Law enforcement have a new crime fighting tool: your DNA.
Antonia Hylton visits one police department where collecting genetic information has become routine.“
Law enforcement have a new crime fighting tool: your DNA.
Antonia Hylton visits one police department where collecting genetic information has become routine.“
Seriously. Earlier this month, the Franklin County, Kentucky, Sheriff’s Office posted a flier on Facebook letting drug dealers submit anonymous tips to get “a free service to help you eliminate your drug competition”:
Ridiculous, right? Except it apparently worked. The New York Times’s Katie Rogers reports:
When the sheriff in Franklin County, Ky., posted a flier on Facebook asking local drug dealers to snitch on their competition, the response was more than a little incredulous.
That is, until a tip sent to a phone number on the flier led to an investigation that helped the sheriff arrest a local drug dealer. The authorities recovered crack cocaine, cocaine, four pounds of marijuana and four firearms, the sheriff, Pat Melton, said on Thursday.
This isn’t the first time a police department has tried the tactic. Last month, the Charlton, Massachusetts, Police Department posted a similar flier on its Facebook page. And the McIntosh County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office published another flier as an advertisement in a local newspaper — drawing an appearance on Fox News.
It’s funny and ridiculous. But as police departments around the country spend billions on the war on drugs and get few results, especially in the face of rising heroin use, it’s hard to blame them for wanting to try something new.
On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.
That’s a theory from my friend K.L. Williams, who has trained thousands of officers around the country in use of force. Based on what I experienced as a black man serving in the St. Louis Police Department for five years, I agree with him. I worked with men and women who became cops for all the right reasons — they really wanted to help make their communities better. And I worked with people like the president of my police academy class, who sent out an email after President Obama won the 2008 election that included the statement, “I can’t believe I live in a country full of ni**er lovers!!!!!!!!” He patrolled the streets in St. Louis in a number of black communities with the authority to act under the color of law.
That remaining 70 percent of officers are highly susceptible to the culture in a given department. In the absence of any real effort to challenge department cultures, they become part of the problem. If their command ranks are racist or allow institutional racism to persist, or if a number of officers in their department are racist, they may end up doing terrible things.
It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown. That is what is allowed.
And no matter what an officer has done to a black person, that officer can always cover himself in the running narrative of heroism, risk, and sacrifice that is available to a uniformed police officer by virtue of simply reporting for duty. Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo was recently acquitted of all charges against him in the shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, both black and unarmed. Thirteen Cleveland police officers fired 137 shots at them. Brelo, having reloaded at some point during the shooting, fired 49 of the 137 shots. He took his final 15 shots at them after all the other officers stopped firing (122 shots at that point) and, “fearing for his life,” he jumped onto the hood of the car and shot 15 times through the windshield.
About that 15 percent of officers who regularly abuse their power: they exert an outsize influence
Not only was this excessive, it was tactically asinine if Brelo believed they were armed and firing. But they weren’t armed, and they weren’t firing. Judge John O’Donnell acquitted Brelo under the rationale that because he couldn’t determine which shots actually killed Russell and Williams, no one is guilty. Let’s be clear: this is part of what the Department of Justice means when it describes a “pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive force.”
Vox will update as events warrant.
Correction: This post originally identified “Tiffin Avenue” as “Tiffin Hill.” It has been corrected.
Captain Rick Henke stepped down from his job together with Sergeant William Mudd, a fellow long-serving officer who was awarded the Medal of Valor more than 20 years ago, a spokesperson for the city confirmed on Friday.
Their departures came as Eric Holder, the US attorney general, said he was prepared to demand the dismantling of Ferguson’s entire police department if required for reforms ordered by his department this week in a scathing report on the city’s criminal justice system.
Speaking to a pool reporter at Andrews air force base in Maryland on Friday, Holder said an “entirely new structure” was needed in Ferguson. Asked whether that included closing the police force, he said: “If that’s what’s necessary, we’re prepared to do that.”
The police resignations also followed Wednesday’s firing of Mary Ann Twitty, Ferguson’s municipal court clerk, after she, too, was ensnared in the racist email scandal. Justice Department investigators detailed seven examples of offensive messages they found during searches of tens of thousands of official documents.
Both police officers were involved in policing the months of protests that erupted following the fatal shooting by a white officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, in August last year.
That unrest prompted Holder to open the inquiry into the in the St Louis suburb’s police and courts system. A second Justice Department inquiry that concluded simultaneously this week decided to bring no federal civil-rights charges against Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown.
Mudd, 64, was linked to an email sent in November 2008 which suggested Barack Obama “would not be president for very long because ‘what black man holds a steady job for four years?’,” according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch, which first reported the officers’ names.
Henke, 59, was said to have been associated with an email sent in May 2011 that stated: “An African American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers’.”
A woman reached by telephone at Mudd’s home address on Friday evening said: “We have no comment about anything.” Henke could not be reached for comment.
Figures released by Ferguson under open records laws last year stated that Henke, who joined the police force in July 1978, was paid $87,555 a year. This was more than any other officer except Chief Thomas Jackson. Henke was also listed as second in line to Jackson on the police department’s website.
Mudd, who was hired in July 1976, was paid $70,741 a year. He is listed as a 1993 recipient of the Medal of Valor, Missouri’s most prestigious honour for police officers. The medal is awarded for officers showing “exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life”.
Holder said in his remarks on Friday that he had been “surprised by what I found” in the inquiry. “I was shocked towards the end by the numbers that we saw, and the breadth of the practices that we uncovered,” he said.
The attorney general described the impact of the city’s practices as “just appalling”.
Before Eric Garner couldn’t breathe, William Cardenas couldn’t breathe. It was 2006, and Cardenas, a 23-year-old Los Angeles resident, was drinking a beer on a sidewalk when two LAPD officers approached. Cardenas had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. He ran. The officers pursued, apprehended, and subdued him. The official police report noted that one of the officers struck Cardenas twice in the face after he resisted arrest.
The truth was somewhat different. A video of the encounter that surfaced after Cardenas’ arrest showed one officer punching Cardenas in the face five times while he lay on the ground, one wrist already handcuffed. Both officers sat on top of Cardenas, one pressing his knee against his neck, the other straddling Cardenas’ abdomen. “I can’t breathe,” Cardenas said repeatedly. “I can’t breathe.”
Before William Cardenas couldn’t breathe, Anthony Baez couldn’t breathe. He didn’t say so, but it’s hard to draw any other conclusion. In December 1994, Baez, a 29-year-old security guard, was playing football with his brothers in the Bronx when an overthrown ball struck a parked police car. New York City Police Department officer Francis Livoti responded by grabbing Baez and putting him in a chokehold; Baez, an asthmatic, choked to death.
What do Baez, Cardenas, and Garner have in common? William Bratton.
Bratton, the current commissioner of the New York City Police Department, was Los Angeles’ police commissioner when Cardenas was deprived of breath, and NYPD’s chief during the Baez incident. Bratton is the nation’s leading proponent of broken windows policing, which encourages cops to doggedly maintain order in dangerous neighborhoods, ostensibly as a way of stemming violent crime before it starts.
Late last summer, the shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the protests that ensued, sparked a national conversation about the militarization of American police departments. “American policing has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized,” a major American Civil Liberties Union report issued in July declared, “in large part through federal programs that have armed state and local law enforcement agencies with the weapons and tactics of war.” The town of Keene, about an hour’s drive from Salisbury, secured a $286,000 armored personnel carrier to defend itself against terrorist attacks in 2012, for example.
As many police departments stock up on showy weaponry, however, others are quietly disappearing. The number of state and local law-enforcement agencies with fewer than 10 officers dipped by more than 2 percent between 2004 and 2008, according to the latest figures from the Department of Justice. The department is currently preparing an updated report. John Firman, the director of the research division of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, is helping with the survey, and he says the number of small departments is likely to decline again. “We’ve called at least 20 state associations,” he said, “and every one said, ‘We’re losing smaller departments. They’re shutting down.’ ”
Big-city police work attracts the overwhelming majority of news coverage, academic research and depictions in TV and movies. That’s in part because a wide variety of citizens live cheek-to-cheek in cities and crime is more frequent and more dramatic than it is in sleepy rural areas. In Salisbury, a community about 15 miles northeast of the state capitol of Concord, most calls to police have to do with domestic violence, theft, motor-vehicle accidents and “neighbor complaints,” according to state police Sgt. Ron Taylor. Salisbury’s biggest policing need in recent years occurred during a manhunt last winterthat ensued when a man fled into the woods after a domestic violence incident. He surrendered within hours. (New Hampshire has one of the lowest violent-crime rates in the country.)
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week will launch a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, according to two federal law enforcement officials.
The investigation, which could be announced as early as Thursday afternoon, will be conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division and follow a process similar to that used to investigate complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force in other police departments across the country, the officials said.
The move follows the shooting last month of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American, by a white Ferguson police officer who claimed he acted in self-defense. Brown, who was unarmed, was shot at least six times on the afternoon of Aug. 9.
Holder’s decision will represent the Obama administration’s most aggressive step to address the Ferguson shooting, which set off days of often-violent clashes between police and demonstrators in the streets of the St. Louis suburb.
The federal officials said the probe will look not only at Ferguson but also at other police departments in St. Louis County. Some, like Ferguson, are predominantly white departments serving majority-African-American communities, and at least one department invited the Justice Department to look at its practices. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pending inquiry.
The investigation is in addition to a Justice Department probe into whether Officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots, violated Brown’s civil rights. The new probe will look more broadly at whether the department employed policies and practices that resulted in a pattern of civil rights violations.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that five current and one former member of the Ferguson police force face pending federal lawsuits claiming they used excessive force. The lawsuits, as well as more than a half-dozen internal investigations, include claims that individual officers separately hog-tied a 12-year-old boy who was checking his family mailbox, pistol-whipped children and used a stun gun on a mentally ill man who died as a result.
In addition to the investigations, a St. Louis County grand jury is hearing evidence that could lead to charges against Wilson.
The New York Police Department has abandoned a secretive program that dispatched plainclothes detectives into Muslim neighborhoods to eavesdrop on conversations and built detailed files on where people ate, prayed and shopped, the department said.
The decision by the nation’s largest police force to shutter the controversial surveillance program represents the first sign that William J. Bratton, the department’s new commissioner, is backing away from some of the post-9/11 intelligence-gathering practices of his predecessor. The Police Department’s tactics, which are the subject of two federal lawsuits, drew criticism from civil rights groups and a senior official with the Federal Bureau of Investigationwho said they harmed national security by sowing mistrust for law enforcement in Muslim communities.
To many Muslims, the squad, known as the Demographics Unit, was a sign that the police viewed their every action with suspicion. The police mapped communities inside and outside the city, logging where customers in traditional Islamic clothes ate meals and documenting their lunch-counter conversations.
“The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community,” said Linda Sarsour, of the Arab American Association of New York. “Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the cafe where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”
Ms. Sarsour was one of several advocates who met last Wednesday with Mr. Bratton and some of his senior staff members at Police Headquarters. She and others in attendance said the department’s new intelligence chief, John Miller, told them that the police did not need to work covertly to find out where Muslims gather and indicated the department was shutting the unit down.
The Demographics Unit, which was renamed the Zone Assessment Unit in recent years, has been largely inactive since Mr. Bratton took over in January, the department’s chief spokesman, Stephen Davis, said. The unit’s detectives were recently reassigned, he said.
“Understanding certain local demographics can be a useful factor when assessing the threat information that comes into New York City virtually on a daily basis,” Mr. Davis said. “In the future, we will gather that information, if necessary, through direct contact between the police precincts and the representatives of the communities they serve.”
The department’s change in approach comes as the federal government reconsiders and re-evaluates some of its own post-9/11 policies. Although the police department’s surveillance program was far smaller in scope than, say, the bulk data collection by the National Security Agency, a similar recalibration seems to be unfolding.
The Demographics Unit was the brainchild of the Central Intelligence Agency officer Lawrence Sanchez, who helped establish it in 2003 while working at the Police Department and while he was still on the spy agency’s payroll.
The goal was to identify the mundane locations where a would-be terrorist could blend into society. Plainclothes detectives looked for “hot spots” of radicalization that might give the police an early warning about terrorist plots. The squad, which typically consisted of about a dozen members, focused on 28 “ancestries of interest.”
Watch this video, taken from a police raid in Des Moines, Iowa. Send it to some people. When critics (like me) warn about the dangers of police militarization, this is what we’re talking about. You’ll see the raid team, dressed in battle-dress uniforms, helmets and face-covering balaclava hoods take down the family’s door with a battering ram. You’ll see them storm the home with ballistics shields, guns at the ready. More troubling still, you’ll see not one but two officers attempt to prevent the family from having an independent record of the raid, one by destroying a surveillance camera, another by blocking another camera’s lens.
From the images in the video, you’d think they were looking for an escaped murderer or a house full of hit men. No, none of that. They were looking for a few people suspected of credit card fraud. None of the people they were looking for were inside of the house, nor was any of the stolen property they were looking for. They did arrest two houseguests of the family on what the news report says were unrelated charges, one for a probation violation and one for possession of illegal drugs.
A couple other points about this story. First, note that the police say they knocked and announced themselves before the raid. The knock and announce requirement has a long history in U.S. and English common law. Its purpose was to give the occupants of a home the opportunity to avoid property damage and unnecessary violence by giving them time to come to the door and let the police in peacefully. As you can see from the video, the knock and announce today is largely a formality. The original purpose is gone. From the perspective of the people inside, there’s really no difference between this sort of “knock and announce” and a no-knock raid. (The covering of the officers’ faces is also troubling, though also not uncommon.)
Historically, the other purpose of the knock-and-announce requirement is to avoid the inevitable tragedy that can result if homeowners mistake raiding police for criminal intruders. As the requirement has been eroded, allegedly to protect the safety of police officers, we’ve seen plenty of tragedy — and many of those tragedies have been the deaths of police officers. There was another one just last December. And it almost happened here:
Prince’s son, Justin Ross, was in the bathroom when police burst in, and he was carrying a gun that he has the legal right to carry. “I stood up, I drew my weapon, I started to get myself together to get out the door, I heard someone in the main room say police. I re-holstered my weapon sat back down and put my hands in my lap,” Ross recalls.
Ross says he didn’t hear the police announcement until after one officer had already attempted to kick in the door. Had that officer been successful, there’s a good chance that Ross, the police officer, or both would be dead. The police department would then have inevitably argued that Ross should have known that they were law enforcement. But you can’t simultaneously argue that these violent, volatile tactics are necessary to take suspects by surprise and that the same suspects you’re taking by surprise should have known all along that they were being raided by police. Well you can, and police do, and judges and prosecutors usually support them. But the arguments don’t logically coexist.
Finally, note that police department officials say they “do not have a written policy governing how search warrants are executed.” That’s inexcusable. Most police departments do. But whether or not they’re governed by a formal policy, the use of these kinds of tactics for nonviolent crimes like credit card fraud is hardly unusual, and it’s happening more often, not less. I’ve reported on jurisdictions where allfelony search warrants are now served with a SWAT team. At least one federal appeals court has now ruled that under the Fourth Amendment, there’s nothing unreasonable about using a SWAT team to perform regulatory inspections. To be fair, two others have ruled that such tactics are not reasonable. But it’s concerning that this would even be up for debate. We have plenty of discussion and analysis about when searches are appropriate. We also need to start talking about how.