What Government Policies Can Make Law Enforcement Agents Obey the Very Laws They Are Supposed to Enforce?

IMPORTANT UPDATE 6/8/2020: Since publishing this post, I have learned about serious problems with the data used to support the ‘8 Can’t Wait’ Campaign. Please read this critique. I have signed this petition. I am going to leave this post unaltered (except maybe to fix typos and low-level mistakes like that), but be warned that some of the comments I make in this post are based on a bad foundation.

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First, I’d like to bring your attention to this website about ‘Police Use of Force’ put together by Campaign Zero. I recommend reading the whole thing (it’s not that long), but the highlights are that they have identified 8 policies which, when adopted by police departments, are correlated to fewer people being killed by police, and those same policies are also correlated with fewer police officers being killed while on duty, and that having or not having those policies doesn’t seem to affect crime rates (other than the crimes of police officers killing civilians or civilians killing police officers). In short, those 8 policies are correlated with fewer people, in uniform or not, dying in police encounters.

Correlation does not prove causation. It’s possible that the police departments which put in place those policies were already less likely to use lethal force, and that if you forced those policies on police departments which hadn’t voluntarily adopted them they wouldn’t work. But if the data is accurate, this correlation strongly suggests that implementing those eight policies in all police departments is morally necessary. And it seems obvious that if the Minneapolis Police Department had implemented one of the recommended policies ‘ban chokeholds and strangleholds’ George Floyd might still be alive today.

Campaign Zero has also launched the ‘8 Can’t Wait’ campaign to get cities across the United States to implement these policies. If my local government (San Francisco) hasn’t already implemented these eight policies, I’d be contacting them about this.

(I admit that I am a little confused – it lists San Francisco as one of the few U.S. cities whose police department had already implemented all 8 of the recommended policies as of 2016, yet the chart also shows that San Francisco has a higher-than-median level of police killings per million residents. Maybe San Francisco is an outlier, or maybe if the San Francisco Police Department hadn’t put in place those 8 policies we’d have even more police killings. But given that San Francisco already has the eight recommended policies, what further government policies can bring police killings down?)

And yet, even though San Francisco’s police department already has these recommended policies, the SFPD isn’t the only law enforcement agency here. On February 9 this year, an off-duty FBI agent shot two bullets at an unarmed man who was holding his hands up. Thankfully, the victim survived. The latest information I know about the perpetrator is that the incident is ‘under investigation’ by both the FBI and the SFPD. As far as I know, the perpetrator was not arrested.

I live within walking distance of Haight Street, and though it is very rare that I would be on the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets between 11 pm and midnight, it does happen once in a great while. In other words, this literally shot close to home for me.

And there’s more.

Due to legal mechanisms such as qualified immunity, law enforcement officers can be proven to do things, such as fire guns at people who are not imminent threats, without facing legal consequences, whereas if civilians are proven to commit the very same actions – such as firing guns at people who aren’t an imminent threat – they get convicted of a criminal offence. Why not make law enforcement officers just as liable to the law as anyone else? Why apply a lower standard to their behavior? If anything, maybe they should be held to an even higher standard of behavior because they are professional trained and have sworn oaths.

I’m still waiting to see what happens to that unnamed FBI agent who fired a gun on Haight Street and the police officer who killed George Floyd.

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