Michael Brown Shooting

"What I Did After Police Killed My Son": The Argument for Independent Review Commissions



Politico has a powerful piece by Michael Bell, a retired Lt. Commander lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, whose son was shot and killed by Wisconsin police while handcuffed. Bell pushed to bring mandatory outside reviews into the system:

It took six years to get our wrongful death lawsuit settled, and my family received $1.75 million. But I wasn't satisfied by a long shot. I used my entire portion of that money and much more of my own to continue a campaign for more police accountability. I wanted to change things for everyone else, so no one else would ever have to go through what I did. We did our research: In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified. There was one shooting we found, in 2005,  that was ruled justified by the department and an inquest, but additional evidence provided by citizens caused the DA to charge the officer. The city of Milwaukee settled with a confidentiality agreement and the facts of that sealed. The officer involved committed suicide.

The problem over many decades, in other words, was a near-total lack of accountability for wrongdoing; and if police on duty believe they can get away with almost anything, they will act accordingly. As a military pilot, I knew that if law professionals investigated police-related deaths like, say, the way that the National Transportation Safety Board investigated aviation mishaps, police-related deaths would be at an all time low. 

In this case, Bell's tenacity paid off in legislative change:

In April of this year we passed a law that made Wisconsin the first state in the nation to mandate at legislative level that police-related deaths be reviewed by an outside agency. Ten days after it went into effect in May, local police shot a man sleeping on a park bench 15 times. It's one of the first incidents to be investigated under the new law.

Read the whole thing.

It's easy to understand why law enforcement might be slow to make common cause with this sort of review process, but just like mandating the use of wearable body-cams, the end result will be far better relationships with citizens and, in the end, many fewer problems all around.

Back in 2011, I interviewed Radley Balko, then with Reason and now with The Washington Post, about police brutality. Ironically, he said, that the rise of cell phones and other recording devices probably make it seem that the police are more violent than ever when in fact there's reason to believe the opposite. That's not an excuse for any instance of police violating anybody's rights, but it is a strong point in favor of bringing in outside reviewers. If the cops are doing their jobs properly and fairly, they will benefit greatly from having that validated by independent observers.

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  1. If the cops are doing their jobs properly and fairly, they will benefit greatly from having that validated by independent observers.

    But that’s the rub. The cops aren’t doing their jobs properly. And it’s nice to think that independent observers will be effective at investigating police brutality claims. But as we have all read from links posted at HampersandR, the cops are not above intimidation, harassment, obfuscation, and lies. No Independent Review Commission will remain independent after it is threatened by the cops.

    Also, make sure the commissios are not stacked with former cops, DA’s, and other types that have an obvious pro-cop bias.

    Fuck the police.

    1. Also, make sure the commissios are not stacked with former cops, DA’s, and other types that have an obvious pro-cop bias.

      Yeah, that was my first thought too.

      And Michael Bell better not do anything that could even possibly be considered violent, or else people will say that justifies the cops’ killing his son.

    2. I’ve kicked this idea around in my head a number of times. Doubtless I’m not the only one. It has always ended up seeming to me that to try and keep it from being captured like any other regulatory body you would need to create an entirely parallel legal system that does nothing but investigate government conduct with their own elected prosecutors, investigators, and judges along with police powers over the objects of their scrutiny.

      This would, of course, have to be created by the government in the first place which is another way of saying “never gonna happen”.

      1. Get rid of government cops. Allow anyone to be a cop. Although most cops would be companies, big and small, this would allow individuals to do cop things when necessary, such as investigating cops.

        This does mean people have to hire cops to investigate burglaries etc, but most of that would be handled by insurance companies.

        See, the real problem is that governments avoid competition like the plague, and as long as cops are part of government, there will be no market forces keeping them under control. Plus, as long as cops’ primary role is preserving the government monopoly, they have negative incentive to help people fight corrupt government, which obviously extends to fighting corrupt cops.

        Whereas if all cops were private, they’d be eager to satisfy customer demand, including expose corrupt government. They’d be less eager to expose other cop corruption, but some still would, and if private individuals could be cops on their own, corrupt cops wouldn’t stand a chance.

        1. Hey, private prisons worked out well enough, we should have private cops to fill them up!

          1. Dipshit. The whole point of private cops is that they no longer have the monopoly to arrest at will without facing consequences.

      2. I can envision it happening at the federal level and policing only local/state governments.

        I would advocate that the legislative branch create such an entity for policing the executive; Eric Holder’s reign as fixer-general has a remote chance of convincing Republicans of the necessity, should they reclaim the Senate.

        1. Typical statist response to government malfeasance is MOAR GOVERNMENT because Top Men this time.

        2. Eric Holder’s reign as fixer-general has a remote chance of convincing Republicans of the necessity,

          You would hope. The hitjob that piece of shit is running against Bob McDonnell is proof of that. Plus they’re gearing up to go after Perry.

  2. There is an error in Nick’s comments. The USAF doesn’t have the rank of “Lt. Commander” (that’s a navy rank). It should be “Lt. Colonel”.

    1. I was gonna question that too. He either got the rank or the branch of the military wrong.

      There’s also Lt. General, but those are pretty rare.

      1. Got the rank wrong.

  3. the end result will be far better relationships with citizens and, in the end, many fewer problems all around.

    Independent review panels are a good idea across the board for government positions or organizations that have the capacity to fuck over the average citizen (which is to say, most of them). Why limit it to the cops? A generic “fucked by the government” panel would be a wonderful thing, except for the huge wait time that would inevitably ensue.

    It’d be doubly wonderful if it could be done UL or Angies’ List style by a private ratings firm that would broadcast findings to the interwebz and induce shaming.

  4. The solution is simple: independent and secret citizen review boards with subpoena and grand jury powers, and a prosecutor that can volunteer from the ranks of criminal,defense,attorneys being able to take the case.

    What would also help would be having each Sheriff and chief of police being elected and able to solely staff his/her department with zero union involvement. That would make,sure they respect the will of the people. Same goes for DA’s, and I would imagine a DA who ran on “I will spend half of my energy investigating and prosecuting bad cops” might sell pretty well in this day and age.

    1. How about we just uninvent the bullshit doctrines of immunity – both sovereign and qualified. No one should be above the reach of justice.

  5. I think the money is the key. If police brutality settlements came out of the pension fund, their behavior would change real fucking quick.

    1. No it wouldn’t. They’d just lean on the government to increase government contributions to the pension fund.

      1. Better to establish a 50% garnishment of all department paychecks until the award is paid off. If the cops insist on acting like soldiers, I’m very much in favor of group punishment.

  6. I think it is interesting that some very right wing blogs like Powerline have been dragged kicking and screaming to the conclusion that there may be something wrong with the level of police militarizaton.


    So far Powerline has been pretty pro cop, but the commenters have not been so. In fact a lot of them have called them out as being statists for blindly supporting the cops.

    Before anyone gets too hopeful, I should point out that while Powerline grudgingly admits that not all conservatives are pro police, their final take away is that cops are great but they have been corrupted by Team Blue.

    1. By the way there is a link in the story above to one of their posters complaining about Rand Paul being a race hustler. Don’t read it if you want to keep your sanity. You’ve been warned.

  7. But that’s the rub. The cops aren’t doing their jobs properly.

    Depends on what you mean by “properly”. They are Law Enforcement Officers — i.e., enforcers of the rules by which the local mafia-like gang calling itself government has decided to use in plundering and bossing around its serfs. Thinking those rules are for the benefit of the serfs is to not be in touch with reality.

    If they are doing their jobs properly — if they are serving their masters, the elected officials in government, well — it doesn’t mean they are honoring the rights you have (independent of any government) and might delusionally think it is the duty of government to protect.

  8. Its all about incentives, and I don’t see another government bureaucracy as changing those in any fundamental way.

    Aside from the inevitability of “regulatory capture” by the cop-industrial complex, this new bureaucracy won’t change the various immunities, special protections, and privileges that cops have. Until those are done away with, the problem will continue.

  9. There is no such thing as an independent review board.

    It will either be populated by anti-cop activists who will lynch officers (have you paid attention to you), or it will be a rubber stamp for corrupt officers.

  10. Sometimes you jsut have to roll with the punches.


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