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WitnessLA On Larry Mantle’s Air Talk Discussing Flaws in DOJ’s New Plan to Collect Police Shooting Data Nationwide

October 17th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday of last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new plan to gather crucially important nationwide data on law enforcement interactions with civilians in general, and on the use of force by law enforcement officers in particular.

On Friday, Witness LA joined author, and former Los Angeles Times police reporter, Jim Newton (now editor of Blueprint), and New York Times reporter, Eric Lichtblau, on KPCC’s AirTalk with Larry Mantle to discuss the good, the bad, and the not-so-promising aspects of the new plan.

Here’s the deal: According to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, this new effort at data collection is an attempt to close a gap in an existing law passed in 2014 called the Death in Custody Reporting Act. The DCRA (that is pronounced by experts, in all seriousness as dic-rah) made it a requirement for police and other law enforcement agencies to submit data about people who died during an interaction with law enforcement or in their custody.

A good new step forward, right? Well, maybe not. According to a long list of advocates and experts, the lack of an enforcement mechanism to mandate that law enforcement agencies actually fork over the necessary information, plus the new plan’s flawed methods for data gathering, does not bode at all well for anything resembling success.


According to 2014′s DCRA, in order to persuade agencies to participate, said agencies could also be fined by the AG for not reporting these incidents.(“Could” is the operative word here.) But such arguably weak enforcement mechanisms are not in place for the new reporting system of non-lethal uses of force interactions.

As WitnessLA reported on Friday, thus far, even when it comes to the two states that already have mandated reporting of fatal shootings by law enforcement—namely California and Texas—-things have not gone especially well, according to a recently-released study conducted by researchers at Texas State University at San Marcos.

The study’s authors looked at data reported over a ten-year period by police and sheriff’s agencies in those two states, then placed those numbers side-by-side with data for the same period gained via other sources—news stories, press releases from police departments, coroners, and the like. When the researches compared the two sets of figures, they found that California was missing 30 percent of its total officer involved fatal shootings, which came to 440 incidents. Texas agencies missed reporting around 220 OIS deaths, or 25 percent.

And although, in California, large law enforcement agencies like the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (34 unreported deaths), the Los Angeles Police Department (21 fatalities missing) and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department (12 missing incidents) led in this undistinguished sweepstakes, in many cases the discrepancy seemed more an artifact of problematic record keeping, not deliberate data tweaking.


The study also noted that some of the biggest gaps in data came from the small law enforcement organizations around the two states, some of which may be deliberately underreporting to protect their agencies from bad PR, but there also seemed to be a lot of sloppy record keeping.

In fact, according to LASD spokesperson Nicole Nishida, many of the department’s 34 missing officer involved fatal shootings were due to a “clerical error” caused by a switch in reporting forms.

This last, brings up one of the most pressing objections to the new plan flagged by a list of 67 organizations including the ACLU, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Amnesty International, and more. According to this group of concerned advocates, the new DOJ plan weakens the already-faulty 2014 collection mechanism by turning over data collection to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, not the states.

Worse, as the ACLU, et al, noted, the “proposal indicates that BJS will rely primarily upon publicly available information (“open-source review”)” for its data collection.

This means, as the 67 groups wrote in an open letter to Attorney General Lynch, “that should The Guardian and the Washington Post decide to continue to invest in this research, those news outlets will continue to be the best national sources for data on deaths in police custody.” That’s not how it should be.

(At this point in time, the Guardian’s project The Counted and the Washington Post’s data gathering project provide the closest to accurate data that we have.)


The advocate group also stressed that that “some kind financial penalty is critical to successful implementation” of both DICRA and the new program. “Voluntary reporting programs on police-community encounters have failed,” they wrote. “Reportedly, only 224 of the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies reported approximately 444 fatal police-shootings to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2014, though we have reason to believe that annual numbers of people killed by police exceeds 1,000.”

The DOJ already awards close to $4 billion in grants annually to local agencies to collect and report data on incidents of police use of force on civilians and other police-civilian encounters. Advocates propose that such discretionary grants should be conditioned upon providing data.

Texas State University researcher Howard Williams—who, by the way, was a police officer for 36 years, first for the Austin PD, and then as the chief of police in San Marcos, Texas—agrees that much of the problem is that the reporting has, in the past, been voluntary—a strategy that has been impressively unsuccessful.

As for the importance of the data, Williams stresses that we need accurate information gathering, not just to find better ways of policing, but also to look at large public health issues in need of change.

When you go back and look at details of a shooting, Williams said, “there are always antecedent conditions.” Williams pointed to less-than-optimum mental health policies—both at a state and national level—as an example. “It may be the cops who pulled the trigger,” he said, “but it wasn’t the police that were in control of the antecedent conditions” that may have led to the deadly moment. “If we can go back and study these shootings, maybe we can pick out some patterns that show us what we can do to reduce these shootings. But we can’t study them, if we don’t have the data on them.”

If you’d like to listen to the radio discussion that looks at these and other angles of the LE data issue, you can stream the podcast here.

Posted in Department of Justice, law enforcement | No Comments »

CA and TX Law Enforcement Agencies Failed to Report Hundreds of Fatal Uses-of-Force

October 14th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

Over a 10-year period, law enforcement agencies across Texas and California failed to report hundreds of fatal officer-involved shootings, according to research out of Texas State University in San Marcos.

“Those are the only two states that have required reporting to a central authority—in both cases, the Attorney General’s Office,” Howard Williams, one of the report’s authors, said in an interview on WNYC’s The Takeaway. Williams is a Texas State University professor (and former San Marcos police chief). Williams, along with a TX State colleague, Scott Bowman, and another co-author Jordan Taylor Jung, gathered data on killings by law enforcement officers in both states from news stories, press releases from police departments, and other outlets.

The researchers found that California was missing about 440 (30%) of the total officer-involved fatal shootings between 2005-2015. Agencies in Texas failed to report around 220 deaths.

Brenda Gonzalez, the California Attorney General’s Office press secretary, acknowledged that “discrepancies” were found, and that the AG’s office is “following up with the appropriate agencies.

Between the two states, the LA County Sheriff’s Department was the agency with the largest number of un-reported fatalities.

The LASD’s spokeswoman, Nicole Nishida, told the Houston Chronicle’s Lise Olsen (who broke the story) that many of the department’s 34 missing fatalities were due to a “clerical error” caused by a switch in reporting forms. Four deaths between 2013-2014 were reportedly not connected to that administrative error, however.

Following the LASD, the Fresno Police Department had 24 deaths that were not reported to the AG’s Office between 2005-2015. After that, the Los Angeles Police Department failed to report 21 fatalities, the Houston PD missed 16 deaths, and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and Harris County Sheriff’s Department (in TX) each left out 12 officer-involved deaths.

The rest of the departments had fewer than 10 missing cases each.

Here’s a clip from the Houston Chron story:

Failure to report hundreds of deaths – because police officials ignored or misunderstood the reporting laws – has effectively undermined ongoing efforts to identify the causes of fatal police shootings and identify potential reforms, experts said.

“We’re not really blaming anyone – this is an incredibly complex problem,” said Williams, who began his research after retiring as police chief in San Marcos last year. “But it’s really hard for us to go back and change policy, improve training or purchase new equipment “when you simply lack the data to even know what’s going on.”


In addition to requiring reports on use-of-force and in-custody death, both California and Texas also recently passed new laws requiring departments to report all shooting incidents, whether those shot survive or die. In Texas, the new police shooting law took effect in 2015 and the attorney general’s office has contacted all departments and tried to boost compliance with both laws, said Kayleigh Lovvorn, an office spokeswoman. But enforcement falls to individual district attorney’s offices.

The Texas State study cited a dozen fatalities unreported by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. One of those involved the 2015 death of a 24-year-old shot by an off-duty deputy outside the Chapa nightclub in northwest Houston.

A sheriff’s spokesman, Ryan Sullivan, said the homicide happened in Houston and was investigated by HPD. But under Texas law, the officer’s employer generally files a custodial death report and the sheriff’s office did not do so. Sullivan said that was the only report that had not been filed under Sheriff Ron Hickman, who took office in May 2015.

Brenda Gonzalez, a spokesman for the California Attorney General’s Office, said via email that the office already has been asking police agencies to file missing reports as part of a new OpenJustice data portal initiative, but she emphasized that California’s custodial death law has “no explicit enforcement mechanism.”

In all, 180 California different police agencies failed to file reports on citizens shot and killed by police. Fresno Deputy Chief Robert Nevarez pledged that his department would belatedly provide missing custodial death reports for 24 deaths. He said analysts in his agency unintentionally misinterpreted state law for years, wrongly assuming it applied only to jail deaths and not officer-involved shootings.

“At this time, it doesn’t look like anything intentional or malicious – it was an interpretation of what should have been reported,” Nevarez said.

Posted in LAPD, LASD, law enforcement | 1 Comment »

Two Officers Killed, 1 Wounded in Palm Springs Shooting Incident, Suspect Finally in Custody

October 8th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Two Palm Springs police officers were killed,
a third is wounded but alert after a shooting in that city on Saturday. The shooting began when police responded to a reported family disturbance.

The officers who died are Jose Gilbert Vega, a 35-year veteran set to retire in December, and Lesley Zerebny, 27, who was a brand new mother of a four-month-old baby, according to Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes. Zerebny had just come back to work after giving birth in early summer.

According to the Desert Sun, moments before gunfire erupted from the home of the suspect, the alleged shooter in the killing of the two officers reportedly told his father he wanted to kill cops.

The suspect was at large after the shooting for more than 12 hours. Finally, after 1 a.m. Sunday morning, Riverside Sheriff’s Department announced that the suspect had been taken into custody.

Here’s a clip from Saturday night’s story by the Desert Sun about how the incident began:

Frances Serrano, who lives directly across the street from where the shooting took place Saturday, spoke to the father of the suspected gunman moments before the bloodshed. The father told Serrano that his son had a gun and wanted to shoot police officers.

“He came over and asked for help,” she said.

Serrano called the police and the father walked back toward his house. Soon after, Serrano heard gunshots.

Other witnesses described what they heard as heavy and sustained gunfire.

Into Saturday night, dozens of law enforcement officers searched for the shooter in the area of Cypress and Del Lago roads in Palm Springs.

At his news conference late Saturday afternoon, Chief Reyes expressed what most officers seemed to be feeling. “I am awake in a nightmare right now,” he said.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has taken over the case.

At WitnessLA, our hearts go out to the families of the three officers, their friends, and their colleagues. This much tragedy and loss to the law enforcement community, and to the Southern California community as a whole, feels unbearable.

The LA Times has a good team on the story, which they have continued to update throughout the afternoon into Saturday night. Check out their coverage here.

Posted in law enforcement | 6 Comments »

RISE High…and Officers Shooting into Cars

September 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


A proposed Los Angeles high school for homeless and foster teens was awarded $10 million in grant money after a nationwide competition.

Out of 692 entries in the XQ Super School Project contest funded by Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow, ten applicants were selected to receive $10 million to launch and operate barrier-breaking schools.

Contest-winners Kari Croft and Erin Whalen, who developed the RISE high school plan, will open several LA-area RISE campuses to serve up to 500 students at locations shared with established non-profit service providers to ensure kids have the tools they need to complete their academic and life goals. These wraparound services will include medical and mental health care, fitness, meals, legal services, arts, and more. The school aims to eliminate barriers keeping kids from attending school regularly. For example, RISE High will have washers and dryers on campuses, so that students can have clean clothes.

After asking how best to help students—whose living situation is unsteady or far from school—keep on track to graduate, Croft and Whalen decided to create a mobile resource center to transport students to and from class. The bus will serve academic and health needs and provide teens with hygiene products, laptops, cell phone charging stations, and other resources.

Two other schools in California, one in San Diego and one in Oakland, were also among the XQ Super School Project contest-winners. Read more about the contest and the other extraordinary prize-winning school designs.


Law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County shot into vehicles 28 times between 2010 and 2014, according to an ongoing investigation by KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson and Aaron Mendelson into the practice.

In May, the first investigation revealed that members of LA County Sheriff’s Department shot into moving cars at least nine times (the latest tally is ten times), while LAPD officers shot into vehicles only twice during those five years. The deputies involved justified the shootings by saying that they feared they would be hit by the cars.

Last month, the sheriff’s department brought its policies in line with those of the LAPD and most other LA area police departments, by barring deputies from firing at moving cars except when threatened by a gun or other deadly weapon. A LASD new LASD training video instructs deputies to move out of the way of moving vehicles, explaining that it’s extremely difficult to tell if a driver is attempting to get away or are using their car as a weapon.

Glendale PD and El Monte PD each recorded two such shooting incidents between 2010 and 2014. Fourteen other local and state law enforcement agencies shot into cars one time each during those years.

WLA reported on one such shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Studio City by a deputy and a DEA agent in plainclothes. (Read the two-part story of the death of Zac Champommier: here and here.)

Of the law enforcement agencies, KPCC looked into Glendale PD had the most relaxed policy on shooting into vehicles, specifically allowing officers to fire into cars they deem to be weapons. El Monte PD, Long Beach PD, the state parks department, the state corrections department and others have policies similar to that of the LAPD, which does not permit shooting into vehicles perceived to be used as weapons.

Here’s a clip from the KPCC story:

The agencies with multiple shootings, including sheriff’s and police in Los Angeles, El Monte and Glendale, have policies that dictate when and if an officer can fire on vehicle. Among them, the Glendale Police Department’s policy is the most lenient. Glendale’s policy explicitly allows officers to fire on cars they perceive to be weapons. While vehicle shootings are “generally discouraged,” the policy states it “is not intended to restrict an officer’s right to use deadly force directed at the operator of a vehicle.”

In contrast, policies at other agencies in Los Angeles County or that were involved in a shooting in the county — including the LAPD, El Monte PD, Pasadena PD, Long Beach PD, Fullerton PD, the state parks department, and the state corrections department — do not carve out an exception for vehicles perceived to be weapons.

The new policy of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department specifically prohibits deputies from firing upon vehicles perceived as weapons, stating “the moving vehicle itself shall not presumptively constitute a threat that justifies the use of force.” The LAPD uses similar language.

Shootings at moving vehicles are condemned by the U.S. Department of Justice, among others. The tactic is also considered ineffective by experts who argue that even a successful shot at a driver can lead to a car barreling through city streets, while an unsuccessful shot can injure or kill a bystander.

“The argument that the vehicle was being used as a weapon generally doesn’t hold up,” said Dennis Jay Kenney, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College. “If you have time to make the shoot/don’t shoot decision and shoot, then you also undoubtedly had time to get out of the way.”

Posted in law enforcement | 7 Comments »

3 Police Officers Shot Dead in Baton Rouge, 3 Injured, 1 Suspect Dead – UPDATED

July 17th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


*Three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers are dead, three more are injured.

The single shooter has been identified as Gavin Long of Kansas City, Missouri. Originally, police believed there might be three shooters. But, as in Dallas, it was a single gunman. Long, 29, who was wearing body armor and carrying a rifle, killed three officers and wounded three others before he was shot and killed by police.

*Shooting took place at approximately 8:30 a.m. Sunday, at a B-Quick convenience store in Baton Rouge, LA, near police headquarters.

*Two of the dead are Baton Rouge police officers, one is an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy

*The names of the three officers killed are reported to be Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola.

The death of Jackson, who is black, was confirmed by his aunt earlier. “Today is not going too well,” she said.

*The incident comes less than two weeks after the shooting death of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers on July 5, sparking both local and national protests.

*On July 13, Alton Sterling’s 15-year old son pleaded for peace, begging the public to come together “as one united family,” with “no violence whatsoever.

*Sterling was buried on Friday, with no protests.


Officer Montreal Jackson had been working long hours during the protests after Alton Sterling’s death. After one of his shifts, he expressed some of his feelings on Facebook.

“I’ve experienced so much in my short life and the past 3 days have tested me to the core,” he wrote. “I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.”

Jackson, who was on the force for a decade, was married with a four-month-old baby boy, still wrote with hope.

“Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer I got you.”

According to the Advocate Deputy Brad Garafola, 45,of the Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s department, was “working extra duty” at the B-Quik convenience store, his last shift before a vacation. His shift ended at 8 a.m., and his wife went to meet him. But she “ran into a sea of police cars.” Like the other two, Garafola leaves kids to whom he was devoted, a 21-year-old son who lives in Texas, a 15-year-old daughter, 12-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter.

Matthew Gerald, was former Marine who had joined the Baton Rouge PD a year ago. He is survived by a wife, a special ed teacher, and two children. Gerald was a former Black Hawk Crew Chief during his time in the Marines.

Of the three officers injured, one remains critical as of this writing.

Posted in law enforcement | 5 Comments »

Report by San Francisco’s Blue Ribbon Panel Finds SFPD is Controlled by Police Union That Obstructs Reform

July 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

A book-length report released on Monday by a special blue ribbon panel found that the San Francisco Police Department
was virtually run by its police union, resisted efforts by the panel to gather data, and contained a culture that actively threatened whistleblowers who attempted to flag wrong doing.

Officials at the union in question, the San Francisco Police Officers Association or POA, were not at all pleased by the report, and promptly launched an attack on San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who originally triggered the report’s existence.

Specifically, in May 2015, Gascón caused the creation of the “Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement,” after it came to light that fourteen members of the the San Francisco’s police department had exchanged a series of loathsome racist and homophobic text messages.

Although he now serves as district attorney, Gascón is very familiar with the challenges of policing. Prior to assuming the job as SF DA, he was the chief of the SFPD. And, before being appointed as San Francisco’s top cop, Gascón was hired to reform the then-troubled Mesa, Arizona, police department. Previous to Mesa, Gascón spent more than 20 years at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he last served as First Assistant Chief under Bill Bratton, which meant he ran the patrol side of the LAPD on a day to day basis during the period when that department was laboring under a federal consent decree and was still reeling from Rampart and related scandals.

He is also an attorney, and was the first cop in the nation to move laterally into the job of DA.

When Gascón created the Blue Ribbon Panel, as its website explains, the panel was specifically tasked with answering the questions raised by SF’s texting scandal—namely: Was the racial and homophobic bias demonstrated by the offensive texts a reflection of institutionalized bias within the SFPD and, if so, to what extent?

Once it was created the panel also took on two related goals:

First, the three judges who made up the panel were asked to review almost 4,000 police reports authored by the texting scandal cops to determine whether their bias affected their policing.

(According to the Blue Ribbon Panel’s website, this review is ongoing and is expected to be completed by fall 2016.)

And second, the panel’s law firm working groups were tasked with examining the extent to which bias was institutionalized within the SFPD’s policies and practices in general, and to “recommend solutions to address any bias or threat of bias they discovered.”

The results of this broader inquiry were released in a 239-page final report form on Monday. The release comes at a time when the city is still looking for a new chief of police and, as has been true elsewhere in the nation, public concern over officer shootings has grown increasingly heated.

(The report was released in an earlier, unfinished version this spring.)

The lenthy final report (which you can find here) includes 72 findings and 81 recommendations. It is critical of a number of department policies and, as mentioned earlier, points to the department’s union, the POA, as virtually running the department, and standing in the way of substantive reform.

“They are setting the tone in the department,” said one panel member, former Santa Clara County Judge, LaDoris Cordell.

And, while the panel members and the legal teams found evidence of bias, they also said they that the department’s lack of transparency, code of silence, and failure to keep reliable data made it impossible to do an accurate analysis of many of the issues they were mandated to explore.

The report also features many constructive recommendations, and makes a point of praising the fine and dedicated officers that make up the majority of the department.

Immediately after the report’s release, the POA president Martin Halloran, who had objected to the panel’s formation, denounced it and it’s report as a “Kangaroo Court,” set up by a DA with a bias against police, then equated the report’s release with the murder of police officers in Dallas:

“On Thursday, a sniper in Dallas took aim at police officers and murdered five in cold blood,” Halloran said in a written statement. “Today, George Gascón is taking aim at police officers in San Francisco with half-truths and distortions.”

The report is scheduled to be forwarded to the U.S. Department of Justice, which is conducting a review of the SFPD’s policies.

For more on the report and its findings, Alex Emslie at KQED has a good story that is worth your time.

POST SCRIPT: An interesting side note on the panel and the report is the fact that, one of the panel’s three judges is Dickran Tevrizian, a retired U.S. District Court Judge, who was also one of the seven members of LA’s Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, which delved into problems of inmate abuse by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies.)

Posted in law enforcement | 1 Comment »

Conversations After Dallas

July 12th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


David Brown, the Dallas police chief—with his painful past of three family members killed by violence, including a son—is the beating heart at the center of the public discussion. At least for the moment. And he’s wearing that mantle well, and humanely, even if with increasing fatigue.

On Monday, Brown confirmed that he and his family getting death threats following Thursday’s shooting.

He also said in a Monday press conference that the public expects too much of law enforcement. “We want to be superman and superwomen and we’re not. We don’t like to ask for help…. But that’s the number one thing we need…”

Washington Post reporters Brady Dennis, Mark Berman and Elahe Izadi have more on the story.

Here’s a clip:

DALLAS — The police chief here said Monday he feels that law enforcement officers across the country are being asked to take on too much, comments that came as his department was still investigating the mass shooting of Dallas police officers last week and protesters in other cities continued demonstrations against how officers use force.

Even as the Dallas police worked to sift through massive amounts of evidence from the shooting rampage that killed five officers — an effort that entails watching hundreds of hours of videos and conducting scores of interviews — David Brown, the Dallas police chief, said he believes officers in his city and nationwide are under too much strain.

“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown said at a briefing Monday. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

During his remarks Monday, Brown also offered a hint of the toll that overseeing the response to such a shooting was taking on him. Brown, who has lived through traumas including his son’s death following the young man’s fatal shooting of an officer, said he was “running on fumes.” The chief also said he and his family “received death threats almost immediately after the shooting.”

“We’re all on edge,” Brown said of police in Dallas. “And we’re being very careful.”

Brown said Monday that in addition to the five officers who were killed, nine others were injured due to the gunfire — two more than police had said before. A total of 13 officers used force against the gunman, Brown said, with 11 of them firing their guns and two of them using the explosive that killed the attacker.


KPCC’s Larry Mantle decided not to have a guest on for his last segment on Monday so he could ask listeners to call in and talk about the conversations they’d been having about the complex and painful events of the past week.

It’s an interesting cross section of experiences and opinions. You can listen here.


Much has been written about the successful reform that Dallas Police Chief David Brown had been instituting in the last six years, but we like this version by the Washington Post’s Radley Balko. (We usually like Radley Balko.) Here’s a clip:

As I pointed out in today’s morning links, one particularly unfortunate aspect of the murder of five Dallas police officers Thursday night is that the city’s police department is a national model for community policing. Chief David Brown, who took office in 2010, has implemented a host of policies to improve the department’s relationship with the people it serves, often sticking out his own neck and reputation in the process. At risk of stating the obvious, no sane person would argue that these murders would have been okay if they had occurred in a city with a less community-oriented police department. Nor am I suggesting that the killer or killers represent any legitimate faction of the police reform or racial justice movements. But because Dallas is grieving right now, and the rest of us with it, it’s worth pointing out that in its police department, the city has much for which to be proud. Here are some of the areas where Brown and his administration have made changes:

Use of force

After a series of officer-involved shootings in late 2013, Brown overhauled the department’s lethal-force policies, including a requirement that officers undergo training every two months instead of every two years. The new policies won him a lot of public criticism from police groups and police advocates. He was even criticized by the Dallas Morning News, which accused him of being “reactive” and “moving too quickly.” Brown significantly expanded the data the department gathers on shootings by police, and has set up a team to regularly review that data to identify trends and potential problems. The Dallas PD’s lethal-force policy includes a statement that “protection of human life” is the agency’s primary goal, emphasizes that deadly force should be used with “great restraint,” only “as a last resort,” and requires officers to use all reasonable alternatives before resorting to lethal means. After an incident in which Dallas officers shot and killed a schizophrenic man, the department teamed with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to provide better training for intervening when someone is having a mental health crisis. Moreover, all of the data on the city’s officer-involved shootings is not only available to the public, there’s also a prominent link to the data on the department’s homepage. Brown also seems to understand the important distinction between the cop as warrior and the cop as guardian. And his top aides also seem to understand that when it comes to the harms caused by police militarization, imagery is as important as the gear and how it’s used.

Has it worked? It would appear so. After hitting a high in 2012, officer-involved shootings in the city dropped in each ensuing year. I don’t completely agree with everything Brown has done. In 2013, for example, Brown quietly introduced a policy that allows police officers to wait 72 hours before answering questions about a shooting. I find the research suggesting that a wait time improves an officer’s memory to be lacking. And I’ve seen too many incidents of cops corroborating on a narrative to believe that isn’t how such a wait time would primarily be utilized. But that’s one issue. On the whole, Brown’s record demonstrates that he takes officer-involved shootings very seriously and is implementing policies designed to reduce them — and at times has taken quite a bit of heat for it.


Brown has fired more than 70 Dallas cops since taking office. But he doesn’t just fire bad cops, he also announces the firings — and the reasons for them — on social media…..


Dr. Brian H. Williams, trauma surgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital, who was one of the primary doctors who treated the 12 officers shot by Micah Johnson in Dallas talked on Monday to press about his anguish at being unable to save some of the officers he treated, and the complex emotions he has experienced as a black man about such shootings as those seen recently in Baton Rouge and St. Paul.


The Atlantic’s Juleyka Lantigua-Williams interviews retired police chief Donald Grady II who, in his 36 years on the force, served as chief in Santa Fe, New Mexico, among other cities, and trained police forces abroad in managing racial and ethnic strife among the ranks and with civilians.

Here’s a snippet of what Grady talked about:

….rather than talk about things reasonably, logically, we have the police ratcheting up the rhetoric and we’ve got members of the community ratcheting up the rhetoric and that doesn’t resolve any issues at all. It bothers me any time we lose a citizen or we lose a police officer. We have to recognize that police officers are citizens too…”


The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy Fisk has a portrait of one of the two civilian victims of the devastating mass shooting in Dallas. Shetamia Taylor and her sons told about their experiences at a press conference on Sunday, July 10, describing to reporters what happened the night when a gunman killed five police officers and wounded ten others including Taylor.

Here’s a clip:

When the shooting started at the Black Lives Matter protest here last week, Shetamia Taylor shouted at her four sons to run.

“They started running up the block and I was running behind them and I felt the bullet,” she said Sunday.

Taylor, 38, had been shot from behind, in her right calf. Still standing, she looked to a police officer ahead of her, a heavyset, balding white man.

Then he was shot, too.

“I saw him go down. When he got hit, he slumped over and he said ‘He has a gun, run!’ ” she said, recounting the incident from her wheelchair at Baylor Medical Center. She began to sob, covering her face.

It would take hours for Taylor to learn the fate of her sons – ages 12, 14, 15 and 18 – and of the dozen officers shot, five of them fatally, by 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson.


She tried to raise her sons right, instructing them to treat police with respect, but also to call home if they were ever stopped. Taylor admired police but was increasingly disturbed by the growing tally of police shootings involving black men, and feared for her boys. It had been her idea to go to the protest, the family’s first, which she saw announced on Facebook.

After she was shot, Taylor managed to grab her 15-year-old son, Andrew Humphrey, and push him between a car and the curb, shielding him with her body.

“I was just laying on top of him,” she said. “If it was going to happen to one of my sons, it was going to happen to me first.”

She watched police stream up the block toward them — and the shooting. One of them shouted, “Is anybody hit?’”

Andrew yelled no, unaware that his mother was injured.

Taylor didn’t want to alarm him, and called out quietly to one of the officers, “Yes, sir, I’m hit in my leg!”

Police rushed over, most of them white officers, and jumped on top of Taylor and her son. “There was another one at our feet and another one over our head and several of them lying against a wall. And they just stayed there with us,” she said. “I had never seen anything like that before, the way they came around us and guarded us like that.”

Andrew was crying for police to move them, but they said it wasn’t safe.

As they lay on the concrete, pinned down by gunfire, Taylor saw another police officer get struck. She still doesn’t know if the two officers who were shot in front of her lived through the night.

“It was hundreds of rounds,” she said, “shots all around us.”


The whole thing began when rapper the Game and his oldest son, Harlan, were talking about what made a good cop in their estimation. After the conversation, Harlem began poking around on the web looking for unsung officers who he felt were engaged in the kind of excellent everyday policing they’d been talking about. Of the men and women in blue he found, he was particularly impressed with Little Rock police officer Tommy Norman, a white cop serving a predominantly black community in the Arkansas city.

On his web page, Norman wrote the that the following was his Mission:

“If you can just take two minutes out of the day to go out and make a difference, whether checking on your neighbor if they’re elderly, cutting someone’s grass, or hold the door for someone. It’s really just act of kindness and I think acts of kindness coming from a police officer means that much more to people because that’s not something you’re used to seeing.”

Now, the Game and Harlem are raising $50,000 for Norman through a GoFundMe campaign.

According to Rolling Stone’s Daniel Kreps whose story . called attention to Game and Harlem’s efforts in officer Norman’s behalf, the “money raised by the GoFundMe will help Norman better contribute to the community he polices, including ‘purchasing and delivering items such as snacks, drinks, and toys for him to keep his trunk stocked for the kids.’”

The Game launched the fundraising effort after he and Snoop Dog and others led a peaceful march to the LAPD headquarters on Friday, and then joined Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti for a press conference.

Posted in Civil Rights, law enforcement | 29 Comments »

Tragedy in Dallas: Five Dallas Police Officers Dead, Seven Others Wounded in Shooting at Protest

July 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Although originally, officials—and observers-–believed there were as many as four shooters lethally targeting police officers, it appears that all the damage and heartache of Thursday night in Dallas was caused by one disturbed, angry and very well-armed person.

The New York Times has more.


At an otherwise peaceful protest in downtown Dallas Thursday night, following two controversial police involved shootings—in St. Paul, Minnesota and in Baton Rouge, LA—an estimated two snipers and two additional shooters, one known to be on the ground, suddenly opened fire at police at around 9 p.m., Dallas time.

Five Dallas police officers were killed and seven others wounded in a ghastly attempt to target police specifically. Among the dead officers were four members of the Dallas Police Department and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown said that suspects were working together to kill as many officers as possible, with two snipers firing from elevated positions.

Yet another suspect or suspects were confirmed to be working on the ground. One Dallas man saw a suspect dressed in body armor shoot an officer at point blank range. The frightened bystander recorded the shooting on video.


Three suspects are in custody as of Friday morning, and a fourth, who had exchanged gunfire and words with police from inside the parking garage of a downtown building, is now dead. The dead man is believed to be the shooter captured on video reportedly killing a police officer.

Although the captured suspects, which reportedly include one woman, have been uncommunicative, Chief Brown said that the attacker cornered in the standoff told authorities “he was upset about the recent police shootings” and “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

The cornered suspect, was blown up by a bomb robot sent in by police. He did not kill himself as had been earlier reported, according to Chief Brown.


The LA Times has identified the Dallas shooter who was killed in a standoff with police as Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, a former Army reservist with no criminal record. Johnson lives near to Dallas, with relatives in Mesquite, Texas, authorities told the Times.

He has no known ties to extremist groups, or the like.

The U.S. Army has confirmed to several publications that Johnson served in the Army Reserves from March 2009 to April 2015, and received several awards after a tour of Afghanistan, from November 2013 to July 2014. His military occupational specialty was carpentry and masonry.

Two civilians, one man and one woman, were also injured in the course of Thursday night’s devastating shooting attack.

Later on Friday morning Chief Brown confirmed that Micah Johnson was the dead gunman.


On Thursday night, the brother of an individual whose photo had been widely distributed as a “person of interest,” came forward to say that his brother did indeed have a rifle when he was marching, “exercising his second amendment rights,” but that the gun was not loaded. When the firing began, Mark Hughes gave his gun to a police officer, said Corey Hughes of his brother, to avoid giving “the wrong impression.” Mark Hughes, the missing brother, turned himself in around 9:30 PST on Thursday night, once he realized his face was plastered all over the media.

Mark Hughes and his brother Cory say they are now getting death threats. “We came for a peaceful protest, and we were helping police direct traffic” once the shooting started, said Cory Hughes. “And my brother was named as an armed ‘suspect,’ not a person of interest, but a suspect. I know everyone is hurting because of the dead police officers. But we don’t feel safe.”

Cory Hughes says he worries because the announcement naming his brother as a suspect was so widely distributed, yet there was no announcement clearing him. “My brother’s photo was plastered all over the world. for a while, he was the most hated man in America. There are extremists out there. We don’t know what they’re going to do.”


President Obama, who was out of the country at a NATO summit meeting in Warsaw, Poland, called the attack “vicious, calculated and despicable.”

“I believe I speak for every single American when I say we are horrified over these events,” said the president.

“Justice will be done,” Obama promised.

“We’re hurting,” said Dallas police chief Brown, in a press conference Friday morning. “Our profession is hurting. Dallas officers are hurting. We are heartbroken.”

NOTE ONE: In light of this news, we are delaying publication of our other planned stories. Those delayed stories will appear later Friday or, most likely, Monday morning.

NOTE TWO: This story has been updated multiple times, and continues to be updated

Posted in law enforcement | 34 Comments »

The Oakland PD Sex Scandal Gets Even Weirder…and LA Foster Kids Housed Too Long at Temp Shelters

June 17th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, amid a major Oakland Police Department scandal involving 14 OPD officers and the alleged sexual exploitation of a minor, Mayor Libby Schaaf removed interim Chief Ben Fairow from office—just six days after the former chief resigned.

Mayor Schaaf said she received new information earlier in the week that convinced her to oust Fairow. Because of law enforcement personnel privacy laws, Mayor Schaaf did not reveal precisely why she removed Fairow. “I own the mistake I made,” Schaaf said. “The important thing is I’m trying to fix it and fix it quickly.”

If you’ve missed the Oakland sex scandal story elsewhere, here are the basics:

Last week, a teen who calls herself Celeste Guap told a television station that she had sex with more than a dozen OPD officers, three of whom she reportedly had sex with while she was 17—in 2014.

Guap only named one officer, Brendan O’Brien, who committed suicide last year. The young woman, whose mother works for the OPD as a dispatcher—says the officers kept her safe while she worked the streets, and kept her informed about undercover stings. In exchange, Guap says, she had sex with them.

Following O’Brien’s suicide, the OPD (quietly) launched investigations into sexual misconduct within the department. Two officers have resigned, and three more are on paid leave. The scandal isn’t contained within the OPD either: Guap says she had sex with officers from other departments, including San Francisco, Richmond, and Alameda.

Guap says many of the cops knew she was underage, and evencalled her “juve.”

DA inspector Rick Orozco was also placed on administrative leave, after Guap said she had an online friendship with the inspector (then a OPD captain) while she was still a minor. Guap says that at one point Orozco told her, “I would love your taco!”

Guap also says she talked with former OPD Chief Sean Whent’s wife, Julia, via Facebook last year, and that the woman knew she was “dating an officer.” Whent resigned last week.

Brendan O’Brien fatally shot himself on September 25, 2015. A year earlier, on June 16, 2014, O’Brien’s wife, Irma Huerta Lopez, died in the same apartment. According to the coroner’s report obtained by the East Bay Express, Huerta Lopez’s death was ruled a suicide, but both Huerta Lopez’s and O’Brien’s coroner’s reports call Lopez’s death suspicious. Lopez’s family believes O’Brien killed his wife, and that the OPD did not thoroughly investigate the death. In his suicide note, O’Brien reportedly wrote that he had been battling PTSD from his time as a marine, and due to the scrutiny from the OPD and Huerta Lopez’s family after her death. O’Brien’s note said he had been drinking a lot off duty and on duty.

Before the scandal broke, the OPD seemed to be getting closer to ending 13 years of federal oversight (which came about because of misconduct within the department).

On March 23, US District Judge Thelton Henderson pulled the plug on the OPD’s problematic internal investigation. Detectives violated procedures while investigating the sexual misconduct case, according to Henderson. The judge ordered Robert Warshaw, the court-appointed independent monitor to conduct the investigation, moving forward.

The new acting OPD chief Paul Figueroa is sort of an interim-interim, installed Wednesday for the very short term, until Schaaf can find an interim chief to serve while she searches for a permanent chief from outside the department.

The East Bay Express’s Darwin Bond Graham and Ali Winston have the full story, which at 5 pages is quite the longread, but well worth your time. Here’s how it opens:

Celeste Guap was only seventeen in February of last year when a pimp chased her down International Boulevard. She spotted an Oakland police car and approached for help. That’s when she met officer Brendan O’Brien.

“He saved me,” Guap said of the lanky ex-Marine, who joined the Oakland Police Department in 2013 after graduating from the 166th police academy.

Rather than detaining Guap as a victim of human trafficking and turning her over to guardians, she said O’Brien released her. “We flirted a little,” she recalled, adding that she told O’Brien her mother was a dispatcher in the department.

Two weeks later, Guap saw O’Brien on patrol again in East Oakland. He and his partner were making an arrest near a taco truck. She struck up a conversation and they exchanged numbers. Shortly afterward, O’Brien and the girl began “dating” — a word Guap used to describe their relationship.

Guap said she had sex with the Oakland police officer numerous times while she was a minor.

The OPD and other East Bay law-enforcement agencies have positioned themselves as national leaders in the fight against human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children. But O’Brien and other East Bay cops betrayed this reputation with their exploitation of Guap. Officers trafficked her among their ranks and used the minor for sex for half a year.

The scandal is unprecedented: According to multiple sources close to the department and the city of Oakland, and documents obtained by the Express, at least fourteen Oakland police officers, three Richmond police, four Alameda County sheriff’s deputies, and a federal officer took advantage of the teenager. (The Express is not publishing her real name because she was a minor when her abuse began.)

Three Oakland police officers committed statutory rape of Guap when she was under-age. By the state’s legal definition, they engaged in human trafficking. The victim says every law-enforcement agent who had sex with her knew she was a sex worker.


As part of a settlement in a lawsuit challenging “overstays” of foster children at two problematic Welcome Centers meant only to hold kids for one day after they are removed from their families, the LA County Department of Children and Family Services moved kids to four private temporary group homes with 72-hour stay limits.

The Youth Welcome Center and the Children’s Welcome Center—where kids were meant to stay for less than 24 hours, but instead became a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids—were closed back in February. Unfortunately, because of a severe lack of available foster families, kids are staying too long at the new emergency shelters. And at one point, when the shelters were full, children were moved back into the closed Welcome Centers.

Before it was shut down, the Youth Welcome Center, in particular, had become mired in controversy, with kids getting into brawls, staff complaining about not enough bathrooms for children’s needs and privacy, as well as rumors about younger residents being recruited for sex trafficking by older residents at the center.

At the state level, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will overhaul counties’ child welfare placement systems, by eliminating traditional group homes, and focusing on long-term placements with foster families. The changes are slated to go into effect by January 2017. But what will happen to LA County’s high-needs foster children when the long-term group homes vanish? In a story for WitnessLA, USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism students Sara Tiano & Brittany Reid explored the issue in a story for WitnessLA.

Come 2017, the current controversial group home model will be thrown out in favor of short-term residential treatment centers (STRTCs) which will have to meet much higher standards of care than today’s group homes. Kids placed in the STRTCs will stay a maximum of six months while receiving specialized therapeutic treatment for mental health and other needs. A certain number of those (STRTCs) will be geared toward helping kids involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Elizabeth Green has more on the complicated issue. Here’s a clip:

In 2014, roughly 7 percent of youth overstayed at the Youth Welcome Center, and 16 percent overstayed at the Children’s Welcome Center. At the new transitional shelters, there were 646 entries in March and April, and about 18 percent of those, or 118, were there for more than 72 hours, Montiel said.

Montiel stressed that comparing overstay rates between the two systems is comparing apples and oranges because now the definition of an overstay has changed. In addition to the new 72-hour limit, children are now staying at the facilities during the day while their social workers look for an appropriate foster home. Before, a youth may have left the Welcome Center for the day and the clock would have restarted upon their return.

But Montiel said the hardest-to-place children are still the ones most likely to stay past the new 72-hour limit.

“It remains difficult to find sufficient homes for those babies and infants, for those sibling groups, and for those teenagers that have challenges remaining in a stable home,” Montiel said. “And those difficulties are not going to change overnight.”

Even with the longer window of time, the overstay rate reinforces the need for more foster homes in which to place these children. Dr. Astrid Heger, a clinical pediatrician who helped create the two welcome centers, is familiar with the challenges of working with hard-to-place children. Her clinic continues to provide medical screenings to children during off-hours before they are taken to a placement.

“Overstays aren’t a result of 24 hours or 72 hours, they’re a result of not having enough places to put kids downstream,” Heger said.

Posted in law enforcement | 5 Comments »

Why Wasn’t SB 1286, the Police Transparency Bill, Allowed to Go Through the Legislative Process?

June 3rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Late last week, SB 1286, a bill that would have allowed greater public access
to certain peace officer disciplinary records, was deep-sixed via a technical move in the state senate’s appropriations committee without any kind of discussion, or an up-or-down vote.

This is a pity. Whether one favored or opposed this particular bill, the topic of law enforcement transparency is an important issue in which there is strong interest, and both sides of the argument would have benefited if SB 1286 had gone more fully through the legislative process, complete with testimony, lively discussion, the possibility of amendments—and a public vote.

But that’s not what occurred.

If you’re not familiar with SB 1286, the broad strokes are as follows:

If it had passed in its present form, Californians would have full access to records of investigations and discipline in police shootings and other serious uses of force by police, and also in cases where law enforcement agencies have formally determined that their officers have violated the rights of members of the public.

In addition, Californians who file complaints alleging misconduct would be informed as to how the department responded. If the complaint was rejected, they would be told why. If it is sustained, they would be told what corrective action is to be taken.

On top of that, civilian oversight bodies and local governments would have access to the law enforcement records they need to carry out their duties. At the same time, those bodies would be required to keep confidential records to which they have access.

To protect the safety and privacy of officers, courts would be empowered to withhold records if there is a risk or danger to an officer or to someone else, or if disclosure would be an unwarranted invasion of officers’ privacy.


In 27 states police discipline records are either entirely public or are public, but with some restrictions.

In the rest of the 23 states—California included—law enforcement’s disciplinary records are mostly, or entirely confidential.

With some of those states that favor confidentiality, like California and New York, the laws preventing public access to records are particularly stringent, and even when an officer has been subject to severe discipline for misconduct, like a lengthy suspension, or termination, the public has no right to know.

In our state, the only exception to that rule is a legal request known as a Pitchess motion, which may be used to attempt to obtain a small portion of a police officer’s confidential personnel records if a judge deems the damage of not forking over those records for evidentiary use in a civil or criminal proceeding, to be greater than any possible consequences that disclosure might bring about.

(WNYC Public Radio investigated the laws in each state and, using their handy info graphics, you too can check out which states restrict or allow what.)

In contrast, Texas generally allows police disciplinary records to be made public. Yet, in certain areas of the state, local codes provide tighter rules. Even in those regions, however, the public may access files pertaining to disciplinary actions where the officer received at least a suspension or loss of pay (providing the discipline was in writing).

In still other states, like Washington, Utah, Arizona, North Dakota, Florida and Alabama, police disciplinary records are available to the public virtually across the board, unless an active disciplinary investigation is underway, or if the information will compromise an officer’s personal privacy or safety.


When in February of this year, California state senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), together with a bi-partisan list of co-authors, introduced SB 1286, it was not clear whether on not the controversial bill had a chance of passing, but many advocates felt it did indeed have a shot and, failing that, the believed that some version of the proposed legislation will likely pass in the next year or two. After all, in addition to law enforcement reform advocates it had gathered the vocal support of San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascon, and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

The bill was strongly opposed by police unions and other law enforcement organizations, along with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, led by Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Rusty Hicks, who sent a letter to Senator Leno announcing the group’s opposition to the bill, which he said would strip peace officers of privacy in their personnel records.

“The thing that we heard is that it was about officer safety, and officer privacy,” said Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the ACLU of California. (The ACLU was another of the bill’s sponsors.) “But the bill specifically protected officer safety and officer privacy.”

And, Bibring said, “opponents have never pointed to a single instance where officers were harmed or where there was a threat of harm because of records being released.

“So it’s not really really about safety. It’s a worry about public scrutiny,” he said. “But the thing is, People mistrust decisions that are made behind closed doors Courts are open. The legislative process is open.” But we can know nothing, he said, about “when a police officer takes a civilian’s life.

“And without the facts, people react to the withholding of information. They don’t like it.”

Bibring also stressed that, “it’s only serious uses of force and actual findings of misconduct,” that would be disclosed under the proposed legislation. “So the bill, even if it had passed, would have left police with significant more confidentially that any other public employee.” Yet, he said, a change in the law would go a long way in improving public trust of their police.

George Hofstetter, the head of ALADS, the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s deputies’ union, disagreed.

“If allowing the wholesale invasion of police personnel files would lead to increased trust or accountability in law enforcement,” he wrote, “surely the proponents could cite an example. They note that twenty three states allow the type of access they seek to impose in California—yet there isn’t a single study which shows the level of trust in peace officers or accountability of law enforcement is any greater than in California.”

All points that could have come into hearing testimony for the bill. But instead, senate appropriations committee chair, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles), simply unilaterally spiked SB 1286 by failing to call it to a vote.

In doing so he did the rest of us a disservice.

Posted in law enforcement | 14 Comments »

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