Archive for the ‘Police reform’ Category

Over a year ago, the chief of police in Pittsburgh resigned during a corruption scandal.  (He subsequently pled guilty and has been sentenced to eighteen months in federal prison.)  Very shortly after that, the incumbent mayor announced he would not seek re-election and would leave the selection of a new chief to the next Mayor.

In one of the posts I wrote about these events, I asked what process a new mayor should follow in searching for a new chief.

Mayor Bill Peduto took office in January of 2014, and announced that he would first select a new Public Safety Director.  (In Pittsburgh, the Public Safety Director oversees not only the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, but also EMS and fire services. )  The Mayor would appoint a new chief after that, with the advice of the new Public Safety Director.

The new Public Safety Director, Stephen Bucar has begun his job (he is acting Director, since the City Council has not yet confirmed him).  An article in today’s Pittsburgh-Post Gazette describes the porcess that the Mayor and the Public Safety Director plan to follow:

Six months after Mayor Bill Peduto took office, he announced plans Wednesday to conduct a series of public meetings aimed at giving officials insight into what residents hope to find in a new Pittsburgh police chief.The mayor, through a spokesman, outlined plans to conduct meetings in conjunction with the public safety councils at each of the city’s six neighborhood police stations.He also unveiled a new website where people can leave their suggestions….“This is going to be a public outreach directly to the people of Pittsburgh asking them what they want in a police chief,” Mr. Peduto said in a statement.

The  article also mentions a “search committee tasked with developing a list of candidates for the Mayor and [Mr.] Bucar to consider,” but gives no detail about the committee, its composition, or its duties.

This process is leaps-and-bounds different from the usual way that Pittsburgh mayors have made high-level appointments.  The pubic has a chance to have input.  Though it’s less than clear how much what the public wants will matter, the step of opening the process up means that the Mayor recognizes just how important this appointment is to the public.  In my opinion, the citizens of Pittsburgh should give the Mayor and the process the benefit of the doubt as we go forward.

Readers: what do you think of the process outlined here?  What would you do differently?  What did your city do differently when it last faced this choice?
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New York City will have a new mayor in 2014.  In my article “Ten Steps Bill de Blasio and Bill Bratton Should Take to Fix Stop-and-Frisk,” published in The Nation, I offer a way forward for Mr. de Blasio to start repairing the damage done by the Bloomberg-era policing of the last 12 years.

New York, and indeed the entire country, is waiting to see what the newly sworn-in Bill de Blasio will do the first week of January to fulfill his promise to reform stop-and-frisk.  His first step should be to drop the appeal of Floyd v. City of New York, a move he promised to make many times on the campaign trail….Once the stop-and-frisk appeal is dropped, here are the top ten steps de Blasio and Bratton should take as part of the Floyd remedies process to move forward with stop-and-frisk reform and end racial profiling.

Among the steps I recommend: allowing community stakeholders to be part of the reform process; setting up an independent monitor, and creation of an early warning system.  Many of what you’ll read echo what is in the court’s opinion setting out the remedies for the violations the evidence proved.

To get at least some sense of what Bratton’s approach may be, take a look at this article from the Wall Street Journal on December 20. Perhaps “collaborative policing” — Bratton’s most-frequently-used phrase so far — will include allowing stakeholder participation in the fashioning of reforms; it is too early to tell at this point.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) is one of the leading organizations for law enforcement professionals in the U.S. and around the world.  I regularly turn to their model policy and training documents when working on those issues for police agencies.  So it’s a big deal to see their new report, prepared in conjunction with their partner, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, announcing that their new effort in which they will play a leading role in fixing the problems in police investigation that cause wrongful convictions.

The report, titled, “National Summit on Wrongful Convictions: Building a Systemic Approach to Prevent Wrongful Convictions,” takes a full view of the issues that must be addressed to avoid convicting the wrong people, and announces a series of recommendations designed to bring the goal within reach.  It is based on work at a summit of people from IACP, DOJ, and a host of experts.  In a preliminary statement in the report, the President of the IACP and the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, outlined how the report came to be and what it does.

This event gathered 75 subject matter experts from all key disciplines to address and examine the causes of and solutions to wrongful convictions across the entire spectrum of the justice system. Summit participants worked diligently during this one-day intensive event to craft 30 focused policy recommendations that guide the way to our collective mission to continually improve the criminal justice system. The summit focused on four critical areas: (1) making rightful arrests, (2) correcting wrongful arrests, (3) leveraging technology and forensic science, and (4) re-examining closed cases. The 30 resulting recommendations directly address these areas and lay a critical foundation for required changes in investigative protocols, policies, training, supervision, and assessment.

The report makes thirty recommendations on a number of topics: eyewitness identifications, false confessions, preventing investigative bias, improving DNA testing procedures, CODIS, correcting wrongful arrests, leveraging technology and forensic science, and re-examining closed cases with an openness to new information.

The report is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in wrongful convictions and what can be done to correct them.  Readers of my book Failed Evidence will also recognize that the emergence of this consensus at the top of the law enforcement profession is exactly what I have called for: “Police and Prosecutors Must Lead the Effort” (pp. 158-159).

I’ve been posting (here and here) about the increasing interest and mounting evidence to support the use of body worn video (BWV) camera systems for police.   BWV pilot studies have been ordered in New York by the judge who found the New York  Police Department’s stop and frisk program unconstitutional, so the question for many is what these BWV systems do, and what they offer police and the public.

Reveal, a new radio program jointly sponsored by the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX), ran an interesting story on BWV in its pilot episode, which aired on September 28 in my area. “Policing on Camera” put the interest in BWV and its growing use in the context of how a real police officer makes use of BWV, and what he thinks of this tool after using it for some time.  Click on the brief video, and you’ll get his point of view — both in his own words and (literally) from the camera, as he makes an arrest.  Sergeant Michael Williamson of the BART police department makes it clear that BWV is easy to use and benefits him and his fellow officers in multiple ways; he won’t go out on patrol without it.  Thanks to Reveal, you don’t have to take my word for it; see what he says.

In my last post, I described the increasing interest in the use of body worn video (BWV) camera systems by police.  These systems have been in use for more than five years in the UK, where pilot studies (cited in my article in the Texas Tech Law Review) have largely approved of them; police officers in the U.K. who have used BWV have become its biggest supporters.

Now, we have the first rigorous study of the use of BWV in a U.S. police department.  In Rialto, California, Police Chief Tony Farrar became interested in the potential of BWV, and decided he wanted not just to have his officers try them, but to accurately measure their impact.  Rialto has a department of 60 sworn officers.  Farrar teamed with researcher Dr. Barak Ariel of Cambridge University, and the result is “Self-Awareness to Being Watched and Socially Desirable Behavior: A Field Experiment on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras on Police Use-of-Force.”  The bottom line of the study: on police shifts using in which officers used BWV, police use of force dropped 50 percent compared to shifts with no cameras; complaints against police were ten times higher on shifts without BWV compared to shifts using them.  According to a short description from the web site of the Police Foundation, where Chief Farrar is an Executive Fellow, the “extensive yearlong study” was a randomized controlled trial of “body-worn video cameras used in police patrol practices.”

Cameras were deployed to all patrol officers in the Rialto (CA) Police Department.  Every police patrol shift during the 12-month period was assigned to experimental or control conditions.  Wearing cameras was associated with dramatic reductions in use-of-force and complaints against officers.

It’s true of course that the Rialto Police Department is small compared to the NYPD, where the judge deciding the stop and frisk case has ordered that the police begin to use the cameras in some areas of New York City.  But that does not mean that BWV could not work in New York, and it certainly does not mean it is not worth trying the systems.  Perhaps more important, far more American police departments are closer in size to Rialto’s force than to New York.

The study is worth a good long look for anyone interested in the safety of police and the public, in improved police services, in protection of officers from bogus complaints, and in police accountability.  At the very least, it tells us that BWV should not be dismissed out of hand; it needs to be tried.

You’ll probably recall that the judge’s opinion in the recent stop and frisk case in New York mandates that the New York Police Department (NYPD) launch pilot programs testing body worn video (BWV) cameras in some NYPD precincts, including some of those with the largest numbers of stops and frisks.  (Here’s a link to that part of the opinion.) Mayor Michael Bloomberg decried this aspect of the judge’s order (along with the rest of it) — an odd position for a public official who has always been a very strong advocate of more cameras for public safety (see here and here).

In the weeks since, interest in BWV systems has increased greatly, even outside of the U.S.  For example,  the German television network, ARD (described to me by a person who has lived in Germany as “a German PBS, but about the size of CBS or NBC”), brought me to New York last week to interview me after finding my 2010 article on BWV, “Picture This: Body Worn Video Devices (“Head Cams”) as Tools for Ensuring Fourth Amendment Compliance by Police” in the Texas Tech Law Review.   The interview (conducted in English, since I don’t speak German) was quite thorough; I was then shown various publicly available videos of police/citizen encounters — some taken with BWV, others taken by members of the public — and asked for my reaction.  The correspondent and the producers explained that they had brought in law enforcement experts to interview, too.  The story has not yet aired, but I will post a link to it when it does (for those who speak German).   Stay tuned.

And there is more effort to get at the real evidence of how BWV systems perform: what they do for the police, for police accountability, and for the criminal justice system.  Two weeks ago, the Police Executives Research Forum (PERF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that describes itself as  “a police research organization and a provider of management services, technical assistance, and executive-level education to support law enforcement agencies,” hosted a conference for law enforcement on BWV to explore the issues it raises for police.  Here’s a link to one of the conference documents.

And then, something very useful.  There have been various pilot studies already conducted by police and the Home Office in the U.K.; my Texas Tech article contains links to this research.  But now, an American police department that has tried BWV has been the subject of a comprehensive, rigorous study.  It’s a very promising and positive look at the potential of BWV.  I’ll explain in my next post on the subject.

On August 19, the New York Times published an op-ed piece on the stop and frisk case by John Timoney, former first deputy commissioner of the NYPD and former chief of police in Philadelphia and Miami.  Mr. Timoney is a respected figure in American policing; his article, “The Real Costs of Policing the Police,” was a direct shot at Judge Scheindlin’s decision that the NYPD must change how it conducts stops and frisks.  I won’t characterize or excerpt Mr. Timoney’s piece; it’s short and speaks for itself.  I urge you to go to the link and read it.  But it deserves a reply: Mr. Timoney gets important things wrong, and fails to reckon with costs he prefers to ignore.

Judge Sheindlin did not find that “the benefits of ending what she considers to be unconstitutional stops would far outweigh any administrative hardships.”  In fact, Sheindlin made sure she stuck to the one job a court has in such a case: assessing whether or not it is constitutional.   She explicitly, and properly, declined to weigh the costs and benefits of the program.   

Second, Mr. Timoney encourages skepticism of the court’s order to begin pilot programs using body-worn video (BWV), based on the reality show “Cops.” But instead of phony TV, examine the comprehensive field studies of BWV done in Britain.  Officers using BWV found it extremely beneficial for recording evidence, creating records, more rapidly resolving cases, reducing public order offenses, and promoting successful prosecution of domestic violence offenses.  The cameras also, of course, facilitated greater police accountability in the bargain. (My law review article on BWV in the Texas Tech Law Review can be downloaded here.)

Third, Mr. Timoney says that the problem would solve itself without court intervention.  Stops have come down considerably in recent months; officers “have gotten the message.” Maybe some have.  But the statements of the NYPD leadership both during and after the trial strongly supporting the program as it has operated over the past six years shows those leaders want the program maintained, not reformed.

Most importantly, Mr. Timoney bemoans the costs of implementing Judge Sheindlin’s orders, and those costs will be considerable.  But he fails to acknowledge the costs to the many New Yorkers over the years who were stopped, questioned and frisked without reasonable suspicion.  Apparently, Mr. Timoney believes that if the Police Department or the city don’t pay a cost, it doesn’t count.  The judge’s decision makes clear that this simply isn’t true: a huge cost has been paid all along.

 

The federal court decision in Floyd v. New York on August 12 that found the NYPD’s stop and frisk program unconstitutional has generated a huge amount of commentary.  I did posts here last week on what the decision really says, and the remedies the judge has required.  Today I’m going to talk about the likely national impact of the case.

First, an important preliminary question: will the case have a national impact?  Isn’t it just about the NYPD’s tactics?  Yes, the case is only about what the NYPD has done with stop and frisk, and it was tried in New York, before a federal judge with jurisdiction only in New York.  Therefore, it only has an impact on the NYPD, and the opinion only serves as precedent in New York.  But while that is the correct legal answer, I believe there is more to it.

To put it simply, the importance of the NYPD reaches far beyond New York.  Just think of all of the television programs, the movies, and the books  set in New York involving the NYPD: on TV, everything from NYPD Blue to Law and Order, to CSI; NY to Blue Bloods; the 87th Precinct novels, by Ed McBain; on the big screen, The Naked City, The French Connection, Serpico, and Brooklyn’s Finest.   The central cultural importance of the NYPD, alone, gives it an outsized place in the American imagination.

More importantly, the last twenty years have seen a burst of initiative and change in American policing, and much of that energy has come from the NYPD.  The changes in the NYPD with the advent of William Bratton’s time as Commissioner (for a little less than two years, beginning in 1994) brought innovations like Compstat, which focused precinct-level leadership relentlessly on results and outcomes, not on inputs, and held leaders accountable.  Compstat and many other NYPD innovations — and the basic idea that policing could actually make some difference in the fight against crime — have been widely imitated across the country, in small and large police departments alike.  Anything the NYPD does, successfully or not, is examined and either followed or rejected, as the fact warrant.  As an example, take a look at this story from Detroit: the police in that city have been receiving stop and frisk training to improve their crime fighting abilities from the very people who brought intensive stop and frisk tactics to New York.  Thus the court’s decision, declaring that intensive use of stop and frisk, without an adequate legal basis and with a disparate impact on people of color, will be read and contemplated by police departments everywhere in the U.S.  It will influence the course of policing, without a doubt, for better or for worse.

Last, the debate over the meaning of the court’s decision is well underway, and it will be a very public struggle over not just the court order, but the direction of American policing overall.  Witness an article by John Timoney, a former first deputy Police Commissioner in New York, and former chief of police in Philadelphia and Miami.  Mr. Timoney says the court’s order will involve costly and unnecessary changes, and is probably all for nothing: the problem is on the way to fixing itself.  (I disagree, and will have more to say about this in my next post.)  Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute says that the judge got the decision wrong altogether, by relying on the wrong statistical comparisons.  This type of argument will go on for a while, and  every law enforcement agency of any consequence in the U.S. will be watching and listening.

So the decision will have – in fact it is already having — a national impact.  Expect it to be a starting place on discussions of stop and frisk for a very long time.

In my last post, I discussed the legal basis for the court’s decision in Floyd v. New York City, in which the judge found that the NYPD’s stop and frisk program violated the Constitution.  In this post, I’ll discuss the remedies: the changes the judge has ordered the NYPD to make.  (All quotes are from the court’s separate “Remedies Opinion.”)

To start: the host of a public radio show I did on Tuesday asked whether the court has the power to order these changes.  The answer is yes.  Having found that the NYPD violated the Constitution, the court has the power to order the court to do what is necessary to fix its practices to eliminate the violation.  The judge was actually quite circumspect, carefully outlining the limits of her own reach.

So what remedies did she order?  Here are the most important ones.

First, she appointed an independent monitor to help create the changes in how officers use stops and frisks, and to oversee the implementation of these changes.  Independent monitors are common in negotiated settlements of police misconduct cases brought by the U.S. Dept. of Justice, and they are also used in some cases in which private plaintiffs have sued police departments (e.g., the Philadelphia case on stops and frisks).

Second, she mandated some of the areas that must be changed: “policies, training, supervision, monitoring, and discipline regarding stop and frisk.”  She was especially adamant that policies on certain particular matters undergo an overhaul:  training regarding what constitutes the necessary reasonable suspicion to perform a stop and frisk; the targeting of “the right people” for stops (which she said led to racial profiling); and the use of “performance goals.” She also ordered that the documentation and record keeping for stops and frisk must undergo specific changes.

Third, the judge ordered the Department to launch pilot programs for “body-worn cameras” that would record stop and frisk encounters.  This was a surprise to many, because the subject came up only peripherally in the trial and the technology involved is relatively new.  These video recording systems, which record an officer’s-eye view of the interaction between citizen and police officer, will create “a contemporaneous, objective record of stops and frisks, allowing for the review of officer conduct by supervisors and the courts.”  For those interested in this promising technology, take a look at my brief article, “Picture This:  Body Worn Video Devices (‘Head Cams’) as Tools for Ensuring Fourth Amendment Compliance by Police,” published in 2010 in volume 43, issue 1 of the Texas Tech Law Review.

Fourth, the judge prescribed a “joint remedial process” in which there would be “community input” into the remedies, modeled on the Collaborative Agreement used in Cincinnati.

Those are the general outlines.  The City and the NYPD have pledged to appeal, but it is questionable whether an appeal could even get started before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office, bringing new leadership to the city and very likely to the police department too.  Given the positions of the leading candidates on stop and frisk, the next mayor is likely to take a different approach to the issue, and thus to the court decision.

In a future post, I will offer some reflections on what the impact of the decision is likely to be beyond New York.

 

On August 12, a U.S. federal judge found that the New York Police Department  had systematically violated the U.S. Constitution in the way it performed stops and frisks.  Judge Shira Scheindlin’s 198-page opinion in the case, Floyd v. New York, is here.

I’ve discussed the case in earlier posts (here and here), so an explanation of the judge’s opinion is important.  Today, I’m going to talk about what the judge actually said in her opinion; there’s already a lot of misinformation out there.  Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the remedies the judge has required: the actions that NYPD will have to take to bring itself into compliance with the law.

First, the decision does not “outlaw” stop and frisk; it does not stop the NYPD from using this long-established tactic.  The judge said, correctly, that stop and frisk is a legal and constitutional tactic that police may use; the U.S. Supreme Court said so in 1968, in Terry v. Ohio.  But, the judge said, the police must obey some basic constitutional rules when they do so.   That, she said, was the problem: the NYPD was using stop and frisk unconstitutionally, in violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures, by stopping people without the required reasonable suspicion: a very small amount of fact-based evidence pertaining to the individual person, but something the police lacked in many tens of thousands of these encounters.  In that respect, the judge ruled, the NYPD “has a policy or custom of violating the Constitution by making unlawful stops and conducting unlawful frisks” (p. 3).

Second, the judge made clear that she was not ruling on how effective the use of stop and frisk may or may not have been in fighting crime, either standing alone or in comparison with other police tactics for fighting crime.  (See, e.g.,  p. 2), Rather, she said, she was ruling on whether the way stop and frisk had been used squared with the Constitution.

Third, the judge found that the way that stop and frisk was practiced by the NYPD was racially skewed against Black and Latino New Yorkers, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.  This finding has grabbed the most headlines, because the judge called it “a form of racial profiling.”  This led to outraged reaction by NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly (transcript here), among others.  But the judge’s reasoning on this point, found in summary form on pp. 10 and 11 of the opinion, is not actually the stuff of controversy or bombshells; it comes directly from the testimony she heard:

…[T]he evidence at trial revealed that the NYPD has an unwritten policy of targeting “the right people” for stops. In practice, the policy encourages the targeting of young black and Hispanic men based on their prevalence in local crime complaints…While a person’s race may be important if it fits the description of a particular crime suspect, it is impermissible to subject all members of a racially defined group to heightened police enforcement because some members of that group are criminals. The Equal Protection Clause does not permit race-based suspicion.

In conclusion, the judge said, the NYPD violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution not by doing stops and frisks, but by doing them in an unconstitutional manner over a period of years, despite being on notice that there were constitutional problems, and these practices “were sufficiently widespread as to have the force of law.”

That’s the legal and constitutional basis for the judge’s decision that the time has come to reform the use of stop and frisk in New York.  In my next post, I will discuss how the judge will require that reform to take place.