Why Police Officers Routinely Get Acquitted
While the mainstream media is paying more attention to police killing of unarmed citizens and outrage has spread across many sectors of society, the vast majority of police officers who shoot citizens rarely get convicted of any crime. And the routinely get acquitted of all charges.
There have been numerous studies as to why this happens, but a simple understanding of a few factors will tell you all you need to know.
There are a few numbers that you need to know up front. According to the FBI, in 2014 there were 461 “justifiable homicides” committed by law enforcement officers. The seems to be about average for any year in America.
In a separate study done by Bowling Green State University, from 2005 to 2014 only 48 officers have been charged for murder or manslaughter for using deadly force on the job. Take note, those are not convictions, they are merely charges, and that was over a period of ten years. So just under five officers a year were charged for around 460 killings.
So why are there so few officers charged? The reasons for this are mostly institutional and therefore, hard to reverse.
For the most part, the majority of witnesses to an officer-involved shooting are other police officers. And they are very unlikely to testify against their fellow officers. Add to that their unwillingness to assist in any investigation and you can begin to see why so few officers get charged with any crime.
Besides the officers involved, there may be a few civilian witnesses. But these people may have criminal charges pending against them and may be more likely to back up the official story in exchange for a lighter sentence. Or, as we have seen recently, they may open themselves up to police harassment. All these factors make witnesses less likely to come forward, which means prosecutors must rely almost solely on the official police story.
Judge And Jury Bias
Judges and juries tend to accept the officer’s account of what happened over the testimony of others. Regardless of what other eyewitnesses say, the officer’s account tend to be believed over the rest.
This is such a well known fact that many officers who are facing charges tend to want bench trials, where the judge is the sole decision maker. Why would they want to take a chance with a jury, who could have one or two people sympathetic to the victim?
Another number to keep in mind from the Bowling Green State University study: since 2005 no judge has ever convicted a law enforcement officer of murder or manslaughter for using deadly force while on duty. With a record like that, you can see why many police think they can get away with anything.
Token Self Regulation
When lethal force is used by an officer in the line of duty an investigation is automatically triggered. Unfortunately, that investigation is done by the police themselves. We have all seen how Internal Investigations (IA) goes after bad cops on TV shows, but that is rarely the reality.
In real life IA protects officers outside scrutiny, ignores and sometimes intimidates witnesses, and generally does all it can to make sure no officer ever gets convicted of anything.
Even firing a police officer with a history of violent behavior can be difficult. With many police unions actively involved in local politics, going against the police can be detrimental to one’s career. Government officials have learned to stay out of these incidents.
Because these factors are so ingrained in society, it is nearly impossible for any law enforcement officer to be convicted (or even charged) with a crime. But there is a way to change all this. And that is to shine a light on the entire system.
We need to not just expose the police brutality that is happening every day, we need to expose the corruption that allows these officer to walk free. Citizen journalists need to start asking tough questions of elected officials and law enforcement. We need to show up for city council meetings and demand answers. We must create and share content with our community to educate them. This is why we are making “Always A Thorn” to show what is happening in our communities across America and to help end this senseless violence.
Want to see how you can get involved? Click here