Articles Tagged with police misconduct

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Any death in custody is a tragedy on a personal level, but it also raises civil rights issues that cannot be ignored. For example, race and class are important predictors of vulnerability of incarcerated individuals. Many of the people that die in custody are poor and ethnic minorities. Whether the police admit it or not, the public perceives systemic abuses that culminate in the violation of people’s basic and fundamental rights. The case of Laquan McDonald is no longer that unique. The typical narrative seems to be that of a white officer shooting an unarmed young black man. Although the law enforcement agencies try to argue that this a reflection of criminal proclivities, the reality is that the disproportion is so great as to cause public disquiet.

In the courts, the judges are primed to believe the law enforcement agencies until and unless there is irrefutable evidence against them. The introduction of the video camera and smart phone has meant that local vigilantes can poke holes into the official story that is provided by the police. Whether this is a positive development is open to debate. The mantra of institutional racism has become a catchall phrase for all the ills and mismanagement that are associated with law enforcement agencies across the board, and not just within the precincts of Chicago.

When the Duty of Care is Not Met

spenser-h-194645-copy-300x195Chicago is a city that has long been criticized for failing on transparency, accountability, and justice issues. Some of these criticisms are not based on fact but are rather like urban myths. They grow and have lives of their own, the facts of the matter being largely inconsequential. The city has adopted a unique approach that takes into consideration the views and perspectives of those who work within the criminal justice system. Hence, there are proposals for a sitting or retired judge to oversee the entire process. This inclusive approach brings the police into the fold rather than treating them as sworn enemies of civil liberties.

Other cities have a somewhat different approach to reform. They consider their own law enforcement agencies to be fundamentally anti-people. Therefore, the reform process is necessarily imposed on them rather than being a natural progression towards organizational development. In this case, the format is that of a public inquiry with all the requisite appearance of interrogations and investigations.

Not surprisingly, some members of the Chicago police forces are not entirely pleased with the latter approach. They believe that they too are part of the reform agenda and desire to provide high-quality services to the citizenry. Even when mistakes are made, they are nothing more than that. It is not a case of corrupt agencies taking away the rights of the people.

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Last month an African-American teenager was fatally shot by the Chicago police at the conclusion of a car chase. An article on WMUR.com reports that the police attempted to pull over the 18-year-old as the Jaguar convertible that he was driving had been reported stolen. The teen refused to pull over, led the police on a chase through the South Side of Chicago, hit a police cruiser and a parked car, and eventually two police officers opened fire on him. The teenager died from his injuries and his family has since filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging wrongful death and excessive force.

The news is highlighting this shooting as the latest event in a string of violent confrontations between African-American communities and police officers in Chicago. Unfortunately, there have been several police incidents lately during which members of the community claim police officers used excessive force. Chicago’s Police Department is attempting to foster trust between officers and community members by arming their police officers with body cameras. The idea is that the cameras will record police interactions with civilians in order to provide evidence in case any misconduct occurs. However, police body cameras can only serve their intended purpose if they are turned on and functioning properly, which is not always the case. During the police shooting described above, the body camera of the officer who fatally shot the teen failed to record during the shooting. The police department reports that they are currently in a body camera pilot program and that officers received their cameras approximately eight to 10 days before the shooting. At this time it is not clear why the officer’s body camera was not recording at the time of the shooting.

Body Camera Laws in Illinois

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That old saying that “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch” is what may be happening in the communities where mistrust of the police is so prevalent. When you have a single police officer, or several officers committing misdeeds, including murder, against members of the communities they are sworn to “serve and protect,” and those deeds go unchecked by fellow officers or the precinct watch commanders who are responsible for controlling and reigning in the bad conduct of their officers in the field, the communities will equate those misdeeds to the entire force. This is human nature, and to be expected. It is up to the police precincts to foster and maintain a more cooperative relationship with their communities. In order to do this, they must bring those officers responsible for criminal activities within those neighborhoods, to justice. It is inexcusable to make any attempt to justify criminal activity committed by law enforcement, and to expect the communities to support those same law enforcement officers. A “code of silence” has no place in law enforcement.

Chicago Police Department and its Code of Silence

A “code of silence” amongst law enforcement officers will go a long way in perpetuating acts of misconduct and the cover-up of police officer misdeeds and actual police criminal conduct within certain precincts. This unwritten code prevents a police officer from “snitching” on another police officer if he is aware that, that officer has engaged in some form of misconduct. Fear of retaliation and intimidation for providing evidence of police misconduct has no place in law enforcement. If such conduct is allowed within the ranks of our police officers, you will see a total breakdown between law enforcement and the communities.

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Law enforcement needs community cooperation, involvement, and support. The community needs law enforcement to “protect” it from criminal behavior and to “serve” it in dangerous situations. Both the community and law enforcement need each other in order to keep chaos at bay. But there are communities and neighborhoods in every state that do not understand this concept of interdependency. In those communities, the mistrust runs deep, unfortunately, spurred on by the media, by special interest groups for whatever political clout they feel they can get from it, and of course criminal elements that take advantage of the chasm between the police and residents.

The special interest groups, out of their own misguided intentions and misunderstanding of the importance of having the police and the communities work together, are convinced that law enforcement is the enemy. They are waging a very effective PR campaign again law enforcement, so much so that some communities are being made to believe that law enforcement and not the gang activity in the communities is destroying the neighborhoods.

Civil disobedience and glaring disrespect is the name of the name when there is any interaction between the police and members of these communities, including something as small as a traffic stop. These problems keep the police on high alert when they are called upon to enforce the law in these communities. This lack of mutual respect and trust between law enforcement and the neighborhoods has created a breeding ground for criminal activity.

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A few bad apples can spoil the whole barrel, or so they say. But in the case of some Chicago precincts where rogue cops are allowed to use their badges to commit crimes against its residents, this is all too true. Cities are discovering that the cost of allowing these rogue cops to patrol their areas can be high after having to pay out millions of dollars in settlements to victims of the overzealous misconduct of a few rogue police officers.

Police Misconduct at What Price?

The Chicago Tribune recently did a story on the subject of “police misconduct” and the cost of this misconduct to the taxpayers. The Tribune discovered that small pockets of police officers are actually costing the city millions of dollars in settlement payments to victims, not to mention the erosion of confidence and trust in law enforcement, when these rogue police officers are allowed to use their apparent authority over its citizens in order to harass and abuse them under “color” of the law.

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Arrested, charged, prosecuted, imprisoned, but innocent. This scenario is played out over and over again in our judicial system across the nation. While America has one of the finest judicial systems in the world, sometimes we get it wrong and an innocent person ends up spending time in prison for a crime he or she did not commit. Sometimes an overzealous law enforcement officer does something inappropriate in order to effectuate the prosecution and imprisonment of that person, knowing that that person did not commit the crime.

The reason for the arrest and imprisonment of an innocent person due to police misconduct could be attributable to a number of things including greed, vindictiveness, revenge, or just plain abuse of power. Whatever the reason, we all know that it does happen from time to time.

This is not to say that we have rampant lawlessness in any of our police departments. Our men and women in blue do the thankless job of keeping our neighborhoods safe from crime and should be commended for their bravery in the face of a multitude of dangers and risks of physical harm to themselves. Without the police protecting our communities, there would be anarchy. They are needed to protect our peace, and they deserve our respect and gratitude.