By Paul Hirschfield
Paul Hirschfield does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
The Conversation is funded by Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Knight Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Alfred P Sloan Foundation, Rita Allen Foundation and the Simons Foundation. Our global publishing platform is funded by Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
In the sixth GOP debate, Donald Trump told Americans: “The police are the most mistreated people in this country.”
On the same day, the Chicago Police Department released a videoshowing an officer killing Cedric Chatman in 2013. The teen was sprinting away at the time of the shooting, unarmed except for a stolen cellphone box. The officer has faced no consequences for his death.
The ritual of an unnecessary police killing with no real accountability has become painfully familiar. The unnecessary deaths of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner in 2014 are among those that galvanized a national movement for greater restraint, accountability and equity in policing.
And yet, 2015 may have been American cops' deadliest year on record. According to my analysis of the Fatal Encounters database, police violence directly caused or played a role in 1,126 deaths in 2015, up from 1,072 deaths in 2014.
Outrage over high profile incidents and a shift in public opinion has led police departments around the nation to equip more officers with cameras and add deescalation training.
But no local, state or federal lawmakers have banned police from using unnecessary deadly force. Rather, lawmakers at all levels still allow police the maximum latitude to use deadly force that constitutional law permits. Indeed, a comparison with police in the U.K. shows that this leniency goes too far to protect police at the price of civilian deaths.
Who is protecting whom?
As written, interpreted and enforced, laws and rules protect the police from the public. They are woefully inadequate, however, at protecting the public from the police.
Despite some high-profile violence against police, American police officers have never been safer. Concerns over a “Ferguson effect” – another topic at the latest GOP debate – are premature, at best.
The Supreme Court invalidated deadly force to make arrests or prevent escapes back in 1985. They later ruled that laws permitting deadly force to prevent grave and imminent harm from the perspective of a “reasonable officer on the scene” are constitutional. The Supreme Court imagined the reasonableness standard as “objective” in light of the full set of “facts and circumstances confronting” the officer at the time deadly force is used.
In practice, the reasonableness of deadly force is fluid and contested.
What is a “reasonable fear” in a post-Bernardino, post-9/11 America? If fearing remote, worst-case scenarios is common sense, then are any perceived threats regarding “criminal suspects” unreasonable?
Flexible definitions have permitted prosecutors to claim police had “objectively reasonable” fears of cars that were driving away, unarmed people running away and even people with their hands up.
Research by The Guardian shows that young black men are five times more likely than young white men to be killed by police. But these permissive laws are a problem that transcends race.
Since July alone, at least 54 unarmed white men have been killed by police who faced no reasonable fear of criminal charges.
State legislatures could have passed their own laws to make clear when deadly force is unreasonable, but none have bothered.
Permissive laws endure because whenever tighter restrictions on the use of deadly force are proposed, police leaders and their advocates swiftly attack them and their proponents for endangering officers.
Their winning argument is that officers must make hurried risk assessments while facing extreme stress in tough-to-read situations. Exercising more care and restraint – for example, pausing long enough to determine whether a suspicious object or movement toward the officer’s weapon is a credible threat – means gambling with their lives, the argument goes. They apparently believe that hundreds of unnecessary killings would be a regrettable, but acceptable, price to pay in order to keep police safe.
And that is where the political debate usually stops, if it even starts.
Lawmakers are rarely asked to justify their support of these policies that cost far more lives than they save. However, there is a point at which this ratio feels unacceptably high to the majority of voters in a civilized society.
The most deadly practices
Perhaps the best way to save civilian lives is to limit the police use of so-called tactical responses that are the most likely to result in unnecessary deaths.
Comparing police killings and officer fatalities in the United States to the United Kingdom reveals some of these tactics and circumstances.
Fatal police shootings are exceedingly rare in the U.K. Americans were 403 times more likely than Brits to be fatally shot by police in 2013-14.
If British police survive the same types of situations without taking any lives, that suggests most killings in the United States under those circumstances are unnecessary.
Weapons that rarely kill police officers
Consider, for example, the estimated 663 people in the U.S. fatally shot while allegedly wielding blades or blunt objects since 2013. Such weapons have killed only nine U.S. police officers since 2008.
Police were not in any grave danger when they killed people like Lavall Hall, Mario Woods and Darrien Hunt – men who never raised their weapons.
British police recorded 26,370 violent knife crimes during the 2014-15 fiscal year, including those that threatened police. But British police have killed only one person armed with a knife since 2008. During that time, no British officers were killed by weapons other than guns.
American police fatally shot 53 unarmed people in vehicles in 2015. By contrast, since 2008, no British police have killed anyone to stop a threatening vehicle. During that same period of time, no British cops died because they failed to stop a vehicle.
In addition to unarmed motorists, American police killed about 200 completely unarmed people last year. This easily exceeds the total of those legally executed over the last five years.
This suggests that prohibiting the use of deadly force against people unarmed and fleeing, armed only with vehicles or armed with less dangerous weapons and not attacking anyone would make policing only slightly riskier while saving hundreds of lives over the next several years.
The same logic applies to other potentially lethal “tactical responses” that can safely be outlawed – such as head strikes, chokeholds, and tasing people who are nonviolent, subdued or fleeing.
Fewer killings, better policing
Reform opponents are armed and ready. They will warn that modest reforms will chase good people from police work and increase crime, but the experience of countries with more restrictive deadly force laws suggests that’s not true.
Staunchly “prolife” police forces like Norway’s and Finland’s tend to enjoy more public trust and attract more upstanding recruits. Crime and arrests may decline under stricter deadly force rules, because better respected police should garner more legitimacy and cooperation.
Restricting deadly force will require investing more in police training and nonlethal weapons technology. A great source of funding is the billions of dollars that will otherwise be spent settling lawsuits stemming from unnecessary deadly force.
State and federal laws and police guidelines all give special consideration to police, because they put their lives on the line to keep us safe. But these laws are asking far more civilians to put their lives on the line in order to keep police safe. Such laws do not afford everyone “equal protection” and, therefore, require thoughtful and urgent revision.
Sanders pushes automatic investigations on deaths in police custody
By GABRIEL DEBENEDETTI
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Bernie Sanders called for an automatic Justice Department investigation every time an American is killed in police custody, a new proposal from a candidate who has made criminal justice reform a bigger part of his platform recently.
"This is a responsibility for the U.S. Justice Department to get involved," Sanders said, responding to a YouTube questioner.
"Second of all," Sanders added, "I speak as a mayor who worked very closely — a majority are honest, hard-working people trying to do a difficult job, but let us be clear. If a police officer breaks the law, like any public official, that officer must be held accountable."
The state Law Enforcement Division arrested a second ex-police officer in connection with an arrest in which a man alleged the cops used excessive force.
John Newton Bell, a former officer with the Honea Path Police Department, was charged with misconduct in office, SLED said. He made false and contradictory statements to authorities about the arrest of a man in November 2014, according to an arrest warrant. The document alleges the misconduct occurred from Nov. 14, 2014, to March 25, 2015.
Robert Joshua Shaw, 32, was arrested Friday and charged with misconduct in office in connection with the same arrest. He made false and contradictory statements about the arrest from Nov. 14, 2014 to Dec. 17, 2014, according to an arrest warrant.
Bell, 38, and Shaw arrested Brian Hatcher, of Belton, on November 14, 2014.
Police said Hatcher failed to stop for blue lights and led officers on a chase of nearly two miles until pulling over. At some point, Hatcher pulled out a knife and a fight ensued, SLED said at the time. SLED spokesman Thom Berry said Monday he could not comment on the statements the officers made that were false and contradictory in the subsequent investigation.
Tom Dunaway, Hatcher's attorney, said his client suffered a skull fracture, lost hearing in one ear, and loss sight in one eye after the arrest.
SLED began investigating at the request of the Honea Path Police Department, and the officers were placed on administrative leave after the arrest. In April 2015, the Police Department fired Shaw and Bell after meeting with SLED and the 10th Circuit Solicitor's Office.
The misconduct charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
The Police Department faced questions about its hiring procedures in the wake of Hatcher's arrest. Police Chief David King addressed those questions in a statement Tuesday. He said nothing reported to the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy would've prevented the hiring of Shaw and Bell.
"This agency accurately reports all incidents that could affect an officer's career," King said in the statement. "I feel that any negative information concerning previous behavior should have been reported to the SCCJA and also provided to us by the other agencies when they were contacted during our background investigation."
The $5.3 million settlement is reached after a man was shot by a university police officer.
BY ALBERT STUMMTHE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The sister of a man fatally shot by a University of Cincinnati police officer who pulled him over for lacking a front license plate said she hopes a $5.3 million settlement will help prevent another family from losing a loved one.
The settlement with the university, which was announced Monday, gives the family of Samuel DuBose $4.85 million and promises free undergraduate tuition for his 12 children.
It also provides for a memorial commemorating DuBose, an apology from the university and the family’s involvement in a community advisory committee on police reform.
DuBose’s sister, Terina Allen, said the monetary aspects of the settlement are secondary to overhauling the university police department.
“Ultimately, Sam’s death will serve as a reminder of just how final it is to pull a gun. And hopefully officers will think twice about pulling a gun,” said Allen, who spoke on behalf of the family.
“I hope people will obey police officers’ orders, but in the end they can’t be judge, jury and executioner.”
DuBose, 43, was shot and killed behind the wheel of his car on July 19 after Officer Ray Tensing stopped him near campus for missing a front license plate, which is required by Ohio law. Tensing was charged with murder and pleaded not guilty.
University President Santa Ono said he wanted to express the university community’s “deepest sadness and regrets at the heartbreaking loss” of DuBose’s life.
“This agreement is also part of the healing process not only for the family but also for our university and Cincinnati communities,” he said.
Tensing said that after he stopped the car, DuBose refused to provide a driver’s license and get out.
A struggle ensued as DuBose tried to drive away, and Tensing said he fired because he feared being dragged under the car, said his attorney, Stewart Matthews. A hearing to set a trial date has been scheduled for Feb. 11, Matthews said.
The shooting occurred during heightened scrutiny across the United States of police treatment of blacks, after a string of police-inflicted deaths including in Ferguson, Missouri, and Chicago sparked sometimes-violent protests over the past year and a half.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a famous rule: “Never let a crisis go to waste.” He got what he wanted.
The crisis with Chicago police is a golden opportunity for reform. But the only way to avoid wasting it is to pivot away from blaming individual cops and toward reforming a broken system that rewards exactly the type of inaction he displayed by turning his eyes away from the shocking film in which Laquan McDonald is gunned down by Chicago police.
Officer Jason Van Dyke has been indicted for first-degree murder and all the direct blame has been on him. But to really understand the persistence of police brutality, focus on the eight cops who stood and watched a cold-blooded killing, five of whom turned in nearly identical yet wildly inaccurate reports exonerating their fellow officer. Or the top brass who signed off on these reports, even after seeing the video they blatantly contradicted. Or the City Council, which paid $5 million in hush money without asking to see the video. Or the mayor’s lawyers, who did see the video — and insisted on keeping it under wraps.
The public wants to know: Why did nobody speak up? The answer is: because when it comes to police brutality, action is dangerous and inaction is safe. Chicago has a long sorry history of rewarding inaction and punishing action, and both the cops and the politicians know it.
Consider the story of Frank Laverty, who joined the Chicago Police Department in 1968 and became a homicide detective. But he derailed his career by blowing the whistle on the department’s illegal practice of keeping secret files of evidence never disclosed to defense attorneys. Laverty disclosed one of these files to stop an innocent man from being tried for capital murder, and then received death threats from his fellow officers. Of all those involved in this disgraceful incident, only one officer was charged with a disciplinary infraction: Laverty himself, for failing to work within the chain of command. He ended up demoted to collecting urine samples from police recruits.
This happened at the infamous Area Two, the precinct in which John Burge and his men tortured at least 117 suspects. Each complaint was dismissed as meritless, until finally in 1989 a group of civil rights attorneys received an anonymous note from someone with intimate knowledge of the police conduct — someone who plausibly claimed to be a detective. But he didn’t go public, he said, because he didn’t want to suffer the same fate as Frank Laverty.
This chain of events helps explain why a police officer, even one of good conscience, might help cover up a criminal act by a fellow cop. At the Chicago P.D., only the disloyal have anything to fear. The chances of being disciplined or even denied promotion are statistically minuscule while the risks of disloyalty are enormous. This is true all the way up the chain of command and beyond.
A good story usually has villains with evil motives and some kind of change at the end. But the story of Chicago police brutality and corruption is far more banal. When we look for villains, we miss the real story. Sometimes there is a genuine hero like Frank Laverty or a villain like John Burge. But reform isn’t stymied by a few bad cops. It’s stymied by the complicity of all those who ignore it. Complicity throughout the city — by the attorney general, the City Council and now the mayor. Even inaction by the courts, which far too often turn a blind eye to police perjury.
In this case, some have pointed to motives for the cover-up, such as the mayor’s tough 2014 re-election race. But looking away is the traditional Chicago response to police brutality in any season because it is confined to neighborhoods where poor, marginalized people reside — people without influence. For the rest of the city, it is usually invisible. When the occasional story of brutality surfaces, it becomes too easy to believe assurances that the police had to defend themselves, or that what happened was an aberration.
This is where we get to the most uncomfortable layer of inaction: our own. Few of us would explicitly condone murder or torture by those sworn to protect us. But we don’t have to approve of it. We just have to look the other way.
The videos contradicting the official story have changed the game. They have sparked outrage and created another Rahmian “crisis” that shouldn’t go to waste, even if the mayor becomes a casualty of his own doctrine.
Lasting change will come only when the official city incentives are changed — when laziness in the face of outrageous conduct becomes a liability instead of a strategy for getting through the day.
Susan Bandes is a professor of law at DePaul University and a 2015 Public Voices Fellow of The Oped Project.
By Ovetta Wiggins January 18
Dozens of bundled-up protesters, holding unlit candles in their gloved hands, walked to the center of Lawyer’s Mall in the bitter cold Monday night as the names of victims of police brutality in Maryland were read.
“Tom, Prince George’s County, white,” a woman read. “Eric, Baltimore City, black.”
One by one, the protesters lay down on the frigid pavement. A statute of Thurgood Marshall stood above. The demonstrators said they staged a “die-in” on the grounds of the Maryland State House to call on lawmakers to enact “strong” police reform during their 90-day session.
“In 2016, I want people to look back and say that this was the year that Maryland made . . . rebuilding the trust between communities and the police . . . a priority,” said Larry Stafford Jr., executive director of Progressive Maryland.
Stafford, one of the event’s organizers, said he chose Martin Luther King Jr. Day to hold the rally, calling it the “perfect” day to kick off efforts to push for police reform in the state.
“It’s a day that we take to reclaim the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” Stafford said. “To reclaim his message of equality and justice for all people, standing up for black people in this country and demanding respect and justice.”
Similar die-ins have been held over the past year across the country — including St. Louis and New York City — to protest the deaths of Michael Brown and other black males at the hands of police officers.
In Annapolis, the protesters stood for more than 45 minutes in sub-freezing temperatures, listening to advocates and chanting “No justice, no peace” and “Can’t stop, won’t stop until killer cops are in cellblocks.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) created a panel last year to find ways to improve the trust between the community and police, after riots erupted in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. Last week, the panel endorsed 21 recommendations for police reform.
The recommendations include giving officers periodic psychological evaluations, allowing the public to attend police trial boards and providing residents more time to file brutality complaints.
The panel also called for the creation of an independent Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission that would focus on setting standards and training for all police agencies.
The police training commission would develop and require antidiscrimination and use of force de-escalation training for all officers. It would also set up a confidential early intervention policy for dealing with officers who receive three or more citizen complaints within a 12-month period.
The panel suggested that the commission require annual reporting of “serious” officer-involved incidents, the number of officers disciplined and the type of discipline that was given.
Other recommendations include developing a police complaint mediation program; creating recruitment standards that increase the number of female, African American and Hispanic candidates; and offering incentives, including property tax credits and state and local income tax deductions, to officers who live in the jurisdictions where they work.
The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability has called the recommendations “a good first step,” but says additional changes are needed.
Sara Love, the public policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said Monday that the coalition disagrees with a proposal that says people who file complaints against officers must identify themselves.
“There is a role for anonymous complaints,” Love said, arguing that there could be instances where a person faces criminal charges and would be worried about retaliation.
Advocates also are pushing for civilian review boards. They say they are seriously concerned about a provision that would give the police union more input on who sits on a trial review board.
Trial boards currently consists of three law enforcement officers appointed by the chief who have the same rank as the officer under review. The panel suggested that the board consist of one person recommended by the chief, one recommended by the police union and one recommended by the chief and union.
“If this went into effect, it could undo all of the good that these recommendations are trying to do,” Love said.
Ovetta Wiggins covers Maryland state politics in Annapolis.
By John Luciew | firstname.lastname@example.org
This is something they don't teach at the police academy: A rookie cop in Wayne County, Pa., allegedly claimed he was working undercover after being arrested, along with his brother, and accused of breaking into apartments in the Lehigh Valley.
When confronted by someone inside one of the apartments, Spink, who recently latched on with the police department in the Gouldsboro area, allegedly said he was an undercover police officer responding to a 911 call, WNEP writes.
Nazareth police tell the news station that was a lie.
Needless to say, this has been a big embarrassment for the Wayne County community force, where police Chief Kevin Froese told WNEP:
"It's been a nightmare. It's been embarrassing. It has hurt our department. It's impugned our integrity," he said.
As for the charged rookie cop, Froese said:
"He was punctual. He was a quick learner. He was very respectful and courteous to the people he dealt with. He had all the signs of a good officer. I was flabbergasted when I got the call."
Spink is currently suspended without pay, pending the outcome of the case.