The public has an accurate image of police protecting people and maintaining the peace. But in recent years, a spotlight has been shining on police activity that has included police shootings. These are not cases of the police being shot, but cases of police convictions for shooting citizens. As street violence continues to increase, the idea that the police are also headed out of control could be a big problem.
How Many Police Shooting Convictions Are There Really?
According to the Washington Post, 54 police officers around the country have gone to court for shooting and killing civilians between 2005 and 2015. If this number sounds low, that is because it only counts those officers who were actually charged with murder by a prosecutor and went to trial. In most cases, the penalties were light compared to what non-police officers would have gotten if they had been in the same situation. Only 19 of these officers were convicted and sent to jail.
The Washington Post estimates that between 2005 to 2015 there were thousands of police officers around the country who were on-duty when they shot and killed a citizen, but those cases were not prosecuted. According to the Huffington Post, the bright spotlight on police shootings that has been shining did not change the story as no police officers were charged for shooting citizens to death while on duty.
The website MappingPoliceViolence.org estimates that there were over 1,000 instances of police shootings in 2015, but the fact that there are no police convictions for 2015 remains a disturbing fact. The instances of street violence that have erupted in response to police shootings grew in 2014 and 2015, but none of the officers that were involved in any of the cases that caused mass demonstrations were convicted.
The Media Plays A Role
In 2014, police officer Darren Wilson shot citizen Michael Brown to death while Wilson was investigating possible criminal conduct in Ferguson, MO. This was one of many shootings that occurred in 2014, but this one caught the media’s attention and the fires of discontent were fanned. The victim Michael Brown was an African American male and Officer Wilson is white. The racial angle to this case caused a media frenzy, and a riot eventually ensued.
Officer Wilson was never convicted of any wrongdoing, but he was forced to retire from the police force and leave Ferguson. The violence in other cities after the Ferguson incident created even more of a media frenzy and the street violence escalated. Despite all of the media coverage and violence, it appears that police are still not being held accountable for their actions.
Why Aren’t Police Officers Being Convicted?
As representatives of the law, police officers are rightfully protected by laws that allow the use of deadly force when necessary. The issue many people have with the most recent cases is that deadly force did not appear to be necessary. The Washington Post also noted that a significant percentage of these police shootings are involving unarmed civilians being shot in the back. Once again, this information does not seem to affect the number of police convictions.
The truth is that it is difficult to get a police officer convicted on murder or manslaughter charges when they are on duty. Juries are hesitant to deliver guilty verdicts, and judges are often inclined to give lenient sentences to officers.
The key to getting an officer who wrongfully shoots a citizen while on duty convicted of murder is to have incontrovertible evidence that a crime was committed. In most of these types of cases, the officer’s word stands strong against a lack of evidence, and that makes a conviction very difficult.
Will the tide of police shootings change as more smartphones with cameras are used by citizens? It is hard to tell because it is difficult for the average citizen to get a clear video of an event that happens so quickly. It is important to understand that the percentage of officers involved in deadly shootings while on duty is small when compared to the rest of the police population. However, as the street violence continues to grow in response to police shootings, many people want to see police officers held accountable for their actions.