On page 133 of your textbook, it notes that a Washington Post columnist once stated, “it is the police culture, more than race, that is at the crux of the problem . . . a mentality of brutality.”
Reflect on this statement as if you had just read it in the newspaper over your morning coffee. You are now considering writing an editorial response to the article. Write your thoughts and opinions regarding the journalist’s statement.
Your journal entry must be at least 200 words in length. No references or citations are necessary.
Page 133 reading for the essay:
By the end of 2015, the number of people killed by law enforcement in the United States had reached 1,000 after officers in Oakland, California, shot dead a man who allegedly pointed a replica gun at them; the media would inform Americans that African Americans were more than twice as likely to be unarmed as white Americans when killed by police.1
It would certainly be difficult for anyone to argue that all such shootings were unlawful or unjustified, such as the case of a 77-year-old man in a high-rise apartment in Birmingham, Alabama, who police shot when he answered his door with a gun. But then there are cases such as the 17-year-old girl gunned down by police while joyriding in a stolen car in Denver.2
These incidents that also involve minority group members will often heighten the tension and lead to charges of racism against the entire police agency. One Washington Post columnist offered that “it is the police culture, more than race, that is at the crux of the problem . . . a mentality of brutality.”3 In this same regard, Human Rights Watch stated the following:
The excessive use of force by police officers, including unjustified shootings, severe beatings, fatal chokings, and rough treatment, persists because overwhelming barriers to accountability make it possible for officers who commit human rights violations to escape due punishment and often to repeat their offenses.4
Wanted: A National Use-of-Force Database
As indicated in Chapter 4, there is great concern with transparency regarding police shootings. Inexplicably, no one knows the actual number of police shooting deaths, incidents causing serious bodily injury, or discharge of firearm—or how many of them were deemed unjustified.
Until now no one has been required to submit this information; therefore, many police departments choose not to.5 Certainly from policymakers’, police trainers’, and researchers’ perspectives, having to rely on guesswork concerning the nature and extent of police use of force is less than ideal. For this reason, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended in 2015 that “agencies should have comprehensive policies on the use of force that include training, investigations, prosecutions, data collection, and information sharing. These policies must be clear, concise, and openly available for public inspection.”6
The FBI announced in late 2016 that in early 2017 it would be launching a pilot program to collect data on police shootings and other incidents of nonlethal force. As a direct result of the persistent, racially charged incidents from 2014 to present, data will be collected in these areas first in federal law enforcement agencies and eventually from state and local agencies. This effort will go beyond the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2014, which only requires reporting of civilian deaths during police encounters or custody.7
The Importance of Use-of-Force Policymaking
At first blush, the development of policies concerning use of force might seem insignificant, at least in terms of how such policies are applied in the field, when officers must often make split decisions. However, a breakdown of use-of-force incidents can lead to informed and improved policymaking and even dramatically reduce deadly encounters.8
For example, several years ago a New York City Police Department prohibited officers from shooting at or from a moving vehicle, unless a person in the vehicle is using or threatening deadly force. That policy resulted in an immediate, sharp reduction in uses of lethal force in New York City.9 Following are other examples of use-of-force policies that have been enacted:
- The use of deadly force is prohibited against individuals who pose a danger only to themselves and not to other members of the public or to officers.
- All critical police incidents resulting in death or serious bodily injury will be reviewed by specially trained personnel. Other uses of force should be investigated by the officer’s supervisor and reviewed through the chain of command.
- Supervisors should respond to the scene of any use-of-force incident to initiate the investigation.
- All non-training-related firearms discharges will be investigated, regardless of whether the subject was struck.
- The agency will publish regular reports on their officers’ use of force, including officer-involved shootings, deployment of less-lethal options, and use of canines.
- The agency will periodically check to make sure that the academy training is consistent with such policies.
- The use of force should embrace the sanctity of human life, with de-escalation as agency policy and a duty to intervene with officers who may be using excessive force.
- Officers have a duty to intervene when observing colleagues using excessive force.10
Posting Information about Police Shootings
Some police agencies now demonstrate complete openness regarding officer-involved shootings. An example is provided in Exhibit 6.1; it shows facts and outcomes of such a shooting as provided by the Dallas, Texas, Police Department’s website.
Exhibit 6.1 Dallas Police Department’s Postings of Information Concerning Officer-Involved Shootings11
On Monday, December 9, 2013, at approximately 3:11 P.M., plainclothes deployment officers were conducting surveillance on a vehicle at 9524 Military Parkway that had been taken in a robbery offense. The vehicle became occupied by two individuals and a felony traffic stop supported by uniformed officers in marked vehicles was attempted outside the apartment complex. The vehicle did not stop and turned back into the complex. The driver fled on foot and the passenger remained in the vehicle. One officer approached the vehicle, pulled her weapon, and fired one time at the B/M/19 suspect striking him. The suspect was injured and transported to Baylor Hospital.
Suspect was unarmed. The officer was terminated for violation of departmental policy and later indicted by a Dallas County Grand Jury for aggravated assault. No officer was injured.
One officer fired 1 round. Involved Officer: W/F 12 years, 3 months service.
The Cry Heard Round the Country: “Wear Body Cameras!”
Two national ramifications of the recent rash of controversial police shootings across the United States have been an examination of police methods and an emphasis on greater police transparency—both of which include a cry for police body-worn cameras (BWC). With peoples’ cellphones often recording what appear to many people to be questionable cases of police use of force, many politicians and activists argue that all officers should be compelled to use BWC.