The shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., has sparked a Justice Department investigation of that city’s police force. Authorities will be looking for possible civil rights violations in other cases.
There are currently 17 major police and sheriff’s departments under investigation for alleged civil rights abuses across the country. Those alleged abuses include the fatal shooting of a homeless Native American man on a street corner in Seattle, the killing of James Chasse, a 42 year-old schizophrenic from Portland, and the beating of an inmate in a South Carolina jail.
A 2009 video, allegedly showing Latino residents being harassed by police in the small town of East Haven, Conn., is at the heart of a growing controversy over civil rights violations at the hands of the law.
Rev. James Manship shot the sensitive video and was immediately arrested. Manship told CBS News, “The officer asked what I was doing, and I told him, I was videotaping.”
Manship says it’s just another example of East Haven police abusing their power against the Latino community. “We did have stories of physical violence against them, threats made against them and their families,” he said.
After his arrest, Manship filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of East Haven’s small Latino community.
The two East Haven police officers in the video were indicted with two others on federal civil rights charges, alleging they used their badges to assault, harass, and falsely arrests Latinos.
Some residents had come to fear those who were paid to protect them. Resident Mario Rodriguez told CBS News, “Everybody is afraid. When you follow a deer with a gun, the deer running right? That’s what we’re doing.”
According to the Justice Department’s report, “The pattern or practice of discriminatory policing…is deeply rooted in the department’s culture…”
Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, the Justice Department’s top civil rights official, told CBS News, “From time to time in our police work, we find departments that are frankly broken from top to bottom.”
East Haven, Perez said, isn’t the only broken police department. “We have more investigations underway than ever before,” he said. “The problems are far-reaching in East Haven. The problems are far-reaching in New Orleans. The problems are far-reaching in Puerto Rico.”
When asked if this issue has broken out recently, if it is cops gone wild or if it’s an issue that was ignored, Perez said, “I think there was an old paradigm of how to deal with police issues, and that is you can either reduce crime or you respect the constitution, but you can’t do both. That approach will inevitably lead to the belief that, ‘well, we shouldn’t second-guess police departments.’ I categorically reject that notion.”
In Maricopa County, Ariz., the flamboyant Sheriff Joseph Arpaio is accused of bias policing towards Latinos, an accusation he denies. “I’m not a social worker, I’m a cop,” Arpaio told CBS News.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio: “I’m not a social worker. I’m a cop”
Bill Bratton has run three major police departments – Los Angeles, New York City, and Boston. He knows well the symptoms of a broken system, and how to fix them.
Bratton said, “American policing describes itself as a profession, but when you match it up against other professions and their bodies of knowledge and their standards and practices for which their practitioners have to adhere to, we still have a long way to go.”
“If leadership is sending signals that anything goes, then there will be those in the organization that are going to take advantage of that,” Bratton said.
Perez added, “A front line police officer, his or her most important currency is the confidence of the public.”
Most law enforcement are doing a great job, CBS News senior correspondent John Miller said Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.” “Ninety-nine percent of police officers, of course, 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the country go to work and do a great job every day. I think when you see 17 of these going, you might see more of them, that’s the Justice Department’s posture on this, which is we’re going to get into these things. On the other hand, police departments, police chiefs may look at this trend and say, ‘I need to clean up inside before they get here.'”
Law enforcement officials that want to work with the Justice Department will do better through an investigation than others, Miller added.
“That’s a pretty daunting thing, to have the Justice Department come over and say, ‘Here’s a new way of doing things.’ As Bill Bratton points out, it’s the chief who gets involved in that process and says, ‘let’s figure out how to fix this together’ who ends up getting a better contract with the Justice Department than one that (says), ‘Whatever you want to do, we’ll stick with it.”