Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.



August 2014

Lack of Police Accountability Will Breed More Ferguson’s

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society, The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

A number of troubling things are happening related to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. In the wake of the shooting death of 18-year old Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer, there have been looting, riots, and demonstrations. While theft and mindless destruction of property by looters shouldn’t be tolerated, residents have more than enough reason to be upset.

Witness descriptions paint Brown’s shooting as a deliberate homicide, yet police have refused to release the name of the officer who killed him. The police department predictably claims that Brown was the instigator and inexplicably attempted to take the officer’s gun, but police are notorious liars who routinely falsify reports to cover up wrongdoing. Sometimes they are punished, but given the frequency with which such actions are discovered, it’s quite likely that it far more often goes unnoticed. While it’s certainly possible that police are telling the truth in this case and that the witnesses are lying to get them in trouble, the public has every reason not to give them the benefit of the doubt.

It is, in other words, the constant and pervasive lack of accountability for police departments across the country that fuels tensions and distrust. Even when misconduct is clear, the thin blue line often serves to protect officers from punishment. The result is a frustrated public that sees little hope of justice when police misbehave. The casual dismissal of public concerns only fuels the notion that police don’t believe they serve anyone but themselves.

Often times misconduct and false reports are only discovered when video later comes to light. It would thus be of significant public interest for police to be monitored by video at all times. When a small California city put cameras on all their police officers, the result was a dramatic decline in the number of complaints against officers. Police, like their civilian counterparts, misbehave less when they are more likely to be caught.

Others rightfully highlight the growing militarization of police forces across the US. Federal grants have encouraged local police departments to acquire weapons of war for domestic use. Tiny towns are getting funds to build SWAT teams and armored vehicles for which they have no need, and then are predictably deploying them in situations where such extreme tactics are not only unwarranted, but can be counterproductive.

Given the excessive deference by prosecutors for police wrongdoings and the fact that police are being handed weapons of war to use against the public, the only surprise that should come from the events in Ferguson is that such unrest is not already more common. If things continue as they are without significant reform of policing in the US, we can expect these confrontations to continue to happen.