Cops are citizens too, not police-state soldiers

Chelsea Keyes | Evergreen Columnist

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Serve and protect, not shoot and ask questions later.

Law enforcement officers are authority figures. We seek their help and expect them to solve our problems. Therefore we assume that they would, and should, do the right thing at all times.

Although officers are charged with upholding laws, they are not the law incarnate. When police officers feel above the law they are more likely to abuse their authority.

Excessive force is defined as any force used beyond what is necessary to arrest a suspect. It is usually up to the officer to choose the type of approach that each situation warrants. According to ABC News, many officers use a ‘force continuum’ that begins with offering a polite request, followed by a demand, then the use of chemical sprays, physical force, and finally lethal force. Officers should only utilize a level of force that is equivalent to the force being used against them by the suspect.

Around 2:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, a 24-year-old man, Jonathan Ferrell, crashed his car in to trees 15 miles from downtown Charlotte, N.C. After escaping from the car, he proceeded to a nearby neighborhood where he began banging on a resident’s door for help. Not recognizing Ferrell, the resident called 911 reporting an attempted robbery. As Officer Randall Kerrick and two colleagues arrived, Ferrell began running toward them. One officer tased Ferrell, but as that did not stop him from running, Kerrick fatally shot Ferrell ten times.

Kerrick was charged with a count of voluntary manslaughter, according to NBC News.

There have been many tragic incidents similar to Ferrell’s in which innocent people have been harmed, attacked and even killed due to excessive force used by police officers. It is time to begin supervising and prosecuting the police for the wrong that they have done. Unfortunately, there is a strong system that protects officers from prosecution.

The Seattle Times states that there is a four-part test to determine if excessive force is a justifiable homicide. The officer must have a valid reason to believe the suspect is attempting to commit a felony, have probable cause to believe their life or another life is in danger, must believe that the force used is necessary, and must be acting without malice.

In the state of Washington, it is difficult and somewhat rare that an officer will be prosecuted, and especially when many juries are often sympathetic to police. It is also tough to prove that an officer has malice aforethought. Policemisconduct.net, a website sponsored by the CATO Institute, shows that Washington state has one of the five lowest law enforcement conviction rates at 17 percent.

Data from the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project deemed that there were more than 8,300 credible reports of excessive force from April 2009 to December 2010. Within those reports, 11,000 officers were incriminated, of which only 3,238 resulted in criminal charges, and of those only 1,063 were ultimately convicted. This indicates the disparities on how law enforcement officers are treated.

Conviction and incarceration rates are almost half that of the rates for the general public. Even when convicted, law enforcement officers spend 29 percent less time behind bars on average than the rest of the public, according to the National Police Misconduct Statistics.

But, police officers are not the only ones who use excessive force. The Special Weapons and Tactics units, formally known as SWAT teams, are a designated group of police that are trained to take care of violent situations, which are typically hostage situations or the capture of particularly dangerous people. They are trained by the military and use heavy-duty ‘military-like’ weapons.

The problems arise when SWAT teams utilize the “no-knock warrant.” In doing so, residents are forced to protect themselves and their homes thinking the police are actually an intruder. This often results in excessive physical force applied by the SWAT teams. Furthermore, SWAT units are more frequently being unnecessarily deployed to confront non-violent crimes, such as raiding bars and fraternities that are suspected of engaging in under-age drinking and drug use, according to an article by PolicyMic.

Police brutality remains one of the most serious human rights violations in the United States. When brought to the public eye they are often times met with denials, exaggerations and lies.

As a result many people get nervous, panic and try to minimize their exposure when they encounter a police officer because they fear the power gap that exists between them.

Law enforcement officers that abuse their authority deserve to be prosecuted in the same fashion as the citizens they are supposed to protect. As Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist, once said, “We’re not anti-police . . . we’re anti-police brutality!”

-Chelsea Keyes is a sophomore communication major from Tacoma. She can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of Student Publications.