Why Reform of Police Accountability is Unlikely

It's as simple as this:  Republicans fetishize the police (like they do the military) and will always give them the benefit of the doubt.  They have this gauzy teary-eyed love of the police.  Just watch Megyn Kelly on Fox to get the idea.  Democrats are allied with public unions and will not under any circumstances take on the powerful police unions who fight any attempt at accountability tooth and nail, a behavior Democrats have become habituated to enabling for other unions like the teachers unions.

The issue is mostly about giving police accountability that matches the special powers over the use of force we give them.  But it is also about racism.  It just burns me up to have folks in power point to the business world constantly for supposed institutional racism, when in fact I witness very little if any day to day.  The one institution I see that clearly has elements of institutional racism are many police forces, but no one will touch them.

Every year there are hundreds of police shootings and the number that are determined not to be justifiable rounds to zero.  What are the odds there is a process involving humans with this small of a Type I error rate?  We are learning form cell phone cameras that the stories we used to believe from police officers about events are often total bullsh*t.  And yet still police are not held accountable even when there is horrific video evidence showing them out of control.

At the drop of a hat, at the smallest hint of a single example of a bad outcome, the government will not hesitate to impose enormous new restrictions on private individuals.  But even with the most overwhelming evidence the government will not put even the lightest restrictions in itself or its employees.

I have always shied away from my fellow libertarians on the anarcho-capitalist end of things who wanted to privatize the police force.  I always thought use of force to be a unique privilege and one dangerous to hand out to private groups.  But I am starting to see that I was thinking about it wrong.  It is a dangerous power to give to anyone, but at least if you give it to a private party someone might possibly exercise a little accountability over them.

Walter Olson has a good roundup of police and lethal force here.

Postscript:  Here is an example of what I mean:  The Obama Administration has imposed significant rules on universities to bring greater accountability to sexual assailants when it was perceived that the universities did not impose enough accountability on such predators.  I think the Administration has gone overboard in stripping away the accused due process protections and handing justice to people who will not manage the process well, but its the seriousness of this effort I want to point out.  While I don't think the Administration's actions were appropriate to colleges, they would represent an entirely appropriate response to police violence.  Someone needs to step in and enforce some accountability.



  1. J Calvert:

    I agree completely, I also believe the deference given to police officers is quickly dwindling. The number of shocking videos of police callousness, dishonesty, and out right brutality is growing daily. This will have an impact in the courtroom and the ballot box. Juries will stop believing police officer testimony and local politicians will begin paying a price.

    I'm a prime example. I'm a middle aged, white, married, christian father, right in the middle of the "law and order voter" demographic. I will NEVER talk to a police officer or detective without an attorney. I treat them as the erratic, dishonest, armed threats they are.

  2. JBK:

    Well no we don't fetishize the cops. There are plenty of Republicans who don't like the decision in NYC about the choke hold cop. A number of Republicans have pointed out however that if the politicians don't want the cops to enforce petty laws, then they shouldn't pass them in the first place. That man died because democrats passed a law to extract more money from the public.

    And probably more who think the cop who shot the 12 yr old kid with and air soft gun should be prosecuted. And who wonder how he got to be a cop in the first place based on his history.

    In the Ferguson case I don't see how anyone who looks at the forensic data and who reads the credible (that which conforms to the forensics) witness testimony, could come to any other conclusion. The officer acted within the law.

  3. ErikEssig:

    Well some of us do, much to my consternation.

  4. JBK:

    Well I agree with that, don't ever talk to the police if you are involved in something they are interested in. Some lawyer put up a video on how to deal with the police a year or two ago that I found highly informative.

    One major gripe I have is this completely unconstitutional seizure racket that they have going on. If the Republicans would put a stop to that it would be a major success.

  5. Rob McMillin:

    While I don't think the Administration's actions were appropriate to
    colleges, they would represent an entirely appropriate response to
    police violence. Someone needs to step in and enforce some

    Due process isn't appropriate for police? I'm pretty sure I'm not down with that, especially given the large numbers of bad guys cops generally encounter (it's sort of a definition of the job description). But that said, I would approve of an investigation process wherein the prosecuting attorney and/or grand jury in such cases must draw from pools without police in the immediate family, or are ex-cops themselves.

  6. Rob McMillin:

    As a minimum measure, we at least need to know how many civilians police kill in any given year -- a statistic that is uncollected at present by the FBI.

  7. stan:

    Stereotype much?! Geez, I expect this crap from Obama. Not here.

  8. JBK:

    So you agree that when a black person is in front of a grand jury that blacks should be excluded from the jury pool? What is the difference?

  9. Rob McMillin:

    I'm not sure, to be honest. But what the Ferguson incident has laid bare is that the prosecutors and police are too tight to believe justice can be done by the present. Here's a 2003 piece from Cato on the subject (PDF).

  10. Matthew Slyfield:

    I will go further, We should have as a minimum a complete accounting of every round fired, not just civilians killed or injured, but every single round fired on the job.

  11. JBK:

    The Ferguson incident? The overwhelming forensic proof and testimony points to the fact that the officer did not break any laws. If you have evidence to the contrary, let's see it.

  12. KenG453:

    Not only is it not that simple, it's bad form to annoy potential allies with simplitic and erroneous generalizations, especially as the lead-in to an otherwise solid post. No one in my conservative circle holds any political view that could be described as "gauzy teary-eyed love."
    I'm a life-long GOP voter who believes police should be held to a higher standard than the public and who considers the so-called War on Drugs an abomination that perverts police power. But "the police" are not some monolith, and each department and each case of alleged brutality should be treated individually.
    I don't fetishize the military, either, though I'm a Navy vet. The officers I served with took their oath as seriously as I did, but most of us recognized the shortcomings of the DoD and the civilan leaders elected/appointed over us. (I resigned my commission during the Clinton years.)
    Bottom line: Please don't draw Republicans as cartoon characters. It's cheap and unproductive.

  13. Rob McMillin:

    Isn't that beside the point? What is legal was not in that case what was just. And an indictment merely meant that the case would go to trial to verify those facts (and the deceased's survivors would be entitled to discovery), which of course never happened.

  14. JBK:

    you are suggesting that it is 'just' to subject someone who is by the evidence an innocent man to a trial for his life. That trial would destroy him and his family. It would place a huge financial burden on him, costing perhaps a million dollars. It would cost the taxpayers even more.

    And when it was done and the jury found this man innocent, the mob would just use that as an excuse to riot some more. Or maybe you think we should just hang him from the nearest telephone post since that is the only thing that would satisfy the mob.

    That is a vision of justice that I cannot find in the Constitution which says:

    "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury,"

  15. Mercury:

    ID one instance of serious punishment being doled out to any police officer for excessive force in the entire country since Rodney King.

  16. Matthew Slyfield:


    The grand jury was a very different animal back when the constitution was written than it is now. In fact, I rather doubt that the founders would think that what passes for a grand jury today meets the intent behind the clause you quote.


    "The grand jury of the eighteenth century usually consisted of twenty-three people acting in
    secret who were able to charge both on their own (an accusation known as a
    "presentment") and upon the recommendations of a prosecutor.[22] In
    addition to its traditional role of screening criminal cases for prosecution,
    common law grand juries had the power to exclude prosecutors from their
    presence at any time and to investigate public officials without governmental
    influence.[23] These fundamental powers allowed grand juries to
    serve a vital function of oversight upon the government.[24] The
    function of a grand jury to ferret out government corruption was the primary
    purpose of the grand jury system in ages past.[25]"

  17. Matthew Slyfield:

    If Darren Wilson (the officer in the Ferguson case) acted within the law, and you are right that he probably did, then the law needs to change.

  18. JBK:

    I understand that. I believe that at least is some states Grand Juries have powers that they are kept in the dark about. And the power to launch an independent investigation is one of those powers along with the power to summon their own witnesses. However prosecutors don't want what they call a 'run-away' grand jury, ah yes here is a definition:

    "A runaway grand jury is an exception to this rule--the grand jurors ignore the prosecutor(s) and start making their own decisions. Runaway grand juries were not uncommon in the early twentieth century. The best known of these runaway grand juries is probably the New York grand jury in the 1930's that barred prosecutors from coming into the grand jury room and took off on its own investigation of corruption in New York city government."

    That is off the "Federal Grand Jury" website. I doubt that I can post a link here.

    By simply not telling Grand Jurors about these powers prosecutors keep them as their creatures. Perhaps a law should be passed to require prosecutors to inform a new grand jury of their full powers. However since legislators are mainly lawyers the chance of this happening is microscopic. A referendum is probably the only way this could be forced on the legal system. So start working on that.

  19. skhpcola:

    If he hadn't acted within the law, the grand jury would have had a basis to indict him. They didn't. And laws that allow a police officer to protect themselves from street thugs need to be changed? How and why?

  20. Matthew Slyfield:

    How does a police officer shooting an unarmed man constitute protecting himself from street thugs?

    Police authority to use lethal force needs to be constrained.

  21. skhpcola:

    That should be the default procedure. I'd go further and say that police should have to use department-issued weapons with ammunition that is unique and traceable to individual officers. That might be an incentive for some LEOs to carry pop-n-drop pistols, but we probably have cops doing that now. American police have too high a degree of immunity and should be liable--personally--for any property or human damage that they cause when they discharge their weapon.

    Our "protective and serve" public servants are trigger happy:


  22. skhpcola:

    So you really have no clue about the evidence in this particular case, do you? "Unarmed" does not mean "incapable of killing." If Mikey had succeeded in wrenching Wilson's sidearm from him, Wilson would be the dead person here. Brown was a dangerous thug...you, I, and every other rational person would have killed him in the situation that the evidence and unimpeachable testimony shows.

  23. skhpcola:

    Warren feels a deep compulsion to denigrate and ridicule conservatives and Rethuglicans because he is really a leftist with immense cognitive dissonance about being a successful capitalist. He wants to be "the other," instead of the Democrat he really is.

  24. Matthew Slyfield:

    There is absolutely no evidence other then Officer Wilson's testimony that Brown went for Wilson's gun.

  25. Evan Þ.:

    What about the powder burns on Brown's hand?

  26. J Bryan Kramer:

    They also found Brown's DNA on the weapon and inside the vehicle. Witness number 10 and I think 33 (unsure of the number) reported Brown head and shoulders inside the vehicle punching the officer.

    Maybe you should at least read the testimony and look at the other evidence before you make these false claims.

  27. skhpcola:

    Brown's blood in the car from one of the two shots that Wilson fired while the thug Mikey tried to wrest the gun from Wilson? Unless you are positing the Wilson somehow pulled Brownie into the cruiser through the window, your "absolutely no evidence" claim is empty. Again, you are advocating a weak position from ignorance, because it is abundantly obvious that you are completely unfamiliar with the evidentiary facts of the case. Further, Wilson's testimony has been upheld by additional evidence and eyewitless accounts...at least the accounts not coming from fellow Ferguson thugs of the decedent.

  28. J Bryan Kramer:

    Why don't you find a 300 pound 6' 5" defensive tackle and let him charge you head down from 30 feet away. See then if you think Brown was harmless.

  29. skhpcola:

    You replied to the wrong commenter, but I agree with what you state. There is ample evidence that Brown was trying to kill Wilson. Only dedicated fucktards could try to make the case that this particular incident is one of the hundreds of unwarranted instances of police killing civilians that occur yearly.

  30. Matthew Slyfield:

    They put Browns hand in front of the muzzle of the gun. To be tying to take the gun away from Wilson Brown's hand would have had to have been behind the muzzle, where he could not have received the graze would with power burns.

    Yes, there was a struggle in the car, and maybe even Brown started it, but nothing in the physical evidence proves the claim that Brown made a grab for Wilson's gun.

  31. Matthew Slyfield:

    The injury to Brown's hand from inside the squad car put's Brown's hand on the wrong side of the muzzle of Wilson's gun for Brown to be trying to grab the gun.

    1. Yes, there was a struggle in the squad car, and maybe even Brown started it, but none of that proves Wilson's claim that Brown tried to grab Wilson's gun.

    2. The injuries to Wilson were very minor, and do not support a claim that Brown was a lethal threat.

    3. Even if Wilson's claim of Brown trying to grab his gun in the car is true that does not justify the later lethal shots.

  32. Matthew Slyfield:

    "They also found Brown's DNA on the weapon and inside the vehicle."

    So what. Brown's hand was shot while inside the car at close range. However, that shot put's Brown's hand on the wrong side of the muzzle of the gun for Brown to be trying to take it away from Wilson.

    None of that proves or disproves Wilson's claim that Brown tried to grab Wilson's gun.

    You want me to believe that there is physical evidence to support that claim, you will have to point to Brown's fingerprints on the back half of the gun, which I have not heard reported anywhere.

  33. skhpcola:

    Gotcha. Henceforth, all justified shootings made by LEOs must be made at the very moment that their lives are snuffed out by feral filth in the streets. Noted. Your position is absurd and typical of Libertarians that have deep mental problems with rationality, logic, and facts. I will file this fruitless exchange away for future reference.

  34. Matthew Slyfield:

    No, shootings by LEOs must be justified by a threat that exists in the moment that the shots are fired. A prior threat that has ceased does not and never has been considered proper justification for lethal force.

  35. Matthew Slyfield:

    And yet you think that there was nothing fishy or improper about the Brown shooting.

  36. skhpcola:

    Jesus fucking Christ. Wilson had a 6'5", 300-pound animal charging him. Was he supposed to pop his trunk, snap out his red cape in a dainty fashion, and try to dodge the animal? Seriously? Libertarians are fucking retards.

  37. skhpcola:

    *sigh* THERE WAS AND IS NOTHING REMOTELY "FISHY" OR IMPROPER ABOUT THE GODDAMNED MIKEY THE THUG SHOOTING! Holy batballs, Matthew. Are you related to Zachariah, Larry G., and Benji? For fuck's sake, you assclowns clamp down on bullshit trivia like you're in a fucking contest or something. Jesus. Fucking idiotic monomania about trivial crap.

  38. Daniel Nylen:

    I guess I'm with Fox on this one. There hasn't been anything revealed in the two cases cited (Eric Gardner and M Wilson) that points to obvious police misconduct or being out of control or brutal. Resisting arrest or attacking an officer is met by force... once that line is crossed is becomes very hard to point to police misconduct. Note that with Gardner, many police were trying to swarm and control a large out of control person under the direct supervision of two police sergeants, the one in charge a black female. Gardner did not die on the scene and was not choked to death. He died later at the hospital form injuries sustained by being swarmed. Wilson--most evidence points to trying to take a police offer's gun and then charging him-- again crossing a line.

    There are cases of police misconduct and video of it. Shooting handcuffed and laying down prisoners, beating restrained prisoners, etc. Looking at the national numbers from the FBI, the numbers obvious misconduct documented by video are small. Requiring police to wear body camera and record everything would help tremendously and might show some of the misconduct. But imho, stupid as it may be, the two cases cited don't come close to the rhetoric and trash being discussed.

    BTW, for the 12 yr old shot while drawing a realistic looking gun out of his waistband into his hand (he was holding it when shot)-- do we really expect the police to accept being shot first before firing back? Now the person in the store carrying the air rifle who was shot-- a different story-- nothing indicates he pointed it or did anything other than what police directed-- a very different story.

    We need to give up on the questionable cases and emphasize the obviously bad ones--they exist and often are overlooked because the racial component doesn't lead to the Al Sharpton protest.

  39. J Bryan Kramer:

    I just saw that a black female sergeant was in charge at the sceen in Gardner. That plus the fact that he died later of heart failure (he weighed 400 pounds) would seem to remove the onus from that one police office.

    In the case of the boy with the airsoft gun, that officer is on video as having almost instantly opened fire when he arrived. He was previously discharged from another police force for breaking down and crying every time he was ordered to the range. And apparently the same behavior followed him to the Cincinnati PD. He seems to be psychologically unfit to be given a gun and that PD should be held responsible for hiring him in the first place.

  40. jimcraq:

    "if the politicians don't want the cops to enforce petty laws, then they
    shouldn't pass them in the first place. That man died because democrats
    passed a law to extract more money from the public."

    It's pretty utopian to expect politicians of either stripe not to pass bad laws.

  41. bigmaq1980:

    Coyote understates the problem. It is well beyond police accountability.

    The propriety of accountability seems to be lost in our political leaders, our governing structure, in the media, and from the populace, in general. One can cite several recent examples involving from the NSA and the courts that oversee them, the IRS, the DOJ, the DEA, the VA, the White House, etc. (not to mention the several state and local authorities).

    It is not a new thing, but it has been gaining momentum in recent years. And, it is not just a left and right (or Dem vs GOP) thing. The left (ab)uses the tools of power just as deftly as the right does (e.g. Janet Reno's rise from her high profile use of the - now discredited - "Miami Method" of prosecution - of several innocents).

    Left or right don't seem to mind their side's overreach. We hear about the right's overreach more as the media has their selectively left bias, but it exists both ways.

    Each builds on the precedent set by the other. Our freedoms curtail.

    AFAIAC, police do face harsh circumstances, and probably deserve better than what they get for compensation and deserve the "benefit of the doubt". On the other hand, they should be held to a higher standard of accountability, specifically because they legally and ethically do hold great power.

    IDK how the fix that until "we the people" finally come around to seeing that we have and are passively giving too much away for incrementally very little benefit.

    Are people prepared to take liberty seriously? Or will they/we continue to take it for granted?

  42. Matthew Slyfield:

    Wilson was 6'4" and 210 pounds. Quarterbacks that size survive getting hit by 300+ pound linemen all the time.

  43. mesocyclone:

    Darren Wilson had already been forced to fight for his own gun. He had every reason to believe that the thug who grabbed for his gun was going to do it again. He was not only well within his rights, but acting responsibly when he shot down this demonstrably very dangerous criminal.

  44. mesocyclone:

    As a Republican who reads most of the conservative journals, I have to disagree with Coyote's casual slur of the right. Many of us have become concerned about issues with policing. Yes, we respect the police who have a difficult job to do. But we also see the problems with no-knock armed raids, over-militarization and the inevitable us vs them attitudes. There have been a number of articles discussing these issues and how our freedoms and lives are endangered by this.

    Coyote needs to read a few more conservative journals if he wishes to comment on our attitudes.

  45. Incunabulum:

    The other half of this is that Democrats fetishize the *government*. Its why you get so many petty laws (like insane local taxes on cigarettes). Sure they complain when the cops brutalize someone during enforcement operations - but what did they expect? Cops aren't going to let 'resistance' go, it would undermine their authority.

    While R's need to stop with the cop-love, D's really need to stand back and ask themselves of each new law they propose - Am I willing to have someone killed who violates this ordnance?

  46. Incunabulum:

    What throws Wilson's shoot into a bad light is not that Brown hit him or tried to take his gun - for thi sargument let's accept that as fact.

    Wilson shot Brown *later*.

    At the point Wilson killed Brown, if Brown was again attacking, Wilson has the same defense as anyone else - stand your ground (ie no duty to retreat in the face of an attacker) - if Brown was *retreating* (or even simply not attacking) Wilson would no longer have authority to use deadly force.

    That's where the good shoot/bad shoot line is drawn, not when when Brown punched him, not not when Brown robbed the store.

    Deadly force is for *imminent* threats.

  47. skhpcola:

    And linemen have homicidal intent? Do you even try to think through the turds that you drop in comments, or are you actually clinically retarded? You present yourself as a booger-eating moron.

  48. Matthew Slyfield:

    And the evidence that Brown had homicidal intent is what?

  49. skhpcola:

    lolz...yur a ruhtard.

  50. J Bryan Kramer:

    Ah here we go, the descent to ad hominum attacks. Always the last resort from a certain class when they are losing a debate