Recently, a series of high profile police brutality cases have captivated and bitterly divided the country. The non-indictments in the trials of both Michael Brown and Eric Gardner have triggered worldwide attention, and nationwide protest. The following actions would help both officers, and those who would claim to be victims of police brutality.
The first thing we should do as a matter of policy is equip police officers with body cameras. This way there’s a visually recorded record of events in cases where there’s alleged police brutality. Having body cameras not only gives the victim of an incident of police brutality a visual record to prove their case, but it also could benefit police officers wrongly accused of such brutality. In the case of Darren Wilson and Michael Brown, the entire protests could have been averted if a strong visual record exists.
The next step that should be taken is to change the way police brutality cases are handled in the eyes of the law. In any case where a county or district prosecutor would normally impanel a grand jury, the proceedings should be done through a special prosecutor, or the State Attorney General. Traditional county prosecutors are highly reliant on police departments for cooperation when prosecuting suspects, so when they are prosecuting a police officer, they are prosecuting one of their primary sources of information. Even if the prosecutor is honest and doing everything by the rules, this gives off a massive appearance of impropriety. State Attorney Generals or Special Prosecutors would not have this appearance of corruption.
Third, we simply must periodically retrain the police to not be as quick to use excessive force. American law enforcement commits more homicides than any other industrialized country, and engages in more shootings. In Germany, only 85 bullets were shot by law enforcement in 2011. In just one incident in Cleveland Ohio in 2012, 137 bullets were shot at two unarmed suspects. In the United Kingdom, 33 have died from police shootings since 1994. In the U.S, that number is roughly 500 yearly.
We also must continue to use the Department of Justice to investigate systemic racism in police departments. Assume for a second that such a probe results in most police departments being clear of systemic racial bias. Even in that scenario this is a good idea, because it increases public confidence in the police as a colorblind institution. If the DOJ does happen to find systemic racial problems, it’d benefit us all to live in a society where race is not an issue in matters of crime.
Lastly, we simply need to create and maintain a national dialogue on these issues. Such a national dialogue would require high profile members of both parties. Democrats have good surrogates in Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as President Obama, the de facto leaders of the Democratic Party. Republicans have many willing participants as well. Recently, 19 House Republicans voted against increased militarization of the police, and Senators including Tom Coburn and Rand Paul, as well as former Presidential candidate Ron Paul have expressed concern over increased militarization of police departments. Mainstream conservative talk show hosts including Bill O’Reilly have similarly commented that the Eric Gardner chokehold verdict was a miscarriage of justice.
If we enact these simple steps and stick to them we won’t have massive riots and peaceful demonstrations shutting down entire cities, because we’ll have actually learned a lesson as a society-we can question authority, and improve the lives of Americans in the process.