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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


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“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



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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

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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

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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 Reviewcommunityvoice

Read a short version in The Crime Report: CommunityVCrimeReport

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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


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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

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Police Union Contract “Waiting Periods” Not Supported by Scientific Evidence

Some police union contracts in the U.S. have provisions barring interviews with officers involved in use of force and other incidents for 48 hours. The Baltimore, Maryland, contract (and the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights) provide for a ten-day waiting period. Additionally, there is evidence that some police  departments voluntarily delay interviews for 48 hours because of union pressure.

Police unions and their supporters claim there is “scientific evidence” that a stressful incident impairs an officer’s memory and that “two sleep cycles” (i.e., 48 hours) are required for that person’s memory to fully recover.

A report by Sam Walker, University of Nebraska at Omaha has found that there is no such scientific evidence. A systematic review of research by psychologists on the impact of stress on memory found no support for a 48-hour delay. The systematic review of 244 studies over 100 years found it a highly complex issue, with mixed findings.

Walker’s report concludes that the police union claims for a 48-hour or longer waiting period are “inconsistent, hypocritical and self-serving.

Read Walker’s report here: 48HourSciencepdf

Read the systematic review of the psychological research: Part 1: MemoryPart1    Part 2: MemoryPart2

Read the previous report on the Baltimore police union contract (which has a 10-day waiting period):



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If History is Any Guide: A Hard Road Ahead for Same-Sex Marriage

The Supreme Court on Friday June 26th established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hudson was a historic victory in the long struggle for the rights of LGBT people.Everyone should celebrate this great victory.

But if history is any guide, a challenging struggle remains. The best evidence for this is the history of the civil rights movement following the equally historic Brown v. Board of Education decision on May 17, 1954, declaring racially segregated schools unconstitutional.

Read my short report on the lessons of civil rights history for the future of same-sex marriage:  IF HISTORY IS ANY GUIDE

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Samuel Walker

University of Nebraska at Omaha

June 28, 2015


The Supreme Court on Friday June 26th established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hudson was a historic victory in the long struggle for the rights of LGBT people.

Everyone should celebrate this great victory, but if history is any guide, a challenging struggle remains.

The best evidence for this is the history of the civil rights movement following the equally historic Brown v. Board of Education decision on May 17, 1954, declaring racially segregated schools unconstitutional.

Segregationists denounced the decision and vowed to fight back –and fight they did, for many long and bitter years. In May 1956 about 100 southern members of Congress signed the Southern Manifesto, pledging resistance to Brown by all “lawful” means. (Interestingly, three southern Senators did not sign it: Al Gore, Sr., Estes Kefauver, both of Tennessee, and Lyndon Johnson of Texas.)

They announced a policy of “massive resistance,” and resist they did –in the courts, in the legislatures, and in the streets. We can expect the same resistance to the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.

On September 23, 1957, famously and shamefully, a howling segregationist mob prevented nine African-American students from integrating Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. President Eisenhower mobilized federal troops who, with bayonets affixed to their rifles, allowed the “Little Rock Nine” to enter Central High School on September 25th.

We can anticipate similar grass-roots opposition to same-sex marriages. It is almost certain that some local officials will refuse to issue marriage licenses claiming it violates their free exercise of religion. The authority of local officials to defy established law, on this and other grounds, will have to be fought across the country. It will be enormously hurtful to those denied their rightful marriage licenses, even if only temporarily. Ultimately, we will prevail, just as the “Little Rock Nine” did, but it will be a struggle.

In the Little Rock case, the Supreme Court settled the issue of local officials defying court decisions in the 1958 landmark case of Cooper v. Aaron, which held that decisions of the federal courts are the law of the land, and that “No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his undertaking to support it.”.

Some states may enact laws designed to obstruct Obergefelter. In the 1950s, Alabama fought back against Brown by passing a law directed against the NAACP. The law required private organizations to disclose their membership lists, and the clear purpose was to expose Alabama NAACP members to harassment, job loss, and even possible death. The Supreme Court invalidated the law in NAACP v. Alabama (1958), in a decision that established the constitutional freedom of association that we enjoy today.

It is very doubtful that a religious exemption for public officials will ever prevail, but the fight over that claim will be long, will involve a sustained effort, and will cause much pain among people whose lawful rights will be delayed. Religious institutions certainly have a constitutional right to their Free Exercise of Religion and guaranteed by the First Amendment. But secular government officials, in the performance of their secular duties, have no such right.

Southern segregationists fought Brown v. Board of Education in many ways, including by Klan violence. We should expect a similar determined and multi-pronged battle against the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hudson. History is truly on our side, but we need to read the lessons of history, and muster the strength, determination and optimism to meet the coming struggle.

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