Social Justice Delayed is Social Justice Denied

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The Pink and Yellow Duplex Part III

For more than a year, I have been attempting to get answers in the wake of a police-involved shooting in my neighborhood that resulted in the death of a young black man standing unarmed in his kitchen.1 [1. For more on the shooting of Howard Bowe, please refer to the first 2 parts in this series: Part I: Howard Bowe and Police Militarization (Sep. 10, 2014) and Part II: Peace Talks (Feb. 27, 2015).] For more than a year, the City’s answer to this shooting and numerous other questionable uses of force by the Department—including numerous fatalities—has been to rely on two {{consultants,}} [Scott] Greenwood and [Tom] Streicher to perform an assessment  of the HBPD use of force. Although Greenwood & Streicher were hired in December of 2014 and their review was supposed to be completed in June of this year,2 [2. See Engagement Letter from Greenwood & Streicher, at 3, stating they would “endeavor to complete [the] review and report within six months.”] their final report was not issued until recently and they will not present their findings to the City Commission until later today (Dec. 2, 2015).

Because I have been following these developments from the ground level and advocating for reform in this community, I met Greenwood and Streicher on four separate occasions: once in February 2015 when they were observers at a Hallandale Town Hall, once in April 2015 in a small meeting of community leaders at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in “the Palms,” and at two community events conducted in late August 2015. Having witnessed first-hand the problems between the community and the police, I was skeptical of the ability of two outsiders from Ohio to be able to address the multi-faceted and systemic issues at the root of the citizens’ discontent. Commissioner Anthony Sanders expressed similar concerns when the firm was first hired by the city, noting that in order for the review to be effective, the two must truly listen to the people in the community:

Really, I don’t know. Really, I’m riding with you [Chief Flournoy] on this in terms of whatever we can do to do better . . . . Because we don’t know what this report is gonna come back and say, but at the same time, it’s gotta reach the ground . . . and be able to hear those that feel they are unheard. . . . I’m for it, . . . but it’s delicate for me; it’s tough, ’cause I know both ends. . . .3 [3. See Hallandale Beach City Commission Meeting, Dec. 15, 2014 (at ~ 3:08:40 mark).]

For more than 17 months, the community has waited to hear what the City plans to do to rebuild trust and prevent any more unnecessary deaths. The City waited on Greenwood & Streicher. The wait was not worth it. Nor was the $57,000 the City spent to get generic boilerplate answers to the critical issues facing the community. The unheard voices remain unheard in the horribly written, cut-and-pasted, waste of time and money.

Problem #1: What the Report Does Contain

Aside from the boilerplate and blatant conflicts of interest (discussed below), Greenwood & Streicher’s report (hereinafter “Report”) listed nineteen recommendations for the HBPD to implement in order to improve its use of force policies. Most of these are common sense and cost nothing to implement.4 [4. See, e.g., Recommendation #4 (officers should stand perpendicular to a vehicle being used as a weapon rather than stand in front of it), Report, at 9; Recommendation #14 (HBPD should implement a standard operating procedure to complete fair and impartial Internal Affairs investigations and reports), Report, at 20.] The very first recommendation actually increases the HBPD’s authority to use force or deadly force.5 [5. Report, at 5 (recommending revising HBPD orders and procedures to allow the use of force to protect any person (not merely citizens)).] The second recommendation stresses the importance of de-escalation training to avoid using force,6 [6. Report, at 6.] but less money is budgeted for this critical training ($7,500)7 [7. Staff Report, Dec. 2, 2015, Recommendation #6)] than additional ammunition for further firearms training ($8,000)8 [8. Id., Recommendation #9).] In between recommending things that have already been done and should have already been happening, the Report includes flowery language designed to praise HBPD’s efforts at every turn without ever being very critical.

Problem #2: What the Report Does Not Contain

This problem is much bigger, since the list of things that Greenwood and Streicher omitted from the Report is much longer than the list of things actually in the Report. In particular, the Report has absolutely NO discussion of:

  • Race: Hallandale Beach has a long and colorful history of segregation between the beachfront community in the East and the predominantly black community in the West. Community leaders specifically and repeatedly told Greenwood and Streicher about a disparity in policing and use of force on the two sides of the tracks.9 [9. As numerous people stated, including longtime resident Von Thomas, the HBPD “patrol in the East and police in the West.”] This disparity was on full display in back-to-back community meetings in August on the West, then East side of town. This disparity is also apparent from how the HBPD has deployed its SWAT team: a May 2015 New Times investigation found that 38 out of 38 SWAT raids carried out in Hallandale since 2006, all were in a quarter-mile of “a mostly black enclave within a sleepy, affluent town of 38,000 that’s 80 percent white.”10 [10. Ray Downs, SWAT City: Military-style Drug Raids Turn Deadly in Hallandale Beach, New Times, May 5, 2015, at 9.] Despite repeated statements by black citizens that officers mistreated them or unnecessarily pulled guns on them, Greenwood and Streicher did not seem to think this was relevant to the use of force discussion.
  • Any Actual Events that Occurred in Hallandale Beach: Although G&S were tasked with “deeply assessing each of the uses of deadly force over the previous five years,”11 [11. Staff Report, Dec. 15, 2014.] there is no mention of the individuals (or the dogs) actually killed by the police. As Janelle Monáe might say, say their names. Gregory Ehlers. Say his name. Gregory Ehlers. Say his name. Gregory Ehlers. Won’t you say his name? Eduardo Prieto. Say his name. Eduardo Prieto. Say his name. Eduardo Prieto. Won’t you say his name? Howard Bowe. Say his name. Howard Bowe. Say his name. Howard Bowe. Won’t you say his name? Won’t you say their names?

Greenwood & Streicher vaguely state that they “reviewed a random selection of cases including those instances where officers had used deadly force during the last six years.” Without delving much further, they were “pleased to report that each case . . . had been conducted in a fair and equitable manner” and the “conclusions reached in each case were reasonable and supported by an ample amount of evidence.”12 [12. Report, at 18.] G&S did not mention any of the facts or evidence they used to come to these conclusions, even in those cases that are closed.

  • No HBPD Officers Actually Live in Hallandale Beach: This was a fairly big deal when it came up in the community discussions that took place in August. Chief Flournoy stated that of the 99 HBPD officers, none live in Hallandale Beach. This was a significant concern not only for the citizens, but for Vice Mayor Bill Julian, who has lived in Hallandale since 1955 and expressed the need to address this problem.13 [13. Statements made at “Let’s Keep Talking” event at the Hallandale Beach Cultural Center on Aug. 27, 2015).] The citizens do not feel that the officers are part of the community; that they are disassociated from the effects they have on the city they are sworn to protect. Extremely important to the people of Hallandale Beach; apparently not so much for G&S.
  • Low Officer Morale: This is something that G&S had identified as a problem following their meetings with HBPD personnel in April.14 [14. Meeting with Grenwood & Stricher, Apr. 16, 2015)]. It was also brought up at the community meetings in August and was exacerbated throughout the year as the Chief of the HBPD was embroiled in scandal.15 [15. See Susannah Bryan, Police Union: Hallandale Top Cop Unfit, Sun Sentinel, May 2, 2015; Susannah Bryan, Hallandale Police Chief Files Defamation Lawsuit Against Union Attorney, Sun Sentinel, Oct. 1, 2015.] The morale problem is well known in the community—and discussed in often graphic terms on LEO Affairs—but how this affects the police and the community aren’t mentioned.
  • Ineffective/Non-existent Community Oversight: The process for filing a complaint against an HBPD officer for excessive force is to contact the HBPD and give them all of your personal information before naming names. There is no community organization that serves as an effective go-between for the community and the police. There is a Community Police Advisory Council, but the Council is under-staffed, does not meet often, and does not seem to have any authority to investigate accusations of police wrongdoing or to ensure that the community’s interest is sufficiently protected when police do use force or deadly force.
  • TASER Ties: Despite advocating for more extensive use of body-worn cameras (“BWCs”) in Hallandale Beach, Greenwood and Streicher (once again) failed to disclose their financial interests in the company that produces the BWCs that Hallandale Beach awarded a no-bid contract to (TASER) back in August. In fact, this is such an important omission, it is actually a big problem.

Problem #3: The Enormous Conflict of Interest

As I have previously mentioned to the City Commission, Greenwood and Streicher’s failure to disclose their personal financial ties to TASER International represents a huge conflict of interest with regard to their ability to impartially assess how to address use of force issues among police departments. The City Manager stated that the City was unaware of these TASER ties and that is was insignificant since G&S had nothing to do with Hallandale’s finding that the TASER Axon-Flex BWCs and the corresponding subscription to Evidence.com were “uniquely qualified” such to warrant bypassing the bid process. However, both Greenwood and Streicher participated in a BWC Workshop with the City Commission on April 13, 2015 which, according to the City,

included a thorough discussion on the opportunities and challenges of BWC systems. Subsequent to the Workshop, on April 15, 2015, the City Commission voted to authorize a one year pilot program consisting of 28 BWCs.

While City officials maintain that G&S did not use their position as use of force consultants to advocate on behalf of TASER, this is patently false, as G&S spent at least half an hour at Ebenezer Church engaging in what can only be described as a TASER sales pitch when meeting with community leaders.16 [16. I know because I was there.]. Neither Greenwood nor Streicher are honest or direct about their financial ties with TASER, despite the controversy that this failure to disclose has caused with G&S and other former police officials accepting money, airfare, and other benefits from TASER International to advocate on TASER’s behalf.17 [17. See Ryan J. Foley, Body-Camera Maker’s Ties to Police Chiefs Raise Conflict-of -Interest Questions, Albuquerque J., March 3, 2015 (featuring a picture of Tom Streicher speaking at a TASER Conference in Sacramento on Feb. 19, 2015)].

G&S have repeatedly advocated for the adoption and expansion of the use of BWCs, and have specifically advocated for the adoption of TASER products without disclosing their financial ties. Since G&S so firmly believe in the importance of video evidence, here is Greenwood refusing to honestly discuss his TASER ties in relation to the conflict of interest with their work in Albuquerque (starting at 11:36):

 

 

For whatever extent Hallandale Beach was influenced by G&S to adopt TASER technology, Greenwood and Streicher both had ethical obligations to disclose their extensive TASER ties dating back to at least 2005. That G&S had inside access to discussions regarding BWCs in Hallandale without this disclosure at best raises the appearance of impropriety and at worst stinks of corruption.

Problem #4: Self-Plagiarism

After meeting with S&G for the first time, I turned to my neighbor and bet him that I could find where S&G copied and pasted sections of their report from within five minutes of reading it. It is a bet I easily won, because significant sections of this supposedly individualized assessment of the HBPD were just cut and pasted in from G&S’s review of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office with HBPD put in place of HCSO. This is a phenomenon I refer to as “boilerplagiarism,” where authors attempt to give the impression that they are providing original material while simply copying previous work and changing the names of the parties involved. This is not necessarily a problem if the work is standard boilerplate, but in this instance, G&S are playing off their assessment of one agency as the assessment of another.

For example, at the end of the Report, G&S caution that this is only “a 30,000-foot view of the Hallandale Beach Police Department, and is intended to identify key areas for attention, investment and improvement.”18 [18. Report, at 27.] They, do, however, go out of their way to praise HBPD’s personnel, stating,

The department’s personnel are its single biggest asset. They are clamoring for the opportunity to use their knowledge, skills, training, and ideas to improve the agency and make it realize its true potential. . . . The department, its leadership, and the city have the capacity to engage in strengthening the department and making it a beacon agency in southeast Florida, and both sworn and civilian personnel have the desire, dedication, and discipline to make that a reality.19 [19. Report, at 27.]

This would be encouraging if Greenwood and Streicher actually believed this instead of just copying in the conclusion from their review of HCSO:

 

This is only one of numerous examples I found of G&S playing off parts of the HCSO Review as parts of the HBPD Report. As the HCSO Review is the only previous G&S review of a department available online, it is difficult to determine if other parts of the HBPD Report were first generated in relation to a different agency.

Next Steps

It is a shame that it has taken this long to get a report so filled with generic, shoddy work. It is a shame that the pleas of the black community went completely unaddressed by these so-called consultants. The Report that Greenwood and Streicher generated does not—and may have never been intended to—address the specific needs of this community nor the Hallandale Beach Police Department. The recommendations do not go far enough, while the omissions go too far. It would appear that the hiring of Greenwood and Streicher was designed to purposefully delay and obfuscate any real look at what is truly happening in Hallandale Beach.

For a community seeking justice, security, and equality, we will have to wait. This Report doesn’t bring Hallandale Beach any closer to realizing those goals. This Report—and the steps that the City took in hiring G&S—were a waste of time, money, and energy. I sincerely hope that Greenwood and Streicher leave Hallandale Beach after today and never return with their hands out again. In the meantime, social justice in Hallandale remains only a theory.

 

Suggested citation: Brian M. Stewart, Social Justice Delayed is Social Justice Denied, @LawBlarg (Dec. 2, 2015), http://blarg.legalmechanics.us/social-justice-delayed-denied.

 

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Brian M. Stewart, Esq. is the owner of Legal Mechanics, LLC, a writing and editing company specializing in works of legal scholarship. He has previously been published in the UC Davis Business Law Journal, the Florida Historical Quarterly, The Green Bag, and the University of Miami Law Review (twice).

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