In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, “a tough-on-crime” super law that expanded law enforcement funding nationwide and increased the number of police officers by 100,000, among other nasty provisions.
The law was designed to do many things that now look incredibly foolish and self-serving. The law expanded funding for state and local law enforcement agencies to put more officers on the streets, it gave cash incentives for throwing more people in jail, and it gutted rehabilitation and crime-prevention programs while increasing spending on prison construction.
“Here’s the federal government coming in and saying we’ll give you money if you punish people more severely, and 28 states and the District of Columbia followed the money and enacted stricter sentencing laws,” said Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Twenty years later, homicides and violent crimes are decreasing. However, incarceration rates and death-by-cop incidents are higher than they’ve ever been. This poses the crux of the American crime problem. Why are we throwing more and more people behind bars when violent crimes have plummeted? And why are more cops killing more people?
The crux of that problem points to police militarization and a weakened state of law enforcement oversight. More busts means more money, and rather than police departments being overseen by an outside regulatory group, they mostly conduct behavioral and misconduct investigations from within. In some instances, departments don’t even check the backgrounds of new officers.
Just in the last six months, three unarmed black men have been killed at the hands of overzealous police officers, and all of which have received national attention. Though each are horrifying, the killing 12-year-old Namir Rice by Cleveland police officer Tim Loehmann is perhaps the most horrid.
Loehmann and a fellow officer were dispatched to Cleveland’s Cudell Commons Park after receiving calls that someone has a “probably fake” gun at the park. Surveillance later showed that Rice, who had the fake gun, never posed to threat or even acted with aggression. However, Loehmann got out of the passenger side of the police cruiser and shot Rice before his partner even exited the car.
Reason-based speculation asserts that the Cleveland police department didn’t bother looking into Loehmann’s background before hiring him six months ago. Before working in Cleveland, Loehmann served as a policeman in Independence, Ohio, where he was deemed unfit to be a cop in late 2012.
“He [Loehmann] could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal,” stated a memo written by Deputy Chief Jim Polak. The memo further stated that Loehmann became “distracted and weepy” because of relationship issues. It also stated that he was “not mature enough in his accepting of responsibility or his understanding the severity of his loss of control on the [gun] range.”
Polak concluded by recommending that Polak be released from the Independence police force.
Nearly two years later, Loehmann returned to police work in Cleveland where he would shoot a young child in an overzealous matter.
Officials with the Cleveland P.D. are saying that they have not seen the memo written by Polak years prior, let alone Loehmann’s entire personnel file.
“I have not received any instruction about it, and I have not received the file,” said Sgt. Ali Pillow, Cleveland PD spokesperson. The department itself has not commented on whether its seen the memo or not.
Despite this, Loehmann still participated in Cleveland PD’s academy and was assigned to the city’s fourth district. Considering this, how was it that Loehmann was able to pass the academy and get placed on active police duty?
According to the Cleveland PD’s website, police candidates must “undergo background, psychological, and medical evaluations.”
However, the department has stated there is no “written policy mandating a review of an applicant’s previous employer personnel file.”
The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a psychological evaluation test given to police candidates around the country and has been noted as the standard test for such evaluations. Specifically, the test measures the candidates’ psychological and emotional wellness in terms of relating to on-the-job performance. More times than not, the test has proven successful in determining such criteria.
All things considered, if the test is so successful, how is it that Loehmann was able to pass through the Cleveland PD’s evaluations? Either Loehmann lied on the test, the Cleveland PD never looked into Loehmann’s background, or some combination of the two.
From these examples, one can surmise that either the MMPI test isn’t as sound as once thought, or the Cleveland police completely slacks off by not thoroughly looking into each police candidate. And if that’s the case (it most likely is), then how many other officers in Cleveland are on the streets having not been looked into?
It would be naive to assume that this problem is unique to the Cleveland PD. Surely, it’s a problem in other cities across the country. Since Clinton’s tough-on-crime law has been perpetuating this wrongly perceived, constant “need” for more cops, it’s likely departments are thoughtlessly churning out new officers who haven’t been properly vetted.
In most, if not all, cases, once officers pass their psychological evaluations, they never have to reevaluate with the department. They have to re-qualify for their firearms and physical certifications, but they never have to update their psych evaluations. This is a problem that needs to be addressed and fixed. Because of a false need for more police, lacking oversight, and laxed pre-employment screening, Tamir Rice and several other people have been killed.