Thursday, January 07, 2021

Roundup: Texas police-reform news, bail update, jury trials during COVID, and other stories

Lets' clear a few browser tabs with a roundup of recent items that may have escaped Texans' attention while our Attorney General was in Washington D.C. inciting mayhem.

Dallas bail lawsuit to move forward. Bail litigation in Dallas can move forward to trial after a 5th Circuit decision, but the array of potential remedies has been narrowed. See Dallas News coverage. More on this soon. In related news, Tarrant County announced they'd begin using a new risk-assessment instrument when setting bail. Such mechanisms have been criticized for perpetuating past discriminatory patterns, but Tarrant insists the tool "won't be racially biased."

Cops who must document pointing their guns do so less often. Dallas PD has a policy requiring officers to document every time they unholster and point their gun, whether or not they fire it. An academic study of the program found that the policy reduces the likelihood suspects will be shot by mistake without increasing dangers to police officers.

Changing stories. A Lamarque police officer initially said Joshua Feast had pointed a gun at him before the officer shot and killed him last month. But bodycam footage was released showing Feast, while armed, did not point his gun at the officer and was shot in the back while running away. This is incredibly common. Even when shootings are legally justified, the details that come out later often don't match the initial stories. Over time, this pattern degrades trust in law enforcement. Thank heavens for bodycam and bystander video, or the false stories would go unchallenged.

Police oversight in Houston. See coverage of the push for improved civilian oversight at Houston PD from Community Impact, and more background from Grits coverage of Sylvester Turner's task force on police reform.

Chicano Squad. Speaking of Houston PD, our pal Eva Moravec helped report and produce a new podcast on the "Chicano Squad" created at HPD in the wake of the murder of Joe Campos Torres. Give it a listen.

SA Chief, union boss, collaborate to oppose reform. When it comes to opposing accountability reforms, the chief and the union at San Antonio PD are singing from the same hymnal. The chief and the union boss told straight-up lies about advocates, falsely claiming they were misrepresenting themselves as police officers while gathering signatures. There's little doubt if they had any evidence this were true, arrests would have already been made. (Noted the Express-News, "While impersonating a public servant is a felony under the Texas Penal Code, McManus said he is not aware of a criminal investigation into the allegations, nor has he directed his officers to look into it.") Also, Chief McManus's claim that problems can be solved at the bargaining table is completely disingenuous. If it were true, they'd already have been solved. The former San Antonio city manager has explained why the union boss standing next to the chief telling lies is the main reason that won't work. If you're looking for detail on what activists are ACTUALLY proposing in San Antonio, check out this recent podcast interview, starting around the 45:30 mark.

Officers speak up on colleague's misconduct. In Texas, police officers have no duty to intervene when their colleagues engage in misconduct. But a Duncanville police officer has been suspended after several of his fellow officers reported him. No details available about what was alleged, but I'm glad to hear about officers stepping up, even if it's not legally required. 

Lessons unlearned. A lawsuit has been filed in Fort Worth after police raided and ransacked the home of an elderly, black couple last year. Notably, a review of use of force policies last year at FWPD found that "Department policies emphasize the sanctity of human life, procedural justice, and de-escalation. Our review found that officers’ conduct in the community does not uniformly adhere to these policies." This episode seems to corroborate that finding.

Early warnings. Dallas has paid a consultant to set up an early warning system to identify problem officers who need additional training or discipline. Frankly, I've never seen a truly effective early warning system at a police department. All the systems I've seen set the thresholds for a warning so high that they aren't really effective. No word on what metrics this consultant will use; Grits would have to know that before assessing whether this is a meaningful reform, however well intended it may be.

3% of Florida cops previously fired. The phrase "wandering officers" refers to cops who're fired and get a job at another agency despite a history of misconduct. A new academic study of Florida police found about 3% of officers statewide had previously been fired. "[R]esults suggest that wandering officers may pose serious risks, particularly given how difficult it is to fire a police officer." Notably, Grits has written about this phenomenon in the past, but using the term common in law enforcement for these officers: "Gypsy cops." Over the years, I've come to realize that phrase's racist implications vis a vis the Roma people, so I'm glad to learn more neutral terminology. I wish I'd never used the other.

CO shows off new law TX should emulate. Grits has discussed how the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement lacks authority to decertify officers who engage in extreme misconduct unless they're convicted of a felony. Last year, Colorado changed their law to allow such decertifications, and the first officers recently lost their licenses. Texas should follow their lead.

COVID and jury trials. Brazos County officials knew a defendant had contracted COVID but didn't tell him until after conducting a jury trial in which others were exposed, reported the Texas Tribune. With defendants sitting endlessly in jail awaiting trial, it's not clear what the right solution is, but the backlog of cases is getting serious:

In 2019, about 186 Texas jury trials were held in civil and criminal cases in an average week, according to the state Office of Court Administration. From March until June of 2020, that number went to zero. ...

From June through September, a total of 25 criminal jury trials — ranging from traffic violations to murder cases — were fully conducted under this supervision, the court administration office reported. That’s less than one-fifth of the Texas criminal cases tried by a jury in an average week in 2019.

The changing face of auto theft. Auto thefts have increased during the pandemic, reported the New York Times, but with a new pattern: Most vehicles are taken for short distances and are eventually found and returned, whereas in years past they may have been stripped for parts. Police suggest theives are using stolen cars for short-term rides in lieu of Uber, etc.. Some of this is because people leave their cars running or leave their key fob in the cupholder, while in other cases, thieves use tech to amplify the key fob tech from a distance. Key fob tech has always been hack-able, but the methods for doing so appear to be disseminating more widely 

For the reading list: Here's an academic paper for Grits' reading list on the dynamic relationship between COVID and family-violence risk factors.


Andy Wheeler said...

I've always thought it would be feasible to do a good early intervention system (from a data science/crime analysis perspective) using data PDs already collect. Although no doubt agree most currently in practice are quite poor. Many I have seen actually have the opposite problem you mention -- they flag everyone as problematic so are ignored. (Many are three strikes, so tend to just flag very proactive officers.)

The website for the benchmark analytics has a page for research, but as far as I am aware they have never published any of their work from Charlotte in detail. Maybe a few years ago they released an analysis predicting the probability that specific incidents would result in use of force. But that isn't a straight jump to an EIS at the officer level.

False Positives/False Negatives aside, I have to admit though the problem with EIS's may be that PDs can't reasonably take on that function in good faith internally.

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