Tag Archives: George Floyd

Police Disciplinary Records Are Largely Kept Secret In US

FILE - In this June 7, 2020, file photo, protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally on Mount Washington overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, to protest the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. In recent years, there have been dozens of examples of officers who had numerous complaints against them of excessive force, harassment or other misconduct before they were accused of killing someone on duty. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Gene J. Puskar, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Associated Press, by Claudia Lauer and Colleen Long, June 12, 2020

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Officer Derek Chauvin had more than a dozen misconduct complaints against him before he put his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City officer who seized Eric Garner in a deadly chokehold, had eight. Ryan Pownall, a Philadelphia officer facing murder charges in the shooting of David Jones, had 15 over five years.

But the public didn’t know about any of that until the victims’ deaths.

Citizen complaints against police across the U.S. are largely kept secret, either under the law or by union contract — a practice some criminal justice experts say deprives the public of information that could be used to root out problem officers before it’s too late.

In recent years, there have been dozens of examples of officers who had numerous complaints against them of excessive force, harassment or other misconduct before they were accused of killing someone on duty.

Confidentiality “makes it really tough for the public to know just who it is they are dealing with and to know whether their department or any particular officer is one they would want out in the streets,” said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies police behavior.

While the U.S. considers ways to reform American policing following the sometimes violent protests that erupted nationwide over Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, complaint data is getting renewed attention as a way to track and correct rogue officers and perhaps head off more serious instances of brutality.

Both Democratic and Republican reform bills in Congress would make officers’ disciplinary records public and create a national database of allegations — a shift in political will that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

Police advocates argue that withholding allegations is necessary to protect officers’ privacy and keep them safe. Police unions have fought in contract negotiations and in state legislatures for confidentiality. In some cases, records are erased after as little as two years.

“The unfettered release of police personnel records will allow unstable people to target police officers and our families for harassment or worse,” said Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in New York City. “A dangerous cop-hater only needs a police officer’s name, linked to a few false or frivolous complaints, to be inspired to commit violence.”

Personal information on officers is already being leaked online, according to an intelligence document from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, obtained by The Associated Press.

Police unions argue, too, that the overwhelming majority of complaints are deemed unsubstantiated after internal investigations. But that argument carries no weight with the many activists who say police departments tend to protect their own.

Out of about 5,000 complaints brought against New York City officers last year for offenses such as discourtesy, excessive force and abuse of authority, 24% were substantiated, according to the city’s independent Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Bowling Green State University criminologist Phil Stinson, who has collected data on thousands of police charged, investigated or convicted of crimes, said that most officers go through their careers with few complaints against them, and that generally a small percentage of officers account for an outsize share of complaints.

Stinson recalled an Atlanta officer who had a personnel file full of “frightfully similar” complaints from women of sexual misconduct. It wasn’t until his file was leaked to a local TV station that he faced any discipline.

Around 40% of current New York City police officers have never received a civilian complaint, while 32% have one or two, and one officer has 52, the highest, according to the review board.

In New York, Pantaleo, the officer who put Garner in a chokehold in 2014 but was not indicted in his death, had eight disciplinary cases of abuse and excessive force, four of which were substantiated. But his record was secret until a staff member at the review board leaked it. The staffer later resigned.

New York legislators this week voted to repeal the law that kept officers’ names secret along with specifics about complaints made against them. The repeal passed largely along party lines, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it Friday.

Chris Dunn, legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, rejected the notion, advanced largely by Republicans, that police disciplinary records should be kept private like medical information.

“They have no privacy interest in acts of misconduct, in the use of force or the killing of civilians,” he said. “When a police officer walks out the door in uniform, they’re a public official, and all of their conduct should be subject to public scrutiny.”

In Philadelphia, Pownall’s record was made public along with that of a few other officers named in hundreds of complaints after reporters filed freedom of information requests in 2018. As for Chauvin, who is charged with murder in Floyd’s death, his records became public after similar requests — and the details are still being withheld.

Many departments disclose portions of officers’ complaint files. Some release files only for certain time periods. Some withhold complaints if the internal investigation did not substantiate them. Others, like many Texas departments, hold back cases that did not result in a suspension or firing. But in most cases, the information is released only if the person requesting it names the officer.

But by the time a reporter or member of the public knows the officer’s name, it can be too late.

In Scottsdale, Arizona, Officer James Peters was involved in seven shootings from 2002 to 2012 that led to six deaths. Six of those shootings were deemed justified by the department. In the final case, Peters killed an unarmed man holding his 7-month-old grandson.

The city paid $4 million to the victim’s family to settle a lawsuit that noted Peters had at least two previous complaints, including a reprimand for mishandling a gun he pointed at his own face.

Some states, cities and police departments are working toward transparency, however grudgingly.

A 2018 California law requires departments to start releasing information about misconduct claims, though only when officers are found to have improperly used force or fired their weapons, committed sexual assaults on the job or been dishonest in their official duties.

Several departments responded by destroying decades of records. Others filed lawsuits asking that the law not apply to files from before the law took effect in 2019.

A court ruling in a lawsuit in Chicago opened up the system there a few years ago. A data program created by an activist and journalist at the center of the lawsuit has even been used by members of the department to look at others’ files when they are assigned new partners or new officers are transferred into their units.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Jim Kenney pledged this week to publish a detailed quarterly report on complaints against city officers.

But that report, like the complaint data currently available online, will be scrubbed of all details, including the names of any officer, accuser or witness, said City Manager Brian Abernathy.

“I think we still recognize that officers are employees,” he said. “We’re trying to balance their rights and the public’s right for transparency.”

___

Long reported from Lowell, Indiana. Associated Press writer Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.

CORRECTION – Benicia Youth organizing a second peaceful protest for racial justice – Saturday June 13, 11AM

By Roger Straw, June 9, 2020 and UPDATED June 11, 2020 3:50pm

Benicia youth are organizing a second protest rally and march in remembrance and honor of all victims of police brutality, to be held at (CORRECTION…) GATHER AT 9TH STREET PARK on Saturday, June 13 at 11am.

The Facebook event gives details:

“Hi all – There’s been a lot of confusion around the protest for Saturday so I wanted to clear it all up for everyone. I’m not the original organizer for it but I offered my help in letting everyone know about it and gathering supplies. The organizer wasn’t aware that there was a separate protest for Sunday. The two organizers have been in contact and decided to combine the two. So, the new plan is everyone meets at 9th street park, we march up to the gazebo on first street, we do speeches and allow people from the crowd to speak, and then we march back down to the park. I’ve updated the flyer and I’m going to put the new one in the comments down below. There will be drinks and snacks provided. Please remember to wear a mask and stay 6 ft apart. Please please share this with everyone so no one is confused. There will be someone at the gazebo to direct people to go to the 9th street park if they go there first. This has been really complicated to put together and I appreciate everyone who has been understanding about it. Also want to give a special shout out to everyone who has donated food, drinks, supplies, etc. Your kindness does not go unnoticed. Please tell anyone you know that is planning to go to meet at 9TH STREET PARK AT 11AM ON SATURDAY. See you all there.❤️

EARLIER INFO POSTED ON JUNE 9

I tracked down one of the organizers, Journey Eske, who responded to my interview questions with written answers:

By Journey Eske…

My main reason for wanting to help organize this event was not only because of George Floyd, but also to bring awareness of an issue black and brown men and women face on a daily basis. Police brutality and racism are things people of color have to endure simply because of the color of their skin. They fear for their lives when going to the store, taking a walk in their own neighborhood, or holding their cell phone in their hand. It is important that we realize police officers are not the entire issue but more so a small part of a much bigger problem, the justice system as a whole.

We’ve been reaching out and spreading the word about the event on social media.  I made an event page on facebook, and over 100 people have responded saying they’re going. I’m hoping for at least 200, but the more the better. Racism is taught and is a learned behavior, so the more people who come, listen, and are willing to make a change, the better it will be for the human race as a whole.

There will be speakers at the event. We will also have drinks and dry snacks for everyone who attends the protest. After speeches, there will be crowd engagement, giving people from the audience a chance to come up and say a few words. After that, we will march down first street in honor of George Floyd and countless other people of color who have fallen victim to police brutality and racism.

We are strongly asking protesters to maintain 6 ft of distance between themselves and everyone else, as well as wear a mask, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  I’m not sure if we’re marching to the police station, but I hope so as a lot of the change needs to happen there.

You asked about me: I graduated from BHS in 2017 and I am currently a student at DVC majoring in nursing. I heard about this event through a friend on snapchat. The original organizer, Lafayle Fuller, told me I could do a speech and asked me to help put this event together. I immediately said I would, and started gathering supplies and reaching out to as many people as I could to let them know about the protest. Putting an event like this together is definitely a group effort.

We checked in with Benicia Police and they were made aware of this event. Steve Young, a member of the Benicia City Council, reached out to me and said he would like to say a few words during the protest, as he is very supportive of it. He also is going to try to arrange for a voter registration table so people at the protest can register to vote.


CORRECTION: The organizers of this march are not affiliated with Benicia Youth Against Brutality.

Benicia Mayor and City Council: “We are saddened and angered…and we stand against systemic racism”

Statement from your Mayor & City Council

City of Benicia Announcements, Wednesday, June 10, 2020 at 6:10 PM

We are saddened and angered by the killing of George Floyd and we stand with everyone in our community and across the nation against systemic racism. Enough is enough. Our communities are demanding change that is deserved and past due. It’s time for us to listen and take action to support our black, indigenous and people of color communities. We need to be clear in our expectations of our local, State and national leaders. And we won’t stop there. We must examine our actions and policies that impact all people of color and make meaningful changes.

We encourage and support the peaceful protests taking place in our City and are proud of our youth’s leadership in reaching out to so many people from all walks of life to come together with such heart and passion. Let this be the turning point our society must make so that everyone in our community can lead a life of dignity and promise.

Let us work together to make real progress, to learn from the experiences of others, to listen with empathy to new voices—voices unheard for too long—and to examine our own views and protest peacefully for this change. We know the answer is not violence. Let us come out of this time stronger and better.

Benicia Chief of Police Erik Upson “I’m very proud of the culture we have built in this department and the humanistic approach we take that focuses on the community. I know there is more we can do, and I look forward to making changes that will strengthen our relationship with those we serve.”

The death of George Floyd is appalling and unacceptable, and we condemn the actions of those four police officers in Minneapolis. Chief of Police Erik Upson said, “I’m very proud of the culture we have built in this department and the humanistic approach we take that focuses on the community. I know there is more we can do, and I look forward to making changes that will strengthen our relationship with those we serve.”

We are confident in Chief Upson’s leadership and the Benicia Police Department’s training and practice of de-escalation, and community policing as well as his sincere desire to listen to the community and continue to advance the Department towards its vision.

We are committed, as leaders in Benicia, to better outcomes for our black community here and across our country. We honor peaceful protest and recognize the need for immediate and lasting social change. We hear you, we see you, we stand with you. By working together, Benicia will be a community where everyone is valued and respected.

Great info about Benicia Police Dept policies – and a bunch of questions

By Roger Straw, June 10, 2020

City of Benicia publishes new “Use of Force Policy Review” web page, makes Policy Manual available to public – and pledges to remove choke hold from police policy

I almost always read the City Manager’s weekly newsletter.  But you know how email inboxes can get out of control…

So I missed a really important City of Benicia newsletter this Monday.  City Manager Lorie Tinfow shared information there about Benicia’s response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent nationwide protests and calls for police reform.  Here is her June 8 message for Benicians concerned about police violence and racial justice.  Read on, but don’t miss a number of my own concerns and questions that follow below.

City Manager Newsletter, June 8, 2020

“The past two weeks have been extremely tumultuous. The killing of George Floyd was the tipping point for many in our country and those participating in the protests and civil unrest that have followed have called for many necessary changes. And they are beginning to happen.

Friday night, Benicia Police Department (BPD) was notified that Governor Newsom ordered the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) to remove the Carotid Control hold from training certification. The change was immediately communicated to our Police Officers. This change seemed to follow an effort called 8cantwait.

Late last week we began to receive emails asking that we enact changes aligned with 8cantwait. Police Chief Upson evaluated the requested changes and directed his staff to create a webpage that offers information designed to increase transparency. The page includes a comparison of what BPD currently does with what 8cantwait wants as well as a table that shows total calls for service with instances of use of force for the past 3 years. Click here to visit the new webpage.

On the new page is also a link to the complete use of force policy that is posted online as required by law. For those interested in reading more, click here to view the policy.

During last week’s protest, the Benicia Police Officers who assisted, performed their duties exceptionally well. They managed traffic and helped keep the space safe for the participants. The officers’ response when at the police station in particular garnered my confidence and my respect. Click here to view the video in case you missed it. Clearly the protesters’ passions ran high but they too performed well, helping bring attention to the much needed changes across the country.

We are all navigating these uncharted waters to the best of our abilities. I appreciate the community, City staff and the City Council for maintaining the connections that keep Benicia strong. Benicia is better together!”

TRANSPARENCY WELCOME

These new developments and the transparency embraced by our City Manager and Police Chief are to be applauded.  I believe that the Police Policy Manual has never before been disclosed to the public, and the Use of Force webpage is an excellent way to engage the public in further conversations.  These moves are significant and show personal and professional judgement in a time of profound unrest and hunger for reform.

BREAKING NEWS: NO MORE POLICE CHOKE HOLDS IN BENICIA

The City’s new “Use of Force Policy Review” web page clarifies current BPD policy and announces that “We will be removing carotid control hold from our policy.”

That policy (§300.3.4, Carotid Control Hold, pp. 48-49) takes up two pages in the current BPD Policy Manual Exactly when and how the manual will be revised and adopted is not clear to me as of now.

CONTINUING QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS FOR BENICIA POLICE

There is more to be done.  City staff, electeds and community members should continue to ask questions and raise concerns.

For instance:

Use of Force Policy Review page on the City website
  1. The “Use of Force Policy Review” page on the City website is a good start. The chart compares 8cantwait.org policy recommendations with BPD policy.  It’s important to note at top that we will be “removing carotid control hold from our policy” (§300.3.4, pp. 48-49).  But other than that, in most cases the BPD column qualifies each policy with “when reasonably necessary,” “where feasible,” etc., which seems a bit weak…  Maybe that’s the best we can hope for?
  2. The final item on that page is requiring comprehensive reporting. The BPD policy is to document all use of force promptly, but it does not address the 8cantwait recommendation to report any time an officer threatens to use force.  Should we consider adding that to our BPD policy?
  3. The 2017-2020 statistics provided on the page are interesting, but pretty thin on facts, context, details.  It would be especially of interest to know about the racial characteristics of suspects and officers involved in these incidents.  Can the BPD make more information available?
  4. It is GREAT that no major injuries have been sustained by suspects or officers in use of force incidents over the past 3 years. But it is noteworthy that tasers have been used in 6 of the last 7 incidents (2019-2020), but prior to that only once in 11 incidents (2017-2018).  Why has the use of tasers increased?  And what are the “minor injuries” that are reported with nearly every use of tasers?
  5. It is GREAT that the public now has access to the BPD’s Policy Manual.  But gosh, it’s 756 pages long!
    • I would assume new officers are required to read the whole thing.  And take a test?
    • How often are officers required to review the document and then take a refresher test?
    • I understand that the BPD is to be commended for its strong emphasis on frequent training exercises.  Have our officers had a recent in-service training on Use of Force policies?  This might be welcome in the current time of unrest and reform.
Other concerns and questions
  1. The BPD Policy Manual has 7 references to “community policing.” It might be well to highlight and expand upon this official Department philosophy in a news conference and/or press release, as well as in an internal BPD memo or workshop.
  2. The BPD Manual lays out crowd control measures and has extensive policies governing discipline. Will the BPD review these policies carefully in light of recent times?  One suggestion: Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo announced today (June 10) that the MPD will begin tracking disciplinary data as compiled by Benchmark Analytics, and that the Department will rely on this data rather than the authority of a supervisory officer when making decisions related to hiring and firing.  Perhaps the BPD hiring and disciplinary policies could be reviewed in light of this?
  3. Questions about race and gender: How many BPD officers are there, and how many are Black, how many Hispanic, how many Asian, how many White, etc.? How many male and female officers?  The BPD Policy Manual is clear in opposing all forms of discrimination (§328.2, p. 156).  But is the Department under any obligation or philosophical intent to achieve racial and gender balance?  Does the BPD have any official goal statement on recruiting women and minority officers?