The nation is having a long overdue discussion about police accountability. With the rise of cell phone cameras, officer misconduct is becoming more visible to more people, spurring more calls for police to be held accountable for their actions.
However it is extremely rare for police to admit they are in the wrong, and even the most egregious cases of police misconduct usually lead to no disciplinary action whatsoever; all a police officer has to do is claim fear for his or her life. Even when action is taken, it is usually minimal.
Further, lawsuits against police departments cost taxpayers huge sums each year. What follows are some examples of how police in many parts of the country are, if not out of control, in dire need of more stringent oversight.
Police versions of events, and what actually happened are very often very different; in fact lying by police while testifying in court is considered so common there is a term for it: testilying. These videos show dramatically the difference between what police say happened, and what actually happened.
As a civilian, ignorance of the law is no defense – unless you’re a police officer, who is supposed to know more about the law than civilians. There is a stunning ignorance of the law among police officers, but even when courts find police were legally in the wrong, charges are allowed to remain, with no reperussions for officers. This post has a series of cases that illustrate how cops get it wrong, but their arrests are ruled justified anyway.
Drug dogs can provide a false positive because dogs know they will be praised by their handlers, and often someone who declines to allow the police to search their vehicle will be forced to endure a search by a drug dog, which often gives police a reason to search the vehicle whether the owner consents or not.
Four years – FOUR YEARS – after being attacked by off-duty Chicago police officers, two writers for Vice magazine still do not know why. They recount the hostility, arrogance, intimidation and obstruction they encounter in trying to hold the police accountable and trying to get answers. What develops is a view of Chicago police not as a protector of the community but of an occupying force accountable to no one. This story will make your blood boil.
Flash-bang grenades emit a loud bang and smoke to disorient people before police enter a hostile environment. Once used only for the most dangerous raids, police now use them based on the flimsiest of tips, which often turn out to be wrong. Innocent people are being maimed – and sometimes killed – in the process. Predictably, police refuse to admit any error, insisting that all usage of flash bangs are appropriate, even when training has practically been non-existent.
It is extremely difficult to remove bad officers from law enforcement, and in many cases, when a police force fires an officer, that person can get hired by another, unsuspecting department.
Jeff Gray is a reporter for the independent news site Photography Is Not A Crime, and routinely records public officials conducting their duties in public, which is his right guaranteed under the Constitution. His actions however, are not appreciated by the police, who have harassed and arrested him, and spread false information in an attempt to keep him from video taping and documenting police activities.
Qualified Immunity protects officers from civil lawsuits for carrying out their duties, an important protection considering the nature of law enforcement. This cartoon-style graphic explains what qualified immunity is, and how it works.
In a rare victory for police accountability, the city of Oakland has expanded oversight on how the police can conduct surveillance operations, to maintain the privacy and civil liberties of innocent civilians.
Roadside stops allow police to confiscate large amounts of cash from innocent citizens without any findings of guilt or due process. Millions of dollars have been taken by police, with little oversight, forcing victims to fight to have their money returned, bearing burden of guilt. This has allowed police departments around the country to go on spending sprees for all manner of goods, some official, some not. The Washington Post ran a detailed investigation of this offensive practice called Stop and Seize, and the issue has become so odious, that John Oliver recently gave it razor-sharp attention, in the video below: