When the Lawrence Krauss story came out a couple weeks ago, a lot of his defenders dismissed it because it came from Buzzfeed. That is a very stupid argument, because Buzzfeed has been doing some excellent investigative journalism for years now. This article, about the use of temporary suspensions for NYPD officers who commit serious misconduct and abuse, is a good example.
Secret files obtained by BuzzFeed News reveal that from 2011 to 2015 at least 319 New York Police Department employees who committed offenses serious enough to merit firing were allowed to keep their jobs.
Many of the officers lied, cheated, stole, or assaulted New York City residents. At least fifty employees lied on official reports, under oath, or during an internal affairs investigation. Thirty-eight were found guilty by a police tribunal of excessive force, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily. Fifty-seven were guilty of driving under the influence. Seventy-one were guilty of ticket-fixing. One officer, Jarrett Dill, threatened to kill someone. Another, Roberson Tunis, sexually harassed and inappropriately touched a fellow officer. Some were guilty of lesser offenses, like mouthing off to a supervisor.
At least two dozen of these employees worked in schools. Andrew Bailey was found guilty of touching a female student on the thigh and kissing her on the cheek while she was sitting in his car. In a school parking lot, while he was supposed to be on duty, Lester Robinson kissed a woman, removed his shirt, and began to remove his pants. And Juan Garcia, while off duty, illegally sold prescription medication to an undercover officer.In every instance, the police commissioner, who has final authority in disciplinary decisions, assigned these officers to “dismissal probation,” a penalty with few practical consequences. The officer continues to do their job at their usual salary. They may get less overtime and won’t be promoted during that period, which usually lasts a year. When the year is over, so is the probation.
Today many continue to patrol the streets, arrest people, put them in jail, and testify in criminal prosecutions. But the people they arrest have little way to find out about the officer’s record. So they are forced to make life-changing decisions — such as whether to fight their charges in court or take a guilty plea — without knowing, for example, if the officer who arrested them is a convicted liar, information that a jury might find directly relevant.
Unfortunately, this is standard operating procedure in police departments everywhere: Protect your own, defend them to the end, allow them to lie, plant evidence on suspects and commit serious and unjustified violence and still keep their jobs. This is why every single police department should have civilian oversight with real power, not just commissions put together for a public show of accountability that has no teeth in practice. And it’s why those civilian control boards should be run by public interest attorneys with a specialty in civil liberties, not by some local politician eager to use fear and demagoguery to advance their careers, or by the average local citizen who is easily intimidated.