From The Final Call Newspaper

 Is the new law enforcement accountability database symbolism or substance?

By Charlene Muhammad, National Correspondent
- January 2, 2024

The Biden-Harris administration launched a new National Law Enforcement Accountability Database to help advance police reform and build community trust, but is it just more symbolism over substance?

We want an immediate end to the police brutality and mob attacks against the so-called Negro throughout the United States. We believe that the Federal government should intercede to see that Black men and women tried in White courts receive justice in accordance with the laws of the land—or allow us to build a new nation for ourselves, dedicated to justice, freedom and liberty.—What the Muslims Want / The Muslim Program

The recently launched National Law Enforcement Accountability Database aims to address the profound fear and trauma that Black Americans in particular have experienced for generations. But the new federal database is “dangerous symbolism,” argued human rights attorney Nana Gyamfi. It “keeps policing alive under the guise that it can be reformed. It cannot,” she told The Final Call.

“As part of my Administration’s executive order on policing, we committed to create a first of its kind database to track records of law enforcement misconduct so that agencies are able to hire the best personnel. Today, I am fulfilling that promise by launching the National Law Enforcement Accountability Database,” read a White House statement issued December 18.

“This database will ensure that records of serious misconduct by federal law enforcement officers are readily available to agencies considering hiring those officers. We are also working to allow and encourage state, Tribal, local, and territorial law enforcement agencies to make available and access similar records as part of their hiring processes,” the statement continued in part.

Some advocates and legal experts feel the new accountability database issued by President Joe Biden’s executive order he signed on May 2022 is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough, they point out.

“What people have to recognize, first and foremost, is you ain’t gonna change the system. The system has been in existence for over 400 years, and it was designed to be exactly the way it is,” stated Lieutenant Charles Wilson, who is retired and is the new chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc.

“It is inherently biased against people of color and low income,” he said. Reform mandates changing the culture of the profession, who and how people are hired, and what and how officers are trained.

We have habitually trained people to be warriors in the community, not guardians of the community,” Lt. Wilson told The Final Call. Further changes must be made in the management of supervisors and placement of policies and procedures, then there can be true police reform, he said.

“I tell people religiously, there’s over a million law enforcement officers out there on the street— Black, White and indifferent, male and female. The vast majority of cops, all they want to do is go to work, do their job, if possible, help people along the way, get off—no complaint, no bruises, no injuries; go home, see mama, the dog, and have dinner,” stated Lt. Wilson.

According to the White House statement, Lt. Wilson argued that police accountability, whether it is a federal or local mandate, must be bolstered by encouraging those within the profession to actively stand up and speak out about those who abuse their oaths of office because they are a danger to the community and a danger to those who attempt to truly serve the community.

“When you work next to them and do not report their abuses, you are equally complicit in the abuse. And there must be better measures taken to protect those who speak up and report these offenses,” he added.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) posted a statement on its website applauding the measure while also addressing its shortcomings.

“The database documents instances of federal law enforcement misconduct, including criminal convictions, suspensions and terminations, civil judgments, resignations while under investigation, and sustained disciplinary action based on serious misconduct.

It requires federal law enforcement agencies to provide information about misconduct, but would not bar an individual with a record of misconduct from being hired or penalize agencies for hiring them.

Also, the database is not available to the public, only includes the last seven years of records, and is entirely voluntary for state and local law enforcement agencies to participate,” noted in a Dec. 18 news release.

However, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said the database is what he and others have wanted, ever since the deaths of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Jr.’s in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, Terrence Crutcher, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in September 2016, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. All three were killed by police.

Officer Timothy Loehmann shot Tamir, who was playing with a toy gun in a park. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty announced in December 2015 that a grand jury had decided not to charge either Mr. Loehmann or his partner Frank Garmback.

According to Ohio news site, Cleveland city officials decided to fire Mr. Loehmann more than two-and-a-half years after he shot Tamir because he failed to disclose that he would have been fired from a previous job if he had not quit.

Less than five months after being hired by the Independent Police Department on July 11, 2012, Deputy Chief Jim Polak said in an assessment that “He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal,” continued

All of those young, Black men were killed by officers who had been fired from one department and walked across the street to another municipality or another county and got a job in law enforcement without anything being on their jacket or probed by their future employer, said Atty. Crump.

“This hopefully will be a clarion call to employers in law enforcement to check and see if that potential employee’s name shows up in the federal accountability database for law enforcement,” he told The Final Call.

“With everything as it is now, 2000-soon-to-be-24 and the information age, there’s no reason that you hire an officer who has a pattern and practice of engaging in excessive force and brutality against Black people and others,” he argued.

That the new database came through executive order means it could be stripped by a new president, he continued. “It’s troublesome that it and the other components of the George Floyd Policing Act could not pass the United States Congress and be signed into the law by the president and be the law forever. We have to rely on executive orders now until we can build a consensus in this very divided country,” said Atty. Crump.

Except perhaps in New Jersey. In September 2022, the Garden State launched its Law Enforcement Internal Affairs Investigations website, which displays data from internal affairs investigations of its over 500 police agencies.

In addition, most police departments have gone to National Internet Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which includes officer-involved shootings and preceded the new federal database. As of January 1, 2002, it became the national standard for law enforcement crime data reporting in the United States, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics.

There are over 18,000 policing agencies in the country, and there is no federal law mandating that they report acts of misconduct, use of force, etc. to that accountability database, noted Cephus “Uncle Bobby” X Johnson, a California-based police reform advocate and co-founder of the Love Not Blood Campaign and Families United 4 Justice.

Per President Biden, his administration will encourage state, Tribal and territorial agencies to make available and access similar records in the new database as part of their hiring processes.

“We have a national database that is not being used to the fullest right now called the National Decertification Index (NDI). This database is supposed to capture every decertified police officer in this database. But because there is no national federal law that requires it to be done, agencies are not sending that information to The NDI database,” argued Mr. Johnson.

Donnell Walters, president of the Ethical Society of Police, thinks the National Law Enforcement Accountability Database forces agencies to deal with the problem of police misconduct versus allowing officers to transfer from agency to agency.

For example, it will help eliminate or at least reduce instances such as former Louisville police officer Myles Cosgrove, who fatally shot Breonna Taylor in March 2020, but who was hired by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, after he was fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department in January 2021.

“It’s a start and it’s incumbent upon the people, upon organizations, to really stay on top of it so that it doesn’t fall by the wayside, because quite often you find that stuff falls by the wayside, because it makes news today, but then the next thing will come up and this gets pushed to the back burner,” Mr. Walters told The Final Call.

“I am a 100 percent believer of transparency, good or bad, because people in my opinion will respect you telling the truth and you made a mistake then you trying to lie and cover it up. We’re human, and that’s what people have to understand,” he stated.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam pointed out in a message titled “Justifiable Homicide: Black Youth in Peril,” delivered on October 28, 2007, from Mosque Maryam in Chicago, that since Black people have been in America, “we have been under the domination of a power that during slavery did not have to justify the murder of our fathers.”

“They didn’t have any group of people to look at facts. The slave-master had the power of life and death on every Black person outside of the principle of justice, with no regard for the life of the Black male or female that was being put to death,” stated the Minister.

The Minister urged Black youth to hear his message, pointing out to them that police authorities are the same today as they were during slavery. “In fact, this is how policing began. Police were formed to catch runaway slaves, bring them back to their masters and make examples of them to throw fear into other slaves. It’s the same today. Police authorities are trained to kill, as well as to protect,” Minister Farrakhan continued.

“But where Black people are concerned, police legitimize their mob attacks under the name of ‘back up.’ Police back up is often no different than the lynch mobs 100 years ago. The killing of our people, shooting them with many bullets when one would have done the job. And then, that deliberative body which is to discuss the brutal murder of our people by looking into the facts, comes away calling it justifiable homicide,” the Minister said.