As pretty much anyone who has followed the news the last several months knows, there has been a great deal of attention paid to high-profile cases of officer-involved killings like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Grey, and many others. Tucker wrote a lengthy piece here about the killing of Kentucky teen Samantha Ramsey by Boone County Deputy Tyler Brockman.
For many who work in criminal defense (and those who are on the business end of police brutality), this increased focus and attention is welcome, though is, unfortunately, not news to us. Officers who cross the line from performing a difficult and necessary job to committing criminal acts under color of their authority are generally not held accountable for their actions (though with the increased attention on cases of officer misconduct, this is changing).
I don’t want to be mistaken. I do think policing is a difficult and necessary job. Like any profession (including lawyers), you’re going to have some people who use their position to take advantage of others or otherwise commit criminal acts. The “bad apples,” then, are the ones who get all the attention. You don’t hear about police officers who keep their heads down and do a good job because, quite simply, it’s not newsworthy.
In recent weeks, the ongoing national conversation about police reform has shifted, due in large part to the slaying of Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth. The claims in the media since then have claimed that there is an ongoing “war on police,” owing in part to the reform movement that has been sparked by all the attention paid to police misconduct.
The statistics don’t seem to bear out the claims that this year is any more dangerous for law enforcement than any other. In an NPR piece, stats on deaths of law enforcement officers don’t indicate that this is any more of a dangerous time to be a cop than any other. Without a doubt, Goforth’s killing (and, indeed, any killing of a police officer or a civilian) is a tragedy. As the NPR piece indicates, the government has seized on this “war on police” rhetoric to try to shut down discussion regarding policing reform, alleging that killings like Goforth’s are due to the negative attitude towards police. (Interestingly, as CNN reports, the suspect in Goforth’s slaying was found incompetent to stand trial in a 2012 assault case, which given how low that standard is, should raise significant questions about the motive behind Goforth’s killing or, indeed, if there was any motive at all).
In short, while there is a recent perception of a war on police, the evidence just doesn’t bear it out. The discussions about reform of police are long overdue in this country, and ultimately will work to the benefit of both police and civilians so long as it is allowed to continue.