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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Patronage vs Misconduct - A Tale Of Two Cities Part 1

The Vice of Injustice and Virtue of Justice
frescoes at the Arena Chapel in Padua by Giotto

On January 30th, The Dallas Morning News broke a story about how two of four Dallas Police officers fired on 1/29/09 had actually been fired at least one other time previously but were reinstated upon appeal... and that one of those two, officer Fernando Perez, had actually been fired and reinstated twice before this latest disciplinary action.

Officer Perez had a history of misconduct that stretched back to 1991 when his field trainer recommended that he be fired while he was still a probationary officer because of poor performances when he interrogated and interviewed people. Other allegations included using racial epithets, failing to help a fellow officer as he was being beaten outside a bar, conducting illegal searches, excessive force, inappropriately conducting a 114 mph chase for a non-violent suspect, and misuse of police equipment.

But, repeatedly, a civil service review board would reduce the disciplinary findings and force the department to rehire him...

The other officer who was fired and rehired before being fired again, Sr. Cpl. Anthony Williams, was featured again in an article devoted entirely to him on February 22 which detailed a long and tortuous history of allegation after allegation of sexual misconduct that would only be met with minor disciplinary actions, if any at all.

But when Williams was finally fired the first time in 1996 for having sex while on duty, he was reinstated to continue with his 20 year career of abuse. This year he was finally fired... not for sexually abusing someone, but because he failed to respond to an emergency call while he was arguing with a woman who he had been having an affair with amidst allegations that he was doing so while on duty.

Why? Because Williams had the whole sexual misconduct game down pat by always targeting women that investigators would have a hard time taking seriously and women who would be afraid to complain about it. So, he was fired for failing to respond to a call instead of for the allegations that he was, again, having sex while on duty.

So, why has it been so hard for the Dallas police to fire problematic officers? Because of protections put into place to stop the systems of patronage, where politicians would fire public servants and staff offices with friends and supporters, and enforce a public service system based on merit.

However, in many localities, as police unions grew in power with their sought-after endorsements they were able to alter the civil review board memberships and change the rules that govern them in their own favor. This problem is exacerbated when we also add in the legislation police unions have been able to pressure lawmakers into passing in most states that keep misconduct and disciplinary records secret. This combination makes it nearly impossible to know who is ultimately to blame when repeat offender officers remain employed despite a clear history of abusive behavior.

Even so, it's still clear that some sort of system which prevents the political manipulation of civil servants, especially the police, is still necessary even when that system appears to be so easily corrupted into a safe haven for abusive officers. An example of the need for a system that protects officers from political abuses becomes clear when we look at what has been happening in the second city in this series.

To be continued...


Rob said...

Have you ever read "Are Cops Constitutional?" by Roger Roots? He looks at how the State's "police power" was used in the early days of the American republic, and how the "professional" police forces we have today first came about. After reading Mr. Roots' essay, I've come to the conclusion that we, as citizens, need to seriously consider disbanding professional police departments and resume those duties ourselves. (Of course, that means we also need to reduce the power and scope of the State as well, since we don't need 300 million people trying to enforce the myriad asinine and conflicting "laws" that are on the books these days.)

Karl Mansoor said...

The link to "Are Cops Constitutional" was interesting reading.

It fits nicely with the main post in provoking thought.

Five Before Midnight said...

Thanks for the link!

Yeah, the officer who tased a man that was caught on video at UCLA was fired twice. One failing probation at another agency, then hired by UCLA then fired again for an assault at a fraternity house, then reinstated through a lawsuit in our revolving door state for problem officers. Then the tasing and also at some point in his career at UCLA an OIS of a homeless man in a bathroom.

Some of my city's fired officers returned to duty I suspect could be fired again.

Btw, they finally sentenced the three APD officers who were involved in the murder of Kathryn Johnston.

They called it a "botched raid". It was an illegal action through and through.

Packratt said...

Hey everyone, thank you so much for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it!

I am sorry it's taken me a while to respond, I usually try to reply to every comment I get.

I ever-so-briefly skimmed over that, it looks quite interesting... yet, the overall concept of retreating back to the days of private police and lynch mobs is, well, just as prone to the same kinds of abuses we see these professional police forces doing... don't you think?

Karl, thanks, there is some interesting reading there, I agree. Wish I had more time to go over it better sooner rather than later.

Thanks as always for the heads up, I saw that as soon as it came out, just didn't have time to post about it until today... I wish I could get a grant so I could devote more of my time to these issues, it needs way more coverage than we've been able to provide yet...

Of course, I've always been trying to get more help or try to form some sort of cooperative effort between everyone... but I just don't know how best to bring all that together.

I'll keep think, and I hope all of you keep at it!

Thank you again!

Rob said...

I ever-so-briefly skimmed over that, it looks quite interesting... yet, the overall concept of retreating back to the days of private police and lynch mobs is, well, just as prone to the same kinds of abuses we see these professional police forces doing... don't you think?

I agree that private citizens can be just as prone to abusive behavior as "professional" police, but there is one major difference: private citizens can't get away with that "sovereign immunity" crap. Very few cops are ever really held personally accountable for their abuses; even when a victim does gets some restitution it is stolen from the rest of us.

Mr. Roots' essay definitely deserves a thorough read. I agree that the concept seems weird, after more than 100 years of professional police departments. I grew up as a cop's kid and always respected the police, but I don't anymore. There may still be a few Sheriff Andy Taylors out there, but they seem to be few and far between these days. Too many seem to be little more than uniformed thugs.

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