Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Police Policy and Police Violence

My first installment in a series on police policy and its relationship to police violence is live over at Frankly, so much of the critiques in the wake of Ferguson, Staten Island, and Cleveland focuses on niche issues, like the drug war, instead of how we allow our police agencies to be run in our name.
When used as a method to question someone in relation to a separate crime, whether in a car or on the street, this behavior is known as a pretextual stop. Simplifying a bit, one law (e.g., running a stop sign) is used as pretext to investigate further (e.g., looking for evidence of drug crimes) because the officer otherwise lacks reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop a person or vehicle. Thus, if a police officer makes up his mind to stop you, even the slightest violation of a law or out of the ordinary conduct (like looking nervous when a police officer is watching you) can give him an excuse to stop you. 
Put another way, he’s certainly going to stop you.
One disturbing aspect in so many of these recent, high-profile homicide cases is the quickness with which violence became the method of control against Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others. That the recent cases have all involved black males is no surprise to many observers and protesters. Even skeptical black conservative Jason L. Riley tells a story about how he was grabbed from his vehicle by police at gunpoint because he "fit the description" of a suspect.. “Fitting the description” is, in practice, often just a police euphemism for being a black male.​
It's a tad long, but it lays the fundamental groundwork for understanding what is actually going on during police encounters all over the United States. I also explain how some departments knowingly tolerate police violence:
Fifteen years ago, criminology professor and police researcher Jerome H. Skolnick wrote an article on police brutality in the American Prospect. He noted that, “Police executives sometimes review the ‘resisting arrest’ cases of police officers to determine whether a cop inclines toward administering vigilante justice.”  
The thinking goes, if a suspect is in custody with visible bruises or other injuries, those injuries—if caused by the arresting officer(s)—are typically justified by claims of resistance.  
WNYC News recently reviewed over 50,000 NYPD cases in which resisting arrest was among the charges. WNYC found that five percent of NYPD officers accounted for 40 percent of all resisting arrest charges since 2009, and 15 percent of officers accounted for half of all resistance charges.    
The next installment will discuss systemic susceptibility for police perjury. Read the whole thing here.

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