Another Public Service Union Triumph

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Terrific reporting by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Thousands of Florida officers remain on the job despite arrests or evidence implicating them in crimes that could have landed them in prison, a Herald-Tribune investigation has found.

Even those officers with multiple offenses have been given chance after chance through a disciplinary system that has been reshaped in their favor by the state’s politically influential police unions. As a result, officers around Florida carry personnel files that are anything but heroic.

Corrections officer Kurt Stout, already dogged by allegations he groped and had sex with prisoners, was arrested on allegations he raped two teenage girls. Nick Viaggio capped a string of violent outbursts at the Ocala Police Department by attacking his girlfriend in a crowded nightclub until bouncers dragged him away. Palm Beach County deputy Craig Knowles-Hiller, under investigation for sleeping with a 14-year old, had to explain why the girl’s DNA was found on one of his sex toys.

In each case, state law enforcement officials let the men keep their badges….

Among the Herald-Tribune’s findings:

•One in 20 active law enforcement officers in Florida has committed a moral character violation serious enough to jeopardize his or her career. Nearly 600 have two or more such acts of misconduct on their record and 30 current officers and prison guards continue to wear a badge despite four or more offenses.

•The number of officers with serious violations is much higher than state records show. State law calls for every moral character violation to be reviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But local agencies fail to report cases and have faced no consequences for doing so. The Union County Sheriff’s Office has not reported a case of misconduct in 26 years.

It just gets worse from there. The whole series is pretty amazing. Perhaps not terribly surprising if you read this site regularly. But the depth and breadth of the problem in Florida is eye-opening. Over and over, the paper found that even when a department wanted to fire an officer (and they didn’t want to often enough), some clause from the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the police union put the cop back on the job.

Again, lots of praise to the Herald-Tribune for taking this on. The relatively small paper not only plowed through thousands of pages of personnel files, they also put them online.  The report also emphasizes how important it is that the public have access to police personnel files. In jurisdictions where personnel files are considered private, this kind of investigation wouldn’t be possible. As this and countless investigations like it show, we simply can’t allow government agencies to police themselves, especially without transparency. And because of the powers we give to cops and prosecutors, it’s particularly important when it comes to law enforcement agencies.

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

40 Responses to “Another Public Service Union Triumph”

  1. #1 |  mrgumby2u | 

    Well, the solution to this problem for the state of Florida is obvious, then. I expect legislation to make police personnel files private to be introduced in 3…2…1…

  2. #2 |  Fred | 

    I doubt that it’s just Florida,
    It is more likely that it has not been reported elsewhere.

  3. #3 |  ed bowlinger | 

    “collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the police union” leaves out half of the equation. Who were they negotiating with? Who agreed to it? Why?

  4. #4 |  Dave Krueger | 

    In jurisdictions where personnel files are considered private, this kind of investigation wouldn’t be possible.

    I’m predicting that records will soon be considered private in Florida as well. After all, the good officers who merely cover for the bad apples shouldn’t be tainted by the misdeeds of that 20% which constitute the actual bad apples. Oops. I meant “alleged” bad apples’.

  5. #5 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Hmmm… Looks like I just repeated what mrgumby2u said.

  6. #6 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Florida is experiencing an Entropy problem. Nothing
    good is going to come from mass incarceration, mostly from petty crime, and
    widespread legal/political corruption. I want to tell them that, but worried I might hurt their feelings, or that I might get arrested.

  7. #7 |  Dave Krueger | 

    As this and countless investigations like it show, we simply can’t allow government agencies to police themselves, especially without transparency.

    I think government sees it differently. It’s because of transparency that you get all these embarrassing stories. Surely the public would be much better off if they weren’t subjected to all this bad news. And I think we can look forward to police unions demanding more privacy for their members. After all, this is bad press for them. And, bad press to a union is completely unfair.

  8. #8 |  Chris Eads | 

    @Dave: To be fair to them (not that they deserve it, but hey) 1 in 20 means 5%, not 20%. It’s not quite as dire as your comment suggests, though that’s no reason not to be angry about it. 5% is still obscenely high given the occupation in question.

  9. #9 |  Russ 2000 | 

    That’s a minimum of 5%.

    And the fact that the “other 95%” aren’t making a huge stink about these people still being on the force suggests that the “other” is a lower percentage than 95.

  10. #10 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #8 Chris Eads

    @Dave: To be fair to them (not that they deserve it, but hey) 1 in 20 means 5%, not 20%.

    Thanks. That is exactly the kind of mistake that makes my engineering job such a challenge. :)

  11. #11 |  frijoles jr | 

    It would be interesting to see statistics on how that compares to the prevalence of those same “moral character violations” in the population at large? That’s also public information, I imagine.

    Are cops in Florida 5 times more offense-prone than regular Floridians? 10 times? And how does their level of corruption as revealed by these measures compare to that in other states (I think the same info is available for Oregon)?

    Useful to know, I’d say, and if the data is aggregated without individually identifiable info, probably not subject to privacy considerations.

  12. #12 |  John Thacker | 

    Hypothetically, various privacy laws and things making it difficult to fire people could protect whistleblowers. In practice, unions (and management) use them to protect the wrong sort of cops, and whistleblowers still manage to be punished for crossing the thin blue line.

    Something very similar happens with laws against leaking; somehow it’s the real whistleblowers (or just the ones who embarrass the government) who get prosecuted for espionage, never the ones that further Administration priorities.

  13. #13 |  Windypundit | 

    My favorite example of police unions protect bad cops comes from a Cincinnati Enquirer story (no longer online), where Fraternal Order of Police president Kathy Harrell bragged, “I can’t think of anybody who was fired for (non-criminal) reasons whose job we haven’t gotten back.” In other words, the only way a Cincinnati cop’s job performance could be bad enough for him to lose his job is if he’s convicted of a crime.

  14. #14 |  Aresen | 

    But our Noble Men and Women in Blue are all that stand between us and lawless thuggery. Without the Police, we’d be victimized by criminals who would operate without fear of punishment.

    [Almost got through that one with a straight face.]

  15. #15 |  Ted S. | 

    @#10 Dave Krueger:

    You forgot to make the conversion between Imperial system percentages and metric system percentages. :-)

  16. #16 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    Keep in mind that these are just the cop crimes that have actually been reported. Just imagine how many victims of other abuses have been intimidated into silence.

  17. #17 |  BamBam | 

    How long until the reporters end up dead or have a wrong door raid or marijuana plants found on their person/vehicle in unwarranted stops?

  18. #18 |  treed | 

    The State Senator from Florida who sponsors the new Bill to make these records private will not get a traffic ticket for the rest of his life.

  19. #19 |  Whim | 

    County or city government elected officials do not truly conduct an Arms-Length contract negotiation with a police (or firefighters) union.

    That’s because these very politically active, militant, and powerful factions help elect (or for attempted Reformists UN-ELECT) public officials.

    So, the public official takes the path of least resistance….giving the police (and fire) unions everything they demand. And, then some more, in order to ingratiate themselves with the militant uniformed unions.

    Besides, the pubic officials are only paying the unions off with OPM: Other People’s Money.

    Our money.

    The taxpayers money.

    Not their own money.

  20. #20 |  Whim | 

    The longer I’m on this earth, and the longer I read Radley Balko’s blog, the more I’m convinced that police are hired only after very careful and thorough psychological screening to confirm that the individual is a social deviate, psycho, sociopath, or bully.

    How else to explain today’s dismal conclusions by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

  21. #21 |  Doug Walker | 

    I read the entire series. The anecdotal examples are appalling, staggering in the cases of Sgt. Bosque and former FIU cop Frederick Currie profiled in parts 1 and 2. But I found the reporting overall to be annoyingly sloppy and incomplete (and I am predisposed to agree that unions help bad cops stay employed). An example from part 3 of the series, page 2:

    “FDLE data analyzed by the Herald-Tribune show a 20 percent decline in the number of officers who have lost their certification since 2000, compared with the 15 years prior. As a practical matter, that means more officers are being sent back to work despite evidence of serious misconduct.”

    Well, no, that’s not enough information to conclude that more officers are being sent back to work despite evidence of serious misconduct. I would’ve expected the article to report the relative number of reported and reviewed incidents. Also, I would assume they corrected for the time period (15 years vs. 11), but the authors don’t even mention it. This is a tremendously important point, because here the authors are trying to establish that increased union influence in the process and on the commission/review board have resulted in greater leniency for bad cops. Without the additional data–simple data to provide–they fail.

    Another example, from page 2 of part 2:

    “The number of officers with serious violations is much higher than state records show. State law calls for every moral character violation to be reviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But local agencies fail to report cases and have faced no consequences for doing so. The Union County Sheriff’s Office has not reported a case of misconduct in 26 years.”

    Again, I instinctively agree with this, and it’s laughable that Union County has not reported a single case in 26 years, but the article makes no attempt to quantify what “much higher” means. Hundreds of cases? Thousands? Dozens? The reporters make an important, provocative assertion, and then just leave it hanging there with no real substantiation.

    Even the underlying statistics they use to establish the problem lack context. It’s disturbing on its face that 600 active Florida cops have two or more reviewed moral character violations. But that’s 0.7% of 83,000 cops in the state. Is that high compared to other states? Same with 30 cops having four or more such violations–that’s 0.03%. It’s troubling that there are even that many, but does such a small percentage represent a systemic failure?

    I just think that these reporters, despite extensive effort and research, have made a case with lots of big holes for LE union supporters to exploit in dismissing the overall premise of the series. That’s a shame.

  22. #22 |  Carl-Bear | 

    It’s OK. All those cops had West Palm Beach PD Detective Brian Gellin’s “LEO ProCard” professional-courtesy-get-out-of-jail-free cards:

    http://carlbussjaeger.blogspot.com/2011/11/because-were-only-ones-better-than-you.html

    Apparently the cards even work for Gellin himself, since he was “disciplined” peddling them, but kept doing it:

    http://carlbussjaeger.blogspot.com/2011/11/leo-procards-gellin-update.html

    Of course, if he does get in trouble THIS TIME, it will probably be because he got caught giving his little cards to non-LEOs:

    http://www.bussjaeger.org/gellin-email.html

    It looks like Gellin finally found enough brain cells to rub together to take down his public site:

    http://carlbussjaeger.blogspot.com/2011/11/leo-procards-this-is-promising.html

    …but no words on whether he’ll be “disciplined” (most likely with paid vacation) again.

  23. #23 |  nigmalg | 

    “Well, the solution to this problem for the state of Florida is obvious, then. I expect legislation to make police personnel files private to be introduced in 3…2…1…”

    THIS!! Our legislature will actually thing that’s an appropriate response to this “privacy issue”.

  24. #24 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Just a few bad apples my ass, these scumbags and their union officials should go to prison. Where are all the “good” officers ? There aren’t any. If you look the other way to preserve your job or it is too much trouble to speak up than you are no better than Joe Paterno. You are accessories to a crime,you aided and abetted,you are criminals. You deserve to go to jail and stay there a very long time.

  25. #25 |  John P. | 

    In TN the number of cops is 1 in 16 who are accused of acts of misconduct or serious crimes…

  26. #26 |  From Florida… the Sarasota Herald-Tribune demolishes the “One Bad Apple” fallacy… « When Tennessee Pigs Fly | 

    [...] http://www.theagitator.com/2011/12/08/another-public-service-union-triumph/ [...]

  27. #27 |  GT | 

    #11 – well, if the 5% figure was CLOSE to being replicated in the population at large, there should be far more people with criminal records, no? After all, the Mundanes don’t get the benefit of ‘professional courtesy’.

    Frankly, I am not surprised in the slightest by this story: the opportunity to be a state goon attracts the worst psychotype. As with politics, the presence of unearned power ALWAYS attracts more than its fair share of sociopaths. And any ‘good cop’ rapidly becomes aware of what’s what – and thereafter he is a willing participant in the evil.

    So there is no such thing as a ‘good apple': my fave all-time Tweet is from @JLLLOW (“Joyce Lowenstein’ – a pseudonym): “Anybody wearing an official insignia is the enemy”.

    En outre: why are there not MORE revenge killings in the US, given how badly it treats people?

    Just last night I was watching an old episode of “Lockdown” that was about Multnomah County in Oregon.

    Leaving aside the fact that it appears that it is a job requirement that females be morbidly obese and one chromosome away from mongolism, the truly vile thing about it was the clear relish with which the male tax-eaters took ANY opportunity to degrade and humiliate the ACCUSED who fell under their control.

    If anybody anywhere treated me like that, they would be well advised to never walk alone for the rest of their lives. If that was a reasonable portrayal of how the US system treats its *ACCUSED*, I am frankly STAGGERED that there are not vastly larger numbers of these scumbags killed in their beds.

    I’ve fallen into the clutches of the legal systems of France (twice) and Australia (three times), and both were reasonably pleasant. And that is despite the fact that two of the Australian ‘incidents’ concerned extremely serious assaults (I was never charged, ergo I didn’t do either of them… QED). The pigs started out all mouthy, of course (because pigs are fucking vermin) – but they were sufficiently constrained by rules of conduct and evidence, and simply can’t treat accused like shit.

    The French system was ridiculously ‘proper’ – despite being administered by military police (the gendarmes): you will think I am joking, but partway through my interrogation I was asked if I wanted wine with lunch. (I wound up being thrown in a concentration camp… visa violation: I don’t believe in borders). Again – it’s because of constraints imposed on them (which they hate), not because they’re inherently better than their Yank counterparts.

    In any case… the two lots of two weeks (one in 2007, one in 2008) I spent in the “Centre de Retention Administrative” at Lyons were very instructive: almost every other inmate were from North African countries that had been raped by France during colonialism, and many are my friends to this day. It taught me how lucky Australia was that nobody knew about our mineral wealth until AFTER we became independent – otherwise WE would have had to fight our way out of English control too.

    Plus, we got Duck Confit on Thursdays, and the Muslims would give away their meals because they were not assured it was halal. I gained 5lb each time.

    And the topper: I’m free to go back to France anytime I want, even though they know full well I am an anarchist who delights in overstaying the 3-month stay that is permitted to Aussies and Kiwis (as I said to the judge at the Tribunal: the lack of historical gratitude is staggering, given that thousands of ANZACS died protecting France in both World Wars – “Si la France exige que les australiens ne peuvent pas rester comme ils veulent, il faut que les français desenterrent les millers de squellettes australiennes qui se trouvent autours d’Ypres, Verdun et les autres endroits bien connus. Vous les saviez bien madame: les endroits que la France n’a pas pu defendre elle-même”. She loved that.)

  28. #28 |  CyniCAl | 

    “As this and countless investigations like it show, we simply can’t allow government agencies to police themselves, especially without transparency.” — RB

    Only the sovereign can police the sovereign.

    Please find us a way out of that box.

  29. #29 |  EH | 

    I have wanted to create a website to track this stuff (as well as the contract provisions) for years now.

  30. #30 |  Mike | 

    I wonder how the “occupy” crowd that for the most part support unions feel about police unions after getting pepper sprayed.

  31. #31 |  Sky | 

    Since its orgins FDLE has never been anything but “The preverbial FOX guarding the henhouse”!

    I live in Florida and know all to well what the FDLE is all about.

    When I was more involved in my communities political climate we were able to get rid of 1 dirty rotten Police Chief and 1 corrupt City Manager. Just this year the DA, who should have been sent packing when the other 2 left, who also happenes to be the City Attorney, tried to bring back the corrupt City Manager. The background check prevented that mishap.

  32. #32 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    “Sorry, he can’t serve 15 years for murder. Union contract doesn’t allow it. Now award backpay and give him his gun and badge.”

  33. #33 |  mad libertarian guy | 

    @30 Mike:

    I wonder how the “occupy” crowd that for the most part support unions feel about police unions after getting pepper sprayed.

    They suffer from confirmation bias in that they truly believe that KORPORASHUNS and others amongst the 1% were pulling all of the strings.

  34. #34 |  JOR | 

    #30, Probably about the same way libertarians who support corporations feel about particular corporations who lobby for graft/corruption/anti-market legislation/bailouts. Which ranges from, “Oh well, all in the game” to “They’re obviously bad guys, but that doesn’t necessarily make corporations bad”.

  35. #35 |  John Spragge | 

    (yawn)

    Ascribing universal characteristics to a social institution makes a great way to avoid thinking. In fact, plenty of unions understand that serving the long term interests of their members means upholding standards of professionalism and ethics. Where unions act as agents for their members, as in the theatrical unions and construction trades, nobody can join without demonstrating competence on the job, and the unions themselves understand the consequences of supporting incompetence and misbehaviour. Just as the existence of Madoff and Lehman Bros doesn’t make all financial institutions corrupt, so some sorry records by union locals doesn’t make the whole union movement corrupt.

  36. #36 |  Daniel Almond | 

    I blame the prosecutors who chose to look the other way and not throw the book a these guys. They’re just as evil as the officer-criminals they enable.

  37. #37 |  marco73 | 

    If I read the article correctly, 1 in 20 current cops would fail a background check to work third shift at the local corner convenience store, but are perfectly qualified to drive fast and carry a gun in service of the state.
    What a country!

  38. #38 |  bud | 

    Not to argue with the fact that there are plenty of a$$holes with badges, but I suspect the accuracy the percentages stated, at least to my standards.

    The phrase “moral character violation” makes my spidey sense tingle. Who’s morals are being used as the standard?

    It’s Friday night, and I intend to go out tonight and commit at least a couple of “moral character violations” , at least according to some Texas Baptist friends of mine.

  39. #39 |  December 13 roundup | 

    [...] many cops remain on job despite evidence linking them to crimes [Balko on Sarasota Herald-Tribune [...]

  40. #40 |  mrj | 

    FDR in 1937:

    “All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has it’s distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress….Particularly I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees…Such action [strike] looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.”

    Unlike the logic and dynamics inherent in private sector unions, the public sector swears to support and serve the public, the very public it can potentially hold hostage through strike, and against which it negotiates benefits and privileges. Scott Walker recently discovered one reason education costs were skyrocketing in Wisconsin is the teacher’s pension plan was required to be held by an organization that just happened to be owned by the teacher’s union. Such arrangements multiply the costs to an unwary public wondering why it’s public treasuries diminish so rapidly.

Leave a Reply