Why Are Blacks Afraid To Push For Complete Police Reform? (#GotBitcoin)
Security Expert Says, “Confidence In Local Police Depts. Reaches A 30yr. Low” Why Are Blacks Afraid To Push For Complete Police Reform? (#GotBitcoin)
The two largest issues with police in America is the “Qualified Immunity” protections combined with a militarized police force.
The problem is so bad that even officers who kill children asleep in their beds avoid accountability while entire homes have been blown up without any material compensation for homeowners.
When combined with the fact that police are the ones who investigate themselves it’s obvious why so few face criminal charges. If the average citizen had the ability to do that no crime would go punished.
We need outside investigations to be conducted without a bias and we need for the average citizen to have the right to their fair day in court.
Started In 1850, This Was Once The Largest Private
Law Enforcement Organization In The World
Ronald Reagan famously stated, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” But should we apply such thinking to the police? The answer depends on whom we ask. Many liberals who otherwise defend every government program and unionized job believe that the police are increasingly abusing their power.
Many conservatives who otherwise complain about unaccountable government officials consider the police department beyond reproach and say that any form of de-policing will make America less safe.
Crime has decreased significantly in the past two decades, and many attribute that outcome to the proactive “broken windows” policing first advocated by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in a 1982 article.
The theory goes that arresting offenders for minor crimes like loitering or drinking in public leads to a mien of order that in turn discourages major crimes. Citizens will be better off with, and thus prefer, police playing an active role in the community.
Surveys today, though, show citizen confidence in the police at its lowest point in 20 years. It has dropped among Americans of all ages, education levels, incomes and races, with the decreases particularly pronounced among the young and minorities.
According to a USA Today/Pew Research Center poll, only 30% of African-Americans say that they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the police, and nine out of 10 say that the “police do an ‘only fair’ or poor job when it comes to equal treatment and appropriate force.”
Nine out of 10 Americans surveyed say that officers should be required to wear body cameras to check police violence.
The past month has seen extraordinary killings, both by police officers and of police officers, in St. Paul, Baton Rouge and Dallas. All across the political spectrum, people agree that American policing is in turmoil. But different groups emphasize different aspects of the crisis.
Where Black Lives Matter protesters emphasize the danger of being killed by the police, Blue Lives Matter counter-protesters emphasize the risks faced by hard-working policemen. The issues are so polarizing as to leave little room for considered thought or discussion.
As an African/American security expert, I’d like to advocate taking a step back and looking at the data to begin to gain some perspective. In 2015, 41 officers were slain in the line of duty. That means the 900,000 U.S. law-enforcement officers face a victimization rate of 4.6 deaths per 100,000 officers.
Any number greater than zero is a tragedy, but the average American faces a nearly identical homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000, and the average male actually faces a homicide rate of 6.6 per 100,000. Being a police officer is thus dangerous but not as dangerous as being an average African/American male.
In the same year, police killed 1,207 Americans, or 134 Americans per 100,000 officers, a rate 30 times the homicide rate overall. Police represent about 1 out of 360 members of the population, but commit 1 out of 12 of all killings in the United States. Many argue that these are justifiable, but are they necessary?
In England and Germany, where the police represent a similar percentage of the population as in the U.S., they commit less than one-half of 1% of all killings. Are higher rates of violence inevitable in our country with its more heavily armed populace, or can things be done to reduce the growing tensions?
Former policeman Norm Stamper’s book “To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America’s Police” provides a first-hand account of the changes in policing over the past few decades and is a useful survey of how we got here. He started as a beat cop in San Diego in 1966 and rose to be chief of police in Seattle from 1994 to 2000.
He witnessed both the more discretionary eras of policing and the advent of broken windows policing, which was first adopted in New York City in the 1990s and evolved into an aggressive form of proactive and “zero-tolerance” law enforcement that spread across the nation.
Mr. Stamper joined the force out of a desire to serve the community but quickly learned that his performance would be judged on the number of tickets he wrote and arrests he made. An experienced officer told him, “You can’t let compassion for others get in the way.” There were quotas to fill. “The people on my beat were, in a word, irrelevant,” Mr. Stamper writes.
The war on drugs was declared in 1971—then escalated in the 1980s—and Mr. Stamper noticed police increasingly treating civilians like enemy combatants. In 1994, President Clinton passed the largest crime bill in history.
It allocated $8.8 billion to hire 100,000 more police officers and $10 billion for new prisons, and it established mandatory arrests for allegations like domestic violence and mandatory life sentences for third-time drug or violent offenders—the three-strikes provision.
Incarceration rates spiked nationally. The rate at which the government incarcerates Americans is now seven times what it was in 1965.
“To Protect and Serve” is particularly disturbing in showing that, as antagonism toward and disregard for the public increased among policemen, it had few consequences.
Officers do not report on their colleagues, and prosecutors are averse to punishing people with whom they must work closely.
Mr. Stamper quotes a fellow police chief saying: “As someone who spent 35 years wearing a police uniform, I’ve come to believe that hundreds of thousands of law-enforcement officers commit perjury every year testifying.” Instead of policemen serving the public, Mr. Stamper concludes, they end up viewing citizens as numbers or revenue sources.
One important lesson from economics is that unaccountable government officials will not always act on the public’s behalf.
Another account of modern policing is “A Good Month for Murder: The Inside Story of a Homicide Squad” by Del Quentin Wilber, a newspaper reporter who spent a month alongside detectives in one of the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.
This attempt at a true-crime drama seems to have been meant in praise of police work, but Mr. Wilber unintentionally creates an unflattering picture. He shows us men who refer to their targets as “reptilian motherf—ers” and conduct multi-hour interrogations in the middle of the night to elicit confessions.
They throw chairs against walls to intimidate suspects, lie boldly during interrogations and happily feed lines to witnesses to use in court.
One detective “jokes with [another] that he could get [a suspect] to confess to anything: ‘Have any open murders that need to be closed?’”
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution attempts to restrict search and seizure without probable cause, but judges here grant warrants without a thought: “He just immediately signed the paper and looked at me and winked and said, ‘Good luck.’ ”
At one point, a supervisor explains that a prisoner cannot be questioned about earlier crimes without having a lawyer present. The detective retorts: “F—ing Constitution.” In the end, the policemen excuse any mistakes they made by saying they had good intentions.
A company that mistreats its customers cannot stay in business merely by saying it acted with good intentions.
The police, by contrast, are a tax-funded monopoly, paid regardless of how well they serve or protect. Citizens subject to random fines or harassment cannot turn the police away if they are unhappy with their services.
The Justice Department investigation of the Ferguson, Mo., police department last year provided an in-depth account of local politicians, police, prosecutors and judges using the legal system to extract resources from the public.
In 2010, the city finance director even wrote to the police chief that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.”
In 2013, he wrote to the city manager: “I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver [a] 10% increase. He indicated they could try.” The Ferguson police department evaluated officers and gave promotions based on “citation productivity,” and prosecutors and judges worked alongside them to collect revenue.
In a city with 21,000 residents, the courts issued 9,000 arrest warrants in 2013 for such minor violations as parking and traffic tickets or housing-code violations like having an overgrown lawn.
After the 1994 crime bill, President Clinton signed a law encouraging the transfer of billions of dollars of surplus military equipment to police departments.
Mr. Stamper describes applying for military hand-me-downs of “night-viewing goggles, grenade launchers, bayonets, assault rifles, armored land vehicles, watercraft, planes and helicopters.”
The Department of Homeland Security provides $1.6 billion per year in anti-terrorism grants that police departments can use to purchase military equipment. Police in Hartford, Conn., for example, recently purchased 231 assault rifles, 50 sets of night-vision goggles, a grenade launcher and a mine-resistant vehicle.
As recently as the 1970s, SWAT raids were rare, but police now conduct 50,000 per year. The weapons and tactics of war are common among what Mr. Clinton promised in 1994 would be “community policing.”
The question is just what would happen if law enforcement toned down its zero-tolerance policies?
One of the premier defenders of the police against critics is Heather Mac Donald, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute who publishes regularly in the nation’s most popular newspapers, including this one.
Her book “The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe” organizes and builds on her articles to create a narrative that warns against adjusting police tactics or lowering incarceration rates.
She takes aim at groups ranging from Black Lives Matter to “the Koch brothers [who] have teamed up with the ACLU, for example, to call for lower prison counts and less law enforcement.”
Much of the book is focused on the post-Ferguson state of policing, but it also includes some of her warnings and predictions from recent years.
In a chapter drawn from a 2013 article, for instance, Ms. Mac Donald worries that in the first full year after the court-mandated 30% decrease in California’s prison population, the state’s “crime rate climbed considerably over the national average.”
And in one from 2014 she writes that the 2013 ruling that led to the elimination of “stop-and-frisk” tactics in New York has set in motion “a spike in violence.”
Yet between 2008 and 2014, homicides fell by 21% in California and 34% in New York; crime in other categories was down, too. In the very year when Ms. Mac Donald suggests crime rates were climbing in California, homicide rates fell 7%.
This was equally true for New York City after stop and frisk was outlawed; homicide rates were ultimately down 0.5% in 2014.
It appears that keeping those extra 46,000 Californians behind bars or subjecting New Yorkers to 4.4 million warrantless searches between 2004 and 2013 was unnecessary for public safety.
More recently, Ms. Mac Donald has warned about a “Ferguson effect” that has led to a “rise in homicides and shootings in the nation’s 50 largest cities.”
Starting in the summer of 2014, anti-police-violence protests have prompted large reductions in aggressive policing, and Ms. Mac Donald points to increases in crime in cities including Baltimore, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Nashville.
She states that we are now seeing a “surge in lawlessness” and a “nationwide crime wave.” The latest FBI data, however, compares the first six months of 2014 and 2015 and shows that violent and property crime have both decreased in dozens of large cities, including Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, New York and Philadelphia.
From 2014 to 2015, violent crime did increase by 1.7% nationwide, but property crime decreased by 4.2%. Any data series will have some fluctuation, and even with a sustained downward trend upticks are likely.
The homicide rate, for example, has seen rises in four of the past 15 years but has fallen by 18% over the same period. To put the 1.7% “surge in lawlessness” into perspective, 2012 saw a 1.9% increase in violent crime and a 1.5% increase in property crime when zero-tolerance policing was still the norm nationwide.
And such a modest increase from one of the safest years in decades did nothing to change the fact that crime remained—and remains—close to a record national low.
Ms. Mac Donald is not alone in her thinking. Gallup does an annual survey asking, “Is there more crime in your area than there was a year ago, or less?”
In 14 of the past 15 years, the majority of Americans felt that crime had increased. But answering empirical questions requires looking at the numbers.
A data-driven book that does not engage in alarmism is “The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America” by Barry Latzer, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
The long-term trends in violent crime he presents are telling: In 1900, the American homicide rate was 6 per 100,000 people.
During Prohibition, it increased to 9 per 100,000 but fell to 4.5 per 100,000 by the 1950s. From the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the homicide rate spiked, reaching 11 per 100,000.
In the late 1970s, it started falling, increasing slightly in the late 1980s but steadily decreasing since the 1990s to the current level of 4.5 per 100,000, among the lowest in the nation’s history.
Should one attribute the decrease in crime to zero-tolerance policing and mass incarceration? It turns out that homicide rates in Canada start at a lower level but track the changes in American homicide rates almost exactly. In the past 25 years, our northern neighbor experienced equal declines in all major crime categories despite never having ramped up its policing or incarceration rates.
Those attributing all decreases in crime to increases in American law enforcement are looking in the wrong place.
As Mr. Latzer carefully says, “the jury is still out”: Violent crime rates “fell off all over the nation without any clear relationship between the enormous declines in some cities and the adoption of new policing models.”
Even though American and Canadian homicide rates rose in the late 1980s, the long-term downward trend clearly began in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Mr. Latzer concludes that the major determinants of a crime rate are likely cultural factors and economic opportunity.
The employed family man is going to be less interested in crime than the unemployed and unattached.
A month ago we heard predictions about the world economy’s impending collapse if Britain left the European Union. Yet within a week of the Brexit vote, British stock prices reached 2016 highs, and American stock prices are at an all-time high.
We can be sure that we will hear similar warnings in response to proposals for lowering incarceration rates, reducing the number of policemen, de-militarizing police departments or even privatizing much or all of what they do.
Yet, as Messrs. Stamper and Latzer point out, professional police departments were only invented a century and a half ago, and in 1865 New York incarcerated fewer than 2,000 citizens at any given time, compared with upward of 80,000 today (48 per 100,000 then versus 265 per 100,000 now).
Then, as now, societies were kept safe by numerous factors beyond government-sanctioned law enforcement. These range today from the most informal eyes on the street to the more formal million-plus private security guards currently employed in America.
Around New York City, business improvement districts pay for security personnel to do foot patrols, so the relevant policy choice is not between government police or no security whatsoever.
My own research has also found a strong negative correlation between homicide rates and economic freedom in a society. Free markets let people put their passions into business to work for others’ benefit.
Restrictions on business, including minimum-wage laws that keep young inner-city residents out of the labor force, are particularly harmful.
Citizens subject to random fines or harassment cannot turn the police away if they are unhappy with their services.
We need more markets, not more government, to discourage crime. One need not assume that unionized, militarized and unpopular policemen are the only option for keeping Americans safe.
Before Leaving, Sessions Limited Agreements To Fix Police Agencies
Former attorney general had long argued that far-reaching consent decrees hurt police morale, led to more crime and represented a bad use of federal power.
In his final hours as attorney general, Jeff Sessions signed a directive limiting prosecutors’ ability to rein in police practices they believe violate civil-rights laws, a shift he had pursued for years.
Mr. Sessions had long argued that reaching the broad agreements known as consent decrees with police departments, a hallmark of the Obama administration, hurt police morale, led to increases in crime and was an inappropriate use of federal power.
He had signaled he would back away from the use of the decrees since shortly after taking office, and the memo he signed Wednesday, perhaps Mr. Sessions’ final act in government, makes such agreements much more difficult to enact.
The move was a blow to civil-rights groups with whom Mr. Sessions often feuded. Many civil-rights advocates see the court-approved consent decrees as an important tool in fighting police abuses in places such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, where high-profile, racially-charged encounters between residents and officers drew attention to patterns of misconduct.
Such agreements have been used to force departments to overhaul training on the use of deadly force and to change practices regarding treatment of minorities.
The Obama administration opened far-ranging federal investigations of police departments in two dozen cities, including Baltimore, Cleveland, Seattle and Chicago, at least 14 of which ended in consent decrees.
Mr. Sessions’ memo says prosecutors now must get formal approval for such decrees from political appointees at the highest levels of the Justice Department, and that they must provide more detailed justifications for seeking the decrees. Previously, approval for the decrees was left to lower-ranking career officials.
The change also will require Justice Department attorneys to set expiration dates for the agreements. Obama-era consent decrees were often lifted only after a police department had shown evidence of improvement, and agencies could be penalized for failing to meet court-imposed deadlines.
Mr. Sessions argued that wide-ranging consent decrees are often costly for municipalities and violate their sovereignty. Police groups and conservative activists say the approach too readily finds fault with police instead of wrongdoers, tying the hands of officers rather than criminals.
Last month, Mr. Sessions formally opposed a consent decree between Chicago and the Illinois attorney general’s office, reached after a Justice Department report issued in the final days of the Obama administration found the city’s police department engaged in a pattern of excessive force, particularly involving minorities.
The Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, said Mr. Sessions had delivered on a promise, calling the Obama administration’s approach “heavy handed and coercive.”
The memo “would ensure that consent decrees will not be lengthy, open-ended arrangements with burdensome requirements or long-term, negative economic impacts,” the group said.
The new memo also applies to agreements between the Justice Department and other state and local government entities, such as schools, public-housing authorities and jails.
“This really makes it much less likely that consent decrees will be effective,” said Christy Lopez, a former Justice Department lawyer who worked on police-abuse investigations during the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Mr. Sessions shifted the department’s focus during his tenure, emphasizing programs to fight gang and gun crime and make it easier for police to obtain military-grade equipment, while putting fewer resources into Obama-era programs meant to overhaul police activities.
Police leaders became some of his most loyal fans, and he spent his last day on the job speaking to law-enforcement groups. “This was such a central part of his ethos,” Ms. Lopez said.
Private police services are sometimes called “Subscription-Based Patrol.”
Calls For Defunding Police Grow In Wake of Protests
Push to redirect funding toward other public services gains momentum as Congress, policy makers unveil law-enforcement reforms.
Momentum to overhaul policing across the nation gained steam on Monday, as a sweeping House bill and a push to cut funding to departments snowballed amid protests sparked by the killing of a black man in Minneapolis police custody last month.
A bill House Democrats unveiled Monday would make it easier to prosecute officers for misconduct, collect national data and establish new training programs to counter racial bias.
The bill doesn’t provide any new federal funds for police departments, except where constitutionally mandated for data collection, according to Democratic aides.
Meanwhile, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and New York City and others have launched efforts to shrink or restructure their police forces and budgets. Officials in other cities, including San Francisco, Baltimore and Philadelphia, are considering similar moves.
Still, calls to pull funding from law enforcement are meeting resistance among some policy makers who back other changes.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a Democrat, said he supports “massive structural and transformational reform” but not a full breakdown of the current department.
“Am I for entirely abolishing the police department? No I’m not,” Mr. Frey said Monday on Good Morning America. The police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in Minneapolis on May 25 sparked the recent protests that have fanned out across the country.
Activists who have sought cuts to police funding have in recent days embraced the slogan “Defund the Police.” The meaning of that message, which has appeared on countless signs and T-shirts during protests, isn’t entirely consistent, even among those supporting it.
Some, like Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, said they eventually want to see police forces abolished entirely.
Meanwhile, she would like to see at least some funding shifted from police departments toward organizations that support marginalized communities.
“It’s a powerful moment,” said Ms. Cullors. “I think that we have to really respond this time to the courage of these mayors and city council members because they’re listening to the community—finally.”
Others aren’t pushing to eliminate police departments but rather to cut funding to trim their responsibilities. Police have too many interactions with the public, they say—from monitoring high schools and answering drug-overdose emergency calls to responding to mental-health emergencies—all while heavily armed, which increases the likelihood of escalating into a violent encounter.
Cutting funding and shifting responsibilities to specialists like social workers or mental-health professionals, they say, would cut down on what the police need to do and provide better outcomes for communities.
On Monday, a campaign spokesman for Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said the former vice president
Mr. Biden has proposed increased investments in community policing, curbing the transfer of military weapons to police departments and banning chokeholds from police.
Meanwhile, President Trump, who has sought to tie his November opponent to the defunding push, said, “We won’t be defunding our police. We won’t be dismantling our police.” The president did acknowledge that there are things that shouldn’t have happened that contributed to Mr. Floyd’s killing.
Some police, while backing the need for reforms, reject suggestions that they’re overtaxed and overfunded.
“What will we say to that victim of domestic violence who waits even longer for a police response due to shortages of personnel in the field?
What do we say to the woman who was sexually assaulted, yet her assailant is still on the loose because resources are not available to locate him?” said the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the city’s police union, in a statement.
The U.S. is now in its third week of protests following the death of Mr. Floyd, whom officers arrested on May 25 for allegedly trying to pass off a counterfeit $20 bill.
Video that circulated widely on social media showed a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressing his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Mr. Floyd pleaded for mercy and said he couldn’t breathe before losing consciousness.
Initially, the demonstrations focused largely on what happened to Mr. Floyd as well as a legacy of police abuse against black people. In recent days, protesters and activists have pushed for policy changes, with defunding at the center of those calls.
The demonstrations seem to be making an impact.
In Minneapolis a veto-proof majority of the city council agreed Sunday to begin the process of disbanding the police department.
The contours of the process aren’t yet clear, but some council members said the force would still be equipped to respond to events requiring an aggressive response.
“We’re not talking about eliminating safety,” said council member Jeremiah Ellison. “We’re talking about eliminating a system that has failed to deliver safety.”
Camden, N.J., a city of more 70,000 residents, disbanded and restructured its police force in 2013, after the city struggled with its violent crime rate.
The county took over law enforcement and adopted a new community-policing and de-escalation strategy. Since that year the city has seen a 79% reduction in murder and a 59% reduction in robbery, according to data provided by Camden County.
“It’s using force as a last resort,” said Dan Keashen, the county’s director of public affairs. Mr. Keashen said the department’s budget was never defunded, but officials did reallocate how the money was spent, including by renegotiating employee benefits.
New York City Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, vowed over the weekend to shift funding from the city’s $6 billion police budget to youth and social services, though he didn’t say how much.
Los Angeles Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti has vowing to reallocate $250 million from the city’s proposed 2020-21 budget to address health and education issues in black and Hispanic communities.
While some Democrats are joining activists in calling to defund police departments, many in the party are focused on embracing other reforms.
The legislation assembled by the Congressional Black Caucus and backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and others wraps together a flurry of bills endorsed by various lawmakers with a new focus on holding police officers more accountable for misconduct.
Rep. Karen Bass (D., Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus said Monday that she supported better funding for communities. Still, Ms. Bass was concerned the slogan “defund the police” could be a distraction.
Private Police Coming to a Neighborhood Near You! Why Private Police May Be an Important Element of Future Law Enforcement
Modern policing is a very challenging endeavor. It requires a large degree of foresight, nimbleness, adaptability, risk taking, and commitment.
In addition to the practical challenges involved in reducing crime and making communities safe, law enforcement has been challenged with sharp reductions in budgets, and, thus, resources.
For instance, the number of sworn police officers in California fell from 81,286 in 2008 to 77,584 in 2011, a decline of roughly 5 percent, which translates to a 7 percent decline in the number of officers per 10,000 residents.
To deal with the ongoing fiscal pressure, leaders have made some tough choices, and some departments have been forced to slash services, eliminate specialty units, and focus only on basic core functions and the most violent crimes.
In Sacramento, California, police officers no longer respond to burglaries, misdemeanors, and minor traffic accidents.
The traffic enforcement unit has been disbanded. Some detectives have been sent back to the streets. The department conducts only follow-up investigations on the most serious crimes, like homicide and sexual assault. Sadly, Sacramento is not unique.
In 2014, Camden, New Jersey, disbanded its entire police force as rising crime and a lack of funds led the city to transfer law enforcement duties to the county.
Officials in Camden said that generous union contracts and declining aid from the state made it financially impossible to keep enough officers on the street.
Similarly, in 2011, Millbrae, California, dissolved its police force and contracted with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department in an effort to save $1.1 million per year, and two other cities in that county, San Carlos and Half Moon Bay, have also dissolved their forces to contract with the sheriff’s department.
These are not isolated instances—local California governments continue to struggle with ongoing financial issues, as evidenced by the high-profile bankruptcies of Vallejo, San Bernardino, and Stockton.
Fiscal constraints, high pension costs, and changing public opinion have made it much easier for local leaders to cut services, including police forces. In the future, law enforcement leaders must plan ways to provide quality service with fewer resources to their communities.
How Are Departments Coping?
Technology and new crime strategies have allowed agencies to be more efficient and effective with their resources. An example of this is online reporting. In Sacramento, citizens filed more than 18,256 online reports in 2012.
The online reporting program has saved thousands of labor hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars, while also allowing officers to focus on proactive patrol and smart policing strategies.
However, online reporting is impersonal and relatively unresponsive compared to in-person reporting, and there is little to no data on whether it helps reduce crime rates.
During a recent round of community meetings in Sacramento, residents expressed a clear preference for face-to-face interactions between the police and victims of crimes.
Many communities complain they have not seen the money saved by such a program reinvested back into the community through increased police presence or interaction.
The online reporting solution has not appeared to make much of a difference in Sacramento, which remains in the top 10 of California cities for violent and property crimes.6 Furthermore, a recent survey of Sacramento residents showed that their number one concern was crime.
When asked if their neighborhoods had gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse, 33.3 percent thought their neighborhoods had gotten better or much better, 39.4 percent thought they stayed the same, and 26.6 percent thought their neighborhood was “somewhat worse” or “much worse.”
The fact that about two-thirds of Sacramento residents felt their neighborhoods had either stayed the same or gotten worse in recent years reflects both a serious concern and an opportunity for change.
As police leaders must continue to create new strategies on how to best close the gaps between budgets and essential services, technology and evidence-based policing strategies will be part of the answer.
However, as demonstrated by Sacramento’s experience with online reporting, those strategies cannot solve every issue.
Another area left largely unexplored to date are the ways that the privatization of policing might have a significant and beneficial impact on policing in the future.
Rising Feelings of Vulnerability
A 2013 poll by Gallup revealed that 64 percent of U.S. citizens believe crime is getting worse. This number has fluctuated over the past decade or so, from a low of 53 percent in 2004 to a high of 74 percent in 2009. That statistic is concerning, when one considers that the crime rate fell significantly over the same period of time.
In many communities throughout the United States, violent crime fell by more than 50 percent. So what is at work here? Why do people feel that crime is going up, when the facts show it is going down?
One factor may be the well-publicized and large-scale incidents such as school shootings; the Boston Marathon bombing; and the Aurora, Colorado, shooting have contributed to a perception that people are less safe—even as crime continues to fall.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, intensified those perceptions, as evidenced by the resulting federal legislation permitting airline pilots to carry guns aboard flights as the last line of defense against hijackings.
The 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary created a renewed demand for the safety of school children In the United States, and schoolteachers in Israel and Thailand now carry concealed handguns on the job. In fact, in areas where the threat is considered the greatest, teachers have been given guns for free.
In the United States, people are beginning to think that the changes made in the wake of the 1999 Columbine shooting did not go far enough.
For example, in Colorado, Briggsdale School District allows trained teachers to be armed at school, and, in 2014, elected officials in Ohio approved a bill that would allow school boards to designate some school employees to carry concealed firearms.
The feeling that these defense strategies are needed reflects the growing sense of fear among the public.
Dwindling Police Department Resources
As a result of the reductions in police personnel, many local law enforcement agencies are struggling to provide basic service to their communities.
According to New York Times columnist Kate Zernike, as budgets shrink, it is no longer possible for each community to offer a full buffet of government services.
This statement is bolstered by the fact that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, law enforcement will grow by a paltry 41,400 jobs or approximately 5 percent of the 780,000 now employed.
When paired with the increased feelings of vulnerability, the inability of the police to provide quality service to communities has caused some neighborhoods to seek out alternatives.
“You have to walk around in your house with a gun to feel safe,” said Oakland, California, resident Alaska Tarvins, who went on to say, “We don’t have a choice. Either die or hire some security ourselves, because we can’t depend on the police department.”
That may seem extreme, but Tarvins’s statement does illustrate the attitude and frustration of some community members—and it seems the number of those feeling that way is growing.
In 2014, Detroit, Michigan, Police Chief James Craig said, “There’s a number of CPL (concealed pistol license) holders running around the city of Detroit.
I think it acts as a deterrent. Good Americans with CPLs translates to crime reduction.” Despite this perspective, an armed citizenry as an alternative to the police is not viable; instead, what may be a more realistic option is to engage the private sector to protect our communities.
Alternatives To Traditional Municipal Policing
Budget reductions are forcing cities to consider more efficient alternatives to standard police services. There is a billion dollar industry poised to be that alternative.
Private security companies no longer consist of the high school dropouts or the people who could not make it through the police academy.
Rather, their employees are educated, professional, and motivated workers who provide superior customer service.
The United Kingdom has already begun to use private police to supplement their law enforcement services, and the concept of private companies taking on some traditional police roles is catching on in the region.
West Midlands, England, Chief Constable, Chris Sims, says his force is a good testing ground for fundamental change; by expanding the role of private police, Sims saves his agency £126 million (approximately 2.3 million USD) each year.
G4S is one of the biggest employers in the world, with 675,000 employees in Europe, Africa, and the United States.
They provided security for the 2012 Olympic Games in London and have predicted that, within five years, private companies will be running large parts of police services in the United Kingdom.
During an interview, G4S executive David Taylor Smith said, “Our view was, look, we would never try to take away core policing functions from the police, but for a number of years it has been absolutely clear to us—and to others—the configuration of the police in the UK is just simply not as effective and as efficient as it could be.”
Smith went on to say that the main drivers of private sector involvement in policing were “budgetary pressure and political will.”
A similar scenario is happening in the United States. Police department budgets have been slashed, thus eliminating services, while simultaneously, some figures in politics and the media have vilified police and other public employees’ salaries and pensions.
In contrast to the slowed growth rate of law enforcement employment, by 2022, the security industry is poised to grow by 130,200 jobs (12 percent). The circumstances are ripe for private security providers to be considered a more effective and affordable public safety solution.
Many communities have already begun to contract with private security to supplement local law enforcement. Private sector companies are cheaper and focused more on customer service.
In Oakland, California, several neighborhoods have hired private security to patrol their neighborhoods in response to rising crime rates and reductions in police staffing.
More than 600 Oakland households pay $20 a month for unarmed patrols in clearly marked cars to run 12 hours a day, Monday through Saturday.
In Beverly Hills, California, Evidence Based Inc., a private security firm, was approved to provide armed safety personnel to protect Beverly Hills Public Schools in January 2014 at a cost of $1.4 million for 18 months of service.
The Beverly Hills Police Department had provided School Resource Officers to the city’s schools in the past, but the department had ended the program a few years prior due to staffing shortages that necessitated the reassignment of the school officers to patrol beats.
Another example of private security fulfilling core functions of law enforcement is the development of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). A BID is a defined area in which businesses pay an additional “tax” to pay for projects within the district’s boundary.
In many urban BIDs, one of the priorities funded by the fees is additional security services. BIDs have existed since the early 1980s, although they went relatively unnoticed until recently.
Now, there are more than 1,000 in the United States A 2009 RAND Corporation study of BIDs in Los Angeles, California, found that neighborhoods whose BIDs contracted for added security had significantly less crime than those without the added security.
According to the lead researcher, “These districts make a place, not such an attractive place for crimes of opportunities, such as robbery.” One of the largest BIDs in the United States, the Times Square Alliance, located in the heart of New York City, has seen similar results.
The Times Square Alliance provides increased public safety through unarmed, fully trained security officers; the BID even offers canine patrols and works closely with the New York Police Department (NYPD).
Much like BIDs, private security guards are not a new concept—they have spent decades serving as the eyes and ears of private property owners.
Over time, these companies have become more professional and diverse in the services that they provide, and this evolution has caught many police organizations off guard.
In an era where public policing does not have the funding necessary to provide meaningful security and private security organizations are willing to provide services for less, what does that mean for law enforcement?
What Does The Future Hold?
A successful public police organization of the future will either partner with private security or offer an alternative that can compete with the private sector. One potential alternative is the employment of non-sworn civilian personnel to respond to low-priority matters traditionally assigned to police officers.
For example, the Las Vegas, Nevada, Metropolitan Police Department; the Indianapolis, Indiana, Metropolitan Police Department; and the Orange County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office all hire civilians to respond to some calls.
Essentially, civilians handle “cold” reports, dispatching duties, telephone reporting, and daytime patrols, thus freeing sworn officers to handle higher priority calls. This type of program can also save a department money.
In Las Vegas, for example, the starting salary for a sworn officer is $54,000, while the starting salary for a civilian responder is $32,000.25 In Denver, Colorado, Chief Robert White plans to hire civilian staff to fill 30 positions currently held by officers, which will save the agency a projected $600,000 annually.
For some agencies, it may make more sense to partner with private security companies to pool resources. For example, camera technologies to aid in surveillance for public safety have advanced to a level where suspects may be able to be identified in almost any environment.
However, most cities do not have the funds to invest in the infrastructure needed to support a robust camera system, much less the money to purchase the technology.
In addition, police departments often do not have the personnel to monitor the systems. In those types of situations, partnerships with private firms or working with BIDs may provide mutually beneficial solutions.
The founder of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans, Dan Gilbert, has invested more than a billion dollars to revitalize downtown Detroit, Michigan, a multimillion dollar security control room has been built to monitor his properties. The security control monitors more than 300 cameras in metropolitan Detroit.
Operators can zoom in on individuals and record images. If an incident occurs, the private system works with the Detroit Police Department to identify suspects and solve crimes. Detroit’s police chief, James Craig, thinks it is a win-win for the city.
“I’m hopeful that sometime in the very [near] future that the Detroit Police Department can replicate and even expand beyond the technology being used in Rock Ventures,” Craig said. “Right now, as it stands, we are invited in and use their center for major events in the downtown area, and it’s proved to be very effective.”
The trend of diminished budgets and limited resources for law enforcement agencies is likely to continue. Law enforcement leaders must recognize the world of law enforcement is changing and then look for ways to change with it so that they can successfully provide public safety moving forward.
Considering strategic partnerships with private security, as well as changes in the composition of their own staffs may be the right solution for many police departments.
Special Conservators Of The Peace” — or SCOP
These private police carry guns and make arrests, and their ranks are swelling
Michael Youlen stopped a driver in a Manassas, Virginia, apartment complex on a recent night and wrote the man a ticket for driving on a suspended license. With a badge on his chest and a gun on his hip, Youlen gave the driver a stern warning to stay off the road.
The stop was routine police work, except for one fact: Youlen is not a Manassas officer. The citation came courtesy of the private force he created that, until recently, he called the “Manassas Junction Police Department.”
He is its chief and sole officer.
He is a force of one.
And he is not alone. Like more and more Virginians, Youlen gained his police powers using a little-known provision of state law that allows private citizens to petition the courts for the authority to carry a gun, display a badge and make arrests.
The number of “special conservators of the peace“ — or SCOPs, as they are known — has doubled in Virginia over the past decade to roughly 750, according to state records.
The growth is mirrored nationally in the ranks of private police, who increasingly patrol corporate campuses, neighborhoods and museums as the demand for private security has increased and police services have been cut in some places.
The trend has raised concerns in Virginia and elsewhere, because these armed officers often receive a small fraction of the training and oversight of their municipal counterparts.
Arrests of private police officers and incidents involving SCOPs overstepping their authority have also raised concerns.
The Virginia legislature approved a bill Friday increasing the training and regulation of SCOPs. The private officers would now be required to train for 130 hours, up from 40 hours — less than the state requires for nail technicians, auctioneers and security guards.
In neighboring Washington, a similar designation called “special police” requires 40 hours of training. Maryland officials leave instruction to the discretion of employers but have no requirements. Other states have similar systems.
“There are a number of groups we regulate far more stringently than SCOPs carrying a gun,” said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, speaking prior to the passage of the bill.
The conservator of the peace concept predates modern policing.
It has its origins in English common law, and the first Virginia statute was enacted in 1860 to allow proprietors of “watering places” to protect their establishments.
The designation still retains some of that informality. No authority regulates the conduct of SCOPs or addresses complaints against them, although a court can revoke their commissions. The state does not track the number of arrests they make or citations they issue.
Most SCOPs patrol corporate campuses, work for neighborhood associations or perform code enforcement for counties or cities, but Youlen has pushed the model further by creating his own “department” and turning policing into an enterprise. He contracts his services to nine apartment and housing communities in the Manassas area. That’s up from one in 2012.
SCOPs are free to call themselves “police” in Virginia, although the new bill would require court approval. Youlen recently dropped “police department” from the name of his operation, anticipating that lawmakers would restrict use of the term. It is now called Manassas Junction LLC.
Youlen, who is a former police officer, said he sees his work as a complement to the Manassas force, not a replacement for it.
He said he provides the type of intensive policing, hands-on engagement with the community and attention to small problems that the city simply doesn’t have the resources or manpower to provide.
“I’m a part-time police officer and a part-time advocate,” Youlen said of his work. “And I would hope a part-time role model and steady security presence for these communities.”
On the night Youlen wrote the suspended-license ticket, he pulled his black Ford Fusion with tinted windows out of the Colonial Village Apartments around 8 p.m. Youlen, 30, spends his shifts circulating among the communities he covers until the early hours of the morning.
He deals mostly with loitering, traffic infractions, noise complaints, minor drug offenses and nuisances that can impact quality of life. He said he has never pulled his gun.
At one point during another patrol, Youlen rolled up next to two mattresses that someone had propped against a tree in a townhome community. He said he would return later to investigate and possibly issue a citation to the violator.
At another point, he checked in with the mother of a teen who had gotten into trouble with neighbors to make sure the boy was still in school and playing football. Youlen wore a black flak vest with the word “police” emblazoned across it as he talked to the woman.
Youlen said he turns any felony-type incidents, such as assaults, rapes or shootings, over to the Manassas police to handle, but if he does go to court he testifies and provides evidence in cases just as a municipal police officer would.
Youlen said he was a police officer in upstate New York before spending several years on the Manassas force. He said he left to start a private investigator service and then became a SCOP after reading about a housing community in Stafford County, Virginia, called Aquia Harbour that had its own private police force.
In many ways, Youlen’s operation functions much as any police department. Youlen has a dispatch number that residents can call and a daily blotter that he posts on the Manassas Junction website, along with fliers for suspects and notices about recent incidents. He gives reports about crime at homeowners association meetings.
In 2014, Youlen recorded 77 arrests and ticket citations and handed out 162 parking violations, according to his statistics. He responded to 221 calls for service.
Manassas City Police Chief Douglas Keen said he has concerns about Youlen, saying his presence has created confusion among citizens, magistrates and even judges. Keen said many who encounter him assume he represents the city.
“Any misunderstanding or confusion in this could greatly impact the relationships and trust within our community,” Keen wrote in an email.
Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert said SCOPs’ lack of training and their backgrounds have sometimes undermined prosecutions, though he did not point to any specific cases. His office noted they had not had any issues with Youlen.
“The trouble of prosecuting cases from those folks is that we have to vouch for the credibility of the complainant,” Ebert said. “A lot of them are not trained and don’t have pasts that are conducive to law enforcement.”
But Crystal Terrant, owner of Burke Community Management, which manages eight properties that Youlen patrols, said calls to police have dropped dramatically since she hired Youlen.
“He’s cleaned up a lot of the petty crime and traffic stuff,” Terrant said. “He offers a sense of security to residents. He’s befriended the kids, so they respect the property more.”
A handful of incidents involving SCOPs in Virginia and nationally have focused attention on the training and oversight of private police.
In 2009, a SCOP who owned a private security firm got into a heated argument with a woman over parking at a Newport News, Virginia-area shopping center, according to court records.
Kevin Bukowski hemmed in the woman’s vehicle, and then he and a partner pointed their guns directly at the woman and a friend as they sat in their car with two children, court records show.
Bukowski was convicted of abduction, and the state revoked his SCOP registration in 2012.
“I was unjustly punished, but there are a lot of problems with the system,” Bukowski said of SCOPs. “You got these guys running out there as security officers who couldn’t make it as police officers.”
In another incident in 2012, a SCOP on a motorcycle with flashing lights and various law enforcement-style stickers pulled over a Virginia State Police special agent driving on I-64 near the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, according to court records.
The SCOP asked the officer why he was going so fast. The officer replied, “Who are you?” and flashed his badge, according to court records. The SCOP then rode off.
The officer said the man on the motorcycle was likely a SCOP named Michael Tynan, who runs a security officer training academy in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Portsmouth, Virginia, police questioned Tynan after he was seen conducting another traffic stop in 2013, according to the court documents.
He told officers his SCOP status allowed him to perform traffic stops. He also said he was a retired state trooper but later admitted he failed out of the academy.
The Virginia Attorney General’s Office moved to strip Tynan of his SCOP commission in Portsmouth in 2013, and Tynan agreed to surrender it.
In an interview, Tynan said he was unaware of the allegations and would have challenged them if he had known about them. “I categorically deny these things,” Tynan said.
The government’s motion to vacate Tynan’s SCOP commission in Portsmouth said he was “unfit for an appointment,” but state records show Tynan is still registered as a SCOP in Virginia Beach.
Backers note that SCOPs can play a valuable role and that problems are rare.
John Hall, president of American Security Group in Richmond, Virginia, said his company employs SCOPs. He said they provide an affordable way to boost security for many communities.
“There’s a void in a lot of the [homeowner’s associations], light rails and business parks,” Hall said. “There has to be some type of role there between public and private.”
Experts say Virginia’s increase is SCOPs is part of a nationwide uptick in private security that began in the 1970s and accelerated after the Sept. 11 attacks. The number of private security guards — nearly 1.1 million — dwarfs the 640,000 public police officers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While the numbers have increased, training has not kept pace. A 2012 study from a University of Illinois College of Law assistant professor found that private police are “chronically undertrained” and nearly a third nationwide face almost no regulation.
States other than Virginia have faced issues as well. In 2012, more than 20 residents of the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore filed a $25 million lawsuit against a Cleveland security company, claiming its guards had abused residents and violated their civil rights by stopping them illegally and making false arrests.
Two of the three guards named in the suit were “special police,” a designation similar to SCOPs in Virginia.
In 2005, a special police officer tasked with guarding government buildings in Washington was convicted of a felony after carrying out an armed robbery in Georgetown using the revolver issued by his security company.
To become a SCOP in Virginia, an individual must register with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. That requires the applicant to pass a criminal background check and an alcohol and drug test. The new bill ups the training requirement to 130 hours for armed SCOPs — still far less than the 580 to 1,200 hours required of municipal police officers in the state.
The individual then petitions a circuit court to be commissioned with the sponsorship of an employer.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is expected to sign the bill increasing training and regulation for SCOPs. Sen. Thomas Norment Jr., who sponsored it, said he would like to eventually bar SCOPs from calling themselves police and using flashing lights. The current bill allows them to do both, with the permission of the courts.
“I’m pleased with the progress, but there is still some work to do,” Norment said.
Minneapolis City Council Advances Plan To Abolish Police Department
Council took first step toward putting change to city’s charter on November ballot.
The Minneapolis City Council on Friday took the first step toward abolishing its police department and replacing it with a department of community safety and violence prevention, the latest fallout from the killing of George Floyd by a city police officer last month.
The council on Friday unanimously approved sending to a public commission a proposed charter amendment that could ultimately end up on the November ballot.
“No singular action is going to undo longstanding systemic oppression, racial oppression,” said Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison, one of the authors of the proposed amendment. “This is one action of many that we need to take on the road to a more equitable and just system that keeps people safe.”
Mayor Jacob Frey said later Friday that he opposed the proposed amendment for its lack of clarity and blurring of clear lines of responsibility.
“Will we still have police?” he asked. “If you vote for this, are you voting to abolish the police department or is this merely a cosmetic change where you add a bureaucratic layer, you change the name to peace officer and give them different uniforms?”
For the amendment to make it onto the November ballot, it must be submitted by Aug. 21, so the council streamlined its process to make that possible, referring the matter to the Minneapolis Charter Commission, which will hold the only public hearing on the matter, and its own policy committee.
The mayor said he supports a full revamping of the culture of the police department by making changes to the police contract that will make it easier to fire officers who misbehave. Currently, 45% of police firings are overturned in arbitration, he said.
Mr. Frey also said the new charter would diffuse responsibility since the head of public safety will report to 14 people, including the 13 council members and the mayor, instead of just the mayor.
“If this is about me,” he said. “There’s an election next year.”
Mr. Floyd was killed May 25, after police were called to investigate someone who had allegedly tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill. Former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, was captured on cellphone video with his knee pressed to the neck of Mr. Floyd, who is black, for around eight minutes, while junior officers held down his arms and legs and a fourth officer kept witnesses away.
All four officers were fired. Mr. Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder and the other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
The killing set off protests across the country and widespread arson and looting in the Twin Cities, including the burning of a police precinct.
A majority of city-council members pledged during one protest to abolish the police department. The proposed amendment language says the police will be replaced with a new entity that will take a “holistic, public-health oriented approach” to public safety.
It says the new head of the department shouldn’t come from a law-enforcement background, but possibly from community health or restorative justice.
The new department could have a division of law enforcement with licensed “peace officers,” the proposed charter language says. The head of that division would be named by the head of the new department, subject to approval by the mayor and council.
Council members described the proposed charter amendment as an effort to remove one possible roadblock to revamping how the city deals with public safety in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s killing, but not the end of their push for change.
Councilwoman Alondra Cano, another sponsor of the amendment, said it is part of yearlong effort to engage the community in how it handles public safety.
“The people of Minneapolis can choose how they want to show up for each other when people need help,” she said. “We are going straight into the architecture of how safety is provided for our community.”
A Black Mathematician Says Scholars Need To ‘Engage’ on Predictive Policing
The algorithms won’t go away, so it’s important to make them fair, says Daniel Krashen of Rutgers.
Mathematicians are hotly debating whether to withhold their support from “predictive policing,” which is the use of algorithms to forecast where crimes will occur and who might commit them. “Given the structural racism and brutality in US policing, we do not believe that mathematicians should be collaborating with police departments in this manner.
It is simply too easy to create a ‘scientific’ veneer for racism,” says a letter submitted to Notices of the American Mathematical Society on June 15. More than 1,500 researchers have joined the boycott, according to Popular Mechanics.
But a Black mathematician at Rutgers University, Daniel Krashen, argues in the math journal’s October issue that disengagement is the wrong answer. Here’s an excerpt:
Police patrolling will not simply end. If mathematicians, scientists, and others don’t come together to help formulate algorithms about patrolling, we can do little to influence the potential bias that the police can (and likely will) bring. But if the algorithms used by the police are transparent, and placed in a forum of public scientific discussion, we can work together to find potential sources of bias and inequity, and address them.
If the algorithms aren’t available, if the police obtain them through businesses that keep them confidential, this conversation can never happen, and this is when society will really suffer.
I don’t think this is the time for academics to walk away from the conversation with the police or with other institutions and companies, but rather now is the time to go deeper, to analyze how particular algorithms are used, to push for maximal transparency, and to try to identify and correct bias where we can.
Krashen writes that predictive policing is outside his fields of expertise (which happen to be noncommutative algebra and arithmetic geometry) but says he’s been familiarizing himself with the literature. “As scientists,” he writes, “we need to engage with the algorithms that do exist, to test them, to critique them, and to work to fix them when needed.”
Algorithms don’t have to be harmful. In some cities they’re being used to “predict when police will go rogue,” according to a July article in Bloomberg Businessweek by Joshua Brustein.
Bloomberg Opinion columnist Cathy O’Neil wrote in June that algorithms could be used to figure out how much of someone’s crime risk is related to factors such as poor mental health and divert some money from police and prison budgets to directly address those underlying conditions.
“Weapons of math destruction,” as O’Neil called them in her book of that title, probably can’t be banished, but it should be possible to use them for good, not evil.
Big Ballot Win On Police Reform
Post-George Floyd police reform.
In Los Angeles, voters approved a measure that comes the closest to following the ideals of the defund-the-police movement. Measure J would allocate funding for social service alternatives to the criminal justice system.
While the measure doesn’t dictate where those funds should come from, it’s not unlikely that at least some of the funds for the program will come from law enforcement budgets. The initiative requires that 10% of general local revenue go toward the initiative, and backers hope it will be a national model for reform.
A San Francisco measure to remove a minimum required number of police officers in the city is also poised to pass. The measure is in some ways symbolic:
The city hasn’t been following the minimum in recent years. But the provision comes with other requirements to reassess resources, which have remarkably widespread support: Both proponents of reform and the city’s police chief hope the process will spur new scrutiny of law enforcement needs.
Several other measures to improve police oversight boards passed handily, including one in San Fransisco, Columbus, Ohio; and Portland, Oregon.
Police In Cities Across U.S. Brace For A Violent Summer
Lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, rise in gun purchases have officials on edge heading into warmer months.
Police departments in New York City and other large metro areas across the U.S. are bulking up patrols and implementing new tactics to prepare for what they say could be a violent summer.
States lifting Covid-19 restrictions and more people out in public spaces in warmer weather increase the likelihood of more shootings, as well as less-serious crimes, officials say.
Many crimes, including violent ones, normally rise in summer. Gun purchases also rose during the pandemic and cities have seen an increase in guns being used in crimes.
Shootings and homicides in big U.S. cities are up this year again after rising last year. In the last three months of 2020, homicides rose 32.2% in cities with a population of at least one million, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Quarterly Uniform Crime Report.
In New York City, the number of homicides has reached 146 for the year so far, an increase of 27% from 115 during the same period in 2020. In Dallas, police have counted 75 homicides this year, up from 58 during the same period last year.
Chicago police have recorded 195 homicides, up from 160 in the year-ago period.
“We’re coming out of the pandemic, life is starting again and more people are going to be out on the street,” said the Jersey City, N.J., director of public safety, James Shea.
The Jersey City Police Department is increasing the deployment of officers to foot posts in high-crime areas, expanding the department’s closed-circuit video system and holding public meetings to improve relations with the community, he said.
In Dallas, the city’s Violent Crime Reduction Plan includes provisions for the deployment of officers this summer to the city’s hot spots, where much of the violent crime is committed, Police Chief Eddie Garcia said.
The pandemic interfered with efforts by the police in Washington, D.C., to visit communities in person last year and spend time with residents face-to-face, said Robert Contee, chief of the city’s Metropolitan Police Department. This year, he said he believes more officers will be out in communities, building relationships.
“You wouldn’t see a lot of that last year, and we certainly want to do more of that because I think that that’s how you get to safer communities, by engaging community members of where they are,” Chief Contee said.
The MPD has recorded 69 homicides so far this year, up from 52 during the same period last year. Last year the city had 198 homicides, up from 166 in 2019, according to police.
New York Police Department officials are dispatching 200 officers and adding patrols to 100 blocks in the city with the highest levels of gun violence. The city saw one of its most violent summers in 2020, recording the most shootings since 1996.
“The warmer months always usually give us more problems when it comes to violence,” said NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison.
Chief Harrison said gang activity accounted for about half of the shootings in the city. He said officers struggled to solve cases during the pandemic in part because the NYPD’s relationship with residents suffered in 2020, when thousands attended demonstrations against police brutality and racism.
The NYPD would work this summer to rebuild the trust of potential witnesses to crimes by meeting with residents, community leaders and members of neighborhood groups, Chief Harrison said.
The reopening of bars and other establishments may reduce violence at illegal nightclubs, which flourished during the pandemic, he said.
Police have made more arrests for gun-related crimes this year, but the effort so far has failed to slow the pace of shootings, NYPD officials say. The officials said they are also expanding the use of technology that identifies the sound and location of gunfire.
In New York City, the number of shootings for the year so far is 451, up 86% from 242 in the same period in 2020.
Additional officers have also been deployed in recent weeks to Manhattan business districts, including Times Square, where a shooting occurred May 8 in the afternoon, according to the officials. The shooting happened after a dispute among a group of men, according to the officials. Three bystanders—a 4-year-old-girl and two women—were injured when they were hit by stray bullets.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said after the shooting that the city is being flooded with illegal guns. He has called for stricter gun-control laws at the federal level.
Many illegal guns seized by police in New York City are purchased out of state and brought into the city, where they are subsequently sold locally, according to NYPD officials. A gun-trafficking route that starts in the South and is known as the Iron Pipeline has been active during the pandemic, the officials said.
Police Violence Deaths Are Twice As High As Official U.S. Count, Study Finds
Researchers estimate 30,800 people have been killed by police from 1980 to 2018 — far more than government data has captured.
More men died of police violence than of testicular cancer, or lymphoma, or STDs in the U.S. in 2019. Depending on where you get your information, that could come as a surprise, or a grave confirmation.
A new study published in The Lancet found that a government-run database has undercounted the number of deaths at the hands of police in the U.S. by more than half.
That’s unacceptable, said Fablina Sharara, one of the lead authors of the report and a researcher for the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. “We rely on official statistics for every other cause of death: for cancer, for example, or homicide,” she said. “From our perspective, it’s important for the official statistics to be accurate for every cause.”
They found that the official U.S. count of causes of death, produced by the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), likely didn’t represent 55.5% of the true total deaths from police violence that occurred over four decades. The actual number of police deaths was 30,800 between 1980 and 2018, researchers estimated.
The undercount was most pronounced among non-Hispanic Black victims, who had the highest mortality rate: Of an estimated 9,500 deaths, only around 3,800 were officially logged.
“When you undercount, you’re now scientifically making it nearly impossible to make good policy decisions,” said Edwin G. Lindo, the assistant dean for Social & Health Justice at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who reviewed the findings of the study.
“When you are undercounting an individual who had a fatal encounter with police, you are now effectively erasing the historical fact of what was their death and how it occurred.”
The fact that the government has been undercounting police-involved deaths is not a new revelation: Over the last few years, several news outlets and independent organizations started their own alternative databases precisely to address this problem and determine the true scope of police violence.
These open source projects have depended on news reports, crowdsourcing and other research that includes coroners’ diagnoses or official death records obtained by public records requests. Despite the evidence from these projects that government sources had deficient information, the NVSS rate of underreporting has changed little over time, researchers said.
The new study documents the extent of that cumulative undercount over several decades, and points the way to creating a more centralized and transparent national resource that follows some of the standards open source projects have created.
The three databases the researchers studied, Mapping Police Violence, Fatal Encounters and The Guardian’s The Counted, only collectively hosted data covering 2000 to 2019, and used different metrics to classify what factors police played in violence.
The Guardian’s program has already ended, its methodology was considered by researchers to be the gold standard, in spite of its relatively short duration. So, using a predictive model that applied similar methods across decades, researchers established a model to estimate the scale of deadly police violence.
Discrepancies in the official count can be driven by a variety of factors, many of which are influenced by racial bias, researchers say.
Often, the coroners or medical examiners who first identify cause of death are embedded within police departments or consult with law enforcement, which researchers say could introduce conflicts of interest.
They’re also typically elected or appointed: If police unions are donating to their campaigns, Lindo posits, that could introduce a financial incentive that skews accurate accounting.
“One way to mitigate that is for medical examiners or coroners to have more independence from those departments,” said Eve Wool, another lead author on the report and a researcher for the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Training matters, too: Sometimes, police-involved deaths are miscategorized as homicides or suicides, in part because there’s no standardized process to ask about if — and how — a police officer was involved in the death.
The study’s estimate comes with its own caveats: News accounts are subject to their own biases that may obscure true causes of death, and the information available to the public is not always complete.
Instead of relying solely on open source models, which may themselves be both under- and over-inclusive, creating a clearer and more rigorous process for medical personnel to follow during these investigations could ensure better reporting, the researchers advise.
Lindo goes further, suggesting that cities could introduce accountability mechanisms to ensure that practitioners who don’t accurately report causes of death could be subject to questioning, which could potentially lead to de-licensure, fines and even more oversight, he said.
By analyzing these trends long term, researchers confirmed that rates of police violence have been fairly constant since 1990 — and that racial disparities in that violence have persisted for even longer. According to their analysis, Black Americans die at 3.5 times the rate of white Americans due to encounters with the police.
After the Black Lives Matter protests of the last year, and the renewed attention on the individual stories of those killed by police, it’s important to ensure the scope of the national problem is accurately represented, Lindo says.
“You can’t actually declare progression or a decrease in anything if we’re not collecting the most accurate and most reliable data.”
Using only the metrics published by the NVSS, George Floyd’s death might have been one of those missing data points.
The original press release from the Minneapolis police department, after all, didn’t directly implicate officers, and the preliminary report from the medical examiners’ office mentioned both the police restraint and Floyd’s underlying health issues and drug use as potential causes of death.
Without video evidence and the subsequent trial, the true link to police violence may have gone unexamined.
Supreme Court Backs Police In Two ‘Qualified Immunity’ Cases
Unsigned ruling examining cases in California and Oklahoma finds officers who used force when confronting suspects can’t be sued.
WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court threw out two separate excessive-force lawsuits filed against police, ruling Monday that the doctrine of qualified immunity protected the officers from having to answer the allegations in court.
Qualified immunity—the doctrine that police officers and other officials can’t be sued for misconduct unless they have violated “clearly established” rights—has come under scrutiny by critics who argue it too often gives legal protection to police misconduct.
Following last year’s police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and other Democrats proposed scrapping the court-made doctrine, but initial efforts toward a bipartisan agreement to overhaul the legal framework for police conduct reached a stalemate.
Monday’s cases, domestic-disturbance incidents from California and Oklahoma, were decided by unsigned opinions without argument or dissent, suggesting the justices found little difficulty overruling federal appeals courts that permitted the lawsuits to proceed.
The first case involved Union City, Calif., officers who in November 2016 responded when a 12-year-old girl called 911 to report that she, her sister and her mother were barricaded in a room while the mother’s boyfriend was trying to hurt them and had a chain saw.
At the scene, the suspect, Ramon Cortesluna, initially complied with police commands, the court said, citing undisputed facts from the case.
But when he disregarded police instructions and lowered his hands, an officer who saw a knife in Mr. Cortesluna’s pocket, shot him with a nonlethal beanbag shotgun.
Mr. Cortesluna then obeyed commands to get down, and Officer Daniel Rivas-Villegas moved to restrain him.
The officer “placed his left knee on the left side of Cortesluna’s back, near where Cortesluna had a knife in his pocket.
He raised both of Cortesluna’s arms up behind his back. Rivas-Villegas was in this position for no more than eight seconds before standing up while continuing to hold Cortesluna’s arms.” Another officer came up, removed the knife and handcuffed Mr. Cortesluna.
Mr. Cortesluna sued Officer Rivas-Villegas for using excessive force, but a trial judge dismissed the case under the qualified-immunity doctrine, which frees government officials from misconduct claims when, as Supreme Court precedent puts it, their conduct “does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, reinstated the suit, reasoning that under similar circumstances it had permitted a claim to proceed.
Both that prior suit “and this case involve suspects who were lying facedown on the ground and were not resisting either physically or verbally, on whose back the defendant officer leaned with a knee, causing allegedly significant injury,” the Ninth Circuit said.
The Supreme Court questioned whether a circuit’s own precedent, rather than a Supreme Court decision, could clearly establish the officer’s duty.
In any case, the justices said Officer Rivas-Villegas faced a different and more dangerous situation.
In the comparison case, the court said, the officer had responded to a noise complaint and used his knee to restrain an unarmed suspect who testified that he made no threat when police arrived.
In the second case, police in Tahlequah, Okla., responded in August 2016 when a woman called to complain that her intoxicated ex-husband was in her garage and wouldn’t leave.
Officers confronted the man, Dominic Rollice, who expressed concern about going to jail, the court opinion said, noting that the encounter was captured on police video.
Mr. Rollice backed into the garage, grabbed a hammer and “took a stance as if he was about to throw the hammer or charge at the officers,” the court said. Officers Josh Girdner and Brandon Vick then fatally shot Mr. Rollice.
A trial judge threw out the case, but the 10th Circuit, in Denver, reinstated the lawsuit.
“On this record, the officers plainly did not violate any clearly established law,” the Supreme Court said. “As we have explained, qualified immunity protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’”
Black Female Prosecutors Hold Outsized Roles In Charging Police For Killings
Black female prosecutors have an outsized impact on whether police officers are charged after deadly shootings despite holding only 1% of elected prosecutor roles nationwide, data by Mapping Police Violence show.
While fewer than 3% of killings by police annually result in a police officer being charged with a crime, Black female prosecutors comprised 9% of the prosecutors who charged officers with a killing between 2013 and 2021.
One in five prosecutors who pursued multiple cases of police killings were Black women in that time.
“I think that suggests who the prosecutor is actually does matter to your likelihood of seeing accountability in some of these cases,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, the founder of Mapping Police Violence.
The report compiled information on 1,134 killings by police in the U.S. in 2021 from databases, media reports, obituaries and public records. It was the second most deadly year on record for police killings since 2013, the earliest date for which the group has data.
While Black people comprise only 13% of the U.S. population, 28% of people killed by police in 2021 were Black. They were also more likely to be unarmed and less likely to be reported as threatening than their non-Black counterparts.
Mapping Police Violence just released a report finding 2021 was one of the *worst years for deadly police violence on record.* See the report at https://t.co/stp7V46Jms. Here are some of the key findings from our analysis (1/x)… pic.twitter.com/SMzDDNtMUa
— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) January 21, 2022
To be sure, 2021 also saw the conviction and sentencing of Derek Chauvin, the White police officer who received 22 ½ years in prison for murdering George Floyd, a Black man.
Still, 97% of killings by police in 2021 were shootings, and only 1% of all deaths last year have resulted in an officer being charged.
The fact that the data remain consistent over past years is cause for alarm, Sinyangwe said.
“That speaks to the urgency that we need interventions, that we need change, and that many of the things that have been proposed sort of rhetorically, don’t seem to be working,” he said.
This is the first year that Mapping Police Violence also looked at the efficacy of policing alternative initiatives, like mental health intervention programs such as CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon, and the STAR program in Denver, Colorado.
Early data for a pilot program in New York City show that 95% of people who were visited by mental health professionals accepted care, compared to 82% of people in need who were met by police.
“I think that there’s a lot of work yet to be done, to really hone in on the places that have seen progress being made, to unpack what factors actually led to those outcomes changing, so that more cities and other jurisdictions can emulate that,” Sinyangwe said.
Police Departments Are Losing Officers And Struggling To Replace Them
Amid a tight labor market, rising crime rates and growing public scrutiny of law enforcement, many departments say they are short-staffed.
Columbus, Wis., a city of about 5,500 people between Madison and Milwaukee, lost three members of its nine-person police force last year. Unable to find replacements, Chief Dennis Weiner has taken on extra duties, including working a patrol shift on Thanksgiving Day.
“It has really just been a terrible struggle trying to fill vacancies,” said Mr. Weiner of his efforts since one officer started a painting business, another took a maintenance job at a distribution center, and a third began studying to become an accountant.
Across the country, police chiefs say they are struggling to keep departments fully staffed as resignations increase and hiring gets tougher in a tight labor market.
At the same time, officers describe the job as more stressful and less rewarding than it was in the past. As a result, the chiefs say, departments are taking longer to respond to some calls while crimes including homicide are on the rise nationwide.
A survey of nearly 200 police departments last year by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C., think tank, found that the resignation rate per 100 officers was up 18% between April 2020 and March 2021 compared with the prior-year period, while the rate of retirements rose 45%.
The number of police officers employed nationally dipped 1.6% in 2020, after rising over the past decade, according to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The average annual pay for police officers was $70,000 in 2020, compared with $56,000 for all workers.
In Minneapolis, where former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd and voters in November voted down a ballot measure to replace the police department with a new public-safety department, more than 300 officers have taken medical leave or retired since early 2020, when the police department had 860 officers.
Last year record numbers of workers quit their jobs across a range of industries, while job openings remained well above pre-pandemic levels. Many employers are increasing wages and offering bonuses to new hires, enticing more people to switch jobs.
There are now more job openings available to police officers in other fields with similar or higher pay that require less physical risk and stress, said Risdon Slate, a professor of criminology at Florida Southern College.
“Those jobs don’t require putting your life on the line,” he said. “I think it makes it more difficult to find recruits these days.”
Some officers say they soured on the job after some police budgets were cut in the midst of “defund the police” movements that were supported by Black Lives Matter protesters.
Others said that after high-profile deaths of Black men at the hands of police in recent years, interactions with community members became more confrontational.
John LaValley, a former police officer in Green Bay, Wis., said he was regularly called a Nazi and white supremacist while on patrol and eventually became suicidal. He quit in 2017 and worked for a time as a freight conductor for a railroad.
“I just lost the mental capacity, not only to handle and mitigate the violence that you see, but this perception of constant negativity,” he said.
Some cities, including New York and Los Angeles, have increased police funding in response to rising crime. Officials in Burlington, Vt., after voting in 2020 to cut the police force by 30%, in September approved $10,000 bonuses to retain officers.
The Spokane County sheriff’s office in Washington spent $200,000 on recruitment efforts last year, including advertising a $15,000 bonus on billboards in cities where Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he felt elected officials weren’t adequately supporting law enforcement: Portland, Ore., Seattle, Austin, Texas, Denver and other parts of Colorado and Times Square in New York.
He hired 30 officers and new recruits, including one from as far away as South Carolina. That was still 10 short of his goal, and he now has 210 sworn officers and 50 open positions.
Mr. Knezovich attributes the profession’s hiring woes to negative perceptions of policing, combined with a wave of retirements among aging officers and the tight labor market.
Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin recently introduced bills that would fund a $1 million marketing campaign and bonuses in the thousands of dollars for officers to stay on the job or move from a different state. Police departments in the state currently employ 13,500 police officers, the lowest number in a decade.
Britt Cudaback, a spokeswoman for Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, said he is reviewing the measures.
“The law-enforcement profession received a ton of very negative media coverage after the horrific events in Minneapolis, and that led to, in my opinion, dramatically affecting our recruitment and retention,” said Pat Mitchell, president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association.
He said he believed the legislative proposals could help recruitment efforts.
His department in West Allis, just outside Milwaukee, currently has 126 officers and four vacancies, for which he has received 17 applicants. Five years ago he would have had 50 people apply, he said.
Joy Kohegyi once thought she would retire after a long career in law enforcement, but last year she quit her police department in northern Wisconsin after 15 years.
A photograph she posted that showed her walking away from her uniform was shared thousands of times on Facebook. As a detective sergeant, she worked on sensitive-crimes cases involving sexual assault and elder abuse, which she said eventually wore her down.
Then working from home during the pandemic motivated her to try something new.
“I got that taste of really being my own boss,” said Ms. Kohegyi. She now works as a real-estate agent, started a photography business and is remodeling camper vans with her boyfriend. “Leaving law enforcement saved my life,” she said.
Biden To Sign Executive Order Promoting Police Accountability
Move to overhaul law-enforcement tactics follows congressional gridlock on policing overhaul proposals after protests of George Floyd’s killing in 2020.
WASHINGTON—President Biden on Wednesday will sign an executive order aimed at promoting police accountability, people familiar with the matter said, after facing setbacks in his push to overhaul law-enforcement practices.
The wide-ranging order, to be signed on the second anniversary of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer while three others looked on, builds on Justice Department policies that limit federal officers’ ability to use force.
Among other measures, it also will create a registry of major disciplinary actions taken against officers and require at least some of that data to be made public, senior administration officials said.
The order is binding only on federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
But it encourages state and local police to enter their discipline data into the registry, follow training standards and tighten restrictions on tactics such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants, the officials said. It also curbs the transfer of military equipment to local departments.
Mr. Biden’s action follows months of sometimes tense negotiations among police groups, White House and Justice Department officials and after efforts to reach a bipartisan compromise on policing overhauls failed last year in the Senate.
The absence of federal legislation left the Biden administration with fewer tools for overhauling law enforcement, one of its priorities after the killings of Mr. Floyd and other Black Americans by police drew widespread protests and calls for change.
Mr. Floyd’s family is expected to join Mr. Biden on Wednesday as he signs the order, along with relatives of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by Louisville police during a 2020 raid, and Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man who died after a 2019 encounter with the police in Aurora, Colo. Law-enforcement officials and civil-rights leaders will also be present.
“We know full well that an executive order cannot address America’s policing crisis the same way Congress has the ability to, but we’ve got to do everything we can,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said Tuesday, adding that such action would honor the legacy of Mr. Floyd, who pleaded for his life while Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.
The executive action also comes as rising violence has become a potential flashpoint ahead of the midterm elections, with Republicans accusing Democrats, who lead most big U.S. cities, of being soft on crime.
That has prompted the White House to take a more middle ground on policing, emphasizing its support for officers while also promoting some changes.
Mr. Biden in recent months, for example, has said he doesn’t support “defund the police” proposals by progressive activists.
“Folks, the answer is not to abandon the streets. It’s not to choose between safety and equal justice. And we should agree: It’s not to defund the police,” Mr. Biden said at a police memorial service earlier this month.
“It’s to fund the police. Fund them with the resources, the training they need to protect our communities and themselves and restore trust among the police and the people.”
Senior administration officials said they expect the executive order will draw some support from civil-rights groups, which have been pushing the administration to do more to rein in police misconduct, as well as law-enforcement organizations, which had strongly opposed certain parts of a draft version that leaked earlier this year.
The White House has since been working more closely with those police groups, the people involved said, leaning heavily on Justice Department officials, including Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, to help smooth the process.
Other measures in the order aim to improve officer recruitment and wellness and create antibias training that would teach ways to avoid profiling based on race or other characteristics. Still others take aim at what the Biden administration views as disparities in the criminal-justice system more broadly.
“We’ve arrived at a point where we have a document that addresses issues of great importance to the civil-rights community as well as to the law-enforcement community,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Hopefully it charts a course for us to move forward and continue to improve the relationships between officers and the communities they serve.”
Without legislation, the Biden administration has relied heavily on the Justice Department in its efforts to change U.S. policing, mostly through broad civil-rights investigations into local agencies, grants and other measures.
The department last year sharply curtailed the ability of federal agents to use chokeholds and no-knock warrants and required them to wear body cameras when executing arrest warrants or searching buildings.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday went further, issuing a policy in a memo requiring federal agents and law-enforcement officers to intervene and render aid if they see other officers using excessive force. The policy draws upon recommendations made by a coalition of law-enforcement groups.
That memo, the first update to the Justice Department’s use-of-force policy in nearly 20 years, also spells out other limits on use of force, reiterating, for example, that officers shouldn’t shoot at someone just because he is fleeing and emphasizing de-escalation in confrontations.
“It is the policy of the Department of Justice to value and preserve human life,” Mr. Garland wrote. “Officers may use only the force that is objectively reasonable to effectively gain control of an incident, while protecting the safety of the officer and others.”
Biden, Black Caucus Members To Meet On Police Reform After Nichols’s Killing
* Tyre Nichols’s Death Spurring Talks In Congress On Policing
* CBC Chair Has Invited Nichols’s Family To State Of The Union
President Joe Biden will host members of the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House on Thursday to discuss police reform legislation as congressional lawmakers look to revisit the issue following the death of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who was fatally beaten by Memphis, Tennessee, police officers.
Biden spoke to CBC Chairman Steven Horsford on Monday and will meet with him and other caucus members to “discuss police reform legislation and other shared priorities,” White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton told reporters on Air Force One en route to New York on Tuesday.
The president has urged lawmakers to take up the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a comprehensive package of police reforms that stalled in the last Congress, saying there are limits to the changes he can enact to policing policies through executive action.
Floyd’s 2020 murder by a former Minneapolis police officer sparked the country’s most intense protests around race in decades.
Police reform is a legislative priority for Black voters, whom Biden has credited with helping him win the White House.
“When Senate Republicans blocked the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act from reaching his desk last year, President Biden signed an executive order that mandated stricter use of force standards and accountability provisions for federal law enforcement, as well as measures to strengthen accountability at the state and local level,” Dalton said.
“But as the president has said, executive action can’t take the place of federal legislation, and we need Congress to come together and take action to ensure our justice system lives up to its name.”
Horsford and Democratic Representative Joyce Beatty are working in the House on new legislation to overhaul policing, Pete Aguilar, the House Democratic caucus chair, said Tuesday.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” Aguilar said.
Horsford has also invited Nichols’s parents to attend next week’s State of the Union address.
Biden on Friday said he was “outraged and deeply pained” after watching video of the fatal beating of Nichols at the hands of police officers.
Five officers were charged last week with second-degree murder in his death. Biden said he had spoken to Nichols’s mother and expressed his condolences.
White House aides Keisha Lance Bottoms, Mitch Landrieu, Tara Murray and Erica Loewe will attend a Wednesday funeral for Nichols in Memphis.
The Grinding Persistence of America’s Police Problem
The videotaped death of Tyre Nichols is as shocking as it is utterly familiar.
You will not believe the video that was released Friday night showing Memphis police officers beating — ultimately to death — a young Black man.
I don’t really mean that, of course. If you live in the US, and participate in society, you likely have no difficulty believing that a gang of violent police officers fatally pummeled Tyre Nichols in what the city’s police chief accurately described as a “heinous” attack.
Indeed, if you have an Internet connection or a television, you have probably seen similar videos of police officers killing Black men, and women too, in other American cities.
By choking, for example. Or shooting in the back. You may have seen videos of police not killing Black men — merely assaulting them while they are prone or otherwise defenseless.
Occasionally, videos surface of police killing or beating a White man. Statistically, those attacks are less common. But they’re just as real.
Since 2015, police officers have fatally shot more than 1,000 people per year in the US, according to a database maintained by The Washington Post. That’s nearly three deaths per day.
America has a police problem. And its police problem is rooted in (though not exclusive to) its race problem, which is a problem, in turn, rooted so deep in our national character that it was written into the Constitution. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t arrested and thrown in jail by the Ku Klux Klan. Police did that.
John Lewis was not beaten bloody in Selma by the Proud Boys of 20th century Alabama. The attackers were men wearing badges, wielding clubs, earning paychecks from the public treasury.
Things have changed. Except in all the ways that they haven’t. Philando Castile wasn’t shot to death by drug dealers. It was the police, again.
Black Lives Matter is a statement of aspiration, not of fact. That remains the crux of the problem. Many troubles of American policing, including the militarization of forces, flow from that reality, which is a continuing source of national unease.
That all five of the violent police officers in Memphis are Black had no bearing on the deadly outcome. Yet it’s nonetheless politically significant.
It provides an opportunity for a more vigorous national discussion, one slightly less hobbled by the inevitable brandishing of claims of White racial innocence. It wasn’t White cops this time. But it was the same familiar system, yielding a familiar result.
Washington has proved a poor source of remedies. Meanwhile, the cities and towns where highly publicized police killings have taken place seem unable to grapple with the sprawling causes and consequences. We don’t see many regional congressional hearings anymore.
But perhaps it’s time for Congress — or at least those elements of Congress that are willing and capable — to hold hearings in Memphis and other cities mired in police violence. In the role of a judge riding circuit, political leaders need to listen to cries for justice, and report what they hear to the nation.
In his remarkable book, “Freedom’s Dominion,” Jefferson Cowie notes, “Historians have long recognized the oppressive tensions that gave birth to American freedom but have rarely addressed the grinding persistence of the problem.”
Yet that grinding persistence is getting harder to ignore, which is why the forces of reaction are frantically banning the teaching of history and literature and anything else that threatens to make the friction louder, more visible and more difficult to pretend away.
Memphis is in many ways an apt place to begin the latest round of questions about why America can’t, won’t, get out of its own glorious way. The city is poor and broken. It is also a place of unparalleled verve that has heaped riches, real and cultural, upon America and the world.
The city, a former cotton exchange, stands at the intersection of Elvis and B.B. King, Sun and Stax; it changed the world in ways that still reverberate. Its siren song was so vibrant and acute that Vaclav Havel credited it with piercing the dull brutality of communist Eastern Europe.
Memphis is also the city where Dr. King, arguably the most majestic American of the 20th century, was shot dead. It’s a city of bold beginnings and dread endings. Maybe we can start there, and work our way, north and south, east and west, toward freedom.
Portland Adopts Surveillance Policy, As Police Discuss Drone Trial
After banning facial recognition in 2020, the Oregon city is taking a much softer approach to vetting surveillance technology for potential privacy risks.
As cities, and especially police, increase their use of surveillance technology, Portland, Oregon, is joining a handful of municipalities taking steps to increase transparency.
A resolution passed unanimously in Portland Wednesday requires the city to assess its use of surveillance-related technologies, such as traffic-safety sensors and police license plate readers.
In the making for the last two years, adoption of the policy comes as the city’s police force moves toward testing use of drones equipped with sensors and video cameras, and aims to purchase a gunshot detection system.
But unlike Portland’s bold ban on facial recognition in 2020, the surveillance resolution does not prohibit use of any technologies, nor does it create direct pathways for blocking them.
The softer approach was by design, in part a way to ensure the policy did not hit roadblocks from a city council whose political makeup has shifted toward centrist positions on policing.
In fact, changes to the initiative’s language before its passage moved the focus away from law enforcement’s use of technology to clarify that more transparency is needed around surveillance tech use by all city bureaus.
“This policy is not going to ban any technology,” said Hector Dominguez, open data and privacy coordinator for Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Smart City PDX program, who helped draft the policy.
“We think also that banning technology is a very blunt measure, that we really need to go deeper into what are the benefits, what are the risks, deal with the risks [and] optimize the benefits.”
Instead, the policy is intended to create more meaningful assessment of the impacts of surveillance tech before it’s used, and to develop guidance for how data collected or generated by the systems should be handled.
“There’s a limited public trust in how the city uses technology,” said Judith Mowry, senior policy advisor in the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights, who also helped write the policy. She said the city hopes to “build more trust through our transparency with the community.”
Portland’s resolution recognizes the privacy risks of surveillance technologies and notes that electronic or analog equipment, software or automated systems used for surveillance have had historically disproportionate negative impacts on marginalized people including “Black and Brown people, those who don’t have personal devices, people living with mental health issues, people experiencing houselessness, and those participating in civic engagement activities.”
The policy moves the city in the direction of other west coast municipalities such as San Diego, Seattle and Oakland, which have already established policies that require assessments of the privacy and equity impacts of surveillance tech.
Portland’s approach involve community engagement through a series of public discussions and policy workshops involving local Asian, Black, Indigenous, LatinX and immigrant rights groups.
The city even published a zine-style pamphlet in English and Spanish to raise community awareness about digital justice and surveillance technologies.
The next big step set in motion by policy adoption is an inventory of surveillance technologies owned or used by city bureaus today.
While Portland’s is a binding resolution requiring agencies to comply with inventory procedures, the seemingly simple step of taking stock of tech use has been difficult elsewhere.
When a New York City task force attempted to conduct an inventory of automated decision systems used by city agencies, the agencies were unwilling even to provide lists of what they used.
The new Portland policy calls for development of Privacy Impact Assessments that will be required when new surveillance tech is purchased.
At least 10 privacy assessments have been conducted for agencies including the city’s bureaus of Transportation and Police. Those existing assessments are likely to serve as templates for future ones.
The policy also calls for the development of a privacy and information protection program, and surveillance technology accountability and oversight procedures.
It looks ahead to potential future policies addressing algorithmic and AI-based technologies, calling for an assessment of the impacts of Automated Decision Systems, such as software that employs machine learning algorithms.
Police Drones In Discussion
Accountability and oversight procedures, as well as AI policies, will be just what some lawmakers and city residents want when it comes to a limited trial of Small Unmanned Aerial Systems that the Portland Police Bureau has discussed launching.
The drones would be equipped with sensors and infrared real-time video cameras for supporting search and rescue operations, conducting traffic flow studies of high-crash roadways, and documenting and assessing traffic crash scenes for presence of explosives or suspicious items.
“All discussions regarding a pilot are centering around reducing time spent and public inconvenience during major crashes and critical incidents,” Portland Police Bureau Public Information Officer Lieutenant Nathan Sheppard told Citylab, adding, “We don’t yet have a pilot program underway, nor is there a projected start date.”
A privacy impact assessment of the police drone program by the city found that the plan had a “Medium Risk” of privacy impacts related to the possibility of civil rights infringements, unauthorized data sharing, data breach, lack of transparency and lack of oversight and public reporting.
Portland is also moving toward acquiring ShotSpotter or similar technology which attempts to detect the sound of gunshots and relays information to law enforcement about where and how many shots were heard.
The potential city use of these and other forms of surveillance tech has many who supported Portland’s resolution advocating for more guardrails in the near future.
Local advocates for protections against surveillance, including the Portland-based nonprofit PDX Privacy, women in tech group PDXWIT and food and housing justice group Sisters of the Road signed on to a Jan. 31 letter sent from advocacy group Fight for the Future to Portland City Council calling for them to pass the resolution and move quickly to draft a subsequent surveillance ordinance requiring a vote to decide whether surveillance tech should be procured.
“The resolution being considered today is a great first step towards a more comprehensive surveillance policy,” said Chris Bushick, founder and director of PDX Privacy, who testified at the hearing in a personal capacity before the council vote.
Bushick said she would like Portland to establish a privacy commission; for example, Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission advises on city tech acquisition decisions and has evaluated Oakland’s data agreements with tech vendors such as ShotSpotter.
“A privacy commission or board is needed to help council members assess the potential harms of surveillance technologies being considered for adoption, and the ability for those technologies to be misused,” Bushick said.
Biden Calls On Congress To ‘Finish The Job On Police Reform’
* Legislation Passed House Under Democrats But Stalled In Senate
* President Hosted Family Of Tyre Nichols At State Of The Union
President Joe Biden urged Congress Tuesday to “come together and finish the job on police reform,” in the wake of the killing of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died after a fatal beating by Memphis, Tennessee, police officers.
“What happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often,” Biden said Tuesday night in his State of the Union address, recognizing Nichols’s mother and stepfather, who were guests in the first lady’s box during the speech. “We have to do better.”
Police reform has been a legislative priority for Black voters, whom Biden has credited with helping him win the White House, but legislative efforts stalled in the last Congress.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a comprehensive reform bill, would seek to end tactics like chokeholds and no-knock warrants and also restrict the use of qualified immunity, a legal liability shield that protects police officers from being sued over official misconduct.
The bill passed the House twice along party lines when it had a Democratic majority, but failed to advance in the Senate. It’s unlikely to pass the now Republican-controlled House.
Biden pointed out that Nichols’s mother told him that “something good will come” from her son’s death.
“Let’s commit ourselves to make the words of Tyre’s mother come true, something good must come from this,” Biden said.
Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said on NBC “Meet the Press” Sunday that he was “sobered” by the prospects of passing a comprehensive bill in a divided Congress, but remained hopeful some legislation could pass.
Biden signed an executive order in last May directing federal law enforcement agencies to stop using no-knock warrants and revise their use-of-force standards, but that order does not extend to state and local level.
Civil rights groups have pressed for legislative action, noting that Biden’s order does not extend to state and local level and that a future Republican president could rescind it.
Crash Course: Warrior Cops vs. Responsible Policing
What lessons can be learned about police militarization after Tyre Nichols’ death?
U.S. police officers shoot and kill more than 1,000 people annually. According to a Washington Post study, half of those people are White, but Blacks are shot at more frequently, even though they represent just 14% of the population.
They are also killed at more than twice the rate of Whites. The same is true of Hispanic Americans and Latinos.
This is a collision of the rawest and most brutal sort and it raises myriad questions about safe streets and public safety; crime, racism and institutional violence; police training and the increased militarization of US police forces.
This week on Crash Course, Tim O’Brien interviews two guests: Radley Balko, a journalist and the author of “ The Rise of the Warrior Cop,” and Laurence Ralph, an anthropology professor at Princeton University and the director of the Center on Transnational Policing.
NYPD Blows Overtime Budget by Nearly $100 Million, On Pace For Record
The New York City Police Department’s budget overage defies a pledge by Mayor Eric Adams to cut overtime spending by half in his first year in office.
The New York City Police Department has exceeded its overtime budget by almost $100 million and it is on pace to break a 10-year high for spending on extra hours for officers.
Before taking office, Mayor Eric Adams pledged to reduce the NYPD’s overtime spending by half in his first year by deploying officers more efficiently and reducing the number on duty at parades and other events.
Yet, the NYPD has spent $472 million on officer overtime through February, exceeding its budget by $98 million, according to a report from New York City Comptroller Brad Lander.
The final tally will be much higher because the fiscal year ends June 30. Lander’s office said the department is on pace to spend $740 million, which would be the most in a decade.
“If New York City had unlimited cash, it would be lovely to allow teachers unlimited overtime to stay afterschool to help every kid learn to read, or social workers unlimited shifts to help counsel New Yorkers struggling with mental illness,” Lander said in a statement. “But other agencies aren’t allowed to show total disregard for their overtime budget, and we can’t afford for the NYPD to do so year after year.”
Neither Adams’s office nor the NYPD immediately responded to a request for comment on the report.
While he pledged to cut overtime spending, Adams has deployed thousands of additional officers into the city’s subway system as part of a safety initiative that is buttressed by additional hours from officers and the increased use of stop-and-frisk.
More overtime doesn’t necessarily correspond with a decrease in crime. Instead it can provide a financial incentive for officers to initiate arrests and begin investigations at the end of their shifts.
The overtime budget overage comes as Adams seeks to cut city spending. His preliminary budget calls for frugality amid an uncertain economic picture, reducing spending by $4 billion compared with the current year’s projected spending.
His preliminary proposal includes cuts to the city’s library system, schools and the elimination of thousands of vacant city positions.
When discussing the proposed cuts and his approach to spending, Adams said “as mayor the buck stops with me.”
The comptroller’s findings came from a broader look at the city’s spending on additional work hours. According to the new report, the city consistently sets its budget for overtime too low, meaning it has to find money to cover the costs of its overspending.
Lander’s report confirms Bloomberg reporting that showed NYPD officers work hundreds of hours of overtime with little correlation to public safety.
Some officers record enough overtime to take home an additional full year of pay. That extra spending means that the NYPD has gone over its budget every year for the past two decades.
“NYPD overtime has grown without any regard for what’s in the budget agreed to by the Mayor and the City Council — and with no accountability for overspending each year by hundreds of millions of dollars,” Lander said.
In A Small California City, Nearly Half the Police Included In Racist Text Threads
Officers in Antioch, Calif., used slurs and boasted of beating Black suspects, prompting calls for an overhaul.
ANTIOCH, Calif.—For at least four years, officers in this small Bay Area city called Black residents racial slurs, bragged about beating suspects and joked about violating people’s civil rights in text messages.
The texts, made public by prosecutors last month as part of a criminal investigation into a group of Antioch officers, have sparked protests in the city of 115,000. Officials haven’t disclosed the reason for the investigation but said it involves “crimes of moral turpitude.”
Prosecutors in Contra Costa County say they will review hundreds of cases investigated by Antioch police to determine whether they should be dismissed because of how widespread racial animus was at the department.
Almost half of the sworn personnel in the department, 44 of 99, were on the text threads, according to a review by the Contra Costa County public defender’s office. A judge has released the names of 17 officers accused of sending the texts.
“This community is in an uproar,” said Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford, who was hired last year to clean up the department. “It’s up to us to atone for it.”
Ford said that about 20 officers and sergeants have been put on leave as a result of the racist texts. He said he is awaiting the findings of an outside investigation before deciding whether to fire them.
Similar revelations have occurred at several police departments around the country. A small Alabama city voted to dissolve its three-member police force last year over an officer’s text containing a joke about slavery that surfaced on social media.
Officers in other cities such as Wichita, Kan., and San Francisco have been punished for sending messages with slurs and derogatory memes to one another in recent years. Most of these text chains have been discovered on personal phones of officers during criminal investigations.
Police leaders say that it is just a fraction of officers across the nation who have been caught up in texting scandals. But following the nationwide protests over the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the episodes have been used as evidence by some police critics that racist views held by some officers are driving mistreatment of Black Americans.
In Antioch, the messages were sent by police personnel up and down the chain of command. In April 2020, Sgt. Joshua Evans wrote, “I’ll bury that n—— in my fields” to Officer Morteza Amiri, who sent a laugh response. “And yes…it was a hard R on purpose,” Evans wrote. “Haha there’s no accidents with you on that,” Amiri replied.
Officer Eric Rombough sent graphic photos of injured suspects in their hospital beds, bragging about how he had hurt them. “I field goal kicked his head,” he said in one message from 2021.
In another text exchange from last year, Rombough wrote of his traffic stops that he was “only stopping them cuz they black. F—- them. Kill each other.”
Rombough and some others referred to Black residents as “gorillas” in their texts.
All three men have been put on leave, according to the chief.
A lawyer for Rombough declined to comment. Michael Rains, an attorney representing Evans and Amiri, declined to comment.
Rains, who also represents the Antioch police officers’ union, told the local NBC news station that the text messages were generated by only a few officers and weren’t widespread.
Adam Carpenter, a 33-year-old house painter who is Black, said he wasn’t surprised by the text messages because Antioch officers often mistreated him. He said he has been pulled over so many times for no reason that he sold his car in hopes that they would stop bothering him.
“It’s just inhumane,” said Carpenter. “We shouldn’t have to endure this type of treatment.”
In recent years, Carpenter, now a plaintiff in a civil-rights lawsuit against the department, was arrested by officers implicated in the texting scandal on drug and gun charges.
But this week, prosecutors dropped the drug possession charges against Carpenter because the district attorney “no longer has confidence in the integrity of this case,” said a spokesman for the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office.
Last year, federal prosecutors dropped the gun charges against him. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The friction between Black residents and Antioch police has come amid demographic shifts for the city that lies on the eastern edge of the Bay Area. In 1990, 86% of the city’s residents were white and 2.7% were Black.
Over the past three decades, many Black families trying to escape high housing costs and crime in cities such as Oakland and San Francisco moved to Antioch. According to the most recent census data, 36% of the city is white and 20% is Black.
“This was a white working class town,” said John Burris, a lawyer representing Carpenter and others in the civil suit. “I think the police department was kind of taken aback by having all these African-Americans out there and they just started treating them poorly.”
Chief Ford said that he has made policy changes to address the problems at the department, including a cellphone monitoring program and an early intervention system designed to root out problem officers.
Ford said he welcomes investigators from the California Department of Justice who recently launched a civil rights probe of the department. He said he hopes to regain the city’s trust by holding more community meetings and hiring new officers he can train properly.
Replacing officers in Antioch’s police department might not be easy. Departments across the country are struggling to fill positions amid a tight labor market and diminished interest in the profession, police officials say.
Lamar Thorpe, the mayor of Antioch, said he wants to see wholesale change at the police department.
“It’s hard to change a culture,” he said. “I hope we terminate these people.”
‘No Hose, No Gun’: Police Alternatives For Mental-Health Crises Fall Short
A police body camera shows San Antonio police officers at the home of Melissa Perez before she was shot and killed.
Dispatchers at the 911 center in Mesa, Ariz., have three levers to pull: fire/medical, police or mental health. The last one is a relatively new addition, adopted by dozens of police departments around the country and aimed at avoiding violent and often deadly confrontations between police officers and the mentally ill.
“No hose, no gun,” said Mayor John Giles. “Just somebody with a clipboard and an argyle sweater who wants to ask how your day is going.”
In theory, the new teams are designed to better help people in distress who pose little if any threat to others. In practice, these teams have struggled to make much of a dent in what remains a chronic problem in U.S. policing.
The mayor recently saw a woman downtown who was talking to herself. “In my heartless way, I ignored her and walked away,” he said. Hours later, she was still there.
Giles thought she had schizophrenia. He called 911 for an officer. Police were dispatched to the scene and said she was high on methamphetamine. She refused mental-health help, and the cops let her go.
“I don’t know what would have been the outcome if a mental-health provider had gotten that call,” Giles said. “I would have liked to know.” Out of about 250,000 total 911 calls last year in Mesa, dispatchers went with nonpolice mental-health units 3,500 times, according to the city.
Getting clinicians to the right place at the right time is proving difficult, local officials and behavioral-health experts say. Cities often don’t have enough of them to make a difference, blaming funding shortfalls.
In addition, knowing when to send clinicians involves a large degree of guesswork. Dispatchers often err on the side of sending police, particularly when details of 911 calls are sketchy.
“Unfortunately with only one team, sometimes it means that we’re not available,” said Roger Astin, a San Antonio police officer who is part of a three-member mobile team that also includes a paramedic and a mental-health clinician.
Mobile crisis teams—a mix of police and clinicians, or just clinicians—became more popular after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 by police officers, when law-enforcement tactics came under scrutiny.
In the past few years, about a hundred municipalities nationwide have formed or announced plans to roll out nonpolice emergency-response teams, according to a tally by Indivisible Eastside, a liberal activist group in Washington state. In addition, some police departments have boosted the ranks of their own behavioral-health units.
There is scant comprehensive data on police killings of people with mental-health issues. The available numbers suggest a continuing overreliance on law enforcement, a finding backed up by local officials and behavioral experts.
Every year since 2015, police in the U.S. have killed between 200 and 300 people who showed signs of mental illness, according to the nonprofit Mapping Police Violence, which analyzes news accounts and official records.
Since 2020, the number has declined 15% to 206 last year. It is an imperfect method for tracking mental-health-related police killings and doesn’t account for use of force that doesn’t result in death.
“These programs have failed to live up to their potential,” said Rebecca Neusteter, executive director of the University of Chicago Health Lab and lead investigator of Transform911, an initiative to rethink the nation’s 911 model.
She cited inadequate and inaccurate call coding that can leave 911 operators without enough information to send the best response, as well as resource shortages.
In Minneapolis, almost 10% of 911 calls between 2016 and mid-2022 related directly to a behavioral-health issue.
Most of the time, the Minneapolis Police Department was the primary or sole responder, mostly because a behavioral-health team wasn’t available, according to a U.S. Justice Department report released in June.
Part of the conundrum cities face: Sidelining police carries some risk. Two years ago in Tucson, Ariz., two social workers were abducted at gunpoint and then later released physically unharmed by the man they were sent to assist.
Orange County, Fla., Sheriff John W. Mina pairs mental-health workers with a deputy because he doesn’t feel comfortable sending them out alone.
Since the joint teams started in January 2021, they have responded to 8,100 calls and have made no arrests. No mental-health workers have been harmed.
“That tells me this is a better way,” Mina said.
When police in San Antonio on June 23 confronted Melissa Perez, a 46-year-old mother of four with schizophrenia, she told them she thought the Federal Bureau of Investigation was spying on her.
They tried to arrest her for cutting fire-alarm wires at her apartment complex. Perez barricaded herself in her apartment, threw a glass object at an officer and broke a window with a hammer.
“You’re gonna get shot!” an officer can be heard in body-camera footage shouting at Perez, about 20 minutes before three officers opened fire into her apartment, killing her.
The three, who have been suspended, haven’t yet entered pleas to murder charges.
Perez lived alone. Neighbors recalled her making odd comments from time to time, but also said she would bring them home-cooked enchiladas. Relatives described a loving, boisterous mother with a taste for McDonald’s coffee and clothes from Ross.
Perez began exhibiting signs of paranoia in 2021, according to family members who say they paid for online psychiatric care and medication. City police twice took her to a psych unit on an emergency detention, said Daisy Nieto, Perez’s former sister-in-law who remained close to her.
Nieto, a licensed clinical social worker, said she doesn’t understand why officers on the scene apparently didn’t learn about Perez’s psychiatric history during the more than an hour they were outside her apartment.
Alexis Tovar, Perez’s 24-year-old daughter, said the fatal shooting has shaken her longstanding confidence in law enforcement. “I’ve called them before and you think, ‘Oh, the police are there, she’s fine,’” she said.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said Perez’s actions that night constituted an escalated mental-health call. He said SAPD officers know to contact the mental-health unit, which operates from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and has members on call overnight.
He said a lack of supervision led to the incident, as well as a failure to follow protocols.
A wrongful-death lawsuit filed on behalf of Perez’s children alleges systemic problems with the police department. A lawyer for one of the charged officers said that his client was being scapegoated and that his actions were lawful.
Lawyers for the two other officers didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Police in Los Angeles and Albuquerque have also killed people with mental-health problems in the past 12 months.
Mental-health-related 911 calls in San Antonio soared during the Covid pandemic, rising from about 21,400 in 2019 to roughly 32,000 last year. The police department’s mental-health unit was formed 15 years ago.
It consists of 20 officers assisted by three clinicians, who together last year responded to about 5,200 calls across the city of about 1.5 million residents. Members, some of whom have advanced training, say they are stretched thin.
“We have to really be dependent on training our patrol officers departmentwide on handling what would be a typical mental-health disturbance,” said Lt. Paul Castillon, who oversees the unit.
One July afternoon, two officers in the unit—not in uniform but with guns holstered and badges visible—drove to northwest San Antonio in response to a text message from Vanessa Sandoval. The 37-year-old said she asked for the visit because she had been feeling depressed.
As the trio chatted in the triple-digit heat, Det. Cody Smith asked her a series of questions and encouraged her to reach out anytime.
If need be, he said, a patrol officer could always stop by—a prospect Sandoval found unnerving. She brought up the Perez killing, which she said scared her.
“I don’t want them to Melissa Perez me. I get very confrontational when it comes to uniformed officers,” she said.
“We’ll try to avoid that as much as we can,” said Officer Cynthia Lindley, who wore jeans and a button-down shirt.
San Antonio’s Astin—who primarily works on a different team comprising a police officer, paramedic and clinician—scanned a log of 911 calls one morning looking for a good fit for his co-response team.
He saw one caller had mentioned a runaway robot before hanging up. He recognized the address: The team carried out an emergency psychiatric detention of a woman there in January.
The crew piled into two unmarked white SUVs. Astin radioed to have a uniformed officer sent as backup. Outside the home, the team met the stepfather of the woman the team had assisted in January.
The 22-year-old was faring better, the stepfather said, though she believed she was a robot who had fled the government.
Astin said the team would like to see her if it wouldn’t rile her up. Moments later she walked up the driveway from the back of the house, her brown hair mussed and her gaze vacant. “I’m OK,” she said quietly, gave two-thumbs-up and backed away.
Such an approach helps safeguard clinicians. It can also tie up officers who might otherwise be dispatched to deal with serious crime.
In Houston last year, dispatchers diverted from police roughly 8,000 of the 1.1 million 911 calls, though officials say 46,000 calls—more than five per hour on average—involved mental health in some way, meaning cops handled an outsize share of such cases.
Tucson has been able to strike a balance between the competing needs of mental-health and crime calls, behavioral experts say.
When police get involved in mental-health calls there, officers can take people to the Crisis Response Center, a nonprofit-run stabilization unit where a handoff to a clinician takes minutes.
The center is a better option than a hospital emergency room, let alone jail, officials say. Quick handoffs mean officers can get back on the street faster.
Police dispatchers, and therefore police officers, are often bypassed altogether. In 2019, Tucson placed crisis specialists at the 911 center itself. In nearly all cases, officials say, they either resolve 911 mental-health calls over the phone or dispatch clinicians to the scene.
“Back in the day, we would send some brand-new, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed cops with a gun on their hip to go deal with somebody who’s in a mental-health crisis,” said Sharon McDonough, who directs the city’s Public Safety Communications Department. “And we’ve all seen the headlines of how that doesn’t work well.”
America Is The World Leader In Locking People Up. One City Found A Fix
New York’s supervised release program, a national model, is juggling thousands of defendants facing violent felony charges—and the politics of letting them walk free.
Kevin says he scarcely remembers the night that threatens to ruin his life. Toward the end of a boozy evening last fall, he wound up in a basement apartment deep in the New York City borough of Queens.
There was a fire there that night, and eventually, police would blame him for it. Four months later, he was in Queens County Criminal Court, facing felony charges of arson and reckless endangerment.
(He maintains his innocence.) It would be up to the judge to decide whether to put a price on his freedom, and when Kevin heard the number the prosecution asked for, he wanted to cry.
One million dollars, more money than he’d seen in his life. If his family pooled their funds, they wouldn’t come close.
Kevin, whose name has been changed to preserve his job and family relationships, knew what that price would mean. He’d be stuck in the city’s notorious Rikers Island jail, where 27 people have died since the beginning of 2022, while his case continued to plod its way through the criminal justice system.
He’d become one of almost a half-million Americans incarcerated before trial—accused of a crime, but not convicted. Terrified, he began to pray.
A public defender stressed that Kevin wasn’t a flight risk. The evidence: He’d already been showing up for supervised release, a periodic check-in with a social worker, in connection with a lesser charge in another case, and he’d never missed a court appearance. The alternative to pretrial jail, the defender argued, had been working. The judge agreed.
Instead of Rikers, Kevin would be bumped up to the most serious rung of the supervised release program, meaning he’d have to check in with his caseworker from the nonprofit New York City Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) in-person at least once a week. Start to finish, the hearing took about five minutes.
This is how America’s biggest city is reforming a bail system that traditionally favors those with means—think Sam Bankman-Fried, who walked free for eight months on a $250 million bond secured by his parents’ home, or a certain ex-president—and that’s helped turn the land of the free into the world’s leading jailer.
Lawmakers in Alaska; New Jersey; Washington, DC; and, recently, Illinois have eliminated cash bail for most offenses.
Last year, DC released 85% of people charged pretrial, more than 90% of whom returned to court and weren’t rearrested. But New York’s ecosystem of pretrial release represents the forefront of America’s efforts to reduce mass incarceration.
At inception over a decade ago, it focused on nonviolent felony charges, seeking maximum impact for minimum risk, then gradually expanded its remit to include a range of misdemeanors. Now, it’s dipped more than a toe into cases that involve allegations of violent crime.
New York’s $67-million-a-year program pairs accused people with social workers who try to keep them employed, housed and otherwise stable while their cases are pending.
As of April, the most recent data available, 1 in 5 of the 44,799 arrestees set free pending trial in New York City were part of the supervised release program, up from about 1 in 17 defendants on the eve of the pandemic.
Check-ins vary in frequency depending on the severity of the alleged crime, and help is tailored to need.
Instead of being forced to take drug tests or wear ankle monitors, participants can take anger management classes, receive mental health support and ask for everything from job interview clothes to a piece of fruit or an instant ramen.
As of this spring, more than 8,500 people were out on supervised release. The majority, like Kevin, were accused of felonies, and about 3,000 were accused of violent ones.
The CJA administers the Queens program, and three other nonprofits run them in the other boroughs.
The Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services handles Manhattan. The Bronx gets the Fortune Society. Brooklyn and Staten Island have to share the Center for Justice Innovation.
So far, the program is working. Fewer than 10% of people out on supervised release in the city in a given month are rearrested while awaiting trial.
Fewer than 2% are rearrested for violent felonies. The expansion into felony cases hasn’t led to spikes in violence or chaos in the streets.
Some Queens judges and prosecutors trust the program so much that they’re happy to offer it up as an alternative to bail, even deferring at times to the CJA to set the level of supervision.
This response, however, has put a lot of pressure on the CJA and its peers. Kevin’s case manager, Sarah Mitchell, is juggling 55 clients.
The city’s new budget commits millions more to the program, but to sustain it, the CJA is seeking more backup for its strained caseworkers, including food and housing programs for their clients.
In the meantime, Mitchell knows that she and her colleagues can’t afford to slip up. Client arrests can be quickly distilled into campaign fodder or an excuse to return to the policies of the past. Any one of those hundreds of violent felony rearrests could be used to call the whole program into question.
Yet taking on more clients is better, she says, than the alternative. “They’re not in Rikers,” she says. “They still get to be free.”
“They want to know your problems. They make you feel like you’re someone”
America’s pretrial detention system is a global outlier, set apart by an emphasis on cash bail and the for-profit infrastructure that supports it.
Can’t afford your bail? A company in the $2 billion commercial bail bond industry will cover it, for a fee. Don’t qualify for bail bonds or can’t afford them?
Go to jail and wait months, even years, for a trial. Under this system, a judge who’s worried about looking soft on crime or about what a defendant might do if back on the street, can simply set bail higher than the person is likely to be able to afford.
The US approach has little parallel elsewhere in the world. In most jurisdictions, commercial bail bonds are outright illegal. In the UK, the European Union and Canada, cash bail is considered a last resort.
The political dimensions of cash bail have contributed to the quadrupling of America’s pretrial detainees since the 1970s.
About 2 million people are locked up in the US, making the country the world’s leading jailer per capita, and more than 20% of them are still waiting for their day in court.
(China officially has 1.7 million prisoners, but likely has a greater overall number since that doesn’t account for unknown numbers in pre-trial detention and other forms of detention.)
This system carries many costs. Jailing people before a trial runs an estimated $14 billion annually, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit anti-incarceration advocate, and more than $1,500 per person per day in New York City.
Black defendants are more likely to be detained than their White counterparts accused of similar crimes.
And spending even a few days in jail puts people at risk of losing their job, custody of their kids or their home. Higher bail amounts neither promote public safety nor increase the odds of a court appearance, according to a report by the advocacy group Arnold Ventures.
In the wake of bail reform successes like DC’s, cities such as Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia have cautiously begun eliminating cash bail for relatively minor offenses, targeting misdemeanors such as minor drug possession or theft.
Outcomes in those categories have been similar, but officials have reason to be cautious. Intense backlash often follows attempts to limit the use of cash bail.
Since New York eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies in 2019, it’s rolled back pieces of its reform three times.
The last two were the direct result of campaign politics. During the 2022 election cycle, Governor Kathy Hochul returned some charges to the list of criminal allegations that are eligible for cash bail.
She was heavily favored to beat Republican challenger Lee Zeldin but barely won after he pledged to further unwind bail reforms and ran ads of violent shootings and robberies so graphic that YouTube issued a content warning.
Against this charged backdrop, the CJA has quietly gone about its work in Queens. With 75 caseworkers, the nonprofit has come a long way since 1977, when it started making recommendations for pretrial release in New York, and since 2009, when it created the city’s first supervised release pilot.
Queens seemed like the right place to start, says Joann De Jesus, who leads its supervised release program and has helped run it from inception.
In 2009, arrestees there were likelier than in the other boroughs to wind up stuck in jail because they couldn’t pay the bail. In an effort to tackle a medium-risk population in its pilot phase, the CJA focused tightly on those accused of nonviolent felonies.
As of 2013, the CJA had demonstrated enough success that the city exported its model to Manhattan and, by 2016, to every borough. By then, caseworkers were tackling misdemeanors, too.
The number of people on supervised release remained comparatively small at that point, however. When the program went citywide in 2016, the CJA was contracted to serve about 600 clients at a time.
This changed with a package of bail reforms that took pretrial detention off the table for dozens of offenses, including drug possession and package theft.
Supervised release went from being an alternative sought by public defenders to an option every judge could select. Judges started diverting alleged violent felons into the program, including people facing charges of domestic violence, robbery and certain gun crimes.
The gradual shift in the CJA’s clientele has influenced its services and its office design, De Jesus says on a tour of its location in Long Island City. She passes by interview rooms with inspirational quotes on the walls (“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny”) and panic buttons near the doors. She says reform and growing need have led her to hire more peer counselors and offer more intensive training programs.
The seams are nevertheless starting to show. Caps on caseloads are regularly exceeded, and the average number of clients is six times what it was before the pandemic. Last year the CJA served about 3,600 people.
The average lengths of stay in the program rose over the past several years, from four months to more than six. “It means a lot less time being able to spend with the client,” De Jesus says.
On a Thursday in July, Kevin has a 10 a.m. check-in with Mitchell, his case manager. He’s been meeting with her for about six months, commuting 90 minutes to the CJA’s second supervised release office in Kew Gardens.
The meetings have helped him navigate a constant cycle of stress and uncertainty as his case has dragged through the system.
He hasn’t been able to get in touch with his new attorney. Court hearings have been canceled and rescheduled. He’s looking for a second job, too—Mitchell connected him with an employment program that helped him find work after the case caused him to lose his old job, but the new gig doesn’t pay as well.
He arrives just as the office’s quiet lull sharpens into a buzz. Before the CJA doors opened, some of the office’s 20 employees were killing time handling administrative work and packing snacks and sandwiches into paper bags.
Now there’s a queue of clients on hand for their check-ins, job advice or MetroCards to get around the city. A scramble begins for one of the four interview rooms.
This site in Kew Gardens is the smaller of the nonprofit’s two program offices. It sits on the third floor of a building across the street from the criminal courthouse. Kevin is seated and ready in the now-busy waiting area, but two of Mitchell’s other clients have arrived unscheduled.
It’s a common occurrence: The proximity to the courthouse makes it easy to check in after a hearing, and some participants don’t have a reliable way to call in advance. “You have to accommodate that,” Mitchell says.
“We’re used to it at this point, but it does make it really tricky to establish a steady workflow.” She sends one client off with a subway card and a just-packed snack bag, then sits down for an impromptu session with the other.
When it’s Kevin’s turn, he takes a seat in the interview room for what feels like a 15-minute therapy session. Mitchell starts with questions about his new job (going well, he says, pay aside) and mentions the new substance use course at the CJA.
Then she asks if there’s anything Kevin wants to discuss. At first he demurs, but after a beat he opens up about his fear of a looming court date. It’s “life and death,” he says.
Mitchell acknowledges his anxiety and frustration and promises to help reach out to the public defender’s office for an update. This is where Mitchell believes she provides the most help to clients—offering extra support through a traumatic and confusing experience.
Kevin concurs: “They talk to you. They want to know your problems,” he says of the supervised release staffers. “They make you feel like you’re someone.”
Mitchell says she enjoys getting clients to open up, but it’s tough handling 55 of them. Some colleagues have even more. And the system isn’t built to administer social services.
If a person needs housing, supervised release providers can help connect them with nonprofits or governmental entities that provide it, but they can’t typically provide the housing themselves.
Likewise, case managers can give a client a bagful of snacks but can’t keep them fed in lieu of the underfunded programs that are supposed to handle that.
The nonprofit staffers know how badly the odds are stacked against them in this way, but they don’t know what else to do. If they can’t take on new clients, who will?
To help ease some of the strain, the New York City Council has apportioned an extra $31 million to be split among the four providers.
And another $5 million may go toward a more intensive program in which caseworkers with fewer clients spend more quality time with serial arrestees, especially those with violent convictions on their records.
The city estimates its seed money will be enough to cover about 550 such defendants, out of more than 2,000.
New York City needs to divert more people from jail. The City Council has ordered Rikers closed by 2027, and to do that, the city needs to cut its overall jail population by at least half, down to 3,300 tops.
(Right now, the numbers are moving in the wrong direction.) If supervised release is going to pick up more of the slack, nonprofits such as the CJA need more caseworkers—De Jesus is waiting for the fresh budget money to hire as many as 30—and more social-services resources.
The courts can help, too. If judges release more minor offenders pending trial without requiring someone to check in on them, caseworkers at the CJA and its peers can focus on cases involving more serious charges. Those numbers, however, are hardly budging.
In April 2019, almost 65% of people charged with misdemeanors in the city were released on their own recognizance, without any requirements. Four years later, with more people being sent to providers such as the CJA, the percentage has actually shrunk a bit, to 60%.
Judges understand that allowing people to walk free before trial is risky for them, too. This spring a Bronx judge was kicked off the criminal bench and reassigned to civil court after word spread that she let a man accused of manslaughter do so. Supervised release offers more political cover.
“For many clients who would otherwise be in Rikers on really high bail they can’t afford, supervised release is an amazing tool,” says Arielle Reid, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Decarceration Project. “But on the flip side, because it’s available, judges tend to overuse it.”
Few jurisdictions that have pursued bail reform measures have gone as far as New York, or been as successful. The impact on jail populations in Chicago and Philadelphia, for example, has been somewhat marginal.
Still, other state and local governments are preparing to take big swings.
Illinois is ending cash bail altogether on Sept. 18, and Los Angeles County will make almost all misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies ineligible for bail on Oct. 1.
Throughout, opponents of bail reform measures have striven to paint them as soft on crime. In Texas, efforts to expand the supervised release program to include felony charges in Harris County, which includes Houston, have met with fierce resistance from the county’s district attorney, who wants to tighten bail policies.
During last year’s elections, Republican candidates spent about $50 million on attack ads that focused on crime, the Washington Post reports, and most of them featured bail as an issue. (It was the 2022 version of “defund the police.”)
Back in New York, the nonprofit workers are muddling on with their massive caseloads. One thing their charges have to grapple with is that for all the potential benefits of supervised release, it remains an arm of the criminal legal system and a punishment.
That’s especially true for those facing long commutes, limited access to cellphones and a lack of disposable income. Defendants who miss too many meetings with their caseworkers, for whatever reason, can find themselves back before a judge.
For Kevin, any inconvenience has been well worth it. Besides the many upsides of being out of jail and living his life, his model behavior in the supervised release program has correlated with improvements in his case.
At his most recent hearing, in August, the state threw out the arson charge, among others, leaving him with the reckless endangerment charge and a smattering of related misdemeanors.
His next hearing is scheduled for October, almost a year after that hazy evening in the basement, and his case has no clear end in sight. He says he keeps praying for help, but he’s doing the work, too.
When the hearing ended, he walked out of the courthouse and across the street to the CJA offices for his latest check-in.