A New Orleans police officer in a specialized unit that killed a man on New Year’s Day has logged dozens of misconduct complaints while winning a similar number of awards for heroic police work. The record of Sgt. Daniel Scanlan has become a flash point in the wake of the killing. Some community leaders have questioned police tactics — particularly the aggressive, plainclothes units like the one Scanlan helped lead — and have called for a thorough vetting of each officer involved. Only one of the dozens of complaints lodged against Scanlan has been sustained by police department internal investigators, and that ruling was overturned on appeal.
Many cops see a long list of citizen complaints as a predictable byproduct of working aggressive patrols in tough neighborhoods. Critics see a pattern of complaints as a red flag, a sign the department may have given an officer too much leeway to operate on the fringes of the law. David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, criticizes such activist units. They produce a large number of pedestrian stops that ultimately result in more petty arrests than serious gun or drug busts, he said. Because officers on such squads typically wear street clothes, those they question don’t always know who they are, causing “awful moments of confusion.”