Tag Archives: police department

Milwaukee police: August homicides highest in 25 years

More homicides were recorded in Milwaukee in August than in any other month over the past 25 years, police said.

Milwaukee’s total of 24 homicides in August was the highest since July 1991, when the victims of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer were discovered, according to police. The department said the city’s per capita rate was even higher than that of Chicago, which recorded 90 homicides in August.

Chief Edward Flynn discussed the violence at an afternoon news conference on Sept. 1, saying police have recorded a slight increase in domestic violence homicides this year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“But the biggest driver of our homicides is arguments and fights and retaliation among people with criminal records,” Flynn said.

A statement from the department said it is being stressed by recent unrest in the Sherman Park neighborhood, where a black man died after being shot by a police officer earlier this summer.

The fatal shooting of Sylville Smith on Aug. 13 sparked two nights of violence, including gunfire and fires that destroyed businesses. Police have said Smith was holding a gun when he turned toward the officer who shot him.

The department’s statement also cited the use of two-officer squads as a strain on its resources. Milwaukee police have patrolled in two-person teams since July, after an officer was shot and wounded by a suspect, according to the newspaper.

Bar rises for Milwaukee police review after latest shooting

Milwaukee, shaken by violence after a shooting by police, is one of a few U.S. cities to have volunteered for federal government review of its police force and may now be held to higher standards for how it responds.

Beginning in December, the review included a public “listening session” that, according to Milwaukee media, drew 700 people to a library auditorium to air their frustrations to U.S. Department of Justice officials.

Some community leaders said the weekend violence should result in a tougher review and real change.

“I would hope that the cries of the unheard … are now being heard around the country out of Milwaukee,” said Rev. Steve Jerbi, the lead pastor at All Peoples Church in the Wisconsin city of about 595,000 people.

The Obama administration has promoted a $10 million nationwide voluntary review program as a way to improve policing amid nationwide complaints of racial profiling and targeting. Milwaukee has become the latest U.S. city to experience discord after high-profile police killings of black men over the past two years.

The review in Milwaukee will look at issues such as use of force, the disciplinary system and diversity in hiring. The city was 45 percent white in the 2010 Census, while the police department is 68 percent white.

“Expectations of the report itself and of departmental compliance with the report are going to be raised,” said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies police behavior.

There is skepticism of how Milwaukee authorities will respond to federal recommendations, after past responses fell short of demands.

Fred Royal, president of the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch, noted that the recommendations would not be legally binding, unlike those for cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, where police use of deadly force and other practices were being scrutinized under so-called consent decrees — settlements without a final ruling by a judge.

“They don’t have the teeth that a consent decree has,” Royal said.

Businesses were torched and gunfire erupted in Milwaukee after the shooting on Saturday of a black man, Sylville K. Smith, 23. Police said he refused to drop a handgun when he was killed, and on Monday, the city imposed a curfew.

“My experience with the Milwaukee Police Department has been that it is a department in desperate need of fundamental change,” said Flint Taylor, a Chicago civil rights lawyer who has sued Milwaukee over police tactics.

A spokesman for the Milwaukee Police Department said officials were not available for an interview.

Police Chief Edward Flynn has said previously that his department has made progress and can withstand scrutiny.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said officials there declined an interview request.

The Justice Department is expected to release its findings within about two months. Milwaukee could then receive outside assistance and monitoring for up to two years.

Making the challenge tougher are deep problems of poverty and segregation in Milwaukee, the 31st largest city in the United States.

Milwaukee was ranked as the most segregated city in America by the Brookings Institution last year and in the neighborhood where the rioting took place more than 30 percent of people live in poverty.

Residents have protested past police shootings, such as the 2014 killing in which an unarmed, mentally ill black man, Dontre Hamilton, was shot 14 times. An officer was dismissed but no one was charged.

In 2011, another black man, Derek Williams, died in the back of a Milwaukee police car after he told officers he could not breathe and needed help, according to a lawsuit his family filed. The city has not responded to the lawsuit.

And in January this year, Milwaukee officials approved a $5 million settlement with 74 black men who said they had been subjected to illegal strip and cavity searches.

Las Vegas, which volunteered for the same federal program after a series of shootings there in 2011, was handed a list of 75 findings and recommendations by the Justice Department, and 18 months later it had completed 90 percent of the recommendations, the department said.

Philadelphia and San Francisco are among other cities under review.

Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou Contini and Grant McCool.

ACLU calls for transparency in investigation of Milwaukee shooting

In response the Wisconsin Department of Justice declaring it will not release video footage of the officer-involved fatal shooting in Milwaukee, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin again called for transparency in the investigation of the underlying incident.  ACLU executive director Chris Ahmuty wrote the following letter to Attorney General Brad Schimel:

Dear Attorney General Schimel,

It is time for you and your agency to give the public more information about your investigation into the officer-involved fatal shooting of Mr. Sylville Smith on August 13, 2016 in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood.

In an August 14, 2016 news release you stated “The Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), at the request of the Milwaukee Police Department, is leading the investigation of yesterday’s officer involved death.  DOJ will work expeditiously to ensure a thorough and transparent gathering of the facts.”  According to an August 16, 2016 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, your spokesperson said, “In recognition of the violence that has affected Milwaukee residents for the last 48 hours, DOJ is working expeditiously, and within the parameters of the law, to provide the community a transparent view of the events that took place on August 13 in a timely manner.  However, we are not prepared to release any of the video evidence at this time.”

To date you have promised transparency, but provided little information on your investigation to the community and Mr. Smith’s grieving family and friends, who seek understanding of the deadly incident that transpired on August 13.

In your news release and your spokesperson’s statement as reported in the media, you don’t even mention Sylville Smith’s name.  It is important for you to recognize that a Milwaukee police officer has killed a specific person, with family, friends and neighbors.

You have said that you will not “release any of the video evidence at this time.” Failure to timely release video of similar incidents has been a source of unrest in Chicago, leading officials there to adopt a policy of prompt release of video.  Note that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn has already expressed conclusions drawn from a video the public has not been allowed to see.

You have remained silent regarding a host of other questions that would help the public ascertain whether your agency is conducting “a thorough and transparent gathering of facts.”  We ask that you please answer the following questions about your investigation:

  1. Are any of the investigators/analysts assigned to this case former Milwaukee Police Department employees?
  2. Has DCI interviewed the officer(s) who encountered Mr. Smith on August 13?  If so, when were the officers interviewed?
  3. Has DCI or MPD interviewed neighbors/witnesses?
  4. Who gets access to Smith’s companion (Is he in custody?  Does he have an attorney?)
  5. Does DCI have the body worn camera(s) (BWC)?  Does it have access to evidence.com?
  6. Did the officer or other witnesses review the BWC or dash cam video before your agents interviewed them?
  7. Was the officer given a blood test?
  8. What was the basis for the stop?  Are there radio communications that would reflect the basis for the stop?
  9. Is there audio from the dash cam or from nearby Shotspotter microphones?
  10. When will the medical examiner issue a report?

Nearly all of these questions are procedural and address aspects of your gathering of facts.  None call for details regarding the evidence, much less conclusions.

Please answer these questions.  If you refuse to answer any of these questions, please let me know your justification for refusing at this time.

Thank you.  I hope to hear from you shortly.

 

1 person shot, officer injured on 2nd night of Milwaukee protests

Tension flared again on Aug. 14, with one person shot and a police officer injured, in the Milwaukee area where the fatal shooting of a suspect by an officer had sparked rioting, prompting Wisconsin’s governor to activate the National Guard.

Police violence against African-Americans has set off intermittent, sometimes violent protests in the past two years, igniting a national debate over race and policing and giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

After peaceful vigils by small groups of demonstrators earlier, Milwaukee police said late on Aug. 14 they had rescued one shooting victim, who was taken to hospital.

It was not known whether the injured person was a protester.

One police officer was hospitalized after a rock smashed a patrol car windshield, the MPD said.

Police said they began attempting to disperse crowds after shots were fired and objects, including rocks and bottles, were thrown by some protesters. Several arrests were reported.

About 20 police in riot gear faced a group of more than 100 protesters in a tense standoff that continued into the early morning hours, punctuated by sporadic reports of gunfire.

Despite the violence, police said the National Guard had not been called in, as authorities worked to restore order.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took the precaution of activating the National Guard in case more violence broke out over the death of Sylville K. Smith, 23, who was shot while trying to flee from an officer who had stopped his car.

Aiming to reassure the community that the police acted properly, Chief Edward Flynn said on Sunday he had viewed video from the officer’s body camera and it showed Smith had turned toward him with a gun in his hand after a traffic stop.

The Sherman Park neighborhood, where a heated confrontation between residents and officers clad in riot gear turned violent overnight, had been peaceful at dusk.

About 200 people lit candles and gathered near the spot where Smith was shot. A few officers looked on as faith and community leaders implored protesters to restrain their anger.

“We are not ignorant and stupid people,” a pastor told the crowd, echoing a feeling among many of the city’s African-Americans that they are systematically mistreated.

“Every single person needs to be looked upon as human beings and not like savages and animals.”

The previous night, shots were fired, six businesses were burned and police cars damaged before calm was restored in the area, which has a reputation for poverty and crime.

Seventeen people were arrested, and four officers were injured.

At a news conference with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Flynn said the officer who fired the fatal shot was black and media reports also identified Smith as black.

He said a silent video of the incident appeared to show the officer acting within lawful bounds. He said the officer stopped Smith’s vehicle because he was behaving suspiciously and then had to chase him several dozen feet on foot into an enclosed space between two houses.

He said the moment when the officer fired his weapon could not be determined because the audio was delayed.

“I’m looking at a silent movie that doesn’t necessarily tell me everything that will come out in a thorough investigation,” Flynn said. “You know the fog of war. You know first reports are frequently wrong or slightly off.

“I know what I saw. Based on what I saw, didn’t hear, don’t know what the autopsy results are going to be, he certainly appeared to be within lawful bounds,” Flynn said of the officer.

The mayor said Smith did not drop the gun as ordered before he was shot.

Smith had a lengthy arrest record, Barrett said, and officials said earlier he was carrying a stolen handgun loaded with 23 rounds of ammunition when stopped.

‘DID NOT DESERVE’ TO BE SHOT

On the evening of Aug. 14, several of Smith’s sisters addressed the crowd, saying their brother “did not deserve” to be shot.

“My brother was no felon,” said one of them, Kimberly Neal, 24, as she wept. “My brother was running for his life. He was shot in his back.”

Walker announced the National Guard activation after a request from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who met Walker and Wisconsin National Guard Adjutant General Donald Dunbar.

But Barrett said any decision to deploy the troops would come from the police chief.

The National Guard, which is under the dual control of the federal and state governments, was deployed in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 after several nights of rioting over the police killing of an unarmed black man.

This summer has brought deadly ambushes of police. Five officers were slain by a sniper in Dallas last month as they provided security at an otherwise peaceful protest against police killings. Three officers were killed by a gunman in Baton Rouge less than two weeks later.

Policing in Milwaukee has come under scrutiny since 2014, when Dontre Hamilton, a mentally ill, unarmed black man, was fatally shot in a park by a white officer, an incident that sparked largely peaceful protests.

Additional reporting by Chris Michaud and Laila Kearney in New York and Julia Harte in Washington; Writing by Frank McGurty, Bill Trott and Chris Michaud; Editing by Howard Goller, Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez.

Urging censure of Madison police chief

As stated in our petition, I have observed Madison Police Chief Michael Koval assume and carry out this important position of public leadership and trust.  I write to urge official censure of him and the filing of a complaint against him with the Madison Police and Fire Commission.

From the beginning, Koval has demonstrated an unwillingness and inability to listen.

Many of us have attended community meetings and forums, and found that Koval uses these as his personal stage. He is verbose, arrogant and disrespectful.

Although citizens are able to get in a few questions, for the most part Koval dominates every conversation and leaves no doubt of his “my way or the highway” approach to leadership.

In one instance early on in his tenure as chief, he screamed at a community member for presenting statistics and was then brought to tears citing “passion” as the culprit, but with no intention of addressing that culprit. He apparently does not know how to listen or deal rationally with unpopular feedback.

In a multi-institutional and multi-constituency setting, a leader can only be good if he or she is a skilled and compassionate communicator — adept at presenting a position, listening to others, negotiating compromises and nurturing relationships that will facilitate those compromises. Chief Koval has a serious problem with anger and with disrespect for the political process. Like many people these days, he seems to view politics with disdain, as something beneath him.  In fact, the political process is the mechanism with which democracy operates.

These attitudes were on full display in the blog he posted June 5.  He demonstrates blatant disrespect and insubordination for the Madison Common Council, including his threat that “You are being watched.  And be on notice:  this is a pre-emptive first strike from me to you.” (this from the person who controls an armed police force); contempt for Madison’s citizenry (“PC Madison”); and uses terms coined by Rush Limbaugh to describe citizens who raise questions and concerns about the conduct of MPD (the “perpetually offended”).   

Appallingly, his behavior at the June 9 Madison Common Council meeting topped even this. His blatant disrespect, erratic physical behavior and out of hand dismissals of the concerns of our elected officials, his table pounding, petulant pacing about, and outright mockery of the few non-white alders in the room bespeaks a man who believes his own department’s policy governing the professional behavior of Madison police officers is beneath him.

This is inexcusably bad leadership and management, and rather than know this, he instead boasts about these serious transgressions.  He is setting the worst example for the rank and file.  This is not what public service, and leadership of a public institution, should look like.

Alarmingly, earlier this summer we witnessed the beat-down of 18 year old Genele Laird, a slight, African-American girl who, from the video capture of the event, was not obviously resisting the officer on the scene when a much larger white officer charged her and brought her to the ground with violent knee strikes and a taser.  How much of what he felt empowered to do was informed by the attitudes expressed or training received from Chief Koval?  Is this really the use of force standard that we want for our city? I hope not.

The chief of the Madison Police Department is a public employee and public servant.  He is not an emperor or dictator.  Insofar as he shares his disgust with the political process with MPD officers — as he has — he is dangerous. He is widening the “Us vs. Them” gap when one of his first objectives as a chief should be to narrow it. Because he has postured as champion of police, rather than chief of police, many officers will see him as their champion and any effort on the part of the city to reign Koval in or run him out may result in serious problems with the department.  These will be problems of his making.

Alarm over Koval’s apparent anger, disrespect and outright contempt, is spreading in our community.  A public employee and public official who displays the kind of contempt for elected officials and citizens should be fired.  However, I call on you, the only elected people in our city with the power to directly censure Madison’s chief of police, to do so for Koval’s repeated, culturally supported displays of insubordination, disrespect, and contempt for citizens and elected officials.  I call on you to file a formal complaint against him with the Madison Police and Fire Commission seeking to have him removed as chief for the many violations of his own department’s policy as well as for the direct insubordination of the Common Council.

I implore you to get educated on the true scope and extent of the powers you have to affect change within the police department in the form of lawful orders which the department is, in fact, compelled to obey.  Finally, next time a chief is selected for this city, do everything you can to guarantee we do not get “more of the same.”

Amelia Royko Maurer lives in Madison.

On the Web

Progressive Dane of Dane County is circulating a petition that urges the Madison Common Council to pursue filing censure and a complaint with the Police and Fire Commission against Police Chief Koval. The petition is at https://www.change.org/p/madison-city-council-file-complaint-against-chief-koval-with-pfc

YGB: Black teenage girl beaten by our very own MPD

On June 21, 18-year-old black teen Genele Laird was working at Lids Hats at East Towne Mall in Madison when her phone was stolen.

She was angry and a colleague called police. When they arrived, officers apparently did not like her demeanor and rather than helping her recover her stolen property, they began approaching her to take her into custody.

According to video footage, almost immediately upon being approached two MPD officers began brutalizing the thin-framed Laird.

The attack included repeatedly kneeing her in the side, punching her in the side and face, shoving her to the ground, tasing her and putting a bag over her head while continuing to tase her.

The Young Gifted and Black Coalition with Freedom Inc call for Laird’s immediate release and that police drop the four felony charges against her.

Reportedly police have charged Laird with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct with a weapon because she had a knife in her purse, harming an officer and spitting.

This officer was very comfortable abusing this troubled teen on camera in broad daylight. A city that lets this happen is a city that needs change at root levels.

YGB and FI demand the following:
• Laird’s immediate release.
• That all charges against her are dropped.
• That the offending officers are arrested.
• Community control of the Madison Police Department.
We have got to to better as a community. We will do better. Stay tuned about how you can help.
People Power is all we got. All Power To The People! #freegenele #handsoffblackwomen #communitycontrolofpolice.

Watch the video here: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3a%2f%2fwww.facebook.com%2f100008713631510%2fvideos%2f1586578181642621%2f&show_text=0&width=400

On the Web

A news report on the incident can be found here.

Chicago teen’s death shines light on police code of silence

For more than a year after an officer shot and killed a black teen named Laquan McDonald, the Chicago Police Department had video footage that raised serious doubts about whether other officers at the scene tried in their reports to cover up what prosecutors now contend was murder.

Not until 15 months later was one of those officers and a detective who concluded the shooting was justified put on desk duty. At least eight other officers failed to recount the same scene that unfolded on the video. All of them remain on the street, according to the department.

The lack of swift action illustrates the difficulty of confronting the “code of silence” that has long been associated with police in Chicago and elsewhere. The obstacles include disciplinary practices that prevent the police chief himself from firing problem officers and a labor contract that prevents officers from being held accountable if a video surfaces that contradicts their testimony.

“If they are not going to analyze officers’ reports and compare them to objective evidence like the video, why would the officers ever stop lying?” asked Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who helped force the city to release the video.

Of the eight officers, six said they did not see who fired and three depicted McDonald as more threatening than he appeared. One claimed the teen tried to get up with a knife still in his hand. The footage clearly showed him falling down and lying motionless on the pavement.

Officer Jason Van Dyke, who emptied his entire 16-round magazine into McDonald, is now awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges. He has been suspended without pay while the department tries to fire him.

City officials say they are cracking down on traditions associated with the code and even questioning applicants for police superintendent about how they would stop officers from lying to protect colleagues.

Chicago isn’t the only major city where officers sworn to tell the truth are suspected of covering for each other. In Los Angeles, three sheriff’s deputies were convicted last year of beating a handcuffed jail visitor and then trying to cover it up. In that case, a plea bargain with two former deputies helped prosecutors expose what they said was a code of silence.

The head of Chicago’s police union dismisses talk of a code.

“It’s not 1954 anymore,” Dean Angelo said. “With cameras everywhere, in squad cars, on everyone’s cellphone … officers aren’t going to make a conscious effort to engage in conduct that puts their own livelihoods at risk.”

But the scrutiny that followed McDonald’s death reveals a system that makes it difficult to fire problem officers and reduces their punishment or delays it for months or years after their reports are exposed as lies.

The code of silence also figured into another video: footage of off-duty officer Anthony Abbate pummeling a bartender. Officers who responded to the 911 call did not include in their reports the bartender’s contention that she was attacked by an officer named Tony, according to testimony in federal court. A jury in 2012 awarded her $850,000 and concluded there was a code of silence.

Like other police departments, Chicago’s police force has long insisted that it doesn’t tolerate dishonesty. When allegations surface about officers lying in a report, they are stripped of their police powers and assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of an internal probe, department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

If the investigation determines the officer was, in fact, dishonest, the department says it moves, without exception, to have that person fired.

However, unlike New York, Baltimore and other cities, Chicago’s police superintendent cannot independently dismiss an officer. That decision belongs to the Chicago Police Board, whose nine civilian members are appointed by the mayor.

It is not unusual for the board to reject recommendations of the superintendent and the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings.

That happened when former Superintendent Garry McCarthy recommended sergeant and a lieutenant be fired for lying in their reports about the accidental discharge of pepper spray in a restaurant. The board agreed that the two had lied but decided to suspend them each for 30 days.

Critics say officers are emboldened to cover up their own misdeeds and those of others because the code extends to City Hall. In the case of the beaten bartender, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s administration responded to the verdict by asking a judge to throw out the jury’s finding because it would set a precedent for potentially costly future lawsuits.

The police union contract also plays a role. It includes a provision that officers who are not shown video of alleged misconduct before being interviewed cannot be disciplined for lying about the recorded events.

“All of this sends a message to police who abuse their police powers that they can operate with impunity,” said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, a prominent local minister.

The issue came to a head in the McDonald case. Weeks after the shooting, Futterman, the law professor, and a journalist publicly urged the city to release the video. A few months later, a detective concluded that the shooting was justifiable homicide by an officer trying to protect his own life, and that the dashboard camera video was consistent with witness accounts.

Emails between City Hall and the police department and others make it clear that the mayor’s office was aware of concerns about the officers’ truthfulness. But there is no indication in the emails that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office demanded or even suggested that someone compare the video with the police reports. Instead, Emanuel’s office chose to wait for the results of federal and local probes, mayoral spokesman Adam Collins.

Guglielmi said that the McDonald case highlights the need for the department to pay closer attention to any discrepancies between videos and written police reports.

Hatch is skeptical, pointing out that not only are all the officers still getting paid, but Van Dyke himself drew a paycheck while working for 13 months until he was charged.

“Nobody ever said, ‘Wait a minute, these officers who filed reports inconsistent with the facts are all still working, including the officer who shot the kid 16 times,”” he said. “Accountability in cases of police misconduct, it just doesn’t exist.” 

Number of police officers charged with murder or manslaughter triples in 2015

The number of U.S. police officers charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings has tripled this year — a sharp increase that at least one expert says could be the result of more video evidence.

In the past, the annual average was fewer than five officers charged. In the final weeks of 2015, that number has climbed to 15, with 10 of the cases involving video.

“If you take the cases with the video away, you are left with what we would expect to see over the past 10 years – about five cases,” said Philip Stinson, the Bowling Green State University criminologist who compiled the statistics from across the nation. “You have to wonder if there would have been charges if there wasn’t video evidence.”

The importance of video was highlighted last week with the release of footage showing a Chicago officer fatally shooting a teenager 16 times. The officer said he feared for his life from the teen, who was suspected of damaging cars using a small knife. He also had a powerful hallucinogen in his bloodstream.

“This had all the trappings of a life-threatening situation for a law-enforcement officer – PCP-laced juvenile who had been wreaking havoc on cars with a knife,” said Joseph Tacopina, a prominent New York defense attorney and former prosecutor who has represented several police officers. “Except you have the video that shows a straight-out execution.”

When he was charged with first-degree murder last week, officer Jason Van Dyke became the 15th officer in the country to face such charges in 2015.

Over the last decade, law-enforcement agencies have recorded roughly 1,000 fatal shootings each year by on-duty police. An average of fewer than five each year resulted in murder or manslaughter charges against officers, Stinson found.

The cases are often difficult to prove. Of the 47 officers charged from the beginning of 2005 through the end of last year, about 23 percent were convicted, Stinson found.

“For forever, police have owned the narrative of what happened between any encounter between a police officer and a civilian,” said David A. Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who has written extensively on police misconduct. “What video does is it takes that power of the narrative away from the police to some extent. And that shift in power of control over the narrative is incredibly significant.”

In case after case, that is exactly what has happened this year.

Stinson said Van Dyke would “never, ever” have been charged without the video. He said the same is true for Ray Tensing, the white University of Cincinnati police officer who is charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter in the July 19 death of Samuel DuBose, a black motorist whom Tensing shot to death after pulling him over for a missing front license plate.

Tensing’s attorney said the officer feared he would be dragged under the car as Dubose tried to drive away. But, Stinson said, the video from the officer’s body camera shows that his explanation “doesn’t add up.”

Other cases around the country also reveal just how important the video is.

In Marksville, Louisiana, for example, two deputy city marshals were charged with second-degree murder after authorities reviewed video from one of the officers’ body cameras, which showed a man with his hands in the air inside a vehicle when the marshals opened fire. The man was severely wounded and his 6-year-old autistic son killed.

Just how dramatically a video can shift the balance of power was apparent in North Charleston, South Carolina, when officer Michael Slager shot and killed Walter Scott, an unarmed black man as he ran away after a traffic stop.

Slager told investigators that Scott had tried to grab his gun and Taser. But after a video from a cellphone showed Slager taking careful aim at Scott as he ran away and then picking up his Taser and dropping it near Scott’s body, Slager was charged with murder.

“If not for the recording, I have no doubt that the officer in the Walter Scott case would be out on patrol today,” Harris said.

Videos have also played a key role in cases in which the victims were, in fact, armed – something that Tacopina said typically brings to a halt any thought of charging officers.

Chicago prosecutors concluded that McDonald did not pose a threat to Van Dyke, despite the small knife that he was carrying.

Likewise, prosecutors in Albuquerque, New Mexico, charged two officers with second-degree murder of a mentally ill homeless man who was holding two knives when he was shot to death. Defense attorneys have said the officers shot James Boyd out of concern for their lives, but Boyd appears to be turning away from the officers when the shots were fired.

In another case, an officer may owe her freedom to the camera that was attached to her stun gun.

Lisa Mearkle, a police officer in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, was charged with third-degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter after shooting an unarmed man twice in the back as he laid face-down in the snow. But after watching a video that showed the man’s hands repeatedly disappear under his body as Mearkle shouted at him to keep his hands where she could see them, the jury acquitted Mearkle. 

Illinois’ 2nd largest city to compile list of ‘habitual drunkards’

The police department in Illinois’ second largest city is going to compile a “habitual drunkard” list to help fight public intoxication.

Authorities say they got the idea from Madison, Wisconsin, which has a similar policy.

Aurora Police Department Sgt. Tom McNamara says the list will have “certain clientele” whom police and fire departments see regularly. The Beacon-News reported that includes people whom police and fire personnel transport six times or more in a 120-day period.

The City Council approved keeping the list this week as part of an overhaul to city liquor laws. Aurora is roughly 40 miles west of Chicago.

Police say the goal is public safety. Those on the list won’t be able to purchase liquor in Aurora and local businesses are expected to comply.

Supporting the Young, Gifted & Black Coalition in Madison

In the aftermath of Paul Heenan’s shooting on Nov. 9, 2012, a group of residents from the Madison community, former and current law enforcement officers, representatives from social service agencies, mental health experts and academics formed a group that called itself the Community Response Team.

We were deeply shaken by the police culture, policy and training that led to the actions taken that night and that continued throughout the year. We worked tirelessly to examine the culture, motives, policies, management, and incentives that led, not only to Paul Heenan’s fatal shooting, but to the damaging and dysfunctional communication from the Madison Police Department to the community after his death.

Two more fatal, officer-involved shootings during the next several months strengthened our drive to identify and address systemic problems within and around the MPD.

Sadly, just over two months into 2015, our community is again grieving the loss of yet another unarmed resident killed at the hands of police. Only this time, state violence has ended the life of young, unarmed Black teenager.

What’s his name?

Tony Terrell Robinson.

Another mother’s child has been taken from her and the pain seems bottomless. We all urgently feel things must change. We must prevent this from happening again.

A bright spot within all of this tragedy is the emergence of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, an energized group of youthful thought-leaders who are amplifying the ideas of people from whom we hear least in our community.

These are the voices of LGBTQ, Black, and Brown residents: those touched personally by the criminal justice system, those who have known homelessness, have known food insecurity, have felt the hand of state violence on their necks. These human rights champions are the voices of some of the most impacted — and among those to whom we look for leadership within our community.

The Community Response Team is offering its resources and strong support for the leadership of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition.

We share their concerns and stand behind them in making their demands. We hope our efforts complement theirs and that together we can move our criminal justice system, our government and our community to higher ground where education, safety, health and prosperity are equitable opportunities for all.

In order to provide this quality of life to all residents, we believe that the MPD must overhaul several policies starting with its policy on how and when to use force. The present standard — individual fear (Graham v. Connor) — cannot be the standard of a professional, democratic police agency. It is far too low.

Until there is actual data to show that officers incur greater injuries or fatalities due to increased restraint, the present standard must be raised and training adjusted accordingly if we are a community committed to the moral idea that Black lives, and indeed all lives, truly matter. Leadership must be proactive and any new system must be carefully monitored in order to be held accountable.

This is what professional police do in a free and democratic society.

This is what our community expects and demands and we will accept nothing less.

We are committed to helping MPD meet this high calling.

Additionally, the following questions and recommendations formulated and delivered to prominent Madison leadership over a year ago remain outstanding and, to our minds, largely unanswered:

•  How will the MPD Chief ensure that the community has an influential role in the organization? By what mechanism or agent will the department receive ongoing input from the community to influence current protocol or policies? The MPD is not a person that needs to be protected. It is moral responsibility of the MPD is to serve and protect the community.

•  Specifically, how will the MPD Chief learn what the community believes should be the moral criteria for the use of deadly force vs. the minimal bar set by the legal criteria? How will the MPD Chief ensure those moral criteria are being met by the department?

•  How will the MPD Chief address the great disparity of arrest rates between our community’s white population and its populations of color, recognizing that it cannot be the natural order of things and that racial profiling leads to corrosive dehumanization and a burdensome overexposure to the criminal justice system in our Black and Brown neighborhoods?

•  How will the department enhance its empathy to see people not as a statistical set of characteristics, but instead, as human beings?

•  How will MPD improve upon crisis intervention training to ensure that the quality of the bulk of the work that officers do in our community gets the highest priority and attention?

•  How will the MPD Chief shape the culture of the MPD to ensure that respect for diversity, both in the workplace and in the community, is a top priority?

•  How will the same culture support the possibility that it takes more courage not to pull the trigger than to pull the trigger in the troublesome deadly force issues that took place in 2012 and 2013, and now again, in 2015? 

•  How will the MPD Chief ensure that MPD officers receive the attention, evaluation and training they need to support them emotionally, as well as physically?

•  How will the department flag problem officers and provide them the help they need before they can become factors in deadly force encounters?

•  How will the MPD Chief ensure that communication between 911 dispatch and police officers happens with the highest possible fidelity, meaning that communication and training between dispatch and other departments – including attendance at briefings – is prioritized? And how will the MPD Chief ensure that effective analysis of system failure happens when mistakes in communication lead to negative outcomes in the field?

•  How will the MPD Chief ensure that the growing influx of military funding, equipment, tactics and former personnel into our department not translate into an increasingly militarized police force? 

In the long run, we believe it is these issues that will define our city — more so than fancy hotels, restaurants or farmers markets could ever do.  Madison, Wisconsin, could be a national, urban model for promoting human rights — but only if it has the moral fiber to do so.

Sincerely, Community Response Team Members