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    Black officers group calls for weeding out bad cops

    During a Tampa conference, organization leaders say officials must act swiftly to end brutality.

    By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 21, 2002


    TAMPA -- Several of the nation's top African-American law enforcement officials called on their peers Saturday to do more to quell police brutality.

    "It's a leadership issue," said Detroit police Chief Jerry Oliver.

    Oliver was speaking at the annual convention of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, which is being held this year at the Tampa Convention Center.

    He and other high-ranking black officers used a news conference to decry the spate of beatings caught recently on videotape, including episodes in Inglewood, Calif., Oklahoma City and Milwaukee.

    "We are certainly disturbed by what we saw," said Leonard Cook, the organization's president.

    The recent incidents all involve white officers, black suspects and what appears to be an unnecessary use of force.

    NOBLE members called on police departments to act swiftly when such incidents are exposed, and to do more to weed out "bad apples" before they harm both citizens and police credibility.

    Phoenix police Chief Harold Hurtt said that after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the stock of police officers soared. But in the wake of the videotaped beatings, "we're losing value," Hurtt said.

    Among the incidents since March:

    An Inglewood police officer is shown slamming a black teen onto a car and hitting him with a closed fist. The video was taken by an onlooker. An Oklahoma City officer is shown kicking and punching a black suspect who police suspected was concealing marijuana. An amateur cameraman caught it.

    In Milwaukee, a white police officer is shown shoving a black man against a wall in an interrogation room, grabbing him around the neck and wrestling him onto a table. Then the officer flexes his biceps.

    The scene was caught by the surveillance camera.

    Closer to home, a Winter Haven police officer resigned Friday after the camera on another police car showed him striking a black man on the legs with his baton.

    NOBLE officials said they didn't know details of the Florida incident. But they weren't surprised.

    "This activity can happen in any city," Hurtt said.

    He said part of the solution is more selective hiring.

    In Phoenix, citizens sit with police officials on selection boards for recruits.

    "I think Mrs. Jones has a right to say, "I think I'm a little concerned about this guy over here,' " Hurtt said.

    Oliver said police chiefs must act quickly when such incidents surface, whether that means disciplinary action, firing or prosecution.

    "It needs to be swift and sure," he said. "Over the years, the swift and sure hasn't been there."

    Despite the videotapes, Oliver said he was encouraged by the response from many police chiefs, such as Winter Haven Chief Darrell Kirkland.

    "He came on television . . . and said, "It's despicable,' " Oliver said.

    In the past, such statements were rare, Oliver said.

    The NOBLE conference continues Monday, when FBI Director Robert Mueller will be a guest speaker.

    -- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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