Police Abuse Essay, Research Paper
In recent years, police actions, particularly police abuse, hascome into view of a wide, public and critical eye. While citizens worryabout protecting themselves from criminals, it has now been shown that theymust also keep a watchful eye on those who are supposed to protect andserve. This paper will discuss the types of police abuse prevalent today,including the use of firearms and receipt of private information. I willalso discuss what and how citizens’ rights are taken advantage of bypolice. For these problems, solutions will be discussed, focusing onpolitical reform, education, and citizen review boards. These measures arenecessary to protect ourselves from police taking advantage of theirpositions as law enforcement officers with greater permissive rights thanprivate citizens. Because of this significant differential, all citizensmust take affirmative action from physical brutality, rights violations,and information abuse. Problems arise, however, when one side is told what to do byanother, as there is bound to be conflicting viewpoints. In regard topolice abuse, there will be many officers who feel that their job offighting escalating street crime, gangs, narcotics violations, and otherviolent crimes is difficult already, and that worrying about excessivepolicy for abusive behavior will only further decrease their ability tofight crime effectively, efficiently, and safely. Citizens, however, havebeen caught up in this gung-ho attitude, and police are more and more oftencrossing the line of investigation and interrogation with abusive behavior.This abuse must be monitored so that police do not forget who they areserving–not themselves, but the public. This means that even thecriminals, who are a part of the public, have certain rights, particularly,civil rights. All citizens must be aware of these rights to protectthemselves against over-aggressive officers who take advantage of theirposition as badge and gun holders to intimidate and abuse civilians forpersonal or departmental goals. Such conflicts have significant implications on departmental andadministrative policy procedures. One of the main police abuse problems isphysical brutality. The main goal here should be to get the policedepartments to adopt and enforce a written policy governing the use ofphysical force. The policy should restrict physical force to the narrowestpossible range of specific situations. For example, their should belimitations on the use of hand-to-hand combat, batons, mace, stun guns, andfirearms. However, limiting polices’ actions will bring much debate,especially from police officers and administrators themselves. Many feelthat their firepower is already too weak to battle the weapons criminalshave on the streets, and limiting their legality of gun use will not onlyendanger them, but the innocent bystanders who must endure the hierarchygunpower creates in the benefit of criminals. For instance, not only should officers use brutality in verylimited situations, to help curtail unwarranted use, but policies shouldrequire officers to file a written report after any use of physical force,regardless of how seemingly insignificant. That report should then beautomatically reviewed by superior officers. It is necessary to involvesuperior officers so that a tolerance of brutality is not established, andan atmosphere conducive to police abuse is not created. Police may feelthat such action would be burdensome. This is so because police oftenalready feel burdened and restrained by policy and paperwork which takes alarge amount of their on-duty time. When will police be required to dopaperwork on how long and what was done during each coffee break to ensuretax payers are getting their every seconds worth? There must be areasonable balance between civilian intervention and administration.Although, if every incidence of police abuse was requested to be reported,how many actually would be? Maybe only those serious enough, as depictedin new guidelines, would make it, leaving some space for officers to exertpressure without crossing serious and abusive policy. Another tactic to control police brutality is to establish a systemto identify officers who have been involved in an inordinate number ofincidents that include the inappropriate use of physical force. Theincidents should then be investigated. For those officers who arefrequently involved in unnecessary police brutality, they should becharged, disciplined, re-trained and offered counseling. If such treatmentproves ineffective, officers who violate abuse standards should be broughtup on review before an administrative board comprised of citizens andpolice officials. A third violation should be met with termination andloss of pension. Some may claim that this is paranoia and will simply costtoo much. A single officer can tie up numerous other non-problem officersduring the discipline and re-training stages, only adding to the cost ofrehabilitating this problem officer. When does an officer needintervention? When is the officer worth keeping or discharging? Isidentifying abusive officers a form of prejudice? The police officer isthere to serve and protect the public who pays his or her salary. Theofficer should then be subject to any investigations into his or herabusive actions on the job. A third method for controlling police brutality is creating acivilian review board. The review board should be independent from thepolice department so that officers cannot exert their influence overcivilians or the decisions made by the group. The review board should alsohold open meetings so that all members of the community are welcome to comeand share their concerns, complaints, and any ideas about how to monitorand curtail police brutality. It is imperative that this review board bemade up of strictly civilians, so that information and concerns remainhonest, and not biased by those who hold only polices’ interests at hand.Of course. police officers and their administrators may feel some prejudicebecause they are not represented on the board, yet their own internalreview capability should more than compensate. Once again, a review boardcomprised strictly of civilians is the only way to comprehensively andjustly address abuse concerns of the private citizen, short, of course, ofresorting to the formal step of judicial proceedings. There are also methods of controlling police brutality throughstate channels. First is establishing an office that oversees complaintsand cases of police abuse. All complaints should be made public, eitherthrough television or print news, so that the community is aware of whichofficers have a history of brutality. In addition to a governmentalinvestigation board, there should be a state-oriented civilian review boardwho collects data from the various cities around the state to monitortrends and problems with brutality, as well as to offer suggestions tocities based on methods which have proven successful in others. This issimilar to a state-wide civilian review board support and coordinationgroup. Together, these groups can gain political force and keep policedepartments aware of the concern of citizens and the government as to thesafety and legality of police actions. Yet even if internal policy and external government supervision issuccessful, it is difficult to say how the ethics of police officers willaffect abuse policy as they are based on personal, socioeconomic backgroundand upbringing that have little to do with the issue at hand. However,assuming police adopt some common form of action through job association,it becomes not so difficult to see how police abuse tactics can spread.When it comes to police taking advantage of citizens’ rights, there arenumerous circumstances of which a private citizen must be aware. To ensure citizens’ know what rights they have, they must beeducated. First, all people should know their constitutional rights. Forexample, if you are stopped in you car, do you have to let an officersearch your car? What should you do? First, you should show your driver’slicense and registration upon request. If the officer wants to look in youcar, in most cases, such as if he pulled you over simply for not wearingyour seat-belt, there is no reason for him or her to search your car andyou do not have to oblige. However, the officer can claim he or she hadprobable cause if, for example, you had alcohol on your breath or there wasdrug paraphernalia present. If the officer insists on searching thevehicle, to protect yourself later, you should make it clear that you donot consent to a search. You do not have to consent! However, if you aresuspected of drunken driving and refuse a blood, urine or breath test, yourdriving license can be suspended. Still, many people are intimidated bypolice officers and the power they have, and this is where officers takeadvantage of those who do not know their rights or do not know how to standup for them. The ethics of police as people is often overridden by theirgoals as police officers which is to stop any illegal activities. This,too, may be overridden by a set of departmentally unendorsed personal goalsleading to both citizen and police procedure abuse. Another form of unethical police abuse is spying, or informationgathering, on constitutionally protected political, religious and privatesexual behavior. Spying is a difficult abuse to monitor because it is acovert activity which makes those who participate in it all the moreunethical. The victim does not know it’s happening, and it is notwitnessed by others. One way to curtail spying or excessive informationgathering is to restrict the information police have access to. Allinformation to be collected can only be done so if that person isreasonably suspected of having committed a crime, and the information must
be relevant to that crime. A second solution to controlling illegal access to information isto implement an independent civilian auditor who must review all policeauthorizations to collect restricted information and have access to allother police files. This will ensure the police are not gatheringsuperfluous information. The use of an independent civilian auditor willalso ensure the process does not represent the interests of officers only,but also those of the general pubic, whom they are charged with protecting.If the auditor finds that the police have violated the law, he or she mustso notify the individuals who are the subjects of the unlawfulinvestigations so that they can then press charges against the city andcollect damages. This is a form of punishment which will discourage theofficers from spying, and will encourage city officials to crack down onthose who do to legally protect themselves. Most of the cost of the above mentioned police abuse preventionstrategies lies with the taxpayer, for when it comes to funding disciplineand re-training yet again, the burden is on the taxpayers. What this meansis that citizens must be willing to take on this additional financialburden or take a loss in some other area of police protection. Forexample, to pay for the additional manpower it takes to implement the newpolicies, from disciplinary actions and mental and physical training, thedepartment may have to cut back on the total number of officers, both inthe field and holding administrative positions. This would mean lessofficers on the street for protection. Response time may slow down asofficers have larger areas to cover. In less affluential neighborhoods,where adopting the higher cost is not a small issue, and where added policeprotection is most often needed, and where crime and abuse most prevalent,added stress of police budgets does not serve as many people. For thosewho can afford the financial increase, they are morally aware that policeare being kept in-line. For those who cannot afford it, they see more ofthe negative implications such as increased cost–possibly–or lessavailable officers. Is there a way for police abuse to be monitoredwithout the direct community taking the full burden? Perhaps the federalgovernment can supply the additional manpower, and hence the additionalcost, of implementing an investigation and rehabilitation team. Surely, atleast some portion of the newly passed Clinton Crime Bill provides for suchsubsidization. Even if the financial subsidies are provided, practical problems toabuse policy implimentation still surface. One example of such a problemoccurs through media. Many times in movies or on television, when anofficer arrests a person you hear him or hear rattle off a list of “rights”from a card. The officers are reading, and they are required to read itfrom the card to avoid mistakes, the Miranda rights. This is a very simpleoperational step. It only takes a moment to read the rights, and the personin question is made aware of his or her rights for the purposes ofconstitutionality–at least in the movies. Often, such a procedure isomitted or bypassed by an over zealous officer, in deferrence to thedepartmental policy and the citizen’s rights. One of these rights includes the right to a lawyer before you talkto the police. You only need to tell the police your name and address. Donot give explanations, excuses or stories! You should confer with a lawyerto make a defense in court. Police often resort to threats or trickery toget people to confess. This is a violation of your rights! Even if youcannot pay for a lawyer, you have a right to a free one, and you should askthe police how the lawyer can be contacted. Do not talk without a lawyer.One of your telephone calls should be to contact this lawyer. Call oneimmediately after your have been arrested. Don’t worry about calling yourmother, your lawyer will help protect your rights and to get a fairtrial–should it come to that. Your second call can be to anybody, butpreferably someone who can post your bond. This suggestion may irritatesome police as it holds up the investigation process. However, without alawyer present, a person cannot know all of the legalities involved inbeing arrested from the minute the officer approaches you to the minutes,if it comes to this, the person is incarcerated. Making a person aware ofhis or her rights is practical in the short and long run for both parties,yet even in light of departmental mandates, officers often overlook thisbasic step in avoiding police abuse. While there are specific solutions to brutality, rights abuse, andspying, there are also some general solutions that could be implementedbefore the problems even arise. For example, there should be changes inpolice officer training. Some communities have demanded their officersreceive higher education. However, there is no proof that well-educatedofficers rely less on abuse and more on departmentally-sound investigationtechniques. The length of training of police personnel should beincreased, as has been the trend in recent years. The average length ofpolice academy programs has more than doubled, from about 300, to over 600hours; in some cities, 900, or even 1200 hours are the rule. As the timedevoted to training has increased, the institutions should also stress theimportance of the growing trends in criminal activity so that they areprepared to deal with them. These include such areas as race relations,domestic violence, handling the mentally ill, and so on. This will, inturn, enable operations run more smoothly, hopefully avoiding police abuseproblems in the future. Such training translates into several goals in creating aprofessional police force. The first goal is in establishing a first ratepolice academy curriculum that includes classroom and in the fieldtraining. In addition to being given weapons and taught how to use them,police recruits should also learn special skills, such as techniques ofde-escalating violence and communications skills which will help themdefuse and avert situations that might lead to the necessary use of force.Police training programs should also include community sensitivitytraining to reduce community-police tensions. Examples of such successfulprograms introduced to the community include those to reduce tensions,particularly with the homeless, gays, and African-Americans. Education ofboth police officers and citizens will help police meet their ultimate goalof controlling crime. Implementing policy may, at first, hinder policefrom performing their duties, as they have grown used to certain pressuretactics. However, as education and communication skills increase, theability of the police department to interact with local resources insteadof taking so much of the burden internally, will help alleviate some of thepressure felt by citizens. Citizens, then, will have more involvement, andhence, more satisfaction with the job police departments are doing. As the prevalence of police abuse as shown through the media hasdrawn attention to the need for increased surveillance on police, amandated cure is now a necessity. While brutality and police abuse seemsto be a prehistoric idea, the surge of violence has caused police to fightback in often un-police like manners, though seemingly acceptable to dealwith those break the law. Methods must be implemented which effectivelydeal with police who tend to cross the line, from simple situations toserious firearm use or prejudice. These solutions should be offered by avariety of view points, so as to address both the needs of police andcitizens themselves. Some of the solutions, particularly the policychanges, will be met with controversy and will be difficult to implement.Citizen watch groups will be much easier to organize as there are alreadythousands of neighborhood watches illustrating that citizens are willing tobecome involved to protect both their community, as well as themselves.Keeping track of police is the next step in self-protection. Some of thegoals addressed here are most helpful for the citizen as a first step inthe education process, and will hopefully inspire those who feel they needto take affirmative action against police abuse. While the threat of a world war has diminished, the violence on thestreets across America has increased at a dramatic rate. Police are forcedto face this violence and are sometimes caught up in the same violent andabusive cycle while trying to fight it. Citizens realize that policeintervention is necessary, but they also realize that there are limits asto what a police officer can do. To make society a safe place for bothcitizens and officers, it is imperative that they work together for acomprehensive checks and balances system. The United States Constitutionguarantees certain rights for everyone, and is the very backbone of thiscountry. If it is to be ignored, either through permissive laws enactedfor law enforcement against private citizens, or through a lack ofmaintenance of existing protective legislation, private citizens–indeed,the entire country–will become paralyzed. Because of this, theopportunity and freedom which this country is built on must be enforced,and those charged with doing so must not abuse their power. References Bouza, Anthony. (1990).The police mystique: An insider’s look at cops,crime and the criminal justice system. New York: Plenum Press. Chevigny, Paul. (1991).Police brutality in the United States: A policystatement on the need for Federal oversight. New York: Human RightsWatch. COP WATCH Report. (1994). Couper, David C. (1983). How to rate your local police. Police ExecutiveResearch Forum. Geller, William A. (1982). Deadly force: What we know. Journal of PoliceScience and Administration, 10 , 151-177. New York Civil Liberties Union. (1990). Police abuse: The need forcivilian investigation and oversight. New York. Reiss, Albert J. (1971). The police and the public. New Haven,Connecticut: Yale University Press. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (1981). Who is guarding the guardians: Areport on police practices. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. Vaughn, Jerald. (1989). How to rate your police chief. Police ExecutiveResearch Foundation.