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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Police Misconduct - Widespread or Deep-seated?

While the National Police Misconduct NewsFeed project has just begun to give us a glimpse at the possible breadth of America's police misconduct problem, it sometimes fails to show just how deep it runs perhaps.

Sure, when most people think of police departments where corruption and misconduct run deep, we think of big cities like Chicago, Oakland, New York, or Philadelphia. So, does that mean smaller cities and towns are exempt from the problem of deep-seated police corruption and a culture of misconduct?

Furthermore, when we see more than one story of misconduct being reported from a specific location, is this just coincidence, or is this indicative of a deeper, more disconcerting problem?

Still sound confusing? Then consider some of these cases, buried deep within the police misconduct news feed:

Spring Lake Police Department in North Carolina was told it's officers may no longer make felony arrests in 2007. But recently things have gone from bad to worse as two of it's officers have been arrested on multiple felony charges and the state's district attorney is promising even more arrests while also admitting that he has to dismiss a majority of the misdemeanor charges filed against suspects by the department as well.

To sum it up, the department is so corrupt, so inept, that it cannot be trusted to even make a simple misdemeanor arrest, effectively shutting it down and forcing an already thinly stretched county sheriff to pick up the extra slack.

Think of it... an entire department of bad or inept cops. Would that make you feel a bit less secure if you lived there? No? How about this...

Cuyahoga County Sheriff Gerald McFaul left the Sheriff's Department in tatters as he resigned under civil and criminal allegations of nepotism, political favoritism, and a publicized search of his office and home by FBI and IRS agents.

After his departure the county requested an audit of the department and has recently found out that nearly half of their officers were never given civil service exams but instead were hired at the recommendation of friends and family within the department... in fact, many were members of the sheriff's own family or recommended by them without any other real qualifications. But since they've been employed for so long, the county can't fire them.

Still not wondering how entire departments could be problematic like this? Here's some more...

Since the beginning of this year, 1/3 of Smith Township's police department, near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, have been arrested on criminal charges that include burglary, assault, perjury, and drug possession. One officer alone was accused of assaulting a 59 year old man and later accused of attacking a 19 year old fast food worker while on duty, just because he thought the kid was talking about him.

Then last week they found themselves in the crosshairs of a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive force was used when officers arrested a couple after a concert. Smith Township's residents have taken to describing their police officers as incapable of controlling themselves and scary...

Would you be scared living there too? No? Well how about here...

Greece New York's Police Department is missing most of it's command staff, including it's chief, as they are suspended pending criminal and civil charges... in fact, many of the department's police officers are too. Things have gotten so bad in Greece that state officials have come down to do a complete audit of the department that has been in the news, in a bad way. So often, in fact, that the city recently canceled a ceremony that was supposed to honor the department because, well, I guess there wasn't anything left to really celebrate about it.

Does a police department with nothing left to honor make you think twice about how your own police department might operate behind closed doors? No?

Then I have one more place to tell you about... the place where cops like those who end up listed on the news feed go...

Because, if you've ever wondered where all the cops fired for misconduct go when they try to find a new job in law enforcement, wonder no longer... they went to the Maywood Police Department in California where they nicknamed themselves "The Police Department of Second Chances"...

Well, looks like they'll be hoping for third chances now that the effort to cut costs by lowering standards and recruiting officers from disciplinary hearings instead of job fairs and academies has resulted in a blistering audit by the California State Attorney General who found an environment of gross misconduct and widespread abuses against the citizenry.

So, would you want to move your family to Maywood and trust their safety in the hands of a department full of "second chances"?

As I said, the news feed does give us a glimpse into how widespread the problem of police misconduct is... but, just how deep does it run in each police department? Maybe that will become more clear in time as well.

In the meantime, maybe we should all start asking ourselves this question about our own local police force... before your department ends up in my feed too.


George Cotz said...

Based on my experience practicing law for 35 years, which is limited to the NY and NJ suburbs around NYC, police criminality is rare, and probably is at the same rate as the general population. Police officers who abuse their power and authority are still the exception, but they seem to be a growing trend. Institutionalized protection of misbehaving police is endemic; a department that actually acts in a meaningful way against officer misconduct-- before he/she has committed an indictable offense that the press publicizes-- is virtually unknown.

Karl Mansoor said...

Hi Mr Cotz,

Personally, I hesitate using the word "rare' to describe whatever amount of police misconduct does occur. I suspect it tends to make people think, "Well, if it is rare, we don't have to worry too much about it. 'Somebody else' will do something about it."

In my view, because of the significant power and authority of law enforcement officers, the Code of Silence culture greatly multiplies the danger from abusive or criminally prone officers even if percentages are low.

Packratt said...

George, thanks for the feedback and I do agree in part, at least with the suspicion that there isn't much done to proactively address the causes of police misconduct and establish methods to prevent it by identifying problems that may be indicative of potential precursors of misconduct.

However, as does Karl, I also hesitate to agree with any preconception about the true measure of misconduct that occurs in the US. Firstly because we really don't have any reliable statistics about police misconduct that would be the result of independent and unbiased investigations into misconduct and no standardized and independent means of gathering information about the number of incidents nationwide.

Secondly, the ratio of "good" vs "bad" officers isn't as important a measure of the impact police misconduct has on our nation. After all, when we talk about children being sexually abused we don't say, "well, most people don't do it so it's not a problem."

Yet, for some strange reason it's acceptable and common to dismiss the problem of police misconduct by suggesting, without accurate data to back it, that since most officers might not do it that it's not a problem to be concerned about.

It's not about determining the ratio, that's unimportant for now, it's about guaging just how widespread and prevalent it is, just as it's important to get verifiable data on crime rates. Why we invest so much to gather statistics on one and not the other should also be disconcerting, don't you think?

Thanks again, both of you, for your comments!

george cotz said...

My intent wasn't to be dismissive of police misconduct; to the contrary. When a citizen has a contact with a police officer, that officer has all the awesome power of the state, even the power of life and death, behind him. That is why no level of police misconduct is tolerable. My comment was directed at your question, which was, I think, how common is it?

Packratt said...


No problem, thanks for clarifying, and thanks for taking the time to comment!

Anonymous said...

It's more then the code of silence. What you see time and time again on the twitter feed are examples- of how sick and twisted police culture in general is. You have to wonder, are cops trained to think they can do whatever they want to people with no fear of consequences?

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