By: Peter von Bun, Lisa Montgomery, Jennifer Main, and Nazmus Shakib Khandaker
Instructor: Dr. Strauch
November 16th, 2011
In Washington, a man was physically thrown from his wheel chair, face first, into the cement by police officers. He was severely injured, requiring stitches and was hospitalized. Without asking any questions to the man or taking proper tests, the police officers charged the man for being publicly drunk. Pedestrians on sight videotaped the incident with their cellular phones. The police claimed that the man assaulted them when it was very obvious through the videos he did no such thing. The police violated a multitude of things, including taking away the man’s rights and negatively impacting his physical and mental health (Stevens).
The people of this country have been raised to believe that the police are here to serve and protect us. For the most part this is true, as the police are the first people we think to call in times of an emergency or when there is a threat of danger. Unfortunately, some police officers that are sworn to uphold the law and protect the citizens of the city turn into criminals themselves! Police brutality occurs when an officer uses his authority and badge to use unnecessary force, which, at times, can severely injure or kill people. In 2010, The National Police Misconduct Statistic and Reporting Project (NPMSRP) reported that from January 2010 through December 2010, there have been 4,861 reported cases of police misconduct in the United States. Of those cases, 247 have resulted in fatalities, and the estimated amount spent on police brutality claims related to civil judgments and settlements is $346,512,800. The majority of the reported cases of misconduct are by excessive force, sexual misconduct, and physical assaults (National Police). Police brutality is a concern that negatively impacts the society. With current attempts at reducing police brutality not working, there is an increasing need for a working solution, a solution that dissuades police officers from brutality by making them individually responsible for their wrongdoings.
The incidence in the opening of this essay is, indeed, disturbing at best; this is the case with many other examples of police brutality. The officers that threw the victim from his wheelchair claimed that the man assaulted them. However, as the videos of the incident, taken by on site pedestrians went to the web, there was clear evidence of police brutality and that the man in the wheelchair did nothing to assault the officers in the first place. Though all charges were dropped from the victim, the officers themselves have not been punished for their actions (Stevens). The handicapped man was clearly not capable of committing any harm, but the police officers felt the need to abuse this man, only to be served unpunished by their act. It would be far more civil and humane if the officers had informed the man of his rights and asked him to move along. If he resisted, they should have given him test for alcohol. If the intoxicants in his blood was, indeed, above the legal limit, and he still resisted, they should have escorted him to the squad car after contacting an agency to help deal with this sort of issue. Since handicapped people usually undergo both mental problems and physical problems, the officers had no justification to resort to the type of force they did.
Another form of police brutality is the misuse of firearms. The issue with firearms is that it can easily be misused and that the consequences of even a small mistake with firearm use can be fatal. There was another incident in San Francisco in which the police stopped a bus to check for payment of bus fares. A man began sprinting from the bus when he realized this was going on. To handle the situation, the police could have easily used the available on-duty police forces to their advantage; they had multiple guards on duty around the area when this occurred. They could have easily cut him off through vehicle, men on foot, and if needed, electric stun weaponry. Instead, the police took their firearms and put over ten bullets into the man’s upper chest and neck. Videos of this happening and the after effects of him lying on the ground, writhing in pain caused widespread panic. The officers were caught trying to claim that the man, as he fled, pulled a gun out and shot at them. This was proven to be another cover up attempt by the officers to reduce the consequences of their actions. Although eyewitnesses and video proof showed exactly what had happened, no policemen were punished though committing this vile act (Noble). With all the cases of police brutalities, doesn’t the system have ways to reduce it? The answer to this is yes; however, the current attempts to minimize the problem do not seem to be working.
Many solutions are already in place in attempt to reduce police brutality according to Noel Otu, Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at The University of Texas at Brownsville. However, Otu argues that none of them are effectively solving the problem. Officer selection testing, training, and police department written policies are methods used by Police Departments to reduce and/or prevent police brutality cases. The problem with testing and training is that they can only slightly prepare an officer for what they can experience out in the field. Real life situations and how an officer will react are unknown. Noel Otu states that “tests and interviews to determine undesirable personality traits have not been successful in predicting which recruit will be prone to brutalizing citizens “(306). Otu argues that even having written policies in department manuals is not sufficient. “And All police departments have volumes of written policy, but that does not mean that the policy gets enforced” (299). It is evident that training, careful selection, written policies alone cannot solve the problem. Even with very strict training and policies, who is there to enforce them?
The lack of enforcement of legal policies aids in the occurrence of police brutality. It is the duty of law enforcement to protect the society and citizens from criminal activity. If need be, a police officer has the right to resort to force. But when a police officer uses unnecessary force or more force than that needed to control a situation, the officer falls to the criminal level (Otu 307). Unfortunately, there are few resources that “police the police”, as stated by Otu. Otu continues by stating that politicians and government officials don’t want to go against the law enforcement too often. “Politicians and officials whose careers depend on tough-on-crime rhetoric are reluctant to ask too many questions about what the cops are doing” (Qtd. in McNamara 39). She goes on further by stating, “It is known that most political leaders of government (mayor, district attorney etc.) are elected officials and would like to have good relationships with the police, and so they cannot ‘police the police’” (299). Clearly, this is not helping to reduce police brutality. What, then, can be considered an optimal solution to minimize police brutality? To find solutions to any problem, it is important to identify the root cause of the problem.
The root cause of the problem is accountability for one’s actions. “A high rate of police brutality stems in large part from lack of monetary liability/accountability on the part of the individual police officer. Police brutality occurs in part because some (both normal and emotionally disturbed) officers have opportunities to commit this unlawful behavior, and in part, because they are not deterred from committing it, and because the judiciary chose to ‘water down’ the doctrine of sovereign immunity” (Otu, 294). Currently law enforcement officers are protected under sovereign immunity which is a legal doctrine in which they cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from a civil suit or criminal prosecution. In the rare event that a police officer is held accountable for a brutality case, the officer never has to pay any settlement or award to the victim. At the present time when a victim sues for police brutality the damages paid to the victim do not get paid out of police department funds or even the responsible officer’s wallet. The city in which the brutality case occurred ends up paying the settlement or award. “Civil lawsuits actually allow police departments to ignore abuses committed by officers. Damages paid to victims do not come from the budget of the police department or officers personally. In almost all cases, the city pays any settlement or jury award and the officer’s performance evaluations are usually unaffected” (Qtd. In Human Rights Watch, 1998a). We have also seen earlier that government officials, themselves, are reluctant to go against the law enforcement. From these examples, we can clearly see that a police officer has good reasons to believe that he/she is immune to punishment when deciding to commit a crime. Philip Zimbardo has given a presentation in the Annual Conference. His presentation was titled: “Why ordinary people do evil … or do good”. In his presentation, Zimbardo describes the experiment. In the experiment, a number of people were given a choice to electrocute another person. They were assured that they will be, in no way, responsible if anything happened to the person being electrocuted; the facility would take the blame. Most people, then, went ahead and set voltage to dangerous levels (enough to cause death) to electrocute the other person. Shockingly, there was sufficient warning that those voltages were deadly; yet, these people decided to go ahead and electrocute the other person. This experiment helps to show that without accountability, people can do very evil things (Zimbardo). This, then, should be no surprise that some police officers commit police brutality.
Because the main motivation for police brutality is the lack of accountability for the officers, a solution that makes a police officer responsible for his/her action should, in effect, work. Otu argues that making each and every police officer responsible for their actions will solve the majority of the problems associated with police brutality. To implement this solution, Otu suggests that every officer be required to purchase claim-based liability insurance, with premiums paid through the officer’s own salary. This is how it works: when the victim or observer suspects police brutality, a charge may be claimed against the officer. If the court rules that the case was, indeed, that of police brutality, the liability insurance company will, then, pay for any damages. As a result, the insurance premium will go up. If an officer has repeated offences, the insurance premium will keep going up. As such, a heavy offender will have his/her premium go too high for his/her salary; the officer will, then, be automatically forced to resign. (Otu) “Police brutality will be influenced and controlled by the threat of high insurance premiums. If police officers fear being sued, convicted and subject to increased insurance premiums, they will not risk brutalizing citizens. Even if there are opportunities, the thought of the consequences will decrease the likelihood and frequency of kicking, punching and/or killing suspects” (Out, 302). What
Otu is arguing is that implementation of the solution will strip the immunity that the police officers have. When officers are no longer immune from a civil suit or criminal prosecution, they are more prone to becoming sued in court and paying out of pocket for their misbehavior while on the job. This is nothing new, as Otu points out, many other professions require the worker to carry a liability insurance policy. Physicians for example, are required to carry insurance for malpractice claims and construction workers carry a liability insurance policy to cover accidents. Thus, it is no surprise that society will benefit from police officers having to carry a liability insurance. This will significantly help stop police from abusing their positions, restore of a balance of power and make our citizens feel safer from the police, who are supposed to protect us in the first place.
This solution, however, has oppositions, and it is important to take a moment to discuss them. One concern with this solution is that the police shouldn’t pay out-of-pocket if they didn’t commit any wrong. This concern is easy to address, according to Otu. The police salary can be increased just enough so that it covers the base amount for the liability insurance. If the premium increases, the police will, then, be paying extra (Otu). Another concern that arises is that Police will not do their duty, when it is necessary to use force, for fear of lawsuits and increase in insurance premium. The answer to that, as Otu explains, is simple. The police will not fail to do their duty, but, rather, they will be more careful in judging when and how to use force. This is analogous to physicians who carry liability insurance. The physicians are still doing their job, but more carefully so (Otu). Otu notes that there are civil lawsuits that exist against officers for failing to do their duties. Therefore, the police will not just ignore their duties.
The solution we propose will fare much better than other solutions in place in attempt to reduce police brutality. From the incident of the man in the wheelchair, to incidents of illegal arrests, illegal driving tickets, and violation of citizen rights, police brutality severely affects society in a negative way. This can be immensely reduced if the police officers are personally accountable for their actions. And the requirement for liability insurance for every police officer enforces that individual officers are, indeed, accountable. This solution will also save money for the states, as the states will not have to bare costs for lawsuits against law enforcement, like it currently does; rather, the money comes from the insurance provider of the officer accountable. Society cannot and should not, stand for this behavior by the men and women who are supposed to protect them because it is just too great and vile for anyone to tolerate. By applying this solution, much of these issues can be resolved.
Human Rights Watch. (1998b). Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States. In A.T. Campbell & J. Gibbs (Eds.), Violent Transactions. New York: Basil Blackwell
McNamara, J.D. (2001). Police Corruption is Widespread. In H Cothran (Ed.), Police
Brutality:Opposing Viewpoints (pp.36-40). San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.
Otu, Noel. “The Police Service and Liability Insurance: Responsible Policing.” International Journal of Police Science and Management 8.4 (2006): 294-315. Academic Complete. Web. 11 Nov. 2011. http://library.icc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.library.icc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=23244956&site=ehost-live.
Noble, David. “Did San Francisco Police Kill An Innocent Man Over A $2 Bus Fare?” Editorial. End The Lie. End The Lie, 2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2011. http://endthelie.com/2011/07/18/did-san-francisco-police-kill-an-innocent-man-over-a-2bus-fair/#axzz1cTEUjjN7.
Stevens, John. “Police officers caught on video throwing man in wheelchair onto sidewalk will NOT face charges.” Editorial. Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers Ltd, 2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2052585/Police-officers-videothrowing-man-wheelchair-sidewalk-NOT-face-charges.html.
The National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project. “Police Misconduct Report 2010.” Injustice Everywhere: The National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting
Project. N.p., 2010. Web. 11 Nov. 2011. http://injusticeeverywhere.com.
Zimbardo, Philip. “Philip Zimbardo: Why ordinary people do evil … or do good.” TED Conference. YouTube. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsFEV35tWsg.