Archive for the ‘Cops’ Category

Random notes: January 13, 2017.

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Actual headline from the NYT:

It’s Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you from a consent decree.

I feel a possible rant coming on about questionable legislation and questionable journalism, but I’m still trying to pull together information and run this past some friends for a sanity check.

Justice Dept. releases scathing report, says Chicago police officers have pattern of using excessive, unconstitutional force

Investigators excoriated the department and city officials alike for what it called “systemic deficiencies.” The report also said investigators determined that the Chicago police force has not provided officers with proper guidance for using force, failed to hold them accountable when they use improper force and has not properly investigated such incidents. They also faulted the city’s methods of handling officer discipline, saying that process “lacks integrity.”

Everyone together now, on three. One…two…three.

Obit watch: January 11, 2017.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Michael Chamberlain, ex-husband of Lindy Chamberlain and father of Azaria Chamberlain.

You may remember the Chamberlains from the “dingo ate my baby” case, which I have touched on before.

Detective Steven McDonald of the NYPD. Det. McDonald was shot by a 15-year-old boy in 1986. The shooting left him completely paralyzed from the neck down.

A plainclothes police officer when he was shot, Officer McDonald remained on the Police Department’s payroll afterward as a first-grade detective, at times appearing at roll calls and offering support for wounded officers.
His son, Conor, who was born six months after the shooting, is a sergeant with the New York Police Department and represents the fourth generation of the family to serve in the department.

Not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, Lou.

Monday, January 9th, 2017

One thing the Citizen’s Police Academy “suggests” is that you should reserve judgement on incidents involving the police – if not until all the facts are in, at least until we’re past the initial reports stage.

With that said, this doesn’t look good.

Yesterday, the APD arrested a man at one of our local malls. He was charged with shoplifting, but APD couldn’t determine his identity and suspected he had open felony warrants. So they loaded him into the back of a squad car and headed downtown for fingerprints.

On the way, the handcuffed gentleman told the officer he was feeling suicidal. The officer asked him if he had the means to kill himself…

…whereupon the gentleman in question pulled a gun out of his waistband and, after a brief standoff, shot himself in the head.

The obvious question is: how did police not find the gun?

An Austin police officer did not conduct a thorough pat-down of a man who shot himself Sunday in the back of a police car because the man already had been handcuffed by mall security, a preliminary investigation of the incident has found.

Other than the obvious lesson about assumptions getting you killed, I’m also wondering: how big was the gun? If it was a full-sized 1911, that’s one thing: Ray Charles probably wouldn’t have missed that. Then again, if it was a full-size 1911, the guy would probably be dead, instead of critical. If it was something like a NAA .22, or possibly even a Ruger LCP, missing it is a little more understandable to me.

Merry Christmas, Lee Baca.

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

The former sheriff of LA county got to open his present a few days early:

A mistrial was declared Thursday in the corruption case against former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca after a jury failed to reach a verdict on charges that he tried to obstruct an FBI investigation into allegations that deputies abused jail inmates.

The LAT reports that the jury was “split 11 to 1 in favor of an acquittal”, which makes me wonder if the prosecution is even going to attempt a re-trial. As noted previously, Baca is also in “the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease”; an attempt at a retrial may run into competency issues.

Related LAT editorial:

If hypocrisy, mismanagement and detachment were crimes, Baca would surely be staring down a long prison term.
But they are not, and they do not warrant criminal conviction or incarceration.

Los Angeles County is such a huge and virtually ungovernable county that any sheriff may be found wanting as a manager.

How hard is it not to beat prisoners and obstruct justice?

APD. DNA. FUBAR.

Friday, December 16th, 2016

The Austin Police Department has abandoned plans to reopen the DNA and forensic serology labs.

“We have failed in the area that is under question now with some of our DNA operations and some of the issues that came forward through the Forensic Science Commission audit,” [Police Chief Brian] Manley said. “For that I take responsibility and I am working with a team of leaders to push this forward so that our community has a system that works for them.”

Props to Chief Blast HardCheese for stepping up and taking responsibilty. But:

Since the DNA began operating in 2004, it has passed 17 audits and held national accreditation by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors.

Question number 1: how did the lab manage to pass 17 audits and get accreditation if it’s been badly run since the beginning?

Question number 1a: did the problems just start recently? If so, how and why?

Question numero dos: The lab opened in 2004. Chief HardCheese has been chief for about two weeks now: before that, he was an assistant chief, and I’m not sure how much day to day input he had into lab operations.

You know who did have a lot of input into lab operations? You know who was the HMFWIC when things went to hell in a handbasket? Yes, you do know, don’t you?

By the way, that’s not the only lab news today. The guy that was hired to run the lab? He’s no longer running the lab. And not just because the lab isn’t reopening:

Milne was hired to be Austin police’s chief forensic officer and earned $111,384 a year, police officials said. Manley said he has heard concerns from within the criminal justice community about Milne’s background and qualifications. Manley said he pulled Milne’s academic transcripts, which led him to conclude that Milne did not have adequate qualifications to run the functions of the lab.
“This individual has been removed from his role overseeing any functions at the lab and he is not associated with the lab at this time,” Manley said. “His future at this point is something we are working on determining how we will work through that.”

Perhaps I am a little biased here, but I’m starting to like Chief HardCheese more. I actually heard him speak last night, and he’s a pretty good speaker. He hasn’t done anything to irritate me yet. He hasn’t made any stupid public statements on guns. He’s a St. Ed’s graduate. (Hilltoppers represent!) And he actually seems to be making efforts to clean up this mess.

Lab watch.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Lawrence forwarded a story from “Community Impact”, one of those free neighborhood papers, that I thought was worthy of note.

The gist of it is that the Capital Area Private Defender Service (CAPDS from this point forward because I don’t want to keep typing that) is willing to get involved with fixing the DNA testing issues in the APD forensics lab.

CAPDS is proposing a 5-year process to review the city’s DNA cases to determine how what happened with the lab will affect past and pending court cases, and to look forward at best practices for DNA testing, Strassburger said.

Well, that sounds great. But what do they need? Money. And what does Travis County not have a whole lot of? Money.

[county judge Sarah] Eckhardt said she has asked the city to take $1.4 million identified in the city’s budget process for additional personnel in the DNA lab and apply it toward these efforts.

Meanwhile, the Statesman is saying that fixing the DNA lab problems could cost…well…

According to records obtained by the Statesman, models for such reviews involve varying levels of expert input and use of appellate attorneys. The most expensive carries a $14.4 million estimated price tag while the least expensive is about $6 million.

More:

According to the organization, county officials could assign an attorney to each case that used DNA evidence analyzed by the lab to review it and “file appropriate motions” for a minimum cost of $13.2 million. Or it could choose a more expensive option in which attorneys would do a deeper review of cases using two attorneys from the outset to learn which might have potential issues — for $14.4 million.
The last option — at a cost of $6 million — would involve the county or city hiring new lawyers to handle the cases instead of using outside attorneys.

Oh, by the way, this doesn’t include the costs associated with actually getting the lab up and running again.

And, in an also related story: after the lab was closed, the APD asked the Texas DPS crime lab to do retraining of some of the DNA analysts.

But Monday, DPS officials told the department they had lost faith in most of the staffers they were working with — and wouldn’t be returning.
Instead, according to a one-page letter obtained by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, only a select two from a staff of six DNA analysts are invited to a state facility to continue training in a “supportive environment.”

More:

In a letter to the Travis County district attorney’s office, Brady Mills, deputy assistant director of the DPS crime lab, wrote that the last four months of working together have shown that “there are significant challenges that impact confidence in the work product” of some of the lab’s DNA analysts.
“This has been demonstrated through our personal interactions with the group as well as the practical work product that has been completed and reviewed thus far,” Mills wrote. “Coupled with the expressed belief by your office that those senior analysts may no longer be utilized for expert testimony, APD and DPS plan to move forward with a new course of action.”

The position of DNA analyst (which requires a bachelor’s degree) in the APD lab starts at $23.44 an hour. I believe when I started doing enterprise tech support at Dell, I was making $22 an hour and that was in 2006: I would expect that by now, Dell’s paying closer to $23.44, if not more, and I also suspect enterprise tech support is easier than DNA analysis.

I want to be very very careful with what I say here. I don’t want to seem like I’m sneering at anyone. I couldn’t do this work, and I believe the people who do are motivated by things other than pay. But when DPS says 2/3rds of the people sent over for retraining, can’t be retrained? Is the DPS training that much more demanding than APD’s? Is there something else going on here? Or is the simple explanation also the correct one: APD’s been hiring people who are wrong for the job, and it finally caught up with them?

We don’t need no education…

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Hoping to reduce violent confrontations during traffic stops and other encounters with police, an influential Texas senator filed a bill Wednesday to require all public high school freshmen to take a course in how to interact with law officers.

Show your children the classic Chris Rock video, “How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By the Police”. Problem solved in five minutes. No need for a course. As a public service to those of you who have children, I’ll even embed it here for you.

I’m really about 80% serious when I say that: there’s actually a lot of really sound advice in that video.

And I wouldn’t mind a class that taught “how to interact with law officers”, but I think that should just be part of a larger class. I’d also teach how the DA’s office works and how crimes are prosecuted, how civil court works, and I’d bring in defense attorneys (maybe even someone from the ACLU) to go over what your rights as a suspect are. I almost want to say that they used to call this “Civics”.

But I’d probably teach this as part of a larger year-long class for high school students which I’ve been calling “S–t You Need To Know”. I’d also want to cover things like basic car maintenance (how to check fluid levels and change a flat), basic gun safety, strategies for avoiding being a crime victim, statistical fallacies and how to recognize them, bad science and how to recognize it…there’s a whole bunch of things that I think graduating seniors need to know, but aren’t getting taught unless they have exceptional parents.

Feel free to leave your proposed curriculum item in the comments.

Memo from the police beat.

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

The APD officer who shot and killed a naked 17-year-old earlier this year, and who was fired by Chief Acevedo, has settled with the city.

Basically, what’s going to happen is that:

  • The arbitration process stops. So the officer won’t get his job back.
  • His firing gets reclassified as “a general discharge”. In theory, this means that he could get a job in law enforcement somewhere else. At least, according to the Statesman.
  • The fired officer gets $35,000. That seems kind of low to me, even if his lawyers aren’t getting a percentage.

Why settle, though? Well, the city may have felt like $35,000 was a cheap price to pay not to go through the hassle. And what if…

The public arbitration process would have held the fatal police shooting in the headlines for several days with hearings throughout next week. It also would have forced Mayor Steve Adler to testify in the hearing after Freeman’s attorney subpoenaed him.

So you get the mayor, you probably get Acevedo, maybe you get Chief Manley (no idea how involved he was in the decision making…

…and I hate to play the “I know more than you do” card, but I’ve heard some things through the grapevine that indicate the arbitration hearing could have gotten complicated and possibly embarrassing for some of the parties involved. The circumstances under which I heard this make me uncomfortable going into detail, but let’s just say: it seems like there was a chance (and not a “Chicago Cubs winning the World Series” chance; oh, wait, never mind) that the chief’s decision could have been overturned, and the fired officer placed back on the force.

It would have been interesting to see how that played out: does the APD need two people on pager duty? (Actually, by now, that guy would have 29 or 30 years in: he’s probably retired and collecting at least 76% of $98,000 a year, if not more and if I remember my APD pension math right.)

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AD of a series)

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Chief Acevedo’s last day on the job was Tuesday. Yesterday, he was officially confirmed as Houston’s police chief, and takes over today.

Before he left, Chief Acevedo did an “exit interview” with the Statesman. It is fairly short, but there’s one interesting quote that I’ll pull:

The (closure of the police) DNA lab really bothers me. I wish that we wouldn’t be here today where we’ve had to shut it down for so many months because our scientists decided to go onto an island to themselves. The lab is not reopened, and it probably won’t be open until early next year, so that’s the one thing I kind of leave undone, understanding that the work never ends.”

Why is this interesting? Well, there’s a story that came out in the past day or so. Seems like the DNA lab had a problem with a freezer that wasn’t working.

The lab subscribes to a service that is supposed to alert staff when a freezer gets too warm, but because that system failed, officials said the samples were at an improper temperature for eight days — instead of a few hours.

This is the kind of thing that could compromise the integrity of the stored evidence. So what did the lab do about it?

… they decided to keep mum. They alerted no one outside the lab — not investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys or judges.
“If, in the future, the laboratory determines that a sample has been affected by this incident, the customer will be notified,” interim DNA technical leader Diana Morales wrote in a March 16 letter to her bosses.

That’s…not good, in my opinion. I might even go so far as to say:

Noted.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

The conviction of John Dwayne Bunn for the killing of Rolando Neischer, an off-duty corrections officer, has been overturned.

In 1991, Mr. Bunn, then 14, was arrested on charges of killing Rolando Neischer in the Kingsborough housing project in the Crown Heights neighborhood. According to trial testimony, two men on bicycles had approached a parked car in which Mr. Neischer was sitting with another officer, Robert E. Crosson, and ordered them to get out. A gun battle followed and Mr. Neischer was fatally wounded. Mr. Crosson, who was shot and wounded in the fight, survived and eventually identified Mr. Bunn and a second man, Rosean S. Hargrave, as the gunmen. Both men were later convicted of Mr. Neischer’s murder.

Why was the conviction overturned?

…the judge wrote that his “malfeasance in fabricating false identification evidence gravely undermines the evidence that convicted the defendants in this case.”

And who is the judge referring to here? Our old friend Louis Scarcella.

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AC of a series)

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

I don’t think this is going to be the last one, but we may be nearing the end.

Austin police Chief Art Acevedo is expected to be named Houston’s police chief, a source told the American-Statesman early Thursday, ending a 9 ½-year tenure that has made him one of Austin’s most visible figures while presiding in a time that ushered both progress and setbacks in relations between law enforcement and the community.

I have reservations, given that this is so far just “a source” said and there’s been no official announcement. Also, if he is taking the Houston job, I may want to continue the Art watch: it isn’t like he’s going to be on the other side of the world…

If this does become official, I’ll throw an update in.

Edited to add: The HouChron is quoting Mayor Adler as making it official.

Appearing comfortable before the cameras when Austin crime made national headlines, he became a national face for Texas’ capital city and in recent years had been mentioned as a candidate to head several other law-enforcement agencies – for the head of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, as a finalist for police chief in Dallas and San Antonio.

Yeah. I had a theory (which was poo-pooed by others) that if Clinton won, he’d be moving to some sort of government position in homeland security. I guess I wasn’t too far off after all.

Edited to add 2: official statement by the Chief. (Hattip: RoadRich.)

Short notes on film: October 30, 2016.

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Since we’re talking about movies anyway, I’d like to make another recommendation. And this one won’t cost you anything.

Last Saturday, it was just Lawrence and I for movie night, and we didn’t want to burn “John Carpenter’s The Thing” with just the two of us there. We had trouble settling on something to watch. We tried “The Architects of Fear” episode of “The Outer Limits”, but neither of us could really get into the episode: it seemed too talky and too relationship oriented, and we turned it off after about 10 minutes. (Also, man, they, like, totally ripped that plot off from “Watchmen”, right?)

We tried watching David Cronenberg’s first movie, “Stereo” (which is on the Criterion disc of “Scanners”) and that was one hot pretentious mess. I think we also made it about 10 minutes into that as well.

We ended up watching, for our feature presentation, a movie I’ve been wanting to see, but which may not technically qualify for Halloween viewing. It is kind of creepy, and falls into the category of “film noir”, so if you’re willing to extend Halloween creepy to noir…(says the guy who has gone in costume as Sam Spade, complete with Maltese Falcon).

The movie in question is 1948’s “He Walked By Night” directed by some guy named Alfred L. Werker (who was supposedly either “assisted by” or “fired from the film and had it taken over by” Anthony “fired from ‘Spartacus'” Mann).

Richard Basehart – excuse me – “Richard Basehart!” – is a burglar specializing in thefts of electronics. At the start of the movie, he shoots and ends up killing a police officer, triggering a massive manhunt by the LAPD. The police lure him into a trap at one point, but he shoots his way out (leaving another police officer paralyzed). The LAPD continues to pursue him, but things are complicated by the fact that he has no criminal record, changes his methods to throw off the police, and almost seems to be one step ahead of them…like he was a former police officer or something.

(Possible spoilers ahead.)

This is often cited as a hugely influential noir film. It is a little stagey (but it was also 1948) and there’s a lot of stuff in it that feels today like clichés. (“I’m taking you off the case because you’re too close to it!”) The thing is, those weren’t clichés in 1948: this is one of the origin points for a lot of what you see in later noir films and procedurals well into today.

A very young (and very thin) Jack Webb plays a police lab technician:

(“You will believe a man can use a slide projector!”) There’s an interesting story behind that: while he was working on this movie, Webb became friends with LAPD Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn, who was working as a technical advisor on the film. One thing led to another, and, well…Webb and Wynn’s friendship and discussions ultimately led to the creation of “Dragnet” (which shares a lot of DNA with this movie.)

Even with all the staginess and talking, this is, in my opinion, a remarkably compelling movie. It is short (one hour nineteen minutes) but something is going on in almost every frame to advance the plot. And there’s also a feeling of some real stakes at play here: any of the good guys (or an innocent bystander) could get killed at any minute. As Ivan G Shreve Jr. notes in his writeup at “Thrilling Days of Yesteryear”:

The unwritten law of the men in blue is there is nothing more dangerous than a cop killer; after all, if someone is crazy enough to shoot a cop, he’s liable to inflict even more grievous injury on an innocent member of the public.

There’s also a lot of really good cinematography: the use of underlighting and shadows to convey a sense of danger and dread is top-notch. And the crime is broken somewhat by lab work (Jack Webb’s role isn’t trivial), but more so by dogged, unrelenting police footwork.

The movie is actually based on a real incident, the Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker case, and it is surprising how closely it sticks to the facts. Walker, like Basehart’s protagonist, was an electronics expert who stole to finance his experimentation. He carried around homemade nitroglycerin that he’d carefully desensitized (to make it safer to transport) had a pretty extensive arsenal (mostly stolen from military armories), experimented with making his own fake driver’s licenses and license plates, and he had worked before WWII as a police dispatcher/radio operator.

There are a few small deviations from historical fact, and one omission: Walker shot and wounded the two LAPD detectives first, the police officer he killed was a highway patrolman (not an LAPD officer), and Walker wasn’t gunned down in an LA sewer. Walker was actually captured alive and sentenced to death, though that sentence was never carried out. One thing the movie doesn’t touch on – perhaps it was too early – was that Walker was emotionally disturbed by his wartime experiences: part of the motivation for his crimes was that he wanted to build a radio-based device that would turn metal to powder, use that device to force the governments of the world to raise military pay, and thus make war “too expensive” to be fought.

You can watch “He Walked By Night” on Amazon Video, and there are several DVD editions of it. Interestingly, though, the film is in the public domain in the United States: you can also download it for free from the Internet Archive.

If you like noir films, or Jack Webb, or Richard Basehart, I recommend you do so. I think you will find this movie amply repays your investment of time and bandwidth.