Members of the Thin Blue Line risk their lives every day to protect citizens' lives and property. But there are bad apples in every organization, and local police departments are no exception.
In the past three and a half years, more than 90 D.C. metropolitan police officers have themselves been arrested for felonies ranging from murder to domestic assault to child pornography, according to a sobering report by Aubrey Whelan in Monday's Examiner. Nineteen D.C. cops have been arrested so far this year, compared to six in Philadelphia -- whose force is twice the size of the District's.
It's extremely difficult to foster respect for the law when there are so many criminals wearing badges, and when 12 of 14 seats on the city's Police Officers Standards and Training Board remain vacant. But police misconduct is not limited to D.C.
Nicholas Beltrante, executive director of the Alexandria-based Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, has just filed a formal request for an investigation with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division regarding 14 "highly questionable" police-involved shootings since 2005. The latest happened July 8, when 21-year-old volunteer fireman Nicholas Kaelber was shot and killed by Fairfax County police while walking with a friend in a "known high crime area."
A former MPD homicide detective, Beltrante started the CCPA after David Masters was shot in the back in his stalled car by Fairfax police three years ago after the unarmed former Green Beret allegedly stole flowers from a business on Route 1. Although the department's own guidelines do not allow the use of deadly force while apprehending a misdemeanant, the officers involved were cleared after an internal investigation.
Beltrante told The Examiner that federal officials told him that there have been 63 civil rights complaints filed against the Fairfax County Police Department between 1987 and 2011, but not one Fairfax police officer has ever been charged with misconduct since the department was formed in 1942. Even after cases are officially closed, victims' families are denied copies of incident reports and other information that other police departments around the country routinely provide.
The CCPA wants a civilian review board similar to the D.C. Office of Police Complaints, to break the blue wall of silence that now prevails in Fairfax County. But as the District's own experience shows, it will take much more engagement by elected officials to really police the police.