Failure to prosecute cops undermines public trust
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We all deserve to walk outside of our homes without fearing that we will be killed because of the color of our skin.

In 2016, in the United of States of America, “equal just under law” should be more than mere words etched outside our highest court. Legal prohibitions against racial discrimination should apply to both civilians and law enforcement officers alike.

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Yet, we sit here over four years after Trayvon Martin was murdered, four years after Rekia Boyd was shot, two years after Eric Garner was choked, and one year after we collectively called out Sandra Bland’s name, experiencing what feels like a ceaseless litany of news stories about black bodies that have collapsed at the hands of police officers.

And now, two months after Keith Lamont Scott’s death, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray announced that he would not be pursuing criminal charges against the police officer who shot Scott.

Murray cited the fact that Scott had a gun in his possession although the district attorney himself has been very vocal about carrying his own gun.

Many are understandably confused and upset. There is a fundamental struggle to conceptualize justice and legitimacy because the government is failing to live up to our shared vision of “equal justice under law.”

The killing of an unarmed individual by a police officer is sadly becoming so routine that when many of us hear the news of a shooting, or another officer not being charged, our first thought is, “Again.”

Unsurprisingly, communities are becoming more and more fearful of the police. In our newly released public opinion report, the Opportunity Agenda found that over 74 percent of black parents have warned their children about how to conduct themselves around the police. This fear of the police is not restricted to black families. Thirty percent of white parents and 40 percent of Latino parents have done the same.

A considerable number of Americans have had mixed or largely unpleasant interactions with the police.

This lack of trust and genuine fear of the police undermines community safety as the communities spend more time protecting themselves from the government officials sworn to protect them.

Studies show that true community safety is enhanced through collaborative not combative policing approaches. Increasing officer accountability will foster collaboration that keeps both communities and law enforcement officers safe and allows us to finally work to eliminate systemic discrimination that current exists within the policing institution. Prosecutors who fail to adopt commonsense solutions that promote community safety while restoring respect for human dignity and human rights should be challenged.

Below are practical solutions for encouraging policing that respects human dignity, which we outlined in our recent report on transforming the criminal justice system.

1) Eliminate Bias in Prosecution

Local and state legislatures, and prosecutor; offices should ensure that there is fairness in the prosecutorial decision-making process by requiring routine implicit bias training for prosecutors; routine review of data metrics to expose racial disparities with the aim of promptly addressing them; and the incorporation of racial impact review in performance review for individual prosecutors. Implicit bias may impact prosecutors’ perceptions of everyone from witnesses to victims of crime.

2) Use Video Recording to Promote Accountability

Legislatures should require that police interrogations be electronically recorded “during the time in which a reasonable person in the subject’s position would consider [them]self to be in custody and a law enforcement officer’s questioning is likely to elicit incriminating responses.”

If video recording is used, the camera should record both the interrogator and the person being interrogated. Police officers should wear body-worn cameras with applicable privacy protections including creating protocols that require that cameras remain activated and guarding against the tampering of footage.

3) Focus on Problem-Solving Approaches to Policing

Police departments should rely upon collaborative approaches that respect the dignity of individuals within the community; focus on problem-solving; and are generally more community-centered and build community trust. Tactics might include relying upon the use of structural and environment strategies to reduce crimes, such as adding lighting in hotspot areas, securing abandoned buildings, and building partnerships with community members to address specific crimes.

The widespread and systematic use of police-civilian encounters such as stop, frisk, and questioning, misdemeanor arrests, tickets, and summonses, for less serious offenses should be prohibited.

4) Hold Police Departments Responsible for Negligence

To promote accountability, local, state, and county legislatures should pass legislation that requires police departments to pay half the amount of civil judgments that stem from police misconduct lawsuits. Where insurance companies pay for the civil judgments from police misconduct lawsuits, legislatures should allow insurance claims to seek compensation from police departments that should have known that the police officer(s) in question would use excessive force. Furthermore, legislatures should provide a negligent hiring cause of action against police departments for employing an officer who the department should have known is likely to engage in excessive force.

5) Enhance Legal Accountability

State legislatures should pass legislation to promote accountability in policing by mandating standards for police union contracts that foster police compliance with civil and human rights standards. Legislatures should pass legislation that limits a police officer’s ability to invoke qualified immunity against charges of excessive force.

6) Encourage Consistent Monitoring and Screening

Police departments should create early warning systems for detecting patterns of behavior, such as complaints filed against officers or personal hardships like divorce, which indicate potential vulnerabilities for the officer and the department.

The primary purpose of such systems is not to punish but to provide counseling to officers so as to reduce their level of risk as well risk to residents and communities. Advocates should continue to relentlessly monitor the implementation of positive policies and pressure individual police department to respect the existing mandates.

7) Elect Better Prosecutors

In addition to pressuring government officials to support the above actions, advocates, activists, cultural workers and artists, and civil society should invest time and resources to engage in prosecutorial elections, highlighting the power of local prosecutors and increasing their accountability to the public.

India Thusi is the associate counsel for The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communication lab. She has litigated cases on policing and structural inequality in the criminal justice system. Follow the Opportunity Agenda on Twitter @oppagenda


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