An article on Slate rolled across my newsfeed today.
It discussed the “new” database for recording police misconduct and brutality, and laid out how good this is for common folk. Apparently set up by “The largest organization of public defenders in the country,” the Legal Aid Society, it will be based on papers which are submitted by lawyers, and designed to offer comprehensive info on each occurrence. This is fine, and an excellent opportunity for a fantastic resource. Police brutality is more likely to get an American killed than acts of terrorism, and this makes police work safe for them, and more dangerous for the average citizen than ever before. From the Slate piece:
At a time when police departments around the country are being criticized for a lack of a transparency, the arrival of Legal Aid’s database represents a bold attempt to systematically track officers with a history of civil rights violations and other kinds of misbehavior, and thereby force judges, prosecutors, and juries to take the officers’ past actions into consideration when adjudicating cases.
We need databases like this, and it’s fantastic that it’s being set up.
The problem is in calling it new. It is public knowledge that many police interactions are now filmed, and that a lot of the ones where some injustice took place are blasted across the net, usually to at least some positive effect. Such reporting even advanced to the point of getting cases dismissed, and provided existing cases with the evidence required to give victims a fighting chance. However, this kind of database already exists in many forms, and these existing databases should not be ignored when the new one comes up.
The first is innocentdown.org, which says of itself:
The object of innocentdown.org is to document the innocent people killed by law enforcement and to remember those innocent victims of police violence…Those killed by law enforcement are technically innocent since they have not been on trial and found guilty (remember, innocent until PROVEN guilty is supposed to be the standard). The problem in determining the guilt of the person killed is that police are often the only ones present and they control all of the evidence. The general public (which make up juries) and media tend to believe the police version of events.
There is no funeral cortège, no salute, no remembrance of the innocent people killed by law enforcement. They are often forgotten except by their family and friends. This is the reason for this site – to remember all of those innocent people killed at the hand of law enforcement.
See the victims here. The site is not only valuable for names and stories, but the faces it puts to victims of fatal police encounters. It is useful for anyone who needs a source of info on those sworn to serve and protect, who are doing quite the opposite.
My ultimate goal is to create a database so large and so comprehensive that members of the public and Congress will be able to see the benefit to systematically and accurately collecting this information through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. In the end, when I drive by a scene of police use of deadly force, I want to be able to answer that one simple question: How often does that happen?
They need help with that one as well, but it’s decently developed thus far.
The third is specific to Albuquerque, the home of the shooters of James Boyd, and many, many others, that prompted a federal investigation, and has a map all to itself. It can be found at abqjournal.com. Said on the page:
Police misconduct lawsuits since 2010 have resulted in a tab of $23 million for Albuquerque taxpayers. The number will likely increase as several suits are ongoing and recent officer-involved incidents may result in new lawsuits being filed.
The fourth is Cato Institute’s policemisconduct.net, which catalogues some shootings, and a host of other things that should boil the blood. Their FAQ is pretty bold:
The NPMRP is a non-governmental, non-partisan independent project that will attempt to determine the extent of police misconduct in the United States, identify trends affecting police misconduct, and report on issues about police misconduct in order to enhance public awareness on issues regarding police misconduct in the U.S.
The NPMRP is comprised of several different components and is the general term with which we describe the entirety of the project. One of those components, as it is currently designed, is the policemisconduct.net site where we present our statistical reports along with other police misconduct related stories and data. Other parts of the NPMRP include the National Police Misconduct News Feed and the statistical reporting model itself.
Only a small fraction of the 17,000 law enforcement agencies actually track their own misconduct in a semi-public manner, and even when they do, the data they provide is generic and does not specify what misconduct occurred, who did it, and what the end result was.
If there’s a story they miss which is sort of unlikely, you can report it to them here.
And fifth is the rocksteady copblock.org, who report on it nearly every time it happens, along with a similar site thefreethoughtproject.com, both of which have instant coverage of almost any police wrongdoing, and many wrongdoings of the state in general. Said on the sites:
Cop Block is committed to highlighting the double standard often granted to those in uniforms and badges. We do this by raising awareness and providing support to victims of police abuse and other related institutional injustice. By documenting police actions whether they are illegal, immoral, or just a waste of time and resources, then agitating against the individuals responsible (ideally while recording and then later sharing), we can work together towards transparency and a real impact on issues of police accountability.
CopBlock.org serves as a resource for education and awareness on individual and civil rights. We encourage constructive discourse and knowledge through the dissemination of different viewpoints and tactics in order to combat both the frequent violations of civil rights and the lack of accountability in modern policing.
We put out this information to incite change. The more people see it, the more potential for change. Feel free to republish all original content from this site. We just ask that you link back to us. You will not be sued for aiding humanity in the struggle for peace!
Other valuable resources exist, such as the Peaceful Streets Project, Electronic Village, and the many posts related to all of this from anyone opposed to police related injustice on the many Facebook pages and groups, and the many other wonderful resources the internet has to offer.
Now, you might ask, “All this is great, but what’s so bad about the Slate piece that you need to link it to this?” Well, the answer is in the content. Lines in the piece include such oblique attempts at a lack of bias that they give too much credence to the side of the oppressors who are, in this case, the policemen that belong in this database. One block of text reads:
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment. But a spokesman for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the largest police union in New York, passed on a statement from union president Pat Lynch, saying that “compiling a list of police officers who are alleged to be ‘bad’ based upon newspapers stories, quick-buck lawsuits, and baseless complaints—many of which are lodged in revenge by criminals seeking to punish an arresting officer—does nothing more than soil the reputation of the men and women who do the difficult and dangerous job of keeping this city and its citizens safe.” The statement, which Lynch first issued last fall when the New York Daily Newsasked him about the Legal Aid project, went on: “Where is the database of the thousands of police interactions each day that save lives, take guns and drugs off the streets, prevent terrorist acts and demonstrate the concern and caring of our officers?”
Well, first, we can get to the facts.
- The war on drugs is a failure, and a complete enough one for Nobel Prize winners to get in on the debate.
- It is an affront to our civil rights.
- The fact that guns are on “our streets” is largely because of that.
- This kind of thinking sympathetic to agents of force results in a safe job for cops and a dangerous life for anyone potentially needing a service like this, thus making the lives they save less weighty in the face of such info.
- There already is a place for the positive info on cops (however, any social net operated by a department, or one who works in one, will speak positively about them, PoliceOne, for example), and it can be found here, if anyone doesn’t want to just buy this cop’s “poor me” line.
Let’s get back to it, though.
Why focus on the bad things our police officers do, in other words, when they do so much good? The answer is that the powers that enable police officers to do good also enable them to do great harm. Someone should be keeping careful track of when that happens, and in a way that’s accessible—if not to the public, then to the people tasked with representing its most vulnerable members. Defense lawyers, by creating this resource themselves and sharing their institutional knowledge with one other, can make the criminal justice system more transparent, more fair, and less forgiving of people who abuse their power.
Not only is all of this already done by the above mentioned sites, but one of them has some very specific advice for critics of the cause. As a response to a question that they likely receive… frequently… “Why do you hate cops?”, along with a message on another page to those who want things like this to be shut down, PoliceMisconduct.net states:
There is a fundamental lack of information about police misconduct in the U.S. and we are simply trying to do what we can to find the truth about how extensive a problem police misconduct really is, what types of misconduct are most prevalent, what factors increase or decrease the likelihood of police misconduct, and what trends might affect police misconduct rates.
Without statistical and trending information about police misconduct, it is impossible to say whether police misconduct is a problem in the U.S. or not. We are simply trying to create a ruler with which we can measure police misconduct so that people can determine for themselves if it is really a problem they should care about.
… The Internet is a big place — you should look for other web sites to visit. If you have suggestions for ways in which this site can be improved, send a message using the contact form.
I think that sums it up quite nicely. If you don’t want people better informed about police brutality and misconduct… the check is in the mail.