Tag: police misconduct

Police Misconduct — The Worst Case in December

Over at Cato’s Police Misconduct web site, we have identified the worst case for December. It was the case of Eric Crinnian, a Kansas City man who was threatened by police for refusing them warrantless entry into his home. When Crinnian, a lawyer, refused to let officers search his home in the middle of the night without a warrant, he says an officer told him, “If we have to get a warrant, we’re going to come back when you’re not expecting it, we’re going to park in front of your house, where all your neighbors can see, we’re gonna bust in your door with a battering ram, we’re gonna shoot and kill your dogs…and then we’re going to ransack your house looking for these people.”

That kind of conduct shows a clear contempt for the Constitution, which is supposed to be the law of the land.

We welcome assistance from readers. If you see a police misconduct story while you are reading the news, send it our way using this form. Thank you.

You’re Eight Times More Likely to be Killed by a Police Officer than a Terrorist

It got a lot of attention this morning when I tweeted, “You’re Eight Times More Likely to be Killed by a Police Officer than a Terrorist.” It’s been quickly retweeted dozens of times, indicating that the idea is interesting to many people. So let’s discuss it in more than 140 characters.

In case it needs saying: Police officers are unlike terrorists in almost all respects. Crucially, the goal of the former, in their vastest majority, is to have a stable, peaceful, safe, law-abiding society, which is a goal we all share. The goal of the latter is … well, it’s complicated. I’ve cited my favorite expert on that, Audrey Kurth Cronin, here and here and here. Needless to say, the goal of terrorists is not that peaceful, safe, stable society.

I picked up the statistic from a blog post called: “Fear of Terror Makes People Stupid,” which in turn cites the National Safety Council for this and lots of other numbers reflecting likelihoods of dying from various causes. So dispute the number(s) with them, if you care to.

I take it as a given that your mileage may vary. If you dwell in the suburbs or a rural area, and especially if you’re wealthy, white, and well-spoken, your likelihood of death from these two sources probably converges somewhat (at very close to zero).

The point of the quote is to focus people on sources of mortality society-wide, because this focus can guide public policy efforts at reducing death. (Thus, the number is not a product of the base rate fallacy.) In my opinion, too many people are still transfixed by terrorism despite the collapse of Al Qaeda over the last decade and the quite manageable—indeed, the quite well-managed—danger that terrorism presents our society today.

If you want to indulge your fears and prioritize terrorism, you’ll have plenty of help, and neither this blog post nor any other appeal to reason or statistics is likely to convince you. Among the John Mueller articles I would recommend, though, is “Witches, Communists, and Terrorists: Evaluating the Risks and Tallying the Costs” (with Mark Stewart).

If one wants to be clinical about what things reduce death to Americans, one should ask why police officers are such a significant source of danger. I have some ideas.

Cato’s work on the War on Drugs shows how it produces danger to the public and law enforcement both, not to mention loss of privacy and civil liberties, disrespect for law enforcement, disregard of the rule of law, and so on. Is the sum total of mortality and morbidity reduced or increased by the War on Drugs? I don’t know to say. But the War on Drugs certainly increases the danger to innocent people (including law enforcement personnel), where drug legalization would allow harm to naturally concentrate on the people who choose unwisely to use drugs.

The militarization of law enforcement probably contributes to the danger. Cato’s Botched Paramilitary Police Raids map illustrates the problem of over-aggressive policing. Cato alum Radley Balko now documents these issues at the Huffington Post. Try out his “Cop or Soldier?” quiz.

There are some bad apples in the police officer barrel. Given the power that law enforcement personnel have—up to and including the power to kill—I’m not satisfied that standards of professionalism are up to snuff. You can follow the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project on Twitter at @NPMRP.

If the provocative statistic cited above got your attention, that’s good. If it adds a little more to your efforts at producing a safe, stable, peaceful, and free society, all the better.

PoliceMisconduct.Net Launch

Today, Cato is launching a new web site, PoliceMisconduct.net, which is one component of our new National Police Misconduct Reporting Project. We will be tracking news stories concerning misconduct so policymakers can make more informed assessments of its nature and circumstances. Our objective is to identify policies that consistently uphold high standards of ethics, honesty, and professionalism from police officers and critique the policies that do not.

Here is a recent item from Denver, Colorado:  Alexander Landau was brutally beaten after a routine traffic stop. The City Council this month unanimously agreed to pay him $795,000 to settle his brutality lawsuit. What happened to Landau was awful, but even more disturbing from the news report is that the Internal Affairs Unit declined to begin a formal investigation after the incident, let alone a rigorous one. And note that two of the three officers involved in the Landau case were recently fired for lying on reports concerning other violent incidents!

Just the latest example of why a police misconduct tracker is needed.  Related item here.

$620,000 Jury Award for Dog Shooting

Yesterday a jury found that police officers entered a couple’s home without their permission and shot their dog for no good reason. The $620,000 award is a good outcome for the family, but all too often there is no accountability mechanism for police misconduct. Like the official response to the outrageous Cheye Calvo incident, the police insisted that they were just “doing their job,” which sounds like they’re going to keep on doing what they do.

Unconstitutional Patrols and Second Class Citizens

It does not happen in the suburbs, but in the city, the police will sometimes just pounce on people who are not doing anything wrong and if you complain or ‘mouth off,’ things can get much worse.  Here is an excerpt from a ruling handed down today in DC. 

What is most disturbing about this case is the result: a young man in the community … who was engaged in peaceful activities (mowing the lawn, smoking a cigarette) and who the police knew at the time they stopped him was not doing anything unlawful, is approached by aggressive officers engaged in aggressive unconstitutional patrols, and this young man ends up being punched in the face with such force that he receives a black eye, kicked numerous times in the back, thrown on the ground, sprayed in the eyes with pepper spray, and finally, he receives two convictions on his record for assault on a police officer… . But for this unconstitutional police policy, appellant Crossland would not have suffered a physical attack on his person and would not have had these convictions on his record. Instead, he would have had a rather ordinary day in his community mowing the lawn and smoking a cigarette, a day he probably wouldn’t even have cause to remember, and it is very disturbing that the police in this case are essentially being rewarded for their unconstitutional behavior and aggressive unconstitutional police policy which was the direct cause of a highly volatile situation which led to this young man’s eventual convictions for assaulting them.

The full opinion can be found here [pdf].  One judge says he hopes the police will be admonished for violating the rights of individuals–aggressively confronting people who are not doing anything wrong–and wonders whether he is being naive and unrealistic.  Sorry to say that he is being naive and that’s part of the problem.  If the young man had gone along with the illegal stop and frisk and the officer left the scene after ten minutes, there would have been no real legal remedy available and that’s why these tactics are used over and over again. 

Author David Shipler spoke about this kinda thing at Cato a few weeks ago.  Related Cato work here

Police Didn’t Know Using Taser 18 Times on Man Was Illegal

It is not that easy to win a lawsuit against the police.  

Just ask Thomas Olson.  He sued the police for excessive force after they used a Taser on him 15–18 times after he had been handcuffed.  This month a court concluded that there was no controlling legal authority.  That is, the officers had no notice from the caselaw or regulations that they might be using excessive force.  One wonders how specific the regulations have to be and how many times the officers involved may have used Tasers inappropriately but no lawsuit was ever filed.

And what sort of government would have policies so lenient toward its agents and yet tell the rest of us that we can be punished for things we “should have” done something about — even  in instances where we had no notice?