Monday, September 20, 2010

Reining in bad cops in Dallas: A good start but an intractable situation

An unwritten rule among many police officers and agencies is that suspects who run from the cops get a beating, which is what happened recently in Dallas according to dash-cam video which showed officers "beating motorcyclist Andrew Joseph Collins with a baton and fists as he appears to be giving up after a brief, high-speed chase through southern Dallas." In response, one officer has been fired, criminal charges have been referred to the District Attorney on the fired cop and two others, and three more officers remain under investigation by Internal Affairs, according to this memo on the case published at the Dallas News Crime Blog. The News editorialized:
More than unprofessional, this sort of policing is disgusting to a reasonable person and embarrassing to an entire city, if not worse.

But Police Chief David Brown didn't circle the wagons behind the stereotypical blue wall of silence. He acted on an anonymous note about the officers' misbehavior and then delivered an unmistakable message that his officers can't act beyond what is reasonable and necessary to make a lawful arrest. And that especially includes an angry, frustrated officer apparently plotting to rough up a suspect or police lying in official reports about the incident.

This newspaper is saddened that these officers betrayed public trust, but heartened that Brown acted to restore it in such a forthright manner. He methodically reviewed the videos and pressed for a criminal investigation. He fired one officer and asked the FBI to investigate whether civil rights had been violated. He calmly urged community restraint and even visited the home church of the motorcyclist's family to assure citizens that justice would be vigorously pursued.
The News opined that the "courageous officer whose note revealed the troubling behavior also deserves Dallas' thanks," and I wholeheartedly agree. But one notices that nameless officer was starkly in the minority: Many more cops participated in the beating and the cover-up than leapt to report it (investigators reviewed seven dash-cams from the scene), and the only one willing to say something did so anonymously, obviously fearing retaliation from his co-workers.

The Chief partially blamed the problem on inexperienced officers working by themselves: "All of the officers implicated in the arrest have been on the force for less than three years. The city has hired nearly 1,200 police officers in recent years and Brown has previously acknowledged concerns about a patrol division full of young and inexperienced cops, including the officers doing the training," reported the News. Brown said he wants to "review ... our pairing of our young officers with each other, the experience levels of our field training officers and our current transfer system."

Notably, even officers not involved in the beating violated departmental policy: "A sergeant ordered the officers not to chase, in accordance with the department's strict chase policy. But they chased anyway, weaving through residential streets and through stop signs." One wonders whether officers violating the department's chase policy will also face punishment?

Brown deserves commendation, but most of the lessons to be learned here are troubling: Apparently Dallas police feel free to ignore their supervisors and departmental policy, most of them cover up for one another's misconduct, even when it's egregious, and the few officers willing to do the right thing fear retaliation from their peers. Chief Brown should be lauded for taking a bold first step toward holding officers accountable, but I'd be happier still if it weren't so painfully obvious that most Dallas cops - at least judging from the sample involved in this episode - don't appear to share the chief's view that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.

MORE: These weren't the only bad cops fired in Dallas recently. Chief "Brown announced that the department will begin randomly reviewing dash-cam video from patrol cars and that he is considering enhanced ethics training for about 1,400 recently hired officers."


Anonymous said...

Andrew Joseph Collins is a convicted felon with a rap sheet long enough to cover his entire body. Don't portray him as being innocent. Do your research before playing spin doctor like the rest of the media..

Gritsforbreakfast said...

And how did I "portray him as being innocent"? Please quote where I said that, or anything like it.

Anonymous said...

So Anon 11:01, did the officers know about this guys "rap sheet" when they beat him. I guess the department could develop policies on how many prior arrest a suspect has to have to justify his beating. One arrest - mild beating. Two arrest - moderate beating. Three arrest - beat the sh.. out of him. Do you see how moronic your line of reasoning is?

Anonymous said...

This case just shows that crime does pay. The only people that will benefit from this are the ambulance chasing lawyers and this convicted felon.

Anonymous said...

I typically try to be objective when it comes to police behavior and have been criticized here in blogosphere of grits for doing so, however this type of behavior is appalling and felonious making the police officers in question no better than anyone else accused of committing the same crime without the cover of official status.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:37, and who's to blame for that? Only the police officers in question, as far as I can tell.

Anonymous said...

The comment about beating the #@$@ out of him gave me the impression they were racing and the officers wanted to win. So they cheated using the lights and sirens. The video looked to me like the guy landed in a fire ant bed and the officers were trying to save him.
Yes, these arguments sound about as ridiculous as what a lawyer would say. "But my client wouldn't lie!"

Anonymous said...

Perhaps making an example of the officers not following the rules in this case, and doing it again, and again, and again, will finally create respect for the rules. The excuse that they are young officers on the force "only" three years does not wash. Is three years not long enough to learn the rules about beating, about chasing, about following instructions? If they can't learn in three years of OJT, well, they just can't learn, and need to be in another line of work.

Rev. Charles

escalante blogger said...

But they should be informative too.

Unknown said...

Regardless of who the guy was or what his record was, it is not in anyway acceptable for police to break the law to enforce it. When did "we the public" begin to believe that that's ok? Oh yeah...about the same time we began believing that a person is guilty until he/she proves he/she is innocent.

Anonymous said...

Police culture is out of control.

Anonymous said...

6:55 it's not just the police profession, there are others and we as a society are out of control. And you and I and everyone who has an opinion here are responsible for it and waste our time talking about it rather than doing something about it.

Anonymous said...

11:01, that doesn't give cops the right to beat his ass. In fact, it starkly underlines the difference that's SUPPOSED to exist between leos and criminals: leos are mandated to uphold the law, and be shining beacons of justice. Instead, they acted just like any gang of scum would, whooping the guy silly and lying about it en mass. 6:55 is right on, police culture is out of control.

Anonymous said...

"This case just shows that crime does pay. The only people that will benefit from this are the ambulance chasing lawyers and this convicted felon."

So by your ideal, it is OK for police to beat soemone up but only if they are a convicted criminal? So, it is Ok for them to bean a murderer, a sex offender, a DUI, a spouse beater, a jay walker, a petty thief, a deadbeat parent, a speeder? Where does it end?

Not one of the above is different than the other in the eyes of the law. If you were tried and convicted and served your time you are a free citizen with rights and privileges due all other citizens of this country. So tell me, when did they shred the Constitution?

This is the stupidity of the misinformed, the 'not me' group. Problem is, alot of those 'not me' groups have their fair share of skeletons as well.

The only good cop, is an unemployed cop. I only need cops to come and get the dead from my lawn.

Anonymous said...

Any of you old enought to remember Frank Srpici and these things he said.............

“I said this to the Knapp Commission over 25 years ago, ... We must create an atmosphere where the crooked cop fears the honest cop, and not the other way around.”

“We can still holler and shout but we have to light the lamps that shed the light on corruption, injustice, ineptitude and abuse of power. When we do, you will see the villains scurry into the woodwork the way roaches do when you turn on the light.”

“The fight for justice against corruption is never easy. It never has been and never will be. It exacts a toll on our self, our families, our friends, and especially our children. In the end, I believe, as in my case, the price we pay is well worth holding on

"What kind of a message does this send out to the honest cop?”to our dignity.”

And we still have not learned from his sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

If a cop is supposed to be a "shining beacon of justice," what is a lawyer supposed to be? But I do agree that, in your perfect world, the only good cop is an unemployed one. However, my context is idealogical and yours is anarchist.

I often wonder why such critical analysis of attorneys is never done. If ever there was such an in you face outright assault on innocence, it was by attorneys. The justice system is systematically perversed, manipulated and castrated not by police. What kind of system would we have if a lawyer was subjected to the same rewards or punishments as the party they represent in every case? Better or worse? That's about what we've done for cops.

Oh, and don't get me started on the reduction of big goverment by adding a whole new system of public defenders. Way to go guys. Another secure lawyer job with primo benefits and an excellent political platform to launch a career, all the while attacking the big government that put you there. Now that is some irony. With any luck you can defeat the great Constitution using tax dollars. Then what? Sharia law? Lawyers would by farting all over themselves to figure out which way was Mecca.

Okay, rant over. Carry on with your decimation.

Anonymous said...

11:45 Yep, I'm not real happy with lawyers either. Finding a good, honest lawyer who actually does his duty is as hard as finding Lindsey Lohan without a straw up her nose. The more crimes there are, the more EVERYONE in the justice (insert cynical laughter here) bidness profits. Our mistake as a society was allowing crime and punishment to become a profitable industry. When crime can make money for big bidness, of course those businesses will want more of it. And defense lawyers are no different. Even really shitty defense lawyers are swamped these days, getting paid thousands of dollars to have a quick conference with their da cohorts to determine just how they're going to avoid trials and sell their desperate clients down the river. A famous defense attorney once told me that you can have "as much justice as you can afford to pay for". The whole thing is farcical, really.