Police, Brutality

Thursday, Dec 22, 2011

Warren v. District of Columbia... [held that] police do not have a duty to provide police services to individuals, even if a dispatcher promises help to be on the way, except when police develop a special duty to particular individuals.


Neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable... if police protection service is provided, for failure to provide adequate police protection or service, failure to prevent the commission of crimes, failure to detect or solve crimes, and failure to identify or apprehend criminals.


We are encouraged to think of acts of police violence more or less in isolation, to consider them as unique, unrelated occurrences... The danger of the job is a constant theme in the defense of police violence... Between 1995 and 2000, 360 cops were murdered and 403 died in [car] accidents... Naturally it is not to be lost sight of that these numbers represent human lives, not widgets or sacks of potatoes. But let's remember that there were 5,915 fatal work injuries in 2000... Policing may be dangerous, but it is not the most dangerous job available. In terms of total fatalities, more truck drivers are killed than any other kind of worker... A better measure of occupational risk, however, is the rate of work-related deaths per 100,000 workers. In 2000, for example, it was 27.6 for truck drivers. At 12.1 deaths per 100,000, policing is slightly less dangerous than mowing lawns, cutting hedges, and running a wood-chipper: groundskeepers suffer 14.9 deaths per 100,000. By occupation, the highest rate of fatalities is among timber cutters, at 122.1 per 100,000. By industry, mining and farming are the most dangerous.

Where are all the headlines, the memorials, the honour guards, and the sorrowful renderings of taps for these workers? Where are the mayoral speeches, the newspaper editorials, the sober reflections that these brave men and women died, and that others risk their lives daily, so that we might continue to enjoy the benefits of modern society? Policing, it seems, is the only industry that both exaggerates and advertises its dangers... The exaggerated sense of danger has helped to re-order police priorities, to the detriment of the public interest. [Rodney] Stark argues that, "the police ought to understand clearly that they are being paid to take a certain degree of risk and that their safety does not come before public safety or the common good. Unfortunately, the police typically place their safety first and in recent years we have come to accept this priority."

All together, 1,820 law enforcement officers were murdered during the... period between 1976 and 1998. In the same time, the police killed 8,578 people, averaging 373 annually-- more than one a day. If we do the math, we see that police kill almost five times as often as they are killed.

The study of police brutality faces any number of methodological barriers, not least of which is the problem of defining it. There is no standard definition, nor is there one way of measuring force and excessive force... Even where the facts of a case are agreed upon (which is rare), there may yet be intense disagreement about the relevant standards of conduct and their application to the particular circumstances... Until very recently, nobody even bothered to keep track of how often the police use force... Furthermore, the data on which the studies are based are surely incomplete. Many of the reports rely on local police agencies to supply their numbers, and reporting is voluntary.

According to a 1996 U.S. Justice Department survey, 20 percent of the American public had direct contact with the police during the previous year. Most of these contacts took the form of traffic stops, and most were unremarkable. Only 1 in 500 residents was subject to the use of force or the threat of force... Now, that may not sound like a lot of people, until you realize that "1 in 500" is a polite way of saying nearly half a million-- an estimated 471,000 people in 1996 and 422,000 in 1999.

More than three quarters of the victims (76 percent) characterized the force as excessive, and the vast majority (92 percent) of persons experiencing [the] threat or use of force said the police acted improperly... In 1999, for example, 86.9 percent of the victims of police violence were male, and 55.3 percent were between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four. While most victims were White (58.9 percent), Black people and Latinos were victimized in numbers significantly out of proportion to their representation in the general population... Of those killed by police from 1976 to 1998, 42 percent were Black.

According to a Justice Department study of six police agencies, police use force in 17.1 percent of all adult custody arrests... Suspects, in contrast, use force against the police in less than 3 percent of arrest cases.

Of course, the propensity for violence is not distributed evenly throughout police departments. The Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department (also called the Christopher Commission) noted... "The top 5 percent of officers ranked by number of reports accounted for more than 20 percent of all reports, and the top 10 percent accounted for 33 percent." ... One retired LAPD sergeant told the Christopher Commission that there were at least one or two cops in every division who regularly use excessive force. This would imply that not only is brutality routine, it is widespread.

Even where officers are found guilty of misconduct, discipline rarely follows. For example, in 1998 New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board issued 300 findings against officers; fewer than half of these resulted in disciplinary action... A National Institute of Justice study on police integrity discovered, "A surprising 61 percent indicated that police officers do not always report even serious criminal violations that involve the abuse of authority by fellow officers."

These figures, which I have recited with relatively little comment... seem altogether too sanitized. They should, to do the subject justice, come smeared with blood, with numbers surrounded by chalk outlines. The real cost of police violence, the human cost, is too easily forgotten, figured away, buried under a mountain of decimal points.

Police activities, legal or illegal, violent or nonviolent, tend to keep the people who currently stand at the bottom of the social hierarchy in their "place," where they "belong"-- at the bottom... Put differently, we might say that the police act to defend the interests and standing of those with power-- those at the top... Police brutality is pervasive, systemic, and inherent to the institution.

Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, Kristian Williams, 2007, http://www.amazon.com/Our-Enemies-Blue-America-Revised/dp/0896087719.

Just one of countless examples of police brutality:

Otto Zehm, a mentally handicapped, 36-year-old unemployed janitor, was beaten to death in a Spokane convenience store in March 2006. "All I wanted was a Snickers bar," pleaded the battered and bloody man before he was gagged by his assailant.

Their Right to Kill, Our Duty To Die: The Murder of Otto Zehm, William N. Grigg, December 22, 2011, http://freedominourtime.blogspot.com/2011/12/their-right-to-kill-our-duty-to-die.html.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the duties of law enforcement may require limited, officially sanctioned deception in the course of criminal investigations. United States v. Russell, 411 U.S. 423, 434 (1973): "Criminal activity is such that stealth and strategy are necessary weapons in the arsenal of the police officer." ... The Supreme Court has referred to these sanctioned ruses as "strategic deception." Illinois v. Perkins, 496 U.S. 292, 297 (1990).

Training Cops to Lie, Pt 2, Val Van Brocklin, December 21, 2009, http://www.officer.com/article/10233016/training-cops-to-lie-pt-2.

Recent re-examination of the history and meaning of the Fifth Amendment has emphasized anew that one of the basic functions of the privilege is to protect innocent men. Griswold, The Fifth Amendment Today, 9-30, 53-82. "Too many, even those who should be better advised, view this privilege as a shelter for wrongdoers. They too readily assume that those who invoke it are either guilty of crime or commit perjury in claiming the privilege." Ullmann v. United States, 350 U.S. 422, 426 . See also Slochower v. Board of Higher Education, 350 U.S. 551 , when, at the same Term, this Court said at pp. 557-558: "The privilege serves to protect the innocent who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances."

U.S. Supreme Court, Grunewald v. United States, 353 U. S. 391, 421 (1957), http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=US&vol=353&invol=391&pageno=421.

Any lawyer worth his salt will tell [a] suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to police under any circumstances.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, former Attorney General of the United States and Chief Prosecutor at Nuremburg, http://www.cato.org/pubdisplay.php?pubid=4060.

... the settled principle that while the police have the right to request citizens to answer voluntarily questions concerning unsolved crimes they have no right to compel them to answer.

U.S. Supreme Court, DAVIS v. MISSISSIPPI, 394 U.S. 721 (1969), http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=394&invol=721.

Ordinarily, an investigating officer is free to ask a person for identification without implicating the Amendment. INS v. Delgado, 466 U. S. 210. Beginning with Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1, the Court has recognized that an officer’s reasonable suspicion that a person may be involved in criminal activity permits the officer to stop the person for a brief time and take additional steps to investigate further. Although it is well established that an officer may ask a suspect to identify himself during a Terry stop, see, e.g., United States v. Hensley, 469 U. S. 221, it has been an open question whether the suspect can be arrested and prosecuted for refusal to answer, see Brown, supra , at 53, n. 3. The Court is now of the view that Terry principles permit a State to require a suspect to disclose his name in the course of a Terry stop. Terry, supra, at 34.

The Fifth Amendment prohibits only compelled testimony that is incriminating, see Brown v. Walker, 161 U. S. 591, and protects only against disclosures that the witness reasonably believes could be used in a criminal prosecution or could lead to other evidence that might be so used, Kastigar v. United States, 406 U. S. 441. Hiibel’s refusal to disclose was not based on any articulated real and appreciable fear that his name would be used to incriminate him, or that it would furnish evidence needed to prosecute him. Hoffman v. United States, 341 U. S. 479. It appears he refused to identify himself only because he thought his name was none of the officer’s business. While the Court recognizes his strong belief that he should not have to disclose his identity, the Fifth Amendment does not override the Nevada Legislature’s judgment to the contrary absent a reasonable belief that the disclosure would tend to incriminate him. Answering a request to disclose a name is likely to be so insignificant as to be incriminating only in unusual circumstances.