Archive for the ‘Police’ 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?
Read more:

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.

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.

How would you set up the the process to pick a new chief of police for a mid-sized city?

Amidst a corruption scandal, Pittsburgh’s police chief resigned this Spring.  (He has announced he’ll plead guilty to the charges against him.)  This happened with an election for mayor already underway; a short time later, the heavily-favored incumbent dropped out of the race and announced that he would leave the choice of a new chief to his successor.  In a post on March 6 (here), I spelled out what my criteria would be for a picking a new chief.  These included unquestioned integrity, experience as a chief or deputy chief in a police department not less than half the size of Pittsburgh, and a commitment to diversity of all kinds in the ranks.  I said that no excellent candidate, whether an insider or an outsider, should be ignored, and that the process of selection the new chief would be critical, given the circumstances of the chief’s resignation.

Imagine that you have the ear of the new mayor-to-be.  (Which candidate this is will be largely determined in the Democratic Party primary, one week from today; whoever wins the primary is overwhelmingly likely to win the general election in November.) What would be your advice on how the process of selecting the new chief should work?  I can think of a number of possibilities, including:

1) Put together a small group of experts — present and former chiefs of police, law enforcement experts, etc. — to give private, candid advice to the mayor-to-be, regarding what to look for in a successful chief.

2) Create a citizens advisory board to advise the mayor on this important choice.

3) Hold a town hall meeting or two to gather a large and wide swath of public comments on the choice.

4) Conduct focus groups, each with members drawn from all of the important stakeholder groups: citizens, rank and file officers, police union officials, the faith community, the business community, neighborhood advocates, etc., to ascertain what kind of person, with what kind of qualities, the mayor should look for.

What are your ideas?  Have you been through this process before, in any role?  I would very much like to hear from anyone and everyone with thoughts on this.  The choice is coming for Pittsburgh, and it’s going to be crucial.

Thanks for your help.

I’ve been asked to study the use of the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, by domestic police departments.  The LRAD is an apparatus that is used to communicate or make sounds at very high decibel levels.  The manufacturer calls it “a high-intensity directional acoustic hailer [sic] designed for long-range communication and issuing powerful warning tones.”  You can see the manufacturer’s information and a picture here.

My information indicates that the LRAD was developed by the military for (among other uses) communication at sea in certain contexts.  In the last few years, I understand that there have been uses of LRADs by domestic police departments; the one I am familiar with was by the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, at the G-20 summit meeting in 2009, in connection with demonstrations there.

If your police department has or has used an LRAD, I would be very happy to hear from you.  I am interested in police policy, experience, and training with the LRAD, and also in any model policies that may be available.

I look forward to any and all responses.  Of course, feel free to respond by contacting me directly at daharris@pitt.edu.

Many thanks.

On November 5, I posted here about Florida v. Jardines, in which the U.S. Supreme Court would decide this question: when a police officer takes a dog trained to sniff for drugs onto the porch of a home to sniff the air coming from under the door of a house, does this action constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment?  If the answer was yes, this would mean that police would need a warrant from a court before bringing the dog up to the door.  In past cases, the Court had given police considerable leeway to use dogs; no warrant had been required before having the dog sniff a piece of personal luggage (the Place case is here) or a package addressed to someone (the Jacobsen case is here).

The Court has now issued its opinion in Jardines: bringing a drug-sniffing dog up to a home is a Fourth Amendment search, and requires a warrant.  The author of the opinion was Justice Antonin Scalia, which may surprise those who think of Scalia as the author of the Court’s most conservative cases.  But it should not shock anyone.  The case follows the pattern of one of Scalia’s opinions from 2001: Kyllo v. U.S.  In Kyllo, the police used a thermal imager on a home; the device detects patterns of heat, and the police used it to see considerable excess heat coming from the defendant’s home, which indicated the presence of a marijuana growing operation inside.  According to Scalia, this required a warrant because the target was a home, which is where people conduct their most intimate activities.  The imager, used from outside, was designed to detect activity inside.  Any method of “seeing” inside the home, Scalia said, requires the judicial oversight of a warrant obtained prior to the search.

Scalia used some of the same reasoning in Jardines.  Yes, the dog was outside the home.  And it is true that many non-family members have implicit permission to come onto the porch of the home, right up to the door: letter and package carriers, delivery people, and even police officers wanting to talk to the homeowner.  But the dog is there specifically to detect activity inside the home, and that is more like the thermal imager than someone delivering mail.  Folding this reasoning around the Court’s rediscovered interest in the law of trespass,  Scalia said the presence of the dog is an intrusion that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t permit without a warrant.

Jardines does not put dog sniffs of homes off limits to police.  Rather, police must first demonstrate to a judge that they have probably cause to believe that there is criminal activity the dog could detect inside the house.  Probable cause  is one of the lower legal standard in the law; it does not require anything close to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a post last week, I discussed the choice of a new chief of police in Pittsburgh.  Nathan Harper, the Chief of the Bureau for seven years, had been forced to resign by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl amidst an ongoing FBI investigation into police department finances.  (Mr. Harper has not been charged; the investigation continues.)  Then, just days later, the Mayor announced that he would not run for re-election in November.  With all of this happening, I was among a group of people who testified before the City Council last week on the selection of the new chief.  There was broad agreement on a central point: outgoing Mayor Ravenstahl should not appoint a new chief.  Instead, an acting chief should serve until the next may makes the permanent appointment.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Monday that he would not appoint a permanent chief to the embattled police bureau during his remaining 10 months in office and instead will leave the choice to his successor.  “It wouldn’t be fair in my mind to the next mayor to not have him or her have the chance to choose their chief, especially given all the recent activity around the bureau,” he said.

According to a story on WESA FM, Pittsburgh public radio, Ravenstahl said he would not appoint the next chief because with ten months left in his term, the decision would be “extremely rushed” and therefore should be left to his successor.

Whatever the reason, I think this is a good decision.  I can’t conceive that we would be able to attract top-quality candidates for the post knowing that the administration will change in the next year.  Who would take the job under those circumstances?  One reader suggested appointing a new chief as soon as possible, and writing a contract that would essentially guarantee the new chief a term that would extend into the new mayor’s term even if the mayor didn’t like it.  But that won’t work.  The chief (as I imagine is true in most places) serves at the pleasure of the mayor as a matter of law.  No contract can change this.

Thus the naming of the new chief will have to wait for the outcome of the mayoral election.  In the meantime, the federal investigation continues, and more revelations appear in the press by the day.  The only thing for sure is that the next chief is likely to start with a mandate for clean up and change.

 

On Feb. 20, Pittsburgh Police Chief Nathan Harper resigned at the request of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.  Harper quit amidst a federal investigation of corruption allegations involving police department contracting and possible misuse of funds from unauthorized bank accounts.  (Harper has not been charged with any wrongdoing.)

Pittsburgh now faces a situation that cities all over American face periodically: the selection of a new chief.  In Pittsburgh, the mayor makes the selection, but as you would guess, many people are voicing their opinions on what matters in the selection of the new chief.  All of this became even more complicated when, just days after forcing Harper’s resignation, Mayor Ravenstahl unexpectedly abandoned his bid for re-election.  (The Mayor denied that the investigation played any part in his decision; he has not been charged.) So at this point we have an acting chief, a lame duck Mayor serving out the remaining ten months of his term, and an unresolved investigation.

On March 6, Pittsburgh’s City Council will hold a public hearing on the choice of the new chief; I have been invited to give testimony.  Here are a few of the points I’ll make.

Pick now, or wait?  Given that we know we will have a new mayor in less than a year, Mayor Ravenstahl should strongly consider staying with an acting chief, and allowing the new mayor to select the new chief.  Since there is a reasonable chance that the new mayor will simply prefer to have his or her own chief running the department, we should wait.

Insider or outsider?  Candidates from inside and outside the department each have their advantages.  Insiders would know the lay of the land, and would bring continuity.  An outsider would bring fresh eyes to the situation and might be more willing to make needed changes.  Ultimately, it depends on whether we think the department should continue heading down the same path, or should get a fresh perspective from the top down.  I would hesitate to rule out any excellent inside candidate, but with the ongoing investigation, a fresh perspective seems necessary.

Integrity is paramount.  With the ongoing scandal, nothing is more important than restoring the reputation of the agency in the eyes of the public.  For that reason, the next chief must be not only a very good police officer and a strong leader, but a person of unquestioned integrity.

Experience is key.  This is not the time for someone to learn on the job how to be a chief and an administrator.  Whoever is picked should have experience as a chief or deputy chief in a department that is at least half the size of Pittsburgh’s.  The person should also have experience working with communities in the city to meet their goals, and an unquestioned commitment to working as partners with citizens as part of real community policing.

Diversity in the ranks.  I’ve been working with the Pittsburgh Police command staff for some years, as well as a number of other departments in our county.  There is universal agreement among them that their agencies do not have sufficient racial, ethnic, or gender diversity.  There is strong disagreements about how to become more diverse. Nevertheless, the next chief must bring a rock-solid commitment to diversity in the ranks, and a willingness to closely re-examine current recruitment and hiring practices.

Process cannot be ignored.  The search should be real (not wired for an insider), and must be nationwide.  And it should include input from a citizen’s advisory board formed for this purpose, which would interview all of the final candidates and give the mayor feedback on them.

Those are my six crucial considerations.  What would yours be?