Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Balko: Elite police units are part of the problem

Radley Balko writes in The New York Times, "giving roving teams of police officers added authority, elite status, a long leash and a vague mandate is a formula for abuse."

The website of the Memphis Police Department includes an entire section called “Reimagine Policing.” The introduction emphasizes that trust is the key to effective law enforcement and proclaims the department’s participation in reform efforts such as President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing program, de-escalation training and the “8 Can’t Wait” reforms proposed by the group Campaign Zero.

Yet in 2021, as homicides in the city soared, the city announced the formation of the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, or SCORPION. The ‌teams, which included four groups of 10 officers each, would saturate crime hot spots in the city in unmarked cars and make pretextual traffic stops ‌to investigate homicides, aggravated assaults, robberies and carjackings.

Programs like SCORPION are a big part of the problem.

These units are typically touted as the best of the best — teams of highly experienced, carefully selected officers with stable temperaments, who have earned the right to work with less supervision. It isn’t difficult to see the dangers of telling police officers again and again that they are “elite,” but what’s really remarkable is how far that ideal is from the reality. As Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles deputy police chief and former SWAT officer, once told me, “The guys who really want to be on the SWAT team are the last people you should be putting on the SWAT team.” These units tend to attract aggressive, rules-skirting officers who then bring in like-minded colleagues to join them.

One former Memphis officer told CBS News that ‌SCORPION hired young and inexperienced officers with a propensity for aggression. Their “training” consisted of “three days of PowerPoint presentations, one day of criminal apprehension instruction and one day at the firing range.” One of the five officers indicted in Nichols’s murder had a prior complaint against him, and the civil rights attorney Ben Crump said he has already heard from other people who say they were abused by the unit.

The name of the team gives the game away. You call a unit SCORPION or Strike Force because you want to instill fear and because you want to attract police officers who enjoy being feared.

Memphis is hardly alone. In the early 1970s, Detroit officials responded to a surge in street violence with a program called Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets, or STRESS. Early on, the units — which often, like SCORPION, included Black officers — gave politicians bragging rights to a record of arrests and gun confiscations. But behind that record were rogue cops with a cowboy mentality. They were accused of planting evidence, physical abuse and corruption. Over a two-year period, the units killed at least 22 people, almost all of them Black. The city eventually ended the program after a STRESS unit raided an apartment where five Wayne County sheriff’s deputies — all Black — were playing poker. The resulting shootout left one deputy dead and another permanently disabled.

In the 50 years since, a similar story has played out in cities across the country, with remarkable consistency. Perhaps the most infamous was the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart scandal of the late 1990s, which involved a unit called Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums program, or CRASH. More than 70 officers were implicated in planting guns and drug evidence, selling narcotics themselves and shooting and beating people without provocation.

Around the same time, the results of an investigation into Los Angeles’s Special Investigations Section — which had killed so many people it earned the nickname “Death Squad” — caused the city to pay out about $125 million in settlements to victims and court costs.

A decade earlier, Chicago created the Special Operations Section, or S.O.S., in response to rising crime in that city. By the mid-2000s, whistle-blowers and official investigations accused S.O.S. officers of armed robbery, drug dealing, planting evidence, burglary, “taxing” drug dealers and kidnapping. One member, Keith Herrera, told “60 Minutes” that S.O.S. officers pulled over motorists without cause, confiscated their keys, then broke into their homes and stole from them. The head of the unit — only one of numerous scandal-plagued elite units in the city’s history — eventually pleaded guilty to hiring a hit man to kill Officer Herrera.

And it was officers from the N.Y.P.D.’s Street Crimes Unit — its motto: “We own the night” — who shot and killed an unarmed immigrant, Amadou Diallo, after mistaking his wallet for a gun. Though the unit was officially disbanded, later incarnations took the lead in the city’s notorious stop-and-frisk policy and were implicated in some of the city’s most notorious police killings, including the deaths of Eric GarnerSean Bell and Kimani GrayA 2018 investigation by The Intercept found that though these units account for just 6 percent of N.Y.P.D. officers, they were involved in more than 30 percent of fatal shootings by police officers. The street crimes units were again disbanded after the George Floyd protests in 2020. But last year, in response to a sharp rise in crime, Eric Adams restarted them.

Scandals involving elite police units have also hit IndianapolisAtlantaPhiladelphiaNewarkPomonaMilwaukeeGreensboro and Fresno, among others. Most recently, eight officers from a unit in Baltimore were convicted and imprisoned after allegations that they robbed city residents, stole from local businesses, sold drugs and carried BB guns to plant on people.

The evidence is overwhelming: Giving roving teams of police officers added authority, elite status, a long leash and a vague mandate is a formula for abuse.

From STRESS to SCORPION, police and city officials have often claimed that these units helped reduce the crime rate. It’s hard to say if they’re right. Crime data is notoriously unreliable, and it’s all but impossible to isolate a rise or fall in crime in a specific city to a single variable. Violent crime did drop in Memphis last year, but it also dropped in most large cities, after a two-year spike.

But even if true, the implication ought to give us pause. It suggests that residents of the neighborhoods these units patrol must choose between living in fear of crime or living in fear of the police.

To read more CLICK HERE


Monday, January 30, 2023

Diversity is not a panacea to race based police violence

As numerous researchers told the Los Angeles Time's Jaweed Kaleem, diversity isn’t a panacea to police violence, wrote Erika D. Smith of the Times.

“Studies indicate that Black officers are just as brutal and at times even more brutal against Black bodies as their white counterparts,” said Duane Loynes Sr., an assistant professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., who studies the relationship between Black communities and police. “If a system is problematic, it doesn’t matter who you plug into it. You will get the same result.”

Of course, none of this is exactly news to Black people, much less to Lora King, Rodney King's daughter. King was brutalized by police on video on 1991.

 “I know my dad’s situation,” she said of King, who died in 2012. “And [some of] the bystanders were African American cops who did nothing.”

This is why, when activists with Black Lives Matter takes to the streets to demand justice for an act of police brutality, the race of the officers involved is almost never mentioned — it’s so irrelevant.

And yet, almost 32 years after the Rodney King beating, many still seem confused and shocked that Nichols was beaten by five Black cops in a city where more than half the police force is Black and most residents are too.

Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith were all members of the Memphis Police Department’s aggressive violent-crime unit, “SCORPION.” The unit has since been disbanded. And the officers have been fired, arrested, charged and released on bail.

Their deadly encounter with Nichols started as so many do — with a traffic stop.

“You gonna get your ass blown the f— out,” one officer yells at Nichols, who is seated in his car. Then, with guns pointed at him, an officer drags him from the driver’s seat.

“I didn’t do anything,” Nichols says. “All right, I’m on the ground.”

A few minutes later, an officer tells Nichols: “Watch out, I’m gonna baton the f— out of you!” Then another officer punches him in the face. Others hold him up as more blows are delivered.

“All right, all right,” Nichols says, moaning and trying desperately to comply with their orders.

Throughout the beating, he screams for his mother, who was at home only a short distance away. Near the end of the recording, the officers can be heard laughing and joking as Nichols, propped up against a car, slumps over.

 “Hey, sit up, bro,” one officer tells Nichols, who, by this point, was lying on the ground in pain. “Sit up, man.”

I wouldn’t advise anyone to watch the video, even the snippets, but if you do, you’ll see what looks more like someone getting jumped in an alley outside of a dive bar than police officers trying to arrest someone.

That all five were comfortable carrying out such senseless savagery while not only wearing body cameras but doing it under a pole-mounted police surveillance camera, is indicative of a toxic culture of policing. A “groupthink,” as Chief Davis called it, that is bigger than “bad apples.”

Sure, it’s extremely disappointing that not one of them looked at Nichols and saw a reflection of their own Blackness — and a recognition of the brutality that so many Black people have endured over the decades by people with a badge and a gun.

“They have brought shame to their own families,” Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, told CNN on Friday. “They brought shame to the Black community.”

They also betrayed the civil rights activists who’ve been fighting to protect Black lives for more decades than I’ve been alive.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who also has drawn comparisons between Nichols and King, acknowledged “that these officers are Black makes it more egregious to those of us in the civil rights movement.” But “these officers should not be allowed to hide their deeds behind their Blackness. We are against all police brutality — not just white police brutality.”

And police brutality, at its core, is about systemic racism, not the racism of individual officers. It’s about enforcing a system of power that is built on white supremacy and carried out by overpolicing low-income communities of color, like an occupying force.

Anyone, even Black cops, can be a tool of that system because anyone can be a tool of white supremacy.

So, no, diversifying police departments won’t help. What will help are new laws that fundamentally change how police departments operate, whether it’s requiring more active monitoring of officers’ mental health or somehow changing their role in carrying out traffic stops. We have to be more intentional about explicitly forbidding and punishing behavior that needs to stop.

“Whatever we’re doing, it’s not working,” Lora King told me. “It’s not working because we’re still in the same place going into infinity sign. So the whole everything needs to be reconstructed.”

Nichols, who died days after his beating, swollen and bloodied on a ventilator in a Memphis hospital, had lived in Sacramento until just a few years ago. He leaves behind a 4-year-old son.

Like the daughter of Rodney King, his son will one day have to make sense of a system of policing and of power that a majority of Americans refuse to meaningfully change because they benefit from it — even as it continues to destroy Black lives, one way or another.

“It’s sad we even have to compare this. It’s sad that it’s even happening,” King said, trying to come up with the words. “It doesn’t make sense. I can never make sense of it. It’s sickening.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Warrior Cop training and the militarization of law enforcement

Radley Balko exhaustively detailed the militarization of police in his 2013 book Rise of the Warrior Cop, which traced the proliferation of SWAT teams, the increased transfer of surplus military equipment from the United States military to police forces across the country, and the changes in police mentality that followed, reported The Bulwark. 

Where officers were once commonly armed only with .38 revolvers, police departments around the country now stock their armories with assault rifles, high-caliber sniper rifles, armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers, and even MRAPs—armored vehicles designed to withstand the blasts of IEDs and landmines. SWAT teams, once the purview of forces serving major population centers, have been adopted by departments even in small towns like Uvalde; in rural and urban settings alike, they are most often deployed to serve search or arrest warrants upon suspected drug users.

In the ten weeks since the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, each new disclosure has cast the responding officers in a worse light. First, police claimed that a school resource officer engaged the shooter before he entered the building; no such thing occurred. Then came the footage of parents being restrained by men in tactical gear outside as their children were killed within. Doors that were supposedly locked turned out to have been unlocked the whole time; requested firepower was on site sooner than spokespeople recollected. But the simplest distillation of the scandal is a matter of mathematics: It took 75 minutes for some of the 376 law enforcement officers who arrived at the scene to enter the classroom and kill the shooter, who had by that time murdered nineteen children and two teachers without being properly engaged by the police.

It’s not that American officers are gun-shy, exactly. Over 1,000 people have been shot and killed by police in the United States in the past year. Police forces across the country are being militarized—Uvalde, which is a town of 15,000, did much to advertise its own SWAT team—and new recruits are increasingly being trained into a violent paradigm that requires them to habituate themselves to the act of killing until they are ready to do so at a moment’s notice. Gone are the days of officers who aspire to resemble Mayberry’s Andy Taylor, the idealized small-town policeman who strolled his beat without so much as a holstered sidearm on his hip. Instead, we live in the age of the heavily armed and armored “warrior cop,” who may avail himself of virtually any pretense to end your life with impunity.

These two bodies of information—the calamitous failure of police to use force to end a mass killing in progress on one side, the rise of the warrior cop on the other—might initially appear to conflict with one another. But as we attempt to square the rise of the warrior cop with the utter failure of the police in Uvalde, what becomes clear is that Uvalde is not an outlier. Rather, the Uvalde tragedy is perfectly consistent with the warrior-cop ethos.

It is not clear at this time whether the Uvalde police specifically undertook warrior-cop training programs or overtly embraced its ethos in other ways, but the mindset is prevalent in officer training programs, police unions, and publications for cops all around the country; the federal government even makes grants available to fund warrior-cop training workshops, as detailed in a jointly published story by Slate and the Trace about the burgeoning warrior-cop industry. Whether or not Uvalde cops attended warrior-cop training in a formal context, the ideology is in the water; there is no escaping it.

Let’s get into what the “warrior cop” phenomenon entails. I use the term here to indicate two separate but related developments: first, the increased militarization of police culture and materiel, and second, the school of “warrior” or “sheepdog” philosophies being taught in police trainings.

Police training has also evolved to keep pace with this growing arsenal: Philosophies that emphasize the officer’s role as a warrior or “sheepdog” are ubiquitous in police academies and workshops. The work of David Grossman exemplifies this trend. A retired Army lieutenant colonel, he has been teaching “bulletproof warrior” and “killology” courses to police officers around the country for over two decades. Grossman teaches that police must develop a “will to kill” to perform their jobs well. (And when they do kill, their reward, he says, is to go home and enjoy the best sex they’ve ever had, post-killing coitus being one of the “perks that come with this job.”) Police departments often array themselves in symbols that reinforce the warrior-cop ideology: Officers decorate their equipment with the Punisher skull; they quote Bible verses about God’s righteous wrath, imagining themselves to be its instruments; and they proudly display the Thin Blue Line flag, which posits that law enforcement is the only thing standing between the law-abiding citizenry and anarchy—or worse.

And yet: Uvalde.

According to a timeline published last month by the Associated Press, the shooter arrived at Robb Elementary School at 11:28 a.m., and officers began arriving as soon as three minutes later. The shooter entered the building at 11:33; officers followed him inside at 11:35. At 11:37, the shooter shot at a few of them who had gathered outside the doors to rooms 111 and 112, where he had already fired over one hundred rounds at his victims. In response, officers retreated—and stayed retreated. Eleven minutes later, officer Ruben Ruiz attempted to enter the classroom after learning that his wife, teacher Eva Mireles, had been shot. He was detained, disarmed, and prevented from breaching the classroom by other officers who “escorted him from the scene,” in the words of Texas Department of Public Safety Director Col. Steve McCraw. Eva Mireles later died from her injuries.

Officers would not ultimately breach the classroom and confront the shooter until 12:50 p.m., approximately an hour and 15 minutes after law enforcement first entered the building. It is impossible to say how many lives could have been saved by more decisive action on the part of police. The shooter fired sporadically while the hundreds of law enforcement officers outside dithered.

This is not the first time that police have failed to respond adequately to a mass shooting. Law enforcement personnel failed to aggressively pursue mass shooters during the Columbine and Parkland shootings, and failures in intelligence and organization prolonged the Las Vegas and Orlando shootings, as well.

But most mass shootings aren’t stopped by police at all: According to the New York Times, out of a sample size of 433 “active shooter” events, fewer than half (184) were ended by police. Of those, 53 were ended by acts of the assailants after police arrived (i.e., suicide or surrender), meaning that only around 30 percent of active shooter attacks studied by the Times were ended by police using direct force against an armed attacker.

While it is not the case that police never respond quickly or well to mass shootings (see, for example the Dayton, Ohio shooting in 2019), there is a dissonance between the heroic warrior-cop persona and the realities of police intervention. Even the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety called Uvalde an “abject failure.”

There are always gaps between a persona and reality, between marketing and the truth of the thing being marketed. But this superficial inconsistency—between the warrior-cop persona and failures of police to apply appropriate force in situations that require it—masks a deeper and more troubling consistency: Failures of the type seen at Uvalde are a natural result of the warrior-cop ethos and paradigm.

In his essay “What Is It Like to Be a Man?,” Phil Christman characterizes the experience of masculinity as that of an “abstract rage to protect.” Christman’s prototypical example is the man who spends all his time worrying about how to protect his family from sudden, cinematic violence while often failing to protect them from life’s more mundane exigencies—the sort that require “holding down a hated but necessary job, cleaning the toilet,” and so forth. He demands honor and obeisance from his family out of respect for his calling to throw himself on a grenade or shoot a home intruder should the occasion arise, yet he never seems to help with the dishes. Call this, perhaps, the priority of the violent speculative.

I can think of no better definition for the warrior-cop ethos, unless it is perhaps to add the word “fearful” to Christman’s characterization. (And fear is a consistent presence in Christman’s account: In the next paragraph of his piece, he summarizes Norah Vincent’s findings after going around in drag for a year to experience male sociality firsthand: “Every social encounter between men is potentially a fistfight.”) More than anything else, the warrior-cop ethos teaches police officers to be afraid. Every traffic stop should be treated as an armed standoff because any person pulled over for a broken taillight could be packing an assault rifle and a longing for death, as a writer for one police industry website argues. Failure to exude a sufficient “command presence” can get an officer killed, argues another. The first rule of law enforcement is to “get home at the end of the shift,” and it is “better to be judged by 12 than carried by six.” Consider the “I feared for my life” language that follows nearly every police shooting. For the officer who aspires to be a warrior cop, Christman’s logic of masculinity takes a heightened form: Every social encounter is potentially a shootout.

Giving himself over to this “abstract, fearful rage to protect” changes the way an officer imagines the public he is meant to serve: It is now full of “predators” and “violent offenders,” bad actors who could be waiting in ambush behind any door or window. The warrior cop’s wars are defined abstractly—he is enlisted in a fight against “crime” and “drugs”—and this gives his beat a haunted quality. The tragic eventuality is that he shoots people who pose him no threat, like Philando Castile. (It’s no coincidence that the officer who killed Castile had spent dozens of hours in one of Dave Grossman’s trainings just a few years prior.)

In my time as a public defender in rural Minnesota, I have reviewed hundreds of hours of body-cam and dash-cam footage of police interactions with the public. Though I have not witnessed police responses to mass shootings, what I have seen are countless examples of officers mistreating the people they detain and then citing their fear of those people as justification for the mistreatment. I have seen officers cite personal safety concerns as a basis for warrantless searches of person, property, and vehicles. I have seen an officer pull a hyperventilating teenage shoplifter out of her car and gain “pain compliance” over her by squeezing her fingers together—citing her “verbal hostility” as proof of this act’s necessity. (The stolen property at issue in this case was a pack of Kraft singles.) I have seen officers breach a residence without a warrant to arrest a panicking, drunk, and mentally ill man, a figure well-known to the police, who was making ludicrous claims about having landmines on his property. I have seen police officers point Tasers at confused people simply because they did not immediately comply with all officer commands; their noncompliance raised a spectral fear of concealed weapons under their clothes.

All this is not to suggest that assaults on police never happen during traffic stops. I have had clients charged with assaulting a police officer. However, in all but one of those cases, the alleged assault consisted of spitting on the officer—by statute, a felony fourth-degree assault in Minnesota. In the remaining case, the alleged assault happened only after officers broke a window to bodily haul a woman out of her car; she allegedly kicked one of the officers in the ensuing struggle. (He’s fine.)

Real assaults on police do happen, though at vanishingly small rates. (One study suggests officers are feloniously killed in routine traffic stops at a rate of 1 in every 6.5 million stops and otherwise seriously injured at a rate of 1 in 361,111.) But the warrior-cop ethos takes the real risks of police work and stretches them into grotesque disproportion; the resulting fear primes officers to kill innocent civilians.

But while the warrior-cop ethos prepares police officers to be ready to kill their fellow citizens without hesitation if they feel threatened, it fails to produce the sort of courageous, battle-ready warriors who could actually make a difference during an episode of mass violence. Both critics and supporters of police would agree that the situation in Uvalde required trained officers to confront and subdue or kill the shooter as quickly as possible. The kitted-out, assault-weapon-wielding officers who swarmed Robb Elementary may have looked the part, but they waited in the wings instead of preventing the murder of children.

Again and again in his 2013 book, Balko quotes law enforcement officers talking about how much fun it is to play with military-grade hardware. Kicking down a door during a SWAT raid is a “huge rush.” Cops get “hooked on that jolt of energy” the raid provides. They seek military equipment to “look more fearsome.” “Why serve an arrest warrant to some crack dealer with a .38? With full armor, the right shit, and training, you can kick ass and have fun,” says a military officer training SWAT teams.

The sense of high-stakes fun is crucial to the warrior-cop paradigm’s appeal to actual cops. Look at the way the “killologist” Grossman and his ilk market their wares. A video trailer advertising Grossman’s “On Combat” course is filled with wartime imagery and authority-conferring references to Grossman’s military experience. A competitor, Pro Train Inc. (tagline: “Tactical Training for the Warrior Mindset”), offers a course called “Sun Tzu and the Warrior Resiliency Mindset.” Pro Train’s bombastic trailer is full of cinematic B-roll of samurai, knights, and Spartan warriors. (While most of the clips are taken from movies like 300 and 13 Assassins, at least one appears to come from the videogame Dark Souls.)

This is juvenile stuff, to be sure—but the silliness is not incidental. In fact, it’s central to the whole project.

Time and again, the abstract, fearful rage to protect generates fantasia of silliness. Christman mocks himself for fantasizing about fighting off terrorists so that his wife can get away, noting that “terrorist attacks are not frequent in Ann Arbor.” Meanwhile, the police department in Fargo—Fargo!—has an armored truck with a rotating turret. “If terrorists ever target Fargo, N.D., the local police will be ready,” the reporters write drily.

The idea of terrorism befalling Fargo may be grandiosely silly to us, but it’s a source of real worry—and personal justification—for the police officer driving the armored truck to serve a warrant to a suspected drug user. By inoculating against irony and critical self-awareness, the warrior-cop ethos achieves a secondary effect: After generalized fear comes unquestioning, self-serious fidelity. The emperor is always arrayed in beautiful clothes, and always will be. Be careful: Criticizing the emperor is an act of verbal hostility, which can only be corrected with pain compliance. Stop resisting.

The abuses I’ve seen all point to this aspect of the warrior-cop mentality, which is the source of its appeal and its fragility both. Instead of transforming police officers into soldiers—a task that would require an emphasis on discipline and the rules of engagement, as David French has repeatedly noted—the warrior-cop ethos is, primarily, about making police officers feel like badasses. A warrior cop can imagine that he is a samurai, a knight, a Spartan, vigilantly patrolling the bounds of his demesne. Pulling someone over for a broken taillight is boring; engaging the enemy in a controlled encounter is exciting. To adherents of the warrior-cop ideology, to point out the essential frivolity of these daydreams is to attack not only the warrior-cop ethos, but the idea of law and order itself. And only a hostile threat—a soldier belonging to the opposing army in the war against crime, a person who wants to kill cops—would do something like that.

The warrior cop is a tool for fascistic social control; a danger to the very people he is supposed to protect; and, too often, a failure in the rare instance—such as Uvalde—where a real warrior might be useful. The warrior-cop ethos is a cynical program of habituation to violence and an adolescent fantasy of power. Accepting its teachings for use in police department trainings amounts to a refusal to require those with the power of life and death in their hands to grow up. And because of this refusal, some Americans will never grow up.

To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, January 28, 2023

End 'pretextual' traffic stops to curb deadly police violence

Los Angeles is overhauling its traffic policing, aiming to stop pulling over cars — frequently with Black drivers — for trivial infractions like broken taillights or expired tags as a pretext to search for drugs or guns, wrote Kim Barker, David Kirkpatrick and Steve Eder last April for The New York Times.

“We want to fish with a hook, not a net,” Police Chief Michel Moore said.

Los Angeles last month became the biggest city to restrict the policing of minor violations. In Philadelphia, a ban on such stops has just taken effect. Pittsburgh; Seattle; Berkeley, Calif.; Lansing, Mich.; Brooklyn Center, Minn.; and the State of Virginia have all taken similar steps. Elsewhere across the country, a half-dozen prosecutors have said they will not bring charges based on evidence collected at these stops.

Officials pushing the new rules cite data showing that minor stops not only disproportionately snare Black drivers but also do little to combat serious crime or improve public safety, and some escalate into avoidable violence, even killing officers or drivers.

The latest example is the death in Grand Rapids, Mich., of Patrick Lyoya, an unarmed 26-year-old Black man who was pulled over for a mismatched license plate and, after a brief struggle, was apparently shot in the head from behind, according to videos released on Wednesday. An hour away in Lansing, new rules seek to prevent such deadly encounters.

 “There is a trust factor,” Mayor Andy Schor of Lansing said in an interview last month, “that if you get pulled over — whether it’s a moving violation, or pretextual, or whatever — you’re not going to end up dead.”

Police chiefs and criminologists say the rule changes amount to the first major reconsideration of traffic policing since the early 1980s, when rising crime rates, a shift toward more proactive policing and the advent of squad car computers for checking driver records helped make pretextual stops a cornerstone of enforcement.

 “Never before have government officials, policymakers or prosecutors tried to limit how police officers use traffic stops in their investigatory role — in fact, historically, making these stops was encouraged,” said Sarah A. Seo, a law professor at Columbia University who studies traffic stops. “These new policies may be turning the tide.”

New York Times investigation last fall revealed that in the previous five years police officers pulling over cars had killed more than 400 motorists who were neither wielding a gun or knife nor under pursuit for a violent crime — a rate of more than one a week. Police culture and court precedents significantly overstated the danger to officers, encouraging aggression in the name of self-defense and impunity from prosecutors and juries, the investigation found.

Legislation limiting stops in Pittsburgh quoted The Times’s reporting, and advocates across the country have cited it to argue for the changes. The killings at traffic stops are among a total of about 1,000 a year by American police, data shows.

Some police unions and officers are fighting the new rules, arguing that pulling over cars to search them is an essential weapon against serious crime.

In Philadelphia, the police union has sued to block the ordinance that banned certain stops, saying it violates state laws. In Virginia, a coalition of police associations, local chiefs and Republican officials, including the attorney general, is campaigning to get rid of a ban on minor stops that Democrats passed before losing full control of the statehouse last November.

In Los Angeles, the police union is running online advertisements warning that discouraging stops could allow guns and killers to remain on the roads.

Joe Massie, a veteran motorcycle officer and an official of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said anxiety about running afoul of the new rules “is going to disincentivize officers to make stops.” With homicide rates rising in Los Angeles and other cities, he added, “leaving even a single gun on the streets is too many.”

Defenders of pretextual stops also note that the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the tactic a quarter-century ago.

At a time when an uptick in crime has stalled many criminal justice reform efforts, including at the federal level, the rethinking of traffic policing is striking. It is coming “at the very moment that the pendulum feels like it’s moving back toward concern about increases in street crime,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum.

Some officials changing policies, though, say they have seen how even minor traffic stops can turn deadly.

To read more CLICK HERE


Friday, January 27, 2023

Memphis braces for release of Tyre Nichols murder video

The Memphis community is bracing for potential protests in response to the video release of the killing of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officer. The Memphis-Shelby County Schools canceling after-school activities Friday and Southwest Tennessee Community College moving to virtual classes Friday, reported NBC News. 

RowVaughn Wells Nichols' mother called for people to protest peacefully during a candlelight vigil in Memphis’ Tobey Park on Thursday night.

"I don’t want us burning up our cities, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for," she said.

Antonio Romanucci described the video Monday as an “unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating” for three minutes. Crump has said it reminded him of “the Rodney King video,” referring to the 1991 bystander video of Los Angeles police officers beating a Black man.

Nichols’ mother spoke on her heartbreak in an interview aired Friday morning on CNN, saying by the time she got to the hospital and saw Nichols following the arrest, “He was already gone.”

“They had beat him to a pulp. He had bruises all over him, his head was swollen like a watermelon, his neck was busting because of the swelling, they broke his neck, my son’s nose looked like an “S”, she said.

Ben Crump said Nichols’ last words in the video footage were three “gut-wrenching screams for his mom.”

Memphis police chief CJ Davis described the incident as “heinous, reckless and inhumane” in a video statement Wednesday night.

To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, January 26, 2023

CCJ: Homicides down 4% between 2021 and 2022

The Council on Criminal Justice issued a study that found homicide rates declined between 2021 and 2022. The study examined monthly crime rates for ten violent, property, and drug offenses in 35 U.S. cities in calendar year 2022. 

The number of homicides in 2022 was 4% lower than counts recorded in 2021, representing 242 fewer murders in the 27 cities that publicly report monthly homicide data. The national homicide rate remained 34% higher than in 2019, the year before the pandemic began, and about half the historical nationwide peaks in 1980 and 1991.

Not all cities reported monthly data for each crime, and offense classifications varied somewhat across the cities. The largest city in the sample is New York, with 8.4 million residents. The smallest is Richmond, Virginia, with 227,000 residents. The mean population of the cities for which crime data were available is approximately 1.1 million, while the median population is roughly 652,000. The study cities were selected because their police departments provided incident-level data in near real-time on their online portals.

The incident counts for this report were obtained within days of the end of the study period to provide a timely snapshot of crime across the nation. As a result, these figures may and often do differ from data subsequently published by the police departments and from still other counts released later by the FBI as part of its national crime reporting program. Data updates occur for multiple reasons. For instance, if the victim dies, an incident initially classified as an aggravated assault may be reclassified later as a homicide. For the most up-to-date information for a specific city, please visit its website.

To read the report CLICK HERE

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

There have already been 6 mass shootings with 4 or more fatalities in 2023

In the first weeks of 2023, the United States has gotten no reprieve from its epidemic of mass shootings, whether in public places or inside private homes, reported The New York Times.

There is no consensus on what constitutes a mass shooting, complicating the efforts of government, nonprofits and news organizations to document the scope of the problem. Different groups define mass shootings differently, depending on circumstances including the number of victims, whether the victims are killed or wounded, and whether the shooting occurs in a public place.

The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that tracks gun violence using police reports, news coverage and other public sources, defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four people were killed or injured.

In 2022, the Gun Violence Archive counted 647 mass shootings. Of those shootings, 21 involved five or more fatalities. The group recorded 690 mass shootings in 2021, with 28 involving four or more fatalities.

As of late January, the Gun Violence Archive has counted 40 mass shootings this year. Six of them involved four or more fatalities.

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Baltimore neighborhood experiences decline in homicides amid citywide surge

Last month, as Baltimore breached 300 homicides for the eighth year in a row, the city’s public safety leaders emphasized a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year: a dramatic drop in shootings in one of the most violent parts of town, reported the Baltimore Banner.

The 33 percent reduction in homicides and nonfatal shootings in the Western District follows Mayor Brandon Scott’s revival of a crime prevention approach known as the Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS), an alternative way of policing the city’s most violent offenders. Citing the Western’s improvement, Scott has declared the city’s crime prevention experiment a success and unveiled plans to take it citywide.

But for many, that explanation for such a sudden drop in those crimes has seemed too good to be true. The Baltimore police union and members of the City Council have questioned whether the drop stemmed from population losses, a heavier policing presence in the district or misleading data.

How could the experiment be viewed as a success after yet another year that saw sustained levels of homicides and other nonfatal shootings? In a common refrain, critics questioned whether the strategy had really reduced crime, or merely shifted it from the Western District into other parts of the city. While some of their questions were easily dismissed by available data, others are more difficult to answer.

A Baltimore Banner analysis of 2022 homicides and nonfatal shootings found little evidence to support most critiques. Theories around the so-called “displacement” of crime from one neighborhood to the next, population loss and whether the reduction is significant only in comparison to a 2021 spike are not supported by the available data, the analysis found. Meanwhile, arguments around the distribution of police resources are harder to untangle.

For their part, Baltimore’s mayor and his allies have broadcast their own confidence in the results, and last month staked longer-term hopes in its effectiveness, laying out plans to aggressively scale up GVRS citywide within two years.

Though the Group Violence Reduction Strategy had been tried twice before its current iteration, the approach represents a complex re-envisioning of traditional law enforcement.

Essentially, the strategy focuses on the relatively small number — hundreds — of people responsible for the bulk of violent crime in the city. With this in mind, the approach connects those leading police investigations with groups providing social services to offer law enforcement targets an alternative path out of violence as opposed to incarceration.

Questions around police department resources and Baltimore’s relationship with a key partner loom over the expansion of the strategy, but the blueprint has found success in other places. Cities like Boston and New Orleans have seen steep drops in gang-related violence after adopting similar focused-deterrence models, while criminologists have credited the implementation of a group violence approach in Oakland in 2012 with precipitating consecutive years of shooting declines and the city’s lowest shooting level in almost half a century.

Even in a city with as stubborn a violent crime problem as Baltimore’s, a significant reduction in shootings was what experts studying gun violence expected to happen. University of Pennsylvania researchers tracking Baltimore’s pilot of the strategy say the Western District’s 33% drop in shootings is just a preview of its potential. If Baltimore can faithfully implement the strategy as it expands – a hurdle it has failed to clear in two previous attempts – residents should expect to see a similarly precipitous decline in shootings citywide, they have said.

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, January 23, 2023

Ohio killer who spent four decades on death row may be paroled

An Ohio prison inmate who has spent nearly four decades on death row in the murder of a convenience store clerk has been resentenced to a term that could allow his release on parole, reported Fox News.

Lucas County Judge Stacy Cook vacated Gregory Esparza's death sentence and imposed a new term of 30 years to life with credit for time served, The (Toledo) Blade reported. Two months ago, Cook had declared capital punishment unconstitutional in the case because prosecutors had failed to disclose evidence in his original trial.

"God is good for everyone," Esparza said to relatives Friday as he was escorted from the courtroom back to the county jail.

Esparza, now 60, was convicted in 1984 of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery with gun specifications in the February 1983 death of Melanie Gerschutz. The 38-year-old wife and mother was working the cash register at Island Variety in East Toledo when she was shot during a robbery of $110 from the register.

Esparza’s initial appeals were denied but a public records request in 1991 turned up a large number of police reports, interviews, and other documents never given to his defense attorneys. A federal appeals court in 1995 overturned the death sentence citing a "defective indictment," but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision. A 2016 appeal was denied on the grounds that federal courts had assessed the 1991 evidence, but a state appellate court later said no court had yet addressed the 1991 evidence in the context of capital punishment.

Cook wrote that although prosecutors may have been unaware of the 1991 evidence, the defense should have had it. More importantly, she said, some of the evidence indicated that Esparza didn't act alone and therefore "may not have been the principal offender," so the death penalty could not be imposed.

In Friday's hearing, Esparza said he had been just 21 and a "confused, lost soul" at the time of the crime but the rigors of life on death row for so long had helped him mature.

"God knows I am not a killer," he said. "Even when offered life without parole if I gave up my appeals, I chose execution."placeholder

Marsha Raymond, Gerschutz's daughter, a teenager at the time of her mother's slaying, told the court that the defendant "committed murder in cold blood."

"I am so grateful that I had such an amazing mom, but unfortunately because of his actions my family fell apart," she said. "My dad couldn’t speak about my mom, and he (Esparza) talks about a young child being abused? My younger brother was six years old. He has no memories of my mother."

Julia Esparza, Esparza’s sister, said the family was happy to see this day come.

"It has been very emotional," she told the newspaper. "We appreciate the justice system."

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, January 22, 2023

As PA Supreme Court installs a female Chief Justice, South Carolina court loses only woman

As Pennsylvania celebrates the elevation of Justice Debra Todd as the first chief justice in the state Supreme Court’s 300 year history, South Carolina’s only female Supreme Court Justice Kaye Hearn is retiring, reported NBC News. State legislators are preparing to elect her successor—a move that will most likely leave the court without a female justice for the first time in 35 years. 

The prospect troubles Hearn, who became the second woman to serve on South Carolina’s top court after she was elected in 2009. She is the justice who wrote the majority opinion this month that struck down the state’s six-week abortion ban

“I have always felt that it’s important for both lawyers and litigants to look up on the bench and see someone that looks like them,” Hearn said in a phone interview. “I do think it’s concerning.” 

Her departure in the coming months — mandated by South Carolina law now that she’s 72 — is occurring at a time when state supreme courts across the country are playing pivotal roles in the fate of abortion rights. When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, dismantling the constitutional right to an abortion, regulation of the procedure was sent back to the states. In the past year, justices in Mississippi and Georgia have been among those who have been asked to weigh whether laws widely banning or restricting abortion in their states should stand.

Hearn declined to comment on the 3-2 decision in South Carolina, which determined that the state’s six-week abortion ban was unconstitutional because it violated the right to privacy.

Legislators will vote on Hearn’s replacement on Feb. 1. Two women, Court of Appeals Judges Stephanie McDonald and Aphrodite Konduros, were initially in the running for Hearn’s seat but withdrew Tuesday. Their departures left state appeals Judge Gary Hill as the only candidate remaining.

To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Mangino a guest on Law and Crime Network

Watch my appearance on Law and Crime Network discussing the antifreeze murder retrial of Mark Jensen in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Friday, January 20, 2023

Law Professor: Justice Scalia was 'basically a klansman'

A professor at the Emory University School of Law is under fire after he tweeted that the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was “basically a klansman,” reported the ABA Journal.

Law professor Darren Hutchinson made the comment regarding a memo by Scalia to other justices as they considered the case McCleskey v. Kemp, report Above the LawFox News and a blog post by Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School.

In the 1987 McCleskey ruling, the Supreme Court refused to strike down the death penalty in Georgia, despite statistics showing that killers of white victims in the state were four times more likely receive a death sentence that killers of Black victims. The statistics were known as the Baldus study because one of the researchers was David Baldus, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law.

According to Hutchinson’s Jan. 9 tweet, Scalia indicated that he planned to join the majority opinion by Justice Lewis Powell in the case, with two reservations.

“I disagree with the argument that the inferences that can be drawn from the Baldus study are weakened by the fact that each jury and each trial is unique or by the large number of variables at issue. And I do not share the view, implicit in the opinion, that an effect of racial factors upon sentencing, if it could be shown by sufficiently strong statistical evidence, would require reversal. Since it is my view that the unconscious operation of irrational sympathies and antipathies, including racial, upon jury decisions and (hence) prosecutorial decisions is real, acknowledged in the decisions of this court, and ineradicable, I cannot honestly say that all I need is more proof,” Scalia had wrote.

Above the Law summarized Scalia’s view this way: “Scalia urged colleagues to ignore evidence of racial bias—in a death penalty case—not because it was inaccurate, but because he thought racial bias is ineradicable so … them’s the breaks!”

Turley called Hutchinson’s tweet a “disgraceful attack” that amounted to character assassination, rather than reasoned criticism.

Hutchinson stuck to his guns in later tweets. He responded to a commenter who said far too many people treat accusations of racism worse than they treat even the worst racial slur.

“This is so true!” Hutchinson wrote. “The recent nuttiness over Justice Scalia and race. Calling him out is worse than his view that executing people whose sentences were impacted by race is fine. It’s a form of inversion. Make the guilty party innocent and the victim guilty.”

Hutchinson is the Emory University law school’s inaugural John Lewis chair for civil rights and social justice. He joined the law school in 2021.

To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, January 19, 2023

California dismantles largest death row system in America

California has pushed ahead with controversial efforts to dismantle the largest death row system in America, reported NPR.

Under Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state is moving to make the transfer of condemned inmates permanent and mandatory after what the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) calls a successful pilot program that voluntarily moved 101 inmates off death row into general population prisons across the state.

The effort is in keeping with Newsom's belief that the death penalty in America is unjust, is racially and class biased and has little connection to justice.

"That's a helluva thing: The prospect of your ending up on death row has more to do with your wealth and race than it does your guilt or innocence," the Democratic governor said last year. "Think about that. We talk about justice, we preach justice. But as a nation, we don't practice it on death row."

After a 45-day public comment period and a public hearing in March, the state hopes to start moving all 671 death row inmates – 650 men and 21 women — into several other prisons across the state with high-security units.

Some prisoners will be able to get jobs or cellmates if they are mainstreamed into the general prison population.

The CDCR says the move allows the state "to phase out the practice of segregating people on death row based solely on their sentence." No inmates will be re-sentenced and no death row commutations offered, officials say.

Technically, the death penalty still exists in California. Prosecutors can still seek it. But no one has been put to death in the state in 17 years. And in 2019, Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions and he closed the death chamber at San Quentin, the decrepit and still heavily used 19th century prison overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Those who get prison jobs — as clerks, laundry or kitchen helpers – will see 70 percent of their pay go to victims' families, as required under Proposition 66. That 2016 voter-passed initiative amended California's Penal Code to require death-sentenced inmates to work and pay restitution.

Anti-capital punishment groups are elated that the state with the largest condemned population is moving forward with efforts to, in effect, join the 23 other states that have abolished their death rows.

"I'm thrilled. Gavin Newsom is doing a very smart thing and a very positive thing," says actor Mike Farrell, a long-time activist on the issue who chairs the group Death Penalty Focus. "It will continue to show people that the death penalty is neither necessary nor is it doing us any good."

Farrell calls capital punishment barbaric and biased against black, brown and poor people. While he wholly supports Newsom's move, he points out that many death row inmates face serious psychological hurdles, which will complicate the process of mainstreaming death row inmates.

"It's going to be very difficult. There are many people on death row with serious mental issues," he told NPR, noting many have been isolated for decades. "I think it's a very good move on (Newsom's) part. I just think that it has to be done extraordinarily carefully and very, very humanely."

Some murder victim families are opposed

But death penalty proponents and victims' rights advocates are frustrated and angry.

"To hear this news is devastating," says Sandra Friend. She described feeling victimized all over again.

Her 8-year-old son Michael Lyons was making his way home from school in Yuba City, Calif., in 1996 when he was abducted and sodomized by serial killer Robert Boyd Rhoades, who dumped the child's body in a riverbed.

"He (Rhoades) tortured Michael for 10 hours. He stabbed him 70 to 80 times," she says. "And he was 8 years old. Just the little boy full of life, full of dreams."

Rhoades was convicted of Lyons' murder in 1998 and later sentenced to die by lethal injection. But that never happened.

In part, California's death penalty reforms grew out of 2016's Prop. 66, which promised to speed up the time between a death sentence and an execution. The successful ballot measure also required condemned prisoners to work and pay restitution.

Now death penalty proponents accuse Newsom of exploiting a lesser-known section of Prop. 66 for his own ideological and political purposes.

"The governor has taken loopholes and nuances in the law and used them to give criminals – the worst criminals — a break," says Michael Rushford, president of the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. "To start mainstreaming people like Tiequon Cox, who killed an entire family in Los Angeles after going to the wrong address to do a gang hit, is an abandonment of justice. Injecting politics into criminal justice and public safety is insane. It's unjust, unfair and it's stupid."

Other states have taken similar measures

In recent years governors in Pennsylvania and Oregon also have imposed moratoriums on the death penalty.

Oregon's Kate Brown extended her predecessor's moratorium. And in one of her last acts as governor last month, Brown commuted the sentences of all 17 people on death row to life in prison with no possibility of parole. She also ordered corrections officials to begin dismantling the state's execution chamber.

"I believe that there are many Oregonians that share my values that it is inequitable, immoral and doesn't make sense for the state to take a life, particularly when it is irreversible," she said, after announcing her decision shortly before the Christmas break.

Nationally, five-year averages of executions and new death sentences in America have hit decade lows, according to the recently published annual report by the non-partisan and non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.

Gallup polling shows a majority 55 percent of Americans are in favor of the death penalty for convicted murderers. But that's in stark contrast to the consistent 60 percent to 80 percent support recorded between 1976 and 2016, Gallup data show.

In California, Sandra Friend says it's outrageous that killers like Rhoades may "get rewarded," as she puts it, with expanded work options, even a cellmate.

"For him to be able to leave death row and go into a cushier prison, having maybe possibly a cellie, having a job, is terrifying because he is the worst of the worst. He is a monster," she says.

State officials underscore that inmate transfers and their housing will depend on the specific facts of each inmate.

"Their housing would depend on their individual case factors, and it's what the multidisciplinary teams will be evaluating," says CDCR spokeswoman Vicky Waters.

But Friend and other victims' families worry that simply allowing death row inmates to mingle with prisoners who will eventually get out is dangerous.

"Just to think about him (Rhoades) interacting with other inmates and having the opportunity to teach those skills and those methods of keeping, you know, under the radar is terrifying," Friend says. "He is a great threat to our society, our children."

The state hopes to permanently empty California's death row by this fall, a CDCR official says.

Friend vows to fight the effort. A public hearing on the issue is scheduled in Sacramento for March 8.

"I'm definitely going to make Michael's voice heard," she says, "because he's the one that is getting lost in all of this."

To read more CLICK HERE