Many Baltimore Police Officers Reluctant to Make Arrests

Some 43 percent of officers told a city councilman they do not feel “comfortable making self-initiated arrests.” “They’re afraid,” says Councilman “Yitzy” Schleifer. “In this political environment, you have to justify every move you make.”

More than 40 percent of Baltimore police officers who took part in a recent survey said they don’t feel comfortable making proactive arrests, the Baltimore Sun reports. The survey by Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer was sent to police department leadership, officers and civilian members who responded anonymously. Some 43 percent said they do not feel “comfortable making self-initiated arrests,” which Schleifer said refers to proactive calls when officers are on patrol and they witness an incident and intervene, as opposed to calls they respond to through 911. “They’re afraid,” Schleifer said. “In this political environment, you have to justify every move you make.”

Schleifer shared the results with Acting Police Commissioner Michael Harrison. “It’s refreshing. He’s seen challenges similar to ours,” Schleifer said. He said Harrison is taking action by evaluating the command staff and determining what, if any, changes need to be made. Forty-four percent of responding police said they don’t “fully understand the consent decree” under which the police department is operating. One officer wrote: “Morale won’t rise until … officers receive consistent public support from the Mayor, City Council and State’s Attorney. No one is asking that corruption be tolerated. What we are asking is that when we investigate crimes and make arrests or issue citations that our elected leaders support us when we encounter resistance.” A detective said: “We don’t have enough people in my unit. The volume of cases we have is absurd given our manpower. It leads to mistakes, and inadequate follow up investigations which lead to sloppy prosecutions. None of which is for lack of trying.”


Police Checking Whether ‘Empire’ Attack Was Staged

Chicago police are investigating the possibility that the reported attack on “Empire” star Jussie Smollett was staged as they question two people, including an actor connected with the show.

Chicago police are investigating the possibility that the reported attack on “Empire” star Jussie Smollett was staged as they question two people including an actor connected with the show, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Detectives believe the men, both of whom are black, are the same people shown in a surveillance image released by police days after the purported attack, said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. Detectives were able to trace their location through ride-hailing and taxi records from the area where Smollett said the attack happened. Officers searched a home where at least one of the “persons of interest” lives and recovered personal effects including cell phones.

Smollett spoke to detectives about the case on Thursday. Guglielmi tweeted that, “Media reports [about] the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives.” Smollett told “Good Morning America” that he believed the two people caught on a surveillance camera were his attackers. He said, “I want them to find the people that did it … I want them to see I fought back.” Smollett said he was on the phone with his manager after leaving a Subway restaurant about 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 when he heard someone shout “Empire” as he crossed an intersection.


‘Devaluing Black Bodies’: How Police-Shooting Videos Can Thwart the Search for Justice

Eyewitness videos of shootings have helped bring accountability to law enforcement. But they can also traumatize African Americans who see themselves and those they love in these fatal encounters.

On July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling, 37, died after police in Louisiana tackled and shot him outside the convenience store where he was selling CDs. The following day, Philando Castile was shot and killed by police in Minnesota during a traffic stop.

The horrific eyewitness videos of both shootings immediately went viral on social media. One social media post of the leaked video of the 2016 death of Delrawn Small, shot by an off-duty New York City police officer in a traffic dispute, has been viewed more than 70,000 times.

Historically, such searing images have helped gather support for legal reforms against racial discrimination and state violence against African American people. During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, photographers captured images of African-American demonstrators being attacked by police dogs and law enforcement officials wielding billy clubs and fire hoses.

rodney king

A video of Rodney King’s beating at the hands of Los Angeles police sparked outrage and riots in 1991.

A generation later, in 1991, video of Rodney King being clubbed and kicked by police was broadcast on national and world news.

In the digital age, however, images of police violence have never been as widespread. No longer confined to mainstream news coverage, these incidents are on our Facebook and Twitter feeds instantly and continually: police firing at Walter Scott as he bolts away; five-year-old Kodi Gaines telling his mother “They trying to kill us” moments before police shot and killed her and wounded him in their apartment; Eric Garner pleading “I can’t breathe” as New York City officers gripped him in a chokehold.

With the ubiquity of smartphones and dash and body cameras, there is ample footage to expose police violence and grab the nation’s attention. In a virtually unlimited digital space, the images spread fast and far. Footage has refuted police accounts, revealed crucial facts withheld from families of victims, and sparked campaigns for justice and reform.

“The racial justice movement against state violence would not have accelerated at the quick pace that it did without these videos,” said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of history, race, and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

Yet because the images of police violence are so pervasive, they inflict a unique harm on viewers, particularly African Americans, who see themselves and those they love in these fatal encounters.

This recognition becomes a form of violence in and of itself—and even more so when justice is denied.

“Linked Fate”

Social scientists have a theory about “linked fate”: In the African American community, individual life chances are recognized as inextricably tied to the race as a whole. So when black people watch a video of police violence against another black person, they see themselves or their loved ones in that person’s place, knowing that the same fateful encounter could very well happen to them.

“It’s an image now stuck in your head forever,” said Monnica Williams, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut who specializes in race-based trauma. “You carry that horror around with you.”

Viewing such images, various studies show, induces stress, fear, frustration, anger, and anxiety. There is also preliminary evidence suggesting that these images could lead to a cascading series of physical ailments, including eating and sleeping disorders, high blood pressure, and heart problems.

Williams said that viewers also start to think differently about their world. They feel their future is limited, while any symbol of the police can impart a sense of fear and dread.

Khalil Muhammad

Khalil Muhammad courtesy

The images “remind them of the cheapness of black life,” Muhammad said.

This feeling deepens when these videos showing violent black death are treated by the media as death porn or perverse entertainment.

“To just have black bodies laying out on the street,” Williams said, “like roadkill for everybody to see—this is dehumanizing and traumatic.”

There is also concern that viewers might eventually become inured to these images, indelible as they are, which might dampen efforts to hold accountable the police officers and the criminal justice system. Conversely, such repeated footage can also make some viewers so piercingly aware of police violence that they instinctively disengage from the police rather than risk facing them.

Blaming the Victim

It is not only videos of police violence that traumatize black viewers, but also the response from commenters once the footage has been posted.

On social media, some users blame the victim in “why didn’t he just…” or “she should have just …” admonishments. Some white Americans “don’t understand, see, or appreciate our reality,” said Williams of the University of Connecticut.

“They walk around in a very privileged space so they don’t even see racism that’s happening in front of them.”

The result, Williams said, is that “they are constantly hurting us.” And a seemingly innocuous response, or no response at all from friends, to a video of police violence on social media can carry over into everyday life, causing some black Americans to mask their pain and anger in spaces such as the office or a dinner party.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states and the District of Columbia have laws for body cameras. But in some states, to the frustration of impacted family members, activists, and local politicians, such footage is not public record, or local governments can limit how much footage is released.

In some cases, it is clear why police would want to keep their behavior hidden.

After body-cam footage was posted of a BART officer in West Oakland fatally shooting 28-year-old Sahleem Tindle three times in the back last January, as he wrestled on the ground with another man, it has been viewed more than 10,000 times. The media had reported that police initially said Tindle had been wielding a gun.

Still, Tindle’s mother, Yolanda Banks-Reed, told me, “I don’t just want likes and shares, I want help.”

Some videos that refute police accounts have aided in indictments and convictions. In August 2018, Roy Oliver, a police officer in Texas who shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for Edwards’s murder. Police camera footage played a key role in the trial: Edwards and four other high-schoolers were driving away from what a 911-caller had described as a rowdy house party in a Dallas suburb when Oliver fired five shots into the teens’ car.

Before his arrest, Oliver said that their vehicle had backed toward his partner, and that he feared for his partner’s life. But the footage played for jurors showed the car backing up then driving away, past Oliver and his partner. One leaked clip showed Edwards’s stepbrother exiting the car with his hands up pleading with officers: “Please help us. He’s dead. Please don’t shoot me.”

Still, the videos may not have been the decisive factor in the court case. During the trial, Oliver’s partner essentially testified against him, saying he did not fear for his life, and did not think he would be hit by the teens’ car.

Few Substantial Reforms

Ultimately, Williams said, video accounts alone have brought about few, if any, substantial police reforms. They have brought widespread awareness that implicit racial bias indeed exists within police departments. However, that basic fact is now bitterly, painfully clear, and the question is what comes next for America, in terms of actual change.

“This isn’t rocket science,” said Muhammad of Harvard. “We certainly don’t want more of them to strengthen the case.”

The advent of new technologies has allowed us to chronicle and testify to a horribly entrenched truth: The American justice system continually, daily devalues black bodies. It has only been forced to reckon with the reality of its own bias when a flash of video shows, in soul-wrenching detail, the ease with which a life can be extinguished.

Kia Gregory

Kia Gregory

This revelation comes at a cost to the well-being of African Americans across the country who are exposed to these images at the swipe of a finger or the click of a mouse. And so far, with precious little to show by way of significant and lasting reform, the cost has been too high.

This is a condensed version of an essay published in The New Republic by Kia Gregory, a New York-based freelance writer, as her project for the 2018 John Jay Justice Reporting Fellowship. Read her full essay here. She welcomes comments from readers.


Chicago’s Van Dyke Moved to Federal Prison, Beaten

Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was beaten in his prison cell shortly after being transferred from Illinois custody to a Connecticut federal prison last week, It was not immediately clear why Van Dyke was sent to a federal prison from Illinois.

Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was beaten in his prison cell after being transferred from Illinois custody to a Connecticut federal prison last week, the Chicago Tribune reports. The attack occurred a few hours after Van Dyke arrived at the Connecticut facility, a move his family and attorneys only learned about after it was done. “We are petrified and very worried about Jason’s safety,” said Van Dyke’s wife, Tiffany. “Jason wants to serve his time and does not want any trouble. We are hoping prison officials will take quick action to rectify this situation.”

It was unclear why Van Dyke was transferred out of Illinois, where he had been held since he was sentenced to 81 months in prison last month.  He was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the 2014 fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. The former officer was held in isolation when he was in an Illinois prison, and no security threats or other incidents occurred there that would have prompted such a dramatic transfer, a source said. The federal Bureau of Prisons website lists Van Dyke as at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, a low- to minimum-security facility. He was put in the general population, said a source, who added that the former officer has received other threats since last week’s reported beating. Van Dyke isn’t the first high-profile ex-police officer from Illinois to be attacked after being moved into federal custody. A month after his transfer to a federal Indiana prison for security reasons, Drew Peterson was attacked in 2017 by a fellow inmate armed with a food tray in the dining area. Peterson, 65. a former Bolingbrook, Il., police sergeant and convicted murderer, was jumped in the maximum-security facility in Terre Haute.


Should California Officers Have Killed Rapper?

Six Vallejo, Ca., officers responded to a report of a man with a gun unconscious at a drive-in restaurant. The man ended up shot to death by an officer. Did police overreact?

A shooting by Vallejo, Ca., police last Saturday of a man who had passed out inside a car with a gun bears striking similarities to two other Bay Area police shootings: All ended in death and prompted criticism from the slain men’s families that officers overreacted and should have defused the situation, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Use-of-force experts say the sight of a gun poses a potential threat to police even if it’s on an unconscious person, and as the person awakes, officers must make split-second decisions. “Those officers always have that potential threat … during these situations,” said Jeff Martin, a former San Jose police sergeant who is a use-of-force consultant. “Should they make the decision that makes it more likely they’ll be shot or should they make a decision biased in favor of their own survival?”

Civil rights experts say police have to do more to avoid a violent outcome. The latest case occurred at a Taco Bell drive-through line where two officers responded to a report of Willie McCoy, 21, slumped over in his Mercedes. Officers saw a handgun on the man’s lap and called for backup. A third officer arrived and the three tried to open the car door without waking him to take the gun but the car was locked. Three other officers arrived. Officers were in the process of putting a car behind McCoy’s car when he awoke and looked at them. They commanded him to put his hands up but said McCoy reached for the gun and they opened fire. McCoy, a local rapper known as Willie Bo, died at the scene. The gun McCoy had was a fully loaded .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun with an extended magazine. All six officers are on administrative leave and the shooting is under investigation.


Traffic Stops Have ‘No Discernible Impact’ on Crime Prevention: Study

Researchers focused on Nashville, where police traffic stops are the highest in the nation, and found that they had “no discernible effect” on crime rates—contrary to the beliefs of many traditional law enforcement managers.

Do traffic stops in high-crime areas deter crime and protect public safety?

For many police agencies, the answer is obvious. Making officers a “visible” pro-active presence on the streets has long been regarded as a valid law enforcement strategy.

But when a group of researchers decided to test that proposition, they came up with a different answer.

The researchers, in a paper for the Stamford Computational Policy Lab, analyzed traffic stops during 2017 in Nashville, Tenn., where police have the notable distinction of making more traffic stops per capita than anywhere else in the nation, and which was the subject of a 1999 report by the American civil Liberties Union, “Driving While Black,”  that noted the disproportional impact the strategy has on African-Americans.

They found, instead, that traffic stops “had no discernible effect on serious crime rates, and only infrequently resulted in the recovery of contraband of a custodial arrest.”

In the paper, written as part of a series for the New York University School of Law’s  Policing Colloquium, which was commissioned by the city of Nashville,  the researchers reported that the majority of the 246,000 traffic stops by Nashville police they reviewed were for “non-moving violations,” such as broken headlights, or expired driver’s registrations—and suggested these could be cut back sharply with no impact on public safety.

Nashville police, in fact, had already reduced the number of traffic stops by the time researchers begun studying them, but the number was still far higher proportionally than other U.S. cities—and officers overwhelmingly stopped more African Americans than whites, the researchers said.

Black drivers were stopped 44 percent more often overall than whites per driving age resident, but for non-moving violations the imbalance was as high as 68 per cent.

The researchers cautioned this did not necessarily imply racial basis. It was mostly because the stops were focused on high-crime areas where many African Americans reside, they said.

“This policy of concentrating stops in high-crime areas may be predicated on the belief that that traffic stops are an effective tactic for reducing burglaries, robberies and other criminal activity,” the paper said.

“We find, however, no immediate or long-term impact of traffic stops on serious crime.”

Only 1.6 percent of the stops, the researchers found, resulted in “custodial arrests”—usually for license violations or drugs.

They suggested Nashville could safely reduce the number of stops, in line with the strategies taken by other cities such as the New York Police Department, which reduced ‘stop, question and frisk” pedestrian stops from nearly 700,000 in 2011 to 11,000 in 2017.

Such a policy could also have beneficial consequences for police-community relations, the researchers added, noting that frequent stops can “create stress” as well as result in fines and fees that are a burden for low-income residents.

But they warned that Nashville cops would need to make significant cuts to bring them into line with practices of other cities that have already begun to rethink the strategy.

“A reduction of even 50 percent in non-moving violation stops would still leave the city’s overall stop rate twice as high (or higher) than other peer cities,” the paper said.

“A more substantial 90 percent reduction in such stops would put Nashville on par with peer cities with the highest stop rates..and would have significant impact on the day-to-day lives of Nashville residents.

The lead author of the paper was Prof. Ravi Shroff of New York University. Other authors were Alex Chohlas-Wood and Sharad Goel.

Read the full paper here.


LA Officials Apologize for Police Blackface Use In 1993

The police chief and mayor apologized for a photo of two white Baton Rouge, La., police officers covered in dark make-up snapped before a 1993 undercover drug sting in a black community. “Blackface photographs are inappropriate and offensive,” said Chief Murphy Paul.

A photo of two white Baton Rouge, La., police officers covered in dark make-up — snapped before a 1993 undercover drug sting in a predominantly black community — has the Louisiana capital city part of the nation’s reckoning of racist images, reports The Advocate. While the police department has explained that the photo was related to an undercover narcotics operation from 25 years ago — one the police chief at the time recalled as “very successful” — current Chief Murphy Paul issued an apology about the photo. “Blackface photographs are inappropriate and offensive,” Paul said. “They were inappropriate then and are inappropriate today. The Baton Rouge Police Department would like to apologize to our citizens and to anyone who may have been offended by the photographs.”

The photo, which was posted online last weekend, shows two officers, Crimestoppers coordinator Lt. Don Stone and now-retired police Capt. Frankie Caruso, posing above a caption that says ‘Soul Brothers.’ Caruso and then-police chief Greg Phares defended the decision to have white officers dressing to appear black as a part of the police operation. They said it was done only with the intent to get drugs off the street, and not to degrade or make fun of black people. “I would like to see communities recognize what was wrong with it, and act from that,” said Maxine Crump of Dialogue on Race Louisiana, a local nonprofit working to eradicate racism. “Defending it and justifying it does not change the fact it was wrong then, even if they weren’t aware.” East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said,  “While this may have been department-approved 25 years ago, that does not make it right. Blackface is more than just a costume. It invokes a painful history in this country and it is not appropriate in any situation.”


The Rise And Fall Of A Chief of Police

     I guess it’s not surprising that a crime-ridden city in long decline has a troubled and shrinking police department and a history of disgraced police administrators. Between 2000 and 2010, 750,000 middle-class residents of Detroit m…

     I guess it's not surprising that a crime-ridden city in long decline has a troubled and shrinking police department and a history of disgraced police administrators. Between 2000 and 2010, 750,000 middle-class residents of Detroit moved out of the city to the suburbs. Today, there are 700,000 people living in a city that in the 1950s had a population of 2 million.

     In 2012, 300 victims were murdered in Detroit, a ten percent increase over the previous year. There were cities the size of Detroit that had under 20 murders a year. In 2012, Detroit's murderers were dumping their victims' corpses around several decaying inner city neighborhoods. Because the police don't patrol these districts, the bodies laid around for days, even weeks, rotting and stinking up the city. It was hard to believe there was a place like this in America.

     Because of massive budget cuts, the Detroit Police Department grew smaller while the crime problem got bigger. Police response time, even to major crime scenes, had significantly slowed. A man who had committed a murder called the Detroit Police Department and asked to be picked-up. When no one showed, the killer walked to a precinct station to turn himself in. In Detroit, it was actually difficult to get arrested.

     When Ralph Godbee jointed the Detroit Police Department in 1986, the city, while a shell of its former self, had not entered its final stage of decline and decomposition. The 19-year-old high school graduate, after just a few years on patrol, was assigned to the elite Executive Protection Unit. (That's how it works in a lot of police departments, you have to have someone upstairs who likes you.) In 1995, when Godbee was 26, the chief named him commander of the unit.

     Seven years after taking over the Executive Protection Unit, Chief Jerry Oliver appointed Godbee commander of the 1st Precinct. In 2005, Godbee made Assistant Chief of Police, but three years later, was demoted. Godbee retired, and started a private security consulting agency. Just a year into Godbee's retirement, Chief Warren Evans brought him back into law enforcement by making him the Assistant Chief of Police.

     In July 2010, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing promoted Ralph Godbee to interim chief of police after Chief Warren Evans had to step down as a result of a sexual affair he had with a subordinate police officer. The following month, Godbee, after having taken up with the same female officer, Lieutenant Monique Patterson, filed for divorce. Notwithstanding Godbee's relationship with officer Patterson, Mayor Bing promoted him to the permanent position of chief of police.

     The beginning of the end of Chief Godbee's law enforcement career came on October 2, 2012 when Mayor Dave Bing suspended him for thirty days. The assistant chief, Chester Logan, took over his duties. Like his predecessor, Warren Evans, Godbee's problem involved having an affair with a subordinate departmental employee. In Godbee's case, the woman was an internal affairs officer named Angelica Robinson.

     Angelica Robinson's attorney said this to a reporter with the Detroit Free Press: "She was trying to cut it off and he [Godbee] didn't like that. And apparently she was very depressed, and the concern was whether or not she was going to take her own life, and Godbee got wind of that. I guess he tried to intervene." Other Detroit media outlets reported that Angelic Robinson became upset after discovering that Godbee may have been attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego with another woman.

     Ralph Godbee, on October 4, 2012, announced his intention to step down as Detroit's chief of police. Retired Detroit police officer David Malhalab, a longtime Godbee critic, in speaking to a reporter with The Detroit News, said: "Godbee was a stink bomb waiting to go off. I've said from day one that because of his past actions, he shouldn't have been the face of the DPD. But [Mayor Bing] went ahead and appointed him anyway. Now he's reaping the consequences of his bad choices."

     In police work, the higher up the ranks you go, the less power you have. The cop on the street, armed with the discretionary power of arrest, exercises the real muscle. Moreover, the street officer is protected by civil service, and the police union. A street cop can abuse his authority and behave in a manner unbecoming a police officer and still keep his job. The chief, on the other hand, is wedged between the rank-and-file and the major, and is vulnerable to politics and bad publicity. Chief Godbee knew this, but risked his career and good name anyway. He may or may not have turned out to be a effective police administrator, but we will never know because of his reckless choices.

     Ralph Godbee's career, like the sad city of Detroit, started in glory, and ended in ignominy. 


NYC Detective Dies in ‘Friendly Fire’ Shooting

A New York City police detective was killed Tuesday evening after he was shot by fellow officers in an eruption of gunfire as they confronted a robbery suspect inside a T-Mobile cellphone store near Kennedy International Airport in Queens.

A New York City police detective was killed Tuesday evening after he was shot by fellow officers in an eruption of gunfire as they confronted a robbery suspect inside a T-Mobile cellphone store near Kennedy International Airport in Queens, the New York Times reports. Police Commissioner James O’Neill called it an “absolutely tragic case of friendly fire.” It was later discovered the suspect was carrying a fake gun. A sergeant was also wounded.  The detective and the sergeant were responding to a report of an armed man inside the store.

Wearing civilian clothes, the officers entered the shop and saw a man advancing on them and pointing what appeared to be a handgun. They opened fire on the man and quickly retreated out of the store, where other officers had arrived. That was when Det. Brian Simonsen, 42, a 19-year veteran, was shot in the chest. He was the first New York City police officer to be killed in the line of duty since July 2017. It was unclear how many officers were at the scene and how many fired their weapons. The robber was also hit and was taken to a hospital. O’Neill described him as a “27-year-old career criminal.”


Ex-L.A. County Sheriff Baca Loses Appeal, Faces Prison

An appeals court upheld the conviction of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on Monday, clearing the way for the once powerful but now ailing law enforcement figure to spend three years in prison for obstructing justice and lying to federal authorities. Baca, 76, will seek a new hearing.

An appeals court upheld the conviction of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on Monday, clearing the way for the once powerful but now ailing law enforcement figure to spend three years in prison for obstructing justice and lying to federal authorities, the Los Angeles Times reports. Baca, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, was convicted of helping to orchestrate a scheme to interfere with an FBI investigation into abuses in county jails and later lied to prosecutors about his role. Attorneys for Baca, 76, argued that the verdict was tainted by rulings U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson made during the trial and should be reversed. They focused on Anderson’s decision to bar the jury from hearing testimony about Baca’s illness and about a conversation he had with an aide about the FBI’s investigation. Either piece of information, the defense team said, could have helped sway the jury in Baca’s favor.

A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected those claims, finding that the trial was fair and the conviction legally sound. “We disagree completely with the skimpy analysis and erroneous conclusions” reached by the court, said Baca attorney Nathan Hochman. Baca is expected to remain out of prison at least until the appeals court decides whether to grant him a second hearing. During his 14 years heading one of the nation’s largest police agencies, Baca established himself as a prominent, if eccentric, voice in law enforcement who pushed progressive ideals on policing, but struggled to put thoughts into action and failed to keep many of the department’s deep-seated problems from worsening on his watch.