Insider-Only Hiring of Police Chiefs May Violate Civil Rights Law, Officials Say

ProPublica and Boston’s legendary PBS station WBUR have a piece up about a problem I didn’t even know existed: state and local laws which require police forces to hire new police chiefs from within the often scandal-plagued departments they will lead.

With police departments facing demands for reform nationwide, some experts say that one way to address problems such as racial discrimination, poor training or use of excessive force is to bring in an outsider. But Revere’s mayor, Arrigo, didn’t have that option. In 2017, he tried to change the ordinance so he could look at external candidates, but he was rebuffed by the city council.

“We absolutely welcome the help of [U.S. Attorney] Rachael Rollins to make these changes going forward,” Arrigo said in a statement to WBUR. “I have been and always will be in support of this change and am willing to work with anyone able to provide help and guidance. The work of improving a toxic police department culture cannot be done alone.”

It’s not known exactly how many cities and towns around the country are constrained to choose police chiefs who already work in the department. In New Jersey, state law requires most municipalities to choose a chief from the ranks. The city of Bakersfield, California, will hold a ballot referendum this November on whether to remove its insiders-only requirement. Bakersfield agreed to the referendum as part of a settlement with the California state Department of Justice, which had been investigating alleged civil rights abuses by city police officers. In 2020, after a sweeping overtime pay scam that implicated more than 45 troopers, the Massachusetts legislature dropped a requirement that the head of the state police be hired from within.

Police unions and local elected officials often support these insider-only ordinances to reward veterans of the force for their service and to keep political allies close. Brandon Buskey, head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project in New York, said that these requirements should be abolished because they limit cities from finding the most qualified candidates for chief, but that unions are standing in the way.

“That’s a problem that really is national in scale because we see police unions and the lobbying effort of police groups being used to really thwart necessary reforms in so many jurisdictions,” he said.

This is just crazy, but it just goes to show you how elected officials often claim to support good policing, but then go along with corrupt police unions in passing laws which virtually guarantee the opposite. These laws also maintain the racial status quo for majority Caucasian police departments.

You can read the rest of the ProPublica article at this link.

U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said that rules like Revere’s that require hiring police chiefs from within are “ridiculous” and may limit the diversity of the candidate pool. Credit: Jesse Costa/WBUR

Why are black men killed by police for doing nothing, while white kids with assault rifles are led away peacefully?

The Associated Press has a story up which addresses this enduring mystery:

When police confronted the white man suspected of killing 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket, he was the very poster boy for armed and dangerous, carrying an AR-15-style rifle and cloaked in body armor and hatred.

Yet officers talked to Payton Gendron, convinced him to put down his weapon and arrested him without firing a single shot. Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia that day cited their training and called it “a tremendous act of bravery.”

In a country where Black people have been killed in encounters with police over minor traffic infractions, or no infractions at all, though, it’s raised the question: Where is that training, that determined following of protocol, when it comes to them?

“It’s important to emphasize this is not about why aren’t police killing white supremacist terrorists. It’s why can’t that same restraint and control be applied to a situation involving an unarmed Black person?” Civil Rights lawyer Qasim Rashid.

The AP article continues:

Martìn Sabelli, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said historically there has been a racial divide in the U.S. that affects every aspect of the criminal legal process.

“The perception of racism is perpetuated because it’s rooted in a reality,” Sabelli said, noting the impact of implicit bias on policing has been studied extensively. “We are unfortunately in the process of trying to reverse decades or even longer of explicit racism in many police departments around the country and that is often aggravated by implicit bias that exists at a subconscious level. And unfortunately it taints these encounters by subconsciously making officers believe a person of color is more dangerous than a white person.”

Frank Straub, director of the National Policing Institute Center for Targeted Violence Prevention, said he hoped there’s a rethinking of how police respond to situations, in the wake of what the public has seen of disparate treatment in recent years.

“Maybe the fact that these videos are out there … hopefully that now is impacting how officers are being trained to respond to arrest situations,” he said.

That word “hopefully” is doing a lot of heavy lifting, when instead we should be toughening laws about the use of deadly force by police, and passing new laws regarding police officers who fail to report abuses.

Mural portrait of George Floyd by Eme Street Art in Mauerpark (Berlin, Germany) Wikimedia Commons.