On “Blue Lives Matter” sentence enhancement, floated as a national idea in one of President Donald Trump’s three executive orders last week on crime, the feds really have no business meddling when local legal systems are appropriately vigorous in prosecuting and punishing a category of offense, as is ordinarily true of injuries to police [Jonathan Blanks, Cato] More views on the executive orders: Tim Lynch/Cato, Harvey Silverglate via Anthony Fisher.
Yesterday the city of Baltimore signed a 227-page consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice putting the city’s police department under wide-ranging federal control for the indefinite future (earlier).
The decree (document; summary of high points) mingles some terms that rise to genuine constitutional significance with others that no court would have ordered, and yet others that appear not to be requirements of the law at all, but at most best practices. Many are virtually or entirely unenforceable (“professional and courteous” interaction with citizens). Whether or not the decree results in the less frequent violation of citizens’ rights, it is certain to result in large amounts of new spending and in the extension of the powers of lawyers working for various parties.
In November David Meyer Lindenberg of Fault Lines, the criminal justice website, wrote this opinion piece about the failure of DoJ police reform consent decrees to live up to the high claims often made for them (more: Scott Shackford, Reason). Our consent decrees tag traces the problems with these devices in a variety of public agencies such as those handling children’s and mental health services, as well as the budgetary rigidity they often impose.
Since Congress passed enabling legislation in 1994 in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating, the Washington Post and Frontline reported in a 2015 investigation, “Twenty-six [police] investigations — a little more than half of them since President Obama took office — have led to the most rigorous outcome: binding agreements tracked by monitors. More than half were consent decrees, meaning they were approved and managed in federal court.” As of that point only Ohio, at 4 agreements, had had more than Maryland, at 3.
This 2008 report from the Alabama Policy Institute by Michael DeBow, Gary Palmer, and John J. Park, Jr. takes a critical view of the decrees’ use in institutional reform litigation (not specifically police), and comes with a foreword by Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the nominee to replace Loretta Lynch as Attorney General of the U.S. Speaking of which, there’s something so weird about some liberals’ eagerness to hand the keys to big-city police departments over to Mr. Sessions. It’s as if they think once Main Justice is calling the shots it won’t think of using that leverage on issues like, say, sanctuary cities.
- Fraternal Order of Police asks Amazon to stop allowing sales of Black Lives Matter shirts after Walmart.com yields to similar request [Ben Rosen, Christian Science Monitor] FOP boss Chuck Canterbury, defending civil asset forfeiture: hey we could use the money [Scott Shackford] FOP chief vows to override Pennsylvania governor’s veto of bill that would shield names of involved police officers for 30 days after killings of civilians [CBS Philadelphia]
- Technology panel from Cato policing conference included law professors Tracey Meares of Yale and Elizabeth Joh of UC Davis, City of San Jose independent police auditor Walter Katz, and Maj. Max Geron of the Dallas PD, moderated by Cato’s Jonathan Blanks [video or podcast] “Police Spy Tools Evolve Faster Than Lawmakers Can Keep Up: Baltimore’s aerial surveillance continues unchecked” [Monte Reel, Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
- One effect of ban on smoking in New York City public housing: new excuse for cops to bust in [Scott Greenfield]
- “WSJ investigation: Of 3,458 US police officers charged with crimes, 332 (10%) kept their badges” [@johngramlich]
- “San Francisco has become a predatory government,” says its elected treasurer [José Cisneros, San Francisco Chronicle]
- Don’t let quest to increase police accountability worsen problem of intrusive surveillance [Matthew Feeney on Jake Laperruque presentation at Cato’s recent surveillance conference]
Will the departing Obama administration Department of Justice persuade the departing administration of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to lock the city into an expensive, rigid police consent decree? [George Liebmann, Baltimore Sun]
- “Policing in America: Understanding Public Attitudes Toward the Police. Results from a National Survey” [Emily Ekins, Cato]
- “In ‘blistering’ ruling, court upholds recusal of entire Orange County DA’s office from murder case” [ABA Journal] Orange County scandals played role: “Prosecutorial Misconduct is Now a Felony in California” [Reason]
- “Mistrial for Cop Who Shot Walter Scott in the Back” [Cato podcast with Matthew Feeney and Caleb Brown]
- House Moves To Stop IRS Forfeiture Abuse [Jared Meyer] “California Enacts Asset Forfeiture Reform, Mostly Closing Lucrative Fed Loophole” [C.J. Ciaramella, Reason] “Iowa Will Pay Poker Players Robbed by Forfeiture-Hungry State Cops” [Jacob Sullum]
- Time for the great U.K. child abuse witch hunt to close up shop [Charles Moore, Telegraph]
- “Reining in Prosecutorial Overreach with Meaningful Mens Rea Requirements” [Trevor Burrus on Cato amicus in 11th Circuit case of U.S. v. Clay]
- The stalker wore a badge: AP finds mass abuse by police of non-public databases to check out romantic interests, celebrities, journalists;
- Union-backed bill: “Pennsylvania lawmakers approve ban on naming officers in shootings” [Philadelphia Daily News]
- How Chicago’s FOP shapes coverage of police shootings [Chicago Reader] Reason coverage of police unions here, here (Cleveland demand to stop open carry), here (union contracts restrict oversight), etc.
- Inside the Chicago Police Department’s secret budget of millions a year from seizures and forfeitures [Chicago Reader]
- Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith about force’s use of dragnet of social media information about citizens: “The only people that have anything to fear about anything being monitored are those that are criminals and attempting to commit criminal acts.” Yes, that’s really what Smith said [Alison Knezevich/Baltimore Sun; in sequel, social media companies rescind access to the Geofeedia service]
- “It ought to be possible to terminate cops short of criminal convictions for incidents like that involving [Freddie] Gray’s” [Ed Krayewski]
I joined Thomas Stebbins and host Liz Patterson on Wednesday to discuss municipal liability on New York Time Warner Cable’s Capital Tonight, with the conversation reaching such perennial Overlawyered topics as trees and playgrounds. I was in Albany to keynote (and sign books at) the annual meeting of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, which Stebbins directs; my talk mentioned the recent Saratoga County case in which an adult woman sued her brother after a trampoline injury, Ralph Nader’s Museum of American Tort Law, and many other topics.
The $720 million that New York City paid out in judgments and claims in fiscal 2016 amounts to more than the payouts of the next 19 biggest cities combined, writes Thomas Stebbins in a piece for the Progressive Policy Institute based on a new Governing magazine article by Mike Maciag on the burdens of municipal liability. (Four of the nation’s 24 biggest cities did not respond to the Governing survey and are not included in the calculation.) Trial lawyers’ political clout in New York — which has preserved such throwbacks as the notorious “scaffold law” in construction — is a prime reason, and it doesn’t help that the state’s highest court has begun regularly handing down verdicts driving the law in a pro-plaintiff direction. While serious police brutality suits are only too common in the city, flimsy ones are too:
In past years, New York often agreed to pay out small settlements just to make cases go away. Elizabeth Daitz, who heads the police department’s legal unit, says it got to the point to where protesters would taunt police officers at rallies, telling them about settlements they’d received and threatening to sue again. One settlement in early 2015 drew particular ire from officials. A man wielding a machete had threatened police officers and was shot in the leg during an altercation; the man then accused the police of wrongdoing. The city agreed to a $5,000 settlement, even though the man had plead guilty to menacing an officer. Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to make changes. “Unfortunately, the reality is, if we stand and fight, we will be spending a lot of time in court, using up a lot of lawyers, and it will cost a lot of money,” he told reporters after the settlement was announced. “But it’s worth it to end the madness of these frivolous lawsuits, which are not fair to the city, and not fair to the officers involved.”
One favorable trend for New York City: payouts by its Health and Hospitals Corporation declined somewhat after the city put the entity in charge of its own legal cases.
That was fast: it looks as if the first charge under Louisiana’s new “Blue Lives Matter” law was made to hang a felony rap on a man who shouted slurs at police as they escorted him to the station. Hours later, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department acknowledged that a sergeant at the scene had applied the hate crime law incorrectly and that the charge would be reviewed before proceeding with prosecution. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, and followup; Scott Shackford, Reason (“The release bond for Delatoba’s ‘hate crime’ charge of yelling bad words ($10,000) is actually higher than the amount for the vandalism ($5,000) that drew the police in the first place”); earlier and more]
Jonathan Abel, guest posting at Volokh Conspiracy, has a series on the numerous tensions affecting prosecutors’ Brady v. Maryland obligation to disclose impeachment evidence that may be available in police personnel files, that is to say, evidence unfavorable to the credibility of planned police testimony: intro, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth posts.