The increasing number of suspected police abuse incidents caught on video is becoming a real problem for both our police departments and our society
By Barry Levinson | Police Chiefs around this country tell us repeatedly how well-trained the members of their departments are and how they believe their department is one of the best in the country.
Yet every time we witness via live video a police/civilian contact gone terribly wrong, almost never is the officer criminally or even civilly held to account for their actions.
They are put on paid administrative leave, which means a fully-paid vacation for months or even up to a year or more while the police hierarchy and/or the District Attorney investigates the incident. Then almost always the officer’s actions are found to be “reasonable” and they are back at their job fully refreshed from their extended paid vacations.
Yes, many times we might hear that the officer will receive additional training — as if every bad act by a police officer can be fixed by attending one or more classes. If an officer likes to hurt people, training will do absolutely nothing to stop his bad behavior. If the officer has the wrong temperament or lacks the necessary common sense to deal rationally with the public, training will do absolutely nothing to change that officer’s bad behavior.
If someone is asked to sit down by an officer and he/she refuses, does that give the officer the right to put that person’s life in danger? It is clear that too many police officers like the power and authority they have over the average citizen, and have an extremely low bar before they escalate a confrontation from words to physical violence.
I for one, if asked to sit down, or stand up, or even get on my knees would obey the officer out of both respect and fear that this officer might use any minor excuse to physically assault me.
But there are those citizens who do not automatically listen to commands barked by an officer, and who want to know why they are being detained and want an answer before considering obeying an officer’s command.
These are situations that are not easy for the police. Non-obeying suspects are a challenge to them. But is a situation where a non-violent suspect does not obey a verbal order grounds to put someone in the hospital — or worse? I don’t think so.
The headline of this post asks if the police are more violent today than in the past. I don’t know the answer. But I do know that more and more suspected police abuse is now being caught on citizens’ smart phone cameras.
I also know that laws such as POBR (the Police Officers Bill of Rights) in California that hides the records of bad police officers from the general public and everyone else but the police chiefs does not help the situation one little bit.
Finally, obvious cases of police officers using excessive force and not being punished — criminally, civilly or even suspended without pay for their actions — has given the bad officer a virtual green light to continue to mete out their form of street justice on an unsuspecting public.
Therefore, the real problem may not be whether there is more police abuse now than in the past. The real problem may be that the criminal justice system is ill-equipped to rein in and properly punish those bad officers’ acts.
It’s clear that a growing segment of the public has become aware of this problem, and it could become dangerous for our society to test the public’s patience on this matter.