Indiana Police Chief Promoting As Many Bad Cops As He Can To Supervisory Positions

from the Welcome-to-Zero-Accountability,-Indiana dept

Why is routine police misconduct a problem police departments can't seem to solve? It's a mystery, says Elkhart, Indiana law enforcement.

Twenty-eight of the Elkhart Police Department’s 34 supervisors, from chief down to sergeant, have disciplinary records. The reasons range from carelessness to incompetence to serious, even criminal, misconduct.

Fifteen of them have served suspensions, including [Police Chief Ed] Windbigler himself, who was once suspended for three days and ordered to pay punitive damages in a federal lawsuit alleging excessive force.

Change starts at the stop... unless it's stagnation you're really looking for. Then all you have to do is put someone as questionable as the officers he oversees in charge of the whole mess.

This report -- put together by ProPublica and the South Bend Tribune -- compiles information from public records and court documents to paint a disturbing picture of the Elkhart police force. Making bad cops supervisors ensures misconduct by officers will never be fully addressed.

One promoted officer fired his weapon in three fatal shootings in the span of four years. Sergeant Dan Jones has been promoted twice, despite being found at fault in at least four accidents. He's also Parent of the Year.

Jones was once disciplined for how he picked his child up from elementary school, according to his personnel file. In his squad car, Jones entered a drive marked “wrong way,” cut into line, failed to properly secure his child and then, at a pedestrian crossing, failed to stop for a student holding up her stop sign.

Despite seven reprimands, a suspension, a demotion, and a finding of neglect of duty, Todd Thayer was promoted from corporal to assistant chief in 2016 by Chief Windbigler shortly after he took over the top spot in the department. His suspension involved officers taking suggestive photos of a woman waiting for a ride at the police station.

Another promoted officer shot and killed an unarmed man while serving a search warrant, and tasered a student at a local high school while acting as a school resource officer. Other members of the PD's supervisory team have used data terminals to "talk about white power," repeatedly switched recording devices off, threw away property seized from people they've stopped, slept on the job, filed incomplete paperwork, and been involved in large number of auto accidents and on-the-job shootings.

With these promotions, Chief Windbigler has made it clear he won't hold his officers accountable for their misdeeds. He's been in office for less than two years, but he's already shown he's not willing to mete out discipline.

This month, the city said two Elkhart police officers would be charged with misdemeanor battery after the Tribune requested video that showed them repeatedly punching a handcuffed man in the face. Windbigler had previously opted to limit the two officers’ discipline to reprimands. He told the oversight board they “just went a little overboard when they took him to the ground,” while making no mention of the punches thrown.

There's another level of oversight that may rein some of the worst cops in, but Chief Windbigler is actively avoiding its scrutiny. The Public Safety Board is supposed to be the disciplinary body handling misconduct cases, but Chief Windbigler isn't giving it anything to work with. As the article notes, previous police chiefs brought 20 cases a year to the PSB. Windbigler brought zero cases to the board during his first full year as chief. Since then, he has only brought eight. For all of this accountability-dodging, his officers voted the chief "Officer of the Year," despite the fact the honor is supposed to go to actual officers, not top PD brass.

The news only gets worse for Elkhart residents, who will be paying bad cops to oversee possibly worse cops. The mayor, Tim Neese, has decided to reform the Public Safety Board. Neese, whose son is an Elkhart police officer, will be dropping his two appointees and replacing them with more cops.

He said the board would be made up of five people — and all five would be police officers, including an assistant chief, a captain and an internal affairs lieutenant.

The mayor and police chief don't appear to care how much long-term damage they're doing to community relations and the police department itself. The Elkhart PD spent much of the early 90s defending itself in a long string of civil rights lawsuits that culminated in a study commissioned by the city that showed the department had a "reputation for brutality" and almost zero internal accountability. With these recent brass installations, it's the 90s all over again.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2018 @ 1:51pm

    internal affairs lieutenant

    That's got to be the easiest job ever. He (definitely not "she" in that department) sits around playing solitaire all day and still gets paid for it. Hell, that'll earn him a promotion.

    I wish there were similar studies done for all police departments so we at least know where we stand. As of right now I have to assume my local PD is at least as bad as Elkhart's.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 1:56pm

    Systemic corruption, top to bottom

    At this point if they started an official protection racket it wouldn't surprise me in the least, given they've made it crystal clear that they have no interest in serving anyone but themselves, just like any good crime syndicate, with the only real difference being that criminals without badges can but dream of the power and legal protection these thugs enjoy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2018 @ 9:32am

      Re: Systemic corruption, top to bottom

      "..started an official protection racket.."

      started? dont they already have unions that get them off the hook and immunity from almost every offense? Even video evidence is not enough to secure guilt. And when a lawsuit is successful, its the taxpayer footing the bill. Oh, they have a racket already.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gwiz (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 2:00pm

    Change starts at the stop...

    Is that a Freudian slip there?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rene, 7 Dec 2018 @ 2:09pm

    Can't fix this from the inside

    Either a whole lot of bad cops and their boss get lynched and permanently removed from the equation by angry citizens, OR they make everything a lot worse, a lot harder to fix later on, and increase the abuses several-fold while making it yet-more-impossible-somehow to fix the problem from within.

    This cannot stand, and it cannot be resolved "through the system" when they've long owned and corrupted it; leaving nothing more than a way by which they strike at dissent or quiet their victims.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      keithzg (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 5:18pm

      Re: Can't fix this from the inside

      Fire them all. Start from scratch. Anything short of that, and the toxic culture will persist.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 6:17pm

        Re: Re: Can't fix this from the inside

        The problem with this idea is how does one prevent a nonoccurence of the same thing? Who's going to get hired? 'Experienced' LEO’s from another jurisdiction? Inept not experienced persons who do what they ‘think’ is right?

        There needs to be a process. The corrupt and the bosses that allowed the corrupt must be expunged, no question. But there are some apples, not yet rotted, that might be allowed to flourish. The management level, however is a different story. The best manager is not necessarily the best employee. One could be a good employee, and a lousy manager. Managers (or supervisors, etc.) need to be chosen for their supervisory or managerial skills. They must have knowledge (experiential or otherwise, though experiential will create a better bond) of the underlying activities, and empathy for those activities, or they will get no consensus from their employees. And that is what we actually want.

        Then they can go about teaching them the laws that they are supposed to be enforcing and disciplining them when they fail to follow procedure or go outside of bounds, rather than protecting them, and your own ass.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2018 @ 8:20am

      Re: Can't fix this from the inside

      Are you sure there is absolutely no other options? Sounds like someone who has lost all hope and is a bit depressed. Is this playing into the hands of those who want to start a civil war?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2018 @ 2:38am

        Re: Re: Can't fix this from the inside

        Are you sure there is absolutely no other options? Sounds like someone who has lost all hope and is a bit depressed. Is this playing into the hands of those who want to start a civil war?

        Well let's see:

        1. Soap Box: Didn't we just have a story about Corporate Censorship? Oh, yeah. We did. The next one plays into this as well....

        2. Ballot Box: Republicans that chose to strip power from the seats they lost.Wisconsin and Michigan being the most recent examples. Widespread gerrymandering, and accusations of election fraud in more than one state.

        3. Jury Box: Justice Bro Kavanaugh being confirmed despite mass protests and personal baggage. No links needed. McConnell deciding not to fill Federal Circuit Court openings for two years, only to stuff them full after a more favorable selector got put in, then openly brags about it.

        Given all of the crap going on, I'd say the first three boxes are thoroughly compromised. Given that we are supposed to use them in order, what box comes next? Because it would seem that there is some group that's hellbent on making sure that the next box gets used.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2018 @ 6:42am

          Re: Re: Re: Can't fix this from the inside

          So, there are no options then? It's civil war for sure? Are you nuts?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 10 Dec 2018 @ 5:57am

          Re: Re: Re: Can't fix this from the inside

          All of those people are still warning each other about not getting SOPA'd. The smart thing to do, then, is to caucus with allies in other groups and get them to help you to campaign for change. You don't have to agree with all of them about everything, you just have to agree on this one issue to get the momentum you need to effect change.

          You'll have to work issue by issue with a variety of groups until you see some change. You might have to vote tactically to get someone else into office as a Congressman or Senator, even if it's someone you don't agree with on ideology; once you've got that person in you can address the changes you need to make for now, and work towards changes you want to see down the line.

          Pressure works, but campaign fatigue kicks in sooner or later so you need a large pool of people to work with and you need to keep at it.

          Divisive, nihilistic attitudes will see you out on your own, easily picked off if you do decide to go all Bundy or something.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2018 @ 2:20pm

    Can a patrolmen be fired?

    If NO, Can a supervisor be fired?

    If YES, you have your answer of why.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2018 @ 2:29pm

    Those cops need to be policed

    After watching the video and reading about the handling of this and other incidents, the police force there needs to be removed and prosecuted for its many crimes. I have read fictional accounts of police being less brutal. The town's lawyers need to excise this farce before it costs them all of the tax dollars for the next hundred years in recompense for the many violations of rights occurring on a daily basis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 3:01pm

    Bad cops get promoted

    A cop I know once told me that the "bad" cops tend to be the ones that get promoted.

    At least in some departments.

    It wouldn't be surprising if aggressive types get rewarded and promoted in today's quasi-military police departments.

    Esp. since, unlike a real military, police never actually face an enemy on equal terms.

    The need to win wars (or at least avoid losing them) tends to keeps hotheads out of senior positions in real militaries.

    Pretend-military police lack that discipline.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gwiz (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 4:53pm

    LEO Malpractice Insurance

    This article reinforces the idea of requiring law enforcement to have professional liability insurance, in my mind.

    Doctors, who also have stressful occupations and make life and death decisions, are required to have malpractice insurance, why not cops?

    As long as this insurance was paid from the officer's pocket, it would create a win-win situation. If the insurance company (insurance companies are pretty good at risk management) deemed an officer to be high-risk, his insurance premium would increase until he couldn't afford it and he would become unemployable. It would also reduce the huge liability currently being placed on municipalities for officer misconduct.

    The one drawback I see is the risk that policing will become dictated by the insurance companies (like health insurance is). We would have to put in measures at the ground level to prevent that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2018 @ 6:59pm

      Re: LEO Malpractice Insurance

      On paper, a good idea. But I don't see anyway around the fact that insurance companies make money by being evil. If you can solve that problem, you can solve a ton of other problems in society. Government regulation can't fix the problem, because Trump can be elected president and just tell his people that being evil is good so long as they say good things about him.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 8 Dec 2018 @ 4:56am

      Re: LEO Malpractice Insurance

      Won't work. It'll become part of their Union Dues within the first six months.

      And then... they'll cry that it's soooo expensive to be a cop they need a pay raise, which they'll get by the usual methods (standing down and not patrolling "expensive" neighborhoods), so it'll end up coming out of taxpayer pockets instead of their own.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2018 @ 9:20am

      Re: LEO Malpractice Insurance

      Malpractice insurance is totally ineffective for cops until we drastically change the qualified immunity doctrine.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2018 @ 5:02am

    isn't this typical USA procedure in just about everything? instead of holding anyone to account, promote them and let them give reasons why no one is held to account!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 8 Dec 2018 @ 12:47pm

    up to the.

    So what are the local citizens doing about it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 10 Dec 2018 @ 8:37am

    Nothing is ever going to be done about criminal cops until you attack them where it actually hurts them: their pensions. As long as all these civil suits just go after the city's money, the cops don't give a damn. Go after the cop's pensions, though, and they'll notice. Make them homeless and destitute, then they'll pay attention.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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