Legal Caps May Block $37M Payout in Police Shooting

The $37 million verdict won by the family of Korryn Gaines against Baltimore County police is one of the largest ever against law enforcement officers in Maryland. Experts question whether they will see all that money. Maryland’s cap on local governments’ liabilities in such cases make it unlikely Gaines’ relatives and her young son Kodi will see the full amount.

The verdict of more than $37 million won Friday by the family of Korryn Gaines against Baltimore County police is one of the largest ever against law enforcement officers in Maryland. Legal experts question whether they will actually see all that money, the Baltimore Sun reports. Maryland’s cap on local governments’ liabilities in such cases — and the propensity of judges to lower large awards on appeal — make it unlikely Gaines’ relatives and her young son Kodi will see the full amount. The 23-year-old Gaines was shot and killed in her home in 2016 after a six-hour standoff with police. Her son Kodi, 5 at the time, was struck by gunfire twice, in the face and the elbow.

A jury of six women found that the first shot from the police officer who fired at Gaines was not reasonable and violated her and her son’s civil rights under state and federal statutes. The Local Government Tort Claims Act limits government’s payout in a lawsuit to $400,000 per plaintiff, or $800,000 for claims connected to a single incident. Baltimore County could be on the hook for more, because the jury found the officer violated the Gaines’ federal constitutional rights, the penalties for which are not capped by state law. A. Dwight Pettit, who has filed suits against police but wasn’t involved in this case, predicted an intense fight in the appellate courts. “You’re starting at least at $800,000 and it could be more if the Constitutional claims survive,” he said. “A lot of these jurisdictions have become emboldened by the cap. They don’t think they have real exposure. If these jurisdictions had to pay out these large amounts of money, these police brutality cases would go away very, very quickly.”


Flynn Retires as Milwaukee Chief After 10 Years

Only the second outside chief in department’s history, Edward Flynn is credited with modernizing the agency, introducing new technologies and raising the profile of the department in national policing circles.

Edward Flynn retires Friday after more than 45 years in law enforcement, including 30 as a police chief, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. When he first came to Milwaukee a decade ago, some theorized he took the job as a stepping-stone. Now he is leaving the city as its longest-serving chief since Harold Breier, who held the post for 20 years. Flynn, 69, arrived in 2008, heralded as a “change-agent” and only the second outside chief in department’s history. He is credited with modernizing the agency, introducing new technologies and raising the profile of the department in national policing circles.

His decisions in Milwaukee have not always been popular — and some continued to generate criticism throughout his tenure — but they have substantially changed how the agency operates. “He did bring to the Milwaukee Police Department a whole world of information and a whole world of connections,” said Michael Scott of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. “He’s got a strong personality,” Scott said. “When he thinks he’s right, he thinks he’s right and he’ll let you know that.” In the past few years, he came to be seen as standoffish by political leaders, activists and some residents and rank-and-file officers. Major city police chiefs usually don’t last longer than three years in a given department. Flynn made it 10. “That’s like a lifetime in policing,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. Flynn was well-respected in national policing circles throughout this tenure, despite criticism he faced in Milwaukee. “He was one of the voices everyone looked to,” said Charles Ramsey, former police chief in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Six of the lowest homicide totals in 25 years occurred in Flynn’s tenure, though murders spiked in 2015 and 2016 to totals last seen in the early ‘90s. Citizen complaints dropped off sharply and use-of-force has declined.


Noise and Crime: A Link Too Often Ignored

The failure to enforce municipal noise ordinances can create an environment that encourages lawbreaking, and can sometimes mean that police miss criminal behavior, warns an expert who specializes in the impact of noise on public health.

According to a report issued last month by New York City Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the New York Police Department (NYPD) investigated some 1.3 million complaints about noise between 2010 and 2015—but they resulted in just 5,482 NYPD summons.

The discrepancy needs a closer look.

Noise ranks high on the list of New York City complaints—and as in many other cities it can be an indicator of criminal problems or behavior that requires police action.

Nearly 30 years ago, Carmine Santa Maria and I published an article in John Jay College’s Law Enforcement News journal focusing on noise and crime. The headline on the front page of that issue underlined our argument: “Forum: Police have a big role to play in curing one of America’s foremost stressors—noise pollution.”

After discussing the adverse impacts of noise on health, and citing some cases where noises in apartments may be clues to abuse of family members taking place in those apartments, we pointed out that not enforcing noise ordinances creates an environment that encourages lawbreaking.

Our article called for greater involvement of police officers in the reduction of noise in New York City.  In fact, after this article was published I worked with New York City police on ways to resolve noise complaints, and I also spoke with new police officers about the hazards of noise and what actions could be taken to curb noise.

According to the Comptroller’s report, “Silencing Excessive NYC Noise a Major Challenge,” the majority of the noise complaints in the five-year period covered by the analysis were handled by the NYPD and the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

A survey of New Yorkers, also noted in this report, found that 92 percent of the respondents reported the noise complaint recurred and 83 percent were dissatisfied with how the complaint was handled.

Comptroller DiNapoli commented that both the NYPD and DEP have limited resources to respond to noise complaints quickly.

In a preliminary discussion with several community affairs police officers, I have learned that police precincts have already explored why large numbers of complaints have yielded few resolutions as indicated by the DiNapoli report.

Too often, the noise has abated when police officers arrive at apartments or business establishments, or the sounds are not as offensive to the officers as they are to the complainants.

I have also been told that many of the complaints are made by the same person over and over again and that accounts for the high numbers of complaints. The DiNapoli report indicated that the NYPD has assigned Neighborhood Coordination Officers to mediate these repeat complaints and to document resolutions to these complaints which they are to send regularly to borough commanders.

It appears that NYPD has examined potential explanations for why summonses issued are low and complaint numbers very high.  The NYPD is also logging data on how repeated complaints are resolved.

Nevertheless, in light of the DiNapoli report, one would also like to know how officers are instructed to respond to noise complaints, whether they employ objective tools to assess levels of noise, and how informed they are about the dangers of noise to health and well-being—as well as the potential link between noise and crime.

Noise complaints may be a clue to what else is going on in an apartment.  It could be the beating of a child or spouse or older person.  Drug dealing and prostitution also can elicit noises within buildings.

Here’s one example.

Several years ago, in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn NY, an elderly woman complained about noise from an apartment above hers in a small rental building.  Late at night, there were people running up and down the stairs to the apartment above, and a car parked in front of her apartment played loud music with occasional horn honking.

After speaking with her caretaker and learning that they were dealing drugs upstairs, I contacted local precinct.  The police investigated and the individuals were removed from the apartment.  The landlord called to thank me, and to say he would address any problems the woman had in her apartment promptly.

Arline Bronzaft

Arline Bronzaft

New York City is not the only major city in our country besieged by noise issues.

While it is true that many US cities have noise ordinances, and citizens are directed to contact police departments and other appropriate city agencies with their noise complaints, I’m not familiar with any study comparable to the DiNapoli report that has assessed how successfully noise complaints have been resolved in these cities.

Citizens across the country have contacted me at GrowNYC to assist them with noise complaints. I invite you to send me a note at our website or comment on this essay to tell me how your city is measuring up, and of course I stand ready to assist the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies in addressing a problem that has too often been ignored.

Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D. , Professor Emerita, Lehman College, CUNY, serves on the Board of GrowNYC and is the co-author of “Why Noise Matters” (written with four British colleagues). Her research and writings on the effects of noise on mental and physical health are included in edited books and encyclopedias, academic journals and more popular magazines. She serves as an expert witness on noise impacts on health in the US and abroad. She welcomes readers’ comments.


Chicago Police Commander Is Shot To Death

The man suspected of killing Chicago police commander Paul Bauer was wearing body armor and had a long felony record. Bauer was the first Chicago officer shot to death since 2011.

The man suspected of killing a Chicago Police commander Tuesday was wearing body armor and has a long felony record, including a conviction for armed robbery, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Paul Bauer, commander of the Near North District, was shot several times at about 2 p.m. in the downtown Loop area. Earlier in the day, he took part in “active shooter” training. Just before the shooting, tactical officers had spotted a suspicious man nearby. The man ran when the officers tried to do a “street stop” to interview him. Bauer, 53, heard the officers put out a description of the suspect on his radio.

The 44-year-old suspect’s felony record goes back to 1998, when he was charged with armed robbery. He was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison. In 2007, the man was charged with being a felon in possession of body armor, possession of a defaced firearm and possession of heroin. He got three years in prison on the gun charge. In 2011, he was charged with resisting an officer and battery. He was convicted of battery and given 30 days of community service. The suspect was convicted of drug possession in 2014 and received a two-year prison term. Bauer was the first Chicago officer shot to death on or off duty since 2011, and is among 13 officers shot to death since 1998. In a recent interview, Bauer talked about the monthly “Coffee with the Commander” he held with residents and business leaders in an effort to rebuild the shattered trust between citizens and police.


Top Lawmaker: I’ll Fight Trump Police Cuts ‘Tooth and Nail’

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), co-chair of the House Law Enforcement Caucus, says the Trump plan to downgrade the Community Oriented Policing Services Office is an “odd way…to show support for the brave men and women in blue who rely on the office and grants to keep our neighborhoods safe.”

The co-chairman of the House Law Enforcement Caucus has criticized a Trump Administration proposal to downgrade the U.S. Justice Department’s 24-year-old Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office.

In its budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 that was sent to Congress on Monday, the White House said it planned to fold the COPS agency into DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs and asked Congress to reduce the unit’s budget drastically, from about $137 last year million to $64 million next year for police hiring

Cong. Bill Pascrell, Jr.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) said, “Eliminating the COPS Office and slashing funding for the COPS Hiring Program grants in half is an odd way for President Trump to show support for the brave men and women in blue who rely on the office and grants to keep our neighborhoods safe.”

Pascrell noted that 135 House members signed a letter drafted by Pascrell with Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) urging Trump to keep COPS an independent agency with DOJ and to maintain its funding. “I will fight these cuts tooth and nail to ensure they do not happen.”

The Justice Department portrayed the plan as an efficiency move, saying that having another agency administer policing grants along with a long list of other federal aid already being dispensed could allow for the elimination of more than 200 jobs in the department, including about one-third of the COPS Office staff.

DOJ contended that the change would “centralize and strengthen the partnerships [the department] has with its colleagues in State and Local law enforcement and to promote community policing not only through its hiring programs but also through the advancement of strategies for policing innovations and other innovative crime-fighting techniques.”

Because Congress this past weekend approved a two-year federal budget, it will now be up to appropriations committees in each house to recommend specific spending amounts for all government programs. Lawmakers may decide to block the plan to slash the COPS program, although they will be under pressure to make budget cuts governmentwide.

Women’s advocacy groups are expected to oppose another section of the DOJ budget that would also transfer grantmaking from the Office on Violence Against Women to the Office of Justice Programs, but only three jobs in the women’s office would be lost, and the annual grant total would rise slightly, to $486 million.

The Justice Department budget proposal reflects Trump administration priorities of fighting the opioid epidemic, combatting violent crime and drug trafficking gangs and providing tough immigration enforcement.

It seeks more than $109 million for local crime-fighting efforts, including $70 million for a partnership with state and local authorities called Project Safe Neighborhoods that targets gun offenders, the Associated Press reports.

Project Safe Neighborhoods, a partnership with U.S. Attorneys’ offices, “would be dramatically increased … from $6.5 million,” says the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA).

The budget proposal would move the tobacco and alcohol-related responsibilities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into the Treasury Department, which officials say would eliminate duplicative work and would allow the agency to focus more closely on fighting street crime.

DOJ is asking for $13.2 million and 25 new positions to help “modernize” and speed up the ATF’s ability to register restricted weapons, such as machine guns and suppressors, after a steady increase in applications.

The antidrug budget includes a proposed $31.2 million for eight new “heroin enforcement groups” to be sent to hard-hit Drug Enforcement Administration offices. Additional agents would target Mexican drug gangs.

The proposal requetsts $39.8 million for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts and is experiencing a backlog of immigration cases. That would include 75 new immigration judges and additional attorneys. The administration wants $25 million for a technological boost for the office, which it says still struggles with a “wholly paper-based system that is both cumbersome and inefficient.”

DOJ also would limit annual expenditures from its Crime Victim Fund to $2.3 billion. The fund was created by Congress in 1984 and is comprised largely of fines paid in federal criminal cases. The fines include huge payments by companies in some major white-collar-crime cases. The fund has amassed more than $12 billion over the years, only a small fraction of which Congress allows to be spent on crime victim aid each year.

The Trump administration is proposing that some of the crime victim fund be used for other purposes, such as projects to reduce violence against women and for grants to fight juvenile crime.

Crime victim advocates may oppose oppose changes in the fund that would divert money intended to aid victims indefinitely to other programs.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcomed.


Baltimore Cops Convicted; 16 Face Sentencing

Eight officers, a five-man drug crew, one bail bondsman and two other civilians will be sentenced on federal crimes. All were linked in a web of crime that stretched from peddlers of deadly heroin to a celebrated unit of plainclothes police.

The conviction of two Baltimore police detectives on racketeering charges — six others pleaded guilty without a trial — opens a new phase in the federal prosecution of the city’s formerly elite Gun Trace Task Force, the Baltimore Sun reports. U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake will hand down prison sentences for eight officers, a five-man drug crew, one bail bondsman and two other civilians. All were linked in a web of crime that stretched from peddlers of deadly heroin to a celebrated unit of plainclothes police. A Philadelphia officer still awaits trial in Baltimore. Prosecutors said Eric Troy Snell, a former Baltimore cop, partnered with the rogue cops to sell cocaine and heroin they seized from Baltimore’s streets. Snell remains jailed.

The six officers who pleaded guilty admitted to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in drugs, cash and jewelry from people they encountered on the streets. Some officers nearly doubled their salaries by billing the city for overtime hours they didn’t work. They admitted to lying to cover up the schemes. The six men who pleaded guilty face maximum prison sentences ranging from 20 to 40 years. Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor were convicted on Monday by a jury of racketeering conspiracy and robbery. They each face as much as 60 years in prison. Five men have been found guilty of operating the heroin ring that led federal investigators to the corrupt police. One detective has admitted to running interference for the drug dealers. A new police department corruption unit is investigating at least 10 more city officers accused in testimony of participating in or facilitating the gun unit’s corruption. Acting Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa says oither anti-corruption initiatives are being put in place to enhance supervision of specialty units and overtime spending.


How ‘Patient Courage’ Can Reduce Police Shootings 

A noted criminologist finds a useful lesson for law enforcement agencies trying to address use-of-force incidents in a speech half a century ago by former President Dwight Eisenhower.

The US Park Police killing of Bijan Ghaisar last November can now be seen on line, thanks to another police agency that recorded the shooting on a Dash-Cam.

No one can decide whether this shooting was legal, based only on the video and press accounts. But everyone can decide that the police lacked what President Dwight D. Eisenhower once asked our entire nation to display: patient courage.

On Dec.2 1954, at the height of the Cold War, Eisenhower was under political pressure to authorize military action. His response was that every other means had not yet been exhausted:


Dwight Eisenhower, official portrait 1959 via Flickr

“The hard way,” he said, “is to have the courage to be patient, tirelessly to seek out every single avenue open to us” before using violence.

Yet many police agencies fail to teach that message. Instead, their systems allow officers to put themselves in harm’s way, where there can be no patience if they reasonably believe there is a risk to life.

At the time Ghaisar was shot, he was apparently not wanted for any violent crime, nor for a hit-and-run, nor for a serious offense. His crime was refusing to stop for a police officer.

That is not a legal basis to shoot or kill, by any US law or firearms policy I have seen in a half-century of educating police. Yet somehow, at least one officer decided that it was. What kind of police system can produce that kind of decision?

The US Park Police have been here before. In 1994, a disturbed man with a knife taped to his hand chased a police officer around Lafayette Park in front of the White House. The officer called for backup, and a small group of officers formed a semicircle with guns pointed at the man.

While he ignored police orders to drop the knife, the man stood very still, staring at police from well beyond reach of his knife. Other police cleared bystanders away, and the standoff continued for several minutes. Then a siren was heard as another police car drove up near he scene.

A US Park Police officer emerged, ran over to the other officers already dealing with the man, and immediately shot him twice, fatally.

The shooting police officer was not prosecuted, but none of the other officers present had not deemed it necessary to shoot the man. Different reactions to the situation by different officers reveal a system problem of excessive decentralization, in which no one is in command at the scene of a life-or-death standoff.

For decades, some police agencies have required supervisory approval by radio even to engage in a hot pursuit, usually limited to a clear risk of serious harm (which seems to have been lacking in the Ghaisar case). The late Yale police scholar Albert Reiss proposed in 1980 that the same should be done for “permission to shoot,” without which police should follow the UK police practice of avoiding direct engagement with armed persons.

That is just what Camden, NJ police officers did in their celebrated, non-lethal arrest of a knife-wielding man in late 2015, as recently noted in the Washington Post. Under their philosophy of “Hippocratic Policing” that first does no (unnecessary) harm, they had the courage to be patient. But their action was not the heroic courage of individuals. It was the systemic courage of training, procedures, review and management.

Even in a police agency supporting systemic courage, individual officers may need the courage of self-control. When a car stops for police and drives off, not once but repeatedly, there is a natural fear of humiliation of the officers in the eyes of their peers.

By shooting, they may save face—but not lives.

It takes a very strong system to support the first officer on the scene in Camden, who did not use his legal powers to shoot the man with the knife. Instead, he took the lead for what grew to some 15 officers who were all holding fire together.

Lawrence Sherman

Lawrence W. Sherman

Police agencies can build patient courage without risking injury to police officers. Some have opposed patient courage as more dangerous to police. But that argument misses the point: that officers have no duty to put themselves in harm’s way when there is no direct threat to anyone.

It is only when they lack the courage to be patient that they create a threat to themselves. Patient courage is not only wise. It also brings more police officers home from work each day, alive and well.

See also: Can Police Change Their Mindset From Warriors to Guardians?

Lawrence W. Sherman is Chair of the Police Executive Programme at Cambridge University and Distinguished University Professor of Criminology at the University of Maryland. He welcomes readers’ comments.


NYPD Agrees to Return Property Quicker After Arrests

Each year, thousands of New Yorkers lose their cash, phones, and other personal property because of the city’s unlawful policy and practice, said a lawsuit that was settled on Monday.

A new agreement requiring the New York Police Department to change how it handles property seized during arrests likely will hasten the return of cellphones, cash and other items, the Wall Street Journal reports. A judge approved a settlement on Monday of a federal lawsuit claiming the NYPD unconstitutionally keeps money and other property long after a case is resolved. “Each year thousands of New Yorkers lose their cash, phones, and other personal property because of the City’s unlawful policy and practice,” said the lawsuit.

The NYPD agreed to follow procedures for returning personal property, and to train its staff and conduct audits. The suit claims that reclaiming property is a persistent problem. In an informal survey, about half of the clients of the organization Bronx Defenders  didn’t get a receipt for their property when they were arraigned, said Niji Jain, the lead plaintifffs’ attorney on the case. In fiscal year 2015, the NYPD made some $7 million in revenue from unclaimed cash and sale of property. Even if charges are dropped, getting seized property back is no easy task, Jain said. Those who were arrested, had charges dropped and attempted to reclaim their property routinely were referred back and forth between the district attorney’s office and the police department, she said. Victor Encarnacion, a 37-year-old delivery truck driver, was arrested on drug charges in 2014 and had his iPhone seized as evidence. A judge dismissed the charges six months later and he and his lawyers made repeated attempts to get his property back. He retrieved his phone after the suit was filed in 2016.


Vanessa Trump Unharmed by ‘Suspicious’ Substance

The wife of Donald Trump Jr., was rushed to a New York hospital Monday after opening a package containing a “suspicious” white substance that was later determined to be “non-hazardous.” Trump Jr. called the incident “truly disgusting.”

Vanessa Trump, the wife of Donald Trump Jr., was rushed to a New York hospital Monday after opening a package containing a “suspicious” white substance, USA Today reports. The substance was later determined to be “non-hazardous,” said a police spokeswoman. Officers responded to a 911 call at 10 a.m. at the couple’s apartment on East 54th Street, where Vanessa Trump said she had come into contact with the substance. Trump and two other people, whose names were not released, were taken to a hospital as a precaution. Police and the Secret Service were investigating.

Trump Jr. tweeted, “Thankful that Vanessa & my children are safe and unharmed after the incredibly scary situation that occurred this morning. Truly disgusting that certain individuals choose to express their opposing views with such disturbing behavior.” Vanessa Trump, 40, is an actress and model who has been married to Trump Jr. since 2005. The couple have five children. President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, said, “How disturbed must a person be to do what they did to a mother of five young children? This dangerous and reckless act goes beyond political differences.”


Two OH Officers Killed in Domestic Violence Call

The officers were the first ever killed in the city of Westerville, Ohio. The suspect, who was wounded and hospitalized, has a record of domestic violence and gun possession.

Two aggravated murder charges were filed Sunday against Quentin Lamar Smith, the man police say shot and killed two veteran Westerville, Oh., police officers on Saturday in what was little short of an ambush, the Columbus Dispatch reports. As soon as officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli went inside Smith’s home, Smith pointed a handgun at them. All three men fired. Joering died at the scene; Morelli died a short time later at a hospital. Smith was wounded. Smith has a long history of violence. He has assault and domestic violence cases dating to 2005 in Cuyahoga County. In 2008, prosecutors charged Smith with aggravated burglary, burglary and domestic violence. He pleaded to the domestic violence and burglary charges and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Westerville police officers had responded several times to domestic violence calls at the home where Saturday’s fatal shootings occurred. The incident Saturday began with a 911 call about noon. A woman made an unintelligible sound, and the line went dead. A dispatcher called the number back, but the call went to a voice-mail account belonging to Candace Smith. Officers arrived at the home, and no one answered the door initially. Then, at 12:13, officers reported that they were making contact with the residents. Shots were filed a minute later.