Two weeks ago hackers released over two gigabytes of data from the Fraternal Order of Police’s (FOP) servers onto the internet. A significant portion of the data pertained to collective bargaining contracts between cities and their respective police departments.
The Guardian published an article Feb. 7 analyzing 30 percent of the contracts, which included elements that barred public access to records of civilian complaints, departmental investigations and disciplinary actions.
“If information about officers’ behaviors are not made available to the public for review it calls into question ‘Well, what are you hiding?’ Sometimes it’s not the crime, it’s the cover up,” said Kenneth Novak, Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at UMKC. “And this is what it kind of feels like. If you have nothing to hide, then why wouldn’t you disclose that information?”
Novak’s training and education focuses on police in America and he has authored two books on policing. Novak also has worked with several local agencies on crime prevention strategies.
The information released by the hackers revealed numerous contracts which serve to hinder the investigation of claims of misconduct regarding police officers. The contracts also allow for the destruction of records pertaining to these incidents after certain periods of time.
Among the files were documents from the Independence, Missouri, Police Department. These documents, dating back to 2007, revealed practices which prevented the interrogation of officers involved in shootings for at least 12 hours. These officers also could not be considered suspects unless the Independence Police Department had reasonable cause to do so.
According to Novak, these contracts—collective bargaining agreements—are fairly commonplace in public works. From the FOP’s perspective these agreements are made to protect their membership.
The Guardian spoke to Chuck Canterbury, President of the FOP, who corroborated this claim stating that these contracts protect their officers’ due process.
Toya Like, an associate professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at UMKC, explained the impact these contracts can have on public perception.
“Having situations where records can be expunged and things that may raise an eye can be expunged from a law enforcement officer’s record further builds the divide between law enforcement and the community,” Like said. “Especially given the constraints between law enforcement and the African American community.”
Like’s expertise in crime and justice pertains to racial and ethnic patterns and the implications of race and ethnicity as they relate to crime. She stated that the history of law enforcement in America—whose origins stem from slave patrols—makes transparency a necessity.
Novak also commented on the importance of transparency in light of recent events concerning law enforcement.
“Over the last year and a half we’ve had a very public conversation about the legitimacy of the police in America. And this is part of that larger conversation,” said Novak. “Starting with the events in Ferguson and followed by a series of high-visibility use of force incidents, the public has started to question the policies and practices of the police in new ways.”
According to Novak, contracts limiting the transparency of the actions of police officers contributes to the general public’s questioning.
Only one person has accepted responsibility for the hack against the FOP, an individual who calls himself Cthulu. Cthulu claims that he possesses considerably more data that has not been released. What sort of information is contained in this data is unknown.
Novak speculates that there may be more collective bargaining agreements such as those analyzed by The Guardian.
“Potentially there may be 18,000 of these types of contracts in place because policing in America is so fragmented and decentralized,” Novak said. “It sounds like from the article that this is just a handful of collective bargaining agreements that were made public.”
Like expressed her belief that this leak might prompt a change in the police departments of America.
“It certainly hopefully lights a fire under them,” Like said. “That they still have work to do and that transparency is not going to hinder what they do, it can only solidify and validate and legitimize what they’re doing in terms of serving and protecting our communities.”
Like believes that the leak will force police departments to be more transparent regarding disciplinary actions and complaints.
Many students in UMKC’s Criminal Justice and Criminology Department are pursuing careers in law enforcement. Like hopes that the information revealed to the public will only strengthen the resolve of these students.
Novak stated that students pursuing careers in this field should become very aware of collective bargaining agreements as they are commonplace practices. He also believes that’s citizen’s complaints against officers are a natural part of law enforcement.
“If people aren’t having citizens complain about them at least a little bit from time to time,” Novak said, “it’s probably because they’re not doing all that much.”