The law gives the police a lot of discretion in the use of force. Many cities across the nation now operate on what is called a special police unit. Special police units are designed to curb street crime. Most authorities believe these units have helped to drastically reduce urban violence, but civil rights groups, however, argue that their actions are racially motivated and trample on individual liberties (Scherer, 1). The units are attracting lawsuits all over the nation as well. In Los Angeles, for example, there are numerous legal complaints that accuse the LAPD’s special police units of reckless behavior. Known as the Special Investigation Section (SIS), the SIS has had more than 50 gun battles and have killed at least 34 suspects over the years. Although there are no national statistics on special crime units, the FBI is actively investigating several of them over charges of racial bias.
The biggest complaint is the way that special unit officers work in minority communities. For example, in Charleston, VA, prosecutor Bill Forbes recently wrote that some of the incidents involved the ‘most invidious racial discrimination that I have seen during my 10 years as a prosecuting attorney.’ Mr. Forbes details an incident where the special crime unit arrested a man for drug dealing. The cops’ reason for stopping him: “three black guys in a Lexus.” Racial profiling, which means being stopped simply because of your race or racial ethnicity, is based on misguided stereotypes that African Americans are more likely to engage in illegal activity. A citizen should not be stopped unless the officer has reasonable suspicion that the citizen is doing something illegal. With racial profiling, the officer is using skin color as a proxy for suspicion (ACLU of Kentucky homepage).There must be a concern for minority misgivings about routine illegal stops, seizures and frisks. ‘The key minority concerns are not about the deadly force but about the indignities to their Fourth Amendment rights.’
The police, however are very sensitive about criminal charges brought against them. The consensus among the cops and their lawyers is that they are scapegoats (Scherer, 1). In an effort to explain a rash of shooting that have occurred lately, police say that when questioning a suspect, they like to be able to see their hands. In addition, if the suspect is not polite, police feel their authority is being challenged. However, according to a 10-month investigation, conducted by The Courier-Journal, it has been proven that when police deal with uncooperative people, they [the police], use force too freely. And, unsurprisingly, the police don’t always report the use of force against suspects. Officers’ arrest reports [show] that they routinely struggle with, tackle, fight, wrestle with, or pepper spray people without filling out a use-of-force report (Dunlop and Adams, 1).
Of the 848 times that officers filled out use-of-force reports during the past four years, only in three circumstances did commanders deem the force to be unjustified. This means that fewer than one percent of the cases were disapproved, a rate that national authorities on police said was ridiculously low (Dunlop and Adams, 2). Officers are required to file use-of-force reports under certain circumstances, and commanders are then supposed to review them. The command reviews are more thorough than they used to be, but are still far less comprehensive than some authorities on police think they ought to be. In hundreds of other instances, the newspaper found more than 600 that occurred during the last two years alone. Officers said in arrest records that they used physical force, but the did not document it on use-of-force reports. Both Ron Ricucci, Louisville’s public safety director, and Doug Hamilton, former police chief, say that if officers don’t fill out reports when they are required, it’s the responsibility of the first line supervisor sergeants and lieutenants--to demand them (Dunlop and Adams, 2).
In an interview with the Courier Journal, Ricucci said that he believes that the city has “a pretty good grip on” use-of-force reporting [since] the wake of procedures instituted in June 0f 1999. The new policy requires that officers call supervisors to the scene when they use force, and that the reports be written. But, after the newspaper gave him a sampling of five arrest reports describing fights between officers and suspects, that the department was unable to find use-of-force reports in any of those cases, Ricucci was concerned (Dunlop and Adams, 2). In one of these five arrest reports, it was reported that the officers engaged in a “15-minute struggle” to subdue a suspect. Another report said a suspect was “maced” (pepper-sprayed), which clearly requires a report. A third arrest report said a suspect had been “tackled”. The fourth report described an “altercation between an officer and a suspect. The fifth described a “struggle “ during which two officers pants were ripped. These five reports are among more than 140 arrest reports the Courier-Journal identified during the last six months of 1999 in which officers wrote in their arrest reports that they used force, but for which no use-of-force reports were on file (Dunlop and Adams, 2-3). The main reason, for this discrepancy, the department claims, is due to the fact that the department performs no analysis of how, when, where, how often, and against whom its officers use force. As a result, top commanders lack tools necessary to discern trends, improve training or identify potential problem officers for counseling or discipline. Besides, while police agencies authorize their officers to use force against citizens, there is are no legal requirements that and agency measure, record, or evaluate the nature and extent of force used by its officers.
In addition, when civilians complain that officers have used excessive force on them, the department’s top officers almost always rule in favor of its officers. Of 79 people who told police they had been victims of excessive force by an officer during the last four years, and whose cases have been concluded, 78 found their complaints rejected by the police command after investigations by the internal affairs unit. Among the complaints alleging all forms of misconduct, not just excessive force, black people were less likely than whites to have their complaints upheld. This suggests that there are differences in the way complaints by blacks and whites are treated.
Far fewer complaints of excessive force are filed against Louisville police than against police in other cities of comparable size. Experts say that this suggests either that Louisville’s officers are less likely to engage in misconduct or that the department’s system for accepting and processing complaints is faulty and forbidding. Evidence supports the latter. The department doesn’t publicize its system for taking and investigating complaints against officer and people who want to complain to internal affairs are required to make multiple trips to do so. Those unwilling to provide a signed sworn statement are turned away. In addition, complaints in jail or otherwise facing criminal charges are flatly discouraged from complaining. Other cities have more user-friendly procedures.
Not only do some officers not report the force they use, some people --for reasons, including lack of confidence in the system--do not bother to file complaints with police about the force which they were subjected. For example, one man, John Dennis Wilson, who was arrested on the Gene Synder Freeway did not complain to the internal affairs after an officer, Matt Corder, admitted pepper-spraying him while the suspect was handcuffed and sitting in the back seat of the patrol car. Originally, Corder’s arrest report, said nothing about his use of pepper-spray nor did Corder file the requires use-of-force report disclosing the case It wasn’t until, Corder was sued in federal court that he admitted spraying Wilson. The city eventually paid Wilson $15,000 to settle the case, without admitting any wrongdoing.
Additionally, in a study published in 1993, conducted by Anthony Pate and Lorie Fridell, based on 23 city departments with 500-999 officers (Louisville has approximately 700 officers), evidence proves that six percent of excessive force complaints were upheld in 1991 among other cities of Louisville’s size. This percentage is in the average range between five and eight percent, but Louisville’s one percent rate is very low. The total number of excessive-force complaints in Louisville appear to be unusually low as well. Statistics show that excessive-force complaints in cities of comparable size to Louisville, are filed at rates more than 60 percent greater than Louisville’s.
Among complaints filed by whites, at least one allegation was upheld in 16 out of 86 complaints filed. Among those filed by African Americans, at least one allegation was upheld in 14 out of 128 complaints. In other words, blacks filed most of the complaints but more whites’ complaints were upheld. This proves that there is disparity as to how seriously these complaints are being taken (Walker, 3). However, Walker says that in order to determine if black citizens’ complaints are treated less seriously , the specifics of the cases would have to be examined. Ricucci, Louisville’s safety director claims that these low rates are due to the fact that there are a high number of blacks who drop their complaints before the internal affairs investigation is completed (Dunlop and Adams, 4). However, the newspaper found very little racial difference in this regard. In fact, 21 percent of black complainants either dropped their cases or could not be found by internal affairs compared with 17 percent of white complainants.
The Courier-Journal investigation also found that among complaints against a handful of officers have kept internal affairs inordinately busy the past four years. Seven Louisville police officers were named in 45 separate complaints from the public for which the newspaper received records--accounting for 21 percent of the citizens complaints the newspaper reviewed. These seven officers make up less than 1 percent of the city officers who made arrest between 1996 and 1999.
Among the complainants, African Americans filed 59 percent of all complaints against Louisville police officers--and similarly, made up 58 percent of all people arrested by Louisville police from 1996 to 1999. Louisville’s population is about 30 percent black. In all, 182 officers were named in at least one civilian complaint. That’s 21 percent of the 852 officers who made the arrests during the four years.
INTERNAL AFFAIRS CASES, 1996-99
The internal-affairs unit of the Louisville Police Department investigates complaints of police misconduct. The Courier-Journal available public records for all internal-affairs cases arising from citizens complaints in the last four years. Of 218 total citizens complaints, 128 of them were black, 86 of them were white, and the remaining 4 complaints filed were of Asian, or Hispanic descent. The most common alleged violations were, conduct unbecoming of an officer with 184 complaints and discourtesy with 144 complaints.
Police officers with the most civilian complaints are Brain E.Fredrick, Richard Peterson, and Greta Price.
In all but three of ten complaints, Brain E. Fredrick was cleared. In those three, he got a letter of reprimand for discourtesy in 1998 and two letters of reprimand in 1997 for conduct unbecoming of an officer and failure to notify the parents of juveniles that their children were being charged.
In all but two of seven complaints, Richard Peterson was cleared. In one, a 1997 cases, he was cleared of the major allegation but was sent a letter reminding him to give his badge number when asked. In the other, he was suspended for 11 days without pay for excessive force, conduct unbecoming of and officer, failure to safeguard a prisoner and lack of truthfulness. During his appeal, of the case, the city agreed to reduce the suspension from four to two--failure to safeguard a prisoner and lack of truthfulness. He was promoted to sergeant last June.
Greta Price,was only cleared in two of seven complaints, but one or more allegation of violations were sustained in the other five. The violations included conduct unbecoming of an officer, lack of truthfulness, discourtesy and violating the law. Price fired in July 1998 after several of the allegations were sustained.
The Desmond Rudolph Case:
In May 1999, Detective Perry was called to investigate a stolen Chevy Blazer that might be behind the house at 3607 Del Park terrace, where 18 year old Desmond Rudolph lived with his mother, grandmother, and siblings. Rudolph was on five year probation for receiving stolen property and other charges. Perry called for backup after receiving confirmation that the Blazer was stolen. Officer Horn responded. They went to the Rudolph’s front door and knocked to see if anyone was home. Neither officer covered the back entrance--one of the tactical mistakes. Hearing movement inside, Horn circled around back to prevent anyone from fleeing. Horn was knocked to the ground by “Stinky” Smith . This began a chase around the neighborhood that ended back at the Rudolph’s house. By now Officer Kinkade who heard the pursuit on his radio had joined the chase. Horn and Kinkade reported seeing the Blazer fishtailing across the grass. Smith waved and shouted for his friend to pick him up. The Blazer stopped and Smith tried to climb in but the SUV took off dragging Smith down the alley. The passenger side door, still open, struck one in a row of six posts, designed to keep vehicles from driving into an adjacent empty lot. The impact caused the Blazer to slam into a utility pole. The Blazer’s right front got stuck on the post closest to the utility pole which were confirmed by wood fragments found under the vehicle’s right front.
Both described the driver, Rudolph, violently putting the Blazer into forward and reverse as he tried to flee from the post. Pictures taken later show the right bumper was bent backward from the force of Rudolph rocking the Blazer back and forth. Horn knew Rudolph because he had arrested him several years earlier, but he did not know that Rudolph was in the Blazer because the windows were tinted. The Horn and Kinkade said the Blazer worked itself free of the post . Both allegedly fired when the vehicle’s tires began to rotate in the mud and the Blazer appeared to move forward. The Blazer was hit with 22 rounds from the officers’ .40 caliber Glock semi-automatic handguns. Rudolph was shot at least nine times.
Two accounts by eyewitnesses from the neighborhood show that the officers did not have to shoot. The accounts of the four officers differ on details, such as where each was standing but all of the officers said the shooting began after Rudolph had freed the Blazer (Schaver, 2). Tests were done to estimate the time it would have taken for inflated and flat tires to strike the officer. The times were between 1.23 seconds and 2.65 seconds with inflated tires and 1.43 seconds with flat tires (Schaver, 5). Tests also performed, showed that the indicator was in park. No guns were found in the Blazer. Riccucci concluded that Horn and Kinkade “acted in a lawful and proper manner.” He also concluded that the shooting might not have happened if the officers hadn’t committed investigative and tactical errors, including not securing the Blazer after it was found behind Rudolph’s house and not making sure all exits were covered.
When this shooting occurred, it was reported that the stolen vehicle was stuck . However, evidence gathered by a special prosecutor investigating the case, now supports the account of two Louisville police officers who said that they opened fire because the stolen Chevy Blazer that Rudolph was in had become unstuck and they feared he was about to run them down. This evidence differs from some accounts previously reported in the Courier-Journal that said the vehicle was stuck when the officers fired (Schaver, 1).
The Clifford Lewis Case:
On January 11, 2001, the Louisville Police shot and killed 18-year old Clifford Lewis after an incident involving his cousin, Aubrey Walker, the previous weekend. Walker allegedly kicked an officer into traffic as she was trying to arrest him. When she tried to resume her arrest, Walker assaulted her and caused serious injuries. The police got info that the would be in the west end of Louisville. The police went looking for the van belonging to Walker, which they found, only Walker was not in the van, Lewis was. Officers tried to pull over Lewis, but he put it in reverse, hitting Officer Kevin Bowling. Officer Steimle demanded Lewis put his hands out the window, but Lewis refused. Steimle fired his gun, killing Lewis (Seymour, 1).
This case is still under investigation. Steimle was placed on administrative leave pending the investigation. Detective Keeling says, “were not jumping to any conclusions that the police was at fault and we’re not ruling out any possibility that the police was at fault.”
Cincinnati Police Shooting:
Since I began this research, another police shooting of a black unarmed male has occurred. This time in Cincinnatti, Ohio. Kweisi Mfume, President & CEO, of the National Association for the Advancementof Colored People (NAACP), today called on Attorney General John Ashcroft to order a full investigation into the fatal shooting by Cincinnati Police of an unarmed African American man.Mfume said: "In addition to the FBI who are now investigating whether there were any civil rights violations in this death, we call on Mr. Ashcroft toorder an investigation of the Cincinnati Police Department by the U.S.Justice Department's Pattern and Practices Division. If news reports are correct, that is if this is the 15th black man killed by Cincinnati police since1995 and the fourth since November, there are obviously problems with the way this department does business." He agreed with Cincinnati leaders who have called for an end to rioting in the wake of the shooting which occurred Saturday. But he said, "While street violence will not solve the problem which led to this shooting, theNAACP and African American community will never tolerate excessive police force."
Mfume said, "The problem of poorly trained police officers has been festering in our country for too many years. The fact of the matter is that , if you are a person of color living in the United States, the police often look at you differently and with a level of suspicion. They always have, and until something is done to raise the level of accountability, they will continue to do so." The Cincinnati shooting is further evidence that Congress needs to put into law the "Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act" endorsed by the NAACP."This Act would eliminate the hodgepodge of what is acceptable behavior by law enforcement officials," said Mfume. "Presently there are a variety of problems and an overall lack of accountability by too many law enforcement agencies to the community they serve."In addition to establishing a Federal Task Force on Law Enforcement Oversight and an Immigration Enforcement Review Commission, the legislation also calls for the establishment of national minimum standards for accrediting law enforcement agencies."Until we change the way in which law enforcement interacts with thecommunities they serve, problems will continue to exist between citizens and the police," said Mfume.
Founded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of ColoredPeople (NAACP) is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its half-million adult and youth members throughout the United States andthe world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities,conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the publicand private sectors.CONTACT: NAACP Office of Communications 410.486.9227
Laws and Bills:
A 1980 law, pushed by the Fraternal order of police says that before internal affairs can investigate a civilians claim of misconduct or rule of violation by an officer, the person must sign a sworn complaint. Pushing a case to its conclusion, according to many people, who have been through the process, may involve three trips because of the law and police requirements: one trip to prepare the affidavit, one trip to be interviewed, a third to read and sign each page of the transcribed interviewed, and in some instances, a follow-up interview. This has caused a real roadblock in the way of citizens that might want to file a complaint (Dunlop and Adams, 7). Black leaders began calling for the formation of a civilian review board to review complaints against the police after the fatal shooting of Clifford Lewis. An ordinance to create a civilian board was adopted by city leader in June. But the Louisville Fraternal Order of Police filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to block the ordinance (Burgin, 1). This case is pending in the Jefferson County Circuit Court. This case could take months to resolve.
Both of these cases and many other cases involving excessive force show how difficult it is to obtain reform even after an egregious police action (Schere,2). For example, the Rodney King case which happened in the earlier part of the decade, in which police officers in Los Angeles beat him, a bill did not result from that committee. The only bill related to the case that was enacted was one that increased the criminal penalties for rioting. This shows that the law is more concerned about how citizens treat property and it is not concerned how the police are treating citizens.
For as long as I can remember, I can remember having doubts about the Louisville Police Department. I have never thought of the police as my “friend” , and this research only confirms a lot of my prior beliefs and demonstrates that excessive force is being employed all over the nation. From this research, I have learned two main things. One of the most obvious , being that the police department has an excuse for every “flaw” found in its processes. For example, earlier in this research, I reported that the Courier-Journal had found over 140 arrest reports in which the police admitted using force, but there were no use-of-force reports on file for these cases. Their [the police] excuse for this, was that the ‘top commanders lack tools to discern trends, improve training and identify potential problem officers for discipline’. Yet, I find this hard to believe considering that the police find ways to get funding for everything else, including new patrol cars, uniforms, badges, etc.
I have also learned that the police are not really concerned about the minority communities. I sincerely believe that the police wouldn’t care if they ‘accidentally’ killed every black person. One black leader once suggested that surveillance cameras be put in every patrol car to monitor police arrests. The police’s response was that it would be too costly. But what is more costly than a human being’s life?
1. Adams, Jim and R.G. Dunlop. “Use of Force.” The Courier-Journal 26 Mar 2000: A1.
2. Adams, Jim and R.G. Dunlop. “Use of Force: People who
complain to police about excessive force rarely win.”
The Courier-Journal 26 Mar 2000: A1. <http://www.courier-journal.com>
3. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. Home page. 15 Mar 2001 <http://www.aclu-ky.org>
4. Horn, Dan and Jane Pendergrast. "2001 NAACP Urges Ashcroft
to Investigate Fatal Cincinnati Shooting."
The Cincinnati Enquirer 11 Apr 2001. <http://www.cincinnati.com>
5. Knight, Fredrick. “Justifiable Homicide: Police
Brutality or Governmental Repression?” Journal of Negro History
79.2 (1994): 182.
6. The News at 5. “Civilian Review Board Stalled.” CBS. WLKY, Louisville. 29 Jan 2001. <http://www.TheLouisvilleChannel.com>
7. The News at 5. “Police Release Details on the Clifford
Lewis Shooting.” CBS. WLKY, Louisville.
29 Jan 2001. <http://www.TheLouisvilleChannel.com>
8. Schaver, Mark. “The Desmond Rudolph shooting: Evidence
largely backs account that officers felt threatened.”
The Courier-Journal 25 Mar 2000:A1. <http://www. courier-journal .com>
9. Scherer, Ron. “When Does Police Mistake Become Murder?”
Christian Science Monitor 91.89 (1999):1