The abuse described is preventable. Officers with long records of abuse, policies that are overly vague, training that is substandard, and screening that is inadequate all create opportunities for abuse. Perhaps most important, and consistently lacking, is a system of oversight in which supervisors hold their charges accountable for mistreatment and are themselves reviewed and evaluated, in part, by how they deal with subordinate officers who commit human rights violations. Those who claim that each high-profile case of abuse by a rogue officer is an aberration are missing the point: problem officers frequently persist because the accountability systems are so seriously flawed. State, and federal officials are responsible for holding police officers accountable for abusive acts. Police officials must ensure that police officers are punished when they violate administrative rules, while state and federal prosecutors must prosecute criminal acts committed by officers, and where appropriate, complicity by their superior officers.
Each of these entities applies different standards when reviewing officer responsibility for an alleged abuse. All of these authorities have an obligation to ensure that the conduct of police officers meets international standards that prohibit human rights violations and that; in general, the U. S. complies with the obligations imposed by those treaties to which it is a party. While only the federal government is responsible for reporting internationally on U. S.
compliance with the relevant treaties, local and state officials share responsibility for ensuring compliance within their jurisdictions (Cohen). A national survey was taken by the Seattle Times and states that seventy percent of all police crimes against the public go unreported (Database of Abusive Police). Despite claims to the contrary from city officials where abuses have become scandals in the media, efforts to make meaningful reforms have fallen short. The scenarios are frighteningly similar from city to city.
Shortcomings in recruitment, training, and management are common to all. So is the fact that officers who repeatedly commit human rights violations tend to be a small minority, but are still routinely protected by the silence of their fellow officers and by flawed systems of reporting. Another pervasive shortcoming is the scarcity of meaningful information about trends in abuse. Data is also lacking regarding the police departments response to those incidents and their plans or actions to prevent brutality. Where data does exist, there is no evidence that police administrators or, prosecutors utilize available information in a way to deter abuse. Another commonality in recent years is recognition, in most cities, about what needs to be done to fix troubled departments.
However, this encouraging development is coupled with an official unwillingness to deal seriously with officers who commit abuses until high profile cases expose long-standing negligence or tolerance of brutality (Burris). One recent, positive development has been the federal pattern or practice civil investigations, and subsequent agreements, initiated by the U. S. Justice Department. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Steubenville, Ohio, the Justice Departments Civil Rights Division has examined shortcomings in accountability for misconduct in those cities police departments; the cities agreed to implement reforms to end volatile practices rather than risk the Justice Department taking a case to court for injunctive action. The reforms proposed by the Justice Department were similar to those long advocated by community activists and civil rights groups.
This includes better use-of-force training and policies, stronger reporting mechanisms, creation of early warning systems to identify current officers at risk of engaging in abuse, and improved disciplinary procedures. Problem officers would receive special monitoring, training and counseling to counter the heightened risk of brutality. Several other police departments, including those in Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, and Philadelphia, are reportedly under investigation by the Civil Rights Division. With the millions of unreported cases and the code of silence within the precincts how will it ever become resolved? The fact is that this remains to be a problem within the minority community. Unfortunately, it will never get the full attention of the mainstream culture and will remain a stain on American society.