New Study Shows Even if Cops Commit a Crime on Video, 96% of the Time They Aren’t Prosecuted

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Top Tier Gear USA


By Claire Bernish

Police in the United States managed to escape prosecution when facing allegations they violated civil rights an incredible 96 percent of the time. This is almost the exact opposite of the conviction rate for everyone else, as normal citizens are are prosecuted at a rate of 93 percent.

The investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (the Trib), based on an analysis of nearly 3 million federal records, found that from 1995 through 2015, federal prosecutors overwhelmingly opted not to pursue prosecution. Indeed, the 96 percent refusal to press charges sharply contrasts with the rejection rate for all other complaints — just 23 percent.

Investigators found the most common reasons given for refusing to prosecute officers were “weak or insufficient evidence, lack of criminal intent required under a 1945 Supreme Court ruling standard, and orders from the Justice Department.”

In response to the Trib’s study, Justice Dept. spokeswoman Dena Iverson said the DOJ takes “any allegation of law enforcement misconduct seriously and will review those allegations when they are brought to our attention.”

But the lopsided tendency for U.S. prosecutors to reject charging officers in civil rights cases could easily be seen as validation for outrage at what amounts to police impunity.

“It’s a difficult situation for the legal system in general,” Mel Johnson, assistant U.S. attorney for civil rights cases in Wisconsin’s Eastern District, told the Trib. “Federal and state governments have not succeeded in deterring police misconduct. I would say the legal system has a way to go.”

Prosecuting civil rights allegations is a tricky matter, in general, but the challenge to prove an officer acted “willfully,” which the Supreme Court ruled over 70 years ago, remains the greatest stumbling block.

“The standard is high and challenging,” said Alan Vinegrad, a former federal prosecutor in New York who oversaw civil rights cases. “It’s got to be a willful deprivation of rights, meaning the police officer intended and wanted to either kill or injure the person. Not just ‘it was reckless or negligent’ or anything like that.”

Therein lies the most pertinent dilemma. Because the officer’s malintent must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, cases where judges find an officer unjustified in his or her use of force can’t necessarily be prosecuted as civil rights violations.

Questionable evidence also plays a role, particularly when various witness accounts of the same event differ.

As Craig Futterman, a law professor and founder of Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project at the University of Chicago, points out, juries have a bias toward police officers — evidenced by reluctance or failure to convict — so prosecutors must factor in that tendency when deciding if charges will be fruitful.

Law enforcement unions argue police wouldn’t be able to do their job if they feared acting as they feel appropriately might cause them to be charged with a crime.

Tim Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute, described another, more telling, bias:

There’s first of all the general reluctance on the part of prosecutors to go after people in law enforcement because they consider themselves all working on the same team.

As some experts the Trib consulted for its investigation explained, one solution would involve lesser options than prison to increase accountability, while balancing law enforcement’s concern about effectively doing their jobs. Others, like Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, have argued that mandating police to have liability or similar insurance — making them accountable via their bank accounts — might be the best option.

“This is an area, quite honestly, where the feds need to be bolder and put greater resources in,” Futterman explained. “Indeed, the failure to aggressively bring those cases has allowed too many abusive officers to believe that they can operate without fear of punishment.”

As the Trib summarized, “Even with video or other strong evidence, the defense can argue the officer believed the dead person was armed or was a threat, or the officer had only a split-second to make a decision.”

Just about everyone is familiar with the effectiveness of that argument — I thought my life was in danger.

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  • I forgot

    Reed and Malloy were peace officers (of course just on tv), but we don’t have that today. What we have are violent, steroided out robo-cops who want their pound of flesh no matter what. The people and the police shouldn’t be adversaries, it’s the government who promotes that type of thinking.

    • ExecutorOffice

      it’s the attorneys who love controversy for profit,,,be it a tiny skirmish like a cop murdering a little old lady who rolled up her window, or an all out war with the contrived “enemy” who now sells their jackets at JC Penney’s ( Made in Vietnam) .
      Plus the War to end all Wars didn’t make enough profits for the dna stains on mankind.

  • Mike

    this is no surprise. They all cover for each other, plant evidence, falsify records and tamper with evidence on a regular basis to keep themselves out of trouble and put innocent people in jail.

  • Frank

    I want to point out the intentionally deceptive and egregiously biased comparison of the photos used for this article. Even in the days of Pete Malloy and Jim Reed (1-Adam-12), LAPD had a SWAT team – which was renowned to be the most advanced police innovation of the day. Comparing two patrol beat cops from the 1970s to a police Tactical Unit in 2015 is a big lie (intentional deception). Instead of putting more community-oriented, problem solving police officers on the street, budget-constrained city managers instead maintain a minimum number of cops and throw equipment at them, saving Personnel costs but putting more pressure on each police officer to maintain law and order – the “do more with less” principle. The result is the “militarization” of the civilian police through application of equipment, not people skills.

    • Reverend Draco

      Back in the days of Adam-12, that SWAT team wasn’t regularly deployed to serve no-knock warrants at the wrong house and on the wrong person/people, either. They were deployed as initially created – hostage situations and the like. “Mission Creep” and Nixon’s “War on (Non-Corporate) Drugs” perverted the way SWAT teams were armed and used.

      Piss off, you boot-licking sycophant.

      • Frank

        Rev, you have valid points, an indication of poor poloce work and or over-zealous police. Sadly, you always resort to the playground epithets – demonstrating what a self-important a-hole you are.

        • Reverend Draco

          Try not being a moron for a day, you might notice a difference in my demeanor.

          • Frank

            I’m a sycophant and you’re a sad little Troll. Let’s have coffee and donuts sometime.

          • Reverend Draco

            Typical moron – gets called on his mindless bullshit, retaliates with “troll.”

            Maybe – and I’m just spitballing here – if you went and panhandled the education you’ve thus far been unable to borrow or steal – you’d spew less nonsense and quit calling your betters “troll.”

          • Frank

            You should take your comedy act on the road, but you would quickly learn that people won’t buy your drivel. Despite your claims to being highly educated, you truly are ignorant. Your use of obscure words impresses nobody and only further demonstrates your need for self-aggrandizing (you know what that is, right?). Go back down into the basement and avoid the light, before others see you for what you really are – a sad, angry, resentful, small-minded being. You can drink my piss, troll, and you will like it.

  • ExecutorOffice

    Well, with this reasoning, every time a cop goes on duty the people with whom he/she/it comes in contact with should be in fear for their lives. Hmmm,,,,,

  • Charlie

    Especially protected is the faction of sunglasses wearing, self shaved bald “law enforcers.”