Are staffing shortages and unmet recruiting goals a reason to overlook gang affiliations?
One Connecticut police department is doing exactly that by defending the hiring of an officer who was identified in background checks as someone who associated with known gang members and displayed gang-affiliated hand signals.
New Haven police issued a statement saying that the discovery was made after the officer’s employment with Connecticut’s Department of Correction began and during a background check as he went through the process to become a city officer.
While the officer’s name was not released, Chief Otoniel Reyes said the officer underwent a “laborious and intensive background check, psychological examination, drug test and polygraph test.”
Former Chief Anthony Campbell did NOT think the officer was a suitable candidate for hire, but the Board of Police Commissioners approved the hire.
Reyes said the officer is currently a member of the department in good standing.
But what if it is more than one gang member? What if it is an entire gang imbedded inside an agency, actively recruiting from within?
LET dealt with that question in an article in July.
The law enforcement community is simply a microcosm of our greater society. The problems and issues we see in our communities will most likely be present in police departments, sheriff’s offices and federal agencies. Issues include, alcoholism, drug use, abuse, theft, suicide and yes, even murder. But among the things that should never be present at any level, much less at a larger degree, is gang membership and activity.
It is that very alleged activity that has led the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to launch a probe into multiple gangs hidden within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The Banditos, Spartans, Regulators, and Reapers are literal gangs that are claimed to exist within the Los Angeles law enforcement agency. The investigation started after allegations of abuse by the Banditos in March.
All members of the Banditos have tattoos of a skeleton wearing a sombrero, bandolier, and pistol. Allegations against these deputies include using gang tactics to recruit young Latino deputies, and punishing those who reject their advances with physical attacks.
An unidentified source told the Los Angeles Times that FBI agents:
“are trying to determine whether leaders of the Banditos require or encourage aspiring members to commit criminal acts, such as planting evidence or writing false incident reports, to secure membership in the group.”
Four deputies were put on paid leave following the aforementioned allegations. Sheriff Alex Villanueva minimized the danger, calling the gangs a “cultural norm,” and believes that any problems with these types of activities were eliminated as a result of previous investigations.
Cultural norm? Gang activity is being explained away as a cultural norm? I grew up in west Texas. Our cultural norms were things like listening to country music, going to church on Sundays and high school football on Friday nights. Never was violence inside of law enforcement simply explained away as a cultural norm. Law enforcement officials are held to a higher standard, and cannot simply sweep things under the rug.
In the last decade, there have been accusations against ‘gang member’ deputies of police brutality, even breaking the bones of suspects in their custody as an initiation ritual, allowing the deputies to be deemed worthy of their inclusion.” Sheriff Villanueva has chalked that fault up to previous leadership, saying the gangs “ran roughshod” over past sheriffs.
The latest allegations stemmed from a party last September. New deputies working in East L.A. were celebrating the completion of their probationary period with the department.
It was at the end of this party when several veteran deputies showed up that things went south.
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According to legal documents filed against the county by seven deputies, the men belonged to the Banditos.
The claims are a precursor to a civil suit, which will seek tens of millions of dollars from the county for failing to address the hostile work environment the Banditos are alleged to have created.
The evening in question ended in violence when the Banditos are accused of attacking several of the new deputies. One rookie said he was thrown to the ground and punched in the face before being knocked unconscious. Another recalled being choked to the point of passing out.
“This is not just a case about beating up a handful of cops, it’s about fear through intimidation to maintain the corrupt status quo and make certain the new idealistic cops don’t talk,” said Vincent Miller, an attorney representing the seven deputies who filed the claims. “This has been going on for years, and the county needs to fix it.”
The Sheriff’s Department issued a statement this past Thursday that said it would not tolerate any form of hazing or harassment within the organization.
“The allegations outlined in this recent claim arose prior to Sheriff [Alex] Villanueva assuming office. The allegations are being fully investigated and appropriate actions were properly commenced by the prior administration,” the statement said. “Sheriff Villanueva had the Unit Commander replaced, in addition to key supervisory personnel. The new Unit Commander has met with staff members and has made it abundantly clear that activities which violate workplace policy or the law will be immediately addressed with swift and appropriate action.”
Ron Hernandez is the president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents rank-and-file deputies. He said the group would withhold specific comment out of respect for the ongoing investigation.
“ALADS fully supports a detailed, fair, timely investigation, with an interest in due process for all parties said to be involved,” Hernandez said.
The allegations are the latest for a department that has struggled for years to address numerous examples of secretive, gang-like deputy societies accused of committing abuses against inmates, fellow deputies and while on patrol.
According to the L.A. Times, in July last year, then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell launched what he said would be a comprehensive study of deputy cliques after The Times revealed that a Compton station deputy involved in the fatal shooting of a black man had testified that he and as many as 20 of his colleagues had matching skull tattoos.
That inquiry went unfinished when Villanueva, a former lieutenant in the department, unseated McDonnell and took office in early December.
Villanueva, who has drawn fire from critics who worry he is rolling back reforms meant to curb abuse by deputies, has at times defended deputies with station tattoos, saying they’re honorable people. But he has criticized previous administrations for allowing a broader culture of hazing to fester in the department.
In comments shortly after taking office, he blamed station captains and other top officials for failing to stop a work culture of “unchecked hazing” that allowed cliques to form and grow.
Some deputies have defended the tattoos they share with others in their stationas a source of benign camaraderie and a way to boost morale. Some have also said they have a free-speech right to wear them.
The recent allegations are not the first against the Banditos. In 2014, the county paid a female deputy assigned to the East L.A. station $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit, in which she claimed she had been physically and mentally harassed by some of the clique’s 80 members after refusing to go along with its “traditions and initiation rituals.”
In a statement Thursday, Hilda Solis, a member of the Board of Supervisors, said she was “disappointed and dismayed” at the latest allegations.
“I have spoken repeatedly with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, the Civilian Oversight Commission, the Office of Inspector General, and county counsel about my deep concern about the potential existence of secret cliques or gangs of sheriff deputies. The Sheriff’s Department must hold itself out to the highest levels of professionalism and respect for others. The role of sheriff’s deputies is to protect and serve the public, and secret cliques and violent gangs of law enforcement personnel must be eliminated. East L.A. and the greater L.A. County community deserve nothing less.”
Is a lack of staffing and within police departments and sheriff’s offices a valid reason to hire unqualified candidates? Is a lessening of requirements and abilities worth sacrificing
We must ask, because the shortage has begun. We see this from Dallas to Portland to Minneapolis and cities and towns in between. Let’s start in Minneapolis.
The city is facing a critical police shortage as their crime rate continues to climb, with no real help or relief in sight. According to the NY Daily News:
“Robbery rates are up a whopping 54% in downtown Minneapolis from 2018.”
Over the past several weeks, news stories about brutal assaults and robberies have been flooding the new channels regarding Minneapolis. Complaints of 911 calls not having officers dispatched to respond to these crimes have risen, and a lack of staffing is clearly to blame.
Want to know how bad that shortage is?
Last year, the department was unable to immediately send a police car to 6,776 priority one emergencies.
Among those calls were shots fired, stabbings and sexual assaults.
According to police, priority one calls involve “an imminent threat to personal safety, or the loss or damage to property exists.”
It gets worse. There’s what’s called “priority zero” calls – of which police were unable to respond to seven of them.
They included a baby not breathing and a fellow officer facing imminent danger. Those calls, according to police, “include those situations where a known crisis exists that threatens the life of an individual. This is the highest possible priority and the fastest possible response is desired. The MECC objective is to have squads en route to the call within 30 seconds of receipt by the dispatcher.”
“To have to look someone in the eye and tell them that we were unable to get there because we do not have enough resources – it’s unacceptable,” Andy Skoogman, the president of Minnesota Police Chiefs Association, told Fox News.
Alondra Cano is the chair of the city’s safety committee. Cano said the city council acknowledges there is a crisis and promises it’s investing and diversifying its force to better represent the community.
“I do appreciate that the mayor has put forward an investment strategy in our department because we can’t walk around with the same broken department since the 1950s,” Cano told Fox News. “We’re thankful that the information is out in the open. We would rather have a truthful conversation than pretend like this isn’t happening.”
Many of the beatings that have been seen on news networks show groups of people ganging up on individuals and beating them beyond the point where they can defend themselves, at times beating them unconscious, and taking their belongings.
“The city’s population has grown by almost 50,000 people since 2010, while the number of officers has “remained stagnant,” Mayor Jacob Frey said in his 2020 budget address that proposed adding 14 officers.
Many of these attacks have been caught on camera as the groups are bold enough to carry out these assaults in the open without what seems a worry of the police or legal action.
A video recording showed “a group of suspects is seen on surveillance videos repeatedly punching and kicking a man in a daytime attack outside Target Field. At various points in the video, they run and jump on him, ride over him with a bicycle, take off his shoes and pants, beat him with a belt and throw what appears to be potted plants at him.”
As reported by Fox News in a Fox & Friends interview Thursday September 19th, Lt. Bob Kroll of the Minneapolis Police Department, and the president of the Minnesota Police Officers Union, told news anchors:
“The city council… ran on an anti-police agenda and they all made it. It’s ultra-left. It’s been [an] extreme Democrat-controlled council. It’s been that way for 22 years.” He continued to explain in the interview that “It’s an ultra-left agenda that the police are the problem, [They say] it’s a racially biased criminal justice system here, and we need to de-police. That’s the overtone of our council.”
Due to a lack of police staffing and being able to respond to and investigate these calls – and also a lack of city support – incidents similar to this are likely continue to happen. Lt. Kroll explained:
“Criminals are thriving on the indulgence of far-left lawmakers and constantly game the system to escape justice. [The criminals] seem to take joy in beating these people and they do it because they don’t fear any reprisal, they’re not going to get prosecuted. They’re going to get the big three and that’s probation, restitution, and treatment.”
The police officers in the city have had to handle the population explosion, without seeing any growth of their department. WCCO news reported that Police Chief Medaria Arradondo had originally asked to add 400 officers by 2025.
The mayor, however, explained that was an unrealistic expectation due to budget limitations. With this response, the Chief presented his need for 14 new officers to the Minneapolis City Council, and while some on the council felt 14 was not enough, they did agree that the need was there.
WCCO reported that “the 14 officers will include eight neighborhood outreach, three in the traffic unit and three investigators.”
However, Lt. Krolls feels that applicant pool for viable police candidates is ever shrinking, and he “estimates applicants are about one-fifth the number they were around 30 years ago.”
“We’re gonna get smaller, before we get any bigger.”
There will be another committee meeting on September 23rd where the discussion continues. Currently only two suspects from the multiple attacks have been taken into custody, and the investigations are ongoing.
In the meantime, the Plumas County sheriff’s Department in California is facing criticism for a new policy that has been initiated — their officers will no longer respond to suicide calls.
Carol Quinn learned of the recently enacted policy when she had contacted the Sheriff’s Department to intervene before her brother could take his own life.
Carol’s brother, George Quinn, 63, lived alone with his Maine Coon Cat in a remote Northern California community. The day he decided to take his own life he sent a text message to his sister, apologizing to her, and advising her to contact police.
Living over an hour away in Reno, Carol made a phone call to the Sheriff’s office, hoping they would respond and save her brother’s life. But Carol was shocked to learn that deputies would not be responding to intervene.
Carol was told by the department, that they would not be responding as there was no way to be certain that the situation would not end in “suicide by cop”.
While Plumas County may be the department involved in bringing this type of policy national attention, they are not the only department in the state of California that are considering changing their response policies to reflect this.
Large departments like Los Angeles and San Francisco have units that were specifically created to respond to calls of distressed or suicidal individuals. They typically consist of an officer and a mental health professional. A unit that has the tools to deal with the potential mental health aspects of this type of call.
Smaller departments do not have the funds or the staffing to put together these types of teams. Rather than risking the lives of officers or innocent bystanders, and potentially creating situations where officers may be forced to take the life of a distressed individual–if there are no direct threats to other individuals, or no crimes being committed–they will no longer respond.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
“In a 2009 study of more than 700 officer-involved shootings nationwide, 36% of incidents were determined to be attempts at provoking officers to use deadly force.”
While some critics feel that, ‘suicide by cop’ is only a mean to justify police brutality, other studies have shown up to half of the calls where police respond to a suicidal person, they are forced to take the persons life.
Even though there is criticism of this type of change in the way departments respond to these calls to service, there are many who defend law enforcement’s need to rethink how these situations are handled.
Psychiatry Professor, John Reid Meloy, from UC San Diego defends policy changes stating to the Los Angeles times:
“Police are right in assessing these [calls] are significantly dangerous”.
This is a call to service that comes in to departments all too often.
Plumas County may be one of the first departments in California to officially enact this type of policy but California Police Chiefs Association President, Ron Lawrence, has acknowledge that other departments have less formal but similar ways of handling these types of calls.
Not responding to the need for their assistance may go against everything officers intuitively feel but Lawrence went on to explain to the Times reporter, “…we have just learned through evolution that sometimes police presence is not the answer.”
While there are officers that wonder, what if it was someone that they cared for that was making the call for help in a situation like this, a greater discussion about mental and behavioral health has been initiated because of these new policy changes. Admittedly, police alone cannot hope to resolve the growing need for response to suicidal individuals.
Larger departments in California are putting funds and greater efforts behind ‘disengagement’ response policies. A collaborative effort between officers and mental health clinicians that are dispatched together to a call of a suicidal person, have proven to work to diffuse the situation and end where the suspect receives the mental health help that they need.
This type of efforts between first responders and mental health providers may be the ideal situation for these types of calls, but many of the smaller departments do not have the ability to put these teams together, just based on geographical location alone.
Mono County Sheriff’s office near Yosemite National Park is one of those very departments. Ingrid Braun, sheriff of the department explained to the Los Angeles Times, “the nearest emergency mental health bed in her county is five hours south in Bakersfield, and the county currently has no behavioral health practitioners who can respond to urgent calls.”
However not responding to suicide calls is not an ideal solution for her department, so she is working on having medics respond to these types of calls along with officers.
There is acknowledgement that the greater discussions need to take place amongst officers and mental health professionals to combat the growing need for officers to respond to suicidal individuals. Braun brings to light that, the response of just officers alone to these types of calls may not be the best way to handle the situation, “If you call because you are bottoming out and you need help, we send men with guns…’
The executive director of the non-profit, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, Dan Reidenberg, also acknowledges that there are risks to officers responding to these types of calls, but no response at all is not the answer either. Reidenberg stated to the Times:
“I don’t think it’s the right precedent or the right policy…We need law enforcement to be that stable, protective, strong force that shows up.”
There are growing fears that the lack of response by law enforcement to these types of calls will rapidly increase the rate of suicides—which has already been on the rise in recent years.
As for Carol Quinn, she and her friend Pat Costin, ultimately made the hour-long drive to her brother’s house the day police would told her they would not respond to Carol’s request to intervene in her brother’s potential suicide. Pat was the one to find George Quinn hanging from the rafters of his wood shop by a chain–dead.
After discovering the body, Pat contacted the Plumas Co. Sheriff’s Department to report that, it was “safe for them to come now.” Pat went on to further explain that, unlike police officers, he was never trained to handle the situation that he walked into.
Pat explained that the images of his friend hanging haunt him, and he is happy that Carol did not need to see what he had found.While he and Carol are both police supporters, they disagree with the nonresponse policy, something needs to change.
In April, Portland, Oregon lost a huge chunk of its police presence.
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts wrote an email to his deputies, stating his concern for their safety.
“I will not place you at unnecessary personal and professional risk,” the email read.
The city of Portland is largely patrolled by the Portland Police Bureau and receives support from neighboring counties like Clackamas Sheriff’s Department. With this decision, remaining officers in the area will no doubt feel the stress of being understaffed.
The announcement came as Portland was bracing for its next protest – May Day, where a protest for immigrant and worker’s rights was set for downtown. In 2017, 25 people were arrested in the gathering after the rally turned into a violent clash.
Demonstrators were charged with disorderly conduct, arson, theft, assault, vandalism and more. Officers maintaining order at the march were quickly attacked by left wing anarchists who threw full cans of soda and other projectiles.
The decision to stop responding to routine calls was made following a statement released by the Portland Police Association.
Due to the overwhelming ‘anti-police’ attitudes in the city of Portland, some officials are stepping in to say, ‘no more.’ Enter – Sheriff Craig Roberts.
“The reason the Police Bureau is experiencing catastrophic staffing shortages, drastically declining recruiting success, and the inability to retain officers is due to one core issue: the intense anti-police sentiment in our City that City Council seems to share,” the post from the PPA read.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is concerned. He asked Sheriff Roberts to wait to enact his decision until after the May Day protest, but failed.
“My own belief on this is pulling out a few days before sends a signal that people who might come to those demonstrations with the intention of doing harm, potentially vandalism, it send a signal that the Portland Police Bureau is going to be under-resourced. I was hoping he could hold off until after the May Day demonstrations, but I was unable to persuade him to do that,” Wheeler said.
“False narratives, knee jerk political reactions, along with personal and political agendas have created a hostile work environment and made it an impossible task to effectively police in the City of Portland. Our police officers are frustrated. They deserve better. They deserve to work in an environment where they can perform their primary function — keeping our communities safe — with the support of City Hall. Similarly, our communities are frustrated. They deserve better. They deserve safe, clean streets. It’s that simple,” the PPA’s post read.
“Our elected officials need to prioritize basic city services, the most basic of which is public safety and livability. They can start by doing three things: improving the livability of our drastically deteriorating neighborhoods; supporting the incredible work our officers do to keep our communities safe; and having enough police officers to satisfy our communities’ public safety needs.”
Portland officer have repeatedly been told to stand down during past protests. Mayor Wheeler tends to side with the liberal agenda, taking protests as just people expressing their feelings. But things have gotten violent a number of times.
LET columnist James Lewis is a former LEO and served in the Air Force. He used to live in a suburb outside Portland, and is upset to see the way it has changed over the years. One of the biggest issues in the area?
The Police Commissioner also sits as the City Manager. Conflict of interest? Many say yes. The same individual that is supposed to be the head of local law enforcement is also making daily decisions about city works, budgets and more. Portland heads even consulted the head of Black Lives Matter when creating the 2019 contract for police.
“Portland used to be a really cool place,” Lewis said about the city. “It had a really strong logging and logistics industry. It changed a little when I was there in the 90’s, but since I’ve left, it’s gotten a hundred times worse.”
Lewis says companies like Intel and Nike drew lot’s of families from California up to the city. Those families stayed, thus leading to a big change in culture.
“It won’t get any better until the commissioner is removed,” said Lewis.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Department also made a similar move in February, announcing they would be providing less support for Portland calls.
Sheriff’s Roberts’ email to his deputies can be read in full below.
Sheriff’s Office Change in Services within the City of Portland
To all Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office employees: I want to give you an important update on changes to services we provide in the City of Portland.
As you know, our command staff and executive team have been actively assessing the risk of your work within the City of Portland.
Recently, Undersheriff Brandenburg met with many of our deputies assigned to answering routine calls for service in the City of Portland to listen to their concerns related to safety. I’ve also had conversations with other city, state and federal law enforcement leaders, including Portland Police Chief Outlaw. Lastly, I’ve taken into account the Portland Police Association’s concerns outlined in their April 8 statement, which you can read here. As I said in my earlier email on this topic, I will not place you at unnecessary personal and professional risk.
As a result of these and other assessments, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office will pull back all staff responding to calls for services within the City of Portland in the coming weeks. Those actions are as follows:
We are working with TriMet to develop a new Intergovernmental Agreement that will reassign deputies to meet the public safety needs of citizens accessing TriMet within Clackamas County. We intend to continue assigning one sergeant and six deputies to provide timely responses for law enforcement services and maintain passenger safety.
With respect to deployment of special teams, we will evaluate requests for assistance on a case-by-case basis. This applies to SWAT, the Crisis Negotiations Team (CNT), and the Rapid Response Team (RRT/CERT).
We will continue our participation on the United States Marshals Fugitive Task Force and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
No changes will be made to operations involving Corrections staff who work the Electronic Home Detention Program, Parole and Probation staff who supervise clients in the City of Portland, and the Metropolitan Explosive Disposal Unit (MEDU). All will continue with their regular duties.
I don’t make these decisions lightly. I appreciate and commend the difficult work Portland Police officers do every day, and I also commend Portland Police Chief Outlaw for her leadership in a very difficult environment. I admire her commitment to improving public safety and community relations.
As Sheriff, your safety and the safety of Clackamas County residents remain my top priorities. Our work is dangerous enough without adding unnecessary risk when responding to calls for services in the City of Portland.
I also want to make this clear: We will always respond to help any officer from any agency in immediate need of assistance.
Take care of each other and be safe. Craig
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