Police Reform

19,495 cities. 17,985 US police agencies. 900,000 law enforcement officers.
Reform has always been tricky.
We will get pushback from people whether we tighten or loosen regulations/restrictions.
Seatbelt laws added another burden for automakers but they were necessary to protect drivers.
I personally feel health care providers are overregulated when it comes to controlled substances, but that’s a story for another day.
Some of my peers advocate police reforms in response to the Minneapolis disaster.

The officer who killed George Floyd in cold blood had 18 complaints about him prior to him killing Floyd. Perhaps he should have been suspended, fired, or even charged before this incident.

I have one brother say a complaint system is tricky.
Many bitter criminals can make complaints about officers who arrest them all the time.
Incidents like Rodney King has made a system to allow these complaints to slow down the promotion of the accused officers.
If new reforms allow more weight on these complaints, we may make policing more difficult and less effective, which may then result in weakening of protection of law abiding citizens.

On investigation committees: some of them are going to be representatives of the people. One third of African American males have felony records, which are plead down to misdemeanors in LA county. They may elect a representative that is unfair and skewed against police officers.

These are valid concerns. But it is also true we have a few cities like Minneapolis and Ferguson with terrible histories of long resisted reforms, unchecked racism, etc.
A NYT article: https://www.nytimes.com/…/us/derek-chauvin-george-floyd.html, states, “it remains notoriously difficult in the United States to hold officers accountable, in part because of the political clout of police unions, the reluctance of investigators, prosecutors and juries to second-guess an officer’s split-second decision and the wide latitude the law gives police officers to use force.”

Police departments themselves have often resisted civilian review or dragged their feet when it comes to overhauling officer disciplinary practices. And even change-oriented police chiefs in cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia — which over the last few years have been the sites of high-profile deaths of black men by white officers — have struggled to punish or remove bad actors.

Even when officers are dismissed, public employees can appeal their dismissals — and in scores of cases across the country, the officers often win.

Across the country, civilian review boards — generally composed of members of the public — have been notoriously weak. They gather accounts, but cannot enforce any recommendations.

Locals in Minneapolis feel some of the officers think they don’t have to abide by their own training and rules when dealing with the public.

The head of the police union, Lt. Bob Kroll, once said to Teresa Nelson, legal director for ACLU of Minnesota, that he views community complaints like fouls in basketball.

A former police chief, Janee Harteau, said she took many steps to reform the department, including training officers on implicit bias and mandating the use of body cameras. But the police union, she said, fought her at every turn.
The Department of Justice looked into the Ferguson PD and on March 4, 2015 reported that officers in Ferguson routinely violated the constitutional rights of the city’s residents, by discriminating against African Americans and applying racial stereotypes, in a “pattern or practice of unlawful conduct within the Ferguson Police Department that violates the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and federal statutory law” https://www.justice.gov/…/ferguson_police_department_report…
Justice is tricky.

Police unions and juries may be too lenient or even abuse their influence and ability to excuse police officers, even the bad ones, and so they acquit the guilty.
Civilian review boards may be overzealous or indiscriminate in persecuting police officers for apparent bad behavior and so they condemn the innocent.

Certainly, preaching the gospel and getting people to repent of their sins and trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior for the forgiveness of their sins and to receive the Holy Spirit will do much in ameliorating these problems. In Christ, civilians learn to trust more in the justice of God and police officers learn to use their authority in more self sacrificial ways.

Still, on the practical side of things, we seem to have a problem in America, and we have to start somewhere and look at steps we can change on a case by case, city by city basis.

Citizen’s Arrest

The Arbery case raises a lot of questions about how we should pursue criminal justice.

The primary purpose of this post is to examine profiling, the extent to which private citizens can act similar to police officers, the proportionality of the use of force to restrain a possible suspect, and to what extent a person can defend themselves when a neighbor wrongfully but ignorantly confronts them with weapons like guns, baseball bats, etc.  

Racial profiling is defined as “the act of suspecting or targeting a person of a certain race on the basis of observed or assumed characteristics or behavior of a racial or ethnic group, rather than on individual suspicion.” 

But not all profiling of a person with certain ethnic traits is really true racial profiling.

A surveillance camera caught the appearance of a burglary suspect.
The McMichaels believed Arbery matched the appearance of this suspect.
Profiling is when you have a reasonable suspicion that a person might be the suspect in question based on a few corresponding observations.

Racial profiling is evil primarily because it often goes beyond reasonable suspicion to improperly assumed guilt about a person when there is no evidence to substantiate such a claim.

The profiling that the McMichaels seemed to have performed really is not true racial profiling because it is not motivated by racial intent.  They were not out to kill an innocent black man. They did not have premeditated malicious intent.  They just wanted to act like police officers and stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived.

Now one could question the legitimacy of private citizens acting like overzealous wannabe cops, but this would then bring us to our question of under what circumstances should a citizen’s arrest be performed.

Georgia’s courts have previously ruled that while a citizen can detain someone, a citizen’s arrest doesn’t necessarily allow for uses of force.

This sounds reasonable, but what happens in cases where the suspect is armed and threatens the life of the citizen trying to assist in the arrest?

One might say this situation is why private citizens should just wait for the proper authorities to arrive. But this course of action often decreases the likelihood that the culprit will be caught in time for him or her to face justice. In light of this observation, is there ever any cases in which it might be permissible for seeing a suspect jogging down the street, assuming he might be the culprit, grabbing a gun for self-protection, and chasing him down to assist police officers?

Is it always wrong to do this or are there cases and circumstances where it might be permissible for private citizens to act similar to cops provided certain protocols are followed to minimize the chances of wrongly killing an innocent person?

After all, Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law requires that the offender must have committed a crime in the presence of another person, or that person must have “immediate knowledge” of a crime that has taken place by the perpetrator. These stipulations certainly help constrain and reduce the possibility of arbitrary vigilante justice. This stipulation of immediacy certainly helps reduce the likelihood of situations happening where a person has to defend himself when a neighbor wrongfully but ignorantly confronts them with weapons like guns, baseball bats, etc.

The very difficult aspect of a citizen’s arrest is knowing the force proportionate to the circumstance. Ideally the only force reasonable under the circumstances may be used to restrain the individual arrested. However, in the fog and chaos of chasing or fighting a possible perpetrator, such rational judgments are not always possible. 

Private citizens effectively share in the same risks and responsibilities as police officers when confronting a person of suspicion.

In 2004, a convenience store owner shot an intruder who broke into the store after the store owner told him to halt.  Even though the store owner was right in attempting to stop the intruder, the measure of force used was disproportionate to the circumstance.  But in such a situation, it’s not always easy to potentially let the suspect go free and in the immediacy of the situation milder forms of restraint do not always come to mind or become accessible or present.

In 2017, a citizen may chase a neighbor whom he believes had burglarized his home and attack the man with a baseball bat. A problem exists when gentler methods of restraint could be used, especially in light of the fact the neighbor could have been truly innocent and thus did not need to suffer physical abuse.

In the Arbery case, the McMichaels brought guns just in case the suspect was armed and they themselves had a way to defend themselves.  But at the same time, Arbery was innocent and also wanted to defend himself against the guns that his neighbors brought and so he fought back.  This situation brings up a big gray area.

Citizens have a right to defend themselves in cases of arresting a possibly armed subject.
Yet innocent people also have a right to defend themselves when a stranger confronts them with guns.

Even though we should do our best to protect innocent people from wrongful harm or death, it is also necessary to have protocols in place that allows even private citizens the best chance of arresting a possible suspect to bring him to justice.  But balancing these two interests requires a lot of fine-tuning.

I do not necessarily have the answers to these questions, but it’s important to ask these types of questions in the first place.