Posts Tagged ‘police’

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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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.

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal titled “Police Tool Targets Guns” says that the NYPD has taken delivery of a “T-Ray” scanner: a device that can detect weapons concealed under heavy clothing.  The device “detects terahertz radiation, a high-frequency electromagnetic natural energy that is emitted by people and can penetrate many materials, including clothing.”  The scanner “sees” the shape and size of the weapon against the body of the person carrying it, because the material of which any gun is made does not emit terahertz radiation like the human body.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said the police were very “hopeful” about the potential of the device.  While the current version of the tool is “about the size of an old-style projection television,” the NYPD would like to see the technology reduced in size so that it is “small enough to carry on an officer’s gun belt.”  Privacy advocates raised some concerns, but also expressed hope that the device could make the NYPD’s controversial stop and frisk program unnecessary — or at least less intrusive.

All very interesting — but to me, this isn’t new.  In 1996, I published an article called “Superman’s X-Ray Vision and the Fourth Amendment: The New Gun Detection Technology” in the Temple Law Review.  (The official citation is 69 Temple L. Rev. 1.)  The article highlighted a nascent technology: a device that could scan people for millimeter wave radiation, emitted by all human bodies.  The device used the radiation to produce images of weapons hidden under heavy clothing.  The article explained the technology, described how police could use it , and explored the ways that the device would fit into the Fourth Amendment and other aspects of the law.   Here’s a small slice:

[R]esearch and development efforts have begun that would give police officers something very much like Superman’s x-ray vision. Two private companies and one government laboratory, each with its own design, have started work on technology that will allow police officers to “see” through clothing to detect whether a person is carrying a concealed weapon. The idea is to produce a commercially and technologically viable device that could do an “electronic frisk” of a suspect from a distance of ten or twenty feet.

So, here we are — back to the future.  The millimeter radiation technology never achieved what researchers hoped for in terms of portability — they could never make it  small enough to be handheld — or in terms of use at a a distance.  Perhaps the terahertz technology will do better in both respects.  Assuming it does, the terahertz devices will face many of the same Fourth Amendment, legal, and privacy issues  that I pointed out almost twenty years ago.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what some of those issues are.