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
Univ. Cincinnati Shooting Exposes Fragmented US Policing
The shooting death of Samuel DuBose by a University of Cincinnati police officer on July 19, 2015 exposed the fragmented structure of American policing. The City of Cincinnati Police Department has undergone sweeping reforms since 2002, as a result of both a Consent Decree with the U.S. Department of Justice and a Collaborative Agreement which settled several racial profiling suits. Many observers argue that the Cincinnati settlements represent the most successful of all the court-ordered reforms since 1997. Yet, the University of Cincinnati police were not covered by the two settlements. And in the wake of the DuBose shooting, it was reported that the campus force had previously been involved in a number of other controversial incidents.
The Cincinnati situation eposes some of the problems resulting from the highly fragmented and localized form of policing in the United States. There are between 15,000 and 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies in the U.S. Apart from Supreme Court decisions, federal EEO laws, and state certification requirements, all of these agencies are independently controlled. Metropolitan areas contain a number of separate police departments (a large number in the St. Louis metro area, as the Ferguson crisis in 2014 revealed). Thus, the court-ordered reform of the major urban department (Cincinnati, for example) does not cover the other smaller agencies.
Nonetheless, Sam Walker argues that the smaller agencies can follow the lead of the larger one in their area and adopt the same reforms. In fact, Walker argues, “Every agency across the country should work to implement these reforms.” “We know what the problems are,” he added, [and] “we know what the solutions are. ” Read the Ohio Media Group story: UnivCincinnShooting
Police Shooting at Moving Vehicles: New Issues, Old Questions
The issue of police officers firing their weapons at moving vehicles has recently gained national attention. A story in the Indianapolis Star, for example, cited two recent cases of officers firing at vehicles that were moving toward them, putting them in fear for their lives. The In response, the Indianapolis Police Department has revised its deadly force policy, loosening the previous ban on shooting at or from moving vehicles. Sam Walker comments that today’s police deadly force policies can be traced back to the 1972 New York City Police Department (NYPD) policy, that was the pioneer in establishing clear, written guidelines on officer use of deadly force. That police included a prohibition on firing at or from moving vehicles, along with bans on warning shots, shots to wound, and shots to summon assistance. As in Indianapolis, the important point is that many police departments have not established a clear policy that permits shooting at vehicles that pose a threat to the life of the officer.
Although not quoted in the Star article, Walker argues that many of these situations are actually training failures. Departments have not adequately trained their officers that, in an encounter with an occupied vehicle, positioning themselves in in one place greatly increases their exposure if the vehicle tries to come at them, while a different location is more likely to shield them from danger. Read the Indianapolis Star story: ShotsatVehicles