More U.S. police officers are being charged with crimes for deadly on-duty shootings, but none has been convicted of murder or manslaughter this year, the Wall Street Journal reports. Bringing such cases remains challenging for prosecutors, with judges and juries loath to second-guess decisions made by police in the line of duty. Twelve police officers have been charged with manslaughter or murder for on-duty fatal shootings this year, more than twice the average of about five annually in the past decade, says Prof. Philip Stinson of Bowling Green State University. The tally excludes six Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray because it is limited to fatal shootings. The results so far: an acquittal by a judge in Cleveland; a mistrial because of a hung jury in North Carolina; and a guilty plea to a lesser charge, official misconduct, after two mistrials in South Carolina. The cases are a tiny fraction of all fatal police shootings. Most officers never are charged because authorities deem the shootings lawful.
Some police critics praise the increase in prosecutions compared with a year ago, when grand juries declined to indict police in high-profile civilian deaths in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y. “From the perspective of those who feel that there's an epidemic of police violence and brutality that's racially motivated in this country, I see this as progress,” said Tamar Birckhead of the University of North Carolina School of Law. Police advocates say prosecutors are bending to political pressure by bringing questionable cases to trial. “It's a political response to media coverage in Ferguson and South Carolina and Staten Island,” said William Johnson of the National Association of Police Organizations. When police are charged with crimes, they are convicted at a lower rate than are defendants generally. The Cato Institute found 3,238 cases of alleged misconduct in 2009 and 2010 that resulted in criminal charges against police officers. Of those, 33 percent resulted in convictions. In all felony cases in 2009 in the 75 largest counties in the U.S., 66 percent of the accused were convicted.