Police

About That New Police Professionalism

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From ProPublica and the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The disciplinary file on the New Orleans Police Department's Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann is inches thick—as thick as any on the police force.

The lieutenant has weathered more than 50 separate complaints, ranging from accusations of brutality and rape to improper searches and seizures. But none of the allegations ever stuck, although two complaints are still pending. Every time, Scheuermann was cleared and sent back onto the streets.

He has also fired his gun in at least 15 different incidents, wounding at least four people. Experts on police practices say the number is unusual—most officers never fire their weapons.

Scheuermann's history of complaints would seem to make him an obvious candidate for the NOPD's early warning system, which aims to highlight and rehabilitate possible problem police officers.

Yet according to the city attorney's office, Scheuermann was never flagged for entrance into the monitoring program…

Amid the complaints, Scheuermann has received plenty of commendations. The awards depict Scheuermann as a top cop, a relentless workhorse whose arrest numbers are unparalleled and a leader who has patrolled the most dangerous corridors of the city over a 23-year career. He has been a hero in the eyes of many of his peers.

In an NOPD yearbook is a photo of a smiling Scheuermann shaking the hand of former President Bill Clinton, who bestowed a national award on him for "outstanding productivity throughout his career."

And now?

Today, Scheuermann, 49, is preparing to stand trial on some of the most disturbing charges ever filed against a New Orleans police officer. Federal prosecutors accuse Scheuermann and a colleague of setting fire to a car containing the body of Henry Glover, who had been shot by a different police officer in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Again, it isn't that there was a bad cop at NOPD. It's that nothing was ever done about it. It in part goes back to the twisted incentives that drive statistics-driven policing.

Agencies encourage officers to be proactive and make arrests, viewing big numbers as a sign of productivity. But when an officer who puts up big arrest numbers is accused of cutting corners or violating civil rights, supervisors often brush it off and declare the complaints unsustained, said Anthony Radosti of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission.

"Where there is smoke, there is fire," Radosti said. "The more productive you are, the less you are scrutinized. Production means arrests, it's quantity versus quality. These arrest numbers became more important to the command structure in their efforts to regain control of the crime situation."

Back in 2008, I talked with former Baltimore cop and co-creator of The Wire Ed Burns about how the numbers game rewards the wrong sort of police work, and does little to make communities safer.