"A Wall Street Journal analysis of data from 105 of the largest police agencies in the country found more than 550 police killings between 2007 and 2012 were missing from the FBI’s records or, in a few dozen cases, not attributed to the agency whose officers were involved. The result: It is nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by police each year."
See more on the graph above here
Recent incidents of police-involved civilian deaths have not only raised questions about use of excessive force but also the implications of modern militarization in the American police system. The disproportionate number of African Americans and minority groups involved in such incidents has prompted a more prominent conversation about issues of racial profiling by police officers. The highly publicized involvement of law enforcement in the deaths of black men like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray has sparked widespread protest, of both violent and nonviolent nature, in areas like Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.
During a recent hearing in front of the House of Representatives, David A. Clarke Jr., sheriff of Milwaukee County, said that recent policing incidents “should be examined in terms of factual data and circumstances that led to the police action and not from the emotional foundation of false narratives or catchy slogans like, 'hands up, do not shoot,' 'no justice, no peace,' or 'Black lives matter.'"
Yet the empirical evidence obviously supports the existence of poor policing procedure as well as the fact that black males are disproportionally targeted by police. The cases of individuals like Brown, Garner, and Gray demonstrate glaring inadequacies in the effectiveness of the justice system. In trying to subdue Eric Garner, police put him into a chokehold despite his cries that he could not breathe. Garner later died after poor medical response. Freddie Gray suffered a fatal spinal cord injury after being handcuffed in a Baltimore police van with no seatbelt. These are easily preventable deaths.
During a hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary for the House of Representatives, experts and politicians addressed policing strategies for the 21st century. Representative Bob Goodlatte articulated the need for measures that insure “Police officers are taking appropriate steps to protect innocent civilians when they make encounters.” Unfortunately, the government, especially at the federal level, often has to witness tragedy in conjunction with massive protest to take any substantial measures towards justice. In the case of U.S. vs. City of Pittsburgh (1997), which addressed unconstitutional policing practices in the PBP, the ACLU and NAACP had to spur federal action by filing a massive lawsuit in Williams, et al, v. City of Pittsburgh.
In her testimony, Susan Rahr—executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission—criticized the “absence of a national coherence in policing,” noting that “We have 18,000 individual police departments, each with unique cultures and reflecting the policies and practices that are a product of those 18,000 local governments with a diverse range of values and expectations.” Similarly, Matthew Barge--vice president and deputy director of the Police Assessment Resource Center—added that “officers need more specific guidelines on using force in the real world.” The incredible decentralization of the American police obviously hinders any sort of federal mobilization while simultaneously fostering an internally fractured and hostile national justice system.
An earlier congressional record from September 8, 2014—in the aftermath of Ferguson protests responding to the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer—voiced similar concerns about lack of oversight while also focusing on the trend of militarization. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson noted that “In the 1960’s, the world watched in horror as civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama faced local police officers armed with fire hoses and attack dogs. In 2014, the citizens of Ferguson faced local police officers armed with automatic weapons, sniper assault weapons and armored tanks provided by the Department of Defense.”
The effects of enhanced police powers, poor oversight, and the increased military resources ultimately pose concerns about the effectiveness of police, and recent protest movements and government investigations largely mirror such concerns. The prominence of government payouts for police misconduct reflects an alarming trend of decreased accountability and increased abuse. The most vital and substantial change can only occur when municipal, state, and federal officials turn from symbolic and monetary solutions to legitimate institutional reform.