City's police officers told to keep mum; Information won't be forthcoming until federal officials discuss their inquiry, police union officials say [Tulsa, OK]
Nicole Marshall March 16, 2001
(TULSA, Okla.) -- Rank-and-file police officers have been advised by police union attorneys not to speak to Department of Justice officials until the federal investigators disclose the specific reason for their probe.
Tulsa Police Chief Ron Palmer, who by the nature of his job is not covered by the union's bargaining unit, has been doing the talking with the Justice Department representatives during their two-day trip to Tulsa, FOP Lodge No. 93 President Bob Jackson said.
"It has pretty much been a one-way street. They are wanting to tell us nothing, but they are wanting us to be responsive to their questions. That makes communicating with them pretty difficult, Jackson said.
"They have indicated that they are choosing not to tell us the specifics."
Police and city attorneys were notified last month that the probe was launched under the jurisdiction of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The act bars police officers from engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct "that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States."
Four Justice Department officials met with members of the Police Department, the city and the police union on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Justice Department officials were led on a tour of police buildings, Jackson said.
Palmer has said the Justice Department officials did say that the accusations were generally centered on allegations of excessive force and racial disparities. But beyond that, the trip has provided no new revelations as to who filed the complaint or why.
"The position the FOP has taken -- that has not been contradicted by the Police Department or city of Tulsa -- has been that all of the employees of the Police Department, excluding the chief of police because he is not in the bargaining unit, have been given advice by legal counsel not to respond to any questions submitted to them by the Department of Justice under any circumstances until the Department of Justice specifically tells us why they are here," Jackson said.
Justice Department officials also have failed to provide information about when this investigation was launched, he said.
"I cannot make the determination, based on what I have been told, when this was set in motion. Our assumption is that the decision to open a case file on us and begin an investigation was made in the waning days of the Clinton administration," Jackson said.
"At the time we were notified, the assistant attorney general position, who authorizes these pattern or practice investigations, was vacant."
In nationally published reports, President Bush promised the nation's largest police officers' union during his campaign that he would not permit the Justice Department to interfere with local departments.
"I do not believe that the federal government should instruct state and local authorities on how police department operations should be conducted," Bush wrote in June to the Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. "I do not believe the Justice Department should routinely seek to conduct oversight investigations, issue reports or undertake other activity that is designed to function as a review of police operations in states, cities and towns.
"I will focus my energies on supporting effective law enforcement strategies rather than constantly second-guessing local law enforcement agencies," Bush wrote.
Jackson said he has talked to officials at other police departments where similar pattern or practice investigations have been launched and found that they have had similar trouble getting information about the investigations.
"The Department of Justice has been nonresponsive in all cities they have been to, from what I understand," Jackson said. "The only city that I know of that has forced the Department to give specifics forced them through discovery related to litigation."
About two weeks before Tulsa police learned that the Justice Department had launched an investigation into allegations against local officers, the national police union filed suit against the DOJ, accusing it of using an unconstitutional law to conduct the investigations.
The union's lawsuit, which is pending in federal district court in Washington, D.C., names former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno as a defendant, according to a press release from Gilbert G. Gallegos, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
The national FOP cited the lawsuit filed by the Justice Department against the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department as an example of what they say is an unconstitutional abuse of power.
A pattern or practice investigation, like the one pending against Tulsa, was conducted against the Columbus department.
At the conclusion, the Police Department refused to sign off on a settlement, or consent decree, with the Justice Department. As a result, the Justice Department sued the city.
The national union's lawyers argue that consent decrees, which call for changes in police training, policy and discipline, violate pre-existing collective bargaining contracts.
"Local officers who have not engaged in any wrongdoing should have a voice in the formulation of new policies and procedures that affect their jobs and careers," Gallegos said. "Federal takeover of local law enforcement is an extreme measure that should only be undertaken when the local government itself has committed wrongdoing. Local problems are better solved by local solutions."
Jackson said he has talked with members of the national police union about the ongoing probe in Tulsa.