IL AG’s Office Reviewing Jason Van Dyke’s Sentence

Last week, former state Sen. Kwame Raoul was sworn in as attorney general just days before Van Dyke was sentenced to less than seven years in prison for shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.

In an unusual move, the Illinois attorney general’s office is “reviewing” former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s relatively lenient prison sentence, a spokeswoman for the office said Thursday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Spokeswoman Maura Possley declined to elaborate on what exactly the office is examining, but legal experts said the attorney general might be considering whether to petition the Illinois Supreme Court to order the trial judge to sentence Van Dyke again under tougher guidelines. Last week, former state Sen. Kwame Raoul was sworn in as attorney general just days before Van Dyke was sentenced to less than seven years in prison for shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.


No Indictment in Death of Anton Black

The Caroline County, Md., state’s attorney said Thursday that there is not enough evidence to indict anyone in the death of Anton Black, the 19-year-old who died of cardiac arrest after a struggle with Maryland police in September.

The Caroline County, Md., state’s attorney said Thursday that there is not enough evidence to indict anyone in the death of Anton Black, the 19-year-old who died of cardiac arrest after a struggle with Maryland police in September. The prosecutor will not agree to the request of Black’s family that a grand jury investigate the case, The Baltimore Sun reports.

The teen suffered “sudden cardiac death,” the state medical examiner concluded Wednesday about an incident that has roiled the small town of Greensboro, according to The Washington Post. The medical examiner ruled the death of Black accidental. The autopsy report said it was “likely that the stress of his struggle” with police contributed to his death, as did bipolar disorder and underlying heart issues, but said “no evidence was found that restraint by law enforcement directly caused or significantly caused or significantly contributed” to the Sept. 15 death. Greensboro Police Chief Mike Petyo provided a link Thursday night to The Baltimore Sun of police body-camera footage from the fatal encounter between police and Black.


Homicide and the Compassionate Cop

Responding to a shooting is a high-tension event for police. But it can also be a moment for building community trust—if survivors, eyewitnesses and family members of victims are treated with more empathy and respect, according to the Urban Institute.

Soon after her son was shot, his mother was called by an Oakland, Ca., police officer offering a ride in his patrol car.

He wanted “to make sure I was OK,” the woman recalled.

But the words of comfort quickly turned into an interrogation.

“He drove me around the neighborhood and asked if I knew what happened…probably because I have other sons and he probably thought they would know,” she said.

crime scene

Photo by booturtle via Flickr

The incident, described in a series of Urban Institute studies of how police respond to shooting events, was an example of how a focus on solving crimes without taking into account the emotions of survivors or community fears can perpetuate distrust, and fuel a climate that leads to more violence, researchers said.

The studies, conducted in partnership with the Urban Peace Institute, concluded that law enforcement was more effective when investigations were conducted with compassion, respect and transparency.

This was true even under the high-stakes pressure of a murder investigation, researchers said.

Going “beyond the yellow tape” at police crime scenes to apply the principles of procedural justice in dealing with shooting victims and relatives can even save lives, the researchers suggested.

“Police play a critical role in reducing community violence, but their legitimacy can be undermined by lack of community trust, particularly in high-crime communities where intervention is needed most,” the study authors said.

“Along with enabling community trust, procedurally just policing has the potential to address the needs of homicide victims and their families as well as prevent the spread of gun violence.”

The studies, undertaken to advise the Oakland Police Department on applying procedural justice to its policies and practices, were based on interviews with police, local community groups, crime victims, and family members.

The recommendations come as tensions and mistrust continue to undermine police-community relations in many U.S. cities.

Last week, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was sentenced to 81 months in prison for the 2014 killing of unarmed youth Laquan McDonald—a sentence that angered McDonald’s relatives and that activists called little more than a slap on the wrist. 

And a federal monitor appointed to oversee the Baltimore Police Department concluded that it would take years to reverse the corruption and racism that plagued the force.

Principles of Procedural Justice

The Urban Institute studies identified four approaches associated with procedural justice that were critical for improving police-community relations when law enforcement responded to a shooting scene, and during the subsequent investigation:

  • Treating victims and eyewitnesses with dignity and respect;
  • Taking the time to hear their accounts and answering questions even under the pressure of a live investigation;
  • Avoiding judgement and being transparent about what officers are doing in the scene;
  • Sharing as much information as possible within the limits of an ongoing investigation;

One study looked specifically at how survivors and family members of Oakland shooting incidents between 2011 and 2017 perceived contrasting police responses, making clear that empathy and compassion made a big difference.

One victim recalled his pleasure when a police officer visiting him at the hospital treated him with respect.

“He didn’t treat me like a criminal,” he said. “I was legitimately a victim and I felt that way even when he left. He left me use his phone. He was solid.”

But many other examples, like the police officer who turned giving a lift to the mother of a shooting victim into an interrogation, left a bad taste.

When police interviewed victims of one incident, a survivor remembered, “it wasn’t about ‘are you OK?’ or ‘Are you going to make it?’ It was just like who did it?”

Eyewitness told stories of police joking or laughing at a murder scene and being rude or brusque—even though such behavior might have been the police officers’ own way of dealing with stress.

The studies noted that many officers were themselves beginning to realize the importance of balancing the priorities of a crime-scene investigation with the needs and sensitivities of affected communities.

“We were brought up in a time that (sic) it didn’t matter what the public thinks,” one veteran officer admitted to the researchers. “Now, we understand public perceptions play an important role in our success.”

Innovative Strategies

In one of the studies, researchers reviewed innovative approaches in nine U.S. communities that were successfully applying procedural justice principles to their investigations.

Examples included:

  • The chief of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Police Department placed the office of the coordinator of victim services next to his own office to underline his department’s commitment to victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches to police work;
  • Milwaukee police are partnering with local churches to ensure chaplains or other community religious leaders are present at crime scenes to provide emotional and spiritual care to victims;
  • The San Diego Police Department sends seven-person teams to every homicide scene in order to have sufficient staff on hand to both investigate the event and engage community members;
  • Within 48 hours of every homicide, the Richmond, Va., police department initializes a program called Community RESET (Rapid Engagement of Support in the Event of Trauma), under which officers accompanied by counselors conduct door-to-door interviews with residents in the neighborhood—with the aim of identifying and addressing community trauma.

While the net effect of many of these efforts remains to be studied, the researchers said they demonstrate a growing consensus that traditional forms of police interaction with crime victims and survivors had to change.

“Treating people as individuals is an important form of giving them dignity and respect,” the study said, noting that interviews with Oakland shooting victims and families showed that a “perceived lack of compassion was often related to the sense of being treated as though the shooting situation was routine.

“Compassionate interactions affirm the humanity and value of a person.”

The most poignant statement about the Oakland Police Department (OPD) came from the residents themselves.

The researchers wrote: “Many simply said, ‘Can OPD just be human at the scene?’”

The three studies can be downloaded here.


Van Dyke’s 81-Month Sentence Deepens Chicago Rifts

Police officer Jason Van Dyke likely will serve less than four years in prison for killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. A relative says the penalty “reduced Laquan McDonald’s life to a second-class citizen.”

The killing of Laquan McDonald that roiled Chicago for years ended with an 81-month prison sentence for police officer Jason Van Dyke on Friday that only deepened the rifts, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.  For the family and supporters of Van Dyke, the sentence by Judge Vincent Gaughan represented hope and a measure of mercy. Prosecutors had asked for 18 to 20 years in prison. The 40-year-old officer, stripped of his powers and facing firing, will likely be paroled after serving only half the sentence. Van Dyke’s lawyer, Daniel Herbert, said the officer “was not just relieved, he was happy … about the prospect about life ahead of him.” To the family of McDonald and the activists who brought the murder to light, the sentence was little more than a slap on the wrist. The sentencing came the day after another judge cleared three of officers of charges they lied to cover up for Van Dyke.

Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great-uncle, said, “This sentence … reduced Laquan McDonald’s life to a second-class citizen.” The judge cut a break for Van Dyke, sentencing him only on a second-degree murder charge, not 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. Defendants must serve at least 85 percent of a sentence for aggravated battery with a firearm. The last Chicago police officer to be convicted of murder on duty was Richard Nuccio five decades ago, for murdering a knife-wielding teenager. He received a 14-year sentence in 1969. Van Dyke also will likely serve less time in prison than Chicago cop Marco Proano, who was convicted in federal court in 2017 of civil rights violations after firing into a stolen car filled with teenagers, wounding two but killing no one. Proano got five years in prison but will likely serve 85 percent of that sentence.


Family Demands Autopsy in Police Killing of AZ Teen

Nearly 100 protesters, many holding signs and shouting at police, gathered outside Tempe, Az., Police Department headquarters on Thursday night to protest the fatal shooting by an officer of a 14-year-old boy holding an airsoft gun.

Nearly 100 protesters, many holding signs and shouting at police, gathered outside Tempe, Az., Police Department headquarters on Thursday night to protest the fatal shooting by an officer of a 14-year-old boy holding an airsoft gun, reports the Arizona Republic. The parents and brother of the boy, Antonio Arce, were among those at the demonstration. “They killed him,” shouted a sobbing Sandra Gonzalez, the boy’s mother. “I want you to know the worst racists exist in Phoenix, Arizona. They treat us as criminals. I want justice. I need justice.”

The boy’s brother, Jason Gonzalez, held back tears as he addressed the crowd. “We want to see body-cam footage,” he said. “We want the autopsy and to do an autopsy by ourselves, without police.” He said police would not let the family see Antonio Arce’s body or say how many times he was shot, or where on his body he was struck. Redeem Robinson told the crowd he was “tired of seeing mothers cry and weep over their sons who have been murdered by the police.”


One in Three OK Officers in 2018 Shootings Unidentified

There were at least 56 officer-involved shootings in Oklahoma last year, and officers remain unidentified in 17 of those cases. About one in five police agencies nationwide declined requests for officer identities in 2016 shootings.

There were at least 56 officer-involved shootings in Oklahoma last year, and officers remain unidentified in 17 of those cases, The Frontier reports. The number would be higher if not for court records which eventually disclosed the names of officers in six other cases. In 2016, the Washington Post reported that about 1 in 5 agencies nationwide that year had declined requests for officer identities. Officers in Oklahoma last year went unidentified in about one-third of all police shootings. The vast majority of the unidentified officers last year came from smaller agencies, many of which do not have public information officers and rely on the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate their officers’shootings. In a case from Bartlesville in which two officers killed the mother of a suspect more than a year ago, those officers’ names have not been released. When they were eventually cleared by Washington County District Attorney Kevin Buchanan, they were identified only as “Officer #1” and “Officer #2.”

Oklahoma City police were involved in 12 shootings in 2018, and officers were identified in 11 of those cases. Daniel Johnson was killed in May by a U.S. Marshals Service task force that included one Oklahoma City officer; it’s unclear who fired the shot. Johnson, who had a long criminal history, reportedly fired a rifle multiple times at task force members before being shot. Tulsa police were involved in four shootings last year, and identified the officers involved in three of those cases. Tulsa began a new policy last July of waiting about a week before releasing the names of its officers who were involved in a shooting. giving the district attorney time to review the case. Occasionally in cases where no officer ID has been released, the name later surfaces in a court filing.


Phoenix Grapples With Causes of Police Shootings Surge

Facing public backlash and demands for information about why Phoenix police fired more times than any other agency its size in the United States, the city is opening its data on the most common factors in dozens of shootings. But that has not provided any easy answers.

Phoenix, the country’s fifth most-populous city, has had 43 police shootings so far in 2018, more than any of the country’s four largest cities. Phoenix police officials blame the surge on increasingly violent people in the city. Activists have called cops trigger-happy and demand investment in communities. An analysis by The Arizona Republic shows prison history, mental illness and recent drug use were common factors in Phoenix’s soaring number of shootings.

Facing public backlash and demands for information about why Phoenix police fired more times than any other agency its size in the United States, Phoenix in November launched an online data page that catalogs its police shootings. Among the key takeaways as of Dec. 19: 21 people were killed by police gunfire; 36 of the 43 shootings this year involved suspects with guns, either real or replicas; 31 shootings involved white subjects, nine involved black subjects, and three involved Native Americans; 15 people shot by police were more than 40 years old this year, compared with three last year; 68 officers fired their weapon, more than double the 29 who fired in 2017. Michael White, a policing researcher in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University, says the broad patterns that the city’s shootings have in common don’t explain Phoenix’s high shooting rates, considering such factors are common in other cities as well. “I think the police have gotten much better, rather than worse, in dealing with those things,” White said, referring to improved police interactions with community members. “That makes me think that there’s something unique going on here.”


Chicago’s Ex-Chief Overstates Shootings Record: Paper

Though he was fired for his handling of a police shooting, mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy was only half wrong when claiming credit for a big drop in police shootings, a fact check found.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy lost his job in 2015 after the court-ordered release of video footage of a white officer’s fatal shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. Now that McCarthy is running for mayor, the Chicago Sun-Times fact-checked McCarthy’s claim that “there was almost a 70 percent reduction in police-related shootings under my tenure because of training, supervision and policy decisions.” The ruling: “half true.”

The first part of McCarthy’s claim, the newspaper found, was generally true. While the decrease fell short of 70 percent, officer-related shootings did fall substantially during his time as the city’s top cop: by 57 percent, when comparing McCarthy’s last year to the 12 months before he took the post, or 38 percent when comparing his last two years to the two years preceding his tenure. Experts, however, cast doubt on whether McCarthy could take credit for the decline, saying it’s virtually impossible to peg it to a single cause. And national crime data suggest Chicago’s drop in police shootings could be part of a larger downward trend. Police shootings have continued to fall since McCarthy left, suggesting greater forces may have been at play than McCarthy’s leadership alone. Myriad factors, both within the department and on the streets, are “hugely complex” and make it practically impossible to single out any one among them, said Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an expert on police accountability.


Training Urged to Prevent Wrongful Police Shootings

“Merely because an individual has a firearm or some other weapon does not mean that they are an individual who needs to be shot,” says criminologist and former police officer David Klinger.

The recent shooting deaths of two black men by police have reignited protests about police use of force. Both men had guns and police wrongly mistook them for suspects. On Thanksgiving a white police officer fatally shot Emantic Bradford, Jr., 21, at an Alabama mall. Earlier in November near Chicago, a police officer fatally shot Jemel Roberson, 26, a nightclub security guard who had subdued a gunman. Joe Loughlin, a former assistant police chief in Portland, Me., who wrote a book about deadly police encounters, says what’s needed is better police training and public conversation about how police work, reports NPR. He says most officers in such situations say, “I just had no choice I reacted to what was in front of me at the time.”

Criminologist and ex-police officer David Klinger of the University of Missouri St. Louis says that because police often have to make split second decisions in situations where guns are involved, good training is essential. “And one of the points of training should be that merely because an individual has a firearm or some other weapon does not mean that they are an individual who needs to be shot,” says Klinger. Pete Blair, who runs an active-shooter response training center at Texas State University, says that when police are under stress, “they may miss key identifiers that somebody is security or another police officer in there.” Criminologist and University of California law Prof. Franklin Zimring says African Americans are more at risk when it comes to being killed in police shootings. The reasons vary. Some studies say its a systemic culture of racial bias in police departments that affects officers of all colors, more than individual attitudes.


Phoenix Chief Assails NY Times Report on Shootings

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said the New York Times, in an article this week, “misrepresents that we are blaming civilians” for an increase in shootings by police officers. Williams said the city has asked the National Police
Foundation to analyze the trend.

In some of her first public comments in recent months, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said a New York Times article and headline “misrepresents” what she and other leaders believe about this year’s spike in police shootings, the Arizona Republic reports. The article, published Monday, focused on a handful of recent and high-profile cases involving the police department’s use of force. While the report was factually correct, Williams and other police officials were incensed at the Times’ headline: “How Phoenix Explains a Rise in Police Violence: It’s the Civilians’ Fault.” In a social media message, Williams said, “the headline implies that we have already made up our minds as to an explanation for the rise in violent encounters.” She added, “We cannot explain the rise, which is exactly why we have turned to experts and scholars to help us get an understanding of the sociological component to these incidents.”

Williams said the Times headline “misrepresents that we are blaming civilians.” The Republic previously reported that Phoenix police officers have shot at people 41 times so far this year, more than police in similarly sized and even significantly larger cities. There were 21 Phoenix police shootings in 2017, 25 in 2016 and 17 in 2015. Phoenix surpassed its previous record of 31 shootings, set in 2013, in July. The shootings led officials to commission a $149,000 review of  police-shooting data. The National Police Foundation is reviewing shooting data spanning a decade. Williams said she hoped findings from the report would be released soon, although they are not likely until next year. Some 35 of the department’s 41 shootings involved individuals who had a real or replica gun. Police have cited an increase in assaults on police officers as a cause for the spike in shootings, saying such incidents have climbed 45 percent.