UNFIT FOR DUTY
SPECIAL REPORT: Can we get better at policing the police?
Part 9: Experts say it'll take tighter rules for investigation and enforcement
Published: Sunday, December 18, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
A 19-member criminal justice standards and training commission panel listens to law enforcement officers plead their cases on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011at the Hyatt Regency in Tampa. (Herald-Tribune archive / Craig Litten)
Florida's laws are among the best in the nation for dealing with officer misconduct.
Its results are not.
Florida's ability to police itself has been undermined at every level, a Herald-Tribune investigation found. Local agencies ignore reporting requirements and have not faced penalties when caught. Political considerations infiltrate a commission that was designed to protect the public. And repeat offenders have been allowed to beat the system, stay on the job and tarnish the credibility of Florida's entire corps of officers.
The system can be improved by tightening the rules for investigating and punishing misconduct and changing the people who enforce those rules, say law enforcement standards experts, academics, former police officers and internal affairs detectives who spoke to the newspaper for this series.
One of those people was Roger Goldman, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law who is recognized as a national authority on police standards in America.
"I wouldn't say the law in Florida is perfect," Goldman said. "Clearly, there are holes. But you also have to question what's being done with those laws. How are they being enforced?"
Goldman and others identified flaws and suggested a variety of fixes to the system:
REMAKE THE STATE PANEL THAT DISCIPLINES POLICE
In the last decade, Florida's two law enforcement unions used their political influence to gain sway over the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, which is responsible for officer certification.
The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training advises that "expertise in office" should be the overriding factor when deciding who sits on an oversight panel "so that it will not be used solely as a source of political patronage and so that it will not be unduly susceptible to political coercion."
nPolitical factors can be minimized if union executives and its elected leaders are not allowed to serve on the commission and by preventing anyone holding such a position from serving on the commission in the future. Those roles make them political figures whose constituency is its union members — not Florida's citizens.
In addition, the positions on the panel reserved for officers ranked sergeant or below, sheriffs and police chiefs can be split so there is an equal number from union and non-union agencies represented.
nAdopt a law similar to the one in Missouri, which requires that the citizen on its disciplinary commission be a registered voter who has never been a law officer, is not a law officer's spouse and has never had "material financial interest" in law enforcement. Currently, the "Florida citizen" chair on the commission is filled by Ernie George, former president of the Police Benevolent Association.
EXPAND FDLE AUTHORITY
Working behind the scenes of the commission are 10 civilian staff members with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who process about 1,000 misconduct cases a year.
In most cases, these staffers with the Professional Compliance division review "moral character violations" — completed law enforcement investigations that result in a substantiated act of serious misconduct. Staffers make disciplinary recommendations to the commission based on established guidelines.
•Current rules limit the amount of information available to commission, preventing a full picture of the officer's career. Prior misconduct can be discounted if there was no discipline or the commission found no probable cause.
Experts say the commission would have a more complete picture of an officer's fitness if the FDLE had a summary of an officer's entire misconduct history, including unsubstantiated cases, when it reviews moral character violations.
•The FDLE has the authority to audit agencies to ensure that misconduct cases are reported to the state, but FDLE officials say they do not have the staff to conduct audits. If the state mandated audits, experts say more misconduct cases would be reported and repeat offenders might be identified before they can offend again.
In addition, the state already has the authority to discipline sheriffs and police chiefs who repeatedly violate reporting laws. Goldman said agency heads should face punishment as severe as decertification in egregious circumstances.
REDUCE ROADBLOCKS ON INVESTIGATIONS
Florida law enforcement officers have extraordinary protections during misconduct investigations, which is important considering they are often the target of false allegations.
However, some of the new protections won by law enforcement unions stifle investigations of legitimate complaints.
•The requirement that internal affairs investigations must conclude in 180 days forces some investigations to end before all the facts are known. Investigations are often delayed when victims or witnesses of misconduct are difficult to locate, or when they are reluctant to speak with police because they face criminal charges and fear of reprisal.
•The "recantation" rule, adopted in 2010, allows an officer to lie under oath and not face discipline for perjury or false statements as long as he or she tells the truth before the investigation ends.
•Send any potential criminal cases involving officer misconduct to a state attorney outside of the jurisdiction where that officer works to prevent conflicts of interest.
The working relationship between a state attorney and the local law enforcement agencies is typically tense, with pressure exerted from both sides. It creates at least the appearance of a conflict of interest when a state attorney does not pursue a case because the defendant is a police officer — a courtesy not afforded to the general public.
The Herald-Tribune found several cases that prosecutors dismissed even when they were presented with credible evidence from other officers. In Opa-Locka, officers heard a smack and a man crying after Sgt. German Bosque reportedly head-butted him; in Escambia County, other deputies questioned why Norman Frye used his Taser on a teenage girl in custody.
Prosecutors declined to charge either officer.
•Retain internal affairs investigations as long as the officer maintains an active law enforcement certificate and for 10 years more.
Currently, Florida law allows for the destruction of unsubstantiated disciplinary cases after one year and sustained cases after five. Some agencies keep the records indefinitely. Others, like the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, have contracts with the union that force them to dispose of records as soon as the law allows.
Keeping the records allows internal affairs investigators to spot "patterns of behavior," as in the case of Officer William Shamp. Investigators found Shamp made inappropriate sexual remarks to a 15-year-old girl while on duty with the Flagler Beach Police Department in 1992. Shamp was fired but later rehired by the same agency.
Then in 2004, another 15-year-old girl said Shamp molested her in her home.
Investigators in that case reviewed the 1992 report and found a number of similarities between the two girls' stories. The detectives said the pattern of behavior helped them conclude the 2004 act occurred.
In the latter case, records show the girl was "terrified of retaliation" and did not want to go through a criminal trial. Prosecutors declined to pursue charges against Shamp "even though the State Attorney's Office believed that the incident occurred."
He is currently a Flagler Beach police officer
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