A Policeman’s Lot Is Not A Happyor EasyOne
December 15, 2007
by Joseph P. Tartaro
There seems to be no easy way to deal with problems that arise in law enforcement administration.
When problems arise, the public feels abused. But so do members of the law enforcement community, especially if ordered to do things that are not by the book. Try as they might to understand the circumstances that led to a particularly unwelcome incident report, the good guys on a police force have to deal with both an unhappy public and incompetent or over-aggressive fellow officers and/or bullying administrators.
Let’s look at some recent news reports.
With complaints on the rise in recent months about alleged police brutality in the city of Newburgh, NY, the department will be the first in the country to deploy a new-age digital device, according to an Oct. 30 Mid-Hudson News Network report.
Called the Pistol-Cam, it was developed by Legend Technologies of Keesville, NY, and is likely to be added to the equipment of officers in other cities soon.
The device will be affixed to a firearmbe it a handgun or long gunand it will snap into action whenever that gun is deployed, said Pistol-Cam CEO Terry Gordon, who was in Newburgh to demonstrate the device.
“When a law enforcement officer draws their weapon, it automatically begins to take an MPEG4 digital video with sound,” he said. It is also equipped with an illuminator and a laser sight.
Newburgh Police Chief Eric Paolilli first said the new device, which would be funded through a state grant “will enable us to better our cooperation and interaction with the city of Newburgh community.”
Later reports indicate that Newburgh might not be able to afford the device, although other communities might adopt it.
Missing NFA Weapons
Just a little way up the Hudson River from Newburgh, the Albany Police Department is wracked with a scandal over an arsenal of full auto firearms illegally purchased by dozens of officers in the mid-1990s.
According to The Albany Times Union, city police officials wrote a letter to the federal government four years ago saying the department had lost 12 machineguns that were purchased for the personal use of officers contrary to federal law.
The letter, which was sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Washington, DC, was signed by then-Police Chief Robert Wolfgang.
That letter confirmed that top city police officials knew how many of the National Firearms Act (NFA) weapons had been secretly obtained through the department, and how many were gone. It also raised questions about why current Chief James W. Tuffey has made inconsistent statements about the issue at two recent City Council committee meetings.
But they didn’t resolve the problem or assure the city fathers that all of the NFA guns had been accounted for. The Times Union cited earlier police reports that claimed some 42 full autos had been destroyed in noting that no one could really pin down the number of so-called assault weapons purchased for personal use by police officers.
The story spans the tenures of three police chiefs, and there are indications that at some point, a chief or two may have also purchased and owned such guns.
This is an ongoing story about which more is likely to be revealed later. In the meanwhile, it must have individual culprits sweating and fellow officers embarrassed as all get out.
Troopers Kill Dog
Pennsylvania State Police shot a family’s fenced-in dog to death on Nov. 13, according to NBC 10 News.
Troopers later admitted they weren’t supposed to be in that yard in the first place.
State troopers were in the neighborhood, trying to serve a warrant on someone. They sent a couple of extra troopers around to guard the back door. Those officers, however, cut through a neighbor’s yard, and that’s when they came across Sheeba, a very protective family dog, NBC 10’s Tim Furlong reported.
A trooper said the dog bit him, which led to the shooting. Later, a state police lieutenant admitted to the TV station that the trooper should never have cut through the yard in the first place. He said the troopers never saw or heard the dog in the yard but that, either way, troopers are not supposed to cut through private property to serve out a warrant at another house.
State police said they do apologize and will compensate the family for their loss.
Raids on the wrong premises are not all that uncommon, usually the result of poor intelligence and supervision of the officers given the assignment. In some cases the mistakes are costly.
In a recent example, an elderly Hawaiian couple were baby-sitting their grandchildren when police mistook their home for a drug dealer’s residence; what followed lead to a $325,000 settlement, according to The Garden Island newspaper in Kauai, HI.
Police had been tracking a package that allegedly contained 11 pounds of marijuana that had been picked up at the Koloa post office by a man who was driving a Toyota truck on Mar. 15, 2005, according to court documents.
Though police followed the truck first on a major highway and then onto a private road with seven houses, when the transmitter inside the box went off indicating the package had been opened, police had lost visual contact with the vehicle.
That’s when, without a warrant authorizing entrance into the home of William and Sharon McCulley, but rather with an “anticipatory search warrant” that authorized them to search any property where the marijuana was transported, police entered their home.
Though the Toyota truck and the transported box weren’t at the McCulley’s home, police then threw Sharon McCulley on the ground next to her grandchild and handcuffed her. Her husband, William, who has a severe nerve disorder and uses a walker and leg brace, was also ordered to lie on the ground. Unable to do so quickly because of his disability, he was thrown to the floor by an officer, and his implanted electronic shocking device to alleviate pain malfunctioned causing him to convulse.
In addition, their suit alleged that police not only failed to ensure they were entering the right home authorized by the warrant, but also committed assault and battery, trespassing, and negligently inflicted serious emotional distress.
According to court records, the box that was picked up at the Koloa post office by David Hibbitt, who drove away in a Toyota truck, was in a home about two houses down from the residence inhabited by the McCulleys. The three residents of that home, including Hibbitt were eventually arrested on drug-related charges in the case.
Hoboken PD’s Problems
From back on the East Coast comes the story of the recently-disbanded Hoboken, NJ, police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit, which was broken up after higher authorities got hold of some questionable photographs showing the cops having a hoot with Hooters waitresses in Louisiana and Alabama following Hurricane Katrina.
The SWAT team had gone there in the hurricane’s aftermath to help restore order, but wound up in a bit of disorder themselves, according to The Jersey Journal. They reportedly allowed the Hooters waitresses to hold their weapons during the photo activity.
While the SWAT unit was disbanded, the newspaper said, the cops are still on the job, continuing their “normal duties,” whatever that means. It probably does not include business checks at any Garden State Hooters restaurants!
The revelations about the SWAT team’s Hooters escapade surfaced as a result of a lawsuit filed by four Latino Hoboken cops who accused their former SWAT team commander of ordering them to perform manual labor at his house or the home of the police chief. The four officers have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury on Dec. 18.