Paul Harvey was a far-right conservative radio talk host who for decades was on NPR radio. He would give background narratives on people, things and events as entertainment on his famous segment “The Rest of the Story” always ending with the catch phrase “and now you know the rest of the story.”
Axios is an American news website. In addition to news articles, Axios produces daily and weekly industry-specific newsletters, two daily podcasts and a documentary news series on HBO. Axious is known for its very short and condensed reports that do not go into great detail on the news reported.
On May 14, AXIOUS published on its internet web page an article entitled “Crime jumps after court-ordered policing changes”. The article was written by Russell Contreras, the Justice and Race reporter at Axios covering the policies and agencies at the heart of the administration of justice and how it impacts people of color. Following is the article with the internet link:
“Most police agencies in recent federally court-ordered reform agreements saw violent crime rates skyrocket immediately, according to an Axios examination of departments under consent decrees since 2012.
Why it matters: The increases in violent crime rates — in one case by 61% — suggest that there can be unintended consequences, at least in the short term, to the policing changes many Americans have demanded in the year since George Floyd’s death.
They’ve also given police unions another argument in their campaign against reforms.
By the numbers: An Axios review of FBI and Justice Department data on all 12 agencies under consent decrees since 2012 found that seven of them experienced jumps in violent crime rates in two years compared to the two years before they entered into the consent decrees.
Seattle saw a 27% surge in its violent crime during that period following its consent decree in 2012.
Albuquerque, N.M., a city that saw violent protests in 2014 following the shooting of a white homeless man, later experienced a 36% increase in its violent crime rate. Before its consent decree, the city had seen a 30-year low in crime.
Los Angeles County, a region of 10 million people, saw a colossal rise of 61% in its violent crime rate following a consent decree with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — an agency with a troubled history among Latinos and Black residents.
The AXIOUS article contained a chart that outlined the percentage increase in crime in 7 of the largest communities two years before the consent decrees. Following are the reported increases in crime by percentage:
Maricopa County, Arizona: 19%
New Orleans: 20%
Los Angeles: 61%
“Yes, but: Municipalities with less than 50,000 people that entered into consent decrees saw violent crime rates decline.
Ferguson, Mo., a city of 21,000 outside of St. Louis that saw heated demonstrations after the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, saw its violent crime rate drop by 7% during the same two-year comparison.
Warren, Ohio, and East Haven, Conn., also experience noticeable declines during the same period following their consent decrees.
Data for two larger cities under consent decrees — Portland and Newark, N.J. — couldn’t be compared since they are missing key crime numbers.
The intrigue: Attorney General Merrick Garland announced last month that the Department of Justice would launch “pattern or practice” investigations into the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments, following the deaths last year of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Depending on the findings, both cities could be forced into consent decrees to overall their departments.
The investigations come after the Trump administration refused to launch similar investigations into police departments for four years despite pleas from reform advocates.
Between the lines: No one knows why violent crime rates spike after departments enter into consent decrees, according to criminal justice scholars.
Stephen Rushin, associate professor of law at Loyola University Chicago, says only anecdotal evidence exists that suggests disruptions in department leadership or changes in tactics may contribute to the increases.
However, the crime surges may be short-lived. Rushin said his study into 31 cities that operated under federal oversight between 1994 and 2016 showed temporary increases in crime, followed by a steady drop.
“What it does is it suggests that those consent decree measures don’t just go away after a year or two. They’re normally (in place) pretty long-term. Then crime falls.”
But, but, but: That hasn’t stopped police unions and police advocates from using the early data to urge cities to pull back from oversight.
In an upcoming Albuquerque mayoral election and a special election for that district’s House seat, conservatives are urging the federal government to end its consent decree and say the city should turn its focus to fighting crime.
“Right now we are in crisis. Albuquerque is burning, and it seems like politicians are just playing the fiddle. We’ve got to be able to deal with this criminal element that has taken over the city right now,” GOP House candidate Mark Moores told the PBS news show New Mexico in Focus recently.
Even some families of those killed by excessive police force cases say crime in Albuquerque is too high.
“But you can do both. You can fight crime and train officers better so they don’t abuse their power,” Stephen Torres, who lost his 27-year-old son, Christopher, in a police shooting, told Axios.
The big question: Will the reform movement inspired by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor be able to withstand the backlash against rising crime that has halted other changes to police departments?”
COMMNETARY AND ANALYIS
In the spirit of Paul Harvey, now for the “The Rest of the Story.”
The AXIOUS report is misleading or at worse false when it implies the shooting of homeless camper James Boyd somehow had something to do with the DOJ consent decree and the mandated reforms. Homeless camper James Boyd was shot and killed by APD on Mar 24, 2014. It was two weeks later on April 10, 2014, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Civil Rights Division, submitted released is scathing 46-page investigation report on an 18-month civil rights investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). In other words, the DOJ was wrapping up their investigation when Boyd was killed and the killing was not one of the reasons for the DOJ investigation. You can read the entire DOJ report here.
The DOJ investigation included a comprehensive review of APD’s operations and the City’s oversight systems of APD. The DOJ investigation “determined that structural and systemic deficiencies — including insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies — contribute to the use of unreasonable force.”
Based on the investigation and the review of excessive use of force and deadly force cases, the DOJ found “reasonable cause to believe that APD engage[d] in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment … . and [the] investigation included a comprehensive review of APD’s operations and the City’s oversight systems.”
Federal civil rights laws make it unlawful for government entities, such as the City of Albuquerque and APD, to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
The investigative report found a pattern or practice of use of <em>“deadly force” or “excessive use of force” in 4 major areas:
1. The DOJ reviewed all fatal shootings by officers between 2009 and 2012 and found that officers were not justified under federal law in using deadly force in the majority of those incidents. Albuquerque police officers too often used deadly force in an unconstitutional manner in their use of firearms. Officers used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat, including individuals who posed a threat only to themselves or who were unarmed. Officers also used deadly force in situations where the conduct of the officers heightened the danger and contributed to the need to use force.
2. Albuquerque police officers often used less lethal force in an unconstitutional manner, often used unreasonable physical force without regard for the subject’s safety or the level of threat encountered. The investigation found APD Officers frequently used take-down procedures in ways that unnecessarily increased the harm to the person. Finally, APD officers escalated situations in which force could have been avoided had they instead used de-escalation measures.
3. A significant number of the use of force cases reviewed involved persons suffering from acute mental illness and who were in crisis. The investigation found APD’s policies, training, and supervision were insufficient to ensure that officers encountering people with mental illness or in distress do so in a manner that respected their rights and in a manner that was safe for all involved.
4. The investigation found the use of excessive force by APD officers was not isolated or sporadic. The pattern or practice of excessive force stemmed from systemic deficiencies in oversight, training, and policy. Chief among these deficiencies was the department’s failure to implement an objective and rigorous internal accountability system. Force incidents were not properly investigated, documented, or addressed with corrective measures by the command staff.
BIG DISTINCTION OF ALBQUERQUE’S CONSENT DECREE FROM ALL THE OTHER CONSENT DECREES
What differentiates the DOJ’s investigation of APD from the other federal investigations of police departments such as Baltimore, Cleveland, Maricopa County, Arizona, New Orleans, Seattle and Los Angeles and their consent decrees is that the other consent decrees involve in one form or another the finding of “racial profiling” and use of excessive force or deadly force against minorities. The DOJ’s finding of a “culture of aggression” within APD dealt with APD’s interactions and responses to suspects that were mentally ill and that were having psychotic episodes.
AXIOUS FAILS TO REPORT POLICE UNION OBSTRUCTING REFORMS
When it comes to the city of Albuquerque and APD , the glaring omission in the AXIOUS report is the fact the police union has aggressively opposed all the DOJ reforms. The truth is found in all the Federal Monitor reports. The police union membership include the APD Sergeants and Lieutenants and it is they that have been the biggest impediments in implementing all the Court Order reforms over the last 6 years. The police union and rank and file have essentially done whatever they could do, and at different times, to interfere with the reform efforts.
The claim is false that APD’s Court Approve Settlement Agreement is the cause of city’s increases in crime. The false claim reflects a level of ignorance of just how consent decrees work.
The AXIOS quotes Stephen Rushin, associate professor of law at Loyola University Chicago, but does not give the “rest of the story.”
Rushin’s academic report found an uptick in crime among the 31 cities that came under federal oversight between 1994 and 2016. The study also found those increases were temporary and diminished into statistical insignificance over time.
Stephen Rushin, the study’s co-author and a professor at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law had this to say:
“To say that … [consent decrees] don’t work, at minimum is misleading. … I don’t think anyone, even folks who have spent their life doing this, would think it’s perfect. But I think to say that it just doesn’t work and everyone knows it, that’s not true. … It would be fair to say there’s some empirical support for the claim that consent decree cities have seen maybe an uptick in crime relative to unaffected cities. … But, again it’s more complicated because our research … found that after a few years, that relationship goes away.”
According to Professor Rushin, other experts said that crime rates aren’t the only factor to consider when weighing the potential costs and benefits of consent decrees. For instance, a widely cited study from the University of Texas-Dallas found that cities operating under such agreements saw a decrease in civil rights lawsuits against police. The link to the University of Texas-Dallas study is here:
Professor Rushin went on to say:
“These [crime] numbers are not destiny and there are good examples of cities as big as Chicago going through these kinds of very disruptive processes and coming out the end a much safer and seemingly more constitutional police department”.
One example is Los Angeles, which operated under a consent decree between 2000 and 2013. A 2009 report from the Harvard Kennedy School found that crime did rise in the first couple years of the consent decree, but at a pace no faster than it did across all of California.
DERELICTION OF DUTY
The problem always has been and continues to be that APD management, the police union and its membership have not fully embraced the reforms. In fact, all three have resisted them from time to time, at different times, as has been repeatedly documented by the federal monitor in at least 4 reports over the last 3 years.
Sean Willoughby, the union president, has said that police officers are afraid to do their jobs for fear of being investigated, fired or disciplined. The police union has never articulated in open court and in clear terms exactly what it is about the reforms that are keeping rank and file from “doing their” jobs and “why they hate” the CASA as articulated by the union president.
It’s likely the union feels what is interfering with police from doing their jobs include the following:
The mandatory use of lapel cameras,
APD can no longer shoot at fleeing cars,
APD police can no longer use choke holds,
APD police need to use less lethal force and not rely on the SWAT unit
APD police must use de-escalating tactics and be trained in crisis intervention, and management must hold police accountable for violation of standard operating procedures.
It is a dereliction of duty if APD officers are intentionally and willfully “slowing down getting to dispatches and to not act when they need to” act. It is a dereliction of duty for an officer to simply refuse to act, refuse to take a call for service or intentionally delay the time to respond to a 911 emergency call, or refuse to make an arrest when the officer sees a crime in progress or has probable cause to make an arrest. The argument that “Officers fear that doing their job, will cause them to lose their job” is a feeble attempt to undercut and discredit the reform process in the hopes of bringing it to an end.
Simply put, if an APD police officer does their job and follows constitutional policing practices and procedures as they are required to do, there is nothing to fear and there will be no discipline let alone termination. If any police officer does not want to do their job and not follow constitutional policing practices as mandated by the consent decree, they are part of the problem and need to leave APD or find another line of work.
REASONS CITY’S CONSENT DECREE NOT CAUSING CRIME INCREASE
The APD Police Union and supporters have gone to questionable lengths contacting the news media to discredit the City’s 6-year-old settlement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the 271 mandated reforms alleging the consent decree is the cause of the City’s increase in violent crime and saying police cannot do their jobs.
Now the Police Union is engaged in a $70,000 ad campaign to discredit the reform process and to have the general public to tell the elected officials the reforms must stop and its a choice between the reforms of continued high crime. Sean Willoughby, the union president, has actually said “You can either have compliance with DOJ reforms or you can have lower crime. You can’t have both”.
There are 3 very strong reasons that the argument the City’s consent decree is causing an increase in violent crime in Albuquerque is false:
FIRST: Critics of the DOJ settlement falsely assume without definitive data that crime has increased because of the consent decree. Albuquerque’s increases in violent crime can be attributed in part to the national trend in violent crime. FBI statistics reveal that Albuquerque has the dubious distinction of having a crime rate 194% higher than the national average. The FBI has never linked the city’s consent decree to the rise in violent crime nor keeping APD from doing its job.
SECOND: Virtually all DOJ consent decrees are tailored to individual community needs. All other consent decrees deal with racial profiling and “systemic racism” and the use of excessive force and deadly force. Albuquerque’s consent decree is totally different. The DOJ investigation of APD did not deal with “racial profiling” nor “systemic racism” but with APD’s use of force with persons suffering from acute mental illness and in crisis. The DOJ found APD’s policies, training, and supervision failed to ensure that police encounters with people having psychotic episodes did so in a manner that respected rights and that were safe.
THIRD: Arguing that violent crime has increased in other cities that have consent decrees is a diversion tactic . It is a tactic used by police unions to interfere with the reform process of consent decrees. On June 6, 2020, a New York Times published the “How Police Unions Became Such Powerful Opponents to Reform Efforts”. According to the article as demands for police reform have mounted across the country in the aftermath of police violence or deadly shootings, unions have emerged as significant roadblocks to police reforms and change. The greater the political pressure for police reform, the more defiant police unions become in resisting police reforms. Police unions aggressively protect the rights of members accused of misconduct. Police unions can be so effective at defending their members that cops with a pattern of abuse can be left untouched, ostensibly undisciplined and they remain on the force.
The link to the entire New York Times article is here:
Instead of resisting the consent decree, APD management, the police union and police officers must embrace the reform effort. The union and its media sympathizers also need to knock it off with attempting to influence the judge by use of the media to send the Federal Judge a message. The union attorney is more than capable of filing pleadings in support or opposition of the CASA, present evidence under oath to the Judge and make argument in a court of law.
Only until APD becomes in complete compliance will APD be able to fight crime without violating people’s civil rights and thereby allow the dismissal of the DOJ consent decree. One thing for certain is that only APD management, the police union and all APD police officers can make the consent decree actually work and have the court dismiss it sooner rather than later.