Tag: police misconduct

77% Say On-Duty Police Shouldn’t Swear at People

Nearly 20% of Americans report a police officer having used profanity with them. Yet, an overwhelming majority—77%—of Americans say police should be prohibited from using profanity or swearing at citizens while on the job. Twenty-three percent (23%) say police ought to be allowed to swear at citizens while on duty, according to a newly released Cato Institute/YouGov survey.

Find the full public opinion report here.

Opposition to police profanity reaches rare bi-partisan consensus—77% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans agree that police shouldn’t swear at people. Americans of virtually every demographic group identified strongly oppose allowing police use such language, including 77% of whites, 82% of blacks, and 72% of Latinos.

Why might police profanity matter? First, police image matters, and profanity could make police appear unprofessional, undisciplined, or “lacking self-control” as one research subject put it. Research experiments have shown that police using profanity are perceived as less fair and impartial. Further, police using profanity at the same time as using physical force with a person may cause people to view the force as excessive.  Given that personal encounters with police may be the strongest driver of attitudes toward law enforcement, one bad experience with police profanity may significantly harm a person’s willingness to trust and cooperate with police.

Second, some have argued that officers using profanity can “set someone off” and unnecessarily escalate confrontations with people leading to more force being used than was otherwise needed. Third, some contend police using such language can harm officers during court proceedings by appearing less sympathetic in front of the judge and jury.

Police Misconduct — The Worst Case in November

Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct web site, we have selected the worst case for the month of November: The Albuquerque Police Department, (APD) which is now under investigation, once again, for misconduct.

Here’s the background.  A few years ago, after numerous complaints from community leaders, the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation of the APD.  In April 2014, the DOJ announced its finding that there was indeed a pattern of excessive force by officers with the APD.  Police officials promised to change and improve.

Shortly thereafter, an APD officer shot and killed 19 year old Mary Hawkes.  It looks like Hawkes stole a car and the police were trying to catch her.  The police said she was a threat and so deadly force was necessary.  Hawkes’ family sued the city for excessive force.  Prior to trial, lawyers asked to see any police body camera footage from the incident.

Now we come to the latest news reports of APD misconduct.  Reynaldo Chavez was an employee of the City of Albuquerque and his job was handling records requests.  Chavez says he was aware that the police department had a peculiar policy regarding police body camera footage.  When the footage helped the police, it was released to the public.  When the footage hurt the police, such as showing excessive force, the footage was altered or destroyed.  In other words, the APD had a policy of tampering with evidence, which is a crime.

Chavez reportedly turned over incriminating body camera footage to the lawyers representing the Hawkes family.  Chavez then lost his job and he is now fighting to get his job back because he says he was punished for doing what he was legally supposed to do.

The APD has denied any wrongdoing, but the state attorney general has seen enough to launch yet another investigation into APD practices.

Police Misconduct — The Worst Case in October

Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct web site we have selected the worst case for the month of October.  It goes to the City of Minneapolis for its handling of an excessive force complaint against Officer Blayne Lehner.

Here’s the background: Lehner and his partner responded to domestic disturbance call at an apartment building where they found two women arguing with one another.   According to the news reports, the encounter was captured on video.  The owner of the apartment building was so disturbed by what he saw–Lehner pushing one of the women without cause–that he filed a complaint with the department.

Later, Police Chief Janee Harteau agrees that Lehner’s conduct was unacceptable.  The Chief terminates Lehner’s employment with the police department.

Only now a labor arbitrator has overturned that employment decision and has ordered the city to reinstate Lehner along with compensation for the time he has been off the force.

News reports also show that Lehner has been the subject of previous complaints and lawsuits:

City records show that since 2000, more than 30 complaint investigations have been opened against Lehner. The vast majority of investigations were closed with no discipline. One case from 2014 with the Office of Police Conduct Review is still open. Records show Lehner was suspended twice in 2013. However, the reasons for the discipline were not listed. Lehner was also issued two letters of reprimand in 2012.

In 2015, Lehner was sued by a man who claimed the officer kicked him in the face, breaking a few of his teeth and causing him to briefly lose consciousness. In a rare move, the city decided not to defend Lehner. However, the city later settled the case for $360,000.

Officer Lehner will soon be back to policing again.

Police Misconduct — The Worst Case in May

Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct web site, we have selected the worst case for the month of May.  It was the case of one Shane Mauger.  Over a period of about 10 years, this former police officer told lies to obtain search warrants and would then falsify police reports by under-reporting any cash that he seized during those raids.

Now, because of his corruption, officials cannot tell how many of his previous cases were based on valid police work and how many were based upon dishonest work.  Many cases are being reviewed and thrown out.

Federal investigators discovered other corrupt officers in the same Reynoldsburg, Ohio police department.  Former officer Tye Downard was arrested in February for dealing in narcotics.  Shortly after his arrest, Downard committed suicide in his jail cell.

Police Misconduct — The Worst Case in March

Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct web site, we have selected the worst case for the month of March.  It’s the scandal plagued Sheriff’s Office in Iberia Parish, Louisiana.

Sheriff Louis Ackal and Lt. Col. Gerald Savoy were indicted last month for criminal civil rights violations.  Eight former deputies have already pled guilty to similar charges.  False testimony in court and false allegations in official documents.  Hundreds of criminal cases are now being reopened because they could be tainted by corrupt acts.  The now former deputies admit that they lied in various reports, including search warrant applications.

The scope of this scandal is worth repeating: hundreds of cases will have to be reexamined.

Go here for the full story.

Federal Judge Curtails Right to Record Police

In a confounding ruling that breaks with a general consensus among federal courts, federal District Court Judge Mark Kearney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that recording police officers is not protected by the 1st Amendment unless the recorders are making an effort to “challenge or criticize” the police.  On Judge Kearney’s logic, standing silently and recording the police is not sufficiently expressive to warrant 1st Amendment protection.

The reasoning behind this distinction is bizarre, and is out of step with rulings in several federal circuits that recording police in public is constitutionally protected without regard for whether the recorder is attempting to make a statement or issue a challenge to law enforcement.  

A couple quick takes from civil liberties scholars disputing Judge Kearney’s attempt to distinguish the facts of this case:

 Radley Balko’s take at The Washington Post:

 Under Kearney’s standard, most of the citizen-shot videos of police abuse and shootings we’ve seen over the past several years would not have been protected by the First Amendment. In the overwhelming majority of these videos, there’s none of the “expressive conduct” Kearney apparently wants to see from the camera-wielder. In many of them, the police officers are never made aware that they’re being recorded. That’s how some of these videos were able to catch the officers lying about the incident in subsequent police reports.

I suppose you could argue that recording something as noteworthy as a police shooting or an incident of clear brutality would be self-evidently an act of either expression or news-gathering. But judging from his opinion, it’s far from clear that Kearney would make this distinction. It’s also hard to see how he could. It would mean that whether or not your decision to record the police is covered by the First Amendment would be dependent on whether the recording itself captures the police violating someone’s rights or doing something newsworthy. Even the courts often disagree over what is and isn’t a violation of someone’s constitutional rights (this ruling itself is as good an example as any). And “newsworthiness” is of course a highly subjective standard. You could make a strong argument that both of the events in these two cases — an anti-fracking protest and a 20+ officer police response to a house party — are plenty newsworthy.

 And over at Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh notes:

 [T]he court held, simply “photograph[ing] approximately twenty police officers standing outside a home hosting a party” and “carr[ying] a camera” to a public protest to videotape “interaction between police and civilians during civil disobedience or protests” wasn’t protected by the First Amendment.

I don’t think that’s right, though. Whether one is physically speaking (to challenge or criticize the police or to praise them or to say something else) is relevant to whether one is engaged in expression. But it’s not relevant to whether one is gathering information, and the First Amendment protects silent gathering of information (at least by recording in public) for possible future publication as much as it protects loud gathering of information.

Your being able to spend money to express your views is protected even when you don’t say anything while writing the check (since your plan is to use the funds to support speech that takes place later). Your being able to associate with others for expressive purposes, for instance by signing a membership form or paying your membership dues, is protected even when you aren’t actually challenging or criticizing anyone while associating (since your plan is for your association to facilitate speech that takes place later). The same should be true of your recording events in public places.

The ACLU has already announced an appeal, which would give the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals an opportunity to knock down the strange distinction drawn by Judge Kearney.

The ability of individuals to record police in public without fear of reprisal is an essential mechanism for injecting transparency where it is sorely lacking, for holding the government accountable for misconduct, and in many cases for protecting good police officers from misattributed blame.

 For more of our work on recording police, check out this video:

Police Misconduct — The Worst Case in December

Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct web site, we have identified the worst case for the month of December.  It involved the shooting of a man in Paradise, California.

According to news reports, here’s what happened:  Andrew Thomas was seen leaving the parking lot of a bar and his vehicle didn’t have its lights on – even though it was late at night.  Officer Patrick Feaster suspected the driver (Thomas) might be intoxicated and so pursued Thomas to pull him over and investigate further.

No problem so far.  We want police to be alert for impaired drivers who may endanger other people.

Next, Thomas did not pull over after Feaster was behind him with his police lights flashing.

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