What Happened To Accountability For All Of Us?
People want to feel safe, so they assume the world is safe. We’ve seen enough police videos to know that many police officers are less than truthful in what they write in their police reports which doesn’t match what we see in these videos. I’m certainly not saying that all police are lacking in integrity, nor am I saying that they’re more likely to lie than people in other lines of work (although they may be), but what we know is, based on disciplinary systems, police really aren’t held to the higher standard they should be. We should not be surprised.
With police and teachers, an argument can be made that public sector unions have gained so much power that they shield their members from accountability. With body cameras and cell phone recordings, we have come to a much better understanding of the fact that the police often distort the truth both by commission and omission. We also know that they aren’t often disciplined for such behavior.
In most states, public records regarding police discipline and complaints against them are considered to be completely confidential. The reason is supposedly so that defense attorneys do not harass police officers or undermine their credibility by discussing their on-the-job misconduct in criminal cases on the witness stand.
In no way should this be acceptable. If a police officer is an outlier (i.e. they have an unusual number of complaints of excessive force filed against them compared to other police officers), this is certainly relevant in assessing their judgment. If a police officer has been disciplined more than other police officers, this tells us something about their personality and their ability to follow the rules? If a police officer has engaged in dishonesty in the past, doesn’t this tell us something about their credibility? The public is put at risk when we’re denied access to this information for it’s necessary to determine whether the people who we charge with the duty to enforce the law are thugs, yet we see the same pattern repeat itself.
Cops Need To Be Held Accountable
It amazes me how some express no skepticism and assume that all police officers are virtuous and to be given the benefit of the doubt no matter what. Somehow, these same people aren’t naive about teachers who are shielded from accountability. It’s as if there’s an irrational desire to not know what’s going on for it will protect them or their family from the negative consequences that flow from the lack of accountability. People who are not held accountable and who are shielded from scrutiny will misbehave. People whom are shielded from scrutiny know that they are shielded from scrutiny, and will generally take advantage of that. Police officers are only human and need accountability just like teachers and the rest of us.
We don’t want police officers killed on the job, but what are the numbers? Well, it turns out the job of a police officer isn’t even as dangerous as a garbage man or a truck driver. It’s not even one of the top ten most dangerous occupations.
Each year, about 70 police officers are the victims of homicide. In contrast, each year, police are responsible for 1000 to 1400 homicides. In other words, as it stands right now, a police officer is up to 20 times more likely to kill someone on the job than to be killed on the job.
There are many instances where police officer inflicted homicides are a good thing considering the alternative. If a police officer must shoot someone in order to prevent them from killing or doing great bodily harm to either the police officer or another, then that is what a police officer must do making killing the lesser evil. Still, there needs to be a balance. Police officers can’t just go around casually slaughtering ordinary citizens on the street in order to increase their own safety either.
Police officers killed this 12 year old boy within 2 seconds of arriving on the scene. If the police arrive and yell at me, it’s going to take me more than 2 seconds to understand what is going on so that I can comply with orders. If someone yells at you, you need a chance to process what is going on. Tamir Rice never had that chance. Likewise, the police need more than 2 seconds to accurately assess the situation.
Does giving citizens more than 2 seconds to comply with orders increase the risk to police officers? Certainly it does. It is possible that if someone is lying in wait, that they can kill a police officer in less time than that. But there was no evidence that Tamir Rice was lying in wait. Nor was there any reason to think that he was. And in fact, we know that he was not.
Police officer is not a completely safe job. The job does entail some risk (although less risk than being a garbage man or a taxi driver). Killing people 2 seconds after arriving on a scene and before there is any chance to assess the situation may prevent a few police officer deaths, but only by causing many more deaths among those who are innocent, like Tamir Rice. If we value police officer lives equally, it does not make sense for use of force policies that lead to greatly imbalanced outcomes between police and innocent members of the public.
In any case, whatever our use of force policies, we should all agree that police disciplinary records and complaints against the police should be made available to the public. Greater care needs to be taken to get rid of the bad apples we know exist on police forces. The bad apples do more than endanger the public, they also endanger police officers by creating an antagonistic atmosphere of distrust between members of the public and police officers. Furthermore, the majority of honest police officers have no reason to fear accountability. It is time to stop protecting the bad apples from accountability and it is time to get rid of the police unions that make it impossible to get rid of the bad cops who endanger not only the public but also their fellow police officers.
People can insist that police accountability isn’t important and that when the police commit homicide the victim is always at fault ad nauseum. Prove it.