shot and beaten up by the police.” How can you measure the human cost of a life lost because of an unjustified police shooting? How can you measure the cost to the person’s family in terms of pain and suffering? In cases of excessive force, how can you measure the cost of the physical pain and also the indignity inflicted on the person? Police misconduct also has a social cost. Patterns of police misconduct alienate local African American communities.
And to these human and social cost, we should add the enormous payouts in civil suits to the victims of police brutality and shootings in cities where abuse goes uncorrected. In Chicago, for example, taxpayers paid out $210 million between 2012 and 2015, or about $50 million a year. Consider how many Head Start programs, or after school programs that money would have bought
True, Walker has observed on other occasions, court-ordered reforms are expensive. But those costs are more than outweighed by the human and social costs of allowing police misconduct to continue.
Read the San Francisco Chronicle story here: oaklandScandal
“Digital Revolution” Reshaping Public Attitides Abourt Police Misconduct,” Walker Tells Voice of America
In an interview with Voice of America following the fatal police shootings of African-American men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota, Sam Walker argued that a “digital revolution” is reshaping public attitudes about police misconduct. Before the proliferation of cell phone cameras, many white Americans refused to believe that police misconduct, including shootings and beatings, was as bad as it is. But new new visual evidence of incidents in the two recent shootings provides disturbing evidence that is hard to ignore. The communications revolution really began with the videotape recording of Los Angeles police officers repeatedly beating Rodney King on March 3, 1991. The broadcast of the recording had a profound impact on public awareness of police brutality. Digital cameras have only accelerated the revolution.
Read the Voice of America story: DigitalRevolutionVOA2016
Chicago Tribune Reveals History of Police Union Power on Accountability Issues
A May 20, 2016 story in the Chicago Tribune revealed how the Chicago police union gained its power over police accountability issues, in particular union contract provisions that impede department investigations of alleged officer misconduct. In Chicago, it all began in 1981 with a deal in which union leaders agreed to not push for significant wage and benefit raises in return for certain “management issues” related to accountability.
In somewhat different ways and at different times (in most cases earlier than Chicago), the same process occurred in other cities.
In 1981, under Mayor Jane Byrne, the city and the Fraternal Order of Police negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement. (Previous agreements had been “handshake” deals.) The city was “strapped for cash,” according to the Tribune story.” John Dineen, then-president of the FOP, told the Tribune that “they wanted to keep the police happy . . . So they’d give away a lot of working conditions things. It was always working conditions versus money.”
Sam Walker commented that as the years went on, “The union people have always been very focused. They know what they want [particularly regarding protections for officers].
Although not quoted in the story, Walker argues that police union leaders have been a disservice to their members in two ways. First, they have chosen in many instance not to fight aggressively for wages and benefits. Second, by winning protections for officers guilty of misconduct they have allowed serious abuses to continue. Pubic outrage over those abuses has seriously damaged the image of the department (legitimately so, given the seriousness of the misconduct) and harmed the morale of the officers. A different bargain would have meant that bad officers would have been fired or chosen to resign, and the remaining officers would have enjoyed a better public image, better morale –along with better wages.
Read the Tribune story: ChicagoUnionTradeoffHistory
Police Chiefs Group Calls for Higher Standard in Police Use of Force
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a highly respected and forward-looking professional association of police chiefs and police commanders, issued a remarkable 30-point policy paper on police use of force. Most important, Principle #2 called on police departments to “adopt policies [on police use of force] that hold themselves to a higher standard than the legal requirement of Graham v. Connor.” The Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor held that officer use of force is constitutional if it is “objective reasonable.” Many critics have argued that interpretations of that standard have consistently justified police actions. The result, critics charge, has been many incidents that are “lawful but awful”: in compliance with the court’s ruling, but outrageous in terms of standards of decency and the impact on community relations.
In a Commentary published by The Crime Report, Sam Walker praised the PERF statement, arguing that it is refreshing to see a police chiefs group advocating a higher standard for the police. The PERF report also recommended (Principle #6) a policy under which officers would have a “Duty to intervene” when they see other officers using excessive force. It was a major advance in recent years when police departments began requiring officers to report excessive force by other officers (and we have no evidence on the extent of compliance with such policies). Requiring officers to act to prevent or stop other officers from using excessive force would definitely set a welcome and long overdue higher standard in policing.
Read Sam Walker’s Commentary in The Crime Report: PERF30Principles OPED
Read the PERF report on Use of Force: Taking Policing to a Higher Standard: PERF30Principles
DOJ Begins Collaborative Reform with San Francisco Police; Walker Praises Initiative
The Justice Department announced that it was launching a Collaborative Reform Process review of the San Francisco Police Department. The Collaborative Reform Process is run by the Office of Community Policing Services unit of DOJ, and is different from the “pattern or practice” investigations, which are conducted by the Civil Rights Division of DOJ. The Collaborative Reform Process is exactly that: a collaborative effort between DOJ and the local police department, which voluntarily agrees to participate. Many civil rights activists criticize the collaborative process because recommendations are not binding on a police department.
Sam Walker supports the Collaborative Reform Process for several reasons. The resources of the Civil Rights Division are extremely limited, and it is not able to investigate all police departments that have problems. In many departments, moreover, there may be problems with police misconduct but the evidence might not be strong enough to prove in court that there is a clear “pattern or practice.” Walker cites the example of the first Collaborative Reform Process, involving the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which he argues resulted in a very thorough review of the department’s failures on officer use of force and concluded with an excellent set of recommendations. The Collaborative Reform Process also produced a very critical report on shootings in the Philadelphia Police Department.
Read about the San Francisco effort: SanFranCollabReform
Read the Las Vegas Collaborative Reform Process report: LasVegasForceReport_2012
Read the Philadelphia Collaborative Reform Process report: PhiladCollabRefrom
Baltimore Planning Mediation for Citizen Complaints; Walker Calls Effort “Promising”
The Baltimore Police Department announced that it is planning a program for mediating citizen complaints against police officers. The plan comes as the police department is under fire for the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, the protests and riots that followed, and a Justice Department civil rights investigation into the department. Sam Walker praised the plan as a “promising alternative” to the traditional process of investigating citizen complaints. He cautioned, however, that “careful management” is necessary to make mediation successful. Through mediation, the complainant and the officer meet in a private session, supervised by a trained mediator, and discuss their points of view about what happened in the complaint incident. No specific outcome is required apart from the two listening to each other respectfully.
Read the Baltimore Sun story on the planned program: BaltMediation
Read Sam Walker’s 2002 Justice Department report on Mediating Citizen Complaints Against Police Officers: MediatingCitizenComplaints
“War for the Soul of the American Police:” Guardian vs. Warrior Mindset
An article in the Washington Post on December 10th highlighted the national debate over policing philosophy. On the one side is the Guardian mindset, which seeks to develop tactics that minimize conflict with community residents. On the other side is the Warrior mindset, which emphasizes the dangers of police work, and argues that officers should approach all encounters on alert for attacks on them.
Sam Walker argues that there is a “War for the Soul of American Policing” over which mindset will prevail and shape the future of American policing.
Read the Washington Post story here: WarSoulWAPO
Read Sam Walker’s essay on “The War for the Soul of American Policing” here: WAR FOR THE SOUL Final
Washington Post Story Gets it Wrong on DOJ Investigations of Police
A Washington Post story on Justice Department “pattern or practice” investigations of police departments got it all wrong, The story opened with three examples it offered as evidence of the failure of these investigations: dysfunction in the Detroit police department, the estimated $300 million cost of the Los Angeles consent decree; and the fact that some New Orleans police officers experienced low morale because of the consent decree there, and some even resigned and found jobs with other law enforcement agencies.
In a Commentary posted on The Crime Report, Sam Walker argued that the three examples were poor choices and did not prove the case against DOJ investigations. For example, the $300 million costs in LA cannot be completely attributed to the consent decree; they represented costs that would have incurred in any event. Read Sam Walker’s Commentary here: WAPODOJstory
FBI Director Comey Blames Police Critics for Crime Increase; “Disgraceful and Wrong,” Charges Sam Walker
FBI Director James Comey on October 23, 2015 blamed the critics of the police for the recent increase in violent crime in some cities. He immediately added, however, that he had no evidence to support his allegation. Then, the following Monday, Comey doubled down by blaming social media recordings of police misconduct for causing the police to slow down on their crime-fighting activities. Sam Walker condemned Comey’s allegations as “disgraceful and wrong.” Read the full story in The Crime Report: ComeyFBI
Community Voice in Police Policy in Seattle
Recent events in Seattle, Washington, have resulted in, for the first time in police history, a meaningful community voice in police policy-making.
The Settlement Agreement between the Justice Department and the City of Seattle created a Community Police Commission. The CPC was not given a direct role in developing a new use-of-force policy for the Seattle police. Members of the CPC insisted on that role, and after a contentious struggle were granted a voice. The new use-of-force policy included, among other things, a strong de-escalation component, which community activists had previously demanded.
This outcome is the first time in American police history where community representatives had a formal voice in the drafting of police policies. The important question is whether the Seattle events provide a model for community voice in policing in other communities.
Read Sam Walker’s article in Criminal Justice Policy Review: communityvoice
Read a short version in The Crime Report: CommunityVCrimeReport