In 2015, the online British news publication The Guardian reported that the number of deaths caused by police averaged three per day and were projected to exceed 1000 by the end of the year (Wong). The fact that upwards to 90 or so individuals have died over a one-month period, and at the hands of the police, should be cause for concern for all. This appears not to be the case for President Donald Trump who, during a July 2017 speech held in front of hundreds of representatives from law enforcement, encouraged the police to “rough up” people who had been arrested (Wootson and Berman). While roundly rejected been police chiefs throughout the country, the attitude of the country’s current president is concerning because of Trump’s apparent support for policing that countermands efforts towards a community-oriented approach meant to increase trust. His comments may also be reflective of an epidemic in this country where, surprisingly, the numbers of officer involved shootings leading to citizen deaths has actually risen since The Guardian’s 2015 report.
If February’s statistics concerning police shootings that lead to death is any indication then 2017 may prove that efforts by police departments throughout the country are having no effect whatsoever. According to Angela Helm, a contributing editor for the online publication The Root, the numbers of killings in February alone exceeded every month in 2016, as well as January of this year as well (Helm). Digging a bit deeper, the online database Killed by Police, which has recorded police killings since 2013, shows that the numbers have already exceeded 1,000 and may cap at approximately 1,200 (“Killed by Police 2017”). To address this tragic situation, police agencies throughout the country instituted policies mandating the use of body-worn cameras, a tact they hoped would have a two-fold effect at diminishing the numbers of police shootings as well as the use of physical force. However, a recent study of the Washington DC police force showed an uptick of the use of force where officers wore body cameras and, as of yet, researchers have no understanding as to why (McArdle).
People who use cellphone cameras to record police encounters, now referred as citizen journalism, would seem to be an effective way of dealing with the issue of police brutality. Yet, researchers have yet to support such claims and what little is known appears to suggest something other than an effective way of dealing with the issue is afoot. Criminologists Ashley K. Farmer and Ivan Y. Sun report that college students who recorded police encounters believed there to be a deterrent effect that shaped the nature of how the police interacted with citizens (243). However, they fail to mention whether such encounters were productive or counterproductive yet, the fact that incidences involving police encounters resulting in death are on an upswing, it appears that citizen journalism has yet to effect positive change. For the most part, it appears that the use of cameras does alter the dynamic between the police and the public, where those in law enforcement see the practice as undermining their authority as those who are filming such encounters feel more empowered (Farmer and Sun 248).
There does appear to be an effective way of deterring police violence and extreme use of force, and this has to do with developing an adhering to effective policies. A team of researchers for the nonprofit Campaign Zero, an organizing with the intent to stop police violence, found that police agencies who clearly place restrictions on how and when to use force experienced significantly less police killings that departments who had no such limits in their policies (McKesson et. al 7). In fact, a new policy added to those already enforced accounted for an additional reduction of undue or illegal force, including shootings, of 15 percent. Yet, most police agencies refuse to adopt the needed additional policies (McKesson et al. 10), inferring it will remain an uphill battle to make communities safer for all.
- Farmer, Ashley K., and Ivan Y. Sun. “Citizen Journalism and Police Legitimacy: Does Recording the Police Make a Difference?” The Politics of Policing: Between Force and Legitimacy, edited by Mathieu Deflem, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2016, pp. 239-258.
- Helm, Angela. “More Americans Killed by Police in 2017, but Trump Dominates Headlines.” The Root, Gizmodo Media Group, 4 Mar. 2017, www.theroot.com/more-americans-killed-by-police-in-2017-but-trump-domi-1792969338.