Police Issues

A NOT-SO-MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION
Lapses in policing lead to chronic rulemaking. Does it hit the mark?

(#329, 2/15/19)

     How to make police chiefs shudder? Until recently all that was necessary was to utter “pattern or practice.” That dreaded phase is at the heart of a 1994 Federal statute that authorizes the U.S. Justice Department to sue law enforcement agencies in Federal court when it reasonably believes that they have engaged in a pattern or practice “that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

     These investigations were conducted by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. And going to court they did. A January 2017 report tallied seventy pattern or practice cases since the dreaded statute’s inception, with a full forty leading to judge-monitored consent decrees (for a list of the more recent cases, click here.)

     Spurred by the April 2015 in-custody death of Freddie Gray, DOJ’s investigation of Baltimore PD is perhaps the most notable recent example. Filed in August 2016, the comprehensive, 150-plus page assessment (summary here) blamed “systemic deficiencies in BPD’s policies, training, supervision, and accountability structures” for the litany of illegal arrests, excessive force and other unconstitutional measures that were directed mostly at African Americans. In January 2017 Baltimore and the Feds signed off on a 200-plus page consent decree that specifies precisely what’s required for the department to reclaim its good standing. Alas, an October 2018 news article reported that the judge overseeing the process felt that Baltimore was falling short and that attaining compliance was very much a work in progress.

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A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
In an era of highly lethal firearms, keeping patrol informed is job #1
(10/20/16)

     On October 8, 2016 Palm Springs police officers Lesley Zerebny and Jose “Gil” Vega were shot and killed as they stood outside a residence to which they had been called over a “simple family disturbance.” (Another officer who responded to the scene was wounded but is doing well.) Only moments earlier the father of John Felix, a 26-year old ex-con, had franti cally begged a neighbor for help. “My son is in the house, and he’s crazy. He has a gun. He’s ready to shoot all the police.” Tragically, the officers learned that Felix was armed only after they arrived. When they called on him to come out he opened fire with an AR-15 .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle, shooting multiple rounds through the home’s front door.

     Officers Zerebny and Vega were wearing soft body armor. Given the weapon used, we can assume that it was ineffective. Due to their extreme velocity, .223 caliber (5.56 mm) and similar rifle ammunition readily penetrate the soft body armor that street cops typically wear. Specialized ceramic or hard metal inserts can stop these rounds, but vests so equipped are too heavy and uncomfortable to wear on patrol. (Felix reportedly used “armor-piercing” ammunition whose composition and construction is intended to pierce armor plates. But ordinary .223 rifle ammunition readily defeats soft body armor.)

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ROUTINELY CHAOTIC
Rule #1: Don’t let chaos distort the police response. Rule #2: See Rule #1.
(3/6/18)

      “She was too fast for me.” Taking the stand at his trial for murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide, that’s how NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry explained winding up in a situation that ultimately forced him to pull the trigger, mortally wounding Deborah Danner, 66, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. Only a day later Mayor DeBlasio declared the officer at fault: “The shooting of Deborah Danner is tragic and it is unacceptable. It should never have happened.” Police Commissioner James O’Neill agreed: “That’s not how we trained. We failed.”

     On October 18, 2016 officers were dispatched to the apartment building where Ms. Danner lived and occasionally lost control. Sgt. Barry testified that when he arrived Ms. Danner was ensconced in her bedroom, a pair of scissors in hand. He said he convinced her to put the scissors down and come out, but she soon became recalcitrant. Fearing she’d go back for the scissors, he tried to grab her, but the panicked woman slipped away. So he chased her back into the bedroom, and got confronted with a baseball bat. Sgt. Barry testified that Ms. Danner ignored repeated commands to drop the object, then aggressively stepped towards him and began her swing.

     In our earlier comments about the case (A Stitch in Time and Are Civilians Too Easy on the Police?) we referred to NYPD’s lengthy and, in our opinion, confusingly written protocols. In all, these rules apparently prescribe that unless a mentally ill person’s actions “constitute [an] immediate threat of serious physical injury or death to himself or others” officers should limit their response to establishing a “zone of safety” and await the arrival of their supervisor and an emergency services unit.

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A Victim of Circumstance Building cases with circumstantial evidence calls for exquisite care (#328, 1/26/19)

When Walls Collide Ideological quarrels drown out straight talk about border security (#327, 1/14/19)


Cops Aren't Free Agents To improve police practices, look to the workplace (#326, 1/3/19)

Red Flag at Half-Mast II Preventing more than suicide may carry serious risks (#325, 12/5/18)

Red Flag at Half Mast California’s Guv nixes expanded authority to seize guns from their owners (#324, 11/21/18)


Preventing Mass Murder With gun control a no-go, early intervention is key. Might artificial intelligence help? (#323, 11/4/18)

Notching a "Win" A self-professed “sleeper agent” is (legally) flimflammed by the FBI
(#322, 10/21/18)


Is it Ever OK to Shoot Someone in the Back? Laws, policies and politics clash with the messiness of policing (#321, 10/8/18)


Speed Kills Acting swiftly can save lives. And take them, too. (#320, 9/23/18)

The Bail Conundrum Bail obviously disadvantages the poor. What are the alternatives? (#319, 9/4/18)

Make-Believe Surprise! A well-known terrorist winds up in the U.S. as a refugee (#318, 8/18/18)


Police Slowdowns (Part II) Cops can’t fix what ails America’s inner cities – and shouldn’t try (#317, 8/4/18)

Police Slowdowns (Part I) Bedeviled by scolding, cops hold back. What happens then? (#316, 7/22/18)

Should Every Town Field Its Own Cops? Recent tragedies bring into question the wisdom of small agencies (#315, 7/6/18)

No One Wants Ex-cons to Have Guns The New York Times affirms its liberal creds. And falls into a rabbit hole. (#314, 6/24/18)

Fewer Can Be Better Murder clearances have declined. Should we worry? (#313, 6/9/18)



The Blame Game Inmates are “realigned” from state to county supervision. Then a cop gets killed. (#312, 5/21/18)

Is Your Uncle a Serial Killer? Police scour DNA databanks for the kin of unidentified suspects (#311, 5/6/18)

There's no "Pretending" a Gun Sometimes split-second decisions are right, even when they're wrong (#310, 4/18/18)



A Reason? Or Just an Excuse? Figuring out why officers kill persons “armed” with a cell phone (#309, 4/5/18)

Loose Lips Enable Terrorists Safeguard sources and methods. Or wish that you had. (#308, 3/27/18)

Again, Kids Die. Again, our "Leaders" Pretend. Like the Dem’s, the GOP addresses gun lethality with make-believe (#307, 3/17/18)

Routinely Chaotic Rule #1: Don’t let chaos distort the police response. Rule #2: See Rule #1. (#306, 3/6/18)

Ban the Damned Things! There’s no “regulating” the threat posed by highly lethal firearms (#305, 2/21/18)

Why do Cops Lie? Often, for the same reasons as their superiors (#304, 2/10/18)

Be Careful What You Brag About (Part II) Citywide crime statistics are ripe for misuse (#303, 1/25/18)

Be Careful What You Brag About (Part I) Is the Big Apple's extended crime drop all it seems to be? (#302, 1/15/18)

Accidentally on Purpose A remarkable registry challenges conventional wisdom about the causes of wrongful conviction (#301, 12/24/17)

Massacre Control What can be done to prevent mass shootings? (#300, 11/19/17)

"Bump Stocks" Aren't the (Real) Problem Outlawing them is a good idea. But it’s hardly the solution. (#299, 10/8/17)

Sanctuary Cities, Sanctuary States (Part II) Should states legalize recreational pot? (#298, 9/5/17)

Sanctuary Cities, Sanctuary States (Part I) What happens when communities turn their backs on immigration enforcement? (#297, 8/23/17)

Three (In?)explicable Shootings Grievous police blunders keep costing citizen lives. Why? (#296, 8/1/17)

Silence Isn't Always Golden A proposal to deregulate firearms silencers ignores the hazards of policing (#295, 7/14/17)

A Lost Cause Legislators are ambushed. And a gun-numbed land shrugs and moves on. (#294, 6/24/17)

Are Civilians Too Easy on the Police? When attempts are made to sanction cops, citizens often get in the way (#293, 6/3/17)

Ideology Trumps Reason Clashing belief systems challenge criminal justice policymaking (#292, 5/16/17)

People do Forensics Conflicts about oversight neglect a fundamental issue (#291, 4/30/17)

Why Do Cops Succeed? Shifting resources from finding fault to studying success (#290, 4/13/17)

Guilty Until Proven Innocent Pressures to solve notorious crimes can lead to tragic miscarriages of justice (#289, 3/19/17)

Is Crime Up or Down? Well, it Depends It depends on where one sits, when we compare, and on who counts (#288, 2/27/17)

An Illusory Consensus (Part II) Good intentions don't always translate into good policy (#287, 2/10/17)

An Illusory Consensus America's police leaders agree on the use of force. Or do they? (#286, 1/29/17)

Do Gun Laws Work? Are they doing any good? We crunch the numbers to find out (#285, 1/11/17)

Is Trump Right About the Nation's Inner Cities? America's low-income communities desperately need a New Deal (#284, 12/17/16)

A Stitch in Time Could early intervention save officer and citizen lives? (#283, 11/26/16)

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished To avoid anointing Trump, the FBI Director falls into a trap of his own making (#282, 11/2/16)

A Matter of Life and Death In an era of highly lethal firearms, keeping patrol informed is job #1 (#281, 10/20/16)

Is it Always About Race? Unruly citizens and streets brimming with guns make risk-tolerance a very hard sell (#280, 10/5/16)

Words Matter In a conflicted, gun-saturated land, heated rhetoric threatens cops’ effectiveness - and their lives (#279, 9/17/16)

Where Should Cops Live? Officer-citizen conflicts stir renewed interest in residency requirements (#278, 9/2/16)

Getting Out of Dodge For families caught in dangerous neighborhoods, there is one option (#277, 8/19/16)

Better Late Than Never (Part II) DOJ proposes rules for forensic testimony. Do they go far enough? (#276, 8/3/16)

Good Guy/Bad Guy/Black Guy (Part II) Aggressive crime-fighting strategies can exact an unintended toll (#275, 7/18/16)

Good Guy/Bad Guy/Black Guy (Part I) Do cops use race to decide who poses a threat? (#274, 7/18/16)

Intended or not, a Very Rough Ride A hung jury and two acquittals mar Baltimore's crusade against police violence (#273, 7/3/16)

A Ban in Name Only Pretending to regulate only makes things worse (#272, 6/21/16)

Better Late Than Never (Part I) A "hair-raising" forensic debacle forces DOJ's hand (#271, 6/10/16)

Location, Location, Location Crime happens. To find out why, look to where (#270, 5/25/16)

Orange is the New Brown L.A.'s past sheriff and undersheriff pack their bags for Hotel Fed. (#269, 5/7/16)

Role Reversal Chicago's falling apart. Who can make the violence stop? (#268, 4/25/16)

Is a Case Ever too Cold? Citing factual errors, an Illinois prosecutor successfully moves to free a convicted killer (#267, 4/16/16)

After the Fact Ordinary policing strategies can't prevent terrorism (#266, 3/31/16)

More Rules, Less Force? PERF promotes written guidelines to reduce the use of force. Cops aren't happy (#265, 3/18/16)

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