2001 — the year in review:
Who’s looking over policing’s shoulders?
Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., Miami, Detroit and Providence, R.I., are just some of the cities that lately have felt the presence of someone on the outside looking in — whether the U.S. Department of Justice, a civilian monitoring effort, or a blue-ribbon review board — as accusations of bias, unwarranted use of force and other problems led to investigations, federal oversight or both.
In Cincinnati, a Justice Department task force recommended in a 23-page preliminary report that the city’s police division “revise its policies to clarify terms and to ensure that force is only used in appropriate circumstances.” All officers should be required, it said, to report use of force and that training should emphasize eliminating use of force whenever possible. The report, issued in October, was prompted by the riots that shook the city in April after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer. Black community activists said the findings vindicated complaints made by them for years about excessive use of force by local police.
Washington, D.C., Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey in May welcomed a five-year federal monitoring effort of the agency’s excessive-force incidents. In 1998, Ramsey had invited the DoJ to probe the department when it was revealed that municipal police had shot and killed more residents during the 1990s than had police in any other major U.S. city. District officials agreed to more than 100 recommendations, including a Use of Force policy that will emphasize de-escalation and verbal persuasion as a goal, and establish a single, uniform reporting system for weapons discharges. The Justice Department and local officials agreed to a monitor who will oversee the implementation of guidelines, with public reports issued four times a year. Earlier in the year, the department found itself with another problem on its hands when nearly 1 million e-mails sent by D.C. officers within a single year were found to contain obscene and racist language. Ramsey notified the Justice Department about the possibility of racial profiling. A Citizen Complaint Review Board also asked the department for a compilation of the messages.
Four key recommendations for improving the Providence Police Department were issued in June by a blue-ribbon commission created in the wake of the fatal police shooting in 2000 of an off-duty black police sergeant. The panel suggested providing continuing legal education for police as a means of keeping up with state and federal law; establishing a civilian review board; developing and implementing a minority recruitment plan, and achieving national accreditation.
Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley officially closed the Rampart Division probe in November, stating that the investigation into 50 officers would be closed by the end of the year with no new prosecutions. Wrongdoing was found to be limited to the one rogue squad assigned to the Rampart station.
Miami officials in April said they were cooperating with federal investigators and the state’s Attorney General after five officers were indicted in March on charges of covering up the 1996 shooting death of an elderly drug suspect. Richard O. Brown, 72, who had no criminal record, was shot nine times by Street Narcotics Unit and SWAT team officers who fired a record 122 shots. In July, a blue-ribbon panel’s recommendation that the department’s Office of Professional Compliance be retooled as a civilian review board came under immediate criticism because it would not have subpoena power.
An ongoing FBI probe of the Schenectady, N.Y., Police Department resulted in the suspension of five police officers as of August. Four were charged with extorting drug dealers and trading crack cocaine for tips from informants. The fifth officer, Patrolman William Marhafer, 30, shot himself to death in the police station’s locker room in October. Chief Gregory Kaczmarek told the local news media that although the federal probe had been launched in 1999, his own internal investigation of the agency had begun one year earlier.
The Portland, Maine, City Council voted to form a “citizen review committee” in November to audit the police department’s internal affairs process for fairness and accuracy. The six-person group, however, will not review specific cases, call witnesses, impose or modify disciplinary action or make recommendations about individual officers. Its first report is due in January 2003.
The Detroit Police Department was ordered in October to turn over documents to the Justice Department as part of the ongoing federal investigation into the fatal shootings by officers, prisoner deaths and allegations of illegal detention of witnesses. The city was found not only to have the lowest homicide clearance rate of any big-city department, but also the highest arrest ratio per murder case. The agency was sued in federal court in March after allegedly holding two men without probable cause in two separate slayings. In May, the FBI rejected Detroit’s crime figures as too unreliable for inclusion in its 2000 Uniform Crime Report.
Former Stamford, Conn., Police Chief Dean Esserman was appointed by a federal judge in June to monitor the implementation of a consent decree agreed to by Wallkill, N.Y. officials. The decree was prompted by a federal civil rights complaint brought by the New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Officers were found to be engaging in a pattern of abuse, particularly toward women. The decree stipulates that all patrol cars will be outfitted with video cameras, that a civilian complaint procedure will be created, and traffic stops for other than law-enforcement reasons will be banned.
Federal prosecutor Michael Gennaco was chosen in May by Los Angeles County officials to head a board that will review internal investigations conducted by the Sheriff’s Department.
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik proposed in February that responsibility for prosecuting police misconduct be left to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division launched an investigation of the Tulsa Police Department in April.
The Riverside, Calif., Police Department in March said it would enter into what is believed to be the first agreement between a city and a state attorney general’s office. The five-year plan outlined by Attorney General Bill Lockyer includes revisions in the department’s training, monitoring and supervision of officers.
Columbine is history, but school violence persists
Despite a flurry of new reports and recommendations from law enforcement and other groups on preventing and responding to school violence, the potential for Columbine-type incidents persisted throughout 2001 in every section of the country.
While police were able to make arrests before violence erupted in the many of the cases, in Santee, Calif., a 15-year-old high school freshman shot and killed two students and wounded 13 others on March 5 when he opened fire with a .22-caliber revolver. The shooter, Charles Andrew “Andy” Williams, was stopped by an off-duty officer who happened to be registering his child for school. A friend whom Williams told about his plan apparently never reported the threat.
In other cities:
A Canton, Ga., boy was arrested on March 9 for making threats with a homemade bomb.
Police in Holton, Kan., arrested three teenagers in February before they could carry out a planned attack on their school. A search by police found weapons and a floor plan of the building.
A 15-year-old Fort Collins, Colo., boy pleaded guilty on Feb. 27 to conspiracy to commit first-degree assault in connection with helping to plot a massacre at Preston Junior High School. Two other boys, both 14, threatened to kill students with guns and propane bombs. Five guns and a propane tank were seized from the home of one of the defendants.
Jeremy Getman, 19, was sentenced in December to 8-1/2 years in prison for smuggling guns and bombs into his Elmira, N.Y., high school on Feb. 14, 2000, in preparation for a killing spree. Getman surrendered peacefully, notifying authorities that he had passed someone a threatening note.
A tip from a photo lab clerk in February led to the arrest of a 19-year-old student at DeAnza Community College in California, after police found an arsenal of bombs, booby traps and notes indicating that he intended to plant the devices on campus. Police were notified after the clerk, the daughter of a San Jose police officer, developed photos of the Al DeGuzman posing with his cache.
As more schools experienced violence last year, recommendations for preventing incidents came from a variety of sources. Among them was the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which in March released its “Guide for Preventing and Responding to School Violence.” The recommendations, based on input from more than 500 experts and 15 focus groups, covered such topics as threat assessment and responding to a crisis and its aftermath.
In May, the Governor’s Columbine Review Commission in Colorado released its final report. Among the recommendations in the report was that police officers at the scene of a school shooting must rapidly deploy into the building and pursue the gunmen. One communications system, it said, must be developed over which all law enforcement agencies can communicate. The study also suggested that schools develop effective violence prevention programs such as threat-assessment teams and bully-prevention initiatives. Gov. Bill Owens signed legislation in November that requires the development of such programs. The legislature also passed a law that will open juvenile crime records to school officials.
A study by the National Institute of Justice released last year found that neglect is potentially more damaging to a child’s development than is physical abuse. The study, which followed 1,575 children over a period of 25 years, found that 27 percent of those who had been abused or neglected were arrested as juveniles, compared with 17 percent of the non-abused group. By adulthood, those figures had climbed to 42 percent and 33 percent. Eighteen percent of mistreated youngsters committed violent crimes, as compared to 14 percent who were not abused.
Another national study, by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, found that victimization in schools fell between the years 1992 and 1999. From 1995 to 1999, the percentage of students who were victims of any crime of violence or theft decreased, it said, from 10 percent to 8 percent. And from 1993 to 1999, the percentage of 9th through 12th grade students threatened or injured with a weapon on school property held steady at between 7 percent and 8 percent.
Matters of opinion
What the U.S. Supreme Court giveth to law enforcement, it also taketh away, as was seen in a number of decisions last year in which the Court, by expanding power in some areas and reining it in others, shaped the way police responsibilities will be discharged in the future.
In Texas v. Cobb, the Justices ruled 5-4 in April that suspects charged with a crime may be questioned without the presence of a lawyer if the interrogation does not touch on the original offense, but one closely related. Under the Miranda doctrine, wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist, defendants have the ability to refuse any police questioning. The decision, he said, would have an impact on Sixth Amendment rights in only the rarest of cases.
Patrol officers have the right to enforce a custodial arrest for even minor infractions, the Court ruled by 5-4 in April. In Atwater v. City of Lago, the Justices held that even though the arrest and jailing of a woman for not wearing her seat belt was a “pointless indignity,” police did not violate her Fourth Amendment rights.
The Court was again split 5-4 in April when it ruled that repeat offenders may not challenge the validity of prior convictions, although the convictions may be used to enhance another sentence.
In Immigration and Naturalization Service v. St. Cyr, the Court ruled 5-4 in June that, without a judicial hearing, legal residents of the United States who are not citizens may not be deported for running afoul of criminal laws.
In June, the Court ruled 5-4 in Kyllo v. United States that the rights of an Oregon man had been violated when federal agents used a thermal imaging device to determine whether he was growing marijuana in his house. The decision overturned a 1999 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which agreed with the government’s argument that heat imaging did not violate reasonable expectations of privacy. But all details in the home are “intimate,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, and therefore safe “from prying government eyes.”
The Court rejected an appeal in October by blacks who claimed that Oneonta, N.Y., police violated their rights when they rounded them up following an attack on an elderly victim.
Some of the rulings that will have the broadest-reaching effects on police were decided in lower federal and state courts. Among the most damaging to law enforcement efforts has been an Oregon Supreme Court ruling, handed down in 2000, which holds all attorneys, including federal prosecutors, to the ethics rules of the state in which they practice.
In the past year, the decision has resulted in a virtual shut-down in Oregon of undercover probes into narcotics, child pornography and other areas which demand the approval and assistance of the U.S. Attorneys office. At the state and county levels, the decision, known as the Gatti ruling, has forced police to work independently of prosecutors while conducting undercover investigations.
Other significant lower-court rulings around the country in 2001 included:
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in March that police may be held liable for using excessive force for merely drawing their weapons.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court in July ordered a man who owed $25,000 in child support not to have any more children as a condition of probation.
A U.S. district judge in Tennessee in May overturned a magistrate’s finding of probable cause in a search which uncovered 560 pounds of marijuana because of a drug-sniffing dog’s poor record of accuracy.
A strip-search policy implemented by the Schenectady, N.Y., Police Department was found to be unconstitutional in April by a U.S. district court judge.