How bad cops hurt good cops

Love this Jamelle Bouie take.  After describing a litany of questionable police shootings, he writes:

The common thread in all of these isn’t police violence as much as it’s the sudden use of force [emphasis in original]. The victims never have a chance to react. Instead, police enter, weapons drawn, ready to kill. And when they do kill, they almost never face criminal charges. On Wednesday a grand jury declined to indict Officer Pantaleo with any charges in the death of Garner, despite video of his escalation, his use of an illegal chokehold, and his history of racial bias. Likewise, grand juries declined to press charges against the officers who killed Crawford, and the St. Louis police department is dragging its feet in the investigation of the officers who killed Powell. Prosecutors have yet to make a decision in the case of Officer Manney, and while the Rice shooting is still under investigation, the odds are that those officers will escape charges as well, despite the fact that the officer who used his weapon—Timothy Loehmann—had been described as “unfit for duty.” It’s only in South Carolina that the officer is facing trial for his actions.

That sudden use of force is what is so disturbing in both of the Ohio shootings (the 12 year old and the man in Walmart).  In both videos it seems that the victims were basically given no chance to “surrender” their air rifles before being shot (and it’s not like they were brandishing them at the police).  Anyway, Bouie continues:

But while we should ask the legal system if “black lives matter,” we should also ask police departments to explain themselves and their training. Take away the implicit racial bias, the unfair treatment, and pervasive overpolicing, and you’re still left with a world where police are empowered by law to use force and are ready to use it without serious provocation. And worse, this is bolstered by a police culture that expects absolute obedience from ordinary citizens, regardless of the circumstances or situation. “[H]ere is the bottom line,” wrote veteran officer Sunil Dutta in an August op-ed for the Washington Post, “if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton, or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.” If any reaction—even the nervousness and fear that come with a police stop—is legitimate grounds for violence, then violence is practically guaranteed. And given the heavy policing in black and Latino communities, this means minorities are at the greatest risk for victimization…

Changing the culture of policing to de-emphasize violence and leave room for ordinary human behavior won’t be easy, but it’s possible. And it doesn’t have to lead to more crime. In Philadelphia this year, police have shot and killed just three people, compared with 12 by this point in 2013 and 16 by this point in 2012. What changed? The culture, and specifically, the department’s approach to the use of force. After a local news story found a spike in officer-involved shootings despite a drop in crime, the police commissioner invited federal officials to examine the department’s practices as part of a “collaborative review.”

The full report isn’t public, but the recommendations included new directives involving the use of force—in which officers state that they “hold the highest regard for the sanctity of human life” and the “application of deadly force is a measure to be employed only in the most extreme circumstances”—and intensive training designed to de-escalate confrontations before they turn deadly. “As the new policies have been phased in,” notes Philly.com, “the total number of shootings to date—fatal and nonfatal—has plummeted from 48 in 2012 to 35 in 2013 and to 18 so far this year, according to the department.”

If police departments are as committed to protecting communities as they claim, then they should welcome these steps. Bad cops—violent cops—hurt the profession as a whole. They create mistrust, and it make it hard for good officers to do their jobs. And on the other end, a legal system that won’t prosecute bad officers or hold them accountable for errors—or even record and document police shootings—is one that generates anger and hostility. [emphasis mine]

Yes, yes, yes!  And what is so especially frustrating.  That well-meaning prosecutors and well-behaved police officers do themselves such a disservice by sticking up for the miscreants.  Bad cops who abuse and kill the civilians they are supposed to be protecting do not deserve the loyalty of their fellow officers.  And when they receive it, it very much makes it appear that even otherwise well-meaning cops are not overly concerned with police brutality conducted in their name.  It’s great to see that a difference can be made when police forces are willing to try and change their culture.  Hooray for Philly– the whole country needs this.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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