Police Misconduct Remains Unchecked

Attempts to stop police brutality and misconduct through agencies like civilian review boards have failed, so state and federal government action will be necessary to stem the tide, a civil rights agency said today.

“The use of solicitors general, independent auditors and federal oversight present viable alternatives to the failed attempts that have been used in the past to control police abuse,” the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said in a draft copy of its report obtained by The Associated Press.

The agency said the news was not all bad. “Law enforcement agencies have made great inroads in reducing crime and use in deadly force but such progress comes at a cost,” the report said.

“An agonizing reality exists alongside statistics showing a decrease in the use of deadly force by police officers and reduction in the number of incidents of crime in many communities: the persistence of police misconduct.”

For example, the fact that 11 people were shot down by police officers in New York City in 1999 compared with 41 in 1990, “does not remove the haunting specter of impending doom that visits ordinary, law-abiding people of color in street encounters with police officers in that city,” the report said.

Not Much Change

The report, “Police Practices and Civil Rights in America,” is a follow-up to the commission’s 1981 report, “Who is Guarding the Guardians?” But the agency, pointing to current problems in cities like New York City and Los Angeles, says not much has changed.

“The problems reported 20 years ago persist with very little meaningful change over time,” the report said. “Instead, other problems like racial profiling developed. Despite repeated recommendations to make significant internal changes that would considerably curb police misconduct and improve police-community relations, few police departments seem to have ... resulting in continued abuse of civilians at the hands of police officers.”

Communities have tried things like civilian review boards and local prosecution, but it hasn’t worked in all cities, the commission said. The civilian review boards are chronically underfunded and don’t usually have authority to act on their own, local prosecutors have to depend on the same police they are expected to prosecute and the police themselves are usually uncooperative, the report said.

“Police misconduct remains largely unchecked because a majority of officers and police officials view any form of outside ‘interference’ as unnecessary and intrusive,” the report said.

The commission suggested Congress make it easier for people to sue abusive police officers and for the federal government to step in and investigate police misconduct.

The federal government should also collect national statistics on racial profiling, the agency said. “More can be and must be done to assure that there is no room for misconduct by the very people we have entrusted to protect us,” the report said.

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