Police shootings, beatings in NY fuel activist call for more oversightBy Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Mar 7, 2012 - 10:52:49 AM
“Yes, it is true that these acts have reignited the discussion amongst community leaders regarding law enforcement’s use of force policies, training of officers, and investigations of complaints of questionable actions by officers,” said Damon Jones, the Westchester County, N.Y. representative of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement in America.
Mr. Jones told The Final Call the main problem facing anti-police brutality activists in the state is the failure of officials to admit a need for a critical review of law enforcement policies.
Case in point, a Poughkeepsie Journal study of the use of Tasers by 19 local police agencies found Blacks were hit by Tasers far more than Whites. The Journal’s analysis and the 2011 study by the N.Y. Civil Liberties Union of eight New York police forces showed clearly a disproportionate use of stun guns on people of color. The NYACLU study found stun guns were used against non-Whites 58 percent of the time.
Police officials maintained Blacks are not targeted, saying officers try to use the stun device only when necessary to make arrests, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal.
The Journal concluded the use of Tasers “echoes consistent and disturbing practices of over-policing in communities of color.”
One of the main supporters of current police practices is a conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute, which insists: “Serious crime is being deterred by the NYPD’s relentless efforts to reassert the rule of law in high-crime neighborhoods.”
“Time for the federal government to come in, historically when local municipal police departments could not discipline their officers, the feds would investigate and put in safe guards to protect innocent citizens,” said Sen. Eric Adams, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn. He added that for some “strange” reason, probably 9-11 attacks on the city, the Justice Department hasn’t taken on NYPD.
“They have turned their backs on the trauma police misbehavior is bringing to our communities, 9-11 is no excuse,” he told The Final Call.
Ron Hampton, the Wash., D.C. representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement in America explained that the Justice Dept. has a special Litigations Branch that monitors police departments nationally. “The law creating this department was passed in 1992, known as the ‘Omnibus Crime Act of 1992’ that established a system for monitoring departments, particularly if there has been notification of a culture of police brutality,” Mr. Hampton said. The monitor may stay with a department for up to five years, looking at the behavior of the officers, he noted. You cannot have 20 questionable shootings and think there is no problem, it’s referred to as “pattern and practice,” Mr. Hampton continued.
“We have met with people from the DOJ several times, and New York comes up in our discussion, so, I know the DOJ is aware of what is happening with the NYPD,” he said.
The Justice Dept. has successfully monitored police departments in Seattle, Miami, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and New Orleans and changes were made, according to Mr. Hampton. “The DOJ responds to information from citizens,” Mr. Hampton said.
The Justice Dept. did not respond to calls from The Final Call, nor has any statement been issued concerning these latest incidents in New York.
In the meantime, several state legislators sponsored a bill Feb. 9 that establishes an independent inspector general for the NYPD to report to the commissioner of investigations. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg opposes the bill, according to the Associated Press. A spokesman for the three-term mayor told AP: “The department already has an aggressive and independent Internal Affairs Bureau.”
“We agree the police department cannot police itself. For many years we have called for greater oversight of the NYPD, this is a step in the right direction,” Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP, noted in a press release.
In an attempt to quiet the community, the NYPD announced Feb. 14 a so-called revised policy for using deadly force, according to the N.Y. Daily News. A department spokesman told the newspaper officers cannot shoot “if innocent bystanders” would be injured.
Some activists see this revised regulation as a smokescreen and not an answer. The N.Y. Civil Liberties Union issued a statement saying the NYPD should be working on “improving training and procedures as to eliminate unjustified shootings.”
The new directive is designed to restate that police shootings are not judged by the standard applied to civilians, noted Prof. Eugene O’Donnell, professor of political science and law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Because the police use force pursuant to the work they do, and do so at our behest, their actions are judged in the context of their training and experience as police personnel,” the professor told The Final Call in an e-mail.
The reasonableness of their actions can only be judged by taking into account what they know and how they are trained in assessing a given situation, added Prof. O’Donnell, who is also a retired police officer. “The police act unilaterally and summarily-they, and they alone, make the on-the-spot decision, so there is no formal charging process or the participation of any non-police people in examining the decision,” he said.
Sen. Adams, who retired from the NYPD with the rank of captain, said he understands the mindset described by Prof. O’Donnell. Officers must be given a psychological test that deals with racial stereotyping and that this test should be administered before coming into the NYPD, he said. “And there should be a lesson plan used in the Police Academy dealing with stereotyping,” Sen. Adams added.
Columbia Law professor Jeffrey Fagan explained to The Final Call it is not “unconstitutional” for a police officer to put his hands on someone in the course of making a stop. “Cops can legally handcuff someone, for example, if they believe that person has a weapon,” he said. “It would be interesting to know the racial breakdown of those stops that don’t end up in use of force.”
New Yorkers must remain vigilant, and must keep up the pressure; the Justice Dept. will come around, said Mr. Hampton. “We will be meeting with the DOJ soon to discuss what is happening in Westchester County, and I am sure the NYPD will be discussed,” he said.
Seething anger in New York over police 'immunity' in shootings (FCN, 02-20-2012)
Complaints against New York City police rising (FCN, 07-03-2009)
Mistrial declared for former cop shot 28 times by police (FCN, 06-01-2007)
New York police chief racially profiled? (FCN, 06-04-2008)