April 17, 2015

150 cops for 300 residents: the Michigan town running 'pay-to-play' policing

Oakley, Michigan, is not a hotbed of crime. But if that should change, it seems well placed to cope, because the village is believed to have a police force numbering almost 150 people, or one officer for every two residents.
One, Robert James Ritchie, does not live in Oakley. A Detroit-area native better known as the rapper Kid Rock, he applied to join the village’s small army of reserve police officers, according to an attorney, along with many prominent Michigan professionals and businesspeople and a football player for the Miami Dolphins.

“A small blip on the map, the little village of Oakley, with less than 300 residents, has got dozens and dozens of no-show secret police officers,” said Philip Ellison, a lawyer who is representing the family who own Oakley’s tavern in lawsuits attempting to force transparency from village leaders about the scheme.
Ellison said the singer was one of the names on a document released to him which he is not allowed to make public in full.
“None of the reservists, with the exception of one, live within an hour and a half of the village of Oakley,” said Ellison. He and others say the police force is in effect running a “pay to play” scheme with parallels to the controversy in Tulsa, Oklahoma that erupted after a wealthy white 73-year-old reserve deputy with close links to the sheriff shot dead a black man during a botched sting operation after apparently mistaking his gun for his Taser.
Bob Bates, an insurance executive who has been charged with manslaughter and is out on bail, gave money to the sheriff’s re-election fund, went fishing with him and donated expensive equipment including cars to the Tulsa County sheriff’s office. On Thursday, Tulsa World reported that at least three of Bates’s supervisors were transferred after refusing to falsify training records to give him credit for training he never took and firearms certifications he was not entitled to receive.
The sheriff, Stanley Glanz, told KFAQ radio that Bates was certified to use three weapons, including the gun that killed Eric Harris, but the paperwork had gone missing and they were unable to contact the firearms instructor who qualified him, who had since joined the secret service. A lawyer for Bates and a spokesman for the sheriff’s office did not return requests for comment.
Speaking to NBC on Friday, Bates denied that supervisors at the sheriff’s office were told to forge his training records and said that he had done the required training.
“That is absolutely the truth. I have it in writing,” he said. 
The case has raised questions about the competence and training levels of armed volunteer police officers and whether some are unqualified and unsuitable but have received their badges through a quid pro quo arrangement.
“Untrained or low-trained individuals who made a donation are given a badge, allowed to exercise some sort of police authority, they’re armed and I think the Oklahoma case is a foreshadow of what could happen in any of these towns that have this type of reserve programme, including the village of Oakley. It just happened in Oklahoma first,” Ellison said.
It often cost applicants more than a thousand dollars to become a reservist at the quiet settlement 30 miles west of Flint. The Saginaw News reported that last May the police department was sitting on more than $165,000 and there were 185 “receipts” ranging from $50 to $4,000 and totalling $245,510 between 2008 and 2014. The News reported that in 2013 the police department bought every home in the village a ham for Christmas.
Oakley’s police chief, Robert Reznick, did not respond to a request for comment.
Ellison said that in the first quarter of this year the police department received only four calls for help. He said the motivation for paying to become an Oakley reservist was likely to be enhanced rights to carry a firearm in the state.
“By being a reserve officer they are exempted from those prohibited areas – schools, churches, casinos, stadiums, taverns and restaurants where alcohol is served. Essentially there are no prohibited areas whatsoever with this permit,” he said.
Ross Wolf, an associate dean at the University of Central Florida, is a reserve officer in the Orange County sheriff’s office and has authored studies on the subject.
“I’ve come across this before where there’s been people who pay to be reserves,” he said. “It’s not very common. However, there are also people who are well-off who are reserves and they have money and it’s just like if someone worked at the food pantry as their volunteer job and they said ‘You know what, I want to give extra money to the food pantry because that’s where my interests lie.’
“It does look bad and that’s the problem. I always, always discourage it because of that.”
Duties and requirements vary widely from state to state and department to department. In an era of tight budgets, many forces, even in major cities, bolster their ranks with free or cheap part-time labour and accept gifts from the public. In 2013, for example, the former Houston Texans NFL player Mario Williamsdonated five Dodge Chargers to the Houston police department, the fifth largest in the country.
New York has 4,500 unarmed “auxiliary” officers. In Florida, Wolf said he was licensed to carry a weapon, had been in dangerous situations and underwent 40 hours of training a year. In Oklahoma, reserves are supposed to receive 240 hours of training.
“When my neighbours are sleeping I’m out there patrolling their neighbourhoods and making sure that they’re safe. I see it as a community service,” Wolf said.
Wolf said there was no reliable figure for the number of law enforcement volunteers nationwide but it is likely to be tens of thousands and the practice has been common for half a century. In 2013 he conducted a survey of sheriff’s reservists which found that 90% of respondents had “law enforcement authority to be armed, 69% while on- or off-duty”.
Bates is not the first to fire a gun accidentally in recent times. In Iowa last July a reserve deputy shot a vehicle’s door after a car chase. No one was hurt. In 2012 an Alabama reserve died after being shot during target practice.
Volunteers have also fallen foul of the law. In 2012 an Atlanta man tipped off suspected drug dealers about an FBI investigation.

1 comment: