Monday, October 24, 2016

Training too late, parsing crime data, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends which merit Grits readers attention but may not make it into independent posts:

Trooper who shot unarmed schizophrenic man should have already taken remedial training on 'Effective Decision Making'
Eva Ruth Moravec's Point of Impact series on unarmed people shot by Texas law enforcement last year has its latest installment out: the story of state trooper Timothy Keele who killed Garrett Steven McKinney, a schizophrenic man who'd been waving his arms at passing traffic by the highway. Unbeknownst to the trooper, McKinney's father had earlier dropped him off at a nearby hospital for treatment, but he never went inside. After a cordial initial encounter, McKinney allegedly sucker punched the trooper. They struggled, the trooper's arm was dislocated, and he shot the man four times.

Eva Ruth's story includes a good discussion of the training requirements at DPS related to dealing with mentally ill suspects compared to other law enforcement agencies. She also points out that new state-mandated reporting on police shootings doesn't include information on the mental health status of the victim. Speaking of training, the trooper had been "suspended without pay for one day in February 2015 and told to attend an 'Effective Decision Making' course after tracking down and scolding a 17-year-old driver who had cut him off in traffic the previous day." Trooper Keele did not take the "Effective Decision Making" course, however, until after Moravec began to inquire with the agency, with the shooting occurring during the intervening period. Could what he learned in that course have saved McKinney's life? We'll never know.

Pointing fingers over rampant use of junk science in courtroom
Judges are becoming defensive at charges they aren't performing an adequate gatekeeper function when it comes to junk forensic science. This short Pass-the-Buck essay from Kerrville District Judge Robert Barton typifies this sort of self justifying reasoning. Everyone is to blame but him for junk science in the system, even though he's the only one in the courtroom with authority to exclude it. As the Republican presidential nominee might say ... "Sad."

Surveillance matters
Grits doesn't consider racial profiling the biggest problem with widespread use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement, but you can add that to the list. One wonders if federal surveillance in Texas is increasing at the rates documented in these jurisdictions?

A call for new agency to handle capital appeals
Grits contributing writer Jennifer Laurin argued in an op ed for creating a designated appellate defender for capital cases in Texas comparable to the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs on the habeas side. Good idea. But creating a new government agency during a budget-starved session with a 2-1 Republican  majority at the Legislature seems like a heavy lift. There will be lots of other demands on the state's limited resources.

Parsing conflicting crime metrics
Soon I may have a separate post about crime rate data and its shortcomings. The two most important national sources are the Uniform Crime Reports which document "index crimes" (including most serious crimes with victims) reported to law enforcement at all levels, and the national crime victimization survey which performs in-depth public surveys with huge sample sizes and many cross-referenced questions to estimate crime victimization trends. They tend to sync up over time, but not always year to year. In September, UCR numbers came out showing murder rates are up, especially in a handful of large cities, after decades of reductions. Then this month, the new crime victimization survey shows violent crime as "flat," with all other types of crime down. "From 2014 to 2015, there was no statistically significant change in the overall violent crime rate. From 1993 to 2015, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 18.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older." Whichever metric you prioritize (and both have strengths and shortcomings relative to the other), crime, including violent crimes, remains at historic lows.


Anonymous said...

We'll never know had McKinney's father who had earlier dropped McKinney off at a nearby hospital for treatment for a known mental illness stayed around to make sure McKinney was treated - would McKinney still be alive?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

True enough. Maybe the father could have used a course in "Effective Deciaion Making," too. The difference is, dad hadn't been assigned to take such a course as a remedial tune-up based on prior misconduct, the way DPS had required of Trooper Keele.

Anonymous said...

True, but the dad knew of his son's conditions and left him.

The Trooper was "generally" damned if he did and damned if he didn't. We see the "did" part, but would likely be talking about the Trooper not taking action had the Trooper briefly talked w/ McKinney only to leave and McKinney get run over. The family would be upset either way...obviously they didn't want him shot.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If "the Trooper briefly talked w/ McKinney only to leave," it's true McKinney COULD have been run over. But since, in the alternative, he was shot dead with 100% certainty, that option probably looks pretty good to the family. Likely, other options were available as well.

We don't know a lot of details. Maybe the father had done the same thing before and the kid went in every time. Maybe the kid faked going in then came back out. Or maybe the father was negligent. There is missing information one would need to judge. What's known is how the boy actually died, as opposed to how he could have died, and the real-world, non-speculative, non-hypothetical cause of death was the trooper's four bullets. I'm sure you're right, the family would have been unhappy if he'd been killed a different way - in traffic, or even via suicide. But he wasn't. He died after being shot dead by a Texas state trooper whose street-level decision making had been found by his supervisors earlier in the year to require remedial retraining, which came too late.

Anonymous said...

Grits, fair enough, but McKinney did in fact attack the Trooper and cause him injury. For all we know, had the Trooper not shot him, the Trooper could have been killed by McKinney and that incident never would have been mentioned on this blog.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@8:00, again, the victim was unarmed, so it's unclear how Trooper Keele would have died, particularly if he'd disengaged. As mentioned, there's a lot we don't know.

Further, it's not necessarily true that the "incident would never have been mentioned on this blog" if the trooper were killed. Indeed, I doubt you can find many Texas writers who've written more on the issue of officer safety and preventing police officer deaths. You keep wanting to switch the conversation topic to speculation about what COULD have happened. The rest of us are mainly focused on what in fact DID happen. If you want to keep hypothesizing alternative realities, we can go back and forth like like this for days.

David White (aka Caged Monkey #12) said...

There's video.

David White (aka Caged Monkey #12) said...

As long as we're "hypothesizing", why not hypothesize that if the trooper had kept it friendly, what would the outcome have been? Almost from the start the trooper acts like he's some sort of daddy figure, and tells the guy it's an arrest-able offense. The initial stop is the guy is on a concrete barrier, potentially in danger or whatever. Instead of getting the suspect to safety and explaining it's a dangerous place to be, he immediately goes into cop mode treating the guy like he's Al Capone.

Anonymous said...

Why was the trooper alone? Don't they travel in pairs?

The presence of a second trooper may have given McKinney hesitation to attack knowing he was outnumbered.
And, the second trooper could have assisted with "de-escalation" if the first trooper was not effective.
And, controlling the attacker would have been easier and perhaps without discharging a firearm.

Anonymous said...

RE: Pointing Fingers...

I have to feel sympathetic for Judge Robert Barton (and all the other Judges with these decisions). Their decisions regarding admissibility of science are predicated on a number of checks-and-balances that occur BEFORE the evidence enters the court room.

But, as we know from example after example after example, those people who are supposed to do their jobs with the checks-and-balances are not doing it very well (or at all).

To all Judges, I would suggest that before allowing any questionable scientific testimony: halt the proceeding and call for the auditing agency (who accredited the Expert) and have a representative testify as to why the scientific method used is reliable, why the report is fully representative to the conclusions, and why this expert is credible. Thus, the accreditation agency is accountable (under oath on the record) for doing their job BEFORE the evidence is analyzed or presented to the court.

Ideally, the Attorneys representing the Expert should have all this information ready BEFORE trial. But, often is the case, the Prosecutors/Defense Attorneys know very little of the science and aren't ready to fully vet the Expert on cross-examination. Hence the creation of the Junk Scientist.

So, Judges, point the finger back at the accreditation agencies. Make them do the job they claim they are doing. Make the Prosecutors/Defense Attorneys accountable for getting this information from the accreditation agency. Or trials stop until everyone has done their jobs properly, thoroughly, and scientifically.

It's time to penalize those upstream slackers.

Anonymous said...

Re the admissibility of scientific evidence, Judge Barton correctly observes that a judge's role is to rule on motions made by the attorneys, based on testimony provided by witnesses. Without the appropriate motions, judges have no authority to exclude testimony. In my experience admissibility hearings are very, very rare because they are rarely requested. This is not the fault of the judges.

He's Innocent said...

@ Anonymous 09:02

Uhmmm....... what trials are you talking about? About 95% of all criminal charges are settled via plea deals before a trial can be staged.

Ask those out of Harris County who did time for possession of drugs which turned out to be false positive tests taken at arrest and which later turned out to not be illegal substances about when they had opportunity to even present scientific evidence?

Prosecutors go for the jugular and over-charge, then plea down after they have sufficiently terrorized the suspect into taking a plea. Who cares if they are actually guilty? All that matters is that the state looks Tough On Crime.

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