Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Who Polices Our Cops?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? — Juvenal from On Women

The question from the Roman poet and satirist about 1,000 years ago is seminal. Human nature being, well, human, we invariably look to outside oversight of those in any position of power.

Yet, police officers are second perhaps only to our current President in claiming that they neither want nor need nor accept external review. In one U.S. city after another, they have lost that battle...and for many good reasons.

City Councilor Felix Arroyo opened the long sealed vault of responsibility yet again, calling for a civilian review board (CRB). Mightily our blue boys shall lament!

Their claims of effective self-policing fade on examination. Perhaps no case is as clear and powerful to many in the public as the death of 21-year-old Victoria Snelgrove. One officer was demoted and the maximum penalty for others was a 45-day suspension. There were no prosecutions for her death. The city settled with her family for $5.1 million.

Keep that 45-day suspension in mind. It is what the local police think is extreme punishment for their own. That has to change and they are not likely to do it on their own.

Consider for one article, an analysis by the Boston Globe of 116 cases from January 1, 2002 through September 22, 2005. These were the serious offenses, "including assaulting civilians, lying in police reports, falsifying evidence, or abusing drugs or alcohol. In 79 of those cases, punishments were negotiated with the officers. Of the 110 officers, dispatchers, and civilian personnel cited in the 116 cases, 86 were still in their jobs at the end of last year, according to payroll records."

Physical assaulting civilions or domestic assault. In the 19 cases that the BD found the officers committed the crimes, 13 got 45-day suspensions or less, 3 got longer ones, 2 lost their jobs, and 1 resigned.

False reports or investigative misconduct. Of the 35 deemed guilty, 27 got anything from a reprimand to 45-day suspension, 4 got longer suspensions, 3 were fired, and 1 retired (without punishment).

And so it goes. The whole article is a bit shocking, but good background.

Other cities have much stricter policies and many more rules requiring dismissal. Yet, here the spokes-officers won't yield. As the head of the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, Lt. Joseph G. Gillespie, put it, "In my experience, punishment, if it has gone in any direction, has been too severe." Likewise, President of the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society, Detective Robert Kenny, pulled the old he said/she said wheeze and noted that criminals are among the complainants.

Indeed, if these are the attitude, who will guard the guardians?

Here, the police commissioner could institute stricter rules, in line with other major cities. That might be a tougher fight than starting a CRB. It would surely mean a legal battle. Likewise, the Council can drive for a CRB, another fight. Alternately, an auditor system (future post) is a possibility.

Unfortunately for the police here, they have boxed themselves in with over a century of non-punishments, blaming the victims, and keeping the rotten apples in the barrel.

Our current mayor won't lead this fight or even support it. He has proffered an asthenic police-reviewing-police system.

In theory, the leadership of the various police unions and associations should step up and clean house themselves. That would be the one proof that they were capable of monitoring their own. It would show that as a group, they have as much common sense as arrogance.

Don't hold your breath.

See Also: Crime Fighters and Punishment, or Not and Good Cop/Bad Cop: Says Who?

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