Friday, March 28, 2008

Dallas officers fired for ticket scandal believed end justified the means

The firing of two Dallas police officers and the suspension of a third highlight abusive ticket writing practices that apparently have gone on at the agency for years. Reported Tanya Eiserer in the Dallas News ("2 Dallas police officers fired, 1 suspeded, after investigation of tickets," March 28):

Senior Cpl. Jeffrey Nelson and Senior Cpl. Al Schoelen entered "inaccurate, false or improper information on citations" and engaged in an unacceptable "pattern of enforcement activity," according to police. Cpl. Nelson also used "inappropriate force" on a handcuffed woman and had people sign blank citations.

Chief Kunkle said the officers weren't fired for specific incidents, but for a pattern of "activity that we as a department think is inappropriate." He declined to comment further.

A third patrol officer, Senior Cpl. Timothy Stecker, was suspended for 10 days after investigators concluded that he had also had people sign blank citations. A supervisor was suspended for five days.

In general, there are two types of police corruption, both of which undermine police ethics and the rule of law and cannot be tolerated in a free society. Some corruption cases involve straight up bribe taking or officers making personal profit collaborating with crooks. But the more common brand of police corruption involves officers, like these three, who come to believe that the "end justifies the means." To me, that's almost a more dangerous brand of misconduct because it's more frequently tolerated or even encouraged. Eiserer quoted me in her story on this topic, declaring:

"That's just megalomaniacal," Mr. Henson said of having someone sign blank citations. "That's police officers who think they're just in charge of these people's lives and can decide at their leisure down the line what they will accuse them of."

Mr. Henson, who now writes Grits for Breakfast, a blog that focuses on Texas criminal issues, said the chief's decision to discipline the officers was a "good start because it lets officers know that the chief takes" that type of conduct seriously.

I also added, though the comments didn't make it into the story, that Kunkle's actions won't be enough on their own to stop this behavior. Such activities are tolerated because of a departmental culture that develops over many years. Chief Kunkle can only do so much. We mustn't forget that the commanders, captains, and field supervisors under him have been operating for a long time in an arena where this kind of policing was not just tolerated but rewarded.

Robert Guest rightly asks why no criminal charges are being pursued.

The victims of these officers' unlawful ticketing are among the most disadvantaged and defenseless folks in society - mostly homeless people and street prostitutes. That makes sense; I imagine they wouldn't get away with treating middle class folks that way for five minutes, though aimed at street people this apparently has gone on for years. Since Dallas PD policy won't allow the department to take action based on anonymous complaints (in this case other officers came forward after anonymous complainants were ignored), people like that who are vulnerable to retaliation by police are highly unlikely to come forward.

This case reinforces to me why the "Rate My Cop" website is such a good idea, and really should be a government operated function, with many different avenues (not just the web) available for complainants. The ability to receive anonymous tips about police misconduct might have clued in these officers' supervisors years ago, and prevented a lot of abusive behavior committed in the department's name. When I'd earlier discussed the Rate My Cop site, a police supervisor added this positive response in the comments.
As a police supervisor, I agree. The cities should have a place (easy to find) on their PD's website where citizens can file anonymous tips and complaints. In my experience, people are reluctant to come face to face or even call on the phone even for the most minor perceived officer misconduct. And yes, I know why. But anyway, what I like is that it would give me the heads up on officer behavior that will not be seen with his sergeant standing there. I can follow up on the anon tip and see where it goes. If it's unfounded, no harm no foul, but if not...

Watch the giant turd the police unions will have over that one!
This supervisor is absolutely right about police unions fighting the idea. Hell, they're bitterly opposing the firing of these cops, though IMO they shouldn't just be fired but also prosecuted.

However, in an era where technology and changing attitudes have made customer feedback easier than ever and more commonly integrated into all types of management systems, union opposition is no reason to avoid creating easier and more accessible means for the public to provide feedback - positive and negative - about the officers with whom they interact.


Anonymous said...

I hope everyone understands that no website can give anyone anonymity in reporting crimes or criminal cops.

Every IPA is traceable, and all web traffic is recorded and archived. Any blackhat with system access can find out who sent what, and then retaliate. We know, sadly, what happens to whistleblowers.

If the police want to invite information, and guarantee anonymity, the only way to do this is a mail stop, allowing sources to send postcards they've left no fingerprints on.

Anyone who isn't paranoid in this technological age isn't playing with a full deck. Nothing a citizen does has any real hope of privacy, while at the same time the government operates in increasing secrecy. The government can coerce anyone into surrendering access to their data, and I admit it would be pointless to resist.

Ron in Houston said...

I often really wonder how much higher the rate of sociopathy is in law enforcement than in the general population.

Since sociopaths tend to gravitate to places where they can exhibit power, law enforcement would be a natural choice.

elvez1975 said... is a brilliant idea. The beauty of the internet, despite anonymous observation, is that I can criticize an officer who I believe has mistreated me without having to fear retribution. While I wouldn't post their addresses and phone numbers, if it's public information, then it's public information and the police organizations should encourage their membership to make sure their info is unlisted.

But lest you think I'm being tough on cops, I would welcome the creation of or It's only fair....

Gritsforbreakfast said...

RateMyLawyer is a damn good idea, Elvez. Set up and operated properly, that could be an influential and much-used site.

Anonymous said...

Juking the stats!
Where have we seen this before. This is what you get when the rocket scientists in upper police management use the numbers to rate their cops.
What ever happened to just doing your job?

JT Barrie said...

I have submitted complaints three or four times and every time I have been met with cover up, no action, and more code of silence. The only way I've gotten any kind of response is going around police to city council members or Chamber members who promoted the event that I attended from out of town. The code of silence is more typical of criminal gangs: looks like gang, dresses like a gang, engages in coercive activities like a gang and bands together whenever one of their own is in trouble - must be a police force.