A deeper look into systemic abuses of power, their causes, and the ways people can keep themselves and others safe
Police brutality statistics and those related to generalized misconduct do not typically occupy a place of importance in the mind of the American public. The truth is that officer misconduct is a very real problem facing Americans.
It is apparent that the vast majority of police abuses occur with the use of physical force. Most of these cases do not result in fatalities primarily because of this fact. A huge proportion of fatalities, however, are caused by the improper use of firearms by law enforcement.
Race is also an essential element when discussing some of the most significant problems with officer misconduct. History provides evidence that certain racial groups (especially African American and Latino) have had a long, not-so-amicable relationship with law enforcement, often due to socio-economic and racist discrimination.
Another hugely-overlooked part of America’s law enforcement problem is sexual assault. There are offenses committed year after year and, although, in comparison to the overall statistics regarding sexual assault, they are small, it is clear that these crimes are allowed to occur through the authority vested in these individuals by the state.
This is also not to ignore the abuse, at the hands of American police, of political protesters such as those involved with the Occupy Wall Street Movement (it has basically become a sport over the decades for American law enforcement). If something is to be done about these crimes against common decency the facts must speak for themselves:
I. General Statistical Distributions
States with the highest reported misconduct per 100,000 officers:
1. Louisiana: 1777.38
2. Montana: 1741.57
3. Mississippi: 1735.28
4. West Virginia: 1726.12
5. Oklahoma: 1623.05
States with the lowest reported misconduct per 100,000 officers:
1. Kansas: 295.81
2. Maine 355.4
3. Virginia: 447.52
4. Arkansas: 467.74
5. Iowa: 568.07
Statistical distribution of excessive force (police brutality) reports:
1. Cases involving physical use of force which include fist strikes, throws, choke holds, baton strikes, and other physical attacks: 56.9%
2. Cases involving firearms: 14.7%
3. Cases involving a combination of force types (including physical force, firearms, and/or tasers): 13.21%
3. Cases involving tasers: 10.6%
4. Cases involving chemical weapons (i.e. pepper spray): 2.4%
5. Cases involving police dogs: 1.7%
6. Cases involving police vehicles: 0.4%
Statistical distribution of fatalities resulting from use of excessive force (police brutality):
1. Firearm fatalities: 71%
2. Physical force fatalities: 15%
3. Taser fatalities: 9%
4. Other causes: 5%
II. Sexual Assault
Sexual misconduct is the second most frequent type of reported abuse of police power, it is also statistically twice as likely that a law enforcement officer will commit (or be accused of commiting) a sexual assault when compared to an average citizen. Of officers who were reported for serious sexual misconduct 51% of cases reported also involved minors.
Many will argue that it’s really just a few “bad apples”. This is, in many ways, true, however, if one were to visualize the United States as a collection of buckets of apples, some buckets would be more rotten than others (as the relative misconduct statistics clearly demonstrate).
One could also make the argument that the bizarre disparity in very specific statistics, sexual assault for example, between law enforcement and the general public indicates that there may, indeed, be two very different types of “rotten” at work here:
1. 41 year old deputy Dale L. Tompkins, who just last year was alleged to have exchanged sexual favors for legal ones on multiple occasions (including having “consensual” sex on the hood of his police car with a woman in custody after she “agreed” to in exchange for her freedom).
2. Officer Juan Carlos Rodriguez, who in 2011 was charged with fondling two teenage girls at a traffic stop with a record of past behavior to suggest that he had engaged in the molestation of many others.
3. Former Missouri Police Captain and Boy Scout Troop leader Kenneth D. Tomlinson who in 2011 plead guilty to the sexual abuse of 22 minors, many 11 to 13 years of age.
4. Houston police officer Abraham Joseph who was accused of subduing a cantina waitress and then raping her on the trunk of his police car (not to mention being implicated in five other sexual assaults).
5. New Orleans police officer Henry Hollins who allegedly kept a “sex kit” (including used condoms) in his police car and was charged with kidnapping a woman in 2009, taking her to a warehouse and raping her.
A February 2009 study of West Virginia traffic stops indicates that racial profiling is alive and well in police departments. Its results indicate that African Americans were 1.64 times more likely to get stopped simply because of their race. The same study indicates that Latinos were 1.48 times more likely to be stopped. An Arizona study from the years 2006-2007 indicates much the same, specifically that African Americans and Latinos were stopped much more frequently on all highways under scrutiny.
Court decisions have indicated that officers are more likely to perceive threats where there are not necessarily any from African American and Latino citizens simply because of past experience. The result of a discovery request in Floyd v. City of New York-2008 determined that, “a significant number of stops resulted in the use of physical force by the NYPD. Of those stops, a disproportionate number of Blacks and Latinos had physical force used against them.
Between 2005 and mid-2008, 17 percent of Whites, compared to 24 percent of Blacks and Latinos, had physical force used against them during NYPD-initiated encounters,” and that, “of the cumulative number of stops made during the three and one-half year period, only 2.6 percent resulted in the discovery of a weapon or contraband.
Although rates of contraband yield were minute across all racial groups, stops made of Whites proved to be slightly more likely to yield contraband.” This has been termed the “driving while Black” phenomenon. Often officers disproportionately use violence when in direct confrontation with “minorities” as an evolved reflex from on the job trauma.
A study was conducted for the city of Los Angeles during the period from July 2003 to June 2004, “after controlling for violent and property crime rates in specific LAPD reporting districts, as well as a range of other variables,” the researchers found that, “It is implausible that higher frisk and search rates are justified by higher minority criminality, when these frisks and searches are substantially less likely to uncover weapons, drugs or other types of contraband.
We also find that the black arrest disparity was 9 percentage points lower when the stopping officer was black than when the stopping officer was not black. Similarly, the Hispanic arrest disparity was 7 percentage points lower when the stopping officer was Hispanic than when the stopping officer was a non-Hispanic white. Taken as a whole, these results justify further investigation and corrective action.”
IV. Reporting, Prosecution, and Incarceration Rates
Worst law enforcement prosecution rates by state:
1. Washington D.C.: 0.5%
2. Washington: 16%
3. Vermont: 18%
4. West Virginia: 20%
5. Oregon: 20%
Worst law enforcement conviction rates by state:
1. Alaska: 14%
2. Washington: 17%
3. Connecticut: 18%
4. Colorado: 19%
5. Georgia: 19%
The system often seeks to protect itself. From the perspective of the bureaucracy as a whole, having a police officer on trial hurts the credibility of the entire organization. This could be why many of these trials go on for years while lawyers argue minute details of grammar. The system does not want corrupt or “bad” cops, however, many of the “bad apples” have infected regional systems of policing. The New Orleans police department is a prime example of this.
New Orleans is high on the scale for police misconduct, however the department itself has exhibited a strong pattern of corrupt behavior in the past. When an officer is convicted all officers are shown in the same light, whether or not they are guilty of any form of corruption. Where the data does not lie is in the details, where corruption is allowed, it happens; in this sense it is a systemic issue.
So, what can ordinary individuals (as well as those in the police force) do to keep themselves safe from the apparent problems of abuse within the system? The answer is simple: report everything. Film all law enforcement officers whenever they engage you or anyone around you (the internet is a wonderful tool for resistance). Take down badge numbers if you perceive any misconduct and report them.
Yes, it is true that a very small percentage of police complaints actually get processed, even fewer go to trial, and still fewer either result in convictions or imprisonment (if it applies to the misconduct). This does not mean, however, that this type of resistance is futile. A constant, annoying, unending series of official complaints, believe it or not, can add up, if made in great enough volume.