Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXVIII, Nos. 589, 590 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY December 15/31, 2002

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In this issue:

Don’t tell New York City, but the nationwide crime rate is going up.
Once again, it’s a year for serial killers.
Child-snatchings are big news, but are they a big problem?
Amber Alert is getting nationwide green light.
Police wipe a smile from mailbox bomber’s face.
Beltway snipers continue to confound police expectations.
Legislative probes point to FBI, CIA lapses.
Police catch terrorist “sleepers” napping.
Homeland security is demanding still more of local police agencies.
The courts are wrestling with anti-terror issues in various forms.
Is there a new federal perspective on consent decrees?
Agencies try harder to fill depleted ranks.
Bottom lines will get worse before getting better.
The Cabinet is about to get a new anti-terror look.
Justice by the Numbers: A numerical profile of criminal justice in the United States in 2002.
Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.

2002, the year in review:
A new perspective on consent decrees?

     It may be a reflection of a change in administration, or the product of significant steps taken by some police departments to improve their policies and practices, but law enforcement seemed better able to work out its differences with the Justice Department in 2002.

     There was no greater evidence of this than in Columbus, where the city successfully fought off a civil rights suit brought three years ago by federal prosecutors. On Sept. 3, U.S. District Judge John Holschuh dismissed the case after officials outlined the measures it had taken to correct problems identified by a Justice Department probe.

     City leaders had been willing to sign a consent decree that would have put the department under the scrutiny of a federal monitor, but members of the local Fraternal Order of Police wanted no part of it. After a federal magistrate made the organization a party to the suit, the FOP began assessing members $25 a month to pay for the subsequent litigation.

     “Now that this is done, the FOP felt they were right that they did it, and the officers are happy,” said Bill Capretta, president of FOP Capital City Lodge No. 9. “We could get rid of the assessment, which was money coming out of their paycheck, but more important, there is no federal intervention, no federal mandate on the city of Columbus. They just pulled up their stakes and left.”

     The Pittsburgh Police Bureau was also let off the hook this year when the Justice Department decided the agency had fulfilled the demands of a five-year-old consent decree and released it from federal supervision.

     On Sept. 13, U.S. District Judge Robert Cindrich granted a motion filed jointly by federal prosecutors and the city. Overruling the objections of civil-rights groups, he commended the department and Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly for implementing an early-warning system for spotting troubled officers, among other initiatives.

     But Gene Grattan Jr., president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, said the victory was achieved in good measure to the Justice Department’s changed attitude under Attorney General John Ashcroft.

     “Not like the last administration, where they wanted to put you in there and bury you there forever,” he said. “If you weren’t in compliance the first five years, they’ll put you in for a second five years, and so on.”

     The experiences of Columbus and Pittsburgh may be instructive for other jurisdictions whose difficulties with the Justice Department are just beginning.

     The Schenectady, N.Y., police became the subject of a probe by the DoJ’s civil rights division in June after years of complaints by civil rights activists in the city’s Hamilton Heights section. Since 1999, approximately one-third of the 120 people arrested by local officers have blamed police for their injuries, according to records kept by Schenectady County Sheriff Harry Buffardi.

     Tulsa’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93 voted in April to triple members’ dues, to $75 a month, in anticipation of a fighting an agreement that would settle a discrimination lawsuit filed against the city by black officers. The settlement would require the agency to review its recruitment methods, and create advertisements that educate citizens on how to file a complaint against officers. By year’s end, the settlement had still not been finalized, and the FOP was moving ahead with a lawsuit claiming that it was denied input into the proposed agreement.

     The Cincinnati Police Division has a new overseer for its reform effort, after the monitor originally appointed to oversee agreements on police reforms was fired due to a financial dispute. Dr. Alan Kalmanoff, director of the Institute for Law and Policy Planning in Berkeley, Calif., was terminated after submitting a $55,241 bill to the City Council for his first 19 days on the job. In December, after lengthy negotiations behind closed doors among the parties to the agreements, a federal judge appointed Saul A. Green, a former U.S. attorney in Detroit, to the post.

     In its first quarterly report released in August, the Office of the Independent Monitor reported to the Justice Department that Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department early-warning database system “falls far short” of the standards required under a consent decree. While the police department has improved its use-of-force investigations, its Performance Assessment Management System failed to record complete information, according to the report.

     Officials in Detroit are taking steps to clean up their own house in order to avoid having the Justice Department unilaterally impose a lengthy list of reforms on the police department. Following an investigation launched in December 2000, federal civil-rights officials had given the department more than 175 recommendations for reforming policies and practices. In hopes of avoiding a consent decree, Detroit police officials have rolled out a revised policy manual — the first in 30 years — that addresses procedures ranging from use of force to prisoner handling.

2002, the year in review:
Trying harder to fill depleted ranks

     A scarcity of suitable candidates — even in 2002’s poor economy — led a number of police departments around the country this year to do some rethinking with regard to the qualifications they were willing to accept in their applicants.

     Leading the retreat were the Virginia State Police, and the Waco, Texas, Police Department, each of which threw out old policies regarding recruits’ prior drug use.

     In Waco, under a new standard applied in August, applicants may not have smoked marijuana in the previous two years. The old policy called for the rejection of applicants who had smoked marijuana more than 50 times.

     Anyone who has tried drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine — even once — continues to be automatically eliminated.

     “I don’t know if it actually would make a difference in the numbers or not, but you’re kind of getting into the age of applicants that the majority seem to have used marijuana,” said Sgt. Sherri Swinson. “What we’re doing is looking at the overall person.”

     The Virginia State Police in February implemented new guidelines that allow those who have tried heroin, cocaine or any other Schedule I or Schedule II drug more than five years before applying to still be considered. Use of those drugs more than once, however, means automatic disqualification, as does any use of LSD or PCP. Applicants who have smoked pot more than once can also be considered, but not if they have used the drug within the previous 12 months. And a DUI conviction, as long as it occurred more than five years before applying, is no longer a deal breaker

     Lt. Col. Donald R. Martin, the state police superintendent, said the guidelines are fairer because they take into account an applicant’s “entire employment and life history.” Said Martin: “Our present policy would not allow us to even consider that person at all, even if they’ve lived an exemplary life.”

     Drug-history standards weren’t the only applicant qualifications to fall victim to difficulties in recruitment. In Bangor, Maine, police officials tossed out a decade-old requirement that applicants have either a two-year criminal justice degree, or two years of full-time law enforcement experience. Now, prospective officers need only be 21, have a valid driver’s license, and a high school or equivalency diploma.

     The agency was only able to come up with no more than three qualified candidates out of a pool of 20 to fill five vacancies. Nearly one-third of applicants fail the Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s agility test, and another one-third to one-half are eliminated during the background check.

     “We want to expand the number of applicants we get because I’m convinced there are people out there in the community who would do a real good job as a police officer who might not necessarily have the degree,” said Chief Don Winslow.

     Still, it was not all one mighty step backward for higher education and policing, as other departments took the opposite tack, including New York City’s, which sent recruiters to the nation’s Ivy League schools in search of candidates. In Hamden, Maine, Police Chief Joe Rogers said he believed agencies should be raising their standards, even as he struggled to fill two vacancies within in his own ranks.

     According to a preliminary study released by the IACP in October, while police officers with just a high school diploma made up just over half of all sworn law enforcement personnel in Florida between 1997 and 2002, they accounted for nearly three-quarters of significant disciplinary actions taken by the state.

     Of the 727 disciplinary actions issued by the state’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, those with no degree above a high school diploma accounted for 74.8 percent. Those with bachelor’s degree accounted for 11.9 percent of the total, and those with two-year degrees, 12.2 percent. Further research on the subject is expected.

     In Portland, Maine, Police Chief Michael Chitwood was forced to scale back the agency’s community policing program because of a shortage of front-line officers. Four out of the program’s 10 officers were reassigned. The number of applicants who take the agency’s entrance exam has fallen by roughly half over the past five years, he noted, and of those who do take it, nearly half fail the physical fitness component.

     “That’s amazing to me, when you have 24- and 25-year-olds who can’t run, can’t do push-ups,” said Chitwood. “This is not a triathlete-type of physical.”