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After each mishap or tragedy that occurs these days in Berkeley, we are told that it could have been averted “if only” the police had been issued tasers. The mayor of Berkeley made this claim after six Berkeley police killed a mentally ill transgender woman in her own home last year. BPD officers made the same claim again when a mentally ill man stabbed himself several times. This week, Chris Stines of the Berkeley Police Association (BPA) went to great pains to spread the notion that if a Berkeley police officer had had a taser this past week, he wouldn’t have been assaulted. It is regrettable that the BPA uses these incidents as nothing more than a way to win political points. The issue of how to protect officers as well as the human rights of the citizenry is far more complex than simply giving cops more hardware on their belts.
Of course, these kinds of statements can never be proven. No one can know whether a taser would have prevented the confrontation in which the officer was involved in a fistfight with a suspect who was believed to be mentally ill. The BPA continues to apply steady political pressure to our local politicians and insists that somehow, real safety resides in our ability to meet suspects with electric shocks. At Berkeley Copwatch, we disagree. We believe that it is the duty of the officers to place the well being of the community at the forefront of their efforts. We believe that mentally ill people have a right to treatment and should not be subjected to torture because of a condition which they do not control. It is time for the City of Berkeley to return to the humane approaches for which it was once famous and reject the militarization of care which has overtaken our approach to community health and safety.
Top Ten Reasons to say NO to Tasers
1. Tasers are a “sometimes lethal” weapon. There have been at least 547 deaths related to the use of tasers by law enforcement since 2001, according to the human rights agency Amnesty International. It is also reported that 90% of those who died were unarmed. TASER International, the main manufacturer of tasers, has begin issuing on its website a new warning to law enforcement, stating that its conducted electrical weapon “can cause death or serious injury.” Tasers used on most people harbor few long-term effects, but they are deadly for a small minority. Their use should be considered potentially lethal and limited to only those situations in which lethal force would have been justified.
2. Police already have an alternative. They can use their pepper spray. In 1997, the Berkeley Police made a campaign to obtain pepper spray. This they claimed was the best alternative to deadly force. If this was true, then why are we now being asked to finance yet another round of the latest torture technology? Why can’t we invest in longer term, more humane approaches to community safety? According to Chris Stines, police only needed to use their pepper spray three times last year. If so, then is it worth spending a few hundred thousand dollars to equip a department for three incidents a year?
3. Cops can’t tell if there are underlying medical conditions. Studies by the American Medical Association confirm that tasers CAN cause heart attacks. Taser International also warns that tasers should not be used on people who are pregnant, on drugs, have asthma or who have heart problems. How can officers know if there is an underlying medical condition? They can’t. That is the problem. They are playing a lethal game of chance each time they use them.
4. Not a substitute for critical analysis of police strategies and training. While we are glad that Berkeley officer Jeff Shannon is recovering from his encounter last week, we do not see how a taser would have saved him. For some unknown reason, the officer went to this call alone. It is rare that a traffic stop in Berkeley attracts less than 2-4 officers. Why did officer Shannon answer this call alone? His attacker surprised him and having a taser would not have changed that. According to press reports, the attacker was attempting to ignite a liquid. A taser blast on a flammable liquid could ignite (and has in the past) causing an even greater risk to the officer, the suspect and the public.
5. The city increases its liability exposure. TASER International knows that this is a lethal weapon. They are covering themselves legally by issuing warnings about the lethal capacity of these weapons. In one month alone in 2013, five law enforcement agencies in North Texas announced they had discontinued using Tasers or were reviewing their policy regarding the weapons. The city of San Francisco declined to adopt tasers and opted to seek a truly non-lethal alternative. Across the country, agencies are reviewing their policies or seeking alternatives as a way of reducing their exposure to lawsuits.
6. Mentally ill people are 2-4 times more likely to be tasered. A study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that 30% of the people tasered in New York were identified as being mentally ill. How does the Berkeley Police department treat the mentally ill? With a desperate lack of emergency mental health services, police are often called upon to deal with emergency situations. At this point, our police chief sanctions the inhumane practice of hooding of mentally ill individuals and allows officers to engage in this practice without even have a policy on the use of such hoods. We fear that this lack of regard for the human rights of the mentally ill would extend to the way officers are empowered to use tasers.
7. People of color are more likely to be tasered. African Americans are only 13.6% of the total population, yet represent 45% of the 2009-2014 taser-related deaths in America. In Albany, New York, 28% of the population is African American, yet they are 68% of those Tasered. Racial profiling exists. Sadly, Berkeley Police don’t even keep data on the race/ethnicity of people they stop so we can’t even track the degree to which policies are implemented in racist ways.
8. We have a crisis of accountability for police. “Well, if a Berkeley officer acts out of line, why not just file a complaint?” you might ask. At this time, police accountability in this city (and state) is almost non-existent. Due to a California Supreme Court decision in the mid 1990’s called Copley Press vs. The City of San Diego, civilian review was severely limited, and in the city of Berkeley, it was decimated. These days, it is a minor miracle when an officer actually has a complaint sustained against him or her. If we put tasers into the hands of police, we will be powerless to even know whether or not they are being misused by police, let alone to actually punish an officer who deliberately misuses a taser.
9. The Berkeley Police Association has conducted a misleading, high profile campaign. The BPA touts a “survey” claiming to show that 83 percent of Berkeley residents support investigating the use of tasers to restrain violent individuals. It is useful to note that the survey was given to a select group of people from the BPA over email. The very biased questions yielded the desired results, but did nothing to help us build a community wide approach to emergency mental health services.
10. If someone dies from taser exposure, the DA won’t necessarily investigate because they only investigate firearms deaths. The employees in the District Attorney’s office explained this strange policy to us when we asked why the death of Kayla Moore was not being investigated. We know that there will be no justice for those who are wrongly tased and die as a result. It is sad, but it is the truth of the matter.
From our perspective, tasers only make sense if they are identified as lethal force and their use is limited to those situations in which lethal force would be justified. The problem is that far too often, tasers are used to overcome resistance to officer commands. It is common to read about officers who used tasers on people in cars, people who didn’t act quickly enough, or on people who asked “why?” one too many times. They have been used on children as young as eight and old people into their 80’s. They are known to be lethal.
We must raise the standard of what we consider to be real community safety and work to ensure that the safety of everyone in our community is of importance.
While national data is not collected on police shootings, available studies suggest excessive use of police force is rarely punished. In the Iowa incident, the county attorney deemed the shooting legally justified, raising renewed questions about when police can and should turn to use of a gun, when another tactic or tool might do the job. While the LAPD incident is still under investigation, a critical look back at several of the other recent incidents through ThinkProgress interviews with former officers, firearms trainers, and academics, reveal that policy and training may be as much to blame as human error.
When You Call The Cops For Help
The Iowa chain of events started when Tyler Comstock got into an argument with his father because he wouldn’t buy him a pack of cigarettes. When Comstock drove away in his father’s truck, his father called the cops to intervene. His father lamented afterward, “It was over a damn pack of cigarettes. … And I lose my son for that.”
Criminal justice professor and former Baltimore police officer Peter Moskos said the family was wrong to call the police. While many think officers play a role in community affairs, Moskos says police view their jobs otherwise. “This idea that cops are always at your beck and call is the basis of the 911 system and it doesn’t work,” Moskos said. “When you call the police, you have to remember what cops do is arrest people. If you don’t want to be arrested, you probably shouldn’t call the police.”
Or if you don’t want someone to die. Several other recent incidents involved calls to police to calm down a mentally ill relative, and to report a suspicious person who turned out to be seeking help for a car accident. Kyle Kazan, a former police officer in Los Angeles County, said shootings in these sorts of circumstances are “not uncommon,” because when the cops show up, “they don’t know why this person is acting up.”
The Chill Of The Chase
Once the Comstock dispute became a police matter, several former officers agree the fatal mistake was that officers opted to chase the car — and to keep chasing. Most departments now have strong policies strictly limiting police chases because they are so particularly dangerous. Just this week in Los Angeles, four police chases led to five deaths. Many jurisdictions allow police pursuits only for felonies, only where the suspect has not been identified, and only with the permission of a supervisor. None of these circumstances applied here, and the officer was advised at least twice by dispatchers to halt the chase.
“I can’t think of a more useless time to chase than when you know the suspect is a family member,” Moskos said.
In fact, the chase appears to have violated the Ames Police Department’s Pursuit of Motor Vehicles policy, because it dispatched 6 to 7 vehicles, contrary to rules that limit chases to two vehicles unless the on-duty shift supervisor specifically directs otherwise. The county attorney’s legal assessment finding the shooting legally justified did not even mention the chase, let alone whether it contravened department policy.
David Long, a former Department of Labor special agent who conducted firearms trainings, faults the county attorney’s report for not acknowledging the significance of the chase to the outcome. “[The report said] the chase was putting other people at risk. Well he was putting other people at risk because he was being chased,” said Long, who now teaches criminal justice and legal studies at Brandman University in Irvine, Calif.
Unfortunately, once the chase began, the situation quickly escalated. Comstock didn’t pull over for police, reportedly running a red light, driving erratically away from police, and leading them to the Iowa State campus. Police rammed Comstock’s car, and later he, in turn rammed theirs. Police blocked his car with theirs on the lawn of the university, where officers approached the car and asked Comstock to get out. When he didn’t and he jerked the car backward again, officers fired seven shots into the vehicle.
The county attorney reasoned that gunfire was an appropriate response because the vehicle is considered a deadly weapon, and some commentators agree. Moskos and Kazan both said at that point, the use of force was justified because Comstock could have harmed the officers or college students with his vehicle.
“I wish the guy had just given up [during the chase],” Kazan said. “I wish this didn’t go down this way. This guy didn’t need to be dead and this officer doesn’t need to have this kind of shooting on his conscience for the rest of his life. It’s a toughie. It’s bad for all.”
But Long said even at that point, the shooting was “problematic.” “If he was unarmed, I could not see how he would be posing a danger in a vehicle that was no longer in operation,” he said. Even if the vehicle was jerking forward, he said, (which it reportedly was) police could have used lesser measures against a suspect they knew was unarmed, such as breaking the window with a baton, and then using pressure points, a Taser, or other measures to incapacitate Comstock. There are dangers to using a baton because the officer exposes herself to the suspect. But given that police knew who Comstock was and why he was driving, those risks were minimal, Long said.
Immobilizing someone in a vehicle poses particular challenges, which is why policies advise cops to avoid car chases in the first place. Many of the other tools available to police don’t work on someone who is in a locked, sealed vehicle.
Weapons Of Less Destruction
For those incidents that occur in open air, police have many more options. This is why the LAPD shooting Friday of Brian Newt Beaird after the car chase had ended and he exited his car was particularly alarming. A few weeks after Comstock was killed, police shot dead a mentally ill man after he came out of his house carrying a shovel. The month before, a man seeking help after a car accident was Tased and then shot dead by police after a homeowner called the cop to report the man at his door.
Once police turn to their guns, protocol is to aim for the chest or head and to keep shooting until the threat is removed. In other words, they are aiming to inflict grievous bodily harm if not death — not minor injury. So why are police turning to a deadly weapon simply to incapacitate an unknown threat when other, lesser measures, might do?
While technology and science limit the options for non-lethal incapacitation, many tools exist that have that precise intended purpose. “I think there’s always room for improvement in non-lethal technology. … With that said I think we have at our hands right now a high-level of nonlethal technology available to police agencies,” Long said. “And I guess in the situations that it’s used appropriately, we don’t hear about it. But there’s many instances that I perceive that nonlethal force was the appropriate way to go and instead we have somebody shot to death by the police.”
Tasers were designed as a nonlethal option for incapacitating a suspect. But they have been clouded in controversy for their inappropriate use, and for their potential to sometimes prove fatal. Moskos said a Taser is “very rarely used instead of a gun.” Frequently, this is because cops don’t carry the Taser with them when they leave the vehicle. Moskos said he is happy that cops don’t carry Tasers more frequently because they are “vastly overused.”
Still, Tasers are significantly less deadly than guns, particularly if officers don’t aim them at the chest. And Long said they should be carried — and used — much more frequently as an alternative to guns, and less frequently in the course of a non-threatening police stop. Also intended to be nondeadly, but occasionally lethal, are bean bag rounds — small fabric pillows with lead shocks shot out of a gun to temporarily immobilize a suspect through a huge shock. “It kind of distributes the lead shot over the target so it’s definitely not designed to kill to be lethal,” Long said. “It’s … designed to cause minimum long-term injury.”
Long also called pepper spray “a wonderful tool.” “A suspect holding a shovel not yet swinging it, you hit him with pepper spray and it’s good to probably ten to 15 feet, that can disable him,” he said. He also said a Taser or a bean bag round would have been more than sufficient.
Another weapon officers have is their own force, which Moskos said officers should use more frequently, but training and fear get in the way. “It should be a hands-on job, but the people who make the rules don’t like that because they get sued and cops get hurt, and so they go for this notion of hands-off policing,” he said. “One crazy person, six cops, grab the motherfucker, and six people can take out one person.”
Long said officers could keep some of these tools in their cars or on their belts, if departments provided for that. But, he added, just because an officer doesn’t have a non-deadly tool on hand doesn’t change the standard for using lethal force. Under federal and most local policies, officers are permitted to use deadly force “in defense of yourself or a third party who can reasonably be said to be in danger of grievous bodily injury or death.” “The key word is reasonable,” said Long.
In the LAPD incident, one early theory is that one officer shot a bean bag round, and other officers mistook it for a gunshot, prompting them to support their fellow officer with more gunshots.
“If you should be using nonlethal force and your nonlethal weapon doesn’t work as is appropriate, then why are you turning to a lethal force weapon when nonlethal is appropriate?” he said. “Just because your nonlethal doesn’t work, doesn’t hike the use of force continuum to lethal, so that makes no sense.”
Long attributed some of this “militaristic” mentality to a shift during the War on Drugs, which “basically gives police a carte blanche to do what they want and get away with it.”
Other factors include the types of individuals who are attracted to policing. Police love a chase. Even as Moskos blasted the officers in the Iowa incident for engaging in a vehicle pursuit, he said he probably would have done the same in their situation, which is why it’s so important to have rules and a chain of command that curb that behavior. “There’s a strong instinct to catch the bad guy as a cop. That’s what you do. … And it’s fun. And the adrenaline’s flowing. … So you have to assume that cops will want to chase and you also fight that urge. … Usually that decision is not up to the officer. And it shouldn’t be in most cases.”
Other important training elements include dealing with the mentally ill, who are disproportionately victims of deadly force. Among the recommendations of a recent report to police chiefs on the use of force against those with mental illness or addiction problems are “slowing down the situation” by getting a supervisor to the scene, and identifying “chronic consumers” of police services. The man with the shovel had been a frequent consumer of police services, without incident. And in the LAPD incident, the victim was believed to be schnizophrenic and may have fled from a traffic stop because he was scared by the police lights and heard voices — not because he was drunk, as police contended.
The psychology of policing is also influenced by officers’ exposure to a disproportionate amount of violence. As Philadelphia Commissioner Charles Ramsey said in a report on police use of force, “When you ride around all day long and you’re dealing with shootings, you’re dealing with robberies, you’re dealing with all this violent crime that’s constantly going on, that’s going to also influence how you respond in certain situations. And we have to take that into account in our training. We teach our officers to try to interact with people and realize that not everybody in a given neighborhood is a thug or a criminal, they’re not all out to hurt you. These are important things that I think we’ve got to face head on.”
Data suggests that current training is only exacerbating this psychological bias. Psychology Professor Dennis Rosenbaum is studying officers and has found that they come out of police academy already having a bias toward use of force.
The Record Effect
Prominent, oftentimes racially charged police shootings of unarmed individuals are nothing new, and have caused public outrage for decades. But recently, they have emerged in the news with seemingly greater frequency.
Long said this isn’t because anything has changed; it’s because the public has more information from photos, videos, and other recordings.
“I can’t even call it a trend,” Long said. “I think it’s been going on for years and years. But just with the advent of technology of people being able to capture these events, I think they’re coming to light more and more. In the past, I think people would just fabricate and deny and nobody was the wiser.”
In fact, wearing cameras is another reform that has been associated with a dramatic reduction in use of police force. Dashcams — cameras attached to police cars — have become very common. And many jurisdictions are passing bills to equip police with “body cameras.” When police aren’t wearing cameras, some incidents are still suppressed by the wrongful arrest of photographers and journalists during force incidents.
Even in the best of circumstances, however, and in the eye of a recording device, incidents sometimes happen because police are afraid, particularly when the threat of danger is unclear.
“It’s the only job I’ve ever had — and I’ve had several — where your number one goal is to survive your shift, your number two goal is for your partner to survive your shift, the number three goal is for the shift to survive the night or the day,” said Kazan, who has since left the police profession to work in real state.
Some constructive criticism for Flatow (as I will email her the link to this post so she knows of it being cross-posted): Name names! Don’t just say “officers” from such-and-such and outfit took the life of someone unjustly but specify who it was who acted in the wrong.
Continuing to just say “an officer” does two things, 1) it helps to absolve, or hide the responsibility of the actor, thus bypassing the powerful court of public opinion (as happened to Manny Ramos, if the killers’ identify is known, people will choose not to associate with them), and 2) it unfairly castigates all employed in that specific police outfit and likely makes it less likely that a “good” police employee will speak out (perhaps if properly incentivized?).
Another area that I wish Flatow would have dug into more were a couple statements made by former police employee Kyle Kazan.
Firstly, his assertion that the police mindset was one “where your number one goal is to survive your shift, your number two goal is for your partner to survive your shift, the number three goal is for the shift to survive the night or the day.”
That alone speaks to the title of the piece “Why Cops Pull the Trigger” more than anything else. If a police employee is putting themselves, their partner, and their colleagues first, that means those they claim to protect – and whom they steal from under such a guise – are secondary. It means police employees (at least those who operate according to the paradigm by Kazan) err on the side of shooting first then asking questions.
Secondly, Kazan’s claim that it’s uncertainty about a situation (“they don’t know why this person is acting up”) that can make more likely the unjust use of lethal force. What about the claim that police employees have immunity when acting? Might that have something to do with the propensity to inflict unnecessary force?
If a person is trained and believed to have a right to not be held accountable for their actions when donning a certain attire, that only facilities misdeeds. Not to mention the backing of police unions.
And the issue of the paper constraint (policy) must be addressed.
Flatow notes that even though the Ames Police have a policy to not allow more than two police vehicles to be involved in the same chase unless approved by a supervisor, up to seven cars were involved in an incident without such approval. A similar incident happened in Cleveland – though such a policy existed that didn’t stop 75 police vehicles from being involved in a chase that ended in a hail of gunfire and the deaths of two people who were unarmed.
Couple that with the statement put-forth by David Long, the former “special agent” with the Department of Labor outfit, that use of deadly force hinges on the word “reasonable” – that supposed check, just like police policy, is a farce because they are interpretation by the very people (or their colleagues) who create the policy or who initiate the force. To be clear, there is no incentive for them to police themselves and thus they don’t.
Ultimately if you wanto see a world free of police abuse and the institutionalized violence associated with the police apparatus you need not look to police body cams or advocate for any other claimed “fix.” Instead, recognize that this conversation hinges on ideas.
> An 18-year-old skater died yesterday after Miami Beach Police officers caught him tagging a building and then Tasered him.
> Details about the death are still murky, but what is clear is that Israel Hernandez died before dawn Tuesday morning after cops caught him spray painting near 71st Street and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Police have yet to comment on the killing, but an officer near the scene confirmed that cops had fatally Tasered someone. Hernandez’s friends on the Miami Beach skate scene are devastated.
> “I just cant believe it,” says best friend Rafael Lynch, on the verge of tears. “I still have his hat and his board. They still smell like him. It’s crazy.”
> **Update:** MBPD has released a statement and incident report confirming that Hernandez died after being Tasered. Police chased Hernandez after catching him tagging a building and used the electronic weapon [sic —RG] when he refused to stop.
> —Michael E. Miller, [Teenager Israel Hernandez Dies After Miami Beach Cops Catch Him Tagging, Taser Him](http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/riptide/2013/08/teenager_israel_hernandez_tase.php) Miami New Times (Aug 7, 2013).
From [GT 2011-01-28: Non-Lethal Force (Cont’d)](http://radgeek.com/gt/2011/01/28/non-lethal-force-contd/):
> As such, police in general, and police assault forces especially, are trained to enter every encounter with the goal of taking control of the situation, by means of setting up confrontations in situations (no-knock raids, late-night forced-entry raids, etc.) where their chosen targets are most likely to be disoriented and easily terrorized, and by responding with maximal force in the volatile, disorienting confrontations that they create. For the sake of this maximal-force approach, they are equipped with an arsenal of weapons ranging from tasers and clubs to handguns and assault rifles, up to, and including, military helicopters and [tanks](http://radgeek.com/gt/2008/09/19/no_seriously/). Worse, with all these weapons, they have institutionalized a culture of fact-free assertion and lies about highly dangerous weapons that they consider to be categorically non-lethal — and thus to be used as a first resort, in virtually any situation, as long as it might give the cops a tactical advantage over people who they intend to bring under their control (whether or not these people have ever committed any crime at all). These weapons continue to be used with no hesitation and no restraint, and continue to be called non-lethal force, [no matter how many people are killed by them](http://radgeek.com/gt/2008/01/14/nonlethal_force/). There are, for example, [tasers,](http://radgeek.com/tag/tasers) portable electric torture devices which were originally sold as a less-deadly alternative to using a hand-gun in potentially life-threatening confrontations, but which cops now freely use for as part of pain compliance techniques[ref]That is, torture.[/ref] in everyday confrontations with the public. This would be bad enough on its own, but part of the reason they are used so freely is because they take no real exertion for cops to use, and are consistently billed as non-lethal by police and media, even though there are hundreds of documented cases of people dying after being subjected to repeated taser shocks.
Yesterday, my husband came home and told me that he saw a cop who thought that his badge granted him extra rights. The cop was parked in a handicap parking space. His car was running and he evidently thought that he was “just running in” for a few minutes and it wouldn’t hurt anything. Of course, for the rest of us, that results in a minimum of a $100 fine in most places. Of course, we’re actually lucky if we just get a fine. The police in Chicago recently shot a pregnant woman with a taser gun when she parked in a handicap space. Not many details are given in the story, but enough for me to know that there is a double standard in place.
In New York state, if a person “just runs in” for a few minutes with their kids in the car, they are breaking the law and will be punished if caught.
If you decide not to leave your kids in the car for fear of being turned in, and you take them with you while you “just run in” to a liquor store or a winery, you could be breaking the law too (depending on where you live).
If I start my car in my own driveway and “just run in” and leave it unattended for a few minutes, I am breaking the law, and will be punished if caught.
If I “just run in” to pick up my carry-out order, I am breaking the law if I leave my car running during that time (whether I am in a handicap space or not).
If I leave my keys in my car because I am “just running in” somewhere (even if the car is not running), I am breaking the law (in many locations) and will be punished if caught.
While I think about all of these double standards, I think I’m going to “just run” my head into a brick wall and hope I don’t have any run-ins with the cops.
March 15 is International Day Against Police Brutality. Cop Block is growing in size, and our support is ever increasing. Even so, there remains a great deal of ignorance with regard to the institution of police and its systemically brutal effects. Over and over again, those who are aware insist the militarization of police is absurd and dangerous. The use of tanks, grenade launchers, tasers, and constant surveillance has undoubtedly ensured the United States’ reputation as a police state.
Those who have been paying attention have noticed the militarization of police for years, but most people and news outlets in the mainstream have not been, and are not paying attention.
While the government has provided no statistics that crime has suddenly run rampant, or is imminently on the rise, police are increasingly armed with state-of-the-art weapons to use upon the populace. Indeed, even if “crime” were running rampant, it would likely be because everything has become a crime in this country – from throwing frisbees, to studying whales with inappropriate techniques, to selling raw milk. The laws are countless; 40,000 were passed in 2011 alone.
Having the wrong books on your bookshelf can get your business raided. Believing in what is perceived as bizarre ideology puts you on law enforcement watchlists. Americans are guilty until proven innocent; in almost all 50 states, it is a crime to resist unlawful arrest, and innocent victims must submit to illegal arrest under the penalty of law (more here).
The year has hardly begun, and already police in the Bronx have murdered a young boy for the heinous crime of marijuana possession (and in a city in which marijuana is allegedly decriminalized, no less).
An Orange County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed Sgt. Manuel Loggins Jr., who was sitting in his parked car with his two daughters, also for inexplicable reasons. Police in Culpepper, VA murdered a woman who rolled up her car window in response to an officer’s commands.
Of course, in each case, it does not appear charges have been filed against the murderers. Yet, Cop Block continues to receive naive and downright stupid comments such as the following -
If you really believe that the present laws protect the police and you the citizen are having your rights violated, then you truely are nuts! Police officers have a code of conduct and their job is to uphold the law. When they break this code/law, then they should be judged in a court if law! — Sharon
Well, unfortunately for Sharon, wishful thinking does not reality make. The reality is that the laws do protect police. They have qualified immunity in civil suits. Resisting arrest charges literally allow police to make illegal arrests because innocent victims are not legally permitted to fight off unlawful restraint by a police officer. Assault on an officer and homicide of an officer are treated differently than normal assaults and homicides, meaning the law assumes the person and life of an officer is of more importance and value than that of everyone else. These are just a few examples of how the law most definitely protects police.
Certainly, one can hope police officers “have a code of conduct” and that they report on themselves, keep themselves accountable, charge their friends when they commit murder, and use their fancy tanks, tasers, and dangerous weapons only as needed (i.e. hope that they possess super-human abilities to behave like saints) – just like I can hope that I get a pet unicorn for Christmas this year. However, this is obviously unrealistic, and it is frightening that a grown woman can believe in such impractical and naive fairytales.
To everyone else – thank you for your support of Cop Block. Please think of the many victims of police brutality in America and around the world today. Your awareness is rational, compassionate, and important.
Last week CNN published yet another article claiming that violence against police officers has “spiked”. The mainstream media continues to publish these claims without doin any research to verify whether or not the claims are true.
CNN claims that the number of police officers killed in the line of duty during 2011 has increased by 14% over 2010. That claim is simply untrue. According to Officer Down Memorial Page, with 10 days left in 2011, there have been 158 officer fatalities.** At this time last year there had been 156 officer fatalities. The total number of officer deaths for 2010 was 161. Despite claims to the contrary, 2011 is shaping up to be at least as safe of a year for officers as 2010.
One of the few things the CNN article got right was the fact that officer deaths due to automobile accidents decreased in 2011 when compared with 2010. This drop in automobile accident deaths accounts for the decrease in total deaths. The article then goes on to insinuate that because officer deaths due to gunfire will, for the first time in 14 years, outnumber deaths due to automobile accidents, violence against officers has spiked. This again is simply untrue. Gunfire deaths will outnumber automobile deaths this year, not because there were so many more gunfire deaths, but because there was a sharp decrease in automobile accident deaths. The number of gunfire deaths so far this year stands at 62***. The number of gunfire deaths for 2010 was 59. Hardly the spike in violence towards officers the media would have you believe existed. The most that can be said from the data is that the steady DOWNWARD trend that has occurred over the last 25 years seems to have leveled off the last few years, but two years of data can not tell us whether or not this stalled decline will continue. (Read more about the data for the last 25 years here.)
Steve Groeninger, senior communications director of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, asserts that the imaginary sharp increase in death toll can be attributed to budget cuts. First, as shown above, there is no sharp increase in deaths, but let’s say that there was an increase. Groeninger does not offer a single shred of evidence that it can be linked to budget cuts. Craig Floyd, chairman and CEO of the fund, makes the outrageous insinuation that violence against officers today can be compared to one of the deadliest decades for police officers, the 70′s. The average number of officers felonious killed each year during the 70′s was 126, more than double the average for the last decade. There is simply no comparison to be made between those two decades, but Floyd would have you believe otherwise. Both Groeninger’s and Floyd’s assertions are nothing more than gross propaganda aimed to drum up more support for the police and more public outcry about the budget cuts that they are facing.
But why does it matter whether violence against officers is increasing or decreasing. Isn’t all lost of life due to violence tragic? Of course. Death due to violence is a complete waste of human potential and is always tragic in my eyes, but the propaganda that is being fed to the public is also being fed to police officers themselves. Combine this with the ever increasing militarization of your local police department, a very dangerous situation is being created for us mere mundanes.
It was recently reported that, thanks to a Defense Department program, known as program 1033, local law enforcement agencies were given almost 500 million dollars worth of military gear in 2011. That is almost double what was given in 2010. The militarization of local police departments, a trend that started decades ago, appears to be accelerating. Police departments are obtaining grenade launchers, helicopters, robots, drones, M-16s, and armored vehicles that the military no longer has use for.
Some police departments are even militarizing their waterways. The Texas Department of Safety has announced that they now have a Navy, made up of a new armored, swift boat complete with six mounted high caliber machine guns. The plan is to have a fleet of six of these boats. There is no denying that the police have been thoroughly militarized.
Of course, the mere possession of this equipment is not necessarily cause for concern. I frankly wouldn’t care if my neighbor had every single one of the above mentioned equipment. Every individual, including police officers, have a right to defend themselves with whatever equipment they deem necessary. The concern is that police departments all too often use this equipment,not in defense while attempting to bring in a violent criminal, but to go on the offense. As police departments have become militarized, we have seen a dramatic increase in paramilitary SWAT raids for everything from low-level nonviolent drug offenses to investigating underage drinking. Over the course of three decades we have seen the number of these paramilitary raids increase from about 2000 a year to more than 50,000 a year. We no doubt will see even more as police departments look for reasons to use their new military toys.
We have already witnessed this mentality. Radley Balko reported in September that a column in Tactical Response magazine encouraged SWAT commanders to “poach work” in order to stay active, even if it meant doing warrant service and drug raids. Balko notes that,
The author is actually suggesting SWAT commanders lobby to have their teams deployed in situations for which they normally wouldn’t be to ensure they’re in good practice. Put another way, he suggests they practice their door smashing, room-clearing, flash-grenade deploying, and other paramilitary tactics on less-than-violent people, so they’re in better form when a real threat arises. Never mind that there are going to be living, breathing, probably bleeding people on the receiving end of these “practice” raids.
The author seems to have no problem advocating the introduction of violence into an otherwise nonviolent situation. You can imagine that police departments will no doubt want to “practice” with all their new toys as well.
Arthur Rizer, a Virginia lawyer who has been a civilian police officer and a military police officer pointed out to The Daily that police officers and the military are two very different things.
If we’re training cops as soldiers, giving them equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as soldiers, when are they going to pick up the mentality of soldiers?” he asked.
If you look at the police department, their creed is to protect and to serve. A soldier’s mission is to engage his enemy in close combat and kill him. Do we want police officers to have that mentality? Of course not.
We already know that innocent people die at the hands of police officers because “officer safety” is apparently more important than the publics safety, but we don’t know how many. While the Officer Down Memorial Page enjoys a grant from the Justice Department, no such grant exist to collect the number and the names of those needlessly killed by the police. The Innocents’ Project, created by Clyde Voluntaryist, is attempting to do something about this lack of data by tracking those needlessly killed by the police, using the internet. Of course, this method has its problem, but even with limited ability to track all cases, the numbers that have been collected are quite troubling. According to the Innocents’ Project, 34 people have been fatally shot in questionable circumstances, 8 people have died after being shocked with a taser, 6 people have lost their lives in accidental deaths due to SWAT raids, and 6 people have died while in or being taken into custody, including the beating death of Kelly Thomas. How many more died but didn’t make headlines? How many of these deaths were due to cops that were so hopped up on the “War on Cops” propaganda that they were too quick to make their way up the continuum of force? How many more deaths will we see in the future as the propaganda proliferates and cops are even more thoroughly militarized?
That is why it matters whether violence against police officers is really increasing or not. When we combine military tactics, military training, military equipment, and military mentality with the never-ending expansion of things deemed criminal, making it inevitable that more and more people will interact with police officers, then add a big dose of the endless propaganda about “increased violence” towards cops, we are left with a situation where cops are going to be even more taser, baton and trigger happy than they already are. It makes for more dangerous streets, not for cops, but for the public.
**The number of officer fatalities quoted by CNN (166) came from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, whose stated mission ” is to generate increased public support for the law enforcement profession”. The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), whose stated mission is to simply “honor America’s fallen law enforcement”, has reported numbers that have been consistent over the years with the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted reports (LEOKA) while the numbers you will find published by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund have not, so for the purpose of this discussion I use the numbers provided by ODMP as they appear to be more reliable. Also, ODMP has a name and a description of each of the 158 officers that have been killed, while the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund does not have a name and a description for all 166 of officers that it claims to have been killed.
***The number of gunfire deaths that you will find on ODMP for 2011 is 59. One of the officers that is included in this count was shot and paralyzed in 1986. He did not die until this year and the claim is that his death, 26 years later, was due to complications from being shot and paralyzed. While it may be legitimate to claim such a thing, I excluded his death from the total gunfire deaths because his being shot in 1986 does not reflect on the amount of violence police officers are facing in 2011.
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After reading about the atrocities committed by police on this blog, one has happened in my backyard. And just like many of those examples, police, again, get away with murder. Literally.
It began (click here for more) early in the morning of November 6th, 2010 in Mount Joy Borough, PA.. Robert Neill, age 61, called police like a dutiful citizen to report being harassed by neighbors. Somehow he ended up dead.
The government report, which of course is only one side of the tale since the other can’t tell his, reports that he became “combative and aggressive,” and was enraged when they tried to calm him down. Instead of doing the appropriate thing and leaving, they of course try to “do something”. That something lead to his death. He was shot by Tasers, at least twice, as well as being pepper sprayed. The official cause of death was from an abnormal heartbeat (maybe because his heart was shocked with electricity).
I can imagine the scene like this: Mr. Neill calls the cops to complain about noisy neighbors. The cops arrive, find nothing, and try to talk to him. Its the middle of night, he’s already angry about the harassment, and now they don’t get what he is talking about. Understandable that he may have been angry at the whole situation. He walks toward them upset about why they can’t understand his complaint.
A normal person in this situation would try to talk, and barring that, just leave and get out of there. Instead, the cops attack him because they feel “threatened” (AWWWWWW). They get more cops to attack him. Now, does anybody in their right mind expect an angry person who is being tased and attacked to get less angry? Only the protected class of government agents would think this is a good idea. So, he ends up dead because of their actions.
If this happened to anybody but government agents, they would be thrown in jail and charged with manslaughter. But predictably, since they aren’t lowly citizens, they are cleared of all wrong doing by the state Attorney General. (click here for more) There is nothing else released about the incident; no officer names and no justification except “the cops did nothing wrong.”
That is unacceptable in a just society. The cops should be in jail for their actions. Instead, their superiors and cohorts cover for them and the state justice system lets them get away scott free for killing a man, for a reason nobody knows.
I’m disgusted, and I’m going to go protest in front of the police station. Even if there is no official justice, at least I will make this murder uncomfortable for those responsible.
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A mistaken address in the Town of Erin last week ended up with a dog being Tasered three times by a Chemung County sheriff’s deputy who believed he was going to be attacked.
Paige, a 6-year-old spayed white mixed terrier, disappeared after the incident that occurred shortly after noon Sept. 28, said Sue Nowlan, who owns the dog with her husband, Barry. Paige returned on her own about 10 p.m. Sept. 29, Sue Nowlan said earlier this week. The dog was traumatized and is now very skittish.
“She won’t go out the doggie door after dark. She won’t even go outdoors after dark unless my husband or I coax her out,” she said. “In fact, the vet gave us a special collar that emits something to help calm her, and also a canine-calming anxiety control medication to try on her.”
The day after it was first given, the anxiety medication seemed to be helping, she said.
Paige also was being treated for deep burns where the Taser probes had penetrated, she said, noting the sheriff’s office is paying for the veterinarian.
As long as the leads are still connected after the initial shot with the Taser, each press of the trigger gives another jolt for up to three seconds, Nowlan said. Paige was hit with 50,000 volts three times, she said.
How it happened
When the Nowlans were not home, a deputy went there looking for an individual he had a warrant for, but he went to the wrong address. He was trying to find someone on Jones Road. However, the Nowlans’ driveway is a town road called Jones Drive that leads only to their home.
“It was an unfortunate incident,” Sheriff Christopher Moss said. “The dog came through a dog door up on a deck, and the officer said the animal came after him in an aggressive nature and he utilized his Taser.”
Paige went out the doggie door and started barking at the deputy, Sue Nowlan said.
“His claim is that she had him pinned and he felt threatened, and so he Tasered her and then Tasered her again on the deck and then as he was going toward his patrol car, he Tasered her a third time,” she said, citing a copy of the unofficial sheriff’s office report. “I don’t understand why she was Tasered three times.”
Use of the Taser is at the deputy’s discretion, Moss said.
“If he feels that he’s going to be attacked by the canine, then he needs to use whatever means he can,” he said. “At one standpoint, you can look at it and say, ‘Thank goodness this officer was equipped with a Taser and didn’t have to use his firearm to dispatch the animal.”
Nowlan said there has never been an issue with Paige in the six years that they have had her, even with United Parcel Service, Federal Express and U.S. Postal Service deliveries and daily visits by a natural gas well tender.
“She’s not a vicious dog. She’s not an aggressive dog or anything else,” she said, adding that she takes offense at the deputy referring to Paige, who weighs 54 pounds, as a large, vicious pit bull.
“That breed of dog that they want to refer to has a very bad reputation. There are drug people and such out there that raise dogs for the wrong purpose,” Nowlan said.
Suspects sometimes use dogs as a diversion before firing on law enforcement, Moss said.
“There have been times when firearms have been discharged when an officer’s been attacked by an animal,” he said.
Nowlan said if anybody fears for their life, she can understand why a dog would be Tasered, but she maintains that Paige is a family dog.
“She rides on our tractor with us in our buggy. She rides in our boat. She goes swimming in our pool,” she said. “I have a 6-month-old grandson. If I had a vicious dog, I certainly wouldn’t be allowing her around my grandson. My daughter certainly wouldn’t allow the dog around him if she were vicious.”
Moss said the use of the Taser on the canine isn’t being questioned by his administration, but there is an internal investigation of the circumstances that followed the Tasering.
“There are some things that happened that I’m not pleased with on our officer’s behalf,” Moss said. “This should have been expedited a little better. Some further follow-up should have been conducted. So we have an internal investigation going, so I can’t comment at this time.”
According to the sheriff’s office report, the incident occurred at 12:10 p.m. Sept. 28, but the Nowlans did not find out about it until 6 p.m., Sue Nowlan said. A call to the sheriff’s office was returned at 7:45 p.m., she said.
“For 36 hours straight, that’s what we did. We looked for her. She’s not a dog that stays out. She’s not a dog that wanders,” she said. “My husband and I want assurance that this isn’t going to happen again. We lost valuable hours that we could’ve been out there trying to look for her, had we been notified.”
Nowlan said she met Monday with Moss, Undersheriff William Schrom and Capt. Thomas Argetsinger.
“The three people I spoke with down there do seem concerned,” she said. “They do tell me that there is an internal investigation going on within.”
Road name change?
She also planned to meet with code enforcement to file an application for a change of the road’s name.
When she talked with town officials earlier, they assured her that was not necessary. But if something terrible happens because of confusion over the road names and it is disclosed as an ongoing problem, there is an opportunity for someone to file a lawsuit, she said.
“We’ve had at least five incidences where they’ve reported here. At one point, our house was completely surrounded by state troopers. They were getting ready to do a drug bust, but they were supposed to be on Jones Road, and they had us surrounded,” she said.
“We have to do something at this point to prevent this from happening because we don’t plan on moving.”
Meanwhile, they have put up signs that are white with red reflective letters that read “For dog’s safety, toot horn!! Do not exit vehicle.”
“I don’t feel that I need to protect people from my dog,” Nowlan said. “But I do feel that I need to protect my dog from people.”