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Will There Ever Be Police Accountability? Let's Dive Into Recent Cases
How much longer will corrupt cops avoid consequences.
In recent months, several cities across the United States have been grappling with the intricate and challenging issue of police accountability. Delving into the details of these cases reveals the depth of the challenge facing our justice system in ensuring fair and just law enforcement.
Starting in Mississippi, the U.S. Justice Department's decision to investigate alleged civil rights violations by police in a majority Black city highlights a critical intervention in local law enforcement practices. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that this federal investigation is a response to concerns that local oversight may not be sufficient.
The federal probe will focus on numerous reports from residents of Lexington, a city of about 1,600 people some 65 miles (100 kilometers) north of the capital of Jackson. The lawsuit claimed officers targeted Black drivers with illegal roadblocks, retaliated against people for recording police activity, committed sexual assault and even made arrests of people for using profanity.
While the report does not provide specific details of the allegations, the federal government's involvement underlines the gravity of the situation and the ongoing struggle for civil rights in law enforcement.
This investigation comes after the filing of a federal lawsuit in 2022 alleging that the local law enforcement was “terrorizing” the small town.
Baltimore's approach to police misconduct takes a different form. A new five-member board, tasked with examining police misconduct files, has reviewed 395 cases since its inception in June 2023, as per a Baltimore Sun report.
The panel of civilians is charged with reviewing the investigations and determinations by the Baltimore Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit that follow civilian complaints. After viewing body camera footage and reports and asking follow-up questions, the body can come to its own conclusions, or agree with police.
This board's creation and its substantial caseload reflect the city's proactive stance in addressing police misconduct. However, the startlingly high number of cases points to a more systemic issue within the police department. This volume of cases suggests either a longstanding problem with policing practices or a renewed commitment to addressing misconduct complaints.
Chicago presents a contrasting picture, as reported by WTTW. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability closed a whopping 477 cases without recommending even a modicum of disciplinary action for officers.
Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten on Tuesday told members of the City Council’s Budget and Government Operations Committee — which is examining the $16.8 million 2024 budget for the agency known as COPA — that she was proud there are less than 1,000 open cases on her desk, a reduction of 40% as compared with a year ago.
Kersten announced in June that she would seek to clear the agency’s backlog of cases more than 18 months old, which she said were compromising the ability of the agency to investigate more recent complaints alleging significant misconduct by officers.
These closures, aimed at clearing a backlog, raises questions about the effectiveness of civilian oversight bodies. The report does not specify the reasons behind the lack of disciplinary recommendations, leading to speculation about the criteria used in these cases.
It's unclear whether the closed cases lacked sufficient evidence, were improperly investigated, or if there was an aversion to pursuing disciplinary actions.
The experiences of these cities exemplify the multifaceted nature of police accountability and the myriad challenges involved in ensuring effective oversight. Each case sheds light on different aspects of the issue – from the need for external intervention in Mississippi to the challenges of managing a large volume of misconduct cases in Baltimore and the complexities of civilian oversight in Chicago.
The systemic hurdles in achieving accountability cannot be overstated. Police unions often provide strong protections for officers, complicating disciplinary procedures. Cultural factors within police departments, such as the 'blue wall of silence,' further inhibit transparency and accountability.
Moreover, political considerations play a significant role, as politicians may be hesitant to implement comprehensive reforms due to potential pushback from police unions or certain segments of their electorate.
To address these challenges, several key measures are critical. Firstly, independent oversight bodies must be empowered with the authority to conduct thorough investigations and enforce disciplinary actions. Transparency in law enforcement activities, including the public release of body camera footage and misconduct records, is essential for building public trust.
Indeed, in the murder of Tyre Nichols, the fact that the local police department was quick to release the video footage and arrest the officers likely prevented widespread unrest in the city. Furthermore, reforming police training to emphasize de-escalation and community-oriented policing can shift the culture within police departments.
Active community involvement and sustained political will are equally vital. Communities must be engaged in the oversight process, and their demands for accountability must be taken seriously. Politicians must recognize the long-term benefits of a trustworthy and accountable police force and be willing to take bold steps in reforming law enforcement practices.
In conclusion, the path to achieving police accountability is multifaceted and complex. It requires not only the establishment of effective oversight bodies and procedures but also a deeper examination and reform of the cultural and systemic factors that hinder accountability.
The experiences of cities like Mississippi, Baltimore, and Chicago serve as a microcosm of the national struggle for police reform. They demonstrate the critical need for a comprehensive approach to law enforcement, one that balances authority with accountability and integrates community needs and perspectives. As these cases reveal, the journey toward reform is challenging, but it is a necessary and vital pursuit for a just and equitable society.
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