October 26, 2016
The Denver Police Department is rewriting its use-of-force policy to align it with the community’s changing expectations for how officers handle volatile situations and to reflect progressive policies recommended by national policing experts.
The new policy will shift the department’s focus from telling officers what is legally allowed when using force against citizens to one that encourages officers to use the minimum amount of force necessary. It also will provide specific scenarios and a decision making model to guide officers on how they should react to those situations, Chief Robert White told The Denver Post during an interview Wednesday.
“I’m of the opinion it’s just not good enough for officers to take legal actions, but they also need to make sure those actions are absolutely necessary,” White said. “That’s where we are going.”
Across the nation, police departments and their officers are under scrutiny when it comes to shooting suspects and even when deciding to use stun guns or to punch and kick people. Demands for change have followed a series of high-profile police killings of unarmed minorities in Ferguson, Mo., Charleston, S.C., a Minneapolis suburb and elsewhere.
As a response to eroding trust between police and their communities, policing experts have recommended law enforcement agencies periodically review their policies and change use-of-force policies to honor the sanctity of life and to emphasize de-escalation.
Earlier this year, the Denver Sheriff Department announced an overhaul of its use-of-force policy that reflected those recommendations. Its new policy set a standard of “reasonable and necessary” force that is more restrictive than the standard set by state and federal law.
The sheriff’s policy was rewritten as part of a massive reform of the department and involved dozens of people from outside the department.
However, the police department’s rewrite is an internal process, despite calls for others to be involved.
Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell and the Citizen Oversight Board, which governs his office, have sent letters asking for a seat at the table as the policy is being written.
Lisa Calderon, co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum’s Denver chapter and heavily involved in local law enforcement issues, has shared her frustration over the lack of outside participation with Stephanie O’Malley, Denver’s executive director of safety.
But White insists he and his staff are forming a progressive policy on their own.
“I get hired as a chief of police to create policies for the police department. That’s kind of part of what I get paid to do,” he said.
It has been important for the same people to be involved in all of the policy rewrites because so many provisions in the 746-page operations manual are interconnected, Deputy Chief Matt Murray said.
“They can’t stand alone,” he said. “They all need to complement each other. So the people who are writing one need to write the other so they’re not in conflict. You can’t have a committee write every policy unless it’s the same committee for the rest of time. All policies have to work together.”
The command staff is almost finished with a first draft, which will be distributed to the Office of the Independent Monitor, rank-and-file officers and community leaders, White said.
Each of those parties will be given a chance to offer input before a final version is written, he said.
White said he understands the use-of-force policy is a concern to the community, and he pledged to listen to any ideas given by the independent monitor and others.
“I will seriously take into consideration any feedback that he or anyone else gives us, and if it is consistent with the culture of this community and our ability to be able to implement it and to incorporate it into our final version, then I will do that,” White said.
To write the policy, Denver police leaders consulted with 14 other departments, including San Diego, Houston, Kansas City, Mo., and Seattle, and they considered recommendations from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank on whose board of directors White serves.
The Denver police command staff routinely review policies to make sure they are up-to-date with the latest trends. About two years ago, the department started rewriting its entire operations manual.
Already this year, the department has added a section to its operations manual that requires officers to de-escalate situations when reasonable and practical. That, too, has been a focus in national policing models.
The department also changed its policy on how officers respond to suspects after force has been used.
Officers now have a “duty to render aid” after they shoot or use physical force on a suspect once they determine it is safe to do so, White said.
The department was criticized by community members in 2015 after officers failed to provide immediate medical aid to Jessica Hernandez, a teenager shot and killed by police while driving in an alley in northeast Denver.
The bottom line for the new use-of-force policy will be its insistence that officers use the minimum amount of force necessary to resolve situations, White said. A timeline for training officers and holding them accountable under the policy has not been set.
White said he expects some push-back within the ranks.
“I’m not saying every police officer has an issue with this,” White said. “Some will support it wholeheartedly, and some won’t be comfortable with it.”
Still, White is confident he is doing the right thing.
“It was not something where I woke up in the morning and said, ‘OK, today we need to do this,’ without having a basis for where it needs to go and what it needs to be,” White said. “This is based on a lot of work and a lot of research.”
October 21, 2016
Negotiations over a new use-of-force policy for San Francisco police officers stalled Friday, as the Police Commission and Police Officers Association hit an impasse over a proposal that would bar officers from shooting at moving vehicles.
The disagreement comes after months of discussion between the two parties and community groups.
The Police Commission has recommended that the San Francisco Police Department prohibit officers from firing at moving vehicles unless the driver poses an “immediate threat by means other than the vehicle.”
The recommendation is considered a best practice by the Department of Justice and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, because shooting at moving vehicles can pose safety risks to bystanders and police.
The Police Officers Association, however, is adamant that the revised use-of-force policy should clearly allow officers to fire at moving vehicles in life-threatening circumstances.
In a statement, police union President Martin Halloran used the recent attack in Nice, France — when an armored vehicle plowed through a crowded Bastille Day parade — as an example.
“Under the proposed policy, somebody could be driving down Market Street during the Gay Pride Parade, mowing down pedestrians, and police would be prevented from using force to stop the driver,” said Nathan Ballard, spokesman for the San Francisco police union. “That’s absurd.”
Officers firing their weapons at moving vehicles has long been a source of contention. Several law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, have barred the practice because of safety concerns.
District Attorney George Gascón, who proposed limiting such shootings while police chief of San Francisco from 2009 to 2011, told The Chronicle this year that a moving vehicle can become “an unguided missile” if the officer hits the driver. “That creates safety concerns for everyone, including the officers,” Gascón said.
San Francisco’s current policy states that firing at the driver of a moving vehicle is “inherently dangerous to officers and the public,” allowing it only if the officer or others are in grave danger. The proposed use-of-force reforms — taken at face value — would ban shooting at moving vehicles unless the driver is also threatening officers or civilians with another weapon.
San Francisco Police Commission President Suzy Loftus said language in the proposed policy accounts for unusual situations, but that “except for in extremely rare and unpredictable circumstances, shooting at a moving car is not the best choice.”
Ballard, however, said the language is so vague it becomes meaningless and that a specific, precisely worded exception is needed.
“We cannot put the public and officers in harm’s way,” he said. “It would be a dereliction of duty.”
In a statement Friday night, San Francisco Police Chief Toney Chaplin said that no future meetings on the issue are scheduled and that the department will be “evaluating its options to determine what steps will be taken in the days to come to move this policy forward.”
The proposed ban on shooting into cars became a top issue after the May 19 shooting death of Jessica Williams, 29, who was killed by police in the Bayview after she reportedly tried to flee in a stolen car.
The shooting lead to the resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr. Williams’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city in federal court last week.
By James Bentley
October 25, 2016
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby introduced a set of proposed policy reform proposals for investigating and prosecuting police misconduct. While Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the department would study the proposals before making on a decision, the Fraternal Order of Police swiftly condemned the proposed changes.
In response Mosby issued a vigorous defense of her proposals in an interview with the AFRO.
The proposals, in short, would make it more difficult for defendants to receive a bench trial instead of a jury trial, something some of the officers in the Freddie Gray case did effectively. In addition, members of Mosby’s office would be given police powers, the number of civilians on the police hearing boards be increased and the police department’s Special Investigative Response Team, which responds to use of force of incidents, would be replaced by a new group made up of a Civilian Review Board investigator, a Maryland State Police Investigator a SAO Investigator as well a BCPD Investigator.
“What I think we’ve done for far too long is maintain the status quo and what we’ve been able to do following the Freddie Gray case, where we applied justice fairly and equally to everybody and we had accountability, that accountability lead to exposure. We then saw how deeply engrained the discriminatory policing practices in Baltimore City were and now after that exposure it’s time to talk about reform,” Mosby told the AFRO. “So I know a lot of people are criticizing these proposals and have so much to say but it’s really an attempt to have a dialogue. These are suggestions and proposals that people are doing across the country and some of them are creative to create a second layer of transparency, so that we can rebuild the trust among communities and law enforcement. But at the end of the day the goal was to have this dialogue and to start talking about it, rather than everybody being up in arms about it. What are we doing about it? This is an attempt to do something about it.”
When asked about the criticism against changing the process for bench trials in Maryland, Mosby said, “We’re already doing this federally. The fact of the matter is that people keep asking ‘how are you taking away defendant’s rights to a bench trial?’ The question should be ‘why are we taking the community’s right to be a part of the criminal justice system.”
When pressed on why the average citizen would be in favor of this change Mosby asserted, that as an official elected by the community, “…the state has a right as well, to go and put cases before the community. The community has the right to be a part of the criminal justice system and so if you want to waive your constitutional right then we should have a say just like they do federally.”
Mosby will need a lot of support both locally and in Annapolis to get any real movement on her proposed reforms. When asked about how she plans to get her progressive proposals enacted, Mosby said, “First and foremost we have to build a coalition. The community has to understand why that’s so important and it’s not just for police misconduct cases, it’s for all cases.”
With the election fast approaching and a new administration set to take over City Hall in a little over a month, will Mosby be pushing the agenda now or waiting for the new administration. She said, “I think from a community perspective I intend to push now and in the future but I can’t do this alone. I think that this has to be a priority for the community.”
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis issued a statement in response to the proposed reforms that his department “will consider all recommendations that serve to improve our processes and enhance our reputation in the community.”
Fraternal Order of Police President Gene Ryan, in a statement, said, “Mrs. Mosby takes the position that a criminal defendant, police or citizen, should not have the right to request a bench trial to determine their guilt or innocence, when criminal charges are placed against them. Mrs. Mosby points to the inability to convict any officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Every judge in the State of Maryland, and particularly those Judges assigned to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, should be offended at this position because what Mrs. Mosby is saying is that she does not believe that Judges who hear cases, non-jury, would do so in a fair and impartial manner nor can they render a verdict solely based on evidence presented. What Mrs. Mosby is doing is questioning the integrity of every Judge in the State of Maryland particularly those Judges in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.”