Police Prosecutions Have Increased, but Convictions Have Not

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Meanwhile, shootings by police show no sign of slowing

Crime-Scene---police-siren-lights

I don’t know that I would necessarily call it “good news” that we’re seeing more police officers facing actual charges and trials for fatal shootings. Given, though, that there’s been a notable increase in the number of people killed by police in recent years, a doubling in the frequency by which officers face trial in 2015 is at least a sign that officials have started treating public outrage seriously.

Now for the downers. The increase is from an average of five officers prosecuted a year to 12 so far in 2015. And none of the officers has been convicted yet. Reuters, reporting on the increase this year, notes that typically only one out of five officers charged has been found guilty over the past decade. Also, these numbers don’t include the six Baltimore officers who face charges over the death of Freddie Gray.

By contrast, The Guardian reports that police so far this year have killed 940 citizens. Of course, a significant number of these shootings are a result of police confronting armed people engaging in apparent crimes and sometimes even getting shot at themselves. This shouldn’t be seen as an insistence that there’s some sort of appropriate ratio—that for every x number of killings by police, one will turn out to be a result of criminal misconduct by the officer.

It does look like the number of people killed by police could actually exceed the estimated 1,108 killed in 2014 if it stays at the current rate (based on numbers by killedbypolice.net). The public outrage does not appear to have stopped the police from using deadly force when officers think it’s necessary. It’s important to look at that data, because now FBI Director James Comey has joined the complaints of some police (complaints unsupported by any evidence whatsoever) that all this outrage and surveillance of police is causing them to not do their jobs properly because they’re afraid of accusations of misconduct, and that’s causing the current increase in crime. From the Washington Post:

The “age of viral videos” has fundamentally altered U.S. policing, Comey said Monday in a speech virtually identical to one he delivered last week at the University of Chicago Law School.

His comments have been interpreted as giving credence to the notion of a “Ferguson effect” — the theory that riots and racial unrest in places such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, where police killed civilians, has prompted police officers to become more restrained. That, in turn, has theoretically resulted in an uptick in violent crime as criminals become emboldened.

Comey acknowledged Monday that he has little evidence to support the theory.

“The question is, are these kinds of things changing police behavior around the country? The honest answer is: I don’t know for sure whether that’s the case,” he said, but he added that “I do have a strong sense” it’s true.

So, you’ve got nothing, then. The White House is all, “LOL, no way,” to Comey’s accusations. All this outrage and the jump in prosecutions certainly hasn’t lowered the frequency by which police kill people. Certainly Corey Jones didn’t benefit from this allegedly new level of caution from police. And it certainly hasn’t stopped some police from expressing absurd levels of aggressive behavior.

I want to throw the whole “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear” canard back in law enforcement’s face, but probably the best observation about Comey’s unsupported claim comes from Michael Petricone of the Consumer Electronics Association. Petricone tweeted that Comey’s statement is proof that knowledge of surveillance causes people to change their behavior, an argument civil liberties groups use to oppose snooping by agencies like the National Security Agency and, well, Comey’s FBI.

 

Reprinted with permission from Reason.com