Friday, September 22, 2017

Austin's police contract among worst in nation from accountability standpoint, says Campaign Zero cofounder

Campaign Zero's Sam Sinyangwe was in town this week to lobby the Austin City Council for reforms in its meet and confer agreement, fresh off of being honored  at Forbes 30 Under 30 gathering (and trolling Warren Buffett on Twitter in the process). We'll publish an interview with Sam in next month's Reasonably Suspicious podcast, but in the meantime, here's a recording of a speech he gave Thursday evening at the Windsor Park Library in Austin, introduced by Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition. (Chas' remarks were a bit crackly, but the audio clears up once Sam starts speaking.)

And here's his presentation:

Find a transcript of his speech after the jump.

Presentation by Sam "Swinging Sammy"* Sinyangwe of Campaign Zero to the Austin Justice Coalition, at the Windsor Park Library, Austin, TX, September 21, 2017. Introduced by AJC executive director Chas Moore.

Chas Moore: I just want to thank you all for coming. Sam is, it says 26 right here, but he's not 26 no more. Sam is a policy analyst and data scientist who works with communities of color to fight systemic racism through cutting-edge, policies and strategies. Sam has supported movement activists across the country to collect and use data as a tool for fighting police violence through Mapping Police Violence. That's the name of the organization.

Grits with Campaign Zero's Sam Sinyangwe, at
the Reasonably Suspicious podcast launch party
Previously, Sam worked at Policy Links as a part of a national network of 61 promise-neighborhood communities to build cradle to career systems, a support for low-income families. He also worked with city leaders, youth activist and community organizations to develop comprehensive agendas to achieve quality education, health, and justice for young black men.

Sam grew up in Orlando, Florida, and has been involved in organizing advocacy since he was in the hospital. He graduated from Stanford University in 2012, where he studied how race and racism impact the U.S. political system. He was just recently added to the 30 under 30 Forbes list. So he's very important. [Laughter.] So without further ado, let's give him a Texas welcome.

Sam Sinyangwe: All right. I'm here. I'm hoping that you all can see this. We tried to set this up, but we'll see how this goes. I'm Sam Sinyangwe, cofounder of Campaign Zero. We're a national organization focused on ending police violence in the United States and improving police accountability. As Chas said, I’ve had five, six meetings today. We've done this about six times. Hopefully, I've got it down by now. We'll see.

Our work began on August 9, 2014, when Mike Brown, Jr. was shot and killed in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. His death sparked protests not only in the St. Louis area, but also across the country that have reverberated to this day.  Even in St. Louis today, there's a protest. People continue to be demanding police accountability, justice for people who have been killed by police, and an end to police violence.

In those early days of the movement, the national conversation was focused on this issue of police shootings. Whenever communities would say that there were systemic injustice and police and systemic racism, that black people are more likely to be killed by police, that there was a problem, all too often we would here that there wasn't the data. Where is the data? Where's the evidence? We heard from police leadership from conservative circles. They would say, present the data. The reason that this question kept popping up was because they're continues to be no federal database of people killed by police in the United States. The federal government simply did not care to collect the data on this issue, even to this day.

We knew that this was not enough, that was not sufficient, we could not wait for them to collect the data, and so we built the largest and most comprehensive database of people killed by police in the United States called Mapping Police Violence, and launched it in early 2015, right around the Baltimore uprising. With this website and map, this map shows every black person killed by police in 2014; 320 people.

We use the data to understand the scope and scale of police violence in this country and to dig deeper to understand the causes of it in terms of policy and practice so that we can develop solutions to help police violence at the local, state, and federal level.

Sinyangwe with Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition
We collected this data. We have about 4 1/2 years of data now. We found that about 1200 people are killed by police each year in this country. Black folks are about three times more likely to be killed by police than their white peers. But even white folks are killed by police at rates far above everywhere else in the developed world. We wanted to answer some questions about police violence. I'm gonna give a brief overview about this issue, and then we're gonna dive into some solutions and how this shows up in Austin.

Nationally 99% of cases where a police officers kills somebody, that officer is not convicted of any crime. In 97% of cases, the officer is not charged with any crime. Essentially, there is very little, almost no accountability for police shootings. As I said, there are racial disparities where a black person is about three times more likely to be killed than a white person in this country per capita. A Latino person is about 1.5 times more likely to be killed. Finally, can you all see this? Okay. Cool.

Finally, we looked at the proportion of folks who are unarmed when they were killed by police. Again, our database relies on a variety of sources. It relies on local media reports, police reports, community narratives, criminal records' database, social media profiles, obituaries. We aggregate and synthesize all that information to understand what happened. Even in doing so, this is probably a severe under count, because as we've seen, videos for example, with Walter Scott came out where the police said he was armed and that he had a taser, and all the media believed that, that was what was recorded. Then the video comes out and in fact, he was running away unarmed. Even with the under count, we find that about 30% of black people killed by police are unarmed compared to 21% of white people. Not only are you more likely to be killed, but you're more likely to be unarmed when killed.

The next step in our work was to break down this data by city. We looked at the 100 largest cities in America, and we analyzed the rates of police killings per capita as well as the racial demographics of who is getting killed. What you see on the left side, we ranked the 100 largest departments. This is the top end of that spectrum. You can see that there is incredible variation between departments in terms of how likely they are to kill people. Starting at the top end with St. Louis and Orlando and Oklahoma City, we give you a sense of how severe police violence is in St. Louis. A black man in St. Louis is about twice as likely to be killed by a police officer as the average American is to be killed by anyone, civilian or police. Oklahoma City, about one in six homicides are committed by police. That's sort of the top end of the spectrum.

As you go down, you see that there are actually police departments that have much lower rates of police killings. Places like Newark and Detroit, that despite having relatively high rates of crime, and other social issues, police violence does not show up in the data as much.

On this side, on the right side, these are unarmed people killed by police in major American cities, coded by race. The red are black people, the orange are Hispanic people, and the gray are white people. What you see here quite simply is that almost every unarmed person killed by police in a major American city is a person of color. The majority of whom are black.

Then we wanted to break this down specific to Austin. In looking at Texas police departments, from that list of the 100 largest cities, there are about 12 or so cities that are in Texas. Among those cities, Austin has the highest rate of people killed by police per population. We also looked at the racial demographics of policing in Austin using not only our database of people killed by police, but also data that's been reported by the Center for Policing Equity, as well as the office of the Police Monitor here. What we found is that while black folks are 8% of the Austin population, then 12% of people stopped by the police in a traffic stop, 24% of people searched, 27% of people who are victims of police of force, and 50% of unarmed people killed by police in Austin. You can see as the level of police violence increases, the racial disparities increase as well.

Finally, we wanted to look at the accountability side of Austin. This is also from the Office of Police Monitor's Report. Looking at civilian complaints of police misconduct in 2015, and what you see here is there are about 170 complaints of police misconduct in 2015. Of those, 36 were from black folks and about 56 were from white folks. What's interesting here is that overall only 7% of complaints the police department actually sustains, meaning that they consider misconduct actually occurred. Mind you, that's 7% of the total number of complaints, and then within that only about half of that resulted in any kind of discipline.

What's also interesting is the racial disparities. Not a single complaint from a black person in 1015 was considered valid by the police department in 2015, compared to about 14% of white folks. You see this disparity up here really at every level from the police violence side to the accountability side.

Understanding the data is important. The second thing that's important is being equipped to be able to use the data to understand what's happening and to challenge some of the false narratives that have emerged about why police violence happens. In the initial sort of stage and phase of the movement, so much of the challenge was convincing the nation that there was a crisis around policing, around racism, and I think in large part, many people, at least the people who could be persuaded and tend to be fairly persuaded by this point, but as more and more videos came out, as more and more data came out, there was a lot of pushback from police unions, from conservatives that were attempting to explain away those numbers as being due to something other than a problem with policing. The main rationale that they used is this issue of crime.

You'll hear this a lot whenever you're talking about racism, particularly in policing. Somebody somewhere will say, "What about black-on-black crime?" Somebody somewhere will say, "Well, police are killing a lot of people, because they're in violent environments, and there's a lot of crime so their using deadly force to defend themselves and others." That's the theory that has been proposed by many on the right to explain these disparities.

They never bring any data to those conversations. Those are not evidence-based conversations. Those are assumptions. The reason that those assumptions hadn't been tested is because the data hadn't been collected about people killed by police until now. We decided to test those assumptions by comparing the levels of violent crime in U.S. cities represented by the blue x's.  With the rates of police killings, which are the red squares. What you see here, these are the 60 largest cities in America, you see that there's absolutely no relationship here. There are cities with really high levels of violent crime, places like Newark and Detroit, which have low levels of police killings, places with pretty low levels of violent crime like Orlando, Florida, that have exceedingly high rates of police violence. Something else is explaining police violence in cities.

Just to bring this point home, we looked at two cities, which were fairly similar demographically, Buffalo, New York and Orlando, Florida, similar population, similar crime rates, similar demographics.  But between 2013 and 2016, zero people were killed by police in Buffalo, while 15 people were killed by police in Orlando, Florida. That was where our data brought us. It brought us to a place where we were investigating what is explaining why police violence is such an issue in Orlando, Florida? And too, in Buffalo, New York, what is it about the policies and practices of the police department that explain these rates so that we can get to a place where we can begin to implement solutions.

That brought us to Campaign Zero. Campaign Zero is our policy platform. It's a ten-point policy platform to end police violence. It is the result of an analysis of the best evidence and research in the field of the analysis data it's set, that I explained, as well as demands and proposals from community organizations across the country. It is a broad and expansive platform that we synthesize down into these 10 categories.

The first is to end broken windows' policing, which is the excessive policing of low-level violations. Things like jumping a subway turnstile or having a small amount of marijuana or having an open container of alcohol or being in a mental-health crisis. Instead of having police respond to these things in a heavy handed sort of arrest-based policing approach, we're advocating for actually decriminalizing those offenses, and having mental health providers, social workers, substance abuse providers, being the primary responders to those situations. Because these are the people who are trained on how to deal with these situations.

The second piece is on community oversight. Community oversight, having empowered community oversight structures, that can investigate and subpoena witness and police documents and police officers to get to the bottom of what happened. Then can also discipline those officers as a result. Limiting use of force. This is referring to the policies and practices that govern how and when police can use force in particular circumstances.

Number four is independent investigations and prosecutions of police killings. This is actually something that Texas has made some progress on through the Sandra Bland Act where there are now independent investigations per law in in-custody deaths.

Community representation. A police force that represents community, body cameras and filming the police. We recognize that the majority of cases where an officer is actually charged with a crime after a police shooting there is video evidence. It is important to have that video evidence, but it has to be done in a way that ensures that communities are protected from surveillance from body cameras, and that body cameras are used in a transparent way where the community has access to that footage. And that we're also protecting folks who are filming the police from repercussions.

Number seven. Training. The average police recruit gets 58 hours of training in firearms. That is shooting at the target, center mass, essentially a kill shot. Fifty-eight hours to become a police officer on average versus eight hours of deescalation training. You can imagine first of all, police get fewer hours in training on average than becoming a barber in many states. Then when you look at the training hours that they do get, it is overwhelming training in how to shoot people. We need to flip that around and actually have police training in deescalation, crisis intervention, implicit bias, and other things that reflect the kind of conduct that police should have.

Number eight. Ending for-profit policing. This refers to things like civil asset forfeiture where police can confiscate your cash or your car or your property or your house. Even if you haven't been convicted of a crime. As long as they say that they suspected that that property was linked to some sort of illicit activity.

Demilitarization. Ending the transfer of military equipment to local police departments from the federal government. Finally, and number 10, which I'm gonna focus on more intensely, the fair police union contracts. Police union contacts, they're not a sexy thing to think about, but we've realized that they are such an important part of the accountability structure. When you look at the police union contracts that cities negotiate with police unions, oftentimes they contain policies that make it much harder to hold police accountable. (Ed. note: Check out a related discussion of police union contracts in the opening segment of the latest Reasonably Suspicious podcast.)

That's the platform. I'm gonna break down two pieces of it. One, the use-of-force piece, and two, the police union contract piece. Use-of-force. What's interesting about the use-of-force policies, they specify how and when police can use force and what circumstances and what amount of force they can use in a particular situation. What we found when we looked at the use-of-force policy that the 100 largest cities in the country, was there was incredible variation in how officers were allowed to use force depending on what city they were in. Here's a good example. San Jose Police Department in California, I'm just gonna read their use-of-force policy word for word.

“Officers need not retreat or desist in the reasonable use of force. There is no requirement that officers use a lesser intrusive force option before progressing to a more intrusive one.” Okay. So no need to retreat, no need to desist, no need to deescalate, no need to use a lesser force option. Contrast that with Philadelphia. “It is important for the responding officers to use caution, evaluate the situation, attempt to deescalate the situation through communication, request a crisis-intervention-team-trained officer. Retreating or repositioning is not a sign of weakness or cowardess. It is the tactically superior police procedure rather than the immediate use of force. The primary duty of all police officers is to preserve human life. Only the minimal amount of force necessary to protect life or to effect an arrest should be used by an officer. The application of deadly force is a measure to be employed only in the most extreme circumstances and all lesser means of force have failed or could not reasonably be employed.” This is literally the opposite statement.

The first one, officers could use any amount of force they deem necessary. They didn't have to retreat. This one, they have to deescalate, and they could only use the lesser means of force until that has failed or could not reasonably be employed.

We looked at the 100 largest cities across the types of policies that were within these use-of-force procedures, and we found that for eight types of policies within that document, there was a lot of variation between departments. Some departments require officers to deescalate, others do not. Austin, as you can see, which if you can't see, is this third one here. Austin does not require police officers to deescalate situations.

The second category we looked at was whether is has a use-of-force continuum, which is essentially a matrix, which defines for a typical level of resistance, an officer can use a certain amount of force. So if somebody's sitting on the ground, they can't pepper spray that person just 'cause they didn't wanna get up for example. Austin did have a use-of-force continuum. However, it did not ban officers from using choke holds or strangleholds. It did require officers to issue verbal warning before shooting. However, it did not include restrictions that officers could not shoot at moving vehicles. This is a huge issue.

About one in eight police shootings actually is somebody who's in a moving vehicle. In many police departments, they are prohibited from shooting at a moving vehicle unless somebody in the vehicle is using deadly force by means other than the vehicle. So if somebody has a gun in the vehicle that's shooting outside of the vehicle. However, in Austin, that is not the case. The vehicle alone can justify deadly force. Whether it requires officers to exhaust all other means before shooting, that Philadelphia standard. Austin does not have that standard currently in place. It does require officers to intervene if they see another officer using excessive force, but it does not require officers to report every time they use force, including pulling a firearm on a civilian. You can see here, across the eight categories, Austin has three of those positive policies in place, but again five of those are not currently in place. These are things that the police department, the police chief, and the city council can enact to help address this issue.

We wanted to look at whether these policies are effective, whether they matter. We looked at the rates of police killings in these departments versus the policies that they had in place. What we found was that for each of these eight policies that I mentioned, police departments that had them were much less likely to kill people than departments that did not. Even as much so as that simple requirement that officers exhaust all other means before shooting. In other words, that deadly force is a last resort. Departments that have that policy are 25% less likely to kill people. One in four police killings can be attributed to something like this. These are also accumulative. We did a statistical analysis of these. We found that departments that have all eight of these policies were controlling for all other factors like crime rates and the number of arrests, and the number of officers on the force, the demographics of the community. Departments that had al eight of these policies were 72% less likely to kill people than departments with none of these policies. That's use of force.

Second big piece. So that's on the front end of it. Likelihood that officers will use deadly force. On the backend of it is the accountability side. What happens when an officer breaks those rules, breaks those standards, uses excessive force? Are they gonna be held accountable? For that we looked at the police union contracts. We got access to the 100 largest cities in American, their police union contracts. We requested it from all of these cities. Eighty-one of those cities gave us their contracts. We read through these contracts. They have six different types of policies that we found within these contracts that make it harder to hold officers accountable for misconduct.

For example, disqualifying complaints. In some cities, if you submit a civilian complaint and you do it 60 days after the incident happened, the department will not investigate that complaint. In Austin, if the police department takes longer than 180 days to investigate that complaint, it can no longer result in any sort of discipline for the officer. Second category was restricting or delaying interrogations of officers. For example, in Austin, an officer who let's say is involved in a police shooting or another incident of misconduct, gets 48 hours before they have to give a statement to investigators. In Baltimore, the Department of Justice investigated that department and fount that officers use that time period to collude with one another, other officers at the scene to get their stories straight or to, after they get access to evidence about what happened, the body camera recording and other things, they will craft their statement in response to that. Because they already know what investigators have on them.

Limiting oversight in discipline. We found that a number of departments, about 30 of the 80 department that we looked at, limit oversight and discipline of officers. What that means in Austin, is a provision in a police-union contract that prevents a civilian oversight structure from having subpoena power, from having the power to independently investigate complaints or to discipline officers. Requiring a city to pay for misconduct.  This is something where officers who are placed on unpaid suspension in Austin can use their vacation time or discretionary time to pay themselves while they're actually on that leave.

Then finally. Erasing misconduct records. A number of departments actually will erase or change or destroy records of misconduct after a certain amount of time has passed. In Austin, that means that police departments that suspend an officer, that record of suspension after two or three years, is automatically changed to a written reprimand, which is then a sealed record. We can't get access to that, and it means that they can't consider that past record of misconduct in future disciplinary decisions. What we know is that a small proportion of officers tends to be responsible for a disproportionate amount of misconduct. Because of these types of provision, you actually can't identify who those officers are, and even if you could, you can't use that record of past misconduct to inform your future disciplinary decisions.

I'm just gonna go into the actual language of the Austin contract so you can see what this looks like. The 180-day rule. “In no event will the actual time exceed 180 calendar days.” This is referring to the statutory time period for a police chief to take disciplinary action against an officer. Again, if the department decides to drag its feet past 180 days, they are no longer allowed to discipline that officer. If the department really wants to hold the officer accountable, but let's say the police chief isn't notified or he doesn't become aware that misconduct occurred from his subordinates, they he won't be able to impose that discipline either after that time has lapsed.

Limiting civilian oversight. Here is section 16.1d of the Austin police union contract. What this shows is the civilian oversight process, regardless of its name or structure, shall not be used or permitted to gather evidence, contact or interview witnesses or otherwise independently investigated complaint of misconduct by an officer. There shall be no legal or administrative requirement, including but not limited to, subpoena power. It's pretty clear here. But this is in plain sight in the contract that is essentially stripping the civilian oversight structure of any real power to investigate police complaints. It's actually quite common for a civilian oversight structure to have subpoena now. Some actually have discipline power, which again, this one is prohibited from having. If you look at San Francisco or Oakland, those civilian oversight structures can not only subpoena, but also discipline officers as a result of misconduct.

The forty-eight-hour rule. “Not less than 48 hours before an officer who is the subject of an investigation provides a statement to an instigator, the officer shall be provided a copy of the complaint.” What's interesting about this is it's not only the complaint, but they get access to a full range of evidence. It could be the body camera recording, dash cam recording, it could be any type of information that was submitted by the complainant. This allows officers again to understand what evidence is against them before they respond or make any type of statement about what happened.

This is around the erasing misconduct records. The parties agree, so the parties are the city and the police union, agree that temporary suspensions of one, two or three days that were imposed on or after March 25, 2001, will be automatically reduced to a written reprimand under the following conditions. Those conditions are essentially, that after two years if there's not a similar complaint or similar suspension, then it's automatically reduced. And it's after three years if there was a similar, if there was an actual history of misconduct, another suspension, it is three years, then it gets automatically erased and replace with a written reprimand.

Then suspensions of one, two, or three days that are or were reduced to a written reprimand, shall not be introduced cited or used in any manner in subsequent disciplinary suspensions or appeals as to that officer. Again, they can't use that history of suspension against that officer to actually establish that this officer has repeated incidents and misconduct and should actually get a higher level of discipline.

Finally, sealing records. Information concerning the administrative review of complaints against officers, including but not limited to, internal affairs, division files, and all contents thereof are intended solely for the departments use. In other words, as the public, we can't get access to those types of personnel files as per this provision.

I'll close with this. This is a broad overview of some of the issues within the Austin Police Union Contract. Just to be clear, this contract right now is, it expires technically on September 30, it may get extended for another month or two, but this an opportunity now for the community to demand that these provisions get removed from the contract as a condition of this thing getting reauthorized. Because ultimately, these things play an incredible in actually making it harder to hold officers accountable. Most cities may have one or two or three of these provisions, Austin is one of only six cities within that 81 that we looked at, that has all six problems in their contract. It is at the sort of problematic end of the spectrum, and it doesn't have to be this way. I'd encourage you to reach out, contact your city council member and demand those things get removed.

Then I'll close with this big picture. One hundred four million Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement. This is according to Pew Research Survey. What if we engaged them all in the work? So with our work, we are constantly trying to find new pathways for more and more people to get involved in the work. We believe that if we cannot get to scale with millions and millions, everybody who wants to get involved in the work getting involved, we won't get to the change. That requires all of us to play our part contacting city council, understanding what's in the contract, understanding what's in the Use-of-Force Policy, showing up to events like these, and continuing to make your voice heard so that ultimately we can get to a place where people can feel safe in their communities. Thank you.

Photos by Stephanie Warren.

*An inside joke probably funny only to myself, and perhaps now to Mr. Sinyangwe, whom I met for the first time this week. When he and Campaign Zero first came to prominence, I was a big fan but could not (and still can't effectively) pronounce his surname without a great deal of effort and guidance. So, for my own, personal shorthand, a couple of years back I assigned him a nickname - "Swinging Sammy" - because he takes big cuts and swings for the fences. He graciously assented to answer to that moniker after I bungled his last name a few times. Really good guy. :)


Unknown said...

Campaign Zero needs to craft a model charter amendments that reformers nationwide can turn into city level legislation by working as citizen lawmakers, just as Austin progressives succeeded in doing when they changed the structure of city council a few years ago.

Only 5% of registered voters need to sign a petition, or 20,000, whichever is less. State law allows six months to get the signatures.

Call for more info: 713-224-444

Barry Klein said...

More about charter amendments:

This is a link to LOCAL BALLOT INITIATIVES, the 30 page booklet that explains the city initiative process reflecting research that looked at all 50 states. The primer can be downloaded from the website of the Lucy Burns Institute which is based in Wisconsin. Note pages 11 and 12.

That organization is also the home of Ballotpedia that posts information on the rules for all 50 states:

Look for “Laws governing local ballot measures" …

Steven Michael Seys said...

The nature of the human race has proven time and time that an organization that polices itself is not policed. That's why the framers of the Constitution of the United States built in checks and balances of the power of each branch of the federal government and introduced the protection of state sovereignty over the federal government. If you continue to allow police officers to be able to violate the law they're sworn to uphold, you create out of them the most dangerous and tyrannical street gang the world has ever seen. Only the bad actors have a vested interest in denial of public accountability. Any law-abiding law enforcement officer should welcome proof of the virtue of his or her actions.

Anonymous said...

‘Please don’t be too nice.’ Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head—the way you put the hand over, like don’t hit their head, and they’ve just killed somebody. Don’t hit their head. I said, ‘You can take the hand away, okay?'”- President Donald Trump, July 28, 2017.

When you have the president of the United States encouraging police officers to ignore the Constitution and break the laws, you have a real crisis. I didn't vote for Trump but I honestly didn't have too much against him until that occurred. But now I'd support his removal. He's truly a despot whose continued presidency will divide this country more than any other individual in our history. IMO, it's only a matter of time before we experience civil unrest and violence on a scale never before seen. Our police officers will have to make a decision then that will affect their profession for decades to come.