USA: All 50 states fall short of standards on police use of force
June 18, 2015 1:16 PM   Subscribe

USA: All 50 states fall short of international standards on police use of lethal force. An Amnesty International report today highlights that all US states fail to meet both international standards and often US constitutional standards. Additionally, nine states and the District of Columbia have no laws on the use of lethal force (Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming). Key findings (pdf, 45kb). Executive Summary (pdf, 500kb). Guardian report.
posted by biffa (13 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
After the McKinney incident, I was trying to explain to a U.K. friend of mine that the U.S. has (google-google-google) over 17,000 distinct law enforcement agencies, and no common supervision, authority or even guidance beyond a handful of Constitutional Supreme Court decisions.

Even the Justice Department can't exercise any direct authority over a state, local or county police department -- on the incredibly rare occasion it even dares intervene it has to use the court system almost like any other shmoe.

By contrast, the UK police are all under the Home Office, which is overseen by a Cabinet secretary. This is more or less the normal sort of case in the civilized world. The US state of affairs with its Wild West approach to policing is an extreme outlier. It's insane and it's more than a century overdue for a complete overhaul. I wish I could believe it will ever happen.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:53 PM on June 18, 2015 [19 favorites]

Global standards tend to mean "Standards that apply everywhere but here.".
posted by MikeMc at 3:20 PM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is that what they mean when they say "American exceptionalism?"
posted by entropicamericana at 3:22 PM on June 18, 2015

Is that what they mean when they say "American exceptionalism?"

posted by lmfsilva at 3:33 PM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

DC has its share of problems in law enforcement, but Amnesty are mistaken when they claim that "Washington, D.C. [has] not enacted any laws governing the use of lethal force and, therefore, rel[ies[ strictly on the Supreme Court decisions in Garner and Graham in regards to law enforcement’s use of lethal force." In fact, the District has enacted statutes and regulations that govern the Metropolitan Police Department's use of force, and MPD itself has implemented General Orders regulating the use of force.

DC Code § 5–123.02, "Use of unnecessary or wanton force," states that: "Any officer who uses unnecessary and wanton severity in arresting or imprisoning any person shall be deemed guilty of assault and battery, and, upon conviction, punished therefor." One might object that "unnecessary and wanton severity" is overly vague, but it's certainly a law governing the use of force (lethal and otherwise), and it's been on the books since 1973.

And DC has gone much further. DC Code § 5–125.03 bars MPD officers from using trachea holds under any circumstances, and permits the use of carotid holds only when lethal force would otherwise be appropriate. Violation of these provisions can expose an officer to a year's incarceration, quite aside from a sentence under the "wanton force" law. (Also, note the extraordinary scope of the trachea hold; in theory, an officer could face criminal sanction for using it even to save his own life. Unlikely this would ever be prosecuted, but still.)

DC Code § 5–302 applies the standards in the above code provisions to Federal law enforcement officers working under a cooperative agreement with MPD.

Chapter 6A-207 of the DC Municipal Regulations bars the use of firearms:

(a) As a warning;

(b) At or from any moving vehicle except when the officer is justified in firing under §§207.2(a) and 207.2(b) and the officer has no cause to believe that any innocent person will be injured as the result of firing at or from that moving vehicle;

(c) In any felony case which does not involve an actual or threatened attack which the officer has reasonable cause to believe could result in death or bodily injury; and

(d) In any case involving a misdemeanor offense.

With regard to MPD's General Orders: General Order RAR-901.07 outlines the permissible use of lethal and nonlethal force in general terms, and threatens disciplinary action for violation. General Order RAR-901.04 directs officers to use pepper spray only against persons whom (1) they have lawful authority to detain, who are *actively* resisting the officer, or (2) to disperse crowds "endangering public safety and security." General Orders 901.07 and 901.08 pertain to Use of Force investigations and review.

Again, I don't want to over-sell any of these mechanisms; I don't know enough to say whether they work well. But to claim, as Amnesty does, that DC exists in some sort of near-anarchy is just not true; heck, our ban on trachea holds dates to the 1980s.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 3:44 PM on June 18, 2015 [8 favorites]

I think Obama made some comment about "other advanced societies" not having a gun violence problem. I do wonder if maybe he isn't assuming a little much about American society. It has advanced technology and advanced privilege… but maybe not so much on the society end of things. It lacks universal healthcare, excellent public education, a good GINI coefficient, well-maintained infrastructure, etc. It's tough to see how the appellation "advanced " can be applied to that sort of situation.

And so it's not at all surprising that Policing standards also fall far short of those of countries with "advanced societies".
posted by five fresh fish at 4:16 PM on June 18, 2015

"Our ban on trachea holds dates to the 1980s!" could almost but not quite be a slogan in a DC tourism promotion campaign.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:17 PM on June 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wonder if DC is on the list because of the myriad of federal police forces that aren't bound to any state laws. The park police and transit police can pretty much do anything that they want, as long as it doesn't attract the direct attention of Congress. There are several entire layers of oversight and accountability that are missing from all but one of DC's dozens of police forces.
posted by schmod at 4:20 PM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lol at the idea that "apply everywhere else but here" - Global standards actually mean non binding ideals dreamed up by people with grad degrees working for NGO's , diplomats exerting pressure on rivals and UN agencies as a way to write press releases like these. I mean you can't seriously believe these are standards that police in Italy or China or Venezuela or Nigeria conform to?

I would say If you want to hurt the power of the police you have to hurt the sources of their power - strong unions, close ties to politicians and big state(s) that have power to imprison people for unheard of lengths of time.
When police systematically are not capable of sticking within current regulations it is a very odd solution that calls for more funding for the police and more regulations for them to follow
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 4:25 PM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

> I mean you can't seriously believe these are standards that police in Italy or China or Venezuela or Nigeria conform to?

What - warning people before you shoot them? Reserving the use of deadly force as a last resort when other lives are threatened? What about this seems unreasonable to you?

I have no familiarity with the last three places, but I've been to Italy and people seemed to actually like the police officers and hung out with them with when they're on the beat. You don't see that in New York City...

And I can guarantee you that that's the way police officers in Canada, Australia and Germany roll.

The reason they are picking on the United States is probably because of the fact that it's massively overpoliced, that it jails more of its citizens (either on an absolute number OR on a per capita number) than any other country, and that its police officers kill their own citizens, often unarmed citizens, at a rate that's two orders of magnitude greater than any other first world country.

Go ahead and "lol" (protip: not a word that really bolsters your reputation as an incisive thinker) at the idea that the US might be able to do better than "absolutely the worst". Just don't lol at one of your police officers, or you might get shot, particularly if you aren't white.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:23 PM on June 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

I only saw the post title at first, minus 'international':

All 50 states fall short of standards on police use of force

And thought... wait, since when did they have standards?
posted by Evilspork at 10:18 PM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

For the American cops' perspective, here's an absurd and offensive 'open letter' my local police union just released, wherein they appear to threaten violence (or something) against anti-police brutality activists (addressed to "those that support us": "we may have to ask for you to rise with us against the small, but very vocal group of people in our city who resist everything we all strive to attain"), and then announce their intentions to act as vigilantes against whoever they presume deserves it (addressed to Louisville's "criminal element": "No matter how weak our policies we will find a way to make you understand that Louisville isn't where you want to live.") This is following a cop's shooting to death of an intoxicated person who charged at him with a mini-flag pole, last week.
posted by relooreloo at 10:40 PM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Evilspork, I had to shorten it to meet the character limit on titles.
posted by biffa at 10:59 AM on June 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Grey day   |   Is the US justice system up for sale? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments