Thursday, February 25, 2010

Means "Who Polices the Police?"

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, courtesy of

Police supervisor pleads guilty in Danziger
Bridge probe; plea deal blows case wide open

Retired New Orleans police Lt. Michael Lohman has pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Danziger Bridge shootings, which left two people dead and four others injured after police fired on a group of civilians trapped in the submerged city days after Hurricane Katrina.

Two men -- Ronald Madison, 40, who was mentally challenged, and James Brissette, 19 -- were killed. The survivors included a husband and wife, their two teenage children and a nephew.

Lohman, who helped orchestrate an elaborate cover-up of the crime, supervised the investigation and was at the scene on Sept. 4, 2005, according to an 11-page bill of information unsealed today.

According to the document, Lohman was aware that a subordinate planted a gun at the scene. He also wrote a 17-page police report full of lies about the incident and encouraged officers at the scene to remove shell casings.


Yeah yeah, I know, it was crazy in the week after Katrina.

But this is waaay fucked up. Indeed, the officers who were actually involved in the shootings, and by "shootings" I mean "murders," had their charges dismissed in 2008 due to prosecutorial misconduct. This plea deal may very well be the legal grease needed to open up a new prosecution. And that, at least, is a good thing.

More generally, this is an extreme example of what happens everyday. That is, police organizational cultures, nationwide, with their hyper-masculinity, intense authoritarianism, and us-versus-them attitudes, actually make incidents like the Danziger Bridge case likely. I mean, sure, the NOPD has a reputation for being among the worst in the nation in terms of corruption and misconduct, but that, in itself, doesn't make them simply a bunch of "bad apples." Just do a Google search for "police brutality" or "police corruption" or "police misconduct." You'll get hundreds of recently written hits from legitimate news sources. This is all over the place: the wild West situation in New Orleans right after Katrina simply exposed the worst of what had been lurking there, indeed everywhere, already. The entire idea of policing in the US lays the attitudinal foundation for badge-and-gun despotism, and all it needs is a crisis of some sort to be unleashed.

Perhaps the pre-existing condition of extreme urban despair in the Crescent City is the soft-touch crisis that gave NOLA cops their bad rep in the first place--I mean, suburban cops don't have to be brutal; they're in relative heaven. But trust me, this could happen anywhere under the right circumstances.

And it doesn't have to be that way. Organizational cultures can and do change. All that's needed is the will to make it happen. Unfortunately, it appears that virtually no one is talking about police misconduct in terms of culture. I don't expect law enforcement Nirvana to happen anytime soon.