Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Reform updates from Dallas, Houston, and Austin, a police-union hissy fit, how police spend their time, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends related to policing that merit Grits readers' attention:

Big D Demands for Police Reform
Check out a list of demands out of Dallas from anti-police brutality activists, and see coverage from the Dallas Morning News:
Dubbed 10 New Directions for Public Safety and Positive Community Change, the demands fall into one of two categories, the authors say: reprioritizing city and county money currently earmarked for public safety and increasing transparency and accountability.

Among the recommendations in the first pail: hiring mental health professionals to respond to emergencies and creating a city-county task force of community members to identify programs that can lift black and Latino residents out of poverty rather than locking them up.

The second group of suggestions aimed at police accountability includes prohibiting an officer from shooting at a person running away, benching officers accused of using deadly force until after a grand jury can investigate, and ending the county’s contract with the federal immigration department.
Policing Improvements in Houston Off to Slow Start 
In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner has latched onto the #8cantwait reforms as his response to recent reform calls, signing an executive order banning chokeholds and implementing other #8cantwait policies. These are good first steps but insufficient. Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle has called for beefing up civilian oversight at Houston PD and the Harris County Commissioners Court wants to create oversight mechanisms for the sheriff and constables' offices at the county level. 

Grits' experience has been that policy changes like #8cantwait don't matter if agency culture doesn't support reform. E.g., Austin has a perfectly fine "duty to intervene" policy on the books, but cops who witness misconduct by their comrades in arms are seldom punished for it.

I'd also caution that civilian oversight in Texas makes little difference because state civil service law protects bad cops in Houston and most of the larger Texas agencies. Such boards help with transparency - the public knows more about police misconduct in jurisdictions that have them. But they don't prevent misconduct or provide meaningful redress to victims.

Speaking of Houston reforms, Grits believes that city's leaders should flat out abolish the HPD narcotics division. I predict that, if the audit of that division is ever made public, its findings will corroborate widespread problematic practices there. Their activities contribute little to public safety and have been a major source of scandal, of which Gerald Goines is only the most prominent example.

2018 Police Shootings in Austin Analyzed
In Austin, the Office of Police Oversight has produced an analysis of all Officer Involved Shootings at Austin PD in 2018: 12 incidents involving 11 suspects and 33 officers, 5 of them fatal. "In only 1 of the 12 incidents did officers use “less-lethal” force before using their firearms."

APD deemed two of the five fatalities suicides, though in one of those "suicides" police fired 10 shots at the person, hitting him at least twice (police say the suspect then shot himself in the head). The other was the so-called Austin bomber, who killed himself detonating one of his own devices. 

At least half the incidents involved a mental-health component, according to the report, and 25 of the 33 officers involved had less than six years on the force.

Suspects were armed in four of the five deadly shootings. In the 5th, a SWAT sniper shot and killed Hugo Alvarez while he was unarmed and exiting his home with his mother in response to police commands. 

Police Chief Resignations Complicate Austin's Conundrum
Speaking of Austin, despite the city manager affirming his support for police Chief Brian Manley, Grits still harbors a conceit that the dozens of community groups arrayed against him may prevail and he still could be removed/demoted. But the situation is made more complicated by the wave of police chiefs stepping down under fire around the nation. Makes hiring a replacement a more vexed question than when the #FireManley campaign began a month before George Floyd's death. Austin chief is a plum gig, so I've no doubt there'd be candidates available. But we don't want to get rid of Brian Manley and end up with more of the same. The city needs someone capable of instilling a reform-minded culture in the department, not just another cop who stayed in the profession long enough to be promoted up the ranks.\

In Hissy Fit, Union Tells Officers Not to Work Protests
The police union in Austin is advising officers not to work at protests if the city doesn't rescind its ban on firing tear gas into crowds. This to me is an easy one: Call their bluff. Police in Texas cannot strike. If they don't want to work their assignments, terminate their employment. The officers who believe they can't work a protest without using tear gas are officers we don't need.

Debating Abolition of School Police
The effort by Disability Rights, Texas Appleseed, and other groups to convince Texas school districts to abolish their police departments hasn't been met with success, yet, but is generating a robust debate. The Houston Chronicle editorialized in favor of the move. In San Antonio, school board members rejected the suggestion but pledged to examine disciplinary practices for officers. (Grits must admit, whenever I think of SA school police, in my mind's eye I see the cop bodyslamming a middle-school girl a few years back, though to be fair, the guy was fired for it.) For more background, here's a good summation of the research surrounding the efficacy of school-based police.

Budget shortfalls add risk to defund-police proposals
Grits has a nagging fear that budget shortfalls related to the COVID pandemic may undermine some of the divestment/reinvestment strategies being pursued by police-reform advocates at the local level. City Councils in Austin, Dallas and elsewhere have stated their intention to reduce police budgets and reinvest the savings in health/service-oriented approaches to solving social problems. Grits supports this approach. But nationwide, local government faces budget shortfalls because of the COVID recession. So I'm afraid we'll see local government cut police budgets but fail to subsequently invest savings in alternative approaches. Instead, the savings will go to ameliorating red ink in the budget. Then, if government doesn't invest to solve the social problems police deployments had been papering over, there's a risk of a backlash down the line.

I believe the divestment/reinvestment strategy can work. Spending ever-more money for police to respond to less and less crime makes little sense. But that reinvestment part is really important. If it doesn't happen, there's a big risk the "defunding" agenda becomes a trap down the line.

How Do Police Spend Their Time?
Police spend very little of their time responding to violent crime, much less preventing it, according to a review of public data by the New York Times. Serious violent crime make up only about 1% of calls for service and account for about 4% of police officers' time in jurisdictions for which they found data. About half their time is spent on non-criminal calls and traffic enforcement.

A hacker group released data from 200 police agencies and fusion centers that was stolen from a Houston-based web consultant. Now, though, the purported link to this data isn't working. If anyone knows another way to access it, please report in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Data appears to be available via torrent https://web.archive.org/web/20200620225501if_/https://data.ddosecrets.com/file/BlueLeaks.tar.torrent

David Kowis said...

Yeah the data from the torrent link works, it's just *hella* slow.

download it by hand using wget, or some downloader tool: `wget https://data.ddosecrets.com/file/BlueLeaks.tar.torrent`

Then, once you've downloaded the 21MB torrent file, put that in your bittorrent client, and you can eventually get your content.

Gadfly said...

If Austin City Council had both gonads and brains, it would fire Manley and replace him with NOBODY. No. 2 officer is acting chief for indefinite interim with NO HIRING PROCESS announced. City council / manager makes "the calls" on issues beyond routine policing

Shlomo Ramone said...

Who says the Police Chief has to be a cop? In America we have civilian control of the military -- the president is Commander-in-Chief, and the Secretary of Defense, at least in theory, should be five years removed from active military service.

Why couldn't the same principles apply to leadership of the police? Why couldn't the director of another government agency concerned with public safety, or a social-services nonprofit, or a successful business leader, or a renowned civil-rights lawyer, or a former elected official, etc., etc., run a police department?

Gunny Thompson said...

From Unfiltered Minds of Independent Thinkers of the 3rd Grade Dropout Section.

You Can't kill a dog by killing the flees on a dog.

Quite a collection of information to consider. Regarding the City Manager's support of the current police chief, it is evident that he has a bias and no longer can be effective in an non-bias manner. Additionally, he has no authority to represent the city of Austin. Prior to his appointment as city manager, he was not a Texas resident in violation of state laws.

Regarding Local Government Rule 143, for nearly twenty-years, I've held that it is unconstitutional and the Rule gives authority of local governments to create an impermissible law. The Rule does provide a a provision to vacate the law.

In 1947, when the Legislators created the 143, it (Legislators) created an ultra virus act in violation of the Texas Constitution. By its creation, the law provided an impermissible fourth form of government.

Gadfly said...

@GunnyThompson, starting with the fact that you misspelled "ultra vires," it's clear you're some type of loose screw conspiracy theorist.

Gunny Thompson said...

Gadfly, My Brother, you are entitled to your own personal opinion. Thanks for the correction.

Deb said...

Got someone downloading it all...for the past several days now and more to go.