Reviews | Train the police to keep the peace, not to make a profit

Some police departments across the country have adopted the corrupt and unfair practice of increasing the revenues of their municipalities by causing officers to write as many tickets as possible.

For-profit policing encourages unfair law enforcement. It also increases the likelihood that motorists arrested for offenses largely unrelated to public safety will be killed or injured when encountering officers trained to view traffic stops as times of life-threatening danger.

The situation demands that departments change the way officers are trained. Ultimately, these departments must withdraw from practices that bring far more people than necessary into contact with the law in circumstances that too often lead to what a district attorney calls “early killings” by police officers.

The New York Times exposes these and other problems in an alarming survey of the culture that too often turns roadside checks for common infractions into unnecessary beatings, car chases or shootings.

The Times investigation found that over the past five years, police have killed more than 400 drivers who were not wielding guns or knives or who were not prosecuted for dangerous crimes.

Many of these motorists ended up dead in stops that started with violations of standards, such as broken taillights or a red light. Time and time again, prosecutors convinced the courts that the murders were legally justified because the police felt their lives were in danger.

Only five officers were convicted of crimes related to those deaths – but local governments ended up paying at least $ 125 million to settle around 40 wrongful death lawsuits and other claims.

The Times investigation revealed in a number of encounters that officers often appeared to exaggerate the threat to their lives. Worse yet, officers often fabricated dangerous situations by standing in front of fleeing cars or reaching inside vehicles. They then fired their guns in what they later described as self-defense.

African-American motorists were over-represented among those killed. A criminologist told The Times that exaggerating the danger of stops worsened racial prejudice: “Police think ‘vehicle stops are dangerous’ and ‘black people are dangerous’, and the combination is volatile,” did he declare.

Officers are sometimes killed during traffic stops, but statistically speaking, the chances of that happening are low. Roadside checks are by far the most common point of contact between people and the law. Since there are tens of millions of such checks every year, studies have shown that the chances of an agent being killed in one are less than 1 in 3.6 million.

Nonetheless, police academies tend to show trainees bloody videos and worst-case scenarios, while also portraying stopping traffic as the most dangerous encounter an officer could ever undertake.

As one police official told The Times, “All you’ve heard are horror stories about what could happen. It is very difficult to try to train this from someone. A culture of blatant exaggeration creates an atmosphere in which scandalous police conduct leading to the death of a civilian is deemed acceptable.

For example, the Times investigation found that more than three-quarters of unarmed motorists who died were killed while trying to flee. Images from the dashboard and body camera showed officers “shooting at moving cars, or threatening deadly force in their first words at motorists, or surrounding sleeping drivers with a ring of guns. guns – then shooting them when, awake, they tried to take off. “

The federal government is compounding this problem by spending over $ 600 million a year to subsidize writing posts. At least 20 states have responded to this policy by rating police officers by the number of stops they make per hour.

Communities that depend on revenue from traffic tickets sometimes maintain larger police departments than is really necessary just for the purpose of making money. The Times investigation found more than 730 municipalities that depend on fees and fines for at least 10 percent of their revenues.

The city of Henderson, Louisiana, with a population of about 2,000, earned nearly 90 percent of its general revenue from fines and fees in 2019. Oliver, Ga., Home to about 380 people, pulls more half of its fines budget. A state investigation found that last year, city police wrote more than $ 40,000 in tickets outside of their legal jurisdiction.

Departments that hunt down poor communities especially for ticket revenues – and whose agents sometimes fabricate infractions – undermine confidence in the law. For-profit police also subject motorists to unfair scrutiny and potentially dangerous encounters with officers at traffic stops. States and municipalities must move away from this practice.

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