Who protects us from the Police? Police accountability for Misconduct

By Gerard Jun-han Ngai

On January 26th 2012, Jateik Reed was severely beaten and then arrested by several police officers in New York. Sworn statements provided by the officers claim he was seen to “throw a clear plastic bag of weed to the ground”, but the video evidence above clearly shows otherwise.

This is but one piece of evidence detailing the malpractice by law enforcement around the world. The physical abuse enacted and false testimonies provided are in violation of the core principle of law enforcement “To Protect and Serve”.

Naturally the officers guilty of excessive force should receive retribution. However, the perplexing matter is that the Bronx DA office did not investigate the issue, thus dodging their ethical obligation. In fact the officers were simply stripped of their guns and put on “desk duty” as punishment.

Thus the main objective of this post is to discuss what amendments to regulations and laws can be made to righteously punish law enforcement that overstep their boundaries, and also what can be done to deter them from doing so in the first place. Many laws protecting against police abuse such as the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution have been assessed as ultimately ineffective in deterring brutality.

A major obstacle is that often both parties have differing interests and recollections of events. Incidents captured on footage represent only a small proportion of incidents that occur between civilians and law enforcement. But when footage is not available, an officer’s position of authority frequently allows their account of incidents to prevail over civilian counterparties.

One suggestion is to rely on third party jurisdictional authorities. Possible reform includes establishment Ombudsman institutions, auditors and independent prosecutors. For example England and Wales have an independent organization known as the Independent Police Complains Commission (IPCC) that investigates reports of police misconduct.

Furthermore, increasing civilian oversight and decentralized information sharing are critical to transparency and accountability of law enforcement and aid in reducing violence. This was suggested in Glik v. Cunniffe (2011) where the US Court of Appeals established that:

“Ensuring the public’s right to gather information about their officials not only aids in the uncovering of abuses…but also may have a salutary effect on the functioning of government more generally.”

One example of police accountability organizations that have been developed by the community are “CopWatch” programs, designed to monitor street-level police activities, particularly interactions with civilians.

References

Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (Supreme Court of the United States March 29, 1961).

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (Supreme Court of the United States March 1, 1966).

Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 10-1764 (United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit August 26, 2011).

Devereaux, R. (2012, February 9). Bronx teenager beaten by police calls on New York governor to investigate. Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/09/bronx-teenager-police-new-york

Jack McDevitt, A. F. (2005, December). Enhancing Civilian Participation in the Review of Complaints and Use of Force in the Boston Police Department. Retrieved from http://www.nlg-npap.org/system/files/FinalReportFailure.pdf

Kelling, G., Wasserman, R., & Williams, H. (1998, November). Police Accountability and Community Policing. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/114211.pdf

Krupanski, M. (2012, March 7). Policing the Police: Civilian Video Monitoring of Police Activity . Retrieved from Global: The Global Journal: http://theglobaljournal.net/group/global-minds/article/643/

Mathias, C. (2012, March 8). NYPD Cops Who Beat Jateik Reed Not Being Investigated By Bronx DA; Charges Against Reed Dropped. Retrieved from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/08/nypd-cops-who-beat-jateik-reed-not-being-investigated-by-bronx-da-charges-against-reed-dropped_n_1331401.html

Ritchie, A. J., & Mogul, J. L. (2007, December). In the Shadows of the War on Terror: Persistent Police Brutality and Abuse of People of Color in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.nlg-npap.org/system/files/Finallawenforcementshadowreport0123.pdf

Ritchie, A. J., & Mogul, J. L. (2007, April). Report on the Failure of Special Prosecutors Edward J. Egan and Robert D. Boyle to Fairly Investigate Systemic Police Torture in Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.nlg-npap.org/system/files/FinalReportFailure.pdf

Walker, S. (2005). The New World of Police Accountability. Sage.