If Republicans jam through the appointment of an “originalist” judge who is also a member of a cult replete with handmaids, Democrats should expand the Supreme Court. And Joe Biden should start with two new justices. It would warm my heart to see Barack Obama and Merritt Garland on that bench.
Of course, not everybody thinks expanding the Supreme Court is a great idea. Some Democrats — including Biden himself — fear the sky would fall if such an audacious thing were to be done.
But given that the Republicans have been packing lower courts for years, maybe we need to trade in “Hope and Change” for some “Audacity and Change.” The threat of so-called “court packing” would send a chilling message to Republicans pondering Trump’s eclipse — do it and see what happens.
The erosion of separation of church and state is of great concern. From the Oval Office to the State Department, the Executive branch is swimming with fundamentalists and enemies of secularism and science. The Senate and the Supreme Court are now filled with people who overtly privilege and promote Christianity from their government posts.
Well, I’m not quite ready for Gilead. Aside from Amy Barrett’s cult, shouldn’t we restore some religious balance to the highest court in the land? 63% of Supreme Court Justices are already Catholic in a country where only 23% identify as such. If Barrett is confirmed that number would hit 75%. Many American Catholics deeply disagree with their more conservative co-religionists on the Court. And more Americans than ever check off “none” in the religious box. A lot of us aren’t ready for Gilead.
Expanding the Court is hardly a new idea. Donald Trump’s next favorite president (after himself, of course) is Andrew Jackson, who added two justices to the Court in 1836.
There is also nothing sacred about nine justices or lifetime presidential appointments. The way justices are appointed in other Western nations puts our process to shame.
The Supreme Court of Canada is appointed by the Governor in Council and consists of nine justices. The number started out as six, was bumped up to seven, and ultimately became nine. On the surface Canada’s looks like ours, but Canada’s Supreme Court Act requires that three judges come from Ontario, three from Quebec, two from the Western provinces or Northern Canada and one from the Atlantic provinces. And judges must also retire before their 75th birthdays.
Striving for diversity doesn’t mean they’ve succeeded
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has twelve justices and they must have already served on the bench for 15 years, or 2 on a “federal” bench. The UK convenes a selection commission chosen from judiciaries in Britain, Scotland, Northern Island and Wales, and it strives for at least regional balance. After selection, a justice is formally appointed by the Queen. Even with 12 justices that number can still be increased. Justices must retire at 70 or 75, depending on when they joined the bench.
The German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, or BVerfG), has sixteen justices divided a couple of ways into two senates and three chambers. Judges are elected by both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, each of which selects eight justices. A Justice must have previously held a position on the bench and be at least 40 years of age. Justices serve for 12 years or until the age of 68, whichever comes first.
The French Court of Cassation is the highest appeal court in France and has an elaborate system of chambers and sitting and administrative judges, but 15 justices head up the court. These 15 judges serve a 9 year term and 3 each are appointed by the President of the Republic and Senate and National Assembly presidents. To become a judge a lawyer must be admitted to the Supreme Court Bar after passing an exam from the National School of the Magistracy. Typically, candidates are already judges in lower courts.
Our Supreme Court selection process is a mess. Not only is it highly politicized, but it lacks regional and demographic representation, professionalism, and justices typically serve well past normal retirement. More importantly, the selection process is simply undemocratic.
We need a serious re-do of the selection process as well as term limits for the Supreme Court. And there are many places to look for good ideas, starting with those of our closest allies. Add Supreme Court reform to a long list of Constitutional changes necessary to update American democracy — now that we’ve seen how fragile it really is.
But in the interim, let’s expand the Supreme Court.
The Gracia family’s lawyer, Don Brisson, finished a series of presentations last week on Malcolm’s murder. Brisson spent considerable time discussing inconsistencies in detectives’ testimony and forensic evidence collected at the crime scene.
Among the more shocking pieces of evidence Brisson released were videos that had been withheld from the public until December 2018. Three videos captured events of the evening of May 17th, 2012. One is high resolution surveillance footage from the Temple Landing basketball court. This is what Detective Safioleas would have been watching from Rockdale Ave. police headquarters. The other two are residential CCVT camera footage from Middle and Ash streets displayed side-by-side.
What is striking is the sheer speed with which New Bedford Police murdered Malcolm Gracia.
At 8:36 Malcom is seen leaving the Temple Landing basketball court. He walks down Middle and turns left on Cedar Street. Eleven seconds later New Bedford police speed around the same corner. 27 seconds after that a camera records neighbors and children out skateboarding scattering as Malcolm is apparently shot out of sight of the cameras.
The 27 seconds it took police to kill Malcolm Gracia is never questioned as investigators simply accept detectives’ accounts of a much more professional, by-the-book, and leisurely encounter.
If you watch the videos, it’s clear that police accounts were not truthful.
Video #1: the elaborate handshake
This is the surveillance footage from the Temple Landing basketball court which shows Malcolm Gracia interacting with other observers at pick-me-up basketball games.
The Gang Unit’s surveillance camera, which recorded the correct date, was about 24 minutes, 51 seconds fast. For reference it was best to use seconds into the video instead of erroneous time stamps on it.
At about 413 seconds into the video (estimated to be 8:28:55 PM) the surveillance camera first picks up Malcolm Gracia and Adam Carreira. At about 520 seconds we see Gracia wearing black pants and a black hoodie, smiling and shaking hands with a spectator seated in the bleachers of the basketball court farthest from Cedar Street. This is the handshake that sets a police murder in motion. Sgt. Brian Safioleas, who has been watching Adam Carreira’s cigarette, switches to Gracia for a minute, and zooms in on Carreira’s cigarette again as he passes it to Gracia. Viewing the video now it appears Safioleas’s interest was what the boys were smoking. At about 585 seconds Safioleas zooms out to the entire bleacher and zooms back in to put Gracia entirely in the frame of the camera. Gracia is a bit more reserved than Carreira. But he is smiling, talking to a spectator in a striped shirt, and having a smoke. At about 880 seconds spectators start getting up out of the bleachers and are preparing to leave. By my calculations the actual time is around 8:28 PM. By 900 seconds into the video the spectators are leaving and all are shaking hands as they leave. At about 936 seconds Gracia says something to Carreira and both exit the camera frame. It is only a few footsteps to the Middle Street entrance and a residential CCVT camera records them leaving. The estimated time is roughly 8:36:19 PM.
It is interesting that the camera stops following Gracia and Carreira at this point and remains directed at the remaining spectators and ball players until everyone has left the frame. Of course, Safioleas could now be scrambling to dispatch Fonseca, Sylvia, Barnes and Brown and may have simply left the camera unattended. But wasn’t Safioleas concerned about the direction they were headed? The camera keeps recording a static image of the bleachers until 1310 seconds, when it then pans north across both basketball courts to show at least four police cruisers and an ambulance. The video runs another 500 seconds, zooming into the corner of Cedar and Middle where officers are stringing crime scene tape and residents — later described as a “mob” by the EMS technician who first treats Barnes — stand around watching the aftermath of another police shooting.
Video #2: police chase Gracia around the corner
The second video displays synchronized footage from two different Housing Authority cameras. One camera captures officers arriving on the scene. Another shows Malcolm leaving the courts and turning the corner of Middle and Cedar. Seconds later police do the same.
The camera which provided the footage in the left frame is most likely housed in a street lamp in front of 347 Middle Street and looks southeast down Middle Street toward Cedar Street and toward the entrance of the basketball courts. The camera which provided footage in the right frame is likely in a walkway behind 263 Ash Street. It looks northeast, down Ash Street, through the climbing structures and swing sets, past the basketball courts to the corner of Middle and Cedar. Unfortunately, both video quality and lighting are poor and, owing to the distance, distorted like telephoto photos. Both frames in the one video are time-stamped but do not record seconds.
At 8:36 PM — 27 seconds into the composite video — you can see Malcolm Gracia leaving the courts with Adam Carreira. His pointed hoodie is clearly visible as he makes his way down Middle Street and at 63 seconds the two turn the corner to Cedar. At this precise moment you can see Sylvia and Fonseca’s cruiser in camera two’s frame on the right. Fonseca, the driver, has driven past Middle Street in error, and is seen backing up onto Elm Street near the white rock at the intersection. The children’s playground on Ash Street is clearly visible in front of him. At 8:37 PM — 68 seconds into the video — Fonseca turns left and races back down Middle Street.
At 8:37 PM on camera one — at 71 seconds — you see Fonseca and Sylvia speeding down Middle Street. An unidentified silver vehicle just beats them to the intersection and precedes them as they turn onto Cedar at 74 seconds into the video. At 103 seconds another vehicle comes up Cedar. At 110 seconds — 27 seconds after the police turn onto Cedar — camera one picks up residents scattering and running. Fonseca and Sylvia have probably just fired the last of six shots caught by Shotspotter. This would make the time 8:37:42 PM. At 194 seconds into the video residents start running toward the corner of Middle and Cedar to see what’s happening. Police cars begin arriving at 225 seconds.
Gracia Shaking hands
Gracia and Carreira leave basketball court
Gracia seen exiting court from Middle St.
Gracia turns corner onto Cedar
Fonseca and Sylvia turn corner onto Cedar
Residents scatter in alarm **
Residents run toward intersection
Police cruisers arrive
** estimated from Shotspotter records and video of residents reacting to sounds of shooting
Tom Hodgson taking a nap next to his pal Jessica Vaughan of CIS
Last year I began working on a profile of Bristol County Thomas M. Hodgson’s associations with far right and white supremacist organizations for The Public Eye magazine. It took a long time to research and write, and even longer to edit, but after Covid-related delays it is finally out and you can read it online here or download the issue’s PDF here.
Allow me to plug buying a subscription to PRA’s print magazine, even in the digital age. Your support will help Political Research Associates keep investigating and reporting on America’s extreme Right.
Legislators are elected to help people. Some think their responsibility stops with constituents; others have a broader sense of responsibility to the earth, humanity, and global concerns. This is who I want representing me.
When it comes to immigration issues, I want legislators to take action against the Trump administration’s enlistment of local police in increasingly brazen and cruel roundups of desperate and paperless refugees. But the majority of Bristol County legislators are profound disappointments. Most coast to re-election without challengers. Instead of democracy we have political machinery and patronage in Bristol County. And with a few exceptions, we get hacks instead of leaders as a result.
Hall of Fame
I am grateful to the following state representatives and senators for stepping up to support the Safe Communities Act. It takes guts and principle and that broader sense of responsibility to help suffering human beings, whether they can vote for you or not.
The Republicans on the list below all belong on the Wall of Shame. Their party has become a rotting husk and a personality cult whose immigration policy is literally written by white supremacists. No surprise that Massachusetts Republicans march in lockstep with White House immigration advisor Stephen Miller, who proposed deporting Central American DACA recipients in railroad boxcars.
But the Democrats on this list? To be charitable, if they don’t share the xenophobia of their Republican friends, then their only excuse is that they are cowardly machine politicians afraid of angering rightwing police unions and some of their more racist constituents. Everyone on the list below will protest that they’re not racists or xenophobes — and a few can even point to programs they’ve funded which help disadvantaged communities.
But when it’s time to show their mettle, they are invariably too timid to help refugees whose lives have been upended by war, climate change, political instability, or hunger. Their love of humanity is conditional and narrow, reserved only for campaign contributors and potential voters. For refugees they look away, and for that — Democrat or Republican — they ought to be deeply ashamed.
If you’re like me, you’ll want to know the specifics — so go to the Massachusetts Legislature’s website for the text of H.3573 (Balser & Miranda) and S.1401 (Eldridge).
In a nutshell, the Safe Communities Act restores community trust in public institutions by avoiding entanglement in immigration matters and protecting due process for all:
No questions about immigration status: Bars law enforcement and court personnel from asking people about their status unless required by law. The State Police already have a similar policy. Many immigrants fear that calling 911 or speaking to police will lead to separation from family members – especially children –making them more vulnerable to domestic abuse, wage theft and other crimes. This provision would send a strong message that in our Commonwealth, police protect us all.
Protects due process: Before Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) questions someone in local custody, requires police to obtain their consent using a form that explains their right to decline an interview or have their own attorney present. Without these protections, people often make statements or sign documents jeopardizing their immigration cases. Non-citizens often unaware of these rights, because “Miranda” warnings are not required in the civil immigration context.
Limits notifications to ICE: Bars police, court officers and jail officials from notifying ICE that someone is about to be released. Sometimes law enforcement will call ICE to try to keep an immigrant from going free when they can no longer hold them, even though a citizen would go free. The bill would still allow notifications to ICE if a person is being released after serving a criminal sentence.
No more 287(g) agreements: Ends contracts with ICE that allow state and county personnel to act as federal immigration agents, at state taxpayers’ expense. Such contracts are the most extreme form of entanglement with ICE, and when they shift people into ICE custody before they can go to court, they undermine due process. Massachusetts is the only state in New England to have such agreements, and we have four: with Bristol, Barnstable Plymouth counties, and the Department of Corrections.
Provides crucial training and accountability: Requires law enforcement agencies to train their personnel about this law, and if there is an alleged violation, people can file a complaint with the relevant agency or the Attorney General. These provisions would help ensure transparency and tackle problems as they arise.
It’s time for Massachusetts to send a clear message that in our Commonwealth, our public institutions serve us all, and everyone’s civil rights are protected.
State Senate Pres. Karen Spilka is at 617-722-1500. Speaker of the House DeLeo’s number is 617-722-2500.
My name is (give them your name). I am a constituent from (name of your city or town) I urge you to support the reforms detailed in the September 24 letter sent by Black leaders and clergy from across the Commonwealth. (The legislators will have received a copy of the letter). Please urge those in the Joint Senate House conference committee to vote out legislation that will bring meaningful reform of police practices in our state. In this time of Black Lives Matter and police violence against Black People the legislature needs to take a strong stand.
If you can speak with your legislator in person that is great. Often the best we can do is speak with an aide and that is important as well. If you can’t make a personal phone connection please leave a message on the answering machine. They count the number of calls that come in!
If there is an opportunity for further conversation, here are points to cover which are in the letter from Black leaders: Limits on Police Use of Force; Civil Service Exam Commission; Limits on Qualified Immunity; Ban Racial Profiling and Require Date Collection for all Stops: Expungment of Criminal Records for young people.
CONTEXT FOR THE CALL:
Recently the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others have led to demonstrations in cities and towns across the country.
In response, members of the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives passed bills for police reform. The bill passed by the Senate was pretty strong. The one passed by the House – not so much. Three House members and three Senators serve on a conference committee to work out the differences. We want the bill that will be brought back to the House and Senate for a final vote to be as strong as possible.
Police unions and their supporters have organized to prevent meaningful reforms. They have done extensive lobbying and paid for full page ads in the newspapers. We understand they have made over 2,000 phone calls to oppose worthy reforms. We need to match the power of the unions with our own phone calls. Indeed we need to surpass what they have done.
Black clergy and Black leaders are calling for their allies to step up and make phone calls on Monday September 28 and Tuesday, September 29 to create a wave of support for reform that will get the attention of our legislators. Imagine the impact if all 700 participants on our mailing list make a call!
Thank you, Bill Gardiner – Ending Mass Incarceration Together
Those who disrespect Native Americans also make asses of themselves.
I am passing along this message from the Mass Mascot Coalition
——– Forwarded Message ——–
Re: Request for Action (that will not take you long)
Mon, 28 Sep 2020 12:26:39 -0400
Mass Mascot Coalition <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hello those working to eliminate Native mascots in MA,
We are writing on behalf of the Massachusetts Mascot Coalition. Our coalition has been working to inspire the MA state legislature to pass the mascot bill S.247/H.443/S.2593 (with the original proposed language).
We request that you please share the following message with others who have been working to eliminate Native American mascots.
The MA Mascot Coalition is seeking MA residents who support the elimination of Native American mascots to make two telephone calls. These calls are to the resident’s two MA state legislators (i.e., the resident’s state senator and state representative).
Please use this link to find the telephone numbers for your state legislators.
When someone answers the phone, please ask to speak to the senator/representative. If the senator/representative is not present, please speak to the legislator’s aide. If no one is there, please leave a message, telling them: your name, you are a constituent, your mailing address, and a phone number they can use to call you back (and request that they return your call).
Once you have someone on the phone, please:
Tell them that you support the MA state legislative bill to eliminate Native mascots (S.247/H.443/S.2593) in its original proposed language, and that it is extremely important that the legislature pass this bill.
Tell them why you support this bill. [Here is a link to a flyer on the bill you can use to develop your argument: here].
Ask the legislator/aide if they plan to vote for or against this bill.
After you have made both phone calls, please email the MA Mascot Coalition (at email@example.com ) to let us know how each of your legislators plan to vote.
We really appreciate your assistance!
If you have any questions, please email the MA Mascot Coalition.
The Massachusetts Mascot Coalition Steering Committee
Police in schools are not a new phenomenon. Apparently the first school police were used in the Fifties in Flint, Michigan. In the 1990’s the Clinton administration created the COPS program which expanded and militarized the police, deepened mass incarceration, and put police in schools to wreak more damage there, too.
SRO’s disproportionately harm poor students and students of color – all in the name of protecting students from mass shootings. But the irony is that school shootings are largely a suburban and rural phenomenon, virtually all school shooters are white, and 92% are male.
Suburban kids do the rampaging but city kids get the cops. Something’s wrong with this picture.
The following links are to mainly research studies and organizations, and they overwhelmingly point to how little empirical data actually exists to support the contention that SROs deter school shootings. Links to commonly-cited NRA and DOJ/COPS materials are provided so you can see for yourself how thin their claims are.
On the other hand, there is a mountain of evidence showing that SROs harm poor children and children of color.
Averted School Violence Statistics (2017)
95% of school violence is suburban and rural. There are numerous cases of attackers being stopped by teachers, guidance counselors, and others; and of attacks that an SRO would not have seen coming: Sandy Hook, for example, where the attacker was not a student.
Bullies in Blue: The Problem with School Policing (2016)
Over the past 50 years, our schools have become sites of increased criminalization of young people—a disturbing fact that is even truer for poor Black and Latino communities. Today, police officers assigned to patrol schools can legally use physical force on students, arrest and handcuff them, and bring the full weight of the criminal justice system to bear on kids who are simply misbehaving. The primary role of police in schools is to enforce criminal laws, and virtually every violation of a school rule can be considered a criminal act if viewed through this police-first lens. Though these police are often referred to as “school resource officers,” their legal power and attending actions reveal that this designation only serves to mask that their presence has transformed schools into another site of concentrated policing. Such policing marks the start of the school-to-prison pipeline—the entry point to the criminal justice system for too many kids—and fuels mass incarceration.
Circumventing the Law: Students’ Rights in Schools With Police (2010)
Over the past several decades, public schools in the United States have been increasingly transformed into high security environments, complete with surveillance technologies, security forces, and harsh punishments. The school resource officer (SRO) program, which assigns uniformed police officers to work in public schools, is one significant component of this new brand of school security. Although the intentions of the SRO program are clear—to help administrators maintain order in schools, deter students from committing criminal acts, and arrest students who do break the law—the potential unintended consequences of this program are largely unknown. This study employs ethnographic methodology in two public high schools with SROs to examine how students’ rights, including Fourth Amendment rights, Fifth Amendment rights, and privacy rights, are negotiated in public schools with full-time police presence. The results of this study suggest that schools administrators and SROs partner in ways that compromise and reduce the legal rights of students.
Cops and Cameras: Public School Security as a Policy Response to Columbine (2009)
To implement effective policy, officials need to know what options work. A review of the existing literature emphasizes the need for evaluative studies of school security measures to determine whether these measures are truly effective. The few studies that have been conducted rely on perceptions as to whether security measures are effective. Such information provides initial insights but ultimately is not helpful. Programs such as Scared Straight and D.A.R.E. sounded incredibly promising and were proven to be ineffective (or even harmful) through evaluative studies (Gottfredson, 1997; Petrosino, Turpin-Petrosino, & Finckenauer, 2000). The dearth of evaluative work is surprising given the growing movement in criminal justice toward evidence-based policies. The lack of evaluations is also in stark contrast to other, more vetted school policies and programs implemented since Columbine, such as antibullying and antidelinquency programs.
Discipline and Participation: The Long-Term Effects of Suspension and School Security on the Political and Civic Engagement of Youth (2014)
Since the early 1990s, schools across the United States have tightened their security practices and increased the punishments they give to students (see Cornell, 2006; Dinkes, Kemp, & Baum, 2009; Kupchik & Monahan, 2006). It is now common to find armed police officers, drug-sniffing dogs, surveillance cameras, and zero-tolerance policies in all types of schools and all areas of the United States. Existing research documents several problems with these new school discipline and security practices, including the increasing marginalization of poor students and youth of color (e.g., Noguera, 2003; Skiba et al., 2000), unnecessary denial of future educational opportunities due to suspension and expulsion (e.g., American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008; Fabelo et al., 2011), and increases in the numbers of students who are formally prosecuted in the juvenile and criminal justice systems (known as the “school-to-prison pipeline”; for example, Kim, Losen, & Hewitt, 2010; Na & Gottfredson, 2013; Wald & Losen, 2003). This body of research consistently finds large discrepancies in punishment rates between White youth and youth of color, where African American and Hispanic American students are far more likely than Whites to be punished, even when controlling for self-reported rates of misbehavior (American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008).
Do Police Officers in Schools Really Make Them Safer? (2018)
While there are conflicting studies about the effectiveness of police in schools, Schindler says research shows they bring plenty of unintended consequences for students. He says that includes higher rate of suspensions, expulsions and arrests that funnel kids into the criminal justice system. That’s especially true, he says, in schools attended predominantly by students of color.
Mass Shootings in America: Moving Beyond Newtown (2013)
The white students who perpetrated the massacre at Columbine High school apparently chose Hitler’s birthday for their attack. This article looks at a number of myths surrounding mass shootings and also asks the provocative question: If armed guards and armed teachers are indeed worthy strategies for protecting children, then what should schools do to protect the students before and after school? Expanding this approach would dictate providing weapons to coaches, athletic directors, and even bus drivers. How slippery do we want the slippery slope to be?
On the school beat: police officers based in English schools (2017)
The results of this British study clearly show that police officers are more likely to be based in schools with higher levels of pupils eligible for free school meals, that is, with a more disadvantaged population of pupils. Almost allschools where 50 or more percent of pupils are eligible for free school meals have an onsite police officer deployed there. The fact that the percentage of schools with a police officer increases as the percentage of pupils eligible for FSM increases indicates that this is not an accidental occurrence. None of the, albeit small, number of schools that have no pupils eligible for free school meals have an onsite officer. It has long been argued that the origins of mass compulsory schooling in Britain lay in attempts at social control, particularly of the children of the urban poor (Cunningham 2012; Rose 2000; Walkerdine 1992). Schools are more than enclosures for a certain sector of the population, as Andrew Hope writes: Schools are institutions of social control that seek to dictate, monitor and enforce ‘appropriate’ behavior. Historically, surveillance has played a central role in such processes. (2015a, 2) Schools are increasingly adopting diverse methods of electronic surveillance (Hope 2015a). Given the levels of electronic surveillance in place in many schools, Taylor (2012) claims that school pupils in the UK and the US are becoming the most surveilled subgroup of the whole population.
Patrolling Public Schools: The Impact of Funding for School Police on Student Discipline and Long-Term Education Outcomes (2018)
The widespread use of police officers in public schools is a relatively recent development. While school police programs have gained popularity as a policy to protect students against rare but tragic school shooting events, in practice, these officers are often actively involved in the enforcement of school discipline. When school police officers, or school resource officers (SROs), are involved in the daily lives of students, they have the capability to alter student behavior, disciplinary consequences, attachment to school, and educational attainment. Though the potential consequences of school police interventions are large, there have been few evaluations of their efficacy. There is a large qualitative and ethnographic literature that documents the growth of harsh school sanctions policies and their disparate impact on low-income minority students (e.g. Nolan, 2011; Kupchik, 2010; Devine, 1996). This work has found that administrators’ and teachers’ roles in school discipline and classroom management are increasingly outsourced to SROs, and that SROs not only utilize their ability to arrest students for criminal offenses, but frequently participate in school discipline matters such as code of conduct violations.
Policing Schools: Examining the Impact of Place Management Activities on School Violence (2015)
The present study examines whether the presence of school resource officers (SROs) and their level of involvement in place management activities are associated with higher or lower rates of school-based serious violence. This study uses data from the 2010 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) conducted by National Center for Educational Statistics. Propensity score matching is used to create a quasi-experimental design and isolate the influence of SROs and their level of involvement in place management activities on school-based serious violence. The analysis reveals that schools with a school resource officer are associated with higher rates of reported serious violence and those schools with SROs that participate in more place manager duties are also associated with higher rates of reported serious violence. These findings do not support the notion that SROs are acting as effective place managers and through this place management, reducing reported serious violence. Rather, it appears that the presences of a SRO and their execution of place manager duties is associated with an increase in the reporting of serious violence. Policy implications and limitations of the current research are also discussed. In other words, SRO’s don’t prevent violence but merely increase reports of it
Preventing School Shootings: The Effectiveness of Safety Measures (2017)
The key policy issue, however, is whether SROs reduce school crime. To that point, few studies have examined the role of SROs in reducing crime in the school, with no study assessing the preventative capabilities of an SRO with mass school shootings (James & McCallion, 2013). Research testing the link between SROs and crime or victimization have yielded mixed results. […] With the current state of the research, the true effect of SROs remains inconclusive. Further, as Madfis (2016) explained, it is important to note that two of the deadliest school shootings — Columbine and Virginia Tech — were not deterred by the presence of armed police. In 1999, Columbine High School had both an armed SRO and an unarmed school security guard. During the shooting, one of the killers exchanged multiple rounds of gunfire with the SRO then proceeded to murder students in the library (Erickson, 2001). The morning of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, five officers plus the police chief were present on campus (TriData Division, System Planning Corporation, 2009). The killer at Virginia Tech was familiar with the police, having had a previous encounter with them five months prior to the shooting. All three killers involved in these two cases were well-aware of the armed officers present on their respective campuses, yet in neither instance did that deter them from carrying out their crime.
Race, Poverty, and Exclusionary School Security: An Empirical Analysis of U.S. Elementary, Middle, and High Schools (2014)
As violence and crime within and around U.S. schools has drawn increased attention to school security, police, surveillance cameras, and other measures have grown commonplace at public schools. Social scientists commonly voice concern that exclusionary security measures are most common in schools attended by poor and non-White students, yet there is little empirical basis for assessing the extent of differential exposure, as we lack research on how exclusionary measures are distributed relative to school and student characteristics. To address this gap in the research, we use nationally representative school-level data from the School Survey on Crime and Safety to consider the security measures employed in elementary, middle, and high schools. Results indicate that while security measures are ubiquitous in U.S. high schools, those considered more exclusionary are concentrated in elementary, middle, and high schools attended by non-White and/or poorer students.
Rampage School Shooters: A Typology (2014)
School shooters match Trump voters quite nicely: “A few of the common individual features included narcissism, bigotry, alienation, poor anger management, fascination with violence, low self-esteem, and a lack of empathy.”
School Resource Officers: Law Enforcement Officers in Schools (2013)
In 2013 the Congressional Research Service was tasked with determining if additional SRO’s were warranted. It answered the question by saying that school students are quite safe, but “middle schools, city schools, and schools with a higher proportion of low-income students have higher rates of reported violent incidents, and schools with a higher proportion of low-income students had higher rates of reported serious violent incidents.” To the question of whether minority and low-income students would find their way quicker into the criminal justice system, the answer was “Research in this area is limited to a small number of studies, but these suggest that children in schools with SROs might be more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses. On the other hand, some studies indicate that SROs can deter students from committing assaults on campus as well as bringing weapons to school. Schools with SROs may also be more likely to report non-serious violent crimes (i.e., physical attack or fights without a weapon and threat of physical attack without a weapon) to the police than schools lacking SROs.”
School Safety Technology in America: Current Use and Perceived Effectiveness (2003)
Between 1999 and 2001, the COPS program of the U.S. Department of Justice provided $567 million through the Cops in Schools program (CIS) to hire 4,900 SROs. Although this sounds like a large number of SROs, one must consider that there are more than 92,000 public schools in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002); therefore, there are simply not enough SROs to go around. Although there has been no large-scale systematic evaluation of this program, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is a successful collaboration. […] In the spring of 2002, COPS allocated another $121 million to hire more SROs. Though this appears to be a positive step toward improving school safety, it should be noted that each new SRO will cost the federal government approximately $125,000 (COPS, 2002). As such, only about 968 more SROs will be hired — far short of what is needed in our schools. […] It is not good public policy to continue to expand programs and invest resources in programs that are untested. This mistake has been made time and again with unsatisfactory results (e.g., zero-tolerance policies and the widespread installation of complicated school security technology systems). Thus, the efficacy of individual SRO programs in each school district should be measured to ensure that the programs actually enhance school safety and are not just another “cosmetic response” to school violence.
School Suspensions and Adverse Experiences in Adulthood (2017)
During the 1980s and early 1990s, violence and drugs in American schools emerged as a policy priority. The available statistics and anecdotal evidence suggested that these problems were common in American schools, particularly those in poor, urban settings (Midlarskey & Klain, 2005; Skiba,2013). In response, the federal government passed two key pieces of legislation aimed at addressing the problem. The first piece of legislation, the Gun Free Schools Act of 1995, made education funding contingent on the adoption of zero tolerance policies that mandated the expulsion of students who brought weapons on school property. Following its enactment, zero tolerance policies spread rapidly throughout the country (Stinchcomb, Bazemore, & Riestenberg, 2006). States and school districts often expanded the scope of their zero tolerance policies beyond weapons offenses to include drug offenses, interpersonal violence, and more minor misbehavior. Not surprisingly, the spread of zero tolerance policies led to a significant increase in suspensions and expulsions (Skibaet al., 2014). The second piece of legislation, the Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act of 1994, provided support and funding for school resource officer programs through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. School districts received funding to contract with local police departments to place trained police officers in schools. These officers respond to incidents of student misbehavior, such as breaking up fights in the hallways, and arrest students accused of criminal behavior, thus expanding the potential disciplinary consequences facing students. Importantly, arrests are not mutually exclusive of school disciplinary responses, so students often face suspensions or expulsions in addition to delinquency or criminal charges (Kupchik, 2010). Thus, just as schools increasingly turned to suspensions and expulsions, they also integrated the justice system into their disciplinary responses to student misbehavior. In addition to stationing school resource officers in their hallways, Americans chools also introduced other heightened security measures. These measures included security cameras, random locker and personal property searches, identification cards, metal detectors, and strictly controlled school entrance and exit procedures (Hirschfield, 2008). It is reasonable to assume that these measures contributed to the expanded use of exclusionary school discipline punishments, as they made it more likely for students to be caught violating school rules, mandated strong disciplinary responses to relatively innocuous behavior (such as talking back or acting disorderly), and provided additional strict rules for students to violate (such as requiring students to always carry their identification cards) (Lyons & Drew, 2006). Not surprisingly, the number of suspensions and in-school arrests grew as the punitive school discipline trend became entrenched (see, e.g. Losen, 2011; New York Civil Liberties Union, 2013; Skiba et al., 2014). More than three million students are suspended each year in the United States (see Losen, Hodson, Keith, Morrison, & Belway, 2015). Data also suggest that the use of other exclusionary actions are more common now than they were two decades ago, including arrests in school (e.g. Advancement Project, 2005; Blue Ribbon Commission on School Discipline, 2007; Fields & Emshwiller, 2014; Krezmien, Leone, Zablocki, & Wells, 2010). Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health, we analyze whether being suspended from school relates to the likelihood of students experiencing a number of adverse events and outcomes when they are adults. We find that being suspended increases the likelihood that a student will experience criminal victimization, criminal involvement, and incarceration years later, as adults.
School-Based Policing in Maine: A study on School Resource Officers in Maine’s public schools (2019)
While school-based policing has become commonplace at campuses across the country, there is no centralized or continuous tracking of how many schools use SROs, no national governance of SROs’ roles and training requirements, and only ad hoc evaluation of their effectiveness in improving school safety. Local law enforcement agencies deploying SROs are not required to register with any national database, and school systems are not required to report how many SROs they use. The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) estimates there are between 14,000 and 20,000 SROs deployed in schools nationwide. The National Center for Education Statistics found that 42% of all public schools in 2015-16 employed at least one full-time or part-time SRO, and that 94.4% of public high schools with enrollment of at least 1,000 students maintained a law enforcement presence for security enforcement and patrol. Similarly in Maine, neither schools nor police departments have been required to report whether they deploy SROs.
The Comprehensive School Safety Initiative: 2015 Report to Congress (2015)
Schools have adopted a number of approaches for increasing safety, including the use of controlled access to buildings, security cameras, metal detectors, and the placement of school resource officers (SROs). Using SROs, generally sworn law enforcement officers, is a costly and widely used practice: the 2009-2010 School Survey on Crime and Safety estimated that 43 percent of public schools have at least one SRO present at least once a week. However, few rigorous studies have evaluated the effectiveness of SROs, including whether there are possible unintended consequences that may harm students, such as increased arrests for disorderly conduct (which might otherwise be handled by a school administrator) or exclusionary disciplinary practices (such as suspensions and expulsions) that disproportionately affect minority youth and youth with disabilities.
The Cost of Arming Schools: The Price of Stopping a Bad Guy with a Gun (2013)
The common denominator of most school shootings is the availability of semi-automatic weapons. The price of implementing the NRA’s proposal (which does not involve controlling semi-automatics) to place an armed security guard in every school building in the nation is nearly $13 billion a year (2013 dollars). The opportunity cost to taxpayers for fully protected schools can reach $23 billion. The cost per student approaches $500 and would take up half of federal spending on elementary and secondary education if paid for by the federal government. Is this the cost of protecting schools? Or, is it just one cost for permitting unlimited access to semi-automatic weapons and large capacity ammunition clips and preventing the potential for mass murder in our schools?
The Menace of School Shootings in America (2018)
While the murders of children by semi-automatic weapon was what was keeping America up at night, American politicians decided that fighting terror, profiling potential perpetrators, outfitting school and office in high-tech security gear, and increasing police presence in schools was what we needed – a beefed-up police state.
The New American School: preparation for post-industrial discipline (2006)
We take as a starting point the socializing effects of schools to analyze armed police officers and technological surveillance systems on school campuses, and relate these new social control strategies to the social relations engendered by mass incarceration and post-industrialization. In contrast to schools in the early twentieth century, which prepared youth for dependable factory labor, contemporary schools prepare youth for volatile labor markets and uncertain service sector employment. The modern world that embraces students is marked by the demise of the welfare state, privatization of social services and entrepreneurial approaches to modern social problems, including private for-profit prisons and mass incarceration of over two million people (in the United States alone). Public institutions and public life are subjected to ongoing processes of globalization, militarization and corporatization, altering how citizens participate in politics and react to social problems, as well as how states control citizens in places like schools (Saltman & Gabbard, 2003). We argue that these larger forces are mediated by public education and manifested as police and surveillance presence at school sites, such that students are exposed to social control forces that simultaneously create and are produced by conditions of mass incarceration and post-industrialization.
The Presence of School Resource Officers (SROs) in America’s Schools (2020)
Similar to the declines in national crime rates in recent decades, school-basedoffenses have also been steadily falling. As of 2017, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that victimization, theft, and violent crimes are at a multi-decade low. In the 2015–2016 school year, there were 18 homicides at schools, accounting for 1.2 percent of all youth homicides. Despite the rarity of serious violence in schools, a major policy argument in favor of SROs has been the claim that they are needed to respond to active shooter situations. Those events remain extremely rare, and in 2015-2016 accounted for 43 deaths on school property, including 10 deaths by suicide. This is not to minimize the importance of efforts to respond to school shootings, but there are little data supporting the efficacy of SROs in preventing these rare events.
The school resource officer perspective: examining crime, violence, law enforcement, and education on public high school campuses (2012)
Can SRO’s successfully provide the mentoring, teaching, and community-building that proponents claim to be co-responsibilities of the job? Through interviews we were able to see how SROs are symbolic to theories on law enforcement, police, and crime. As it was previously noted, SROs display some of the same characteristics representative of traditional police culture. Examples include SROs discussing ways in which they maintain control, authority, and an edge on students paying particular attention and awareness to gangs and drug activity. There were also numerous times when the SROs reinforced their legitimized power over students, shared instances in which they had to use aggressive and punitive action, or discussed the great differences that lie between police and non-police. Although we are nowhere close to being able to define a distinct police subculture amongst SROs, the substantial differences in settings and experiences between them (SROs and other law enforcement) which impact their beliefs and behaviors, are evident. On the surface many elements of traditional police culture seem problematic to the successful functioning of our public education system. However even though some of the characteristics of traditional police culture were found amongst this small sample of SROs, the extent to which all SROs display the same culture is unclear.
The School-Security Industry Is Cashing In Big on Public Fears of Mass Shootings (2016)
Reality check. School shootings aren’t quite the national epidemic the media depicts. Far more children and young adults are killed on the impoverished streets of America’s large cities every year. By several orders of magnitude, far more kids die each year in car crashes or drowning accidents—or from asthma. And far more young lives are lost to a host of other diseases closely correlated with poverty. There are approximately 55 million K–12 students in America and roughly 3.5 million adults employed as teachers. There are also millions of support staff – janitors, nurses, cooks, after-school-program providers, and so on. Even in the deadliest years, the chance of a student or adult being killed at school is roughly one in a million. By contrast, roughly five out of every 100,000 American residents are murdered each year. Extrapolating from this, schools are somewhere in the region of 50 times safer than society overall. But lately, America’s school-security fetish has reached a whole new level of bizarre. In the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, one company after another has rushed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the epidemic of fear that emerged in response to school violence, and to exploit the emotional vulnerabilities of terrified parents. As a result, a huge number of utterly inane products have entered the market.
Threat Assessment for School Administrators and Crisis Teams (2020)
The National Association of School Psychologists is not not wild about SRO’s and encourages schools to weigh whether they legitimately need them. If so, SRO’s are not to be used for zero-tolerance discipline or in positions a “civilian” could fill. However, SRO’s are preferable to armed guards, in their view.
Understanding School Rampage Shooters: Implications for Police Use of Force (2019)
This study looked at a number of factors and took a generally positive view of SRO’s, as 26.9% of all shooters were stopped by police. However, it concedes that civilians do a much better job of terminating school rampages. Knox found that “Police intervention, however, was not the winner with respect to saving lives: intervention by unarmed citizens was. Unarmed citizens stopped 23 (39.5%) shooters, as many as stopped their rampages by committing suicide. However, when unarmed citizens intervened, the shooters killed an average of only one person. When school rampage shooters ended their rampages voluntarily or by firearm malfunction or ammunition depletion, they killed six times as many people on average as did shooters who were stopped by the intervention of unarmed citizens.”
What Do We Know About the Effects of School-Based Law Enforcement on School Safety? (2018)
Are SRO’s effective in preventing school shootings? “There is insufficient evidence for drawing a decisive conclusion about the overall effectiveness of non-educational, school-based law enforcement programs (Petrosino et al., forthcoming; Petrosino et al., 2012; Gonzalez, Jetelina, & Jennings, 2016; James & McCallion, 2013; Raymond, 2010).” OK. Forget efficacy. Do students feel safer with SRO’s? “There is no conclusive evidence that the presence of school-based law enforcement has a positive effect on students’ perceptions of safety in schools. In their review of 12 quasi-experimental studies, Petrosino and colleagues (forthcoming) found that school-based law enforcement is not associated with statistically significant changes in students’ perceptions of safety at school.”
On May 17, 2012 15 year-old Malcolm Gracia was shot by New Bedford police. The circumstances of the killing are something that today would receive a more thorough investigation than the Gracia family got in 2012. Following a $500K settlement for the unconstitutional stop that triggered Gracia’s murder, police and DA reports which exculpated the City and New Bedford Police, an effort to conceal information from the public, and finally a gag order to muzzle the family attorney, many people thought the Gracia story had gone away for good.
But Don Brisson, the family’s lawyer, just can’t let it go. In a Zoom meeting on September 20th, Brisson said there are a number of things that continue to haunt him about the Gracia case. Foremost is the fact that police didn’t have to illegally stop, and then assault, Gracia. If they thought he was a gang member, they could have gone back to their offices and checked their photo registry.
Despite Brisson’s ambling pace and a four-hour marathon Zoom meeting, it was impossible to leave the online meeting because the disturbing questions Brisson raised just kept mounting. His walk through the evidence revealed an unnecessary killing, an improbable tale concocted and clearly coordinated by officers on the scene, revealing contradictions between police and a civilian witness, overly friendly questioning by the state police, an apparent whitewash by the DA, with a lot of information about the case sealed by a gag order to this day.
Brisson’s questions deserve an answer.
Named as defendants in the Gracia family’s civil suit Brisson originally filed were police officers Tyson Barnes, David Brown, Paul Fonseca, Brian Safioleas and Trevor Sylvia, along with the city of New Bedford and the estate of David Provencher, who was the police chief at the time.
The heart of Brisson’s 4 hour marathon presentation last Sunday was a review of witness reports of the altercation between Tyson Barnes and Malcolm Gracia, an examination of DA Sutter’s report, and a summary of Barnes’ medical records. What follows are the concerns Brisson raised in Part 3 of his presentation of the evidence:
DA Sam Sutter
Sam Sutter was the Bristol County District Attorney at the time. Brisson notes that Sutter’s report is full of omissions and failed to ask critical questions. For example, it does not mention Detective Tyson Barnes’ initial assault on Malcolm Gracia.
Sutter’s report also claims Gracia grasped Barnes’ back, removed his knife from a sheath, thrust the knife twice into Barnes’ abdomen and made repeated attempts to stab him after that. Then, carrying the sheath, Gracia allegedly ran at another officer. Brisson points out that Barnes, if he actually feared for this life, could have shot Gracia but did not. Although Sutter’s report says that eyewitnesses corroborate police accounts, this is not actually true.
Det. Tyson Barnes
Brisson reviewed testimony from various witnesses. Despite the fact that the witnesses referenced diagrams and occasionally physically acted out events they were discussing, for some reason video interviews of a fellow cop were prohibited by investigators. What the public is now left with, going on a decade later, is audio-only, and incomplete.
In Barnes’ interview eight days after the shooting he says he does not know what happened to his Taser. Barnes says Gracia began running South and was no longer a threat. “I just knew he wasn’t a threat anymore.” But there was no mention of jamming Gracia against the building, which several other witnesses recalled.
The interrogator, State Police Sergeant Dolan, never asks why Barnes doesn’t shoot Gracia if he is in fact attacking other officers. Dolan also never asks Barnes about the extent of his injuries —- an issue of considerable controversy. Sergeant Dolan asks Barnes about being stabbed in the “chest” (not in the abdomen). So which was it?
There are numerous pauses in the questioning, giving officers time to get their stories straight. After one such pause, upon re-questioning, Barnes now says he was in a lot of pain, while previously he claimed not to have felt anything when purportedly stabbed. Now he can suddenly recall details he previously could not. Barnes now recalls hearing “officer down, suspect down.” He remembers a Detective Gangi applying pressure to his chest, Detective Fonseca is calling for an ambulance, and Trooper Mark Lavoie is taking Barnes’ belt and gun. EMS staff cut off Barnes’ clothes as he is transported to the hospital, supposedly with a “sucking chest wound.” Barnes recalls he gets his gun back only several days later.
Most shocking of all is the photo of Barnes’ chest we see later. There is no sucking chest wound. There is nothing that would have required someone to apply pressure to a wound. There is nothing that could have caused such intense pain Barnes recounts. To this day the Rhode Island Hospital records of Barnes’ injuries are off-limits.
Det. David Brown
Dolan interviews Detective David Brown four days after the shooting, again audio-only. Brown contradicts Barnes’ testimony about seeing the unholstering of the knife. Brown says Barnes immediately grabs him and drives him into the building. Then Gracia “controls” Barnes and stabs him twice. Now Brown says Barnes is in shock, white as a ghost, surprised at events.
Brisson asks how it is possible that a 200-pound, 5’11” detective with two hands could be controlled by a 5’8″ 150-pound kid with one hand on his shoulder. And why doesn’t Brown either Tase or shoot Gracia, given that he has just purportedly stabbed Barnes? And why would Barnes be surprised, given that he had just assaulted a kid?
Brisson again questions the pauses in the interrogations, the hints, the guided testimony, the lack of video, the “clarifications” and the leading questions. Brisson finds the interrogation totally biased. No tough questions are asked.
Det. Trevor Sylvia
Before encountering Barnes, Detective Sylvia recounts Gracia running. Barnes is running to intercept Gracia, then Gracia turns around, fumbling in his waistband for something. Sylvia does not pull his own weapon and warn Gracia. Dolan asks Sylvia if anyone has issued verbal commands, and Sylvia answers “no.” Barnes catches up with Gracia and tackles him from the side and pushes him into the house. Then Sylvia says he hears someone say “he’s got a knife” —- which contradicts both Brown and Barnes. Sylvia also reports Gracia switching to his non-dominant hand after attacking Barnes.
Det. Paul Fonseca
Paul Fonseca is the officer who shoots Gracia through the head. He claims not to know if Barnes has grabbed Gracia (despite the running tackle Sylvia describes). Fonseca claims Barnes pushes him with his shoulders into the building as Gracia tries to control him. Brisson asks why the Asst. DA, DA Sutter, Sergeant Dolan, and others have failed to ask if Gracia himself may have felt threatened. After all, Gracia is the one initially assaulted. Fonseca says Gracia was grabbing Barnes by the back of the head. Brisson asks how this is possible, given the difference in height and physical build between Barnes and Gracia, and why the location (head/shoulders) is not consistent in the testimonies.
Postmortem Trial by Press
An EMS report mentions a “sucking chest wound” and WBZ and CBS dutifully report “serious life-threatening injuries.” As we see, the extent of Barnes’ injuries (if any) are exaggerated and the demonization of Gracia by Gracia’s former teacher Nick Baptiste becomes fodder for news articles. Sutter’s report also exaggerates the threat Gracia posed and omits mention of the Taser. The press loves pictures of Gracia’s knife, a scary-looking fish gutting hook. The press also indulges in arm-chair psychology, imagining what on earth drove a crazed teen killer to try to go out in a blaze of glory, taking as many cops with him as possible. Such demonization, as we have seen in many police shootings around the country, is either launched by the police or the press. Take your pick.
Interrogator Dolan asks Barnes’ lawyer Gambaccini for a description of his injuries —- no one apparently ever looked at RI Hospital records and it is now subject to a gag order. The question of whose blood is on the knife was never answered as no one ever tested the knife. Under his T-shirt, Barnes was wearing a white muscle shirt. There was no blood on it. A photo of Barnes’ torso shows a small 1cm superficial scratch. Barnes didn’t need stitches or trauma treatment. He got two percosets and ibuprofen. Barnes was cleared to go home without restriction. He arrived in the hospital at 9pm. He was cleared by doctors by 11:43pm. X-rays ruled out pneumothorax involvement. Barnes was observed overnight. No antibiotics were administered. He got a tetanus shot. Vital signs were normal. Barnes had previously been taking prednisone, percosets, and valium for a “back injury.” He was discharged at 5:12am. Barnes’ toxicology screen, which Brisson had to fight to obtain, revealed benzodiazepine and opiates. Valium lowers inhibitions, Brisson points out. Prescriptions written by Barnes’ doctor were never delivered to Superior Court —- in violation of a subpoena.
DA Sutter’s report never mentions Barnes’ toxicology screen —- but he managed to cite the marijuana in Gracia’s system.
This is what police claim is the injury caused by Malcolm Gracia repeatedly stabbing Detective Tyson Barnes with a fishing knife.
Medical Record requests by Brisson
Despite police and EMS concern for Barnes’ injuries —- they considered medevac at one point —- Brisson ask why EMS didn’t stop at Charlton or St. Anne’s if Barnes’ injuries were truly life-threatening. Both hospitals were closer.
An animation depicts the improbable 20 foot distance that Barnes fell back, at least according to his follow detectives’ accounts. The animation also raises questions about why no one tried to stop Gracia. And it reveals discrepancies in the location of shell casings found at the scene.
After being “stabbed” Officer Barnes stumbled back … back … back … 20 feet.
After the killing Barnes went out on disability for a non-injury.
The Restraining Order
Brisson raises the issue of Barnes’ mental health and behavior.
It turns out that Barnes, in addition to having questionable drugs in his system at the time of the shooting, has a restraining order requiring his weapon to be confiscated.
The restraining order is not found in his personnel file. Brisson asks why the NBPD didn’t ask for Barnes’ weapon. Brisson had to fight for discovery of injury, drug, and personnel records on Barnes, which it turns out strongly call his conduct in question. Brisson asks why Sutter didn’t drag Barnes through the same mud as he did Gracia?
Barnes apparently received explicit photos from another officer’s wife or girlfriend at one point. He met with the officer regarding his dispute at a city Burger King and allegedly threatened to shoot the other officer. Then-Police Chief Teachman gave Barnes a one-day suspension —- which then-Mayor Scott Lang simply voided.
Like so many similar cases around the country, both the City and the PD knew they had a “bad apple” long before he was involved in a police killing.
The New Bedford Commission on Police Use of Force Policies just issued its four-and-a-half page 60-day findings. Aside from three pages of bureaucratic blather about its mandate and a rather defensive section on its compliance with Open Meeting laws, the report was short on both analysis and prescription. The only real substance to be found was on the last page and a half. And it was a major disappointment for anyone expecting a good-faith effort by the Mayor to address police misconduct.
The report completely dismisses police accountability. According to the report, headed up by Commission Chair Brian Gomes, there appears to already be adequate accountability for police officers:
The NBPD “use of force” policies guide officers in performance and behavior. When an officer violates any of those policies, he/she is held accountable through the department’s governing Rules & Regulations. Disciplinary action ranges from counseling to termination. The department receives an average of 60 complaints a year. Reports of violations can come from both inside and outside of the department.
No, the real problem, judging by the inordinate focus on the topic, is lack of training. Training has become the “go-to” prescription for “doing something” that everyone can get behind: the public thinks the problem is being addressed and the police get more money.
Here are the Commission’s thoughts on training:
Training of the NBPD
The Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC) provides a 6-month training program for new police recruits that translates into 800+ hours. The program is organized into three (I-III) volumes with multiple subtopics and covers 21st century policing best practices with specific emphasis on the following core principles: problem solving, procedural justice, ethical decision making, and fair and impartial policing.
MPTC training (which includes New Bedford police officers) is in the top 20% when it comes to numbers of hours trained across the country. At the MPTC academy, they learn state laws, criminal investigations, patrol procedures, firearms training, traffic control, defensive driving, self-defense, first aid and computer skills. Police academy recruits also undertake physical training and fieldwork that demonstrates their comprehension of classroom instruction. Field exercises include investigating mock criminal scenes, directing traffic, operating police vehicles, arrest techniques, using firearms, fingerprinting and interrogation methods.
Once an officer is on the job at the NBPD, he/she does a week of in-house NBPD training at HQ before he/she serves 30-days with a veteran officer. At that point it is determined if the Officer is ready to be added to the rotation.
Officers are required by state statue to also undergo 40 hours of In-Service Training annually. The agenda of this training is set by the MPTC (Municipal Police Training Committee) and the MA Chiefs of Police. Topics that are mandatory every year are Legal updates (both Criminal Law and Motor Vehicle Law), Use of Force/Defensive Tactics, and CPR & 1st Responder. Topics that are additionally added are usually based on the landscape of what is going on in policing that we need additional training on or what is new in policing. During the past 2-3 years topics have included Fair & Impartial Policing, Officer Wellness & Suicide Prevention, Active Shooter Response, Dealing with Alzheimer issues, conducting Cruelty to Animal Investigations and responding to calls from those experiencing a mental health crisis, Alzheimer’s, Autism, other cognitive conditions and disabilities.
In light of the events of 2020, the MPTC is currently in discussions about additional training that can be brought in at the state level. This will include officers of the New Bedford Police Department.
The 2020-2021 schedule is not quite completed, but discussions are centering around additional training in de-escalation, Integrating Communication, Assessment and Tactics (ICAT), Racial Profiling, Cultural Competency, Effective Communication and LGBTQ Rights. This Commission has discussed the importance of including trainings on unconscious bias, racial justice and racial equity along with other programs to address the needs of diverse communities who are experiencing oppression.
Tactical de-escalation involves the use of techniques to reduce the intensity of an encounter with a subject/suspect and enable an officer to have additional options to gain voluntary compliance or to mitigate the need to use a higher level of force, while still maintaining control of the situation. The goal of de-escalation is to avoid a violent encounter with the key elements of de-escalation techniques being for officers to create distance, take time and use shielding. Throughout the summer, the Commission has repeatedly discussed the topic of de-escalation. Currently, the Commission is in the process of writing recommendations to further articulate and strengthen de-escalation language in the NBPD Use of Force Policies. The main learning objective of de-escalation training is to provide police officers with an organized way of making decisions about how they will act in any situation, including situations that may involve uses of force. Effects on the Decision-Making Process, Officer Safety While De-Escalating, Situational Awareness and tactical repositioning.
Remarkably, the Commission mentions no consequences for officers failing to use their shiny new training.
Other than this, the Commission could not come to any other conclusions — even after a raucous public meeting at which community members demanded that the Commission consider an independent police review commission and create meaningful accountability measures. In fact, the Commission’s report doesn’t even acknowledge any of these concerns — concerns which the Commission from the outset rejected as being beyond the scope of its mandate but which would do much to prevent chronic abuse of force:
To date, the Commission has reviewed data on public complaints of police abuse or use of force. The data has included the race of the complainant when known. The Commission has not yet determined which recommendations it will make and present to the Mayor. This will only occur after full deliberation of the Commission on each recommendation being considered.
There is a link to a form the public can use to comment on the Commission’s 60-day results.
But why bother?
Mayor Jon Mitchell has already accomplished what he set out to do — to blunt public demand for police accountability in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and to soften renewed demands to revisit the Malcolm Gracia case he himself was involved with. The public shouldn’t expect any more than this from Mitchell.