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“The Expansive ‘Warrior’ Mindset”: Police Shouldn’t Ask If A Shooting Is Justified, But If It’s Avoidable

Every time a police shooting gets national attention, the difference in the conflicting attitudes that civilians and law enforcement have toward the use of force is glaring. That conflict drives much of the tension between police agencies and the communities they serve.

When cops evaluate a use-of-force incident, they ask whether it was justified, focusing on the legal rule set by the Supreme Court in the 1989 case Graham v. Connor. The Court held that officers may use force so long as it is “objectively reasonable.” To determine whether a particular action was objectively reasonable, the Court held, judges must view the situation through the deferential lens of “a reasonable officer on the scene.”

When civilians evaluate a use-of-force incident, they ask whether it was avoidable. They want to know whether the officer could have done something—anything—else.

The tragic shooting of Tamir Rice last November puts the difference between “justified” and “avoidable” in stark contrast. Officers responding to call that there was a “man with a gun” in a park drove to within about ten feet of their suspect. One officer jumped out of the car and, within two seconds, fatally shot the 12-year-old. Was it justified? Probably, if one narrowly considers the officers proximity to an apparently armed man. Was it avoidable? Almost certainly, when one acknowledges that the officers could have—and should have—parked at a safe distance and approached cautiously by using cover, concealment, and communication.

Why do most officers, charged with serving and protecting their communities, persist in asking whether a use of force was justified rather than necessary? I put a great deal of blame on the expansive “warrior mindset” that has become so highly esteemed in the law enforcement community. To protect themselves, to even survive, officers are taught to be ever-vigilant. Enemies abound, and the job of the Warrior is to fight and vanquish those enemies.

That’s not the right attitude for police. Our officers should be, must be, guardians, not warriors. The goal of the Guardian isn’t to defeat an enemy, it is to protect the community to the extent possible, including the community member that is resisting the officer’s attempt to arrest them. For the guardian, the use of avoidable violence is a failure, even if it satisfies the legal standard.

Society invests a tremendous amount of trust and responsibility into our police officers. Policing is a difficult job, not least because of the potential for violence that cannot be predicted or, in many cases, prevented.

But in the long run, it would be safer for everyone if officers saw their role as guarding the community, not defeating enemies.

 

By: Seth Stoughton, Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law affiliated with the Rule of Law Collaborative. He served as a city police officer and state investigator: Opinion Pages, Room for Debate, The New York Times, April 9, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Justifiable Homicide, Police Shootings, Police Violence | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Free Spirits With No Accountability”: 179 People Killed By NYPD, 1 Cop Conviction, No Jail Time

Over the last 15 years, NYPD officers have killed at least 179 people, according to a new investigation.

The New York Daily News found that in only three of those incidents, the officer involved was indicted and only once was the cop convicted.

In that one instance, when ex-officer Bryan Conroy was convicted in 2005 of criminally negligent homicide for killing Ousmane Zongo, Conroy didn’t serve any jail time.

Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, defended the NYPD officer’s actions.

“When there is a life-or-death situation on the street, be it an armed robbery, a homicidal maniac on the street or someone driving a vehicle in a dangerous and potentially deadly way, it is New York City police officers who step in and take the risk away from the public and put it on themselves,” Lynch said in a statement. “Our work has saved tens of thousands of lives by assuming the risk and standing between New Yorkers and life-threatening danger.”

To be sure, some of the incidents catalogued by the Daily News involved the justified use of deadly force by officers.

But, holding cops accountable when they are not justified in killing someone is difficult, because often the prosecutors tasked with bringing charges against officers also rely on good relationships with police to do their day-to-day work. DA’s also count on endorsements from police unions when they run for re-election.

The recent decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo in the Eric Garner chokehold case, has set off calls for laws requiring special prosecutors in cases involving possible police misconduct.

The idea behind any proposed legislation would be to keep local district attorneys out of cases where they might be biased in favor of the police department they work with regularly.

But some, like panelists involved in a recent Democracy Now discussion, said such reforms have been sought for years and have little chance of becoming law, at least at the federal level.

Harry Siegel, a columnist for the Daily News, pointed out that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recently said special prosecutors could be necessary in some cases, had the chance to appoint a special prosecutor in the Garner, case but didn’t.

“I would note that Governor Andrew Cuomo, who’s now mumbling about all sorts of reforms, had the opportunity to appoint a special prosecutor here,” Siegel said on Democracy Now. “Andrew here, who’s now outraged by where we’re at, allowed us to get to this point.”

 

By: Simon McCormick, The Huffington Post, December 8, 2014

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Justifiable Homicide, NYPD, Police Shotings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Tragic And Unacceptable Pattern”: What America’s Police Departments Don’t Want You To Know

Michael Brown’s death was part of a tragic and unacceptable pattern: Police officers in the United States shoot and kill civilians in shockingly high numbers. How many killings are there each year? No one can say for sure, because police departments don’t want us to know.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, in 2013 there were 461 “justifiable homicides” by police — defined as “the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.” In all but three of these reported killings, officers used firearms.

The true number of fatal police shootings is surely much higher, however, because many law enforcement agencies do not report to the FBI database. Attempts by journalists to compile more complete data by collating local news reports have resulted in estimates as high as 1,000 police killings a year. There is no way to know how many victims, like Brown, were unarmed.

By contrast, there were no fatal police shootings in Great Britain last year. Not one. In Germany, there have been eight police killings over the past two years. In Canada — a country with its own frontier ethos and no great aversion to firearms — police shootings average about a dozen a year.

Liberals and conservatives alike should be outraged at the frequency with which police in this country use deadly force. There is no greater power that we entrust to the state than the license to take life. To put it mildly, misuse of this power is at odds with any notion of limited government.

I realize that the great majority of police officers never fire their weapons in the line of duty. Most cops perform capably and honorably in a stressful, dangerous job; 27 were killed in 2013, according to the FBI. Easy availability of guns means that U.S. police officers — unlike their counterparts in Britain, Japan or other countries where there is appropriate gun control — must keep in mind the possibility that almost any suspect might be packing heat.

But any way you look at it, something is wrong. Perhaps the training given officers is inadequate. Perhaps the procedures they follow are wrong. Perhaps an “us vs. them” mentality estranges some police departments from the communities they are sworn to protect.

Whatever the reason, it is hard to escape the conclusion that police in this country are much too quick to shoot. We’ve seen the heartbreaking results most recently in the fatal shooting of 28-year-old Akai Gurley, an unarmed man who was suspected of no crime, in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project, and the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was waving a toy gun around a park in Cleveland.

Which brings me to the issue of race. USA Today analyzed the FBI’s “justifiable homicide” statistics over several years and found that, of roughly 400 reported police killings annually, an average of 96 involved a white police officer killing a black person.

Two years ago, D. Brian Burghart, the editor and publisher of the Reno (Nev.) News & Review, launched FatalEncounters.org, an ambitious attempt to compile a comprehensive crowd-sourced database of fatal police shootings. Reports of the October 2012 killing of a naked, unarmed college student by University of South Alabama police made Burghart wonder how many such shootings there were; the fact that no one knew the answer made him determined to find it.

Burghart recently summed up what he has learned so far: “You know who dies in the most population-dense areas? Black men,” he wrote on Gawker. “You know who dies in the least population-dense areas? Mentally ill men. It’s not to say there aren’t dangerous and desperate criminals killed across the line. But African-Americans and the mentally ill people make up a huge percentage of people killed by police.”

Burghart and others who have attempted to count and analyze police shootings shouldn’t have to do the FBI’s job. All law enforcement agencies should be required to report all uses of deadly force to the bureau, using a standardized format that allows comparisons and analysis. Police departments that have nothing to hide should be eager to cooperate.

The Obama administration has been laudably aggressive in pressing cities with egregiously high rates of police shootings, such as Albuquerque, to reform. But no one can really get a handle on the problem until we know its true scope.

The Michael Brown case presents issues that go beyond race. An unarmed teenager was shot to death. Whatever his color, that’s just not right.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 1, 2014

December 4, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Justifiable Homicide, Police Officers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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