America is facing a crisis of what I refer to as “Needless or illegal police violence.”
If you have any questions about my credentials to speak to this subject, go to davechampionsliberty.com and watch the intro video on the home page.
There is no question that America has a problem with needless or illegal police violence. The problem has existed for a long time. But everyone having a camera in their hand, as well as security cameras and body cams, has dramatically increased our ability to see the problem.
As I said, there is no question that we have a very real problem. The only debate might be the extent of the problem. In this area different population demographics will have different perspectives. The man living in a 30 million dollar home in Beverly Hills will likely have a different view of police than a 23 year old chicano man in East L.A.
But let’s look at some numbers in an effort to define the scope of the problem.
There are approximately 650,000 state, county, and local law enforcement personnel in the U.S. There are literally hundreds of thousands of videos showing needless or illegal police violence. So let’s round off some numbers to make this a bit easier to quantify. Let’s take the number of sworn peace officers from 650,000 down to an even 600,000. And even though there are far more than 100,000 videos out there of needless or illegal police violence, for the sake of simplicity let’s put the total number of such videos as an even 100,000.
Using that simple method we can see that the problem looks very much like it’s about 1-in-6 officers. If that figure was the final number, that would be plenty bad enough. But it’s not.
Despite the proliferation of video devices, we’re still seeing only a fraction of what’s really taking place. We’re only seeing those instances in which a bystander had a recording device, or had the presence of mind to use it, or was brave enough to stand there and film police abuse recognizing he/she could be the next victim within seconds. And plain old common sense should tell you that for each such incident captured on film there are many times that which are not. For the sake of attempting to fix some numbers, let’s say that for every incident caught on video there are another 10 that are not. I believe that’s a pathetically low estimate, but I’m trying to error to the side of discretion.
Then we have to factor in the “recidivist rate”. That means how many times the officer who initiated needless or illegal police violence has done so in past. Non-abusive officers tend to be consistently non-abusive – and abusive officers tend to be consistently abusive. Rarely is an incident captured on film the first time the officer engaged in such conduct. For the sake of attempting to fix some numbers, let’s say an abusive officer is abusive 50 times a year. Again, I believe that’s a pathetically low estimate, but I’m trying to error to the side of discretion.
So let’s look at what those numbers tell us.
We have fixed the number of videos showing needless or illegal police violence at 100,000.
We’ve then attributed the artificially low number of incidents of needless or illegal police violence that are simply not captured on video at the ration of 1-to-10.
We’ve then attributed the low number of 50 repeat offenses a year to each officer who is disposed to be abusive.
Given these numbers, which I’m confident are low, we have 20,000,000 incidents a year of needless or illegal police violence. And I believe this number is not even close to actual number, which is much higher.
Keep in mind that these incidents are not taking place by just anyone – they are taking place by men & women who have sworn to uphold the law, who have been given the public’s trust, who rarely are exposed to any meaningful accountability, and who are paid with YOUR money! And as I said, I believe these numbers fall far short of the true scale of the problem.
While I believe the numbers are much higher than I’ve estimated, let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say it’s only half as bad as I’ve estimated. We’d still have 650,000 officers committing 10,000,000 acts of needless or illegal violence. Acceptable? Exactly the opposite – 1,000% unacceptable.
Of course there’s no sense discussing a problem unless we’re also going to discuss a solution.
But before we discuss the solution, let’s discuss something that significantly hinders a solution.
I’ve noticed that when I bring up needless or illegal police violence there is a certain kind of person out there who responds with, “There are a lot of good cops out there.” Explain to me how that’s relevant to the issue of needless or illegal police violence. Not only is it a complete nonsense response, no one would respond that way to any other subject.
Imagine if a friend told you his or her spouse had just died on the operating table because the anesthesiologist screwed up. Who would look at that person and say, “Yeh, but there are a lot of good anesthesiologists out there”? Or imagine if someone told you that their 20-something year old child had been at the shooting range and another shooter at the range lost his temper and killed that person’s child. Who would respond with, “Yeh, but there are a lot of good people at shooting ranges”? The answer is: No one. There is only one instance in which some people respond with that, and it’s when the issue of illegal police violence is brought up.
The people who respond that way are what I call, “cop worshippers”. They so idolize police that it literally causes them emotional distress when they hear criticism of cops, and they feel they have to rush to the defense of the police. These people obviously have emotional issues – and time prevents me from detailing the nature of their emotional problems.
But you’d be surprised how many of them are out there. It’s important to recognize them and not put up with their sycophant bullshit. Or as I like to say, “Take that cop dick out of your mouth and help us solve the problem.” Ignoring the bad cops, and only being willing to focus on the good cops, is grossly irresponsible. We need to exclude these people from the dialogue. They are apologists who have nothing constructive to offer.
So what is the solution? I wish I could tell you it’s quick and simple. It isn’t. This problem has been growing, and festering, for a long time.
Let’s use the analogy of a misbehaving child. The analogy is not far off because cops who engage in needless or illegal violence are, like a misbehaving child, doing whatever they want to do while ignoring what they know is right, and what they know is expected of them. Unfortunately, the consequences of these misbehaving adult size children is far more destructive than the misbehavior of a small child.
Children will misbehave. It’s as certain as the sun coming up tomorrow. But how we, as parents, address that misbehavior determines to what extent it will continue. Responsible parents lovingly nip that conduct in the bud. But we’ve all been exposed to the children of irresponsible parents; parents who have let the misbehavior of their children get out of control. And we all understand the longer the problem has been left unaddressed, the harder it will be to correct. That‘s exactly the same with these adult size children with badges and guns. And the problem has been left irresponsibly unattended to for a very long time – so it isn’t going to get fixed overnight.
How important is this problem. One long time political observer and commentator stated that this is the issue of our time and our choices today will determine the future of America; whether it remains a Land of Liberty or becomes and unrepentant police state. Pretty weighty stuff.
Should we look to the police agencies, or the officers, to correct the problem? Not if you actually desire a solution. Asking any profession to solve its own problems is a dubious proposition. Asking tax-consuming employees who posture as if they are the warriors of good against all that is evil in society isn’t dubious – it’s absurd. People with that mindset can’t correct their own behavior because they always believe they are doing right – even in cases where we can see what they did was a horrible wrong. Their mindset – and their on-the-job practice – is to self-justify everything they do as being correct. They must be right at all times.
Let me give you an example. You may recall that about the first week in April, North Charleston Patrolman Michael Slager shot Walter Scott in the back 8 times. Scott was running away and was unarmed. Officer Slager was charged with murder.
But here’s the thing. Out of the hundreds of thousands of video of needless or illegal police violence, that was the ONLY one concerning which every cop I know agreed the officer did wrong. The ONLY one? Really? Shooting an unarmed man in the back 8 times as he ran away is the only standard that all cops can agree is wrong. Whoa! Big problem.
When I raise specific incidents with officers, such the two Fullerton, CA officers who beat a homeless, mental ill, man for 9 minutes as he begged repeatedly for his life – all of it captured on video, I get replies such as “I don’t know the details so I can’t comment.” By the way, those officers beat the man to death.
Or the officer is Billings Montana who shot a 19 year old simply because he couldn’t see one of the young man’s hands. It was traffic stop for not using a blinker, and the officer had every opportunity to retreat to his unit and call for back-up if he had a concern. Instead he killed the kid – who was unarmed. What did I hear from cops about that? “I don’t want to second guess the officer.”
And I could go on for hours with similar stories.
How many times have I heard an officer say – straight up – without equivocation – that he or she committed needless or illegal violence on the street? The answer is “never”. Millions of occurrences a year and not a single admission of wrongdoing? That’s astounding.
The website that cops hate with a passion is called Cop Block. There are lesser hated sites, such as “Filming Cops” and “Police The Police”, but Cop Block is the main one. Cop Block posts a good share of the videos of needless or illegal police violence the public sees. Cop Block is a powerful resource within the community that is providing a heightened level of transparency concerning police misconduct.
With that said, I understand why officers are upset with Cop Block. While Cop Block itself makes it very clear on its site that it does not “hate cops” but merely seeks to promote the transparency and accountability that has been missing from law enforcement, it’s obvious that many of the people commenting on the videos do hate cops. That’s surely not a prescription for cops to feel good about Cop Block.
However – and this is a big however – while I see and hear cops damn Cop Block day in and day out, I have never once heard any of them – not one – criticize the needless or illegal violence committed by police and shown in the videos that appear on Cop Block. It’s as if the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of videos that appear on Cop Block showing cops committing needless or illegal police violence are invisible to these officers, and all they can see are the unpleasant comments. It takes a special kind of mindset to tune out the actual misconduct, and only focus on the harsh words criticizing the misconduct. But that is exactly the mindset we find in today’s law enforcement. Everyone is wrong but them – 100% of the time. And that’s sneaking up on the definition of narcissism.
So, if we can’t expect the officers to affect change, how about the agencies? That won’t work either because the men and women who are in command came up through the same system we just discussed. The vast majority of command level officers are far more interested in protecting violent cops from public accountability than they are in protecting the public from violent cops. Most command level officers have the same mindset we just discussed – they’re simply less public about it.
Where does that leave us? It leaves us with you and your elected officials. There are a couple of actions that make a big difference, but it’s important to understand who does what, so pressure can be applied properly.
First, Sheriff’s are elected. Since few citizens know anything about how law enforcement actually gets done, running for Sheriff is basically a popularity contest. The candidate who can get the most citizens to like him/her will usually win the election. Don’t play that game! DON’T BE PART OF THE PROBLEM! There is usually one candidate that the local police union opposes vehemently. He’s your guy! He’s the one you want to vote for! If the police union hates him, odds are he’ll be far more for the public than a candidate the union favors.
Second, police chiefs are appointed by the municipal legislature (which may be called “City Council” or something similar) and the Chief serves at the pleasure of the Council. In other words, if the Council feels he’s not doing the job properly, they can fire him. So how do you get a bad chief fired? You get him fired by bringing the heat on the Council members – by letting them know that you and many others will not vote for him/her unless the Council fires the current chief and finds one who respects the rights and safety of the public. In order to be successful, this should be an organized and coordinated effort.
Third, police officers rarely feel the pain of their misdeeds because of something called “qualified immunity”. This video is too brief to get into all the ins & outs of qualified immunity, but suffice to say that if an officer can convince a judge that he had a good faith belief at the time of the incident that he was acting within the law and his statutory authority, the officer becomes immune from any judicial punishment, and any damages for wrongdoing are then paid by the city, county, or state for which the officer works. Or phrased another way, the punishment for the officer’s misdeeds falls on you, the taxpayer.
It’s called “qualified” immunity because the officer has to show that he is entitled to it – that he has met the qualifications to receive it – but judges have been notoriously lenient with cops concerning granting qualified immunity. Educate yourself on qualified immunity and then sit down with your state legislators and work out legislation that is very specific about when an officer may be granted qualified immunity. In other words, raise the bar, by statute, for an officer to be granted qualified immunity. If cops have to start paying for their misdeeds out of their own pockets, how long do you think the problem will continue?
Lastly – but perhaps the most important step – push your city or county legislature HARD to fund body cams for all police officers! It is the technological revolution that has put a camera in the hands of virtually every citizen that has allowed America to see the police violence problem. But as discussed earlier, we’re seeing only a fraction of the problem. Mandatory body cams worn by all officers will increase transparency and accountability substantially. Your politicians will say they can’t afford it. What they’re really saying is they don’t consider it a priority. Make it their priority. Get organized and let them know that if they don’t get it done you’ll work to ensure they don’t have that office come the next election. Remember, “Job 1” of every politician is to get re-elected!
I hope you’ve found this presentation informative. Needless and illegal police violence is a very real problem that is in urgent need of your time and attention. An associate of mine, who is an ex-cop and is very involved in politics, recently said to me, “The only people who don’t support steps to hold cops accountable for needless or illegal violence are those people who have yet been the victim of a bad cop.” Don’t wait until it happens to you – or to someone you love. And remember, you can have a Land of Liberty, or you can have a place where bad cops are free to run amuck, but you can’t have both. Choose wisely.
Copyright Dave Champion 2015