August, 2014 - Week 2
The L.A. roots of militarized police
by CARL M. CANNON
Competing theories on curbing crime and keeping the peace in America's teeming municipalities have long preoccupied law enforcement. “Community policing” is one approach. The harder-edged “proactive” policing is another.
Now a new technique has forged itself into the national consciousness – “Ferguson policing,” let's call it.
If Ferguson policing's precepts are murky, perhaps that's because its proponents don't feel obliged to explain it to the media or community activists – cops just arrest them, instead.
Who knew the 53-officer police force in Ferguson, Mo., even had all that military equipment and SWAT gear? Why do they have it? The answers – and how Missouri's highway patrol ended four nights of rioting – take us back in time and into the rich history of the storied, influential and, sometimes, notorious Los Angeles Police Department.
A century ago, about the time Hollywood was establishing itself, civic leaders in the City of the Angels realized they had an actual metropolis on their hands. With the Progressive movement in vogue, reformers fashioned a city charter that diluted the power of political parties, thereby weakening patronage. They set out to create a professional police force not beholden to political bosses, and less corrupt than its counterparts back East.
It took a while to blossom, but it did. The upright Sgt. Joe Friday of “Dragnet” fame was fictional, but he was not a myth. Jack Webb and the department he portrayed on television became a national role model for honest cops. But this virtue came with a price, one hidden from view until some cataclysmic event – the Watts riots in 1965 or the Rodney King drama in 1991-92 – exposed the underlying flaw in Los Angeles' style of government.
The city charter that allowed the department's professionalism to develop also engendered its unaccountability, and its isolation. The autonomy granted the police chief virtually ensured a political rivalry between the chief and mayor, and when South Central went up in flames in 1992, Mayor Tom Bradley and Police Chief Daryl Gates were not on speaking terms.
That estrangement complicated the city's response to the riots, but the problems were long in the making. Watts took place at the end of the 16-year-reign of William H. Parker. Famously incorruptible, Parker was also so emotionally remote that “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, a former LAPD officer, reportedly based Mr. Spock on the chief.
To Parker, the two traits went together. His officers were trained to keep citizens at arms' length, the better – or so Parker thought – to resist temptations for bribes and favoritism. It worked, but only up to a point. Sgt. Friday was famous for his “Just the facts, ma'am” dictum.
The limits of the Parker approach became apparent during Watts, which started over a traffic arrest and escalated into rioting that claimed 34 lives. Parker himself called for support from the California National Guard. Activists found soldiers patrolling the streets of Los Angeles a fitting symbol. They had long considered the LAPD an occupying army. Parker had the opposite reaction: He wanted those toys for his officers.
The rush to militarize was on, epitomized by SWAT units. Their deployments have increasingly come under scrutiny when they do things like storm minor drug offenders' houses in the middle of the night, shooting pets and terrorizing spouses with automatic weapons – sometimes at the wrong addresses – or when they've ponderously established perimeters around active crime scenes while victims were being shot in homes or schools.
They've also been used as crowd control, even during peaceful demonstrations, which is what happened in Ferguson. Some consider this a misapplication of SWAT, but the real problem is deeper: this was its original function, developed in Delano, Calif., by police looking to control – some would say intimidate – Cesar Chavez' striking United Farm Workers. It was Daryl Gates, a Parker protégé, who liked what Delano was doing. By 1967, Los Angeles had its own SWAT units.
After the department's SWAT team prevailed in violent confrontations with Black Panthers and SLA guerrillas – and with help from a Hollywood television series named “S.W.A.T.” and generous Justice Department grants – thousands of U.S. police departments began buying the high-powered weapons, body armor and other SWAT accoutrements.
At the same time, under the tenure of Chief Ed Davis, the LAPD embraced “community policing.” It started with the “Basic Car Plan,” which divided L.A. into management districts and assigned patrolmen to each one. Basic Car was supplemented by Neighborhood Watch programs that brought officers into private homes for brainstorming sessions on reducing crime.
Davis supplemented these innovations with “Team Policing,” assigning lieutenants, detectives and juvenile officers to specific neighborhoods. The results were impressive. As crime rates spiked nationally, they remained static in Los Angeles.
In the 1990s, New York City took Team Policing to another level. The NYPD divided the city into grids, held police commanders accountable for their sectors, encouraged aggressive stop-and-frisk policies and generally projected an aggressive stance.
Whatever the relative merits of community policing versus proactive policing, at the time of the Rodney King trial, the LAPD under Daryl Gates wasn't really doing either one, partly because it was woefully understaffed.
Fifty of Ferguson's 53 police officers are white, in a town two-thirds black. In response to civic unrest after last week's police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, those officers turned out in force, in all their riot gear and SWAT splendor, while the brass stonewalled the community, and street cops arrested journalists.
But if Chief Parker's ghost still lives, so does the spirit of Ed Davis. This guardian angel made his appearance Thursday, in the form of Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, a Ferguson native. Tasked with quelling tempers, Johnson walked with marchers, hugged them, and talked openly to reporters.
“I grew up here, and this is currently my community and home,” Johnson said. “When I see a young lady cry because of fear of this uniform, that's a problem. We've got to solve that.”
Diversity a key ingredient in effective policing, area chiefs say
by Mark Zaretsky
NEW HAVEN >> Greater New Haven police chiefs can't tell you for sure whether having a more diverse police force might have avoided a Ferguson, Missouri, officer's shooting of unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown or lessened Ferguson's shocking problems in its wake.
But they're pretty unanimous on one thing: having a police force that reflects the community as much as possible — and which has built relationships with the community before a crisis occurs — is very important and does make a difference.
“I think it's hugely important,” said New Haven Chief of Police Dean Esserman, who runs the area's largest police department in one of its most diverse cities. “I think the department needs to reflect the community it serves” and that “includes giving young people the model of seeing people like them in uniform.”
But beyond demographics, “How you police matters ...” Esserman said. “It's about fairness and dignity and trust.”
Note: Emma Jones, whose son Malik was shot and killed by East Haven police officer Robert Flodquist in 1997, shares her thoughts on Ferguson shooting Monday in the New Haven Register.
Chiefs John Karajanis Jr. of West Haven, Thomas Wydra of Hamden and Brent Larrabee of East Haven, along with Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson and former Branford chief John DeCarlo — now a respected professor and researcher who runs the Police Studies program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City — all offered similar assessments, with a few wrinkles.
“I think it's very important that a police department's workforce mirror the community in some way, shape or form,” said Wydra.
“There are people in our community who like to know that the police department looks like them,” and “I think that gives the department legitimacy,” he said.
“I believe it's very important to have a department that has demographics that are reflective of your community,” said Karajanis. “You certainly want your officers to be role models” and “there also are a lot of communities that are uncomfortable with police officers,” he said.
Having officers of the same ethnicity as the people they police can help break through cultural and language barriers “and play critical roles” in forging positive relationships with the community, Karajanis said.
DeCarlo, a police officer and chief for a total of 34 years who has been interviewed by national press as events in Ferguson have unfolded, said “it's important for police departments to be demographically representative of the communities it serves.”
It's also “very important for police to have a cultural understanding of the communities that they are expected to police in ...a nd the more that they can understand and the more of a personal relationship that police can foster in their community,” the better, he said.
“If the community is faceless to the community and the community is faceless to the police, then it's easier to have a poor relationship,” DeCarlo said.
The three tenets he said he's based his policing on are to prevent crime instead of react to crime. work to lessen and mitigate people's fear of crime and to increase people's quality of life, “and that's what we found the community policing section did.”
Policing “is not just law enforcement. It's much more than that,” DeCarlo said. “It's politics, it's standing on street corners.”
It's getting to know communities and the people in them to reduce the amount of “us” and “them” and bridge the gaps between them, he said.
New Haven, with a population of 130,660, according to the 2010 census is 42.6 percent white, 35.4 percent black, 27.4 percent Hispanic or Latino and 4.6 percent Asian. The New Haven Police Department has 426 sworn officers. Of those, 56 percent are white (49 percent white male), 23 percent are black, 19 percent are Hispanic and 1 percent are Asian.
Fifteen percent of the department's officers are female.
And in the New Haven's department's upper echelons, the four assistant chiefs include one white man, one black man and two Hispanic men, and the 18 lieutenants include eight white men, four white women, four black men, one black woman and one Hispanic man.
In Ferguson, a community of 21,000 people, about two-thirds of the residents are black. Of the police force's 53 members, just three officers are black.
Even before police showed up in military-style uniforms and riot gear and rubber bullets began flying, civil rights groups have complained in the past that police in St. Louis County racially profiled blacks, arrested a disproportionate number of blacks and had racist hiring practices.
“The fallacy is to think that police officers are strangers in the community and are anonymous, blue-uniformed” outsiders, said Esserman, who teaches at Yale Law School, sits on the national board of The Police Foundation and has worked hard to revive community-based policing in the city that began in the 1990s under former Chief Nick Pastore.
Esserman was assistant chief for much of that time, then moved on to other communities, including a job as chief in Providence, R.I., before returning to New Haven after 18 years.
“The reality is that police officers are of the community ... and who's in that uniform matters” as much as what they do, he said.
Asked what he thinks went wrong in Ferguson, Esserman said, “It's a fundamental mistake and it started before the tragedy occurred.
“The fundamental mistake is that you don't build relationships in a crisis ...” Esserman said. “A police officer who is anonymous in a community is a relationship in a crisis ... An officer on a beat shouldn't be a stranger in a community.”
In fact, “the fundamental concept of community-based policing” is, “it's all about partnership. It's all about relationships,” Esserman said. “It turns out that how you police matters as much as results ... The police in many ways need to develop legitimacy ... The symbol of the badge of authority is not enough.
Diversity “is a building block.” to build legitimacy, Esserman said.
He said he didn't know “if the three officers of color” in Ferguson “have a different relationship with the community just because of the color of their skin.”
But strong, trusting relationships with the community are an important part of effective policing, Esserman said.
“You don't have to love and trust the police department. You just have to be able to love and trust your local police officer.”
Diversity is not just important in the overall mix of officers, “but in command structure,” Esserman said. “So of the three officers of color of the 53 on the Ferguson police department, are any of them in the command structure?”
It's just as important for women — generally about half the community — to be represented on the police force, he said.
“Three of our 10 district managers in the New Haven Police Department are women and they are well-respected leaders in the police department among the rank-and-file and the community ...” Esserman said. “So I think diversity matters...I think that the community needs to see themselves reflected in the police force.”
The West Haven Police Department has 10 women, eight black officers and four Hispanic officers among its 118 or 119 sworn officers. They police a community that is 60.6 percent white, 18.2 percent black, 15.6 percent Hispanic and 3.6 percent Asian, according to census figures.
“I think we've done a fairly good job in West Haven ...” said Chief Karajanis. “I'm happy with that and I'd like to see even more.”
Hamden currently has 105 sworn officers, of whom seven are female, seven are black, five are Hispanic and two are Asian — all but the latter an increase since Wydra took over in 2006, when Hamden had four female officers, three black officers, two Hispanic officers and two Asian officers, said Wydra.
They police a community that is 64 percent white, 19.5 percent black, 8.7 percent Hispanic and 5.4 percent Asian.
“Hamden has 61,000 residents and the census tells us, from experience, that it's a melting pot,” Wydra said. “I think we're better when we have people who look like the people we're serving.”
In East Haven, which has been forced to make major changes as a result of 2012 consent decree that settled a U.S. Department of Justice probe into alleged profiling and mistreatment of Hispanic residents, Chief of Police Brent Larrabee said diversity is an important goal, although not the only goal.
“It's important if the officers you hire are good,” said Larrabee, former chief of the Stamford Police Department. He was the one brought in to make those changes in East Haven.
“We've always tried to work toward that goal of being reflective of our community,” he said. “I believe it sends a message to the community that you're open to diversity, you're open to other people's thoughts. You're open to other people's cultures.”
Currently with 47 sworn officers (52 are authorized), East Haven now has four black officers — two men and two women — two Hispanic officers, including one man and one woman, and one white female officer, Larrabee said.
It also has two officers with Arabic roots, including one born in Iraq and one born in Morocco, and a third officer who is not Hispanic but speaks Spanish fluently, Larrabee said.
Recruiting officers from diverse backgrounds “is a little easier in larger departments” in cities with “larger minority communities,” Larrabee said. “Their candidate pools are usually larger.”
He looks at Ferguson, however, and what he sees, with a 53-member department that has just three black officers in a community that is two-thirds black, is pretty much average among American police departments, he said.
But Larrabee said there is much he doesn't know doesn't know about the situation in Ferguson and greater St. Louis.
For one thing, “I don't know what they've done to recruit,” Larrabee said. “This is going to be something that's going to take a period of time for all the facts to come out.”
But Larrabee is not a fan of police militarization, such as that displayed by St. Louis County forces that responded to protests that followed the shooting of Brown.
“Militarization of policing, I'm not a proponent of that,” Larrabee said. “When you start that kind of approach, I think it makes more people standoffish.”
As a mayor, Hamden Mayor Jackson said he believes that diversity of language and life experience — along with solid training — are important components of good policing.
“So much of police work is communication capacity,” Jackson said, and “training has to be a massive component of any police department in America.
“I'm not saying that if you're on a block that's 60 percent African American that you have to be an African American,” he said.
But “I think it's important for people to know that the men and women who sign up and swear in to put their lives on the line for the community are not an occupying force, which is why the processes around hiring and promotion and development...in the command structure of any police department” are “really important.”
According to DeCarlo, overall, “we have not been able to make police departments reflective, either gender-wise or ethnically, except in major urban areas.”
Yet, “we have been able to bring crime down,” he said.
In order to be effective, a police department “doesn't have to be totally diverse because we have been able to make positive changes to improve policing ...” DeCarlo said. “But taking the next step will continue to improve policing.”
It's important “for police not to be an ‘out group'....” he said. “We still feel comfortable with people like us. If we're going to be policing people and asking them to tell us stuff ... we want to be as much like them as possible...
“It's important to be diverse because each culture has had it's own pain and its own troubles and it's important to understand them...” DeCarlo said. “Understanding something intellectually is a big plus, but understanding something on a cultural level” is even more important.
“I think that militarization is the wrong way to go for police,” he said.
“When we look at successful police departments, they don't operate like the military ...” DeCarlo said. “Police are not soldiers and they shouldn't try to be soldiers.
“Soldiers have enemies,” DeCarlo said. “Police have communities.”
Police defend use of military-style equipment
Civil rights debate grows amid Ferguson protests
by Milton J. Valencia
The photographs and video images of armored vehicles and billowing tear gas, of explosions, of officers donning gas masks and armed with assault rifles made Ferguson, Mo., look like a battleground.
“This is America, not a war zone,” US Senator Elizabeth Warren said in a tweet, echoing concerns of public officials and civil rights groups from across the country.
The level of firepower that law enforcement officials demonstrated over the last week in response to the protests in Missouri has become a growing concern of civil rights groups, which see it as the militarization of local law enforcement agencies that are supposed to build community partnerships.
“It is similar to what we're seeing nationwide, that there is an increased militarization of our state and local police officers, in terms of the tactics they're using and the equipment they're using,” said Jessie Rossman, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
Hundreds of people have stormed the streets of Missouri to protest the questionable police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, and police said they had to quell violent rioting and looting at the onset, but the deployment of military-style equipment has reignited the debate over the arming of state and local police departments.
Local law enforcement officials can obtain surplus military equipment from the Department of Defense, or can seek grants from the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice, among other agencies, to purchase equipment.
Massachusetts State Police Colonel Timothy Alben defended the use of federal programs that transfer surplus military equipment to local departments. He said he could not comment on the police action in Missouri, but said State Police have had access to critical military equipment, such as specialized all-terrain vehicles, for use in search and rescue operations and during natural disasters.
“This is the type of equipment State Police or local agencies would never be able to get their hands on if they had to pay for it,” Alben said. “I think every police department of any size in this country has to have a tactical response capability for any event.”
Civil rights groups argue that local departments have increasingly obtained specialized military equipment for use in day-to-day, localized law enforcement operations such as community policing and in drug arrests. And, the weapons have become more available under terrorism responses since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Rossman said many local communities aren't even aware of some of the weaponry their departments are obtaining because there is never any public input period.
“I think what we're seeing is that communities are outraged when they realize they don't know what's being done with their tax dollars,” she said.
In Massachusetts alone, 82 police departments and other law enforcement agencies between 1994 and 2009 received more than 1,000 weapons from the Department of Defense, including 486 fully automatic M-16 machine guns and 546 semiautomatic M-14s, according to an ACLU state study released in June. The report, “Our Homes Are Not Battlefields: Reversing the Militarization and Federalization of Local Police in Massachusetts,” recommends several reforms, such as better oversight in the deployment of certain equipment.
The study found that while the State Police received the most weapons, small, suburban communities such as Wellfleet and Duxbury also obtained machine guns.
The town of West Springfield, with a population of just over 28,000 people, received two grenade launchers from the Department of Defense, according to the report. And police departments received “peacekeeper armored vehicles,” hundreds of other military-style vehicles, and large marine craft.
The Metro Law Enforcement Council, a regional SWAT team from the Boston area, maintains its own BearCat armored vehicle, which it used in drug arrests. The agency also applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for a drone license.
The report also documents the application of military-style policing in a neighborhood in Springfield and the militarization of SWAT teams in drug raids, with flash-bang grenades and battering rams. In one tragic example, a heavily armed police officer fatally shot 68-year-old Eurie Stamps, a grandfather, during a drug raid in Framingham in 2011. Stamps was not the target of the raid, and the officer accidentally shot him while subduing him.
The local police chief later disbanded the SWAT team; a review showed that the team lacked certain training.
Alben argued that every local department should have some type of tactical response ability, “whether that be for an event like the Boston Marathon, or the school shootings across this country.”
He also noted the prevalence of high-powered assault rifles and shotguns that police encounter on an increasingly routine basis demonstrates the need for the specialized police raids.
Alben agreed with the need for regular, updated training for the use of the specialized equipment but pointed out that departments participate in regional teams, such as the Metro Law Enforcement Council.
He said each department should be able to determine its own needs but would not say whether small departments have the need for equipment like tear gas.
The Amherst Police Department was criticized last year for the use of tear gas to disrupt college student celebrations after the Red Sox World Series victory.
John Collins, general counsel for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said he could not comment on how police in Missouri handled the protests, but defended the deployment of specialized equipment when needed.
“If you have a situation where it's appropriate to use that, where things have gotten out of control and you're putting police officers in harm's way, a lot of things are appropriate,” he said. “That's the reason we have training, that's the reason we have policies.”
Police bring 'shock and awe' to America's Heartland
by Walter Rubel
Last month, I wrote about a Department of Defense program that has transferred about $4.3 billion worth of weapons and equipment designed for and used on foreign battlefields, including Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles, to community police and sheriff's departments here and throughout the nation. We saw that battlefield gear put to use Wednesday night in the neighborhoods of Ferguson, Missouri.
The trouble started eight days ago when a then-unnamed Ferguson Police officer fired a still-unreleased number of shots, killing an unarmed 18-year-old black kid named Michael Brown. The events leading up to the shooting are a matter of great dispute. But, like the officer's name and the number of shots fired, it will all come out in time. There are two independent investigations taking place — one by local officials and the other by the federal Department of Justice. I am confident that at least one will yield the truth.
Black residents of Ferguson are, understandably, not as patient, and gathered to protest last Sunday night. Most of that protest was legal and nonviolent, but some was not. A gas station/convenience store was burned and several stores were looted. The next day, the parents of Michael Brown and the leaders of the protest were united and adamant in their demands that the looting and violence stop, even while the protests continue. And, for the most part, it had.
Instead of investigating that crime and bringing the criminals responsible to justice, police called in reinforcements from surrounding law enforcement agencies — all well-equipped with Department of Defense hand-me-downs straight from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The show of force was obvious Wednesday afternoon as police blocked the streets with armored vehicles, officers posted on the roofs with tripod-mounted rifles aimed at unarmed protesters.
The trouble started after sundown. Protesters had been warned by police to get off the streets before dark — not a curfew, mind you, but merely a friendly request "for their own safety."
They didn't heed that request. And for the next several hours the neighborhoods of Ferguson near the spot where Brown had been killed were blanketed by thick clouds of tear gas and the sounds of stun grenades.
The provocation for that response was, according to reports, glass bottles hurled at an armored vehicle designed to protect its occupants from land mines.
Watching live Internet and television reports from the scene, it looked for all the world like the opening days of the Iraq War.
It wasn't, of course. I fully appreciate the enormous difference between what happened in Ferguson and what happened in Fallujah.
I also recognize that the practice of police responding to protesters with an overzealous use of force predates the recent Department of Defense program to equip small law enforcement agencies as if they were small armies.
But I do think that when peace officers are dressed head to toe in battle armor designed for war, when they roll up onto the scene in a mine-resistant armored vehicle designed for war and then arm themselves with weapons and tactical equipment designed for war, it does not lend itself to a peaceful solution.
For the protesters fleeing from the tear gas and rubber bullets, it must have felt like something akin to war. Beyond those protesters, for the other residents of Ferguson, the massive militarized response to unarmed protests has likely done little to enhance the notion of community policing. Nor have all those tear gas cannisters exploding in their front lawns.
Tanks? Grenade launchers? Police stocking up on military's gear giveaway
WASHINGTON – From California to Connecticut and several states in between, local police departments have been steadily arming themselves over the years with billions of dollars' worth of military-grade equipment -- including grenade launchers, helicopters and machine guns.
The materiel comes from a U.S. military program that, until this week, received little public attention. But after St. Louis police used heavy-duty equipment in putting down riots and protests following the shooting death of an unarmed teen, new questions have been raised about where this gear is coming from.
The flood of equipment being funneled from the Department of Defense to local police departments traces back to a program created in the 1990s. The excess property program, known as 1033, was initially created to help state and local authorities in the war against drugs, and help unused military equipment find a home -- as opposed to being needlessly destroyed.
But the flow of equipment from the military to towns across America has spiked since the 9/11 attacks. And it's become a thorny topic among critics who say local authorities shouldn't be outfitted with heavy machinery originally bought by the government to fight actual wars and track terrorists overseas.
In Missouri, police used some of this gear to respond to looters and protesters following Saturday's police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Missouri public safety officials confirmed that six .45-caliber pistols, 12 rifles, one helicopter, one explosive ordinance disposal robot, one industrial-strength face shield and two night-vision goggles were among the items local law enforcement agencies received from the feds.
On the surface, the program is a good deal for cash-strapped local governments and one the Pentagon calls "useful." The 1033 program allows the secretary of Defense to “transfer, without charge, excess U.S. Department of Defense personal property (supplies and equipment) to state and local law enforcement agencies,” according to the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center.
Local enforcement agencies can look through an online catalog to purchase items like small arms and tents. Getting a tank or military aircraft requires a small amount of extra work -- authorities need to fill out a one-page request form, specifying if they prefer the vehicle with wheels or tank tracks.
Delivery can take up to 14 days.
In its first year, the military transferred about $1 million worth of equipment. Since then, the 1033 program has transferred more than $4.3 billion in equipment. Last year, it gave away close to a half-billion dollars' worth of equipment to local law enforcement, according to a June report from the American Civil Liberties Union.
While some say the program helps cash-strapped local forces, others argue that sending small communities a cache of weapons may not be the best idea.
The police chief in Keene, N.H., for example, requested an armored vehicle to patrol the town's “Pumpkin Festival and other dangerous situations,” according to a report in The Economist. Keene has a population of around 23,000.
Authorities in Fargo, N.D., asked the government for, and received, an armored personnel-carrier with a rotating turret.
The sheriff's department in Montgomery County, Texas, owns a pilotless surveillance drone similar to the kind the military uses to track terrorists in the tribal regions of Pakistan.
According to the ACLU report, Arizona has received the largest collection of weapons to date. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office was gifted 10 helicopters, five armored vehicles and 120 assault rifles, according to the ACLU report.
Community Policing – How important is it?
by Larry Lawton
What is community policing? Community policing is when the police work with the community in a friendly open way to show the community they are human and want to help, not just arrest people. Community policing is the best way to fight crime. If the police have the community working with them, instead of against them, it makes for a great community with less crime.
Community policing affects all aspects of a city. Study after study shows good community policing reduces crime. With less crime people want to move to the city and that helps the tax base. Businesses are more apt to move their business to a place they know their employees will be treated right. People living in harmony is good for everyone.
There are a percentage of people who will never like the police and there are a percentage of people who will always support the police. Let's work on the middle percentage who can go either way. These are people who had bad experiences with law enforcement, but are good people.
Here's two examples of people I know. My mother, here is an 80 year old woman who is the nicest, most law abiding citizen you will ever meet, but doesn't trust the police. My mom was a nurse for over fifty years and had some bad experiences with police and patients. Mom respects them, but doesn't trust them. My girlfriend who is a teacher, born in Iowa, a country girl, but had a few bad experiences with the police and she is now scared to even call them.
The two examples above are not uncommon. Here is why it is bad. My mother speaks to her friends while bowling, on the phone, etc., and my girlfriend speaks to everyone at work, at parties, etc. If people like my mom and girlfriend speak negative of the police, it becomes a snowball rolling down a hill effect.
Then you get a small percentage of police officers who get bitter and have a, I don't care attitude. That is a recipe for disaster. The US against THEM mentality.
It's all about leadership, training, spending dollars wisely. City leaders and chiefs of police need to think outside the box.
If the Trayvon Martin cases has taught us anything it is that the police need the community and community needs the police. Communications and better community policing would have went a long way in Sanford.
Here is community policing at its best….
While at the courthouse the other day, I was speaking with a few police officers outside a courtroom waiting on a case. As we were talking an 89 year old lady walked by and started talking to us about getting a ticket for not having her handicap placard up. She was obviously confused and needed direction. Her handicap placard fell on the dashboard and she was wondering what to do.
It was quite obvious the lady was handicapped and she was a very nice lady. The officer explained that the person who wrote the ticket probably didn't see the placard. You can see that explaining to her how to fight the ticket was very difficult. While I was talking to the lady the officer went away for a second, made a phone call and came back and told the lady to head to the police station and they were going to expunge the ticket.
To see this ladies eyes light up and her grab the officer and say “You are a wonderful young man” she was so happy and thankful. That made me smile so much.
Yes, any judge would have dismissed the ticket but this officer made that lady a police supporter instead of a police hater. You could see her attitude change. It was all how he communicated with this lady.
Larry Lawton is available to police departments and organizations interested in community policing. CLICK HERE or call 321-327-2921 and speak with Larry on how to help your police department.
Here is community policing at its worst….
A resident in an upscale apartment complex calls the police after an off-duty police officer contracted by the complex bangs on her door due to a noise complaint that was falsely placed against her. She wouldn't open the door because she didn't know it was a police officer at the door, so she rightfully called 911 and asked for assistance.
Three uniformed police officers came and didn't want to take the time to listen to the lady who called 911. The person who called the police felt intimidated to the point she was scared if she said anything else she would be arrested.
If the police officers understood community policing they would have made the woman who called them feel comfortable, secure and safe. Instead, they made a good person feel threatened, unsafe and never wanting to call the police again. It is sad because a great community policing opportunity was wasted.
Larry Lawton is the founder and president of Lawton911 and the Reality Check Program DVD. He is the author of Gangster Redemption and works with police departments and community policing around the country. For more information on how Lawton911 can help your police department, city or business, contact email@example.com
On August 16, 2013, Larry Lawton will be getting sworn-in as an honorary police officer for the city of Lake Saint Louis, Missouri.
Larry Lawton is available to police departments and organizations interested in community policing. CLICK HERE or call 321-327-2921 and speak with Larry on how to help your police department.
Police need to be peacekeepers, too
by Evan Hoffman
We often think of peacekeepers as those blue-helmeted soldiers serving in far-off lands overseas to keep warring parties separated in order to prevent further bloodshed. However, it is important to remember that the police here at home serve dual purposes. One of those purposes is to enforce the law. This is, of course, a good thing as it helps to keep our streets safe.
Another important role for the police is that of community peacekeeper. Police are often the first responders to rising tensions in neighborhoods and often after serving for many years in the same areas they may develop personal relationships with the residents. This means they may become aware of potential problems long before they surface and will therefore have sufficient time to prevent violence from erupting.
They can also work closely with the residents to identify and implement community-appropriate solutions to existing and newly-emerging problems. In other words, they are helping to keep the peace and this is a form of community policing.
Community policing, simply defined, is an approach to policing that recognizes and encourages various different community partners to work together with the police in order to create safe and healthy communities. There are numerous models of community policing to follow and it can take many different forms based on the exact needs of the community. For example, police can serve on neighborhood task forces and be represented in other community groups, launch community youth engagement programs and partner with local social agencies for crime prevention through social development.
There are numerous other practical advantages of community policing besides the ones already mentioned. Some police departments that have made even relatively modest investments in community policing have seen great returns in terms of lower crime rates, faster response times, greater integration of services and having the ability to be proactive rather than reactive in fighting crime.
Police, community speak out about relationship between the two
by Gino Vicci
SAGINAW, MI (WNEM) - Police finally identified the officer, Darren Wilson, in the shooting death of an unarmed teenager.
Moments later they said Michael Brown was a suspect in a convenience store robbery just minutes before his confrontation with police, but the police chief confirmed the officer did not know Brown was a robbery suspect at the time.
Now many are wondering what could have been done to prevent Brown's death.
"More communities need to work together on the prevention of these types of things," said pastor Larry Camel.
Camel, founder of Parishioners on Patrol, said he understands this is no easy task and that's why part of his mission as a community leader is to teach kids exactly what to do if stopped by police. The goal is to avoid confrontations that end in death.
"So when you see one you know how to communicate," Camel said.
He said the same goes for police.
"One thing I like about Saginaw is they have community policing," Camel said.
Community policing launched earlier this year and it's goal, according to Sgt. Reggie Williams, is to ease tensions among residents and officers patrolling the streets.
"We don't want anything to happen bad on either side," Williams said.
Williams tries to bring each side closer together by soliciting feedback on social media. Williams said he believes this type of engagement is directly responsible for the drastic drop in homicides and violent crimes in general.
"We've had a relatively peaceful summer this year compared to last," Williams said.
Last year ended with 27 homicides, and there have been five so far this year.
Williams admits tragedy can't always be avoided, so if it does happen that relationship with the community becomes even more invaluable.
"Because if you have one, that would prevent further outburst like rioting, like what's happening in Ferguson," Williams said.
As for Camel, he said he's personally witnessed a major step forward in his community, but there is much more work to do.
"You have to change the culture of things which takes time," Camel said.
Law enforcement: Trust, transparency key to connecting with community
by Dave Marquis
SACRAMENTO - It was three years ago that Sacramento County sheriff's Sgt. Cary Trzcinski realized he needed to do more.
"I knew we had to bring sports; we had to bring mentoring and the sheriff's department together," Trzcinski said.
The Sheriff's Activities League program, which started in 2011, has dedicated deputies working full-time to mentor kids and to win their trust.
"I was a gang detective, narcotics. I've been on both sides," Trzcinski said. "When times are bad, you can't just arrest everybody. We have to have a different approach."
His boss, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones agrees.
"It's critical. And it's not only critical for right now, for today, but it's setting up success for years to come," Jones said as he reflected on the violence in Ferguson, Mo.
The violence erupted after a Ferguson police officer shot and killed of an unarmed black teenager Saturday night, leading to three days of protests and clashes with police officers.
"You have to put in the time and have those relationships before something like that happens," Jones said.
In Stockton, Police Chief Eric Jones also agrees.
"We as a police department must be legitimate in the eyes of the community that we serve and so I want the community to have faith and trust the Stockton Police Department," Eric Jones said Thursday.
Reflecting on a recent shootout with bank robbers that left a hostage and two suspects dead, Jones said having the faith and support of the Stockton community helped police at their job.
"For us to better police. We get more information if the community trusts us," Eric Jones said.
Community-oriented policing, Eric Jones said, is about getting to know people.
"That's what community policing is, is they want to feel comfortable with the police department, feel like that have a voice with the police department," Eric Jones said. "Getting to know the community, stopping by at the park, getting out of the car, talking to the kids and the families."
In Sacramento, Sheriff Scott Jones said agencies and individual deputies will make mistakes, but they must acknowledge them and show the community they can learn from them. In his experience, it is better to get involved with youth early and build a bridge.
"Intuitively, in our hearts, we know that early intervention is the key," Scott Jones said. "We've touched thousands of young people's lives."
Know the signs; Suicide Prevention
by RENEE BRONAUGH
The sudden death of Robin Williams has left people wondering if they truly know what the signs of suicide are. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately one million people die each year from suicide.
For those who aren't in the grips of suicidal depression and despair, it's difficult for people to understand what drives so many individuals to take their own lives. But a suicidal person is in so much pain that he or she can see no other option.
Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. They are blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness, and isolation, a suicidal person can't see any way of finding relief except through death. But despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. They wish there was an alternative to committing suicide, but they just can't see one.
The St. Francois County Mental Health Board works to advance quality prevention, treatment and recovery services for adults, youth and children with mental illness and/or alcohol and drug abuse issues. Mental Health Board President Candy Zarcone said they recently received a grant to fund a new website that has been up and running for two weeks now.
“The website offers several things that is accessible to everyone who visits the site,” said Zarcone. “Sometimes a crisis you face in life as well as physical health conditions both can leave an individual in need of a support group. So the support group lists are for all areas of supports groups in the area since they can be so hard to find.”
Zarcone said Mental Health First Aid is designed in a way like CPR and physical first aid and it's to help people in the early stages.
“The mental health first aid is to help you get professional help in the early stages,” said Zarcone. “It teaches you how to access a person and know if someone needs professional help and what to offer them. If you don't know what to look for you are not going to recognize it.”
The best way to minimize the risk of suicide is to know the risk factors and to recognize the warning signs of suicide. Take these signs seriously. Know how to respond to them. It could save someone's life.
Major warning signs for suicide include talking about killing or harming oneself, talking or writing a lot about death or dying, and seeking out things that could be used in a suicide attempt, such as weapons and drugs. These signals are even more dangerous if the person has a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, suffers from alcohol dependence, has previously attempted suicide, or has a family history of suicide.
A more subtle but equally dangerous warning sign of suicide is hopelessness. Studies have found that hopelessness is a strong predictor of suicide. People who feel hopeless may talk about "unbearable" feelings, predict a bleak future, and state that they have nothing to look forward to.
Other warning signs that point to a suicidal mind frame include dramatic mood swings or sudden personality changes, such as going from outgoing to withdrawn or well-behaved to rebellious. A suicidal person may also lose interest in day-to-day activities, neglect his or her appearance, and show big changes in eating or sleeping habits.
These signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide. Risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss or change. Take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. It's not just a warning sign that the person is thinking about suicide—it's a cry for help.
Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult for anyone. But if you're unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You can't make a person suicidal by showing that you care. In fact, giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.
If a friend or family member tells you that he or she is thinking about death or suicide, it's important to evaluate the immediate danger the person is in. Those at the highest risk for committing suicide in the near future have a specific suicide plan, the means to carry out the plan, a time set for doing it, and an intention to do it.
If a friend or family member is suicidal, the best way to help is by offering an empathetic, listening ear. Let your loved one know that he or she is not alone and that you care. Don't take responsibility, however, for making your loved one well. You can offer support, but you can't get better for a suicidal person. He or she has to make a personal commitment to recovery.
It takes a lot of courage to help someone who is suicidal. Witnessing a loved one dealing with thoughts about ending his or her own life can stir up many difficult emotions. As you're helping a suicidal person, don't forget to take care of yourself. Find someone that you trust—a friend, family member, clergyman, or counselor—to talk to about your feelings and get support of your own.
The Behavioral Health Department of Mercy Hospital Jefferson is hosting their 4th Annual Suicide Prevention Conference on Sept. 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The free seminar is for members of the community, educators, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, suicide survivors and anyone whose life has been impacted by suicide. Registration closes Sept. 5 at 11 p.m.
For more information on St. Francois County Mental Health visit the website at sfcmentalhealth.com and to contact the local Crisis hotline call 1-800-811-4760 or 314-469-6644 or 314-469-3638 (TTY - for the Hearing Impaired). All call are free of charge. For more information on suicide prevention or to seek help visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Robin Williams' Death Opens Wounds for Those Affected by Suicide
by Meghan Holohan
Faced with nonstop coverage of Robin Williams' death, Eric Marcus did what many who have survived a loved one's suicide have been unable to do: He turned away.
He didn't watch the tributes, relive the comedy, read any of the gruesome details of Williams' suicide at 63. “No point in torturing myself,” Marcus said.
When a loved one dies from suicide, normal feelings of grief and loss become more complicated. And high visibility suicides like Robin Williams' can bring these emotions flooding back.
“One of the things about suicides is often it is a surprise. It is hard to track another person's emotional life,” says Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University.
Marcus was 12 on the Sunday morning in 1970 when the phone rang and his mother answered, shooing him from the room. He overheard two key details—pills and hospital. His 44-year-old father, Irwin, who had lived with bipolar disorder since he was 18, had attempted to kill himself. Three days later, Irwin died.
“It was the single most traumatic thing that happened to me in my life,” says Marcus, the senior director for loss and bereavement programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Many things compounded the loss: Marcus didn't go to therapy, his family didn't discuss it and he instead heard platitudes, such as “Now you're the man of the family.”
“That really [messes] you up,” Marcus says, who also wrote a book about it, “Why Suicide? Questions & Answers about Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and Coping with the Suicide of Someone You Know.”
About 38,000 Americans kill themselves annually, leaving behind friends and families that must grapple with the loss. Losing a loved one to suicide causes people to experience many complex feelings, including extreme anger. Many wonder why a loved one would do it or why they couldn't help.
“With suicide, the anger becomes much more commonly predominant,” says Dr. Ron Diamond, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.
Survivors frequently experience what's known as complicated grief, prolonged mourning where a person feels almost obsessed with the death.
“That is somewhat more common in survivors of suicide. They can't move on and feel very preoccupied about the death,” says Dr. David Brent, Endowed Chair in Suicide Studies and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Survivors also feel guilty and blame themselves. Many believe that if they said one thing differently or if they agreed to go to dinner with the person or if they were better friends, the person might not have committed suicide.
Marcus blamed his uncle and grandparents for Irwin's death, but he also thought he was at fault. As his parents fought more, Marcus sometimes wished his father would die.
“I felt responsible because I wished my father dead,” he says.
In many cases, survivors could only have done so much to prevent the suicide. People who are suicidal need treatment, which might include both therapy and drugs. While loved ones can and should urge suicidal people to get help, sometimes there is only so much that one person can do.
“Guilt is never rational,” says Diamond.
After a suicide, some people do not know what to say to the grieving family. The stigma surrounding depression and suicide feels so powerful that some people would rather avoid a funeral than address it.
“If someone dies of cancer, the response of the community of friends, family is to gather around and provide support,” says Diamond. “Suicide is often embarrassing and people don't want to talk about it … family members are much more likely to be isolated.”
Irwin's friends and family shunned Marcus' mother and siblings because many thought she was to blame. His uncle couldn't see Marcus because he looked too much like Irwin. And the family certainly felt embarrassed.
“My father's suicide was a secret and I was told what everyone else was told, was that he died of pneumonia. I knew everyone was lying,” says Marcus. He didn't tell his friends that his dad died because he didn't want to lie.
Being alone makes it much harder for survivors to come to terms with the suicide. Because losing someone to suicide is a unique experience, both Diamond and Brent suggest that friends and family join a support group, such as Survivors of Suicide.
“[Don't] allow yourself to be socially isolated,” says Diamond. “Make sure you are reaching out to other people in your family and friendship group and talk about it.”
Another reason seeking support is essential — people with a first degree relative, a sibling, parent, or child, who commits suicide are four to six times more likely to kill themselves, says Brent. Even adoptive children who have never met their biological parents are more likely to be suicidal if their biological parents are.
“I always feared the possibility of killing myself because of what my father did,” Marcus says.
The reasons suicide runs in families remain murky. Mental illnesses runs in families, meaning siblings are more likely to both experience depression, which could lead suicide. Or perhaps when a loved one kills herself, the idea is introduced—suicide becomes a possibility.
“It now says this is an acceptable behavior or something that can be considered,” says Diamond.
While this might seem dire, both Diamond and Brent agree that there are extremely effective treatments for mental illnesses and substance abuse. “There is help; there is support; people shouldn't suffer alone,” says Brent.
December marks the 44th anniversary of Irwin's death—he's been dead for as long as he lived. Marcus has spent much of adult life considering his father's suicide, but he believes he is in a good place.
“[I] worked very hard to protect myself emotionally … to make sure that I never ended up in the same situation,” he says. “I really love being alive.”
For help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Center Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or see this list of resources.
Ferguson, Missouri, Police to Release Name of Officer in Fatal Shooting
by ABC NEWS
Police in Ferguson, Missouri, plan to release the name today of the officer who shot and killed an unarmed teen -- a shooting that sparked days of clashes in the streets of the St. Louis suburb.
Chief Thomas Jackson told ABC News that authorities will meet later this morning to figure out the best way to release the officer's name. Police previously declined to identify the officer amid safety concerns.
“We're learning and we're moving forward. This all starts now to heal, to just make things better,” Jackson told ABC News.
Nixon thinks releasing the name of the officer involved in the shooting on Saturday will help in Ferguson's healing process.
"I was pleased to hear the chief indicate this would be a day in which, finally, that initial name would come out, and we'll work to make sure that his family [is safe] and there's security around that," Nixon told ABC News. "I think those kind of concrete steps of transparency leading to justice are vitally important now to heal the old wounds that have been made a fresh by this difficult and horrific situation."
Ferguson faced five consecutive nights of unrest or violence following the weekend shooting death of Michael Brown, 18. Brown, who was unarmed, had his hands raised when he was fatally wounded, at least two witnesses said.
Peaceful protests followed Thursday, after Nixon swapped local and county officers -- many wearing riot gear -- for state highway patrol troopers. Capt. Ron Johnson, the leader of the highway patrol, walked side-by-side with demonstrators Thursday.
“This is my community. A lot of people I saw walking in this march are people that I know,” Johnson said. “So the old saying, 'I've got a dog in this fight,' [is true]. I've got a big dog in this fight."
First Person: Why some police departments still do bad things
by Lydia DePillis
John DeCarlo served as a police officer and then chief of police for 34 years in Branford, Conn., before getting a PhD in criminal justice and going on to run the Police Studies program at John Jay College in New York. Here's what he thought about the violence in Ferguson, Mo., where police unleashed tear gas Wednesday night on a largely peaceful crowd protesting the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. This interview has been edited for clarity.
The ratio of citizen demographics to police department demographics is always something being looked at. There's greater diversity in urban areas than suburban or rural areas. We find that demographics are better in bigger cities, but only 500 cities have more than 50,000 people. That leaves us with a national police presence that is overwhelmingly white.
The association that works on accreditation for police departments, CALEA, has 900 standards. One of them is that the police department should demographically reflect the community. And if it doesn't, you have to show that you're trying to recruit to balance your demographics. There are currently about 1 million cops. In 1987, we saw that one in six officers was non-white. Now we're seeing one in four. It's getting better, but very often the police departments look like this because of recruitment issues.
The riots in the 1960s were a different time in the country and a different time in law enforcement. In the '30s and '40s, police officers walked beats, and they were really more a part of the community. In the professional era, starting in the '60s, police rolled up their windows, and they weren't part of the community. In the '70s and '80s, we were moving back toward the community policing era, and problem-solving. It's extremely important that police departments be integral and positive parts of their communities. You can't just enforce the laws and walk away.
When we make a procedural change that is going to begin to improve policing, it has to diffuse through 18,000 departments. It takes a long time in the United States because of that home rule concept. The Home Office in the UK really oversees all policing — there's a national police academy. We have them in every state.
It's not that [departments like Ferguson's] are holdouts. I think everyone in theory wants to do community policing, but they don't have the resources, wherewithal or knowledge.
A lot say they're doing it, and they legitimately think they are, but there's so many interpretations of it and no efficient method to get out training. The Department of Justice has its Community Oriented Policing Services unit, but where do I get the money to send people to these schools? Where do I get the expertise?
Police depend on legitimacy for the efficiency of doing their job. You can arrest someone, but if you do it in a procedurally just way, it increases the legitimacy of the police in the eyes of the community. Robert Peel's Nine Principles of Policing from 1863 — ‘the police are the people and the people are the police' — are just as germane today.
The NYPD has 36,000 officers. They're in a position to learn. They have training and resources and funding; they're in the public eye every day. After the WTO demonstrations in Seattle, it was a learning curve. What they found was that they can't force people to do what people don't want to do. Crowd control became subsumed in a community policing model. The police officer spraying pepper spray — that's exactly what you don't want to do. Vancouver BC, around the Olympics, used all these soft techniques — they didn't have any trouble. And when they did start to have trouble, it was mitigated, because they didn't use outright force.
With military equipment, we saw a decided militarization of police in the United States. Having done the job for 34 years, I want to say this without any equivocation: Police are not soldiers, and they shouldn't strive to be. Soldiers have enemies, and police do not. Police have communities. With about a million cops in the United States, there's a culture of policing. Very often, what we see is the tail wagging the dog. What they see is, they pick up a police magazine, and you see all these cats in black with shoulder weapons and everything, and cops think, “Well, that's what we're supposed to do!” We don't have a mechanism to say, “Hell no! That's not what you're supposed to be doing!”
When I was police chief, we had three goals: prevent crime, prevent fear of crime, increase the quality of life in the community. That exemplified my belief in policing. It had nothing to do with the military. The chief I took over from told me: “You're going to have all these people going out 24/7, and they're going to be carrying guns. And you're going to be worried all the time that something's going to be going wrong.” The fact that we don't have more of them is really a testament to the fact that policing is really not going in a bad direction. We do national surveys on a federal level; they ask people what happened — “Did you feel that it was fair?” — and it's getting better all the time. The overwhelming majority of people think that police do their job well and fairly.
And, unfortunately, it's the kind of job where a police officer makes a mistake; it's serious. Cops are the most visible form of American government. When they do make mistakes, it's something that needs to be corrected because they're the part of the government that uses force.
There's no cogent connection between the research that's being done and the people on the ground. I studied four cities – we found out what works best, how to enter into community engagement. It's going to be one of those books we're going to use as textbooks, but police chiefs won't have access. I wrote an article in a journal, Police Quarterly, and like eight other academics are going to read it. It's important; it's about eyewitness identification. Cops don't read that journal. They don't even have access to it.
How do we give departments with 10 to 100 officers that information? We don't have the money! We spend $123 for every man, woman and child on policing. That's a lot of money. You know what it all goes for? It goes for running the police department, reacting to crime. Very little goes to accreditation, and training and research partnerships.
Can Smarter Police Work Prevent Another Ferguson?
by Jon Schuppe
Kelly McMillin, the police chief of Salinas, California, hasn't been following the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri closely — he's got plenty of problems at home. But he can relate.
On May 20, Solinas officers shot to death a man who allegedly lunged at them with garden shears, the third fatal police shooting in two months. The next day, protesters in the largely Latino city took to the streets, saying they were victims of a brutal and racist police department. Some threw bottles at the cops, one of whom was knocked out while giving CPR to the victim of a drive-by shooting. The victim died, and the mob overran the crime scene.
“I understand how passions run high after an officer-involved shooting,” McMillin said this week.
But while authorities investigate whether the shootings were justified, McMillin sees the aftermath as an opportunity to improve relations with a community that doesn't trust the police — something that should have happened a long time ago. It's part of a larger attempt to change the culture of his department so his officers understand how some tactics can actually undermine public safety.
The reform model encourages police to be more empathetic and less judgmental in their everyday encounters with the public. If done properly, advocates say, it could reduce crime, improve witness cooperation and help prevent the kind of turmoil that followed the police shootings in Salinas and Ferguson, and the choke-hold death of a man in New York City last month.
This new way of thinking represents a slow but remarkable shift underway in American policing. It reflects a growing recognition that the data-driven strategies that gave rise to aggressive “hot spot” enforcement techniques like stop-and-frisk may have driven violence to historic lows, but at a steep price.
The targets of this flood-the-zone approach have been, for the most part, young minority men in poor, high-crime neighborhoods with a deep history of resentment toward a criminal justice system they view as discriminatory. This has sown deep feelings of distrust, making law abiding people less likely to see police as their protectors and more likely to resist them. Many experts believe that sentiment is what drives the “stop snitching” epidemic that prevents police from catching violent criminals. It also breeds the discontentment that fuels uprisings following police-related deaths.
“These individual incidents are understood in a context of, ‘the criminal justice system is not helping us, it's hurting us,'” said Vaughn Crandall, a senior strategist at the California Partnership for Safe Communities who has helped departments implement the new strategy.
McMillin saw this decay firsthand, as a gang officer in Salinas, a city of 154,000 in a part of central California where the agriculture-heavy economy depends on the work of Latino migrant farmworkers. Latinos make up 77 percent of the population, and 32 percent of the police force.
Gang violence was the city's most pressing crime problem, and McMillin was on the front lines of an approach that he described as “throw police officers at it and lock them up.” A growing segment of the Latino community felt under siege.
Studying for his master's degree in public policy, McMillin researched the problem, and realized that the predominant strategy in Salinas' high-crime neighborhoods didn't take into account the myriad social problems that boiled beneath the surface. Then he happened upon Tracey Meares, a Yale Law School professor and a leading voice in an emerging field of crime research that advocates a shift from a deterrence-based model to one that emphasizes fairness. In theory, the approach would lead to a heightened sense of “police legitimacy” in which people were more likely to accept police actions, and help them. “A light went off,” McMillin recalled. “I said, ‘This is it.'”
Two major cities were on the vanguard of this new approach: Los Angeles and Cincinnati, both of which drastically overhauled their police departments following riots triggered by displays of brutal force against minorities. Chicago, reeling from a police-abuse scandal and a rise in homicides, adopted a community-policing curriculum in 2012 with encouragement from Meares and other academics.
Dennis Rosenbaum, a Chicago criminologist and executive director of the National Police Research Forum, said he thinks of the new approach as “putting good will in the bank” for use at times of crisis — such as a fatal shooting by police. “It's about building this long term relationship of, ‘we're both in this together, and, therefore, we're going to look at this as an anomaly,'” said Rosenbaum, who is researching the effects of procedural justice reforms across the country. “That's what legitimacy is.”
Last year, McMillin sent some of his officers to Chicago to learn the new curriculum, which stressed the importance of explaining police actions, listening to complaints and treating people with respect. It also called for eschewing “hot spot” policing in favor of identifying and targeting “hot people” — the relatively small number of troublemakers who commit a disproportionate amount of crime. Oakland and Stockton, California, police have also received training.
McMillin's officers returned to Salinas and trained the rest of the 136-officer department. For many, it was a hard sell. McMillin told them it would make them better police officers. “It's a matter of taking a step back and saying it is really important to explain to people why you're doing what you're doing. And you'll build a network around you of people who will support you and your work.”
Not long after the training, officers responded to a poor part of town to confront a man with a gun. They took the man down by force, while onlookers yelled at them. One of the officers, remembering the chief's words, went back and knocked on an antagonist's door. He explained what they'd done. A long conversation followed, and the officer ended up taking the man, a seasonal worker with a drinking problem, under his wing. A few weeks later, after the first officer-involved shooting in March, the man called the officer and told him he'd seen it all, and became a key witness.
McMillin tells that story to show how the new approach can work. But the challenges remain steep. In July, there was a fourth officer-involved shooting, another round of demonstrations, allegations of racial profiling, and calls for federal authorities to investigate the Salinas Police Department. Officers still reportedly encounter hostile crowds and uncooperative witnesses.
McMillin says his agency is not singling out Latinos, but has asked the FBI and Department of Justice to review the two most recent shootings. He has resisted demands to release the names of the officers involved, pointing out that the public outrage included threats of violent retaliation against police. “We're just at the beginning. We still have a lot of work to do,” the chief said. That includes scheduling training with members of the Latino community on the new approach.
He can't help but wonder how things would have gone if Salinas had started the reform effort years ago. He thinks there would have been “less likelihood” of unrest. “The four tragic shootings we had, regardless of what the outcome is, justified or not, have been a big setback,” McMillin said. “But this is, ultimately, a slow and deliberate process of trust building.”
After Ferguson, how should police respond to protests?
by Radley Balko
The events these last few days in Ferguson, Missouri ought to be of grave concern to anyone who believes in the First Amendment, and specifically the rights to free speech, protest, and assembly. As you may have read, last night was particularly ugly, as police arrested a St. Louis alderman, Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly, and our own Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery. Police also tear-gassed a news crew from Al-Jazeera. There are also reports, video, and images of police teargassing, arresting, and otherwise intimidating peaceful protests all over the town.
While it's true that there have been incidents of rioting, looting, and violence directed at police, the initial protests against Michael Brown's killing were peaceful.* The only hint of violence at the first protest was described by an Associated Press reporter, who reported chants of “kill the police.” That report has since been disputed by people at the protest, who have suggested that the AP journalist or police misheard other chants. From what I can find, that report was also never confirmed by any other journalist. The problem lies in how local police responded to that initial protest. They brought out the full riot arsenal.
Here we have a community that doesn't see itself reflected in the police force. Ferguson is 67 percent black, while its police force is more than 90 percent white. It's a community with long-simmering racial tension between police and the people they serve. It has now been well-reported that blacks are significantly over-represented when it comes to stop-and-frisks, traffic stops, and arrests in Ferguson, even though the town's white residents are more likely to be caught with contraband like drugs or illegal weapons. It isn't difficult to see why black residents of Ferguson may have already felt as if the police are an outside force that has been imposed upon them, rather than a group of public servants selected from the community to protect them from harm.
We then have an incident that represents all of these problems in a very concentrated form — an unarmed black man was killed by a (reportedly) white police officer who had stopped him as he was walking home. The police have since refused to release the officer's name. They've said they have no intention of releasing the autopsy performed on Michael Brown. Police Chief Thomas Jackson refused to even say how many shots were fired at Brown. (He claimed he didn't know, though that would be pretty easy to figure out.) Though the police department has body cameras, it hasn't required its officers to actually wear them. All of this only adds to perception of a Ferguson Police Department that is detached, unaccountable, opaque, and unconcerned with how it is perceived by the community it serves. (Gassing, arresting, and threatening journalists doesn't help with the perception that they feel they're above transparency.) The police then showed up at a peaceful protest with military vehicles and weapons. If a town's citizens are reminded over and over again that the law has no respect for them, we shouldn't be surprised if they begin to lose respect for the law. This isn't an excuse for the looting and rioting. But it does contextualize what we've seen.
This raises a question I've seen on Twitter and Facebook from a number of people — how should police respond to protest? And how should they respond when protests turn violent?
One of the pioneers of community policing — a form of policing that stresses interaction over reaction, deescalation over brute force, and that police should have a stake in the communities they serve —is Jerry Wilson, who was appointed police chief for Washington, D.C. in 1969. Wilson was of course appointed during a very turbulent time in America, and he took office just after the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. had ripped the city apart. But Wilson went to great pains to recruit police officers from the city's residents, and to try to make the police force more reflective of the city. He also took a much different approach to protest. I interviewed Wilson for my recent book on police militarization. Here's a passage from the section about Wilson's approach to protest:
Wilson believed that an intimidating police presence didn't prevent confrontation, it invited it. That didn't mean he didn't prepare, but he put his riot control teams in buses, then parked the buses close by, but out of sight of protesters. Appearances were important. In general, instead of the usual brute force and reactionary policing that tended to pit cops against citizens—both criminal and otherwise—Wilson believed that cops were more effective when they were welcomed and respected in the neighborhoods they patrolled. “The use of violence,” he told Time in 1970, “is not the job of police officers.”
It's worth noting that during Wilson's tenure, not only did Washington, D.C. not see the level of rioting and protest violence we saw in other parts of the country, crime actually fell in the city, even as it soared across the rest of the country.
The 1999 WTO protests in Seattle represent another landmark moment in how police handle protest in America. Those protests also began peacefully, but eventually evolved into rioting, mostly after police responded to peaceful protesters with teargas. Reports after the protests conducted by the city of Seattle and state of Washington found that police overreaction, paranoia, and misinformation played a major role in escalating the situation. Today, Stamper says his response to those protests was the biggest mistake of his career. I also interviewed Stamper at length for my book. Here's an excerpt:
The “Battle for Seattle” is commonly looked back upon as the start of the modern anti-globalization movement. But it as also a landmark event in the way police and city officials react to protests. Though, again, there were few injuries and no fatalities, the images that emerged from Seattle depicted a city that had lost control. Going forward “control” would be the operative word in how police handled protests. In the years to come, the “Darth Vader” look would become the standard police presence at large protests. Cities and police officials would commit mass violations of civil and constitutional rights, and deal with the consequences later. There would violent, preemptive SWAT raids, mass arrests, and sweeping use of policed powers that would ensnare violent protesters, peaceful protesters, and people who had nothing to do with protest at all.
Stamper calls his decisions in Seattle “the worst mistake” of his career because he's seen how the police response to protest has changed since 1999. “We gassed fellow Americans engaging in civil disobedience,” Stamper says. “We set a number of precedents, most of them bad. And police departments across the country learned all the wrong lessons from us. That's disheartening. So disheartening. I mean, you look at what happened to those Occupy protesters at U.C. Davis, where the cop just sprays them down like he's watering a bed of flowers, and I think that we played a part in making that sort of thing so common—so easy to do now. It's beyond cringe-worthy. I wish to hell my career had ended on a happier note.”
The Occupy protests were also a fascinating case study in protest and how governments should respond to them. Because the protests went on all over the country, and because the police responses were so varied from city to city, we can look at the different approaches, the results those approaches produced, and perhaps gain some insight into how to best protect safety and property without infringing on the civil rights and liberties of protesters.
Maj. Max Geron is in charge of the Media Relations Unit, Community Affairs and Planning Unit of the Dallas Police Department. He's also a security studies scholar who recently wrote his master's thesis on policing and protests at the Naval Postgraduate School. Specifically, his thesis studied police reactions to the Occupy protests in Oakland, New York, Portland, and Dallas. “The ideal police response to a protest is no response at all,” Geron says. (Geron emphasized that he was speaking as a scholar, and his views don't necessarily represent those of the Dallas Police Department.) “You want to let people exercise their constitutional rights without interference.”
Barring that, Geron says, it's important for police to communicate with protesters to establish expectations. “The technical term is negotiated management . What that means is that you want to come to an agreement about what's expected, what's allowed, and most important, you want to reach an agreement about what won't be allowed.”
But Geron cautions against setting arbitrary expectations, such as mandatory dispersal times. “Most protesters will meet, protest, and go home when they feel they've made their point. If they aren't breaking any laws, they can be left to express themselves.” Establishing a dispersal time then gives protesters something to rebel against. “When you establish arbitrary rules that have no basis in law, the police then feel they have to enforce those rules or they look illegitimate. They can set these rules with the best of intentions, but they just end up creating more problems for themselves.”
Geron also stresses fluidity and the ability to adjust on the fly. Police organizations are fond of protocol and standard operating procedures. But protests can be unpredictable. “The standard or by the book response may not be the best response,” he says. He points specifically to the Ferguson Police Department not releasing the name of the police officer who shot Michael Brown. “That may be the policy there. But you have to look at the situation. You have a community that is upset, that feels wronged. It's important to establish trust with them. A big part of that is helping them to believe that you're being straight and transparent with them. You have to be sure to protect the officer's safety, but to win trust you have to be aware of the people's fears, and you need to show you're willing to make concessions to accommodate those fears.”
One active police chief who has adopted a less reactionary approach was Chris Burbank in Salt Lake City. I profiled Burbank last fall for the Huffington Post. Here's what happened when the Salt Lake city council told Burbank he'd have to remove the Occupy protesters from the park where they had been encamped.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, 46, was in charge of the eviction. But Burbank took a decidedly different approach from his counterparts in other cities who used aggressive, confrontational measures to oust their own Occupy encampments.
Burbank showed up at the camp and talked to the protesters, in some cases one on one. He explained that they'd need to start leaving the park at night, although they could come back during the day. He said that when the time came for them leave, they could do so peacefully, or they could choose to be arrested. He even asked them how they'd like their arrests to take place, in case they wanted the TV and newspaper cameras to photograph them giving themselves up for their cause . . .
When it came time to evict the Occupy protesters in Pioneer Park, then, Burbank and his officers wore their standard, everyday uniforms, not riot gear, as police units in other cities had. Burbank also made sure he was first on the scene — that the first person the protesters saw was the one with whom they had already had a conversation.
Most of the 200 protesters left voluntarily. Some took advantage of Burbank's offer to have his officers help with their belongings. Nineteen chose to be arrested. There was no violence, no rioting and little anger. And so as images of violent clashes between Occupiers and police in other cities made headlines across the country, in Utah, some Occupiers even praised Burbank for the way he had handled their eviction. It's one reason why the Salt Lake Tribune named Burbank its 2011 “Utahn of the Year.”
“I just don't like the riot gear,” Burbank says. “Some say not using it exposes my officers to a little bit more risk. That could be, but risk is part of the job. I'm just convinced that when we don riot gear, it says ‘throw rocks and bottles at us.' It invites confrontation. Two-way communication and cooperation are what's important. If one side overreacts, then it all falls apart.”
Burbank also dismisses the idea that his approach could only work in a smaller city like Salt Lake. “I think it should be applied everywhere. That's exactly how we as a nation should approach these events. We should approach it asking, ‘How can we best facilitate these people's free speech?' Putting them nine miles away from whatever they're protesting doesn't allow them to get their message across.
“Doing it this way takes extra time, and sometimes you take a little criticism from your officers,” he says. “But if my officers feel unsafe, that's when it's my responsibility as chief to show up personally.”
Burbank's approach is far from common, but there are at least some other police officials who share his philosophy. One of them is former Madison, Wisconsin Police Chief David Couper.
Since the days of the the labor and civil rights movements and through the era of the protests against the war in Vietnam, we seem to have learned very little about the best way for government officials to respond to those who disagree with them.
This is a sad situation in a country such as ours which professes the values of freedom and justice that it does . . .
In a democracy, police have a very complex role compared to what is expected of the police in other systems. The power of the state must be balanced with the rights of an individual; other systems have no balance requirement—only to use the power given them by the state. Uniquely, police in a democracy don't exist solely to maintain order on behalf of the state, but also to assure that the fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen are protected in the process. “This is never more evident as when a totalitarian state responds to public protest. In this instance, the goal of the police is to prevent or repress, not facilitate, protest. We see that in today in Syria, China, and other less-than-democratic governments. In these instances, the very act of disagreeing with the government is illegal and subject to police action . . .
Early in my police career, I began to re-think the role of police and protest after I had witnessed and participated in too many that had gone wrong.
I was beginning to see that proximity mattered, being close was safe—just like on the beat. Get close, talk, stay in contact. The further the police positioned themselves from people in the crowd, the greater the chance the crowd would depersonalize them; to see them as objects and not people. Therefore, getting closer to the people, whether in managing crowds or patrolling neighborhoods on foot, seemed to be a good basic strategy that needed to be experimented with.
So, that's what I did when I came to Madison. For over 20 years, we in Madison responded to anti-war rallies, civil rights demonstrations, student block parties, and other mass gatherings without substantial incident. How did that happen? We developed what today is being called the “soft approach” (see the recent work of Dr. Clifford Stott at the University of Liverpool). What Stott and others found is that dialogue and liaison are effective police strategies in crowd situations because they allowed for an on-going risk assessment that improved command-level decision-making. Using this strategy, there was a better outcome because it also encouraged ‘self-regulation' in the crowd and thus forestalled the use of unnecessary force by police during moments of tension.
Geron also emphasizes personalization, pointing out that when police show up in full riot garb, especially gear that covers their faces, they dehumanize themselves to protesters. This is especially dangerous when the protests are against the police themselves, as was the case in Ferguson. “You make all of your officers look like one another. To the protesters, to the people, your officers are no longer individual human beings with faces. You've just made each of them a faceless symbol of the police institution that the protesters are reacting against.”
The police in Ferguson are almost a textbook example of how not to react to protest. “When you start by rolling out the the SWAT team, and you then position a sniper on top of an APC with his gun pointed at the protesters, what kind of message are you sending? Did they really expect the sniper would need to start shooting people? It was just a show of force,” Geron says. He adds that it's particularly important for police leaders to prepare their officers when the protests are aimed at police, and to stress the importance of separating themselves from criticism directed at the agency, or at policing in general. “It's a crucial conversation that you need to have with your commanders and your officers. And you have to expect that they won't get it at first. You have to tell them that it isn't personal ‘They're going to be critical of us. They may yell at us. But that's okay. That's their right. And our job is to protect their rights.'”
The buzz phrase in policing today is officer safety. You'll also hear lots of references to preserving order , and fighting wars, be it on crime, drugs, or terrorism. Those are all concepts that emphasize confrontation. It's a view that pits the officers as the enforcer, and the public as the entity upon which laws and policies and procedures are to be enforced.
Note the contrast between that and the approaches recommended by Geron, Burbank, Couper, Stamper, and Wilson. They all pit police officers not as enforcers, but as servants. Their primary function isn't to impose order, but to preserve and protect the rights of citizens. In a strictly academic sense, preserving order and protecting rights are the same thing. Operationally, they're radically different approaches to policing.
One final, important point: Policing is often cast as a balance between safety and freedom. The problem with that formulation is that it implies that to get a little more of one, we have to give up a some of the other. You need only look at Ferguson to see why that isn't true. I doubt the residents of that town feel particularly safe or particularly free right now. The corollary to this is that there's also a zero-sum relationship between officer safety and less aggressive, less militaristic more community-oriented policing. You have to give up some of one in order to get more of the other. Again, Ferguson is a pretty compelling argument to the contrary. The town is essentially a martially law zone right now. And I'd be surprised if you could find many officers on duty these last few nights who would tell you they feel safer today than they did a few weeks ago.
(* Clarification: There was an arson and some looting on Sunday night, but it isn't at all clear that those activities were outgrowths of the vigil.)
Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
How Did America's Police Get So Militarized?
Fancy weapons, 9/11 and fear of crime turned local forces into small armies.
by Matthew Harwood
Jason Westcott was afraid.
One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott's handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on "burning" Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott's call had a simple message for him: "If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill."
Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers' advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders. They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic. He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
The intruders, however, weren't small-time crooks looking to make a small score. Rather they were members of the Tampa Bay Police Department's SWAT team, which was executing a search warrant on suspicion that Westcott and his partner were marijuana dealers. They had been tipped off by a confidential informant, whom they drove to Westcott's home four times between February and May to purchase small amounts of marijuana, at $20-$60 a pop. The informer notified police that he saw two handguns in the home, which was why the Tampa Bay police deployed a SWAT team to execute the search warrant.
In the end, the same police department that told Westcott to protect his home with defensive force killed him when he did. After searching his small rental, the cops indeed found weed, two dollars' worth, and one legal handgun—the one he was clutching when the bullets ripped into him.
Welcome to a new era of American policing, where cops increasingly see themselves as soldiers occupying enemy territory, often with the help of Uncle Sam's armory, and where even nonviolent crimes are met with overwhelming force and brutality.
The War on Your Doorstep
The cancer of militarized policing has long been metastasizing in the body politic. It has been growing ever stronger since the first Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were born in the 1960s in response to that decade's turbulent mix of riots, disturbances, and senseless violence like Charles Whitman's infamous clock-tower rampage in Austin, Texas.
While SWAT isn't the only indicator that the militarization of American policing is increasing, it is the most recognizable. The proliferation of SWAT teams across the country and their paramilitary tactics have spread a violent form of policing designed for the extraordinary but in these years made ordinary. When the concept of SWAT arose out of the Philadelphia and Los Angeles Police Departments, it was quickly picked up by big city police officials nationwide. Initially, however, it was an elite force reserved for uniquely dangerous incidents, such as active shooters, hostage situations, or large-scale disturbances.
Nearly a half-century later, that's no longer true.
In 1984, according to Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop, about 26% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had SWAT teams. By 2005, that number had soared to 80% and it's still rising, though SWAT statistics are notoriously hard to come by.
As the number of SWAT teams has grown nationwide, so have the raids. Every year now, there are approximately 50,000 SWAT raids in the United States, according to Professor Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University's School of Justice Studies. In other words, roughly 137 times a day a SWAT team assaults a home and plunges its inhabitants and the surrounding community into terror.
Upping the Racial Profiling Ante
In a recently released report, "War Comes Home," the American Civil Liberties Union (my employer) discovered that nearly 80% of all SWAT raids it reviewed between 2011 and 2012 were deployed to execute a search warrant.
Pause here a moment and consider that these violent home invasions are routinely used against people who are only suspected of a crime. Up-armored paramilitary teams now regularly bash down doors in search of evidence of a possible crime. In other words, police departments increasingly choose a tactic that often results in injury and property damage as its first option, not the one of last resort. In more than 60% of the raids the ACLU investigated, SWAT members rammed down doors in search of possible drugs, not to save a hostage, respond to a barricade situation, or neutralize an active shooter.
On the other side of that broken-down door, more often than not, are blacks and Latinos. When the ACLU could identify the race of the person or people whose home was being broken into, 68% of the SWAT raids against minorities were for the purpose of executing a warrant in search of drugs. When it came to whites, that figure dropped to 38%, despite the well-known fact that blacks, whites, and Latinos all use drugs at roughly the same rates. SWAT teams, it seems, have a disturbing record of disproportionately applying their specialized skill set within communities of color.
Think of this as racial profiling on steroids in which the humiliation of stop and frisk is raised to a terrifying new level.
Don't think, however, that the military mentality and equipment associated with SWAT operations are confined to those elite units. Increasingly, they're permeating all forms of policing.
As Karl Bickel, a senior policy analyst with the Justice Department's Community Policing Services office, observes , police across America are being trained in a way that emphasizes force and aggression. He notes that recruit training favors a stress-based regimen that's modeled on military boot camp rather than on the more relaxed academic setting a minority of police departments still employ. The result, he suggests, is young officers who believe policing is about kicking ass rather than working with the community to make neighborhoods safer. Or as comedian Bill Maher reminded officers recently: "The words on your car, ‘protect and serve,' refer to us, not you."
This authoritarian streak runs counter to the core philosophy that supposedly dominates twenty-first-century American thinking: community policing. Its emphasis is on a mission of "keeping the peace" by creating and maintaining partnerships of trust with and in the communities served. Under the community model, which happens to be the official policing philosophy of the US government, officers are protectors but also problem solvers who are supposed to care, first and foremost, about how their communities see them. They don't command respect, the theory goes: they earn it. Fear isn't supposed to be their currency. Trust is.
Nevertheless, police recruiting videos, as in those from California's Newport Beach Police Department and New Mexico's Hobbs Police Department, actively play up not the community angle but militarization as a way of attracting young men with the promise of Army-style adventure and high-tech toys. Policing, according to recruiting videos like these, isn't about calmly solving problems; it's about you and your boys breaking down doors in the middle of the night.
SWAT's influence reaches well beyond that. Take the increasing adoption of battle-dress uniforms (BDUs) for patrol officers. These militaristic, often black, jumpsuits, Bickel fears, make them less approachable and possibly also more aggressive in their interactions with the citizens they're supposed to protect.
A small project at Johns Hopkins University seemed to bear this out. People were shown pictures of police officers in their traditional uniforms and in BDUs. Respondents, the survey indicated, would much rather have a police officer show up in traditional dress blues. Summarizing its findings, Bickel writes , "The more militaristic look of the BDUs, much like what is seen in news stories of our military in war zones, gives rise to the notion of our police being an occupying force in some inner city neighborhoods, instead of trusted community protectors."
Where Do They Get Those Wonderful Toys?
"I wonder if I can get in trouble for doing this," the young man says to his buddy in the passenger seat as they film the Saginaw County Sheriff Office's new toy: a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. As they film the MRAP from behind, their amateur video has a Red Dawn-esque feel, as if an occupying military were now patrolling this Michigan county's streets. "This is getting ready for f**king crazy times, dude," one young man comments. "Why," his friend replies, "has our city gotten that f**king bad?"
In fact, nothing happening in Saginaw County warranted the deployment of an armored vehicle capable of withstanding bullets and the sort of improvised explosive devices that insurgent forces have regularly planted along roads in America's recent war zones. Sheriff William Federspiel, however, fears the worst. "As sheriff of the county, I have to put ourselves in the best position to protect our citizens and protect our property," he told a reporter. "I have to prepare for something disastrous."
Lucky for Federspiel, his exercise in paranoid disaster preparedness didn't cost his office a penny. That $425,000 MRAP came as a gift, courtesy of Uncle Sam, from one of our far-flung counterinsurgency wars. The nasty little secret of policing's militarization is that taxpayers are subsidizing it through programs overseen by the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department.
Take the 1033 program. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) may be an obscure agency within the Department of Defense, but through the 1033 program, which it oversees, it's one of the core enablers of American policing's excessive militarization. Beginning in 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to transfer its surplus property free of charge to federal, state, and local police departments to wage the war on drugs. In 1997, Congress expanded the purpose of the program to include counterterrorism in section 1033 of the defense authorization bill. In one single page of a 450-page law, Congress helped sow the seeds of today's warrior cops.
The amount of military hardware transferred through the program has grown astronomically over the years. In 1990, the Pentagon gave $1 million worth of equipment to US law enforcement. That number had jumped to nearly $450 million in 2013. Overall, the program has shipped off more than $4.3 billion worth of materiel to state and local cops, according to the DLA.
In its recent report, the ACLU found a disturbing range of military gear being transferred to civilian police departments nationwide. Police in North Little Rock, Arkansas, for instance, received 34 automatic and semi-automatic rifles, two robots that can be armed, military helmets, and a Mamba tactical vehicle. Police in Gwinnet County, Georgia, received 57 semi-automatic rifles, mostly M-16s and M-14s. The Utah Highway Patrol, according to a Salt Lake City Tribune investigation, got an MRAP from the 1033 program, and Utah police received 1,230 rifles and four grenade launchers. After South Carolina's Columbia Police Department received its very own MRAP worth $658,000, its SWAT Commander Captain E.M. Marsh noted that 500 similar vehicles had been distributed to law enforcement organizations across the country.
Astoundingly, one-third of all war materiel parceled out to state, local, and tribal police agencies is brand new. This raises further disconcerting questions: Is the Pentagon simply wasteful when it purchases military weapons and equipment with taxpayer dollars? Or could this be another downstream, subsidized market for defense contractors? Whatever the answer, the Pentagon is actively distributing weaponry and equipment made for US counterinsurgency campaigns abroad to police who patrol American streets and this is considered sound policy in Washington. The message seems striking enough: what might be necessary for Kabul might also be necessary for DeKalb County.
In other words, the twenty-first-century war on terror has melded thoroughly with the twentieth-century war on drugs, and the result couldn't be anymore disturbing: police forces that increasingly look and act like occupying armies.
How the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice Are Up-Armoring the Police
When police departments look to muscle up their arms and tactics, the Pentagon isn't the only game in town. Civilian agencies are in on it, too.
During a 2011 investigation, reporters Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz discovered that, since 9/11, police departments watching over some of the safest places in America have used $34 billion in grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to militarize in the name of counterterrorism.
In Fargo, North Dakota, for example, the city and its surrounding county went on an $8 million spending spree with federal money, according to Becker and Schulz. Although the area averaged less than two murders a year since 2005, every squad car is now armed with an assault rifle. Police also have access to Kevlar helmets that can stop heavy firepower as well as an armored truck worth approximately $250,000. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1,500 beat cops have been trained to use AR-15 assault rifles with homeland security grant funding.
As with the 1033 program, neither DHS nor state and local governments account for how the equipment, including body armor and drones, is used. While the rationale behind stocking up on these military-grade supplies is invariably the possibility of a terrorist attack, school shooting, or some other horrific event, the gear is normally used to conduct paramilitary drug raids, as Balko notes.
Still, the most startling source of police militarization is the Department of Justice, the very agency officially dedicated to spreading the community policing model through its Community Oriented Policing Services office.
In 1988, Congress authorized the Byrne grant programs in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which gave state and local police federal funds to enlist in the government's drug war. That grant program, according to Balko, led to the creation of regional and multi-jurisdictional narcotics task forces, which gorged themselves on federal money and, with little federal, state, or local oversight, spent it beefing up their weapons and tactics. In 2011, 585 of these task forces operated off of Byrne grant funding.
The grants, Balko reports, also incentivized the type of policing that has made the war on drugs such a destructive force in American society. The Justice Department doled out Byrne grants based on how many arrests officers made, how much property they seized, and how many warrants they served. The very things these narcotics task forces did very well. "As a result," Balko writes, "we have roving squads of drug cops, loaded with SWAT gear, who get money if they conduct more raids, make more arrests, and seize more property, and they are virtually immune to accountability if they get out of line."
Regardless of whether this militarization has occurred due to federal incentives or executive decision-making in police departments or both, police across the nation are up-armoring with little or no public debate. In fact, when the ACLU requested SWAT records from 255 law enforcement agencies as part of its investigation, 114 denied them. The justifications for such denials varied, but included arguments that the documents contained "trade secrets" or that the cost of complying with the request would be prohibitive. Communities have a right to know how the police do their jobs, but more often than not, police departments think otherwise.
Being the Police Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry
Report by report, evidence is mounting that America's militarized police are a threat to public safety. But in a country where the cops increasingly look upon themselves as soldiers doing battle day in, day out, there's no need for public accountability or even an apology when things go grievously wrong.
If community policing rests on mutual trust between the police and the people, militarized policing operates on the assumption of "officer safety" at all costs and contempt for anyone who sees things differently. The result is an "us versus them" mentality.
Just ask the parents of Bou Bou Phonesavanh. Around 3:00 a.m. on May 28th, the Habersham County Special Response Team conducted a no-knock raid at a relative's home near Cornelia, Georgia, where the family was staying. The officers were looking for the homeowner's son, whom they suspected of selling $50 worth of drugs to a confidential informant. As it happened, he no longer lived there.
Despite evidence that children were present—a minivan in the driveway, children's toys littering the yard, and a Pack ‘n Play next to the door—a SWAT officer tossed a "flashbang" grenade into the home. It landed in 19-month-old Bou Bou's crib and exploded, critically wounding the toddler. When his distraught mother tried to reach him, officers screamed at her to sit down and shut up, telling her that her child was fine and had just lost a tooth. In fact, his nose was hanging off his face, his body had been severely burned, and he had a hole in his chest. Rushed to the hospital, Bou Bou had to be put into a medically induced coma.
The police claimed that it was all a mistake and that there had been no evidence children were present. "There was no malicious act performed," Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution . "It was a terrible accident that was never supposed to happen." The Phonesavanhs have yet to receive an apology from the sheriff's office. "Nothing. Nothing for our son. No card. No balloon. Not a phone call. Not anything," Bou Bou's mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told CNN.
Similarly, Tampa Bay Police Chief Jane Castor continues to insist that Jay Westcott's death in the militarized raid on his house was his own fault. "Mr. Westcott lost his life because he aimed a loaded firearm at police officers. You can take the entire marijuana issue out of the picture," Castor said . "If there's an indication that there is armed trafficking going on—someone selling narcotics while they are armed or have the ability to use a firearm—then the tactical response team will do the initial entry."
In her defense of the SWAT raid, Castor simply dismissed any responsibility for Westcott's death. "They did everything they could to serve this warrant in a safe manner," she wrote the Tampa Bay Times— "everything," that is, but find an alternative to storming the home of a man they knew feared for his life.
Almost half of all American households report having a gun, as the ACLU notes in its report. That means the police always have a ready-made excuse for using SWAT teams to execute warrants when less confrontational and less violent alternatives exist.
In other words, if police believe you're selling drugs, beware. Suspicion is all they need to turn your world upside down. And if they're wrong, don't worry; the intent couldn't have been better.
Voices in the Wilderness
The militarization of the police shouldn't be surprising. As Hubert Williams, a former police director of Newark, New Jersey, and Patrick V. Murphy, former commissioner of the New York City Police Department, put it nearly 25 years ago, police are "barometers of the society in which they operate." In post-9/11 America, that means police forces imbued with the "hooah" mentality of soldiers and acting as if they are fighting an insurgency in their own backyard.
While the pace of police militarization has quickened, there has at least been some pushback from current and former police officials who see the trend for what it is: the destruction of community policing. In Spokane, Washington, Councilman Mike Fagan, a former police detective, is pushing back against police officers wearing BDUs, calling the get-up "intimidating" to citizens. In Utah, the legislature passed a bill requiring probable cause before police could execute a no-knock raid. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank has been a vocal critic of militarization, telling the local paper, "We're not the military. Nor should we look like an invading force coming in." Just recently, Chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department agreed with the ACLU and the Los Angeles Times editorial board that "the lines between municipal law enforcement and the US military cannot be blurred."
Retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper has also become an outspoken critic of militarizing police forces, noting "most of what police are called upon to do, day in and day out, requires patience, diplomacy, and interpersonal skills." In other words, community policing. Stamper is the chief who green-lighted a militarized response to World Trade Organization protests in his city in 1999 ("The Battle in Seattle"). It's a decision he would like to take back. "My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose," he wrote in the Nation . "Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict."
These former policemen and law enforcement officials understand that police officers shouldn't be breaking down any citizen's door at 3 a.m. armed with AR-15s and flashbang grenades in search of a small amount of drugs, while an MRAP idles in the driveway. The anti-militarists, however, are in the minority right now. And until that changes, violent paramilitary police raids will continue to break down the doors of nearly 1,000 American households a week.
War, once started, can rarely be contained.
Police foot patrols hit the ground running
by Hilary Golston
CLEVELAND -- The Second District police foot patrol program has seen a lot of success, and it has residents singing police praises.
"I just know the presence overall helps the neighborhood," said Greg Bodnar, owner of Koffie Cafe.
"We feel safer when we know a cop... you never know where they are... which is good because criminals don't know where they are at certain times."
Second District Commander Thomas Stacho appreciates the praise, "Anytime we can be out there and be among the citizens and let 'em know hey we're just like them, it's only good for us and it's good for them."
There are seven zones in the Second District. On an average day shift, seven two-man units and eight one-man units are on patrol.
A two-man car is taken out of a zone and the officers walk their beat instead.
The foot patrols began in June. This is an implementation of an overall community policing strategy put in place by Chief of Police Calvin Williams.
Stacho reports there are seven zones in the district. During a normal day shift, there are seven, two-man units cruising and eight one-man cruisers.
The councilman for the area, Joe Cimperman, reports that the program also helps remove fear from citizens and engender trust between police and residents.
"When we were kids we were playing football with them... Yeah, they disciplined us. Yeah they told us not to do stupid stuff, but we never had this inherent fear of police," Cimperman tells Channel 3's Hilary Golston.
Another police shooting amid Ferguson protests
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – One person was shot by police overnight, not far from the unrest that unfolded for the third night in Ferguson where last week's shooting of an unarmed black teen sparked outrage.
Last night's shooting happened just before 1 a.m. Wednesday at Chambers Road and Sheffingdell Court in unincorporated St. Louis County.
Police say they responded to a report about four masked men carrying shotguns in the area. The caller said the suspects had fired shots.
When police arrived at the scene they saw the men running, and one turned and pointed a handgun at police.
A police officer fired at least once at the suspect, wounding him. He was taken to an area hospital in critical condition.
The shooting happened about two blocks from St. Mark Family Church, where the Rev. Al Sharpton held a gathering Tuesday night, uniting the community, which is outraged over 18-year-old Michael Brown's shooting death Saturday afternoon.
There's no word if the incident is related to the Ferguson protests. The area of the shooting was quiet Wednesday morning.
About a mile away, protests erupted for the third night in a row in Ferguson. Tuesday night's protests began peacefully, with a group of about 100 people marching from St. Mark Family Church to the QuikTrip store that was burned in Sunday's riots.
Later in the evening, however, police once again firing tear gas into the crowd. Police said they were responding to protesters who had thrown bottles at officers, according to CNN. By 1 a.m., the shooting had occurred.
Authorities on Tuesday delayed revealing the identity of the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teen three days ago, citing threats against the officer on social media.
"If we come out and say, 'it was this officer,' then he immediately becomes a target," Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said. "We're taking the threats seriously."
Jackson, who had said he would reveal the officer's name Tuesday, said there is now no timetable.
Tuesday evening he said the officer has been on the force for about six years and had come across 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. and a friend walking in the street. The youths were black and witnesses said the officer was white.
Jackson said all but three of the police department's 53 officers are white.
Police have said that after the officer asked the teens to move, a scuffle occurred. Witnesses say Brown had raised his hands to surrender when the shots were fired. Police have not confirmed that information.
A second witness has told the St. Louis NAACP that Brown did not struggle with the officer inside his patrol car, where the fatal shots were fired. The unidentified person will be interviewed by FBI.
Police Face Civilian Protesters–Dressed for Military Combat
Following the shooting of an unarmed, black 18-year-old outside of St. Louis, law-enforcement offers have faced civilians in gear designed for war.
by Conor Friedersdorf
In Radley Balko's important book, "The Rise of the Warrior Cop," he writes that since the 1960s, "law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier. Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment—from bayonets and M-16 rifles to armored personnel carriers—American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield. The war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the U.S. scene: the warrior cop—armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties."
Before this transformation, even the most egregiously abusive police officers were dressed and outfitted like civilian lawmen. The image above, for example, is a statue in Birmingham, Alabama, meant to capture the essence of Civil Rights-era police abuses.
With that in mind, take a look at the powerful photograph that Whitney Curtis took for The New York Times in the Missouri towns where residents are protesting the killing of an 18-year-old shot to death by police as he walked to a convenience store. As I write this item, the image is leading the newspaper's Web site: (Picture on site)
Of course, not every police officer in Ferguson is dressed that way.
But those three officers are dressed and outfitted such that they could as easily be storming into an ISIS safe house in Iraq. Actually, they are on the streets of an American city, clad in combat gear, squaring off against a nonviolent protestor in a t-shirt and jeans with both of his hands raised over his head. It is easy to see how visuals like these could dissuade people from taking to the streets to assemble in protest of police shootings, as is their moral and Constitutional right.
A handful of protestors in Ferguson, Missouri have reportedly thrown rocks at police, a wholly unjustified act that ought to result in their arrest and prosecution, if the perpetrators can be identified. But in the image above, the camouflage pants and assault rifles are hardly there to protect against thrown rocks. If the police were dressed as civilians, but with helmets and shields, that would be more understandable. The other bit of necessary context: as mostly black protesters face these pseudo-military troopers to protest what they believe to be a civil rights violation, they're staring at another police excess that disproportionately affects people like them. As the ACLU noted in its report on police militarization:
The use of paramilitary weapons and tactics primarily impacted people of color; when paramilitary tactics were used in drug searches, the primary targets were people of color, whereas when paramilitary tactics were used in hostage or barricade scenarios, the primary targets were white. Overall, 42 percent of people impacted by a SWAT deployment to execute a search warrant were Black and 12 percent were Latino. This means that of the people impacted by deployments for warrants, at least 54 percent were minorities.
Of the deployments in which all the people impacted were minorities, 68 percent were in drug cases, and 61 percent of all the people impacted by SWAT raids in drug cases were minorities. In addition, the incidents we studied revealed stark, often extreme, racial disparities in the use of SWAT locally....
The image in the Times photograph is particularly stark, but is depicting something that happens daily in cities all around the United States with little pushback. Community policing is impossible when officers dress up as occupying soldiers. But there is little chance that this pernicious trend will end anytime soon.
'Race Talks' will discuss Portland Police Bureau's community policing: North and NE Portland news roundup
by Casey Parks
The Independent Police Review will hold a meeting about community policing Tuesday night at McMenamin's Kennedy School. The doors open and the event begins at 7 p.m. They want you to share your thoughts about the Portland Police Bureau's accountability and work with residents.
Police responded late Saturday night to the Shady Lane Tavern, at 4579 Northeast Cully Boulevard, after receiving a call of multiple gunshots being fired and people screaming in the parking lot. Helen Jung has the story.
Rosemary Anderson High School won a $10,000 grant from the Reser Family Foundation to help restore the 28-acre Columbia Children's Arboretum. A dozen students from the school have been trained to lead every aspect of restoring the Northeast Portland arboretum. They've learned how to design planting layouts to increase habitat value, how to remove invasive species and replant native trees and shrubs and how to recruit and lead volunteers
Affordable housing advocates Jordan Davis and Loulie Brown have joined the board of directors of Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods. The women sat down with NECN staff recently for an interview about their backgrounds and motivations.
Faith Cathcart has a nice set of photographs and a story from Saturday's Alberta Street Fair. According to Alberta Main Street, the event host, approximately 20,000 people turned out to celebrate.
The Eliot Neighborhood Association meets tonight, 6:30 p.m. at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation will host an open house Tuesday night to detail the planned construction on North Williams Avenue. Crews will remove one lane of vehicle traffic, shift bike lanes to the left side and build a buffer between the two. Work starts in September.
Police engaged, editorial aside
I believe a police department that is not engaged with the community it serves will never truly be successful. The same can be said for our local media.
I was disappointed when I read a Connecticut Post editorial on Thursday July 24 ("Police need to engage residents"). It spoke about the police department's efforts to curb violence. It also spoke about community policing, of walking and talking with the community, and seemed to suggest that the police department was not doing enough.
I would invite the Connecticut Post to come to my community and observe what can be accomplished when the police department and community work together. And to see how wrong they were.
On Wednesday, July 23, Capt. Robert Gearing and I walked the neighborhood together and spoke with merchants and community members. We stopped to say hello. We talked about how together we can address loitering problems and quality of life concerns that affect us all.
I have walked with the walking beats on Stratford Avenue, Newfield Ave , Fifth, Sixth and other local areas through the communities. I have seen them speaking with residents and checking in with our merchants if even to only say `Hello.' Again and again, I have seen the department's bicycle cops on Stratford Avenue and on the side streets, often stopped and chatting with my neighbors.
I cannot recall one instance when we asked police to come to a community meeting or event when Captain Gearing or one of his lieutenants didn't attend, listen to our concerns and then work with us collaboratively to find a solution.
When a social club plagued our neighborhood with violence, the community and police department sat together to find a solution. When we had loitering problems late at night, Captain Gearing met with us and explained what his officers could do but also what they could not do. He didn't tell us what he thought we wanted to hear. He was honest and candid. We talked about curfew enforcement. He explained that enforcement might be unpopular with some parents. He needed the community's support. He received it.
In the East End and East Side, our police officers are partners who work with us to solve problems. We support each other.
As councilwoman, I will never hesitate to raise concerns or advocate for my neighbors if they believe police are not upholding their duty. I also will never hesitate to speak out when I see unfair criticism of a department that, from my perspective, has been completely engaged and supportive.
Again, I would personally invite the author of the editorial to spend time in my neighborhood and get a true sense of how the community and police department can work together to solve problems.
The writer is a member of the city council from the 139th district.
Depression can be treated if you take the first step
by WILLIAM K. ALCORN
YOUNGSTOWN -- The suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams has brought to the forefront the discussion of an illness that millions of Americans suffer from — depression.
Williams, 63, Academy Award winner and television star, was pronounced dead Monday at his San Francisco Bay Area home. His press secretary representative and police officials said he had been suffering from severe depression.
“It's a shame we have to have a tragedy like the suicide of actor Robin Williams to raise awareness of the breadth and seriousness of depression,” said Greg Cvetkovic, executive director of D&E Counseling Center, which provides mental-health counseling for children.
An estimated 19 million American adults are living with depression, said April J. Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.
Cathy Grizinski, associate director of HELP Hotline Crisis Center, said most people who attempt or commit suicide have depression of some form.
“But not everybody with depression is suicidal,” she added.
Half of the people who experience symptoms of depression never get diagnosed or treated. More than 1 out of 10 people battling depression commits suicide, Caraway said, citing statistics from the Ohio Department of Health.
“Everyone feels sad or lonely at times in their lives. When those feelings become overwhelming or keep you from leading a normal, active life, then it's time to seek medical help,” Caraway said.
And, said Barbara Yates, clinical director at Turning Point Counseling, medical help works. Turning Point provides mental-health services for adults.
Medication combined with therapy lead to good outcomes. There is an answer if people can avail themselves of treatment. Also, there are support groups in which people can participate, Yates said.
Joe Caruso, executive director of Compass Family and Community Services, said mental illness is like any other illness. The disease is no different than someone with diabetes, he added.
A person with a mental illness that doesn't take his medication is no different than a diabetic who doesn't take his insulin.
“We need to stop the stigma of mental illness,” he said. “It needs to be treated.”
“We need more resources for mental illness and drug treatment,” added Douglas Wentz, director of Community Services. “There are many families that are touched by this issue every day in America.”
Wentz said that mental illness can be a challenge for families.
“In families there are so many secrets and shame that it's hard to reach out,” he said. “[But] that's what you need to do is reach out. ... It's more of a risk not to do that.”
Yates urged people who think they are depressed, or friends and family of those people, to contact a mental-health professional.
Signs of depression include pulling away from usual activities, giving away possessions, isolating from family and friends, increasing irritability and decreasing energy.
Depression is a legitimate mental illness; but some depression may have physical causes, such as chemical imbalance, pain, and thyroid issues, Yates said.
“It's hard to ask for help, but if people will just take that first step, there is a really good chance we can help them. Depression is a serious illness, but there is serious treatment available. It's amazing. I've seen it work,” Yates said.
Grizinski said someone considering suicide might exhibit signs such as ideation, excessive substance abuse, feelings of purposelessness, anxiety, feeling trapped, hopelessness, withdrawal from people, anger, recklessness and dramatic mood changes.
Sometimes it is more difficult for men to ask for help, but more men with depression and suicide issues are calling Help Hotline Crisis Center, said Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the Mahoning County Mental Health Board and former head of Help Hotline, a gateway to getting help.
“Depression and suicide show no discrimination. It can strike anyone,” Piccirilli said, alluding to Williams' suicide.
He urged people not to be afraid to reach out to someone they believe might be depressed or suicidal and ask direct questions.
Other common signs of depression may include trouble sleeping or sleeping too much; trouble concentrating; difficulty controlling negative thoughts; loss of appetite or eating too much; irritability or short-temper; increase in alcohol consumption, Caraway said.
“If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of depression, please call 211 for treatment options and other supportive resources,” she said.
The signs of depression in children are the same as adults: withdrawal or sense of hopelessness, not wanting to go to school, Cvetkovic said.
He said 15 to 18 percent of children are affected by depression nationally, and with other negative community factors in place, such as unemployment, poverty, displacement, and violence in the neighborhood and home, that figure can go up.
Teachers and nurses, parents and caregivers, and primary-care physicians and pediatricians should be aware of the signs of depression, If they see them, a mental-health provider shouldfollow up with an assessment of the child. A depression screening should be as normal a blood pressure, Cvetkovic said.
Grizinski said people who experience the loss of a person to suicide should find a counselor who understands trauma, suicide and the grief that comes from it. She also recommends finding survivor groups or speaking with a minister for spiritual guidance on coping.
Contributors: Megan Wilkinson and Brandon Klein, staff writers.
Suicide IN THE VALLEY AND IN US
By the numbers
Here are numbers associated with suicide in 2013:
Mahoning County: 27 (11 females and 16 males); 14.8 percent were veterans.
Trumbull County: 24 (7 females and 17 males); 20.8 percent were veterans.
Columbiana County: 18 (3 females and 15 males); 16.7 percent were veterans.
Ohio: 1,401 (303 females and 1,098 males); 17.3 percent were veterans.
Nation: 39,518 suicides in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.
White Males: 28,103 (Highest rate: 23 percent)
Firearms: 19,990; 50.6 percent
Suffocation/hanging: 9,913; 25.1 percent
Poison: 6,564; 16.6 percent
Cut/pierce: 660; 1.7 percent
Drowning: 354; 0.9 percent
Other: 2,037; 5.2 percent
45 to 64 age range: 18.6 (highest rate).
Less than 14 age range: 0.5 (lowest rate).
Suicide is the nation's 10th-leading cause of death.
Economic Impact: $34 billion annually.
Ninety percent of suicides involve a mental disorder.
Common disorders: major depression, other mood
disorders, substance-use disorders, schizophrenia and
Sources: American Association of Suicidology, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Ohio Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck reappointed to second five-year term
by Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck won a second term in office Tuesday but acknowledged he must now work to address shortcomings that have come to light in recent months.
In the run-up to the vote, Beck endured a rocky evaluation process. He faced questions about his record of disciplining officers, the accuracy of crime statistics, a lack of transparency, and his role in department business involving his daughter, who is a Los Angeles Police Department officer.
Getting reappointed was "much more difficult than I anticipated," he said after the civilian Police Commission's 4-1 vote. "Just like anything that is difficult, it builds character. Just like anything that is difficult, it teaches lessons. And believe me, I learned lessons."
Beck said he and his top officials needed to do more to be "transparent beyond reproach. We have to make sure that everything we do builds that bank of trust with this city."
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who appointed the commissioners, made clear in recent weeks that he wanted Beck, 61, to remain. As such, the outcome had been widely expected.
Calling Beck "a man who has been a distinguished part of this department for 37 years," commission President Steve Soboroff highlighted the city's low crime levels under the chief, including a reduction in gang crime, and Beck's success in strengthening the LAPD's ties to various communities.
"When crimes hit record lows and positive community partnerships hit record highs, good things happen," Soboroff said.
But commissioners also used Tuesday's vote as an opportunity to tell Beck, who makes $325,000 a year, that he had significant work to do in his next five years.
Commissioner Paula Madison, a former journalist and media executive, ticked off several issues she said needed the chief's attention, including the department's flagging recruiting efforts, the need to promote women and minorities into higher ranks, and a wave of impending retirements by top officials.
Commissioner Robert Saltzman, a USC law school dean who cast the lone vote against Beck, said the chief had done well in some areas but had "fallen short of the commission's expectations" in other important aspects of the job. He and others were particularly focused on what they described as Beck's inconsistent punishment of officers and reluctance in keeping his civilian bosses informed.
As recently as January, Beck was viewed by most to be a shoo-in to win reappointment.
Under his command, the LAPD has posted statistics showing continued drops in overall crime and dramatic declines in gang crime. The chief is also credited with keeping the agency on an even keel despite considerable budget cuts that included the near elimination of cash payments to officers for working overtime. The LAPD has nearly 10,000 officers and an annual budget of more than $1 billion.
In many ways, Beck also picked up the mantle of his predecessor, William J. Bratton. In particular, Beck built on Bratton's success forging ties with poor and minority communities, where the police had long been distrusted as abusive and corrupt.
But in February, the stretch of trouble for Beck began when he drew a rare public rebuke from Garcetti and Soboroff for choosing not to seriously punish a group of officers involved in a badly flawed shooting.
Things got worse for Beck in the following months. He angered commissioners and officers by refusing to fire a well-connected officer who was caught on tape uttering racial slurs about a black man and later denied it. Beck stood by the decision, but it brought to the surface a deep well of discontent among officers who say the chief does not mete out punishments consistently.
Commissioners also were upset the chief had not kept them apprised of brewing problems in the department, such as when officers assigned to some of the city's roughest neighborhoods had tampered with video equipment in patrol cars to avoid being monitored.
In recent weeks, scrutiny of Beck intensified as he came under fire for two cases involving his daughter. Commissioners complained that he failed to alert them that the department had purchased a horse from his daughter, who is assigned to the LAPD's equestrian unit.
When pressed to explain the purchase, Beck at first insisted he had recused himself entirely from the decision but backtracked when documents surfaced showing he had approved the deal.
Complicating matters for Beck was a Times investigation this week showing the department had underreported violent crimes during a recent one-year period. The findings prompted the commission's inspector general to launch a broad inquiry into the accuracy of the LAPD's crime statistics.
Beck's ability to lead in his second term may be tested by the questions over crime stats, the anger felt among officers over the discipline issues, and frustrations over salaries and overtime.
At times, the steady barrage of controversies rattled Beck, who seemed to bristle at the challenges to his authority and flashed a rarely seen anger over the stories regarding his daughter.
After blaming some of the revelations on detractors who were trying to undermine his reappointment bid, Beck struck a more conciliatory tone Tuesday.
"As we move forward, perhaps most importantly, we put aside the politics and the drama and the infighting that became a hallmark of this reappointment process," he said.
The process, he said, "brought out the best and worst in me and revealed the best and worst in the Los Angeles Police Department. But through that process, I learned what's important to this city in a way I had not known before."
IRS scams reported in Okaloosa
An IRS scam is circulating in Okaloosa County. The con-artist calls or emails someone saying they owe money to the IRS and gives them directions on paying by getting a "Green Dot Card." The con-artist then informs residents that if they do not pay the money owed today, they will be arrested.
There are more scams concerning tax returns circulating involving paying money owed, rebates, audits and variations of the IRS name with companies or individuals using the IRS acronym, but with different words (ex. Internal Refund Service).
If you receive an email from someone claiming to be from the IRS forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org
So, how can you spot scams? The IRS offers these tips:
? The IRS will not contact you by telephone or e-mail.
? The IRS will use the mailing address you place on your return.
? Use direct deposit into your checking account for tax returns.
If you are contacted by someone claiming to be with the IRS, hang up and call the IRS at 1-800-366-4484.
Judge extends temporary halt to Ohio executions
Federal judge has extended a moratorium on executions in Ohio into next year as questions mount about the effectiveness of a new, two-drug combination
by Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A federal judge has extended a months-long moratorium on executions in Ohio into next year as questions mount about the effectiveness of a new, two-drug combination being used to carry out the death penalty.
The ruling by federal judge Gregory Frost will delay executions scheduled for September, October and November and highlights the ongoing problem faced by states in obtaining drugs to put inmates to death.
The last moratorium was scheduled to expire this week.
The one-page order by Frost issued Friday extends it through Jan. 15. It affects the state's latest death penalty policy change, which was announced in late April and increases the amount of the sedative and painkiller Ohio uses.
On Jan. 16, an Ohio inmate repeatedly gasped during the record 26 minutes it took him to die, and an Arizona inmate who took nearly two hours to die July 23.
Ohio's first choice for a drug is compounded pentobarbital, a specialty version of the drug it used previously with few problems. But it has been unable to obtain supplies of compounded pentobarbital and so switched to its backup method of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.
Missouri and Texas both have supplies of compounded pentobarbital, though the states won't reveal their sources, and have used them to carry out several executions successfully in recent months.
Allen Bohnert, the lead defense attorney challenging the use of the two-drug method, declined to comment. A message was left with the state prisons agency.
The next execution scheduled in Ohio was to have occurred Sept. 18, when Ronald Phillips was set to die for the 1993 rape and death of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron.
California Teacher Uses Writing to Inspire Incarcerated Youth
by Christine Archer
LOS ANGELES — The walls of California's juvenile halls act as a barrier to a world most people will never experience or understand. More often than not, these halls are viewed as places of isolation and despair.
However, others, like Johnny Kovatch, see an infinite amount of potential and opportunity that can be found just on the other side of these walls.
Kovatch, a long-time juvenile justice advocate, volunteers at several of California's most well-known juvenile halls and prisons, including Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, Ironwood State Prison and Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles. He first began volunteering at these institutions as a way to connect with incarcerated youth around the state.
“I wanted to work with a population that was underrepresented,” Kovatch says. “These kids don't know it but they represent truth and they represent purity.”
A personal tragedy in Kovatch's own life also contributed to his desire to help reform the juvenile justice system.
“When I was in high school, my friend was murdered and robbed for $40,” Kovatch says. “I always wondered what would cause a kid to do something like that. I wondered what was missing from that life, and whether it was a parental influence, a lack of love or a lack of support that was the incentive behind it.”
Kovatch first began volunteering in juvenile detention centers as part of a program called Restorative Justice, where he provided one-on-one counseling to juvenile inmates. During his time in the halls, however, Kovatch discovered a new passion: InsideOUT Writers.
“I saw a teacher named Todd Rubenstein teaching a writing class through the glass within one of the units,” Kovatch says. “I always wondered what he was doing, and knew that I should be a part of that program.”
InsideOUT Writers is a nonprofit organization that uses creative writing to encourage personal growth and transformation within the California juvenile justice system. The organization is funded both by the county and private donors, and it ultimately aims to reduce the juvenile recidivism rates by offering a range of services to currently and formerly incarcerated youth.
The main focus of InsideOUT Writers is the Writing Program, which is open to students who are being held in various juvenile detention centers across Los Angeles County. Currently, there are 39 classes being taught each week by volunteer instructors like Kovatch.
“During my first class with InsideOUT Writers, what I discovered was that all of the students were extremely grateful that I was there,” Kovatch says. “At the end of class, every kid came up to me and said thank you, welcomed me back and asked if I would be there the following week.”
Carol Chodroff, who has been involved in juvenile justice issues for almost 20 years and is now a board member of InsideOUT Writers, has seen firsthand the positive impact that the Writing Program can have on students.
“The first time I sat in on a writing circle, I saw the kids interacting and the power of literature and poetry. I felt change happening in the room,” Chodroff says. “So many of the kids in the program have lives that are filled with sadness, obstacles, challenges and pain. Now, they have this opportunity to express themselves and to find their voices. Seeing them work together in class shows the best of the education process, the best of rehabilitation and the best of humanity, really.”
The classes and writing prompts address a wide variety of topics, but they all ultimately have one goal: to give the students the confidence to express themselves and get their thoughts and ideas out in the open.
“The biggest thing I encourage is when there's something they feel like they don't want to write about because it would too hard or too painful, then I tell them that's exactly the type of stuff that they should write about,” Kovatch explains. “They write about everything. They write about how they grew up, they write about abandonment, their peers, maybe those who have been incarcerated or have died in gang related activities, and they write about wanting to have a better life.”
Participation in the Writing Program is completely voluntary, and it can often be challenging for students to first decide to attend a class.
Jaki Murillo, a former student in the Writing Program, was tried as an adult for attempted murder and robbery at the age of 15. After being found guilty, she began serving her prison sentence at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, Calif. It was here that Murillo first heard about InsideOUT Writers.
“My old roommate first told me about InsideOUT Writers and she told me I should go, but I didn't want to. I didn't get along with the other girls and wasn't open to new people, so I didn't go.” Murillo says. “Instead, I used to write by myself in my room, but I would flush it down the toilet because I didn't want people to read it.”
However, one day after a yoga class that was being held in Murillo's unit was cancelled, she decided to finally give the writing class a shot. That was when she met Kovatch for the first time.
“From day one, the way Johnny presented himself, the way that he cared, I had never experienced something like that before,” Murillo said. “He never gave up on me. He would always come up to my room and ask me to come out, and eventually I just gave in.”
Although it was not easy, Murillo slowly started to become more open with her teachers and her classmates.
“I started seeing everybody sharing and eventually you just start sharing yourself,” Murillo says. “I would write a lot about betrayal and drugs and drug addiction, and it helped me be more comfortable with myself. I went through a really deep guilt process about a lot of the things I've done and it really helped me heal. I was able to share with people from a whole other world and way of life.”
Kovatch continued teaching Murillo for the next year, and was constantly inspired by her both inside and outside of the classroom.
“She always showed up with a positive attitude, she was always smiling and she showed a courage and strength that inspired others to open up and be as honest and truthful as possible,” Kovatch says. “It was her vulnerability that gave others the courage to be just as vulnerable.”
Murillo's time with InsideOUT Writers did not end once she was no longer incarcerated. Now, she is part of the organization's Alumni Program, which aims to transition former Writing Students into productive lives once they are released. She is also getting ready to begin classes at Los Angeles Mission College this fall, and she hopes to eventually pursue a career in the film industry.
For Kovatch, Chodroff and all of the other InsideOUT Writers volunteers, it is crucial that programs like this one continue expanding to juvenile halls across the country.
“In my mind, one of the biggest issues we have as a society is that we put our emphasis on the wrong end. All of the money gets thrown into putting a Band-Aid on the problem and paying or incarceration and giving kids long sentences rather than preventing them from ending up in that situation in the first place,” Chodroff says. “InsideOUT Writers really advocates for the kid when they're on the inside. They try to help them survive in this culture that is really counter to everything children need. When they get out, InsideOUT Writers acts as a preventive measure for a new cycle, supporting their reentry and giving them new opportunities.”
No matter where the students and alumni are at now, what Jaki Murillo and many other InsideOUT Writers will remember most are the instructors that guided them throughout their journeys.
“Johnny has a tattoo on his arm that says ‘No estás solo,' meaning ‘You are not alone',” Murillo says. “No matter what the struggle, he never gave up on me and he always showed up. “
These three simple words written on his arm constantly remind Kovatch's students that they will always have someone supporting them along the way.
“I want them to remember that they have their whole lives ahead of them,” Kovatch says. “Kids are redeemable and it's important for them to understand that why they were incarcerated doesn't define them. They are more than what led them in there.”
Unarmed 18-year-old man shot dead by police in Missouri: witnesses
by Rich Schapiro
An 18-year-old Missouri man was shot dead by a cop Saturday, triggering outrage among residents who gathered at the scene shouting “kill the police.”
Michael Brown was on his way to his grandmother's house in the city of Ferguson when he was gunned down at about 2:15 p.m., police and relatives said.
What prompted the Ferguson officer to open fire wasn't immediately clear.
Multiple witnesses told KMOV that Brown was unarmed and had his hands up in the air when he was cut down.
The officer “shot again and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air,” said witness Dorian Johnson. “He started to get down and the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots.”
Cops said they were trying to figure out what led to the shooting.
“We're still trying to piece together what happened and why," St. Louis County Police spokesman Brian Schellman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, promising a “lengthy investigation.”
The shooting sparked bedlam in the city 12 miles north of St. Louis. Some 200 irate residents filled the streets screaming and cursing at cops.
Some came face-to-face with the officers as a barking police dog paced nearby, reported the Post-Dispatch.
“Please don't shoot me,” they hollered. “Please don't shoot me.”
Dozens of officers, backed by a SWAT vehicle, moved in as the crowd swelled.
Louis Head, Brown's stepfather, held a sign that said: "Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!”
Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, also joined the crowd and was swiftly comforted by friends and neighbors.
“I know they killed my son," she told an acquaintance, according to the Post-Dispatch.
"This was wrong and it was cold-hearted."
Her son, she added, "doesn't kill, steal or rob. He doesn't do any of that.”
An uneasy calm returned to the block hours later as mourners gathered for a prayer circle.
Brown was a 2014 graduate of Normandy High School and was scheduled to begin classes at Vatterott College on Monday, relatives said.
"He was a good kid. He didn't live around here," said Brown's grandmother, Desuirea Harris. “He came to visit me and they did that to him for no reason.”
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson told the Post-Dispatch the case was immediately turned over to the St. Louis County Police.
He declined to comment on the particulars of the shooting, but noted that the officer who shot Brown had been placed on paid administrative leave.
State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said she would petition the U.S. Justice Department for a formal investigation on Monday.
St. Louis County NAACP President Esther Haywood expressed outrage over the incident.
“We are hurt to hear that yet another teenaged boy has been slaughtered by law enforcement especially in light of the recent death of Eric Garner in New York who was killed for selling cigarettes,” Haywood said in a statement.
“We plan to do everything within our power to ensure that the Ferguson Police Department as well as the St. Louis County Police Department releases all details pertinent to the shooting.”
Vandalism, looting after vigil for Missouri man
by JIM SALTER
FERGUSON, Mo. -- A day of anger over a fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man in suburban St. Louis turned to mayhem as people looted businesses, vandalized vehicles and confronted police who sought to block off access to several areas of the city.
The tensions erupted after a candlelight vigil Sunday night for 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times the previous afternoon after a scuffle involving the officer, Brown and another person in Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb of the city.
Afterward, a convenience store was looted. Several other stores along a main road near the shooting scene were broken into, including a check-cashing store, a boutique and a small grocery store. People also took items from a sporting goods store and a cellphone retailer, and carted rims away from a tire store.
TV footage showed streams of people walking out of a liquor store carrying bottles of alcohol, and in some cases protesters were standing atop police cars or taunting officers who stood stoic, often in riot gear.
Other witnesses reported seeing people vandalize police cars and kick in windows. Television footage showed windows busted out of a TV station van.
Police were having a hard time catching looters because crimes were happening at several locations in Ferguson and spilling into neighboring communities, Mayor James Knowles told KTVI-TV. It wasn't immediately clear how many arrests were made. Authorities set up some blockades to try to keep people from the most looted areas.
While St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said that there were no reports of injuries as of about 11 p.m., there also were scattered reports of assaults into the early morning. Pat Washington, a spokeswoman for Dooley, there was one instance she knew of in which tear gas was used. There were scattered media reports of gunfire but authorities did not immediately confirm any.
"Right now, the small group of people are creating a huge mess," Knowles told KTVI-TV. "Contributing to the unrest that is going on is not going to help. ... We're only hurting ourselves, only hurting our community, hurting our neighbors. There's nothing productive from this."
As the investigation of Brown's death progresses, "we understand people want to vent their frustrations. We understand they want to speak out," Knowles added. "We're going to obviously try to urge calm."
Earlier in the day, a few hundred protesters had gathered outside Ferguson Police headquarters. At one point, many of them marched into an adjacent police building, some chanting "Don't shoot me" while holding their hands in the air. Officers stood at the top of a staircase, but didn't use force; the crowd eventually left.
County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the shooting occurred after an officer encountered two people — one of whom was Brown — on the street near an apartment complex in Ferguson.
Belmar said one of the men pushed the officer back into his squad car and a struggle began. Belmar said at least one shot was fired from the officer's gun inside the police car. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said authorities were still sorting out what happened inside the police car. It was not clear if Brown was the man who struggled with the officer.
The struggle spilled out into the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. Belmar said the exact number of shots wasn't known, but "it was more than just a couple." He also said all shell casings found at the scene matched the officer's gun. Police are still investigating why the officer shot Brown, who police have confirmed was unarmed.
Jackson said the second person has not been arrested or charged. Authorities aren't sure if that person was unarmed, Jackson said.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told KSDK-TV there's no apparent video footage of the shooting from a nearby apartment complex, or from any police cruiser dashboard cameras or body-worn cameras that the department recently bought but hasn't yet put in use.
Jackson said blood samples have been taken from Brown and the officer who shot him, with those toxicology tests generally expected to take weeks to complete.
Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, said he had graduated from high school and was about to enter a local college. She said she doesn't understand why police didn't subdue her son with a club or Taser, and she said the officer involved should be fired and prosecuted.
"I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty," she said, fighting back tears.
The killing drew criticism from some civil rights leaders, who referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was acquitted of murder charges.
"We're outraged because yet again a young African-American man has been killed by law enforcement," said John Gaskin, who serves on both the St. Louis County and national boards of directors for the NAACP.
St. Louis County Police Department is in charge of the investigation, and Dooley said he will request an FBI investigation. The U.S. Justice Department said Attorney General Eric Holder had instructed staff to monitor developments.
The race of the officer involved in the shooting has not been disclosed. He has been placed on paid administrative leave.
Plan draws back feds' monitoring of Detroit police
The Justice Department and the city of Detroit have asked a judge to scale back federal monitoring of the city's police department
by The Associated Press
DETROIT — The Justice Department and the city of Detroit have asked a judge to scale back federal monitoring of the city's police department after more than a decade of oversight.
The request was made Friday in a joint motion, asking U.S. District Court to terminate a consent judgment requiring oversight on Aug. 18 and dismiss a federal monitor. The Justice Department and Detroit want an 18-month transition agreement to replace current monitoring.
"The Detroit Police Department has fundamentally changed since this case was filed in June 2003. Today, DPD's practices are consistent with constitutional policing standards," Melvin Butch Hollowell, Detroit's corporation counsel, said in a statement.
If it goes forward, the transition agreement would require the Justice Department to review and evaluate police department internal audits, conduct visits and provide "comments and technical assistance where needed" to ensure improvements. The agreement "would facilitate the evolution of the DPD from an agency focused on the requirements of the consent judgment to an agency focused on sustaining effective and constitutional police practices," without outside oversight, the motion said.
The dismissal of the federal monitor also would mean the bankrupt city wouldn't need to pay a federal monitor more than $87,000 a month, a fee covered by taxpayers, Hollowell said.
The Justice Department began investigating the police department in 2000 after receiving complaints over the use of force and the treatment of crime suspects. Federal authorities sued the city in 2003 and the city signed consent decrees that year. According to the city and the Justice Department, significant progress has been made since that time.
The motion said that "serious uses of force have drastically declined and the DPD has completely ended the practice of arresting and detaining witnesses." It said that the department had 17 fatal shootings in the past five years; there were 47 in the five years before the Justice Department investigation.
The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, a watchdog group, said it wants the consent judgment to remain in place and plans a court challenge. Spokesman Ron Scott told the Detroit Free Press that he doesn't believe that the culture of the department has changed.
"I think it's a ... lie that use of force has gone down," Scott said. "It has not."
Capitol Hill Roundtable: Interrupt the ‘Poverty-to-Prison Pipeline'
by Gary Gately
WASHINGTON — You've heard about the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Now, add to that the “cradle-to-prison pipeline,” the “poverty-to-prison pipeline” and the “prison-to-poverty pipeline.”
Whatever you call the phenomenon, “it's a pipeline you don't want a child to be going down,” Roy Austin Jr., an aide to President Barack Obama, said last week at a Capitol Hill roundtable on anti-poverty strategies and juvenile justice reform.
“The solutions require some courage. They require courage around this country to not just take the simple solution or the easy solution and lock kids up,” said Austin, deputy assistant to the president for urban affairs, justice and opportunity.
Like others at the two-hour event, Austin noted minorities are much more likely to be drawn into the vortex of the justice system than whites: Black males, he said, are six times more likely to be in prison than white males; Latino males, 2 ½ times more likely. And 50 percent of black males will be arrested by the time they are 23 years old.
Austin joined three others on a roundtable panel: acclaimed public interest attorney Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Ala.; Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation; and Aja Brown, the mayor of Compton, Calif., a city of 100,000 just outside Los Angeles.
Before the panelists spoke, five members of Congress, including Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House Minority Whip, delivered comments on the connection between poverty and juvenile justice system involvement, as did Assistant U.S. Attorney General Karol V. Mason
Mason, assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, underscored the importance of education and harshly criticized schools' “zero-tolerance” policies that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline and result in a disproportionate number of minorities being suspended or expelled.
“We have to wonder why when our children are in school they are often hustled out the door for minor infractions and ordinary behavior,” Mason said.
“We've already established that education is the key, and what are we doing? We're kicking our kids out of school instead of helping them stay in school and get the education that they need. And the result is simply that they're missing the opportunity to learn and grow, which is bad enough. In many instances, they are being put on a path that leads them directly to arrest and confinement.”
About 125 invited guests — including congressional staffers, federal agency representatives and advocates from nonprofit groups — attended the event, sponsored by the Casey Foundation and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and held at the Rayburn House Office Building.
‘An Urgent National Crisis'
“Today's topic is certainly an urgent national crisis at the intersection of poverty and race, especially for black boys, who have a one in three lifetime risk of going to jail, and Latino boys, who have a one in six lifetime risk of going to jail,” said U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat serving in her first term in Congress.
“Tens of thousands of children and teens are sucked into the pipeline each year, it's reported by the Children's Defense Fund,” she said.
Beatty — co-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Task Force on Poverty and the Economy — pointed to widespread de facto segregated education, concentrations of poverty and longstanding stereotypes and pointed out that children of color often suffer harsher punishment than whites for the same conduct.
Still, she said, Tuesday's event was “about seeds of hope, and that's why we are here.”
For his part, Hoyer noted this year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's “War on Poverty,” and said, “One of the challenges we find ... is the relationship between poverty and juvenile incarceration.”
Hoyer took aim at efforts by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to shift more control of antipoverty programs from the federal government to the states.
“There are too many people in the Congress of the United States who are preaching disinvestment in our people and in our country,” Hoyer said. “The key is not only to attack poverty, but to prevent it.”
Hoyer quoted Frederick Douglass, the former Maryland slave who became an abolitionist and journalist, who said, “It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.”
Lawmakers, Hoyer said, should “make sure that we build strong children, not spend our money to repair broken men and women.”
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the CBC Task Force on Poverty and the Economy, called “high-quality public school education” the “key pathway out of poverty for children.”
“But that access certainly isn't available to many of our kids when many of them are being systematically removed from classrooms at the earliest ages,” Lee said.
Lee cited “startling” statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, which in March released a survey of civil rights data showing that despite comprising only 18 percent of preschool children, African-Americans represented 42 percent of preschoolers suspended and nearly half of those suspended more than once.
“That's preschool. That's 4- and 5-year-old kids. That's unacceptable,” Lee said, adding that it potentially puts even some of the youngest of children on track for the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
She praised summer youth programs and Obama's “My Brother's Keeper” initiative.
“It's important that the [CBC Foundation] continue to talk about this nexus between poverty and criminal justice and pathways out of poverty so our kids can have a pathway into living the life that they so deserve,” Lee said.
That's particularly critical for minorities, said Austin, the Obama aide on the four-member roundtable panel, citing statistics showing black, Latino and Native American children are six to nine times more likely to live in concentrated poverty than white children.
Half of Black Males Will Be Arrested by Age 23
Austin delivered other sobering statistics: Black males are six times more likely to be in prison than white males; Latino males, 2 ½ times more likely. And 50 percent of black males will be arrested by the time they are 23 years old.
Fellow panelist Stevenson said, “One of the great challenges that children of color in this country face is that they are born with a presumption of guilt. It follows them wherever they go.”
It can haunt adults too. Stevenson, who is African-American, recalled sitting at the defendant's table not long ago in a Midwestern courtroom, awaiting his client.
“The judge saw me sitting at the defendant's table and got angry at me,” Stevenson recounted. “He said, ‘Hey, hey, hey, get back out there in the hall! I don't want any defendants in my courtrooms until their lawyers arrive.”
Stevenson stressed the importance of teaching youngsters about the horrors of slavery and the hard-fought victories of the Civil Rights Movement.
Today, he said: “So we start talking about rights, we go to the United States Supreme Court because that's an institution that understands that you've either got to win or lose. ... We want to create an absolute ban on putting a child in an adult jail or prison. We want to create an economic burden on states with high rates of expulsion.
“This sort of combative orientation is necessary. We've got to have the orientation that this is a battle.”
Stevenson said his biggest challenge in dealing with children of color “is helping free themselves from this expectation of incarceration.”
“I see that in 12- and 13-year old boys, who, if I have an honest conversations with them, will tell me that they expect to be either dead or in jail or prison by the time they're 21. And it's not irrational for these kids to say. They see that happening all around them.”
Casey's Balis stressed the importance of relying on alternatives to incarceration, saying the foundation's juvenile justice approach focuses “almost entirely on safely reducing the use of confinement.”
The foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, the most widely replicated juvenile justice reform effort in the country, operates in some 250 jurisdictions in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Too often, Balis said, youths — even some who are “no risk at all to public safety” — end up in juvenile prisons such as those featured in Nell Bernstein's new book, “Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison,” a scathing indictment of state-run juvenile detention facilities in America. (Bernstein's book was distributed free at the event.)
Casey's approach, Balis said, is based “not just on the research that shows how bad incarceration is, but it's based on the notion that's connected to all of our work at the Casey Foundation, which is really that kids do best when they're raised in families, not institutions.”
Echoing others at the event, Balis said inequalities persist: African-American youths are locked up at five times the rate of white youths, with “terrible racial disparities from the front end of the system to the back.”
On the upside, Balis said, juvenile crime has declined dramatically over the past 15 years or so.
And, he said, “We now have a pretty big bandwagon of people who want to talk about de-incarceration, who want to talk about criminal justice reform, who want to talk about juvenile justice reform. And it's not just from the left; it's from the right as well.”
Mayor Jawbones with Gang Leaders
Brown, the Compton mayor, said about 10,000 of its 100,000 residents belong to one of more than 30 gangs besieging her city.
“I call them domestic terrorists that we're allowing to change the quality of life for the remaining law-abiding citizens,” she said.
Brown said she started a city policing task force last year to wage a “war on gang violence” and she has met with gang leaders.
“I sat down with them and I said, ‘You guys have a choice to make: Either you're going to continue to shoot one another until there's a last man standing, or you'll put the guns down and get a vocation or new living or a new way of life,'” she said.
Brown, who along with other mayors met with Obama last week to discuss My Brother's Keeper and possible solutions to urban woes, has recruited local judges and businesses to help in her efforts to fight gangs. Former gang members have been offered free legal counsel to deal with issues such as expunging their criminal records, and the city formed a non-profit organization to provide vocational training for jobs.
Under Brown's leadership since she became the city's youngest mayor ever last year at age 31, Compton has also embarked on youth-development programs focusing on crime prevention, self-esteem, enrichment and efforts to help trauma victims.
“Our kids in urban communities are systematically suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome … in proportions greater than people exiting wars for our country,” she said. “And so there's a huge need for mental health services in our communities, and we're providing those services,” including to those who decide to escape the life of gangs.
Brown also has stressed education.
“I think it's unfortunate that we can call a [school] system public, but there's a huge difference and disparity in the quality level of education and outcomes that people are able to receive just because of their ZIP code,” Brown said.
“I was given an opportunity to get out of poverty, and I think most children that have had that same opportunity will choose upward mobility instead of the continued status quo.”
Said Brown, whose city's population is more than 95 percent people of color: “We really need to take a step back and look at children as people. Regardless of your race, regardless of your ethnicity, we're all part of the human race. And there isn't a child alive that if you put them into a healthy environment and give them opportunities to thrive that they would not do so.”