Archive for the ‘Cops’ Category

Memo from the police beat.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

A quick roundup of some police related news, mostly for RoadRich, but perhaps of interest to my regular readers.

APD’s latest officer-involved shooting. There don’t seem to be any updates since late last night, but so far this is sounding like just another sad story: police responded to a call in South Austin, a woman in her 20s fled, tried to run over offices, crashed, exited her vehicle and brandished a knife at one of the responding officers, and…

By way of Hognose over at Weaponsman: the chief of the Punta Gorda, Florida police department has been charged with “culpable negligence” and one of his officers has been charged with felony manslaughter. This is related to the citizen’s police academy shooting that I’ve discussed previously in this space.

(Interesting note: my mother and I started the Lakeway Citizen’s Police Academy last night. The officer who was teaching last night (also the second-in-command of the Lakeway PD) mentioned the Punta Gorda incident in the context of “things we won’t be doing in this class”.)

(I might discuss the Lakeway CPA in more detail at some point down the road. My initial impression is that there are a lot of differences between it and the Austin CPA; some of those are probably do to the relative size of the departments, the available resources, and the length of time the programs have been in operation. My class is the 14th for the Lakeway CPA: my Austin CPA class was the 87th, and I’m currently helping out with the 91st class.)

The city of Cleveland has agreed to pay more than $13.2 million to settle lawsuits involving police misconduct since the November 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an officer-shooting death that came at a time when the public started scrutinizing police actions.

(Hattip: Tim Cushing.)

I wish there was more context in this article. $13.2 million over 26 months sounds like a lot of money, but how does this compare to other cities over the same time frame? How much have cities like Chicago, New York, and Austin paid out over the same period? How does this break down on a per capita or per officer basis?

(Wikipedia estimates the current population of Cleveland at just under 400,000. Let’s take that as a base number. That’s $33 per citizen. “More than 1,600” people are on the police force: just for grins, let’s round up to 1,700. That’s $7,764.70 per employee, which would include both sworn and non-sworn.)

(The population of Austin was about 931,000 in 2016, and there’s about 1,800 people on the APD staff, both sworn and non-sworn. It’s interesting that the Cleveland PD has somewhere between 100 and 200 fewer officers for a city with less than half the population and a third of the area. But I digress. Unfortunately, I don’t have a figure for settlements paid out by the city since November 2014. But I will note, since I haven’t previously: last week, the city agreed to pay $3.25 million to the family of the naked 17-year-old shot by an APD officer.)

Art quickie.

Monday, February 13th, 2017

I don’t feel like this justifies a full “Art (Acevedo) Watch”, but noted:

Police Chiefs Say Trump’s Law Enforcement Priorities Are Out of Step

Some police chiefs and sheriffs have complained that immigration enforcement is not consistent with their priorities and could undermine hard-earned trust. “I would rather have my officers focused on going after violent criminals and people breaking into homes than going after nannies and cooks,” Chief Art Acevedo of Houston said.

Related:

It remained unclear whether the actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were part of continuing operations to round up undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions or a ramping-up of deportations by the Trump administration.

Also quoted: Kim Ogg, the new Harris County DA.

Half a million dollars.

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

This is slightly old news that I’ve been meaning to note for a couple of days now. I still think it’s worth mentioning, because it seems to me there’s something buried in the press coverage.

The Travis County Commissioners Court has voted to pay Judge Julie Kocurek $500,000.

“Does this have something to do with her being shot?” you might ask.

Indeed, it does.

“But why? The county didn’t shoot her. The cops didn’t shoot her. She was shot by a bad guy.”

Indeed, this is true. The money is being given as a settlement for “any claims against the county that Kocurek could have sought in a lawsuit”. Some of this is spelled out in the Statesman stories, and some of this is me reading between the lines, but it looks like the argument is:

  • There was a credible tip that Chimene Onyeri was targeting a judge.
  • The tip was investigated by the Travis County DA’s office.
  • Apparently, the investigators thought that the judge being targeted was both a male judge and one that wasn’t in Travis County.
  • It isn’t clear to me if the investigators knew that Onyeri had an appearance coming up in Judge Kocurek’s court (where he likely would have been sent back to prison) and ruled her out as a target because she wasn’t a male judge, or if they weren’t aware of his upcoming appearance.
  • In any case, they decided there was no “credible threat to any Travis County district judge”.
  • Judge Kocurek was shot three weeks later.

It’s hard for me to tell if anyone was wrong here. On the one hand, it seems like there was a credible threat: was it dismissed because the investigators screwed up and didn’t realize the subject of the threat might not have a been a male judge? And a big question is: why didn’t they warn all the judges? On the other hand, there’s an argument that the investigators did the best they could with limited information. And if they sent out warnings to all the judges every time some jackhole shot his mouth off, pretty soon it’d be “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” all over again.

No matter what, though, taxpayers are going to be out $500,000. I don’t begrudge Judge Kocurek the money: if you offered me $500,000 to let someone shoot at me, my response would be three words (two of those being “go” and “yourself”).

But it still bothers me.

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: