In what may be one of the most thorough and informative studies
done on police officers who've killed people in the United States since 2005, the Washington Post
and Bowling Green State University have done an amazing job giving color and context to an American epidemic that has been swept under the rug far too often. In this study, it was determined that out of thousands and thousands of people killed by police since 2005, only 11 officers have been convicted of any crimes whatsoever. Consider these findings from the study:
Most of the time, prosecutors don’t press charges against police — even if there are strong suspicions that an officer has committed a crime. Prosecutors interviewed for this report say it takes compelling proof that at the time of the shooting the victim posed no threat either to the officer or to bystanders.
Last year, at least 1,100 people
were killed by police in the United States. That is the highest number on record
in at least the past two decades, but the truth is that these numbers have been so poorly recorded
that it is hard to tell if the problem is genuinely getting worse or if the number of people being killed by police is finally being reported properly.
Whatever the case, the Washington Post study makes it abundantly clear that the deck is firmly stacked against victims of police violence and their families:
“To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way,” said Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green who studies arrests of police. “It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”
But even in these most extreme instances, the majority of the officers whose cases have been resolved have not been convicted, The Post analysis found.
And when they are convicted or plead guilty, they’ve tended to get little time behind bars, on average four years and sometimes only weeks. Jurors are very reluctant to punish police officers, tending to view them as guardians of order, according to prosecutors and defense lawyers.
Almost certainly, this stark reality is not lost on police officers. Fully aware that they have a 1 in 1,000 chance of being convicted when they use lethal force, the risk is so minuscule that officers have no real motivation for avoiding it when they have even the smallest hunch or feeling that danger is any sort of possibility. In any industry, if people feel that they are above prosecution or consequence, it's going to have a detrimental effect on society. When law enforcement officers feel above the law, people die, and often unjustly.