When Cops Kill, and When Cops Die

Police need new approaches on the use of force.


Police line
Ralph Lauer/EPA/Newscom

Most interactions between American police and citizens are routine, civil and no worse than briefly unpleasant for those involved. But among some cops and some populations, the relationship is fraught with chronic distrust and fear. The result is an intractably toxic climate that spawns deadly consequences. 

Rarely has that reality been more stark than now, with five Dallas law enforcement officers fatally shot during a demonstration against, yes, the killing of black civilians by police. The sequence is a spiral of violence, with wrong done against one group answered with wrong against the other. 

Up to the moment gunfire erupted, the Dallas scene was a case where both sides were conducting themselves well. The protesters were peaceful, and the police were restrained. Some officers and marchers even posed for photos together. It was heartening proof that the two sides are not condemned to conflict. 

But too often, police-citizen encounters go very differently. Cops deal daily with dangerous offenders in areas plagued by incessant crime. Innocent citizens in those neighborhoods sometimes are stopped, searched, humiliated and physically abused. People who should be working together for mutual safety find themselves at odds. 

The Black Lives Matter movement is a recent reaction to an old problem made more visible by modern technology and social media. Lots of Americans who once took for granted that police deserve respect and deference have been shocked by video footage of officers killing without apparent justification. 

A 2015 Gallup Poll found trust in police at its lowest level in 22 years. Only 30 percent of African-Americans express such confidence. 

The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police officers help explain why. Slayings like theirs happen more or less every day in this country. But unless the event or its aftermath is captured on video, it is barely noticed by the general public. 

Research indicates that black and Hispanic motorists are likelier to be pulled over, to have their cars searched and to be arrested—though whites are often found to be likelier to have contraband. A new study by the Center for Policing Equity at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York documents that cops use force against blacks more than three times as often as against whites. 

The murdered police in Dallas obscure a positive development: Since 1977, reports University of California, Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring, the number of officers killed on duty has plunged by 69 percent. 

Cops and their defenders say that when officers kill civilians, they do so in self-defense, which often is true. Maybe information will come to light that the cops behaved justifiably with Sterling and Castile—in response to actions that didn't show up on the videos. 

In some cases, though, the reaction is excessive. Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times by a Chicago officer, was walking away from the cops. Eric Garner, who died after being subdued with a chokehold, had no weapon. John Crawford, idly holding a BB gun taken off a Wal-Mart shelf, posed no evident threat. 

Sterling and Castile were carrying guns, but Sterling's was in his pocket, and from the videos, it appears he didn't reach for it. Castile, according to his girlfriend, told the officer he had a concealed pistol and a permit for it. 

But American cops have a pattern of erring on the side of using deadly force, because they generally are trained to do so and rarely incur punishment for it. American police kill civilians at rates five times higher than police in Canada, 40 times higher than in Germany and 140 times higher than in England and Wales. 

Is that because we have so much more violent crime, including gun crime? Partly, says Zimring, but "the U.S. rate of killings by police is 10 times as great as the difference in homicides generally." 

Changes in how departments operate could save hundreds of lives each year. A report this year by the Police Executive Research Forum said, "Through de-escalation, effective tactics and appropriate equipment, officers can prevent situations from ever reaching the point where anyone's life is in danger and where officers have little choice but to use deadly force." Such reforms, it argued, can not only protect civilians but "increase officer safety." 

Making life safer for police and those they encounter is a goal shared by everyone. It will take new approaches, because the old ones are not good enough.

© Copyright 2016 by Creators Syndicate Inc. 

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  1. Cops are killing themselves to justify their existence. “See, this is why you need us.” First of all, Johnson was an Army reservist, meaning he was one of the guys who’s supposed to protect us from the bad guys. Yet, he’s killing the people who are supposedly on his side. Secondly, Dallas police chief’s own son killed a cop in 2010 – meaning he was sacrificed by the chief to justify his career. “High on PCP” and “recently diagnosed with bipolar” LOL. Sorry to bother you with pesky facts. And of course Omar Mateen was in the private security industry. These cops are basically trying to start a war, which they’ve been doing since forever, but now we can see it because of all the cameras. Of course, they will fail. Why ‘of course’? Because when the people who are supposed to protect you are killing you then it’s over and because you elected them to office in the first place and because when you start killing the people who you elected to protect you then you might have a problem.

    1. Wow just wow. You got your tinfoil hat screwed on pretty tight don’t you?

    2. Wow just wow. You got your tinfoil hat screwed on pretty tight don’t you?

    3. Because when the people who are supposed to protect you are killing you then it’s over and because you elected them to office in the first place

      Cops are elected?

      1. In a roundabout way yes, cops are elected. At least their bosses are.

        One problem we’re having dealing with police abuse is that everyone is trying to fix law enforcement. So you have the city council of a city like Ferguson promising to change police chiefs and stop police abuse.

        But the law enforcement philosophy, and the policies and procedures that implement it, comes from the City Council, and that’s what needs to change. In too many cities you have had one-party rule by the same people for decades, and they aren’t willing to change their philosophies, and therefore can’t change law enforcement policies and procedures in any meaningful way.

        Since federal oversight, when implemented, concentrates on watching the police department, it’s ineffective in changing philosophies in city hall.

        For instance, if the city of Ferguson budget depends heavily on the collection of fines and penalties for minor offenses, no amount of police reform is going to alter that.

        In short, if you want to change the way a city police department does business, sweep out city hall. That’s where an election can make a difference.

        1. Just look at Oakland CA.

    4. You should pay less attention to the voices in your head.

  2. The Black Lives Matter movement is a recent reaction to an old problem…

    How to use legitimate grievances to advance illegitimate causes?

    1. +1 “Fund Black Futures”

      The demands of one of the Chicago-area BLM offshoots:

      We demand all local, state and federal budgets to defund the police and invest those dollars and resources in Black futures.
      We want reparations for chattel slavery, Jim Crow and mass incarceration.
      We want to end all profit from so-called “criminal justice” punishment ? both public and private.
      We want a guaranteed income for all, living wages, a federal jobs program, and freedom from discrimination for all workers.
      We want the labor of Black transgender and cisgender women (unseen and seen, unpaid and paid) to be valued and supported, not criminalized and marginalized.
      We want investments in Black communities that promote economic sustainability and eliminate the displacement of our people.

      1. so we can go back to the neighbors in Africa who sold off their slaves in the first place for their end of the reparations?

      2. Sounds like what I hear every day.

        I work in local government.

  3. Most interactions between American police and citizens are routine, civil and no worse than briefly unpleasant for those involved.

    Most interactions between Americans and police are traffic stops for speeding or failure to come to a complete stop. And a traffic stop is literally a threat of violence, when a mailed notice/fee would suffice. If you’re going 51 in a 50, you see flashing lights behind you, and you don’t pull over, your life is at risk. I hardly call that civil.

    1. If getting a ticket is civil, why must we keep our hands on the wheel and only move our bodies after asking permission from a man with a gun?

    2. Scott Adams over at the Dilbert blog has a tutorial on the Stepan Fetchit method for cringing, ducking, shuffling and surrenderin’ to da massa’s Men wit Guns.
      Because I have consistently volunteered and voted libertarian–against sending kids to mystical mohammedan deathtraps to bully primitives–I feel like part of the solution since 1981. The political parties that sign police paychecks are absolutely comitted to having men with guns murder people for taxes, assets they can rob and forfeit, enjoyable drugs free of excise bribes, blowjobs from prostitutes–and in exchange for the perks and pelf of crony fascism in a heavily mixed economy daily. Vote for initiation of force? prohibitionism? me? No thanks.

  4. I have some ideas for police reform.
    1. Stop civil asset forfeiture
    2. Stop using police as revenue generators.
    3. Start throwing cops in jail for breaking the law instead of putting them on paid leave then then in a year sweeping it under the rug.
    4. Stop hiring your local dimwitted ex jocks and school bullies in small town USA.
    5. Start mandatory drug testing since most of the cops I know use and sell drugs.
    In other words make them obey the laws they are supposed to enforce. Same could and should apply to the rich and our politicians
    6. Stop cops from using their badge to force women into having sex or possibly facing jail time.
    7. Make cops who refuse to turn in bad cops stand trial as co conspiracy.

    1. Two things: immunity and unions. Get rid of both of those, and everything else would take care of itself.

      1. Great minds and all that.

      2. How about any settlements come out of that cop’s pension.

    2. Points 3 – 7 can be addressed simply: No immunity. Personal responsibility for your actions.

      1. This great mind refreshes before commenting.


    3. #7 would be the most effective. Personal responsibility and all that.

  5. So, who wants to do the start-up to sell camera-kits for your car? Two cameras, one facing forward, once facing towards the driver and capturing the window.

    As much as people complain about a “surveillance state”, cameras are about the only protection from cops that actually work.

  6. Or we could just end the War on Drugs.

    1. And the war on avoiding cigarette taxes, and the war on bootleg CDs, and the war on broken taillights, and…

  7. The DA called this an accidental shooting but the cop clearly killed the “white” man exiting his wrecked car.


    going for a gun as you approach any car should be the first thing they learn to not do

  8. RE: When Cops Kill, and When Cops Die
    Police need new approaches on the use of force.

    This is preposterous. The police do not need new approaches on the use of force. They are always right in their procedures, humane and have never injured any innocents. Making the police responsible for their actions is an ugly thought and would have potentially horrific results for them and The State. Responsibility, as we all know, is not for our obvious betters tyrannizing us. They have much better things to do than to answer to the low life proletariat who vote them into power and pay their bloated salaries, such as finding new ways to hide their embezzled funds, creating a 501(c) 3 to ensure they don’t pay any taxes, starting wars, keeping their cronies happy, etc. Having The State and/or their minions responsible for their actions only launches thoughts of accountability in government and other hideous concepts that would erode The State and make our socialist slavers in power worried and grumpy.
    None of us in the collective want that on our conscience, so let’s all erase all concepts of police procedure from our deformed minds and continue to trust our police, our socialist slavers everywhere and The State.
    We will all be better slaves when we do.

  9. Is this the same Franklin Zimring that I remember from years ago, who essentially offered, as memory serves, that no matter how much Gun Control there was, it wasn’t enough?

  10. “Most interactions between American police and citizens are routine, civil and no worse than briefly unpleasant for those involved.”

    Yes this is true. BUT?

    “But among some cops and some populations, the relationship is fraught with chronic distrust and fear. The result is an intractably toxic climate that spawns deadly consequences.”

    “Reason” should have no problem explaining such toxic fear can be counterproductive and may lead to needless meddling from the government. The odds of anyone getting shot by an armed (black) vagrant or a rogue cop is slim. It’s in the same neighborhood as me getting blown up a radical Islamist. Nothing good can come of acting in an emotional state of panic, right?

    America has literally millions of people who has little to no grasp of the English language. Yet, these people are allowed to drive, own businesses, and exist in meta societies. Given the sheer amount of different cultures that exists here, it’s actually remarkable that there isn’t constant racial strife and more gun fires from panicked officers. It’s a testament to America’s stability compared to most of the world.

    Of course there’s issue with police brutality. But the racialists undercut their legitimate gripes by reducing cops to monstrous caricatures and occasionally resorting to violence. We’re a couple wrong solutions away (gun control, fed takeover of cops) from turning places like Chicago into execution zones. Violent crimes has been creeping up in some big cities.

  11. The Black Lives Matter movement is a recent reaction to an old problem made more visible by modern technology and social media.

    No, it’s a reaction to manufactured bullshit narratives like “Hands up, don’t shoot”.


  12. The only logical solution is to prohibit police from carrying deadly weapons. Limit them to batons, tasers, mace, and pepper spray.

    1. What do you think this is? Britain?

  13. I think that all of the commenters on here, as well as the author, needs to spend a night in a squad car in Anacostia on a Saturday night and report back to what they saw. The DC police had a program that allowed this many years ago which i participated in.
    Police should not be sent into these areas and the residents should be allowed to just kill one another. The Chicago cops have done for years and thus one black male kills other blacks, including children every 14 hours. Thousands of
    liberals love this since they don’t have to deal with the real problems and can go back to gun control as the answer. Yes, one more gun law in Chicago, on top of the hundreds already in place is the answer.
    the same with abortion clinics where when life has no value, death has no meaning.

    1. Don’t you worry about the cops. If a person guns down a cop, there will be an investigation, and if it is proven that the cop-killer acted improperly in using deadly force, then the cop-killer will be subject to civil and criminal penalties under the law, after a peer-review process. If that is good enough for innocent persons held at gunpoint by cops, then it is good enough for cops.

  14. On my campaign website I outline an orderly solution: The Copper Rule.


    Even this won’t work if prosecutors are soft on police brutality. In Dallas, a concerned Army veteran recently targeted other cops in an effort to put pressure on prosecutors to get convictions. He was angry that cops murder persons, and also because they get away with it. As a United States Senator, I will not vote to confirm the next President’s pick for attorney general unless the nominee has a proven record of being tough on cops. Quiz the candidates in your State about that.

  15. Cops will murder fewer people if they are disarmed. Right now, many people rightly see cops as a lethal threat. Disarming cops will help change that.

  16. It’s the War on Drugs stupid.

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