February 9, 2016   |   Claire Bernish
February 9, 2016
(ANTIMEDIA) United States — Documents and contracts leaked when hackers recently breached the servers of the Fraternal Order of Police have revealed “guarantees that disciplinary records and complaints made against officers are kept secret or even destroyed,” according to a new analysis by the Guardian.
Questions have surrounded how police officers simply move on to the same job with another department after facing disciplinary action or complaints — and these leaked documents appear to offer at least a partial explanation:
“A Guardian analysis of dozens of contracts obtained from the servers of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) found that more than a third featured clauses allowing — and often mandating — the destruction of records of civilian complaints, departmental investigations, or disciplinary actions after a negotiated period of time.
“The review also found 30% of the 67 leaked police contracts, which were struck between cities and police unions, included provisions barring public access to records of past civilian complaints, departmental investigations, and disciplinary actions.”
Anyone attempting to hold police accountable for inordinate use of force and other offenses are often stymied by the so-called Blue Wall of Silence — the invisible, and seemingly impenetrable, tendency for police to close ranks to protect their own when an officer is accused of misconduct in some form. But as the Guardian’s report shows, that mythical Blue Wall has very concrete manifestations.
In fact, as University of Nebraska professor of criminology Samuel Walker explained, there could be “no justification” for such purges of officers’ records, particularly since they would evidence use of force against civilians.
“The public has a right to know,” he stated. “If there was a controversial beating, we ought to know what [disciplinary] action was actually taken. Was it reprimanded? A suspension?”
As many Americans already know, police have a different operating procedure than those who are often unwitting victims of their violent tactics. Where law enforcement officers are alerted to a person’s prior record, even if they have served time for a crime — thus ostensibly ‘learning their lesson’ in the eyes of the law — as FOP president Chuck Canterbury asserted, “Disciplinary files are removed because they affect career advancement. People make mistakes and if they learn from them, they should be removed. This is standard HR practice.”
“Expungement” clauses in officers’ contracts, from small towns to major cities, allow the purging of formal investigations and reprimands from their records, while other departments, which actually maintain such records, hold them to internal scrutiny only — and disallow any public disclosure.
For example, the “Police Officers’ Bill of Rights” found in the 2009-2012 FOP contracts in Ralston, Nebraska, according to The Guardian, stated, “Unless agreed to by an Officer, the City shall not divulge the reason for any disciplinary action that is not appealed to the Civil Service Commission.” And the city was obligated to “make every reasonable effort” to ensure a photograph of the officer didn’t end up in the hands of the public or the media.
Canterbury justified non-disclosure of complaint records by saying, “It’s mostly the false or unsustained complaints that officers feel unduly hurt their careers. Nobody expunges guilty adjudicated use-of-forces, so if these acts are found unsustained in the first place, why should they continue to have any bearing on officers?”
Why? Perhaps because investigations into such complaints are most often completed by the officer’s own police department, and therefore lack impartiality — and because such investigations notoriously find officers not guilty of any offense, even in the face of video evidence.
“These are public employees, so their performance should be available to the public,” said civil rights attorney and former police officer, Devon M. Jacob. “There’s no reason matters of waste or wrongdoing should be kept away from the public. I disagree with this idea that unsustained complaints or investigations don’t matter.”
Despite Canterbury’s claims that departments are superior to civilian review boards “because civilians have no knowledge of law enforcement or expertise on procedures,” as former director of the National Black Police Association, Ron Hampton aptly stated, “People just don’t feel that the police can investigate themselves thoroughly or impartially.”
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