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Police Brutality in the US: The Solution [Part 2 of 2]
Do police use excessive force too often?
Cold Numbers, Human Casualties
The United States is behind the curve. In 2011, German cops slew six civilians in the line of duty. Men in blue from the UK and Wales killed a total of two civilians, and in 2013, they caused no fatalities, firing their guns a total of three times. In the same year, 404 civilians were fatally shot by police in “justifiable homicides” across America (Winsor). One such man was James Boyd, a mentally ill homeless man. Confused and wielding two small camping knives from several dozen yards distance, Boyd was shot twice with a rifle, thrice with a shotgun, and then attacked by a police dog before being handcuffed, all while squirming helplessly on the ground. From a distance, he posed no threat to police. Why did police show up dressed in body armor and armed with assault rifles? Boyd was camping illegally on federal property. Something is very wrong with law enforcement in the United States. A lack of accountability and basic oversight in police departments across the country is costing everyday Americans their lives, dignity, and hard earned taxpayer dollars in settlements; body camera programs can provide this accountability, saving government funds and countless lives.
Excessive use of force is not just limited to adults. In May of 2014, Javier Payne was shoved through a glass window by a police sergeant while handcuffed. What was young Payne’s crime? Yelling an obscenity at the officer, who pushed the fourteen-year-old boy through a nearby store window, badly cutting his head and body (Schwirtz).
Boyd and Payne’s cases are far from isolated; a mere 8% of brutality complaints are upheld by internal investigations nationwide. In the state of New Jersey, it is a petty 1%. Internal inquiries either exonerate officers, dismiss complaints as frivolous, state they don’t have enough evidence, or just never close the investigations. This leads to officers such as Sterling Wheaten of the Atlantic City Police remaining on the force, despite being, as Dominique Mosbergen says in the Huffington Post, the “’...subject of more than a dozen internal affairs investigations and 21 civilian complaints of misconduct.’" (Mosbergen). The system currently in place to stop rogue cops simply isn’t working.
In the countless instances of police brutality and/or excessive use of force, there are numerous determinants and causes. These vary depending on the victim, the officer, the community and the situation. Yet, a single thread runs through these cases: an absence of accountability and objective oversight. A classic example of this lack of accountability can be seen in Chicago, where allegations of police torture and coerced confessions have recently come to light. Enabled by the silence of fellow officers and inmates, the rogue “Midnight Crew” tortured at least 120 inmates over the course of 20+ years (Guarino). In the same way this silence allowed the Midnight Crew to operate for two decades, so too does process of accountability for police: it is always their word against that of a citizen.
Need more moral quandaries?
- The Death Penalty: Is it Just?
Is capital punishment an essential tool for criminal deterrence or an archaic punishment from the past? And if the latter, is there ever an instance where justice demands a death sentence?
Keeping An Eye on Big Brother?
Yet, this does not have to be the case. Body camera programs for police officers can put an end to this by providing an objective account of every interaction between the officer and the public. A 2014 Police Executive Research Forum report stated:
…[B]y providing a video record of police activity, body-worn cameras have made their operations more transparent to the public and have helped resolve questions following an encounter between officers and members of the public…As a result, they report that their agencies are experiencing fewer complaints and that encounters between officers and the public have improved… (Miller)
Body cameras increase hold police answerable to their actions and help departments to evaluate and correct problems, like an ever-present, always-truthful witness. However, does this translate a to real world decrease in police violence? The answer is an emphatic yes. One must look no further than the cities of Rialto, California and Mesa, Arizona.
In 2012, a study was conducted in the town of Rialto. Body cameras were randomly assigned to various officers over the course of 988 shifts, and their statistics were tracked. Records show that, for those officers, there was a 60% reduction in use of force incidents, as well as an 88% decrease in the number of citizen complaints compared with the previous year (Miller). Evidently, the cameras had a positive effect. The statistical significance of these numbers cannot be disputed; yet one may contend that Rialto is a lone test case, just an isolated circumstance not representative of other towns. This is not the case.
Rialto is far from a lone anomaly: in the town of Mesa, Arizona, cameras were employed to great effect. In October of 2012, 50 officers were given cameras, and another, a control group, went without. After 8 months, the results were in: keeping in stride with Rialto, there were 75% fewer use of force complaints filed against the police with body cams, and officers who went without cameras had nearly three times the total complaints (Miller). Clearly, body cameras have made a substantial difference officer behavior in Rialto and Mesa.
Should body cameras be mandatory on police officers?
As both scenarios in Rialto and Mesa demonstrate, body cameras work in both theory and practice, holding cops to a higher standard at all times while providing an objective record of events. This also has an impact on would be criminals: knowing there are eyes everywhere makes crime far less likely. Lieutenant Harold Rankin, who oversaw the implementation of the Mesa program, agrees: “Anytime you know you’re being recorded, it’s going to have an impact on your behavior. When our officers encounter a confrontational situation, they’ll tell the person that the camera is running. That’s often enough to deescalate the situation.” (Miller). Body cameras don’t just ensure officer accountability; they have the potential to save an officer’s life in a dangerous situation or help him or her to avoid it entirely.
Body cameras have much to offer; between saving the lives of citizens and cops, making prospective criminals think twice and providing a record of interactions between police and the general public, what’s not to like? Some may argue that their cost, which ranges from $300-$400, is prohibitive in an already tight economy (Wing). This simply isn’t true. In just 2013, the city of Chicago paid $84.6 million, over triple the budgeted amount, in settlements, legal fees and other expenses over police incidents. Los Angeles doled out $20 million in brutality claims last year. These figures pale, however, to New York’s staggering $152 million last year (Shaw). Police brutality doesn’t just result in pointless deaths, but also an absurd waste of taxpayer money. With police on their best behavior, these numbers can be significantly reduced. Ultimately, adopting body cams will save some cities tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year, more than recouping the cost.
The adoption of body cameras is being called for all across the political power structure, even up to the President. Recently, President Obama signed an executive order proposing a $75 million Federal grant that would help cover the cost of purchasing body cams for those departments that are choosing to do so. While it still requires congressional approval, this represents a solid step in the right direction and will help allay budgeting woes while prodding cities across the country to do the right thing (Wing). Programs like these, with the addition of even more robust funding and incentives, can help pave the way towards more peaceful police-citizen interactions.
Simply put, body cams work. They have been shown to reduce violent altercations between police and citizens and curb overall complaints while perhaps deterring would-be wrongdoers. Their initial cost can be more than recouped in legal savings, and are further allayed through government subsidies. As a country, America has lives and money to save with camera programs and absolutely nothing to lose. While body cameras may not completely eliminate police brutality, they are a crucial step in the right direction. These camera programs must be widely implemented if there is to be any decline in America’s rampant police problem.
Guarino, Mark. "Disgraced Chicago Police Commander Accused of Torture
Freed from Prison." The Guardian, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
Miller, Lindsay, and Jessica Toliver. Implementing a Body-worn Camera Program:
Recommendations and Lessons Learned. 2014. 80. Print.
Mosbergen, Dominique. "99 Percent Of Police Brutality Complaints Go
Uninvestigated In Central New Jersey: Report." The Huffington Post. 7 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
Schwirtz, Michael, and Kate Pastor. "Concerns Over Police Brutality After a Bronx
Arrest Goes Awry." The New York Times. 24 May 2014. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
Shaw, Andy. "City Pays Heavy Price for Police Brutality." Suntimes.com.
Chicago Sun-Times, 1 Apr. 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
Wing, Nick. "Obama Wants To Help Buy 50,000 Body Cameras For The Nation's 630,000
Police Officers." The Huffington Post. 1 Dec. 2014. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.
Winsor, Ben. "Here's One Theory About Why Cops In America Kill So Many
People." Business Insider. 23 Aug. 2014. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
Missed part 1?
- Police Brutality in the US: An Enduring Problem [Part 1 of 2]
Are America's police out of control? Is police brutality really as pervasive as the media says? Are innocent citizens being killed for absolutely no reason? Absolutely. But can we put an end to it?
© 2015 JB