Expert: Criminalization Of Police Misconduct “Imperfect Way To Fix System”


What was once a rarity has become more common: police officers facing criminal charges in the deaths of civilians. Even as high-profile police shootings have attracted more scrutiny, the New York Times says it remains clear that the law gives the police the benefit of the doubt. Convictions have proved as elusive as ever. That legal reality leaves a wide gap between an unnecessary police shooting and a criminal one. Experts say the gap must be filled by better policies, training, accountability and supervision. “These are important policy discussions that need to be addressed,” said criminologist Philip Stinson of Bowling Green State University, a former police officer. “We have a problem with police subculture. We have a problem with poor training, lack of training. Many police departments have cut in-service training because of budget cuts.” Despite heavy sanctions, like millions paid out in settlements over police mistakes, police departments have resisted change, Stinson said, “But it's gotten to the point now where people of all walks of life are paying attention. We've gotten to a tipping point.”

Even with indictments, juries will remain reluctant to convict police officers absent evidence of malice, said Eugene O'Donnell, a former officer and prosecutor on the faculty of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “You can absolutely be sure there's an impact on the everyday work the police do,” he said. “This is reminding the police that they should only be using deadly force as a last resort.” He added that criminalization is “an imperfect way to fix the system… in a way, we're doing bottom-up reform instead of top-down reform. We're finding egregious endings and working from there instead of proactively saying the police system is part of the criminal justice system and consequently is broken.”

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