Cop Hell

City Hall created its own fine mess in the police department

The city hires good cops, too, but that's only because good people are attracted to police work. The city then does those good cops a serious disservice by doing nothing to convey a sense of mission or an ongoing ethical culture to them. The worst thing in both analyses--the consultant study and the David Davis analysis--is the ridiculously low standard of training.

Take how to shoot a gun, for instance. That's a pretty basic cop skill, isn't it? According to the Berkshire report, the police academy regularly graduates hundreds of cops who can't shoot straight. Then in later years when they all come back to the firing range for "re-certification," hundreds of them, not surprisingly, fail to re-qualify.

So the department puts them through "remedial" training on how to shoot a gun. But a goodly number of officers flunk the remedial course on how to shoot a gun as well. So the department puts them through "intensive remedial training." Some of them flunk even that. So the department has what is called the "shoot until you pass" program.

Makes me feel like high-steppin' every time I see blue.

The report suggests that normally one reason to bring people to a police firing range for testing is to weed out the wall-eyes, palsies, twitches and jake-legs who have a penchant for wild shots. What you're supposed to do, the report says, is tell those individuals that they cannot be police officers. Nicely, of course, but like, "PUT THE WEAPON DOWN NOW!"

Dallas sends them back to the street. With weapons.

The remarkable thing about the analysis produced by Davis is that it makes all these same points but is supported by testimony from departmental officials in sworn depositions.

Roper was famous in the late '90s at the Northwest Substation for racking up an amazing number of drug arrests--way over the average. It was like a bass tournament in which he routinely brought in four times everybody else's weight. Of course it came out later--Roper himself admits in one of the depositions in this case--that he did it by cheating.

But when Curlin's lawyers asked Roper's lieutenant at Northwest if it had ever occurred to him to look into how Roper was doing it or to offer Roper any guidance, the lieutenant testified, "Officer Roper never indicated that need for supervision."

In fact what Davis proves in his web of depositions is that this police department hires with very low standards and then operates without any responsible system of training or supervision. It's not just that some cops can't shoot straight. Some of them don't know the law. Nobody tells 'em.

And that's why the city had to pay off in the Curlin case. I believe the city was afraid that Curlin's lawyers were about to show that Maples and Roper, far from being rogue cops, were exactly the kind of cops the Dallas Police Department cranks out on an entirely predictable and regular basis. Proving that would have pierced the shield of qualified immunity and made the city liable for damages.

It's the city's fault--and the city can be made to pay--if the city causes injustice to occur by failing to put in place the proper policies and practices. If the Curlin case had gone to court and Davis had pierced the shield, damages in the fake drugs cases would go to the stratosphere. Which very possibly may still happen.

One of the most striking things about Biederman's stories in the Observeron Maples and Roper four years ago is the complete lack of interest shown by the police department in the allegations of widespread corruption that Maples made after he broke. Maples described an entire culture of sleaze, law-breaking and brutality among certain cops.

Not all cops. I was struck by something else Maples said last year in a deposition for the Curlin case: "It was like a dividing line," he said. "Half the officers, you know, would hang around Roper, because he generated activity, and the other half wouldn't want anything to do with him."

He talked about the good cops, the ones who go by the book no matter what anybody else says or does. But it's clear from the Davis analysis and the consultant's study, as well as from Biederman's stories and later coverage in the Observerby Thomas Korosec, that those good cops go by the book as a matter of personal commitment, dignity, decency and pride, without one shred of support from this department or this city.

We have a new chief. A new day. A new chance to fix it. But he's going to have to fire people and kick ass. And if we have a single brain in our collective head, we'll support him when he does it. Or we may all wind up taking a stray bullet on this.

If do you get stopped in the meantime, look for tremors.

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