Cops and Kids: Setting Rules That Save Lives

Would anyone bring a 10-year old suffering from the flu to a doctor who had not been required to pass state-level medical boards? Two youth advocates wonder why there aren’t similar state agencies setting standards for police behavior with young people.

It’s been over three years since 12-year old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer on Nov. 22, 2014 as he played with a toy gun in a park in Cleveland, and since an unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown was gunned down on Aug. 9, 2014 by a police officer—two tragedies which rocked the nation and helped trigger a national clamor for police reform.

But why has so little actually changed in police practices? Why do we continue to read about and watch a steady stream of stories and videos depicting police mistreating young people? Why do relations between communities and law enforcement continue to deteriorate in so many jurisdictions?

From our experience, the answer is clear. State agencies play virtually no role in setting enforceable standards regulating police behavior toward, and treatment of, youth.

Only five states out of 50 have issued standards to guide law enforcement’s treatment of youth, according to a recent report by Strategies for Youth. (One of the authors founded and is executive director of SFY.) Law enforcement agencies that do attempt to regulate police/youth interactions almost always develop their guidelines in isolation—and rarely reflect the expertise of adolescent psychologists.

Neither do they include recommended best practices or incorporate the perspectives of educators, parents, youth workers, and juvenile justice professionals.

This lack of oversight of police is all the more perplexing when contrasted with the active engagement by state agencies in regulating other professions.

In the fields of child care, health care and education, states convene diverse groups of stakeholders to develop standards based on best practices, which they rigorously enforce. Professionals working in these fields are required to demonstrate mastery of a minimal set of skills and knowledge, and to continually update these.

The public accepts and expects this level of scrutiny and accountability. Would any of us consider sending our toddler to a day care center where the staff had not received training in child development? Or bring our 10-year old, suffering from the flu, to a doctor who had not been required to pass state-level medical boards?

Or allow our teenager to attend a high school filled with teachers lacking credentials?

Yet too often, police officers are expected to respond to youth who are traumatized and distressed, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, mentally ill, autistic, or simply acting like adolescents. Their repertoire is severely limited to four responses: warn, arrest, strike out, and hospitalize.

As a result of inadequate training and knowledge about effective strategies for interacting peacefully with youth, police often over-react and escalate situations unnecessarily, leading to arrests, violence and tragedies that are entirely preventable. Departments that invest in training, partner with mental and health care workers, and adopt community policies approaches that emphasize problem-solving have shown major reductions in use of force and major improvements in addressing systemic problems.

Take for example, the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Police Department and its partnership with the Cambridge Safety Network. This department adopted SFY’s Policing the Teen Brain training, updated and revised its policies, and saw a 65 percent reduction in juvenile arrests, an 80% reduction in runaways, and immediate trauma-informed care for children witnessing domestic violence.

The absence of consistent state-approved standards also creates wildly inconsistent legal consequences for youth. In one neighborhood, a jaywalker receives a mild rebuke. In another, he is tackled and arrested. Two teenagers shoving each other in one jurisdiction might receive a stern lecture; elsewhere they face assault charges.

Often the obvious factors in disparate treatment of youth across and within communities are race, culture and socioeconomic status. These can—and do—provoke challenges to law enforcement authority and decrease perceptions of its legitimacy. They also heighten the risk that police departments will face legal challenges and federal oversight.

Everyone loses.

Fortunately, there is a solution. State legislators need to require state agencies such as state level executive offices of public safety, to create, and then enforce, developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed, equitable training, standards and practices for officers.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is creating the political will to bring about such legislative fixes. Standards that guide law enforcement officers and agencies responses to youth must focus on key aspects of stops, addressing bias and disproportionate minority contact.

Such policies must make explicit the expectation that interactions with officers avoid escalation and promote positive relationships in non-incident contexts. As any prosecutor who has attempted to build a case on a juvenile’s confession can tell you, officers need guidelines for interviews and interrogations of youth.

Reading and reviewing Miranda rights is now a highly litigated area of juvenile defense law and law enforcement loses cases when it doesn’t follow some basic procedures that ensure justice to youth.

In Where’s the State, at pages 18-22, SFY proposes a comprehensive set of policies to address the many and varied interactions between law enforcement and youth.

Lisa Thurau

Lisa H. Thurau

We owe future Michael Browns, Tamir Rices, Laquan McDonalds and unnamed youth the chance to safely mature into adults. We also have a responsibility to equip courageous law enforcement officers with a comprehensive arsenal of strategies for keeping encounters peaceful and orderly.

In this case, a policy that is best for youth is also best for police.

Deborah Lashley

Deborah Lashley

By creating and enforcing standards that reflect current knowledge about best practices, states can help ensure that everyone goes home safely to their families at the end of the day.

That’s one priority we all share.

Lisa H. Thurau is executive director of Strategies for Youth. Deborah Lashley is former executive district attorney in the Juvenile Division of the District Attorney, Kings County, Brooklyn, NY. They welcome readers’ comments.


Cleveland Cop Fired for 2015 Shooting of Unarmed Burglar

Officer Alan Buford was terminated after Cleveland officials found that he used excessive force in the March 19, 2015, death of Brandon Jones, 18. Buford was acquitted of misdemeanor negligent homicide earlier this year.

A Cleveland police officer was fired Thursday for the 2015 fatal shooting of an unarmed burglary suspect, reports the Plain Dealer. Alan Buford was terminated after city officials found that he used excessive force in the March 19, 2015, death of Brandon Jones, 18. The shooting happened while Buford and another officer investigated a break-in at a grocery store. Cleveland Public Safety Director Michael McGrath’s administrative review found that Buford violated the department’s use of force policy “by using force greater than what was necessary during the incident.” Buford was charged with misdemeanor negligent homicide but was acquitted in July by Municipal Court Judge Michael Sliwinski after a three-day trial.

That acquittal came despite testimony from Buford’s partner, Gregory King, that he thought the shooting was unnecessary. The victim’s mother has filed a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against the city and the police officer. Her attorney, Paul Cristallo, praised the firing, saying, “I think it certainly validates what we’ve been saying all along — that Officer Buford didn’t have to shoot Brandon. It’s a step toward accountability.” Cleveland police union president Steve Loomis called the firing an “unwarranted attack” on police officers.  He said the union will seek arbitration to get Buford reinstated.


Fired in New Orleans, Cops Get Badges and Guns Elsewhere

At least 53 officers who were fired or pushed out of police jobs in New Orleans over the past decade have landed jobs in other law enforcement agencies, including many smaller police departments in nearby parishes and colleges.

Dozens of officers forced out of the New Orleans Police Department over the past decade for misconduct have been hired by other police departments, reports the Washington Post. At a time of increased scrutiny of police nationwide, the ease with which fired or forced out New Orleans officers found work at new departments underscores the broader challenge that law enforcement faces to rid itself of bad apples. The New Orleans department has long been trying to reform its ranks and shed a troubled past. In the past decade, the department has fired or otherwise pushed out at least 248 officers. Of those, 53 have been hired by other police departments, according to information obtained through public records requests.

Many of those officers landed at smaller police departments in nearby parishes and colleges — some hired weeks after leaving New Orleans. While records show that some have had no complaints of misconduct since joining new departments, others have been fired again. Records show that many of the 53 officers hired by other departments disclosed their troubled departures from New Orleans. About half of the 53 had been fired, and the rest resigned in lieu of being fired or quit while under investigation. Some of the 248 officers were fired or forced out in New Orleans after abandoning their posts in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck the city. Others were fired or pushed out in the aftermath of a 2011 Department of Justice civil rights investigation, which concluded that officers routinely used unnecessary force and made unlawful arrests. City leaders instituted reforms, adding to an exodus of officers.


Baltimore PD Board Weighs Fate of Lt. Rice in Gray Death

After a four-day administrative trial, the city’s police board must now determine whether Lt. Brian Rice either neglected protocol while supervising the arrest of Freddie Gray or made reasonable decisions at the chaotic scene in 2015.

Baltimore Police Lt. Brian Rice either neglected protocol while supervising the arrest of Freddie Gray or made reasonable decisions at a chaotic scene, says the Baltimore Sun. The question of whether Rice acted with reason or neglect was left Thursday to members of a police trial board. The panel’s members began deliberations after a four-day administrative trial for Rice, the highest-ranking officer to face administrative charges in Gray’s death. In closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors sought to blame Rice for a series of alleged infractions surrounding Gray’s arrest and the injuries the 25-year-old suffered in the back of a police van more than two years ago. The charges range from failing to check on Gray to ignoring new policies requiring that detainees be secured in seat belts. Rice, 44, was absolved of criminal conduct during a trial last year.

“We’re not here to prosecute high crimes,” said Neil Duke, the attorney prosecuting the case for the city. “We’re here to determine whether or not he followed protocol.” Rice placed Gray in the back of the police van handcuffed and shackled but not seat-belted, prosecutors said. After the van ride, Gray was found unconscious with broken vertebrae in his neck. He fell into a coma and died one week later. As the shift supervisor in the Western District that Sunday morning, Rice was responsible for the arrest of Gray, the prosecutor said. “He’s the quarterback,” Duke said. “Everything has to go through him.” Gray’s death led to protests and riots across the city. More than two years later, the officers who arrested Gray have been cleared of criminal charges and five of them were brought to trial on administrative charges.


Demoted for Leaking Video, Fort Worth Cops Sue City

Abdul Pridgen and Vance Keyes were demoted from chiefs to captains in May after they were accused of leaking officer body cam video of a controversial arrest last December of a black woman and her daughters by a white cop who was later suspended for using excessive force.

Two Fort Worth police officials are suing the city after they were demoted and accused of leaking body-camera footage that showed the controversial arrests of a black woman and her teenage daughters last December, reports the Dallas Morning News. Abdul Pridgen and Vance Keyes were demoted from chiefs to captains in May and unsuccessfully appealed the reassignments via an administrative process. Through their attorney, they both denied leaking the police video or the personnel files of Officer William Martin, who was disciplined in the 2016 arrests. In separate lawsuits filed this month, Pridgen and Keyes said they reported to Fort Worth Chief Joel Fitzgerald that Martin had used excessive force in the arrest of Jacqueline Craig and that he had filed a false affidavit about it. They said Fitzgerald reacted with “hostility.” Earlier this year, Fitzgerald said he reassigned Keyes and Pridgen because they were not truthful with investigators when asked about the leak. The Fort Worth Police Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

The footage leaked to Craig’s attorneys shows Martin, a white police officer, wrestling Craig, a black woman, to the ground and pointing a stun gun at her daughters before putting them in handcuffs on Dec. 21. Craig had called police to complain that a neighbor had choked her young son after the boy allegedly littered. Martin was dispatched to the neighborhood and told Craig, “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?” A video of the encounter shot by a neighbor went viral, and the leaked police body cam video added to the controversy.


15 Convictions Linked to Corrupt Chicago Cop Are Vacated

The cases were linked to former police Sgt. Ronald Watts, who was sent to federal prison in 2013 for stealing money from a drug courier who was an FBI informant. A defense attorney says 400 more convictions deserve scrutiny.

In what is believed to be the first mass exoneration in Cook County history, prosecutors on Thursday plan to drop all charges against 15 men who alleged they were framed by corrupt former Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his crew, reports the Chicago Tribune. The announcement to vacate the convictions was expected during a morning hearing before Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy Martin Jr., according to a statement from Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office. It comes two months after lawyers for the 15 men filed a joint petition seeking to overturn a total of 18 criminal drug convictions, alleging that Watts and his crew framed all of them between 2003 and 2008. Watts and an officer under his command were sent to federal prison in 2013 for stealing money from a drug courier who’d been working as an FBI informant.

A review of the cases by the state’s attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit “has shown a pattern of narcotics arrests that raise serious concerns about the validity of the resulting convictions,” a spokesman for Foxx said in a written statement. Joshua Tepfer, the lead attorney for the 15 men, praised the “unprecedented” action by Foxx’s office but said the cases were “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to cases tainted by Watts. He cited the more than 400 convictions by Watts’ team “that are unaccounted for.” Since last year, the Tribune has published several stories detailing Watts’ decade-long run of corruption.


San Jose PD Adds New Scrutiny to Use of Force

In the past, reviews of most nonfatal use-of-force encounters were prompted by formal citizen complaints. Police supervisors will now be expected to launch investigations on their own based on reports from the field.

In a groundbreaking move inspired by public oversight, the San Jose Police Department will step up reviews of officers’ use of force and intensify investigations into the most serious cases, reports the Mercury News. Until now, the department only reviewed most nonfatal use-of-force encounters in response to a citizen’s complaint filed through formal channels. Police supervisors and commanders will now be expected to launch force investigations on their own based on reports from the field. Those violent encounters will be graded on a new four-tier scale where a higher risk of injury or death triggers increased scrutiny.

Chief Eddie Garcia said the policy was crafted in consultation with the police union to ensure maximum buy-in from his rank-and-file officers amid a national landscape marked by skepticism about police actions in minority communities. He acknowledged that the department’s practices for reviewing violent incidents needed updating. “This is long overdue. We had blind spots. Our policy was too reactive,” Garcia said. “This doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to find that (an officer) did something wrong, but we’re going to scrutinize it with a sharper lens.


Seeking Openness, Minneapolis PD Posts Use-of-Force Data

In the past, access to use-of-force data required a special request. This week, police have begun tabulating the information on the data dashboard of its website.


Judge Restricts St. Louis Police Strategies During Protests

Federal Judge Catherine Perry faulted police for using unconstitutional strategies used to impede lawful protesters in September after a white former cop was acquitted in the shooting of a black man.

A federal judge issued on Wednesday wide-ranging restrictions on the ability of St. Louis police to declare protests “unlawful” and use chemical agents against protesters, says the city’s Post-Dispatch. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry’s 49-page order says that police can’t declare an “unlawful assembly” and enforce it against those “engaged in expressive activity, unless the persons are acting in concert to pose an imminent threat to use force or violence or to violate a criminal law with force or violence.” Police also can’t use that unlawful assembly order or threaten the use of pepper spray and other chemical agents to punish protesters for exercising their rights, she wrote. The ruling came as part of an ACLU lawsuit over police strategies during protests in St. Louis in September after white former police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted in the 2011 shooting death of black driver Anthony Lamar Smith.

A mayoral spokesman said in an email that the city would comply with the order. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, asked the region’s federal prosecutor to launch an investigation into the “alleged unconstitutional practices” by St. Louis police. Judge  Perry said that based on the evidence presented so far, the ACLU was likely to succeed in its underlying lawsuit over police practices. She faulted police use of mace against nonviolent protesters and those recording police activity, and said police had improperly declared an “unlawful assembly” on some occasions and then gave protesters and others unreasonable and vague dispersal orders. She said a controversial police “kettle” that confined protesters on Sept. 17 “cannot meet constitutional standards.”


Seattle PD Finds No Fault in Slaying of Deranged Woman

Two white officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old African American mother of four, after she called 911 in June to report a burglary at her apartment. A police review found the shooting reasonable. An attorney for the dead woman’s family said, “If her killing was within policy and training, we need changes in policy and training.”

The Seattle Police Department’s Force Review Board has found the controversial fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles by two officers in June to be reasonable, proportional and within policy, reports the Seattle Times. The board’s unanimous vote followed a daylong meeting Tuesday. The findings are subject to final approval from Assistant Chief Lesley Cordner, who presided over the meeting and oversees the department’s Compliance and Professional Standards Bureau. Corey Guilmette, an attorney representing Lyles’ family, said, “We cannot accept that Charleena Lyles’ killing was unavoidable. If her killing was within policy and training, we need changes in policy and training.”

Lyles, a 30-year-old African American mother of four, was shot seven times by two white officers, Steven McNew and Jason Anderson, on June 18 after she called 911 to report a burglary at her Northeast Seattle apartment. Police said Lyles suddenly threatened the officers inside the apartment with one or two knives before they opened fire. The officers found no evidence of a burglary. Lyles had struggled with mental-health issues, according to her family and court records, and the shooting came at a time her life was spinning out of control. The shooting unleashed a storm of public protest, with many seeing it as another example of unnecessary deadly force being used by police against people of color.