The New Professionalism

Friday, October 29th, 2010

From ProPublica and the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The disciplinary file on the New Orleans Police Department’s Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann is inches thick — as thick as any on the police force.

The lieutenant has weathered more than 50 separate complaints, ranging from accusations of brutality and rape to improper searches and seizures. But none of the allegations ever stuck, although two complaints are still pending. Every time, Scheuermann was cleared and sent back onto the streets.

He has also fired his gun in at least 15 different incidents, wounding at least four people. Experts on police practices say the number is unusual — most officers never fire their weapons.

Scheuermann’s history of complaints would seem to make him an obvious candidate for the NOPD’s early warning system, which aims to highlight and rehabilitate possible problem police officers.

Yet according to the city attorney’s office, Scheuermann was never flagged for entrance into the monitoring program…

Amid the complaints, Scheuermann has received plenty of commendations. The awards depict Scheuermann as a top cop, a relentless workhorse whose arrest numbers are unparalleled and a leader who has patrolled the most dangerous corridors of the city over a 23-year career. He has been a hero in the eyes of many of his peers.

In an NOPD yearbook is a photo of a smiling Scheuermann shaking the hand of former President Bill Clinton, who bestowed a national award on him for “outstanding productivity throughout his career.”

And now?

Today, Scheuermann, 49, is preparing to stand trial on some of the most disturbing charges ever filed against a New Orleans police officer. Federal prosecutors accuse Scheuermann and a colleague of setting fire to a car containing the body of Henry Glover, who had been shot by a different police officer in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Again, it isn’t that there was a bad cop at NOPD. It’s that nothing was ever done about it. It in part goes back to the twisted incentives that drive statistics-driven policing.

Agencies encourage officers to be proactive and make arrests, viewing big numbers as a sign of productivity. But when an officer who puts up big arrest numbers is accused of cutting corners or violating civil rights, supervisors often brush it off and declare the complaints unsustained, said Anthony Radosti of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission.

“Where there is smoke, there is fire,” Radosti said. “The more productive you are, the less you are scrutinized. Production means arrests, it’s quantity versus quality. These arrest numbers became more important to the command structure in their efforts to regain control of the crime situation.”

Back in 2008, I talked with former Baltimore cop and co-creator of The Wire Ed Burns about how the numbers game rewards the wrong sort of police work, and does little to make communities safer.

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30 Responses to “The New Professionalism”

  1. #1 |  Ashlyn | 

    I was born and raised in New Orleans, and I have a theory that most of the people who choose to live here are engaged in an abusive relationship with the city.

    So what if she smacks me around a little? Deep down, she really loves me. I can tell by the way she makes me feel during the good times – Mardi Gras (Lombardi Gras), Christmas in the Oaks at City Park, dinner at Arnaud’s, summer nights in the Marigny… She’s good to me, really, she is. And even though she’s a total psycho, at least she admits she’s got problems, and we’re working on them. What do you want me to do, LEAVE her? Are you nuts?

    My personal experience with the N.O.P.D. has been pretty painless. My one traffic stop ended with a very grandfatherly warning when I started to cry (I was sixteen, okay?). But my roommate is terrified of cops – utterly, sincerely terrified – because her father used to be one. She’s heard plenty of stories about the casual abuse and corruption that goes on.

  2. #2 |  Brandon | 

    Maybe this would get some attention if it got the usual MSM treatment, something like a big headline saying “Clinton Commended Rapist.”

  3. #3 |  SJE | 

    +10 Brandon.

  4. #4 |  Brian | 

    JFC, if Scheuermann wasn’t a candidate for the early warning system, who was? Was the list already too full with whistleblowers and other internal critics?

  5. #5 |  Brandon | 

    Brian, you just got put on it.

  6. #6 |  Steve Verdon | 

    There really is not such thing as a good cop. The so called “good ones” cover for the bad ones which makes them good. The ones who really are good and call out this kind of stuff are at best driven from the force…thus leading to the conclusion there are no good cops.

    Anyone who argues differently needs to show the problems/faults with the above dynamic.

  7. #7 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “He has also fired his gun in at least 15 different incidents, wounding at least four people. Experts on police practices say the number is unusual — most officers never fire their weapons.”

    Jesus H. Christ! Even if you do work in the ghetto, that is a hell of a lot of shooting incidents for a police officer in the United States. Unless your name is Dirty Harry, that is really suspicious. But hey, he confiscates a lot of dope, arrests a lot of corner boys with dime bags and writes a lot of tickets to black dudes driving around with loud music and open alcohol in the car. All is forgiven.

  8. #8 |  NOLAsteve | 

    Luckily the new police chief and Mayor are both honorable men truly and honestly committed to reforming the NOPD. I trust Ron Serpas WAY more than Warren Riley.

    The Mustache of Justice is indicting cops left and right. Good momentum, at the very least. Let’s hope it continues.

  9. #9 |  EH | 

    Helmut: I’d like to see arrest-to-conviction stats to figure out how many of his arrests were bad stops.

  10. #10 |  delta | 

    “…the numbers game rewards the wrong sort of police work, and does little to make communities safer.”

    A bit closer to my own job, you can say the same thing about outside-mandated standardized testing and how it effects the educational system.

  11. #11 |  delta | 

    #7: “Unless your name is Dirty Harry, that is really suspicious.”

    Actually, if that were the case, I’d call it even more suspicious.

  12. #12 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #9 EH:

    That’s a good idea. This data should probably be tracked in departments. This could be a part of the “early warning system” referenced in the article (along with complaints/compliments from citizens, use of force incident reports, etc). This could all be analyzed and used when it comes time for evaluations and pay raises.

    Law enforcement needs to become more like private sector organizations in this regard. Raises in pay should not be a given. Many factors, and not just the number of arrests (but how many convictions?) and number of tickets (are they chicken shit or truly related to public safety), need to be taken into account before an officer receives an annual raise. The same process should apply to promotion. Departments should be held to a similar standard. If the crime rate is up and dissatisfaction with the department is high, should the department get more funds from the budget? Hmm, how would this work for a private sector organization or employee?

    ‘Incentives’ should not be a bad word in the public sector. If you are not pleasing the customers (us) or doing the job are supposed to be doing, according to your mission statement, then why should you be rewarded as if you were?

  13. #13 |  random guy | 

    EH & Helmut –

    You are each forgetting the already massive procedural problems with convictions. The “arrest vs. conviction” measure would immediately encourage cops to fabricate more charges, lie more persistently, and engage in frequent cover-ups. I imagine the number of resisting arrest charges would sky rocket as well as the number of dash-cam video’s ‘gone missing’. Coerced confessions would go up, with similarly missing or incomplete videos.

    I know the goal would be to encourage tepidity in arresting people, but given the current police culture it would only have one effect. Police would work their hardest to screw an arrested person no matter how flagrant the charges, or abusive their methods. Their one goal would be to ensure that every arrest is a conviction, not that every arrest deserved a conviction.

    Until police are arrested, tried, and convicted of the crimes they carry out, especially the ones performed while engaged in their official duties, there is no reason to assume that they will stop. The most crooked officer will always be the best officer because he gains the most and looses nothing through his near immunity from the law. Look at this man, he had to dispose of a police murder victims body to go to trial, God knows what hes gotten away with up till now.

    Simply put:
    Corruption cannot be fixed by incentives.

  14. #14 |  Michael Chaney | 

    God knows what hes gotten away with up till now.

    Dude, in case you didn’t read he had a perfect record before this. So, clearly, he’s done no wrong and just suddenly snapped or something.

  15. #15 |  Mannie | 

    #9 | EH | October 29th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Helmut: I’d like to see arrest-to-conviction stats to figure out how many of his arrests were bad stops.

    The scary part is that his conviction rate is probably quite respectable. Most defendants are guilty anyway, and most, guilty or not, are simply run over by the system.

  16. #16 |  Marty | 

    this is what Training Day was based on, right?

  17. #17 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    We won’t really know what happened until the cop union tells us what happened.

  18. #18 |  EH | 

    Mannie: Maybe, but keep in mind that he’s working with a whole department so the stat would also be useful in a relative sense: does he make bad stops more often than his peers? This fits right in with the early warning system that is presumably subject to context in the way that a relative stat would indicate.

    Random Guy: Maybe, but time and technology doesn’t stop just because a statistic is being tracked. There are still cameras and recording devices out there, there are still witnesses that are uncowed by the circumstances.

    One thing that the video brouhaha is revealing is that law enforcement doesn’t want to be measured. They don’t want anybody to figure out just *how* good a job they are doing. They present themselves as a monolith, tough job, people die every day, yadda yadda, bad stuff = bad apple, etc. Nothing to speak to the nuance of actually being a good officer.

  19. #19 |  Bob | 

    #16 : Marty

    this is what Training Day was based on, right?

    Close. This one. Harvey Keitel is freakin’ brilliant. It’s a gritty ride into the belly of the beast.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103759/

    There’s another, made in 2009 with Nicolas Cage, but I haven’t seen it yet. I just ain’t feelin’ it. Someday I’ll be desperate and put in on my netflix queue.

    Oh… This just in! the 2009 version is on netflix’s instant play list now. The entertainment for the rest of the evening has been set!

    Party on, people!

  20. #20 |  Bob | 

    Son of a bitch! That was actually pretty good. I would have thought Nicolas Cage couldn’t pull that off.

    I guess I should stop blaming him for the egregious pile of crap that was Con Air.

  21. #21 |  Douglas | 

    Had you heard of Adrian Schoolcraft (or listened to this episode of This American Life: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/414/right-to-remain-silent

  22. #22 |  croaker | 

    @20 Hey, man, Nick has done some pretty good movies. Bringing Out The Dead should be mandatory viewing in paramedic school.

  23. #23 |  Joe | 

    This is why civilians, a broad spectrum of civilians, need to be part of police disipline and review boards. There is a severe disconnect between realities and perceptions.

  24. #24 |  Mannie | 

    #18 | EH | October 29th, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Mannie: Maybe, but keep in mind that he’s working with a whole department so the stat would also be useful in a relative sense: does he make bad stops more often than his peers? This fits right in with the early warning system that is presumably subject to context in the way that a relative stat would indicate.

    I honestly don’t know how valid conviction rate stats would be. Certainly, the raw numbers don’t tell you much. Good conversion stats might only indicate that he’s smarter than the average bear when it comes to picking vulnerable victims, or that he’s a better liar on his reports.

  25. #25 |  random guy | 

    Honestly if you want improve policing my method would be a citizen review board. When a cop is accused of abuse all video and statements of the incident would be viewed by the board to reach their conclusion. When there are no standing complaints about officers they would randomly review stops made by police to give feedback.

    It would not be a court trial type situation. The board would view the video and compare police and witness statements to reach a conclusion and then, based on that conclusion, either clear the officer of charges, instruct the DA to press charges, or make it so that the officer becomes open to civil prosecution for their action in a given case. The DA does not get veto power on these charges, nor do they get to accept blea bargins, and there would need to be strict rules regarding reducing sentences for confessions, etc.

    Something like this has to be better than the internal investigations that always turn up squat. Not to mention that this is probably the only way police would ever be held accountable for lying on record or destroying evidence, the absence of police video with conflicting accounts by a single cop and several citizens could be met with the proper skepticism it deserves.

    The only problem I can’t figure out is if the board should be appointed or elected, and if their decisions need to be unanimous. Elected positions would have the problem of ex-police or police enablers being the most likely to run for the position, you may be able to bar anyone who worked for the police or their immediate family from running. Appointed positions seem even worse depending on the degree of nepotism present. A mayor may not want the police to be perceived as crooked so he appoints yes-men to hide the problem. I’m leaning against unanimous decisions as it would allow one person to stall the proceedings for bad reasons.

    So I guess I’m leaning towards elected board members and non-unanimous decisions, after all the board only decides whether or not charges are pressed, guilt would still be determined by court proceedings.

  26. #26 |  JOR | 

    The only way to “fix” police work is to make cops ordinary citizens with the same authority and powers as any other ordinary citizen – except that they specialize in and are paid for providing security and whatnot, with training to that end. When cops are only allowed to physically attack and detain people in the same circumstances anyone else would be, then they will start to act like decent human beings, or at least like something other than feudal overlords (i.e. bandits who moved in to stay).

    The only real way to do this is to turn back the culture of cop-worship. Cops are mere mortals, after all; the only power they have beyond their own force of arms is what is given to them, minute-by-minute.

  27. #27 |  supercat | 

    How about allowing defense attorneys to introduce cops’ past case records into evidence, and allow jurors to use such records as they see fit when examining cops’ credibility? If a defense attorney tries to introduce mountains of such “evidence” that the jury sees nothing wrong with, that would if anything tilt the jury against the defendant (thus discouraging such behavior) but if the defense attorney can show that the cop has made unbelievable statements in the past, that might make it easier for a jury to disbelieve the cop in the case before them.

    Even if there isn’t evidence of particular falsehood in the past, if the defense can show that a seemingly-specific account of the defendant’s behavior given by a cop’s DUI reports have historically always been precisely identical, a jury might be inclined to think that the cop habitually reports (at best) his judgment rather than his actual observations, and any testimony about the cop’s observations would thus be suspect.

  28. #28 |  Derfel Cadarn | 

    Every judge prosecutor,police or union official that aide this leo in any way in the past should be fired and than tried as accessories to all crimes committed by this person. As for the leo he should be taken out and shot!

  29. #29 |  Deroy Murdock, Wikileaks, and the Danziger Bridge - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine | 

    [...] the Danziger Bridge victims, I can't find it.) Even Murdock's narrative was wrong. Danziger Bridge was hardly the only example of jaw-dropping police brutality after the [...]

  30. #30 |  Deroy Murdock, Wikileaks, and the Danziger Bridge | The Agitator | 

    [...] Bridge victims, I can’t find it.) Even Murdock’s narrative was wrong. Danziger Bridge was hardly the only example of jaw-dropping police brutality after the [...]

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