After Christopher Dorner's rampage, how to build community trust in police
by Sunil Dutta
Sunil Dutta is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. The views expressed here do not represent the LAPD
Christopher Dorner, the former L.A. police officer who died Tuesdayafter allegedly going on a murder spree, said racism was behind the Los Angeles Police Department's decision to fire him in 2009, after he accused another cop of kicking a mentally ill man. In a perverted mission of vengeance, Dorner allegedly killed two civilians and two officers.
“I know I will be vilified by the LAPD and the media,” Dorner wrote in an online manifesto. “Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name.”
Given its history of scandal, the LAPD has spent a decade building a kinder, gentler organization and making significant strides in community-based policing. Even past detractors, including civil rights lawyer Connie Rice, admit that the LAPD has changed since the early 1990s. But people still associate the department with events of 20 years ago: the acquittal of officers accused of beating Rodney King, the subsequent L.A. riots and the resignation of Chief Daryl Gates.
The department's problems aren't all in the past, either: In November, a jury awarded former officer Pedro Torres $2.8 million after finding that officials retaliated when he verified claims about an allegedly racist supervisor. During the past decade, 17 officers have won million-dollar-plus verdicts in lawsuits claiming harassment, discrimination and retaliation. African American officers, including some supervisors I've spoken with, say in private that they don't feel like they are part of the system and don't trust it.
Indeed, some people even sympathize with Dorner, despite his unconscionable acts. “He's been a real-life superhero to many people,” Columbia Universityprofessor Marc Lamont Hill told CNN. “People aren't rooting for him to kill innocent people — they're rooting for somebody who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system. It is almost like watching ‘Django Unchained' in real life.”
Police Chief Charlie Beck said he would reopen the case that led to Dormer's termination — not to appease an alleged murderer but to prevent the ghosts of the LAPD's past from being resurrected.
While Beck made a wise move, it doesn't go far enough to assure people of the LAPD's integrity. We need to change the way complaints against police officers are adjudicated, putting investigative power in the hands of the people.
As long as police have existed, officers have been accused of racism, brutality and covering up for their friends. In the past, a lack of accountability often meant that police organizations did not pay serious attention to or even record citizen complaints. As a result, many citizens still don't trust police departments to investigate their own. Similarly, officers do not trust internal affairs investigators or disciplinary processes.
I worked as an internal affairs investigator in the LAPD for about three years. When I visited police divisions to look into complaints against officers, I was usually greeted by the same question: “Who are you going to burn today?” Officers often believed that internal affairs was out to get them on flimsy charges.
At the same time, when I interviewed community members who had filed complaints against officers, I was disappointed to learn that, despite my reassurances and best efforts to conduct impartial inquiries, many complainants believed that a fair investigation was simply not possible. Nor do misconduct investigations satisfy a skeptical public. If an officer is exonerated, the community often believes that malfeasance is being covered up.
Police serve the community — any concerns about their integrity must be transparently, expeditiously and judiciously resolved. Relying on cops to police cops is neither efficient nor confidence-inspiring.
The solution? Abolish internal affairs units and outsource their work to external civilian agencies.
Police have slowly started to incorporate civilian oversight in their misconduct investigations. For example, the LAPD's office of inspector general has oversight over the department's internal discipline. Yet, while the inspector general's staff receives copies of every personnel complaint filed and tracks and audits selected cases, it does not have the authority to impose discipline. Nor do most civilian review boards, which are not empowered to conduct independent investigations. This leads detractors to say that such boards are ineffectual.
Police have long resisted external oversight. Some of us say that those who aren't in uniform do not understand the intricacies of law enforcement. Won't civilian investigators be harsher toward officers — unsympathetic to the challenges faced by beat cops battling armed bad guys?
These self-serving arguments perpetuate archaic policies. Outsourcing misconduct investigations to civilians would directly address community concerns about the “blue wall of silence.” Officers who fear retaliation for reporting misconduct would feel more comfortable working with an external agency. In this system, complaints such as Dorner's about the vindictiveness of superiors would all but disappear.
Using sergeants and detectives as internal affairs investigators costs police departments a lot. These supervisors are paid more and have more seniority. Assigning seasoned officers to internal affairs also depletes the number of field personnel who could prevent mistakes and misconduct by patrol officers in the first place. Outsourcing misconduct investigations would be far less expensive and would let veteran supervisors do the jobs they should be doing.
And why shouldn't every police contact with the community — every traffic stop, every interrogation — be recorded on video? If Dorner and his partner had had a cop-cam, his claim that his partner used excessive force might have been resolved the same day. There's just no excuse for not recording police contacts with the public. Technology has made cameras effective and affordable. Some officers already record their arrests to protect themselves against false allegations of misconduct. This should be standard operating procedure.
If even one citizen thinks that Dorner may have had a point, that's too many. The only answer to those worried about police conspiracies is transparency. Only by opening our doors can we build trust, and truly serve and protect.
US fugitive Christopher Dorner died from single gunshot
Fugitive US ex-police officer, Christopher Dorner, whose remains were found in a burnt-out cabin after a six-day manhunt, died from a single gunshot wound to the head, authorities say.
Police had launched the manhunt for Dorner after he killed three people, apparently in revenge for being fired from the LA police in 2008.
He was cornered near Big Bear Lake and incendiary tear gas was fired in.
Police could not confirm whether the gunshot was self-inflicted.
After a six-hour post-mortem examination, San Bernardino County coroner Kevin Lacy said: "We are not yet able to speak about the manner of death and tell you whether or not it was the result of a self-inflicted wound or another round.
"While we are still assembling the reports and putting it together, the implication seems to be that the wound that took Christopher Dorner's life was self-inflicted."
Incendiary tear gas
Dorner had holed up in a flat in Big Bear Lake, a ski resort 80 miles (130km) east of Los Angeles, for six days after he killed a couple and a policeman.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told reporters that officers had knocked on the door of the condominium during the manhunt.
"Our deputy knocked on that door and did not get an answer, and in hindsight it's probably a good thing that he did not answer based on his actions before and after that event," he said.
When owners arrived to clean the building, Dorner tied them up and fled in their car, killing a sheriff's deputy in a shootout and then barricading himself in the remote cabin.
A Swat team fired incendiary tear gas to try to force Dorner out.
A blaze started and a single gunshot was heard.
Police found a cache of weapons in the cabin, including assault rifles.
Dorner started his killing spree on 3 February when he shot dead the daughter of a former police captain and her fiance.
The woman's father, Randal Quan, had represented Dorner at a police disciplinary board.
Dorner was fired in 2008 from the force on a charge of making false statements, after he lodged a complaint against his field training officer, saying she had kicked a suspect during an arrest.
In an online manifesto, Dorner, who was black, suggested that racism was still rife in the Los Angeles Police Department.
iPhones and iPads have totally changed how this police department works
by Todd R. Weiss
After budget cuts forced the layoffs of 19 police officers in 2009, the 79-member Redlands Police Department in southern California knew that help was needed so that the same police services could be provided in the community with fewer officers on the streets.
"We had to downsize," said Lt. Travis Martinez, of the department's Community Policing Bureau. "So we're always looking for force multipliers to make our officers more efficient."
At the time, the remaining officers still used pagers and old-style cellphones to communicate. So the department started to look at new technologies, including smartphones and tablet computers. To move things ahead, the department sought and won a grant to help pay for the technology.
"We realized that there are so many other things that you can be doing with smartphones," said Martinez. "We needed to do more with less. The department decided that smartphones could be one of those force multipliers we needed."
The grant money allowed the police department to buy about 110 Apple iPhones and 67 iPads, which were deployed in 2011 to the officers and command staff members. Some of the iPads were given to citizens in the community to help them assist police officers in local crime fighting efforts, said Martinez.
The gadgets have been making a huge difference in the department, he said. "Officers can take photos using their devices, and they have GPS capabilities. They can type in the GPS coordinates of a suspect after getting that information from a cellphone provider, which allows us to locate the suspect."
The main benefit of the iPhones is their portability. "One of the biggest assets with iPhones for our officers is that we can respond to a robbery at a local convenience store and when the first officer pulls up to the scene, he can capture the video from a security camera," said Martinez. "Then the officer can transmit and send it to all our other officers and it can be compared it to possible suspects. We can email it to other officers, and then all can look for the bad guys."
The same capabilities are useful in missing persons cases or to help distribute flyers about crimes.
"Any time you can share the information and the actual pictures, it's great," said Martinez. "You think about the time it took to investigate crime 20 years ago and now it is just amazing. We can get information back in just seconds."
The iPads also help by letting officers bring more information with them.
"We use them for community presentations, when community policing officers meet with people in the community, developing partnerships," said Martinez. "The officers can access the Internet and all the crime databases on a secure website using a VPN connection. We can search all these databases out in the field. We don't have to drive all the way back to the office to do all the research anymore. And we can get this information in front of victims anywhere" to help solve crimes more quickly.
"We can put a photo lineup together at headquarters and send it to officers via email for victims to look at," he said.
The devices have even made one other old standard police tool obsolete – the printed community map books officers have had to lug around for years to find addresses and streets.
"A simple thing is we don't even carry around those map books anymore," he said. "Now we have access to anywhere in the U.S. at our fingertips. We just plug in the address and the location on an iPad or iPhone and we go." The department also developed an app that lets officers conduct field interviews with suspects who haven't yet committed a crime but who are acting suspicious. Using the app, the officers can collect information from the suspects and then have it available later if an investigation warrants charges or arrests.
As useful as they are already, officers are always coming up with new ways to gain more value out of the new devices, he said.
One officer created a way to fill out and save their incident reports on the iPads using PDF templates, said Martinez. Previously the officers had to fill out paper copies, which were less efficient and not easily shareable in the field with other officers.
"We're a mid-sized department, so we are really hands-on," he said. "We encourage officers to bring technology ideas to us for improved crime fighting. We are all a team, and when you have the knowledge of everyone together it's so much better than just the knowledge of one person. We're all public servants and we have a duty to provide the best level of service possible to the community, so we are willing to try things."
Some of those attempts haven't worked, but Martinez declined to mention them. "If you're not willing to take risks, then you're not going to see any rewards," he said. "We try it out and if it doesn't work, we may need to make some changes or maybe we'll have to scrap an idea."
So far, officers in the department also continue to use the fixed-mount laptops inside their police vehicles, but because those laptops aren't as mobile, they can't meet every need, according to Martinez.
"They haven't quite figured out how to use iPads in our cars yet," said Martinez. "I know they are testing it."
Overall, the iPads and iPhones are making a big difference in police work, said Martinez, an 18-year veteran of the department.
"We just have so much information now at our fingertips," he said. "It's so vital to be able to research suspects, to find out where they live, find out about their pasts, and to be able to access phone records on the fly."
Why Gang Injunction Zones and Stop-and-Frisk Strategies Won't Work.
by Dan Seigel
Oakland's community is in turmoil over crime and policing. A sharp increase in robberies, burglaries, and homicides has the public, especially middle class home owners, demanding solutions. Community activists, particularly young African Americans, Latinos, and their allies, continue to oppose police tactics that target them regardless of criminal activity.
Finding effective solutions will take time. There are no magic strategies, and no out of town saviors – not even William Bratton. But we can learn from history to avoid creating more problems than we solve and to lay the basis for strategies that advance public safety.
1. There is no contradiction between effective policing and constitutional policing.
Getting involved in debating false dichotomies never solves anything. Some Oakland politicians, newspaper columnists, and well-meaning members of the community have become distracted by the argument that police effectiveness is compromised by judges, civil libertarians and others who demand that the police respect people's rights. Actually, just the opposite is true.
Sir Robert Peel, who founded the London Metropolitan Police in 1829, wrote, “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions,” and “police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.” Recently, Professor Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska wrote, “Police experts from around the country know that constitutional policing is a necessary element of effective crime control…Trust and cooperation are lost when the police engage in unconstitutional and unprofessional conduct: when they use excessive force; are verbally abusive; stop, question, and frisk people because of their race or ethnicity; and are perceived to go unpunished for their actions.”
The point is obvious. For the Oakland Police Department to be effective it must win the trust of Oakland's people, particularly young African Americans and Latinos, who experience police bullying and racial profiling on a regular basis. Oakland will never hire enough police to maintain public safety unless the community is a willing participant in these efforts.
2. There are no instant solutions.
In their eagerness to propose solutions that offer hope to people worried about crime, politicians and police officials continue to advocate for strategies that amount to nothing more than racial profiling. Because many law breakers fit a familiar stereotype – young, dark-skinned men who live in poor neighborhoods – we often hear proposals suggesting that if the police are allowed free reign to accost people who meet that definition, crime will plummet.
In Oakland we continue to hear demands for (1) gang injunctions; (2) stop and frisk campaigns; and (3) youth curfews. Even putting aside the minor (!) issues of discrimination and violations of constitutional rights, the problem with these solutions is that there is little or no evidence that they work, and they often divert police resources from more productive strategies.
Oakland already has two gang injunctions covering areas of North and East Oakland. Consistent with research in other parts of the nation, there is absolutely no indication that violent crimes in the areas covered by the injunctions is any different from that in surrounding communities. This is not surprising, in part because alleged gang members are not responsible for most crimes in the areas covered by the injunctions.
Stop and frisk strategies are likewise ineffective. In New York City, police made about 700,000 stops in 2011, with Black and Hispanic men making up 85 percent of the total. In one of five cases officers used physical force against those who objected, even verbally, to the stops. Police recovered guns in only one of every 800 stops. ( The New York Times, February 12, 2013 .) New York's policies have led to protest marches by thousands and successful lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of police actions.
The same is true of youth curfews. Just a tiny percentage of young people out late at night are committing crimes. Police acknowledge that most crimes committed by young people occur during the day.
People who are interested in finding solutions to crime must do their homework. Countless research articles demonstrate that there are no quick solutions.
3. Real solutions will be real difficult
The sad news is that turning Oakland into a safe community may be all but impossible in the face of ongoing inequality based upon race and poverty. It is not breaking news that most street crime is committed by poor people with no jobs and few prospects. Recent studies by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and others show that the greatest predictors of criminal activity are poverty, unemployment, family instability, and substance abuse.
Young people especially chafe under the conditions of long-term poverty, unemployment, poor education, lack of health care, and unstable housing. Tough on crime policies such as the three strikes laws have filled California's prisons to unprecedented levels. The number imprisoned today is three times what it was in 1982. Oakland's courts send dozens of people away for long prison terms every week. Yet crime continues to rise.
It is no wonder that many see the police as an agency dedicated to social control rather than the protection of life, property, and individual rights. In her compelling book, The New Jim Crow , Michelle Alexander argues that the criminal courts and prison system, fueled by federal spending on the “war on drugs,” has succeeded slavery and legalized inequality (the old Jim Crow) as the dominant means of social control over African Americans in the United States. Since the early 1980s, the prison population in the U.S. has climbed from about 300,000 to over two million. The greatest single factor in the increase represents people serving time for non-violent drug offenses. The number of people serving time on drug cases grew from about 41,000 in 1980 to over 500,000 in 2010. Drug arrests tripled, although drug use by Americans did not grow during that period. More than double the number imprisoned are on probation or parole.
Solutions require different strategies, not more of the same.
4. Even partial solutions require new strategies.
As bleak as the current situation appears, there are strategies that will help reduce crime in Oakland. These strategies require that the city unite around a program to provide support for people at risk of committing crimes and to create a public safety partnership to heal our communities. Here are some steps in that direction:
(1) End the Negotiated Settlement of the Allen case by finally implementing the police reforms required by the federal court. Eleven years after the agreement was signed, and then revised, and then revised again late last year, the City has been unable to meet the requirements of the agreement. Judge Thelton Henderson will soon appoint a Compliance Director to oversee OPD. The case has now cost upwards of $15 million. Enough is more than enough. The OPD's failures waste the City's treasure; more importantly, they send a clear message that Oakland does not want to reform.
(2) Find strong and effective leadership for the OPD. City officials, led by mayors Jerry Brown, Ron Dellums, and Jean Quan, have claimed a commitment to the reforms but have not delivered. A series of weak police chiefs – Richard Word, Wayne Tucker, Anthony Batts, and Howard Jordan – promise action but, at best, drag their feet. Now we face death by a thousand consultants. Oakland would not need William Bratton to develop a crime fighting strategy or a court-appointed Compliance Director to oversee the reforms mandated by the Allen settlement if it had a police chief with the ability to do so. This is not rocket science. In recent years even the police departments in Detroit and Los Angeles have improved both in fighting crime and gaining community trust. Oakland can as well. Change starts at the top.
(3) Involve the community in policing itself. In 1996 Oakland adopted a community policing ordinance (Resolution 72727, amended in 2005 by Resolution 79235) based on the premise that public safety requires a partnership between the police and the community. Mayor Jerry Brown scrapped that plan in favor of a strategy that led to the Riders case and the Allen settlement. The community policing model calls for:
- Community councils organized to improve public safety and advocate for better services, especially for young people.
- Long term assignments of police officers to particular communities so that the police and community can develop relationships based on trust rather than fear.
- The creation of community patrols, outreach workers, recreation activities, church and school partnerships, and other means that involve communities in efforts to improve the lives of their neighbors.
(4) Revitalize the organization and priorities of the OPD. Oakland does need more police, especially on patrol. With approximately 55 neighborhood police patrol beats, adequate staffing for neighborhood policing would require approximately 330 officers, 47 sergeants, 10 lieutenants, and one captain or deputy chief. (Each beat requires five officers to have one on duty at all times, plus a problem solving officer to work with the community on pro-active solutions. Standard leadership protocols require one sergeant for each seven officers, one lieutenant for each seven sergeants, etc.) Staffing this model would double the number of officers currently on patrol at many times of the week.
The department's bureau of investigations should be reorganized from the present model that deploys many small units organized by crime types (homicide, burglary, etc.), each with city-wide responsibility. This model leads to overworked and unsuccessful investigators who typically “solve” less than 30 percent of the homicides committed in Oakland each year. ( East Bay Express, November 14-20. 2012.) Instead, investigators should be deployed locally, perhaps two to five in each beat, to work with patrol and problem solving officers and the community to address serious offenses on a neighborhood basis.
Creating a safe and orderly community is an impossible and in many ways an undesirable goal in a society as sharply divided by race, ethnicity, power, and wealth as the United States is today. But while we strive to create a better society, we can take steps to improve public safety and the conduct of our police in the cities we inhabit today.
Dan Siegel is a civil rights lawyer in Oakland.
New Haven police sergeants complete leadership class
by Rich Scinto
NEW HAVEN —The new wave of recently-promoted police sergeants graduated Friday from the department's inaugural command college and leadership school program.
The program was a combined effort of the University of New Haven, the Police Department and Yale University. It is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, said UNH Associate Professor of Criminal Justice John DeCarlo, who helped organize the program.
“These sergeants will be going in with knowledge of the most cutting-edge police policy,” he said.
Sergeants completed the equivalent of two graduate-level college courses in an intensive two weeks, he said. The entire program lasted 80 hours.
About a dozen academic professors, former police chiefs and others taught the group of 19 sergeants. The group of professors included former New Haven Police Chief Nicholas Pastore, Yale Law School Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology Tom Tyler, as well as former executive-level members of both the New York City and Boston police departments.
The new sergeants were taught a variety of topics ranging from the theoretical to the practical. On the theoretical side, they learned about police legitimacy and legitimacy for those in leadership positions.
They also learned more about theories and practical applications of community policing and leadership skills in a supervisory position.
“What we are trying to affect is a systemic change of policing in the United States,” DeCarlo said.
Much of what the sergeants learned could be classified as problem-oriented policing, said Christopher Sedelmaier, an associate professor and coordinator of the crime analysis program at UNH.
“It takes police and city resources and brings them to bear on a problem within the community,” he said.
There will be similar classes for those who are promoted to the rank of lieutenant and captain. The lesson plans for those classes are being created, DeCarlo said.
Sgt. Marco Francia said he was one of only a few of those recently promoted who was working on the force during the community policing inception in the department during the 1990s under Pastore.
“It was a major change in the department that completely contrasted the old one,” Francia said.
The continuation of community policing and the new program helps sergeants take a sense of ownership in the community, Francia said.
The idea is for department members to think of the neighborhood they work instead of the shift.
The two schools and the Police Department have also teamed up to form a command college that will provide executive-level training for those who are on the path to become high-level members of a police department.
The eventual goal for that program is to become a national certification model for executive-level officers, DeCarlo said.
The sergeant program was paid in part from a Smart Policing grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance under the U.S. Department of Justice. Other professors volunteered time for the program, DeCarlo said.
The class provided its feedback on the program, which will be used to plan future classes.
Some suggestions included devoting more time to certain topics such as corruption prevention and less to some theoretical topics, DeCarlo said. The feedback was constructive. “It's exactly what we expected… now we will try to make the change,” he said of future programs.