Tag Archives: police

Study: Racial disparities found in police traffic stops

A study of statewide police traffic stops in Vermont, the second-whitest state in the country, has found racial disparities in how police treat drivers.

Black drivers were four times more likely than whites to be searched after traffic stops, and Hispanic drivers were nearly three times more likely, according to the University of Vermont study, Driving While Black and Brown in Vermont. At the same time, black and Hispanic drivers were less likely than white and Asian drivers to be found with contraband that leads to an arrest or citation, according to the report, which was based on 2015 data.

Black and Hispanic drivers also were more likely than white drivers to get traffic tickets versus warnings, and black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be arrested after stops, the study said.

“Almost all of the agencies in our study exhibit disparities in traffic policing to one degree or another,” said study co-author Stephanie Seguino, a professor in the university’s Department of Economics. “In other words, the results are not uniquely attributable to one or two agencies, but it’s really a widespread problem in terms of policing.”

One of the reasons some police officers use to explain the higher rate of searches of black drivers versus white drivers is concerns about the opioid crisis and drugs coming in from out of state, and there’s a racial component to those perceptions, Seguino said. But the study found white and Asian drivers were more likely than black or Hispanic drivers stopped to be found with contraband.

Vermont, which has a population of about 625,000, was 94.8 percent white the year the policing study was done, according to U.S. Census figures. Only Maine, at 94.9 percent, was whiter. Blacks made up 1.3 percent of the Vermont population, Hispanics 1.8 percent and Asians 1.6 percent.

The study looked at traffic stop data from 29 departments across Vermont, following a 2014 state law that required police to collect such race information. But many agencies had missing data in key categories, said co-author Nancy Brooks, of Cornell University, who said more work is needed to improve the data quality.

Police treatment of drivers varied among departments, the study found.

In Rutland, for example, police searched black drivers at a rate of more than six times that of white drivers while white drivers searched were found with contraband at a higher rate than black drivers.

Rutland police Chief Brian Kilcullen, who has been on the job since November 2015, said he was somewhat surprised by the findings.

“You start with awareness, and that’s what this does,” he said of the report, adding that the police department has done training sessions.

Burlington police Chief Brandon del Pozo said his department is seeing an improvement in the rate at which searches lead to contraband, called the hit rate, meaning police are doing fewer unnecessary searches.

To reduce the racial disparities, the report’s authors recommend creating a standardized system for collecting data, giving officers feedback on their performance during stops, supporting police departments in giving frequent training sessions on bias and monitoring disparities annually.

Public’s trust was abused over police videos

On Aug. 14, after a night of unrest prompted by the fatal police shooting of a black man, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said his review of body camera video of the incident proved the officer had acted appropriately.

“The individual did turn toward the officer with a firearm in his hand,” Flynn stated, later saying the man, 23-year-old Sylville Smith, “was raising up with” the gun.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said a still photo he was shown from the video “demonstrates, without question, that (Smith) had a gun in his hand.” In fact, Barrett declared, the officer “ordered that individual to drop his gun, the individual did not drop his gun.”

This purportedly exculpatory video itself was not promptly released, despite requests from Barrett and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that this occur. It still has not been released. But we know now that public officials did not give an accurate account of what it shows.

Bill Lueders, Your Right to Know columnist
Bill Lueders, Your Right to Know columnist

We know that because, in mid-December, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm filed criminal charges against Dominique Heaggan-Brown, the former Milwaukee police officer who killed Smith. (Heaggan-Brown was fired over an alleged sexual assault shortly after the shooting.)

According to the criminal complaint charging the officer with first-degree reckless homicide, Smith held a gun as the officer fired his first shot. Smith, struck in the arm, pitched the gun over a fence and fell to the ground. The officer then fired a second, fatal shot to Smith’s chest.

“A review of the body camera video from (both officers at the scene) confirms that at the time of the second shot, Smith was unarmed and had his hands near his head,” the complaint says.

A 2014 state law governing investigations of police shootings requires that gathered materials be released if a decision is made not to file charges. The law is otherwise silent as to whether and when these materials are released.

Barrett has renewed his call for release, while Flynn has weighed in against this. Chisholm told me his office will not release this evidence prior to its use in a criminal proceeding.

In this case, I believe, it is already too late to restore confidence in the integrity of the process. Flynn’s representations about the video were at best misleading, and Barrett’s statements suggest he was misled, as was the public.

The whole point of outfitting police with cameras, at taxpayer expense, is to ensure truthfulness and enhance accountability. That did not happen here. And many more months may pass before the video is released.

Other jurisdictions have more enlightened policies. In Chicago, for instance, videos of police shootings are normally released within 60 days, and posted online.

In the legislative session that begins in January, there will likely be renewed efforts to establish consistent state policies regarding police body cameras; a bill to do so in the last session went nowhere.

Now is the time, in the wake of this regrettable case, for the citizens of Wisconsin to insist that the video records they are paying for are not kept secret, or used to mislead them.

Orlando to buy Pulse nightclub to create a memorial

The city of Orlando, Florida, has announced plans to purchase the Pulse nightclub and eventually convert the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history into a memorial.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told the Orlando Sentinel this week that the city has reached a deal to buy the LGBT nightclub for $2.25 million.

Dyer says the site should probably remain as-is for the next 12 to 18 months, as it has become a gathering place for mourners.

He says the city will reach out to the community for advice on how plans for the memorial should proceed.

The purchase price is $600,000 more than its appraised value.

The June 12 attack left 49 people dead and 53 wounded.

Gunman Omar Mateen was killed by SWAT team members.

Audio captures police strategizing about Pulse shooter

Police negotiators talking to the Orlando nightclub gunman at first weren’t sure if the person they had on the phone was actually in the Pulse nightclub, according to audio recordings.

The recordings between police negotiators and shooter Omar Mateen don’t stray from transcripts of conversations released previously by the city of Orlando.

But they do capture police officials strategizing among themselves about how to talk to Mateen, who hung up several times during the three-hour standoff at the gay nightclub.

Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber ruled this week that Mateen’s calls should be made public.

But she won’t rule on releasing other 911 calls from the mass shooting until she has listened to them.

More than two dozen news groups, including The Associated Press, have been fighting the city in court over the release of more than 600 calls dealing with the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The city has released about two-thirds of the calls but is still withholding the 232 calls that lawyers for the city say depict suffering or killing and are exempt from Florida’s public records laws.

The media groups have argued that the city’s application of the exemption is too broad and that the 911 calls will help the public evaluate the police response to the shooting at the gay nightclub.

In one of the calls released, a police official can be heard early on saying he’s not convinced the person on the call is in the club.

At another point, the lead police negotiator, named “Andy,” said, “He sounds like he is in a very sterile environment, like he’s at a home or an apartment.”

But another police official said Mateen could be in an office or bathroom.

The recordings also show how the negotiators were feeling out whether they had accurately identified the suspect.

“We called him Omar,” said Andy, who was then interrupted by another police official who says, “He didn’t deny it.”

Between calls, they mulled over what Mateen had told them, such as his refusal to answer if he had an accomplice.

They discussed Mateen’s claims that he was wearing a vest and that he had explosives in a car outside the nightclub. He wasn’t wearing a bomb vest and there were no explosives in a car, but police officials didn’t know that at the time.

“He said the bombs are in a car in the parking lot. He’s not confirming anything,” a police official can be heard saying in the background as Andy implores Mateen to respond.

Andy tells another police official that Mateen had claimed to be wearing a vest but he didn’t know what type.

“A dress vest. A bulletproof vest, or a bomb vest. That’s all I got. We questioned him on it and he shut down,” the police negotiator said.

The judge allowed family members of the 49 patrons who died to testify about whether they wanted the remaining 911 calls made public. Some opposed the release while others were OK with the transcript being made public.

“It would be extremely difficult for family and friends to listen to these calls,” said Jessica Silva, whose brother, Juan Rivera Velazquez, died with his partner in Pulse. “Just listening to one of the calls … We can recognize voices. Just listening to them screaming … How are we going to feel?”

The FBI has offered no indication of when the probe into the shooting that also left 53 people seriously wounded will be done.

An FBI spokeswoman didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.

Aileen Carillo, whose brother, Simon Adrian Carillo Fernandez, died in the nightclub, said she would like to listen to the calls to help her understand what happened, but didn’t want them to be made public.

“I would like to know what happened. We haven’t really heard what happened. We are unaware of the facts,” Carillo said on the witness stand through a Spanish interpreter.

Rights groups urge Justice to investigate police use of face recognition

Fifty national civil rights, civil liberties, faith, and privacy organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Justice Department urging it to investigate the increasing use and impact of face recognition by police.

The letter, sent in partnership with the ACLU and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, comes amid mounting evidence that the technology is violating the rights of millions of Americans and having a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

Also, Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology has released a report finding that police departments across the country are frequently using face recognition technologies to identify and track individuals — whether crossing the street, captured on surveillance cameras, or attending protests.

The report highlights that existing deficiencies are likely to have a disparate impact on African-Americans.

“We need to stop the widespread use of face recognition technology by police until meaningful safeguards are in place,” said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel. “Half of all adults in the country are in government face recognition databases, yet the vast majority of law enforcement agencies using this technology lack clear policies, audits to ensure accuracy, and transparency.”

The letter, sent to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, was signed by 50 diverse organizations.

The letter explains how federal, state and local police forces use driver license photos to identify suspects — without warrants, accuracy tests, or audits.

“This technology supercharges the racial bias that already exists in policing,” said Sakira Cook, counsel with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “For the good of the nation, we can’t afford to let these inherently biased systems operate without any safeguards.”

 

Doc shows militarization of US police from the inside

The documentary Do Not Resist provides a timely look at the state of policing in the United States, from the escalation of SWAT raids to the unregulated technology police departments are using.

Director Craig Atkinson for over two years traveled around the country shadowing various police departments in their everyday activities. The film is now playing in limited release, with weeklong runs launching in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles on Friday, and expanding throughout October and November.

Atkinson, the cinematographer on the documentary Detropia, was first intrigued to pursue the issue of police militarization after seeing the police response to the Boston Marathon bombing and the military grade equipment they used. He was struck by how police acted more like an “occupying force,” he said.

“I was seeing reports coming out later where people were handcuffed face down on their front lawn detained, no charges filed, no questions, police officers entering homes without search warrants,” Atkinson said.

It was just different from what he’d known. Atkinson has in some ways been observing the police his entire life. His father was an officer for 29 years outside of Detroit and a SWAT member from 1989 to 2002. As a boy, Atkinson would tag along to training exercises and play hostage. When he got a little older he would play the role of armed assailant.

“I always had a great deal of respect for the work he was doing,” Atkinson said. “He was a very upstanding officer.”

He knew, too, in the War on Terror era that police, and SWAT, were getting a bad rap and thought it would be a good idea to go behind the scenes and show it as it really happens — “the full breadth of the SWAT experience.”

What he found, however, was not what he expected. In one department, SWAT was being used for raids over 200 times a year. It was a striking difference to the experience of his father, who, in a similarly sized department, did 29 search warrants in 13 years.

“We never found an opportunity where you see the equipment being used in a situation where you would actually want it used,” he said. He thinks something like the Florida nightclub shooting was one instance where SWAT was in fact used appropriately.

The issue of the militarization of police in the United States has been vexing the country for years, most pointedly during the police-shooting protests in Ferguson, Missouri, where police wore riot gear and deployed tear gas, dogs and armored vehicles, sometimes pointing assault rifles at protesters.

The ACLU has spoken out against it, and the Obama administration, which defended the use of military vehicles during the Boston Marathon bombing, subsequently issued stricter controls over weapons and gear distributed to law enforcement. But it remains a hot button issue in the country, with some passionately defending the necessity of riot gear for the protection of officers in dangerous situations.

In the tense aftermath of a police shooting death in Louisiana, for instance, Gov. John Bel Edwards said a Baton Rouge police officer had teeth knocked out with a rock thrown by a protester. He said if officers don’t use riot gear, “you have no defense against that sort of thing.”

For his part, Atkinson started filming about a year before the events in Ferguson. Once that happened, he knew his footage would be timestamped around that, and there became an urgency to finish.

He chose to present the footage in a verite style. Thus, we hear only from those either involved in policing or public events like congressional hearings or community meetings.

People encouraged him to include his father’s story (he didn’t) or a “voice of god” narration to guide the audience (also absent). Atkinson says his personal interjections are not the point.

“Everybody already has an opinion about these issues,” Atkinson said. “We’re just showing things, we’re letting things unfold.”

As the film continues its run throughout the country, he’s mainly surprised and “disheartened” that it remains relevant.

“Here we are years later and it’s as timely as it ever could be,” he said.

Politics, shootings undercut criminal justice overhaul in Congress

Hopes for overhauling the nation’s criminal justice system have faded in Congress this year, undercut by a rash of summer shootings involving police and the pressure of election-year politics.

Republicans, including Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, had joined forces with Democrats in hopes of revising the 1980s and ’90s-era federal “tough on crime” laws by reducing some mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders and giving judges greater discretion in sentencing. The goal is to reduce overcrowding in the nation’s prisons and save taxpayer dollars.

In 1980, the federal prison population was less than 25,000. Today, it is more than 200,000.

The bipartisan group encountered fierce opposition from some Republicans who argue reform could increase crime and pose a greater danger to law enforcement.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump hasn’t commented on the pending legislation but has dubbed himself the “law-and-order candidate” for what he calls a country in crisis, with terrorism in cities and attacks on police.

With Republicans deeply divided, one man could break the legislative deadlock: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has not indicated whether he supports the effort.

If inaction is telling, McConnell so far has declined to put the legislation to vote, suggesting he doesn’t want a messy intraparty fight before the November election.

Unlike McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., strongly supports an overhaul and may bring up a series of bipartisan House bills in September to reduce mandatory sentences and boost rehabilitation programs.

An unusual coalition — President Barack Obama, the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Koch Industries — says the system is broken and supports changes. Obama has made it a priority in his last year.

But Ryan and Obama have a tough job in winning over McConnell, who must deal with opponents such as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and a handful of other Senate Republicans.

Supporters are also battling the calendar.

Congress is only in session a few weeks before Obama leaves office.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton supports the effort, but if she wins it’s unclear whether there would be momentum for the overhaul in her busy first year in office.

Cotton calls the Senate bill “a dangerous experiment in criminal leniency” that would let violent criminals out of prison.

Supporters say the legislation would do the opposite, making communities safer by focusing on rehabilitation and preserving police resources. Mark Holden of Koch Industries, which has backed the Senate and House bills, points to states that have successfully put similar reforms in place.

Proponents argue that there’s no direct connection between the overhaul and this summer’s shootings of black men in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge — or the shooting of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge — since the measures would primarily deal with incarceration of low-level drug offenders and rehabilitation programs. Opponents counter that reducing mandatory minimum sentences could further endanger law enforcement.

“If you talk to actual officers on the street, almost all of them will tell you their job has gotten more dangerous,” said the Hudson Institute’s John Walters, who was drug czar under President George W. Bush. “The current debate about this isn’t going to give them a voice.”

The House Judiciary Committee is looking at separate action on policing and has created a bipartisan working group on police accountability and aggression toward law enforcement. After meetings in Detroit on Tuesday, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., predicted criminal justice reform will eventually pass.

On policing, Goodlatte said mistrust between law enforcement and the communities will not be solved overnight. “However, this should not deter us from devoting urgent attention to this matter of national importance,” he said.

Republicans who back criminal justice overhaul point to the support of several law enforcement groups and say they are working the party’s grassroots, bringing the message that changes could save billions of federal dollars and help criminals from returning to prison.

“There’s no question that it’s very hard to draw the lines on the conservative movement and where people are on this,” says Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general who is working with a group called Right on Crime.

At the heart of the Republican debate on the issue is a philosophical difference between advocates who say rehabilitation and shorter sentences could lower recidivism and opponents who say it will let criminals out and not do enough to stem crime. Advocates point to a dip in overall crime in the U.S., while opponents point to rising crime in some major cities.

The Senate bill was introduced last October, and Cornyn and other supporters revised it this spring to try and win over reluctant GOP colleagues. But Cornyn acknowledged in July that the House would have to move first on its legislation, which is similar but not identical to the Senate bill.

Some advocates are hoping the legislation could be passed as part of the typical last-minute horse-trading in the “lame duck” session in between the election and the end of the year.

To get momentum, “we need a House vote in September, and we need a big House vote in September,” says Holly Harris of the Justice Action Network.

State rep forcefully arrested while trying to defuse tensions in Sherman Park  

State Rep. Johnathan Brostoff and a youth organizer for the ACLU of Wisconsin were among 11 people arrested Tuesday night at a gathering in Sherman Park near a memorial for shooting victim Sylville Smith.

Smith was shot to death near the site on Aug. 13 during an altercation with an officer after a traffic stop. The incident sparked two nights of violence, during which several businesses in the area were torched.

Brostoff, who represents the 19th Assembly District, said he went to the area after learning that Milwaukee police were arresting people who were congregating. He said that he and the ACLU’s Jarrett English had shown up to help de-escalate tensions and avoid another eruption of violence.

People from faith communities also were there to defuse the situation. It’s unclear whether any of them were arrested.

Police said in a statement that they went to the area because nearby residents had complained about 30 to 40 people who were gathered there. According to police, the crowd refused to disperse.

In addition to the 11 people arrested last night for disorderly conduct, three were arrested Wednesday morning after police say a small group again gathered in the area and refused a resident’s request to leave her property, according to a police report.

According to a statement issued by the ACLU of Wisconsin, English was recording the gathering with his cell phone when a police van pulled up and ordered the people standing on the corner of Sherman and Auer to disperse. No reason was given for the order, the ACLU said.

Numerous officers forcibly arrested English as he was walking away as instructed. Both men were thrown to the ground, handcuffed, searched without consent, and placed in a paddy wagon.

After officials became aware that they had arrested a state legislator, the two were released without charges, the ACLU reported.

“The Milwaukee Police Department has once again demonstrated its preference for occupation, excessive force and belligerence over genuine engagement, civil dialog, and de-escalation,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin,” in a statement. “People have a right to stand on a street corner — to observe and record the police, as Jarrett was doing, or for any other reason. Unfortunately, rather than protecting people and their rights, law enforcement in this community all too often engages in the sort of destructive behavior to which Jarrett and Jonathan were subjected last night.  Although no one deserves to be treated like this, the police made the mistake this time of abusing people who were in a position to insist on their rights.”

Milwaukee police are investigating the detentions of Brostoff and English to make sure proper procedures were followed, Sgt. Timothy Gauerke told AP.

English said he found the situation was confusing, because he didn’t know the reason for his arrest.

“It was embarrassing and dehumanizing, and I did not feel that I was being treated with the dignity and respect that should be afforded any individual,” he said in a statement.  “But I was mostly thinking about all of the young people this happens to every day who don’t have anyone to call to get free.  We cannot continue doing this to our people.  It has to stop.”

MoveOn hiring organizers for United Against Hate campaign

MoveOn.org Political Action is hiring dozens of organizers to serve as state directors and field organizers in eight battleground states through November.

The hiring push will create a major field presence in key states — including Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania — where organizers and MoveOn volunteers will work to defeat Donald Trump and elect Hillary Clinton, and help take back control of Senate.

The organizers will recruit, train and support grassroots leaders, “focusing on communities that Trump has attacked and coordinating volunteer teams who will knock on hundreds of thousands of doors and hold conversations with thousands of likely voters in coming weeks,” according to a statement from MoveOn.

MoveOn.org is building field programs with paid organizers and volunteer leaders in:

• Arizona

• Florida

• Iowa

• Nevada

• New Hampshire

• North Carolina

• Ohio

• Pennsylvania.

MoveOn said it has more than 1 million active members in these states.

Also, MoveOn members have voted to endorse Senate candidates in seven of the eight states:

• Ann Kirkpatrick (Arizona)

• Patty Judge (Iowa)

• Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire)

• Deborah Ross (North Carolina)

• Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada)

• Ted Strickland (Ohio)

• Katie McGinty (Pennsylvania)

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment to ensure that Donald Trump never sets foot in the White House, and MoveOn members across the country have the power to influence this election by helping elect Hillary Clinton and winning key Senate seats across the country,” said Victoria Kaplan, organizing director for MoveOn.org.

She continued, “We know that face-to-face conversations with voters are the number one most effective way to increase voter participation and that’s why we’re unleashing the phenomenal energy of volunteer leaders and the millions of MoveOn members to canvass their own neighborhoods and communities, where they can make the biggest difference.”

MoveOn senior adviser Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We know that our task is not just to win an election, but to demonstrate that bigotry is a losing strategy and to build power to win on the issues that matter to everyday people: income inequality, police and criminal justice reform, climate change, good jobs, immigrants’ rights, and more.”

Earlier this year, MoveOn members voted to launch a multi-million dollar effort against Trump.

Since then, MoveOn has kicked off a major voter contact effort, opened a rapid-response video lab to produce dynamic content around the election, launched a nationwide Laughter Trumps Hate comedy contest and published an open letter featuring more than 100 prominent artists standing against Trump.