Law enforcement scrutinized in America

Published 1:53 pm Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Each year, nearly 1,000 people, mostly Americans, are killed by law enforcement. Most of the shootings are determined to be justifiable and often the officers go unpunished. Unfortunately, the bad apples among police have tarnished the reputation of the majority of the officers who do “protect and serve.” The fact of the matter is that cops are almost never prosecuted and convicted for use of force. There is a tendency to believe officers over civilians in terms of credibility. In fact, David Rudovsky, a civil rights lawyer, who co-wrote Prosecuting Misconduct: Law and Litigation, states that “when an officer is on trial, reasonable doubt has a lot of bite.”

The National Police Misconduct Reporting Project analyzed 3,238 criminal cases against law enforcement from April 2009 to December 2010. They found that only 33 percent were convicted and 36 percent of officers who were convicted ended up serving prison time. Law enforcement must be given the benefit of the doubt because of their being entrusted to not wantonly use deadly force. It appears that it is sometimes difficult to persuade jurors involved in such cases, to believe that there are good and bad among officers, as is the case with all professions. The low conviction and incarceration data is a concern for many, who believe that officers can get away with using deadly force and aggression, even in situations when it is not warranted.

A major theme in police shootings is that officers testify in court that they used deadly force because they feared for their lives. The reality, however, is that the Officer Down Memorial Page, which maintains a kind of annual record of officers killed in the line of duty reports that 129 police officers died in the line of duty in 2015, which was down by 3 percent from the previous year. A USA Today report (Dec. 28, 2017) revealed that the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty dropped sharply in 2017, marking the second-lowest toll in more than 50 years.

USA Today went on to report that 128 officers died in the line of duty in 2017, with 44 shot and killed. That’s down 10 percent from 2016, when 143 officers died, with 66 gunned down, according to data released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit aimed at honoring officers and improving safety.

On May 23, 2018, police officers in Mesa, Arizona, were called to an apartment complex by someone reporting what was described as an attempted breaking and entering by her ex-boyfriend. When four policemen arrived, the situation quickly escalated when they approached 33-year-old, unarmed, Robert Johnson, in the hallway. After he refused their command to sit down quickly enough, he was knocked unconscious. Were they fearful for their lives? The encounter was caught on video and went viral. The officers were immediately placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation. The information I received from my open records request to the Mesa Police Department revealed that the majority of the officers involved in the incident had prior citizen complaints against them, such as unnecessary use of force or code of conduct violations. The most serious consequences for the officers were written and verbal reprimands.