Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Police misconduct and grand juries: a separate prosecution and grand jury system is necessary

The Christian Science Monitor has a story, "In wake of Eric Garner case, should grand jury system be reformed?," positing that the grand jury process is flawed because of the recent incidents in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City, where Michael Brown and Eric Garner were killed by police officers.

I think the article gets it wrong somewhat when it says that juries always return indictments, except in instances of alleged police misconduct.  From the article:
Two grand juries – one in New York, where Mr. Garner was choked to death, and in Missouri, where Mr. Brown was shot – failed to return criminal indictments against police officers a little more than a week apart.

Rooted in history as a skeptical check on the crown, the American grand jury – a secret panel of 12 citizens – has become largely a prosecutor’s rubber stamp. Grand juries almost always return an indictment, except in one specific instance: when it comes to cases involving a police officer.
The real point is that juries do just about 100% of the time what the prosecution suggests should be done--return indictments against alleged criminals and not return indictments against police officers.

We have to remember that prosecutors work with police officers to make cases against alleged perpetrators. Police and prosecutors are two separate but integrated components of the same system.  So it is very difficult for prosecutors to bring cases against police officers, especially when the case is problematic (but not when cases are clearly egregious), because police officers are their primary witnesses in all other matters.

The solution is to have an independent prosecution and grand jury system for police misconduct cases, featuring prosecutors who are not normally involved in trying those crimes where police officers are part of the case for the prosecution.

Of course that will create a different problem, a special police misconduct prosecution unit will be considered pariahs by both police officers,comparable to how police officers cast opprobrium on internal affairs units--which investigate police officers for misconduct, as well as by other prosecutors, who normally work with the police, and "not against them."

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At 8:37 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

thanks for the tip on the historic house tours. Although the weather was terrible Tudor House was amazing.

In terms of suggestions, you have had the priveldge of being on a grand jury -- and I haven't. Also, in general it isn't a bad idea to hold police killings to a higher scrunity.

However both the problems you suggest and the solutions don't get there.

Both the Ferguson case and the NY case fail to show a crime committed. There is amble evidence in St Louis, and in NYC it would be impossible to show the cause of death.

People may not like the outcomes, but the system worked

And in terms of the idea that somehow prosecutors don't want to upset their partners is out of date when the next nominee for US attorney general made her careeer prosecuting police in the Louima case.

There are lot of people unhappy with their interactions with the police -- and you can count me in that number -- but the answer is usually best framed as stop committing crimes and dumb shit.

There are a few cases to the contrary -- the cases in DC of that young man who the PG police followed to VA then shot, the dogs shot in PG in this area -- but while they are small enough to get heightened attention a seperate GJ isn't neccessary.

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Well... you being a lawyer and all, you know the saying "good cases make bad law." And your take is similar to mine. Good counter about the AG nominee.

Ferguson is both sides (Michael Brown, the officer) f*ing up.

What happened to Eric Garner is tragic, but not unlike what happened to the mentally disabled and also overweight and asthmatic (?) person in Frederick who wouldn't leave the movie theater.

The real problem is that for the most part, police officers are given an incredible power, the ability to execute on behalf of the state, coercive power--using guns, other weapons, and physical force--and they are way way way undertrained in being able to apply that power judiciously.

... not unlike how I argue that military forces in places like Iraq can't be made up of young 20 year olds with guns, but PhD anthropologists.

The Garner incident is also an example of what I think of as a misinterpretation of "broken windows" policing, which is alternatively termed "zero tolerance" policing. ZT they arrest people for the most minimal crime, in this case, selling cigarettes illegally (not even cigarette trafficking to avoid excise taxes...).

I think there is a difference between zero tolerance policing and broken windows policing, but maybe it's an overly fine line. Selling single cigarettes or ticketing people for having stuff on a second seat on the subway--when the subway isn't full--is overzealous. The same with stop and frisk. Arresting people for turnstile jumping isn't. Same with stopping people for dumping, running red lights, etc.

I think the Garner incident was overly escalated, which gets back to the element of coercive power of the state.

But definitely, both are illustrations of bad outcomes somewhat present by a lot of other 'structural' factors and demonstrations and providing police cameras (frankly the feds. shouldn't be spending money on that for local police departments) aren't going to have much impact.

the other corollary that illustrates the same structural problems are the tendency of police calls to deal with people with mental health issues ending up with a police officer killing the "problem."

Police officers have a limited set of tools which often don't work very well without a lot of training.

And selling lots of military equipment to police departments isn't helping.

Too bad that "SWAT" police show was so successful in the 1970s (I think it followed the "Rookies").

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Two other reads on this:

At 8:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

note that I mentioned the advancement project in an earlier post. Definitely need to find that book (although my list of stuff to read is miles long).

At 8:32 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wow. the FOP interview really surprises. You get none of that nuanced understanding in quotes from the local FOP lodge chairs...

Didn't know that EG had 30 arrests. Anyway, that gets back to the point you made about doing stupid sh**.

At 6:33 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well, it is why they pay him th big bucks. Silver lips.

I agree there is a structural argument in here somewhere, but right now people are just feeding the hype and looking for attention. They don't like the outcome, and I not sure that these changes would have resulted in different outcomes.

There is a reason why iron bars started to go up around cities in the 1960s. We can argue why, but the poverty/criminal nexus has been relatively robust since then.


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