21 August 2007

Bad Cops In Denver

There is a place for unions in our economy. The place for unions is to maintain decent working conditions, to get a fair share of the enterprise's revenues for workers, to protect employees from unjust employee discipline, and to lobby politically for the political interests of workers.

But, I draw the line at aggressive efforts to protect employees who are public menance or pose a danger to general public from discipline or termination. As the Denver Post reports, and I can corroborate from having followed the issues for a decade, the Denver Police Protective Association, which is the police union in Denver, is an abomination of a union that has declared war on the ordinary people of Denver by protecting bad cops.

Mayor Hickenlooper's safety manager, Al LaCabe, deserves kudos for standing up to the insanity that the Denver Police Protective Association has insisted upon by using the Denver Civil Service Commission to force the city to impose ridiculously lenient discipline on bad cops in the name of "comparative discipline." While, it is late in coming, LaCabe is entirely reasonable in proposing that police offers face "presumptive termination" for "most police officers who break the law, 'depart from the truth' during investigations, commit sexual misconduct or improperly use force when they kill a suspect, under a draft proposal to overhaul Denver's discipline system for police." He has it right, in particular, when he states that:

Discipline for police has to reflect the values and priorities of the department, which also must reflect the values and priorities of the whole external culture.

and that

The best way is to notify an officer before an event happens as to what will be the likely penalty.

Firing someone whom the city suspects of being a bad cop shouldn't require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and it shouldn't tolerate behavior that may not even rise to the level of criminality, if it shows bad judgment or a temperment ill suited to the job.

The Denver Post article on Sunday, looking at some of the bad cops the city has tolerated over the past decade, shows just how deeply flawed the system is right now. For example:

The Denver police force includes an officer found to have held a cocked gun to his wife's head, another who pushed a pregnant teen into concrete stairs, then placed his knee on her belly, and another with 21 disciplinary actions against him and 50 total complaints. . . .

At least 25 officers remained on the force from January 1997 through September 2006 after they were punished for what the department calls "departure from the truth." In some other police departments, such a complaint, if sustained, can lead to immediate dismissal because it can be used by defense lawyers in criminal cases to challenge an officer's court testimony.

And the force also has persistent repeat offenders. Of 16 officers with 10 or more sustained complaints against them in the time period, only one has been fired. Three of those repeat offenders resigned, and one retired during that time.

It is a crying shame that we keep rogue cops on the streets. It undermines public confidence in the force. It hurts the ability of the police to convict criminals in court. It causes the community to refuse to cooperate with the police. And, it breeds cynicism about the system and undermines the rule of law. It is corruption by another name. Police misconduct is no myth. It happens here in Denver, the City knowns about it, and it is encouraged as a policy matter by the City through a systematic proces of giving bad cops slaps on the wrist instead of stern discipline.

It isn't even a matter of justice for workers. There are plenty of honest, qualified people in Colorado who want to be police officers. But, every bad cop on the force reduces the number of honest rookies who can be hired to replace their dead weight. Every bad cop the city shelters steals of decent job from someone who actually deserves one.

I hope that Chris Nevitt and Paul Lopez, the two new labor backed candidates on City Council, have the good sense to take the Denver Police Protective Association to the woodshed and wake them up to the fact that they are shooting themselves in the foot and endangering the bulk of the 1,400 cops on the street in the city by standing up for a few dozen bad cops, so that a deal can be brokered with a minimum of fuss.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you, and would like to point out that this is a problem in education as well as the teacher's unions make it incredibly difficult to fire bad teachers as well. Check out the number of teachers (in the union) let go in Colorado in the past few years

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

FWIW, City Councilman Nevitt (who is the councilman for my district) advised me that he spent a considerable amount of time yesterday working with the union to develop a compromise with the City and is actively involved in the process.

He also discussed the good faith fear of the union that the city proposed compromise may go farther than billed by allowing any punishment by management for any disciplinary infraction.

But, he did acknowledge that some of the eggregious cases mentioned in the paper were pretty distasteful.

Anonymous said...

Andy, we disagree on many points often, it seems but I sure as hell agree with you 100% on the entirety of this post. DITTO and well written. PeteSmith