The data on police abuses Sessions wants to ignore

Chicago police car horiz

As reported last week, Jeff Sessions is promising to roll back civil-rights protections for incidents of police brutality, even though he concedes he didn’t read the two major reports about police brutality from the past year.

His announcement would seem a lot more legitimate if he had read these reports and disagreed. Instead, our Attorney General, entering office accused of racism, has announced that he hasn’t read the careful reports from his own staff about incidents against minorities and yet is pulling out of protections for minorities regardless.

Sessions “indicated he subscribed to the ‘bad apples’ view policing.” But as John Oliver put it, “The phrase isn’t ‘it’s just a few bad apples – don’t worry about it.’ The phrase is ‘a few bad apples spoil the barrel.’ And we currently have a system which is set up to ignore bad apples, destroy bad apples’ records, persecute good apples for speaking up and shuffle dangerous, emotionally unstable apples around to the point that children have to attend f***** apple classes. You cannot look at our current situation and claim that anybody likes them apples.”

The Washington Post had a great summary of 12 key points from the Ferguson report:

  1. The city’s practices are shaped by revenue rather than by public safety needs.
  2. The 67% of African Americans in Ferguson account for 93% of arrests made from 2012-2014.
  3. Here is what happened when a 32-year-old black man was seen resting in his car after playing basketball
  4. A Ferguson woman parked her car illegally once in 2007. It ended up costing her more than $1,000 and 6 days in jail.
  5. The disproportionate number of arrests, tickets and use of force stemmed from “unlawful bias,” rather than black people committing more crime.
  6. A singled missed, late or partial payment of a fine could mean jail time.
  7. Arrest warrants are “almost exclusively” used as threats to push for payments.
  8. And if time is served, no credit for jail time is received and the length of time isn’t even recorded by the court.
  9. [One particular] lieutenant’s actions was a huge cause for concern.
  10. Officers used a dog to attack an unarmed 14-year-old black boy and then struck him while he was lying on the ground, all while he was waiting for his friends in an abandoned house. The report concludes that in every dog bite incident reported, the person bitten was black.
  11. After an officer assaulted a man, he demanded the man not pass out because he didn’t want to carry him to his car.
  12. From October 2012 to October 2014, every time a person was arrested because he or she was “resisting arrest,” that person was black.

Of course, Sessions brushed the reports aside (without reading them!) as “not so scientifically based.

I wish this were a joke. Consider the careful process of the Chicago investigators, as discussed in the report itself:

First, we reviewed thousands of pages of documents provided to us by CPD, IPRA, and the City, including policies, procedures, training plans, Department orders and memos, internal and external reports, and more. We also obtained access to the City’s entire misconduct complaint database and data from all reports filled out following officers’ use of force. From there, we reviewed a randomized, representative sample of force reports and investigative files for incidents that occurred between January 2011 and April 2016, as well as additional incident reports and investigations. Overall, we reviewed over 170 officer-involved shooting investigations, and documents related to over 425 incidents of less-lethal force.

We also spent extensive time in Chicago—over 300 person-days—meeting with community members and City officials, and interviewing current and former CPD officers and IPRA investigators. In addition to speaking with the Superintendent and other CPD leadership, we met with the command staff of several specialized units, divisions, and departments. We toured CPD’s training facilities and observed training programs. We also visited each of Chicago’s 22 police districts, where we addressed roll call, spoke with command staff and officers, and conducted over 60 ride-alongs with officers. We met several times with Chicago’s officer union, Lodge No. 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police, as well as the sergeants’, lieutenants’, and captains’ unions. All told, we heard from over 340 individual CPD members, and 23 members of IPRA’s staff.

Our findings were also significantly informed by our conversations with members of the Chicago community. We met with over ninety community organizations, including non-profits, advocacy and legal organizations, and faith-based groups focused on a wide range of issues. We participated in several community forums in different neighborhoods throughout Chicago where we heard directly from the family members of individuals who were killed by CPD officers and others who shared their insights and experiences. We also met with several local researchers, academics, and lawyers who have studied CPD extensively for decades. Most importantly, however, we heard directly from individuals who live and work throughout the City about their interactions with CPD officers. Overall, we talked to approximately a thousand community members. We received nearly 600 phone calls, emails, and letters from individuals who were eager to provide their experiences and insights.

In addition to attorneys, paralegals, outreach specialists, and data analysts from the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, 11 independent subject-matter experts assisted with this investigation. Most of these experts are current or former law enforcement officials from police departments across the country. Accordingly, these experts have decades of expertise in areas such as the use of force, accountability, training, supervision, community policing, officer involved domestic violence and sexual misconduct, officer wellness, and more. These experts 3 accompanied us on-site, reviewed documents and investigative files, and provided invaluable insights that informed both the course of this investigation and its conclusions.

After all that, the report reached four main conclusions:

  1. Chicago Police Department (CPD) engages in a pattern or practive of unconstitutional use of force.
  2. Chicago’s deficient accountability systems contribute to CPD’s pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct.
  3. CPD does not provide officers with sufficient directions, supervision, or support to ensure effective policing.
  4. CPD must better support and incentivize policing that is lawful and restores trust among Chicago’s marginalized communities.

Without reading these reports, Sessions just doesn’t see the problem. Nothing screams preconceived bias like declining even to read reports that contradict your view. Perhaps Sessions is just too busy dealing with his other problems.