Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Texas yet to 'turn the page' on police reform, and other stories

Lets's clear out Grits' browser tabs with a quick roundup of stories about policing which deserve Grits readers' attention:

Texas hasn't 'turned the page' on police reform just yet
First, The Crime Report had an interview with Texas state representative and House County Affairs Committee Chairman Garnet Coleman on passage of the Sandra Bland Act. Coleman's comments were more measured, but the story included an unfortunate headline: "How Texas turned the page on police reform." To be clear: Texas has done no such thing. Coleman's bill mainly addressed mental health issues and mandated Texas cops receive deescalation training. But Texas' big police reform bill died on the vine this year, and the most important reform elements in Coleman's bill - eliminating arrests for most Class C offenses and mandating bail for non-dangerous misdemeanants - were removed before passage. The Sandra Bland Act was significant, positive legislation and Grits doesn't want to diminish its importance, but let's please slow our roll on the whole dusting off our hands, problem-solved meme.

Austin PD crime lab blues
The Austin Monitor has a pair of stories detailing problems at Austin PD's crime lab which forced the closure of its DNA section:
Will legalized long knives change how Texas cops deal with knife wielders?
Now that Texas has legalized people carrying knives and swords of any size, perhaps the issue of how quickly police shoot knife wielding suspects will be revisited.

Public reverence for cops undermined by shoot-first ethic
This essayist in Slate makes a good point, with an homage to Dallas News columnist Steve Blow, disputing the adage that the “No. 1 duty of a police officer [should be] to go home to his or her family at the end of the shift.” Here's the money quote the writer pulled from Blow's March 2015 column.
But there’s the crux of the matter. They have willingly taken a job that involves personal risk. It also requires split-second decision making that must go beyond simple self-preservation 
If going home safely becomes the overriding priority, that can become another way of saying, “Shoot first and ask questions later.”
This modern dicta of 21st century policing ultimately undermines the public's faith in law enforcement as surely as do unfounded criticisms of racism with which police officials are so much more deeply concerned. After all, as the Slate author concluded, "The reason we revere cops isn’t their dedication to protecting their own lives. It’s their dedication to protecting ours."

More disagreement among law enforcement than portrayed
The Heritage Foundation has published an odd "special report" purporting to summarize a convening they sponsored of various law enforcement officials. However, upon looking at the stakeholders' disparate remarks appended therein, Heritage oversold any notion of consensus, and in fact revealed significant disagreement among its (one-sided) array of stakeholders. According to Heritage, "police have had few allies," and "anti-police rhetoric has left Americans, particularly those living in low-income communities and minority communities, more at risk." But they overstated the consensus. E.g., the explanatory text under a headline which read, "Allegations of 'Systemic Racism' Are False and Harmful," actually read, "Some attendees agreed that the concept of broad 'systemic racism' in law enforcement is a damaging, false narrative that undermines public support for policing. Others felt it important to acknowledge and address past wrongs and prior grievances in order to improve race relations." That range of views hardly supports the subhed! Regardless, Heritage warned darkly that "long-term declines in crime rates ... are now being threatened by some of the developments discussed in this Special Report." This deserves a more thorough vetting than Grits has time to apply at the moment, but I wanted to flag the link.

Recent policing scholarship
Here are several academic articles on policing which are getting added to Grits' to-read stack:


Lee said...

They still aim at the center mass. Shoot to kill.

Maybe rubber bullets are a better option?

Anonymous said...

Grits, take a look at this habeas corpus ruling that came out today:

In the annals of poor representation, this one should be fairly near the top. Poor guy, Quintero, went to prison on recanted allegation. Another case where someone beat the rap but didn't beat the 5 year ride.

Anonymous said...

RE: Austin PD crime lab blues

"...Mike Coble, a DNA expert, clarified further.“The [lab] protocol could be excerpts from ‘Harry Potter,’” Coble said. Beyond that, the auditors “don’t have the teeth” to say whether the testing protocol is actually effective."

But the auditors COULD look at the validation experiments that the lab performed to generate the lab protocols. The auditors COULD ascertain if the validation experiments properly addressed and demonstrated the limits of detection, the error rates, the variables that can contribute to false negatives and false positives, etc. The auditors COULD assess if the lab protocols are written and understood enough to satisfy the TRE 702/703 such that the lab analysts with this knowledge can testify to “assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue.” But auditors are just too lazy or incompetent to understand the scientific methodology that goes into creating solid, concise, and through validation experiments to develop the best protocols that anyone can follow. At the very least auditors COULD include in their audit report whether the validation experiments were produced by lab managers for inspection. But even this is too much for most auditors.

The crime lab protocols I've seen are so poorly written, incomplete, and vague that they make the protocols for toasting a Pop-tart look robust, infallible, and defensible in court. Most bench analysts (and unfortunately most lab managers) don't really know what a protocol is. They know HOW to do something, but they don't know WHY to do something. And the WHY is really the most important when testifying and clarifying the reasoning for the jury.

The other gaping problems is...are the protocols actually followed as written, or are the analysts improvising because no one is really taught them properly and no one is really watching. -- especially the auditors.

Anonymous said...

In my admittedly limited experience, the changes in laws regarding knives will likely cause very few changes in how police deal with them. If a person charges at an officer with a knife or sword, they are going to be just as likely to "stop the threat" under the new law as they were under the old. Police encounter folks with knives all the time and in all but the tiniest fraction of cases, no harm comes of it. Since the state of Texas made open carry legal, there have not been a rash of additional shootings either, the operative idea being "don't be an obvious threat" somehow lost on some people.

Anonymous said...

"More disagreement among law enforcement than portrayed"

Put five cops in a room to discuss anything and you will get at least 5 different opinions. Give them ten more minutes and you will have at least ten different opinions.

Anonymous said...

Where in the recommendation or the process is a system to test the testers?

I recall a final in my chemistry lab in engineering school where we were provided what we understood to be randomized samples.

In truth, the samples were all reagent grade pure water. Imagine how hard it is to find there is nothing in the sample especially where one fully expects to find something?

Everyone 'failed' the exam but learned much in the process. I.e. one gets what one INSPECTS not what one EXPECTS.

Again all the words expended defining processes and procedure mean little if the process does not work in the real world.

I would suggest the test be submitted in the same way real evidence is submitted.

Not as a double-blind but a multiple blind so no one, especially the certifiers, have no clue on which is which.

Anonymous said...

Most Lab Directors claim that blind proficiency testing of their analysts is too complex, too time consuming, or too costly. Yet they never do a direct cost comparison to the cost to the taxpayer for wrongful convictions (annual payouts for the exonerated) or the social cost of guilty parties roaming the streets because the lab analysts botched the testing that could have convicted them. There is no incentive to perform blind testing and there is no penalty for not implementing blind proficiency testing in the lab. Since the oversight is essentially nil, why bother?

As a reminder of how fake accreditation and lab audits truly are (sadly, from 2011):

BarkGrowlBite said...

Re. Going home.

Grits, I've followed Grits for Breakfast for years. It has led me to the firm conclusion that you're an uber-liberal latent cop-hater and Grits for Breakfast is designed to cater to your fellow cop-haters.

In all my years as a law enforcement officer and professor of criminal justice, I have never met a cop who started his shift wanting to shoot someone. But every cop wants to go home - or to a bar - at the end of the shift. If that means in the eyes of a cop, he believes someone has a good chance to kill or seriously injure him or a citizen, then it's a shoot first situation. I believe that cops are entitled to act on the eyes of a beholder.

I know that many if not most cops try to deescalate a potentially deadly situation, but deescalation often is not appropriate, or when it is, it does not work. Rarely will you ever find some lame-brained cop who should never have been in law enforcement to begin with, that has a 'shoot first, ask questions afterwards' attitude.

Wise Texan said...

Oh Bark, if you follow this blog and have for years, you should realize Grits does a good job of giving credit where credit is due and calling a spade a spade. That isn't to say I always agree with him but I respect his opinion and understand as a regular reader why he holds the positions he holds. Conservatives and Republicans tend to label anyone with a different opinion as a dirty hippie liberal and Liberals and Democrats tend to label anyone with a different opinion as a war mongering neo-con because you know, having a different opinion, even when supported by facts is a big no-no now a days. Perhaps if we stop trying to put people in boxes, look at ACTUAL facts as I believe Grits consistently does we could really come up with some solutions to the problems faced today.

I don't hate cops, in fact, have several friends in law enforcement but that isn't to say my respect for those folks is because they put on a badge every day. It's because of the people they are, the choices they make and the way in which they behave. When you have repeated video evidence on what seems to be a DAILY basis these days of cops who escalate a situation unwarrantedly, how could you not admit changes need to be made? How many people need to lose their freedom or lives to an over-zealous officer for no good reason before we admit there is a problem?

It's funny this has come up because I just had a conversation yesterday about how we as a society throw the word "hero" around like nothing. We label cops, soldiers, teachers, hell even government workers as heroes for doing nothing more than their job and I'll admit, I used to buy into that notion. As I've watched events unfold over the last several years, I've matured enough to understand that true heroism is defined as going above and beyond the call of duty to protect the lives of others and using that word for any other reason is propaganda.

Shooting an unarmed person when non-lethal force could just as easily be employed is NOT heroic. Grits has done a fine job of stressing the importance of law enforcement training being geared toward de-escalation instead of the current typical training of escalation. Your statement, if it "means in the eyes of a cop, he believes someone has a good chance to kill or seriously injure him or a citizen, then it's a shoot first situation" further proves this point because by and large this is the attitude of law enforcement as a whole. It should not be "shoot first" it should be "stop the assailant or if possible, remove citizens to safety". If a man has a knife and is acting aggressively toward an officer, there is no reason a taser should not first be employed. Shooting someone should be the LAST option when there is no other option but deadly force to prevent injury to the officer or the public. We have repeatedly seen cops escalate a situation that could easily have been resolved with non-lethal force but instead deadly force is used because of this "shoot first" mentality that pervades LEOs. Sadly, I've met too many lame-brained cops that should never have been in law enforcement to begin with to agree with your last statement. When we hire men and women and provide less training than a solider or other professional who has to make life or death decisions receives and then have no true accountability for when lethal force is CLEARLY unwarranted, I'm not sure what else we should expect.

Anonymous said...

WT, I'm a middle of the road kind of guy myself, finding enough fault with both of the major political parties that I don't generally support either one of them often enough. The same holds true for self professed liberals or conservatives, they are so often identical on slightly different policy questions that neither comes across as such.

I've had family that were cops, both in the military and in the regular world, and knew many others. As Bark points out, officers simply want to go home in a single piece at the end of their shifts, the caricature of blood thirsty cops looking to shoot people is nonsensical just as the attempt to canonize all of them as saintly. In the US it is reported there are over 800,000 cops, more if you include the military and various reserves, all of them receiving different levels of training and education because our society doesn't want to collectively pay for more and abhors standardization.

But even that doesn't explain a great deal because the disparities of our society are even more extreme, from rednecks that think they have the right to shoot a cop who they believe is making a false arrest to the minorities that just don't understand why cops might not care for the narrative that committing crimes with weapons might just draw attention from said officers who become hostile, to the armchair quarterbacks that need to mentally defend their choices to represent the scum of society by getting them off on technicalities, all of those stereotypes found in abundance. And it's so easy to claim that a person without a gun poses no threat yet for the most part, cops do NOT know that to be the case when confronting suspects, just as knives as far more deadly than some of you give credit for, making split second decisions where weapons of any sort are involved is a great deal trickier than laymen seem to recognize. In a "shoot/no shoot" exercise put on by Houston's police, every critic trying it failed repeatedly, either by dying because they took no action or inappropriate action, or they killed multiple targets because the circumstances dictated the use of lethal force, and that was knowing ahead of time what to expect.

Houston was a nationwide leader in deescalation training too, providing the full week long class to cadets and bringing every other officer back for multiple days of training yet someone forgot to tell the local punks that still manage to point weapons, attempt to disarm officers, and otherwise cause them harm. The techniques have helped but frankly, the belief that tremendous scrutiny after the fact is going to prevent most altercations is as much a dream as suggesting criminals across the country have no culpability for their own demise when they are shot in the commission of a felony, present a clear danger, or refuse to obey lawful instructions. Almost everyone shot by police is covered by that last statement, the few that aren't are the poster children for haters like Scott like they are the norm instead of the exception.

Changes need to be made and we need to be willing to spend the money on training and better candidates but the idea that a significant number of officers are out there trying to ruin unsuspecting people is crazy, just like the shooting stuff.

Anonymous said...

for 8:07- The statements in the news article from the lab auditors are very concerning. If the auditors don't know if the lab protocols are scientifically sound, how would the gatekeepers (Judges) know to exclude them or not? How would a jury know? Wouldn't a crime lab's failure to produce a protocol's validating experiments be tantamount to dry-labbing? They are, in a sense, proclaiming a reliability (of a protocol) without actually performing the tests to come to those conclusions.

And to follow up with the TRE, the similar FRE 702 requires:
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

The auditors in the article have stated that they don't know if the principles and methods are reliable for each lab receiving accreditation. As such, they can't possibly know if the expert applied the potentially scientifically unsound principles and methods to the lab report conclusions. Hence, the requirements of 702 have not been achieved and no expert testimony should be allowed, unless perjury is back in fashion.

Anonymous said...

10:33 -

Lab auditors are not part of the legal process. Within the confines of the legal process, scientific testimony can be objected to, in which case the judge will hold a 702 hearing. At that time, Both sides may offer witnesss. It is on the basis of that testimony that the judge will rule on th admissibility of the testimony.

Is is perhaps relevant to note that many people appear to not fully understand what laboratory accreditation is and is not. Currently, testing and calibration laboratories (including but not only forensic laboratories) are accredited to ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standards. These standards concern the administrative, quality management, and technical operations of the laboratory. As described on the ISO website, "ISO/IEC 17025:2005 is for use by laboratories in developing their management system for quality, administrative and technical operations. Laboratory customers, regulatory authorities and accreditation bodies may also use it in confirming or recognizing the competence of laboratories. ISO/IEC 17025:2005 is not intended to be used as the basis for certification of laboratories."

In a nutshell, accreditation is an evaluation of the laboratory's management system. While accreditation is a good thing, it is not a certification that a laboratory's technical operations meet the most current scientific standards. That assessment is not currently done through the laboratory accreditation process. People who believe that it is have been misinformed.

Anonymous said...


When a lab analyst declares during trial that their lab is "accredited", then the lab auditors and their audit reports are MOST CERTAINLY part of the legal process. And a 702 hearing will most definitely bring up the accreditation status of the lab. Prosecutors will exaggerate the competency of their expert witnesses and the reliability of their work by loudly proclaiming "accreditation" in front of a judge and jury. Judges not understanding the accreditation status (or believing the credibility of accreditation audits) will incorporate that accreditation into their decision.

It is perhaps relevant to note that the Austin Police Dept DNA Unit was "accredited" and, as we now know, their management system lead to the teaching of their analysts improper statistical use of DNA data, allowing them to use expired reagents for evidence analysis, and a litany of other unsound unscientific practices for the better part of a decade (moldy sexual assault kits, or the reporting of). Their laboratory management and quality assurance system was a sham, yet they somehow were accredited.

A pathologist with a medical degree doesn't mean he/she's good at performing autopsies.
A person with a driver's license doesn't mean they are good at driving.
Just because a crime lab has an accreditation certificate doesn't mean that the lab managers know what they are doing, but they will proclaim that they are because of the certificate. People who believe in accreditation are sorely misled.

Anonymous said...

Crime Labs in Texas are required by law to be accredited -- 78th Texas Legislature, Regular Session, House Bill 2703, Chapter 698.

Hence, it is part of the legal process.

As such, there is even more incentive for those poorly run crime labs to hide their flaws, or convince the auditors that their flaws are not really flaws and shouldn't be noted in any subsequent reports -- which happens with great frequency.

Anonymous said...

@10:49 here

Reply to @3:48/@4:12 -

Please re-read @10:13 and my reply.

@10:13 was suggesting that without complete and utter confidence in the accreditation process and the judgement of auditors, the court would be unable to perform its responsibilities under Daubert. My response was to point out to @10:13 (and now to @3:48/@4:12) that the court's responsibilities under Daubert are independent of the process of laboratory accreditation and audits. Admissibility under Daubert does not depend upon accreditation audits. Daubert doesn't mention accreditation as a benchmark of admissibility. Neither does Kumho. While laboratory accreditation of forensic laboratories in some disciplines is required by Texas law, the law does not attempt to describe what accreditation means. It only makes it a requirement for admissibility.

Challenges to the reliability of a laboratory's work are properly made using opposing experts in admissibility hearings or at trial. Accreditation alone is not going to tell the court anything about the issues related to Daubert.

Anonymous said...

@10:49 / 2:36-

Both Daubert (1993) and Kumho (1999) were decided upon before the law requiring accreditation for Texas crime labs was implemented (2005). So, of course they wouldn't mention "accreditation" as a requirement for admissibility. Neither is a lab analyst's "certification" mentioned, but that, too, will be a legal requirement in 2019.

But challenges to the reliability of a laboratory's work via 702 hearing won't even begin if the crime lab does not have accreditation (for those forensic disciplines that the law requires). A Prosecutor couldn't even get the evidence inside the court room. Without accreditation there is no challenges about admissibility because there is no discussion. It's a fail-stop.

By analogy, I couldn't make a case in traffic court about my stellar driving abilities above 100 mph a motorcycle on a pedestrian-filled sidewalk...if I don't have a drivers license. My argument would be moot.

So Texas crime labs have to either legitimately gain accreditation through exemplary adherence to accreditation guidelines, or surreptitiously gain accreditation by hiding problems and faking compliance in order to get the diploma to enter a courtroom and provide testimony (which apparently is the excuse given by the auditors in the news article.)

Anonymous said...

" [accreditation] is not a certification that a laboratory's technical operations meet the most current scientific standards.."

Wrong answer.

If lab accreditation is not important for determining scientific standards and admissibility, then why is it law? Why would Judges need to know if a lab is accredited or not before allowing evidence into court proceedings? Accreditation in Texas was voluntary before 2003. But because some lab managers were uninformed of the best practices for maintaining reliable evidence analysis, a checklist (accreditation) was implemented. Judges need to know this checklist is being followed.

The International (Lab Accreditation) Program is based on ISO 17025. In addition to the 17025 requirements, there are Supplemental requirements for accreditation of forensic science testing labs. Some of these forensic-specific requirements include:

ISO 17025 - Technical Requirements
5.1 General
5.2 Personnel
5.3 Accommodations and Environmental Conditions
5.4 Test Methods and Method Validation
5.5 Equipment
5.6 Measurement Traceability
5.7 Sampling
5.8 Handling of Test Items
5.9 Assuring the Quality of Test Results
5.10 Reporting the Results

It's guaranteed that if a crime lab is using RFLP protocols instead of STR DNA protocols, they are not going to get ISO accreditation. If the lab analysts are routinely handling evidence without proper PPE (gloves, face masks, hair nets) they are not going to get accreditation. If the lab analysts are eating lunch while simultaneously analyzing sexual assault kits, they're not going to get accredited.
If analysts are only reporting positive results for tests and omitting the negative results, they are not going to get accredited.

Accreditation is an indicator that none of this is occurring and that the best scientific protocols are being used, and that the most reliable scientific information is reaching the judge and jury.

So unless a gatekeeper is performing the lab audit themselves, and going to the lab to identifying all 400 criteria required for ISO 17025 accreditation (and the forensic-specific requirements), a Judge has to defer to the reports of the accreditation auditors, which unfortunately can be incomplete (purposely omitted information) and falsified.

Anonymous said...

Reply to 8:24 -

10:49 here.

Don't get me wrong. Laboratory accreditation is a good thing. ISO/IEC 17025:2005 accreditation is a good thing. And Texas state law requiring accreditation is a good thing, even though state law doesn't require ISO/IEC 17025:2005 accreditation in any discipline, and only requires accreditation in some disciplines.

My points are simple. 1) Accreditation doesn't do what you think it should do, and doesn't say what you think it should say about a laboratory's technical operations; and 2) the fact that a laboratory is accredited and audited is separate from the question of whether work being offered in evidence meets Daubert standards for admissibility.

Those are the simple truths of the matter.

Anonymous said...

I should remind everyone that more police officers are convicted of child sex crimes than ALL other professions combined, some 76,000 in the past 5-years alone:

Anonymous said...

BarkGrowlBite said..Rarely will you ever find some lame-brained cop who should never have been in law enforcement to begin with, that has a 'shoot first, ask questions afterwards' attitude.

Sure have a lot of pedophiles in law enforcement, so isn't it just possible a few thousand murderous psychopaths have also made the grade?

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a good thing, if it is actually what it claims to be. But most of the time it isn't. The accreditation auditors aren't doing what they claim they are doing. The APD lab disaster is a prime example. If the Forensic Science Commission was paying attention, they would perform historical re-analysis of all accredited labs for the past 15 years. Get the yearly audits of each lab and find out if they were thoroughly audited, and not superficially audited. Were long-standing problems of each crime lab addressed, or ignored?

Having worked in an "accredited" crime lab (not APD), I know first hand that "accreditation" is garbage. The problem is that Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, Judges, and Juries don't know what accreditation means. In a courtroom Prosecutors inflate the qualities of a lab's performance and scientific prowess with "accreditation". Judges eat that "sh*t sandwich" because it makes their job easier. And juries, not knowing anything about the process of "accreditation" believe everything they're told, including the lies from the Prosecutors and so-called expert witnesses from crime labs. It's an additional layer of bullsh*t that the Defense Attorney would have to tackle before dismantling the crime lab report. But because most Defense Attorneys don't have a clue as to a crime lab's "technical operations," they are hamstrung in the courtroom.

For the past 15 years, DPS has been rubber-stamping "accreditation" to whatever crime lab wanted one. Time will tell if the FSC is any better at performing this activity. But, given that Pat Johnson (the DPS person responsible for accreditation for the past 15 years) is now a FSC member, I don't have much faith.

That is the simple truth.

Anonymous said...

@3:11 -

The view that "accreditation is garbage" is an unsupportable position that shows a woefully weak grasp of production laboratory operations. It is definitely a good thing that your describe your laboratory work experience in the past tense.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:49, if the only proof you have of pedophilia in law enforcement is your own facebook page, perhaps you have a bias against them that just doesn't match other data freely available from independent sources?

Anonymous said...


Didn't read the article, did ya?

"In fact, the auditing agencies designated to watch the lab in the past missed the warning signs for almost a decade. Before 2016, the Austin lab had been passing audits with no problems...."

Equals garbage.

Anonymous said...

Looks like we found the Trump voter at 6:09AM -- Resorting to personal attack without any contribution to the discussion or realizing/acknowledging/understanding the facts of the situation.

The Austin Monitor is just Fake News, right 6:09AM?

Anonymous said...


"..unsupportable position.." ??

Do you mean other than the 2 news articles Grits posted, the related links within the news articles, the webpage link to the 2011 memorandum in the above comment @8:57, The 2016 Forensic Science Commissions Report on the APD DNA Unit, and the closure of said DNA Unit, and the plethora of crime labs across the nation exposed for unsound scientific practices reported on daily in the news?

I don't think "unsupportable position" means what you think it means.