Speaking Of Accountability…

Here  are a couple of sobering statistics from The Brookings Institution:  A Black person is killed about every 40 hours by police, and Black people are 3.5 times more likely than white people to be killed by police when they are not attacking or do not have a weapon.

The research also  shows  that, typically, police officers aren’t charged in these killings of unarmed Black people, and even when they are, they are almost never convicted.

As the linked report notes,

In policing, people often talk about bad apples. Well, bad apples come from rotten trees, and the rotten trees are law enforcement agencies imbued with structural racism. Standard processes for holding police officers accountable, issuing civil payouts to victims of brutality, and rehiring fired officers are a few of the factors that contribute to the entrenchment of racism and police brutality.

The  report outlines some  of  the reasons for the  lack of accountability, and  makes two recommendations for improvement.  The first  recommendation is–or should be–obvious:  don’t rehire–or shuffle around– officers who have been fired for misconduct.  Those  officers should not be able to work in law enforcement again.

This recommendation is receiving bipartisan support at the federal level. It is part of Trump’s recent Executive Order and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that passed in the House of Representatives.

The second recommendation is one I  hadn’t previously encountered, and  as  a former Corporation Counsel who  supervised these payments, I  can tell you  that  it makes a lot of sense.  It  involves the restructuring of  compensatory payments. Currently, when a lawsuit  is brought alleging misconduct  by police, and that  lawsuit is either won by the plaintiff or settled,  payment of damages comes from the general funds of the city.  Brookings  advocates moving the source of  payment from taxpayer money to police department insurance policies.

We aren’t talking  about insignificant  funds. As  Brookings reports,

Eventually, there will be a large civil payout for the death of George Floyd. The Floyd family’s taxpayer money will be used to pay them for his dehumanization and killing. Due to qualified immunity—the legislation that often prevents officers from facing civil culpability—officers are typically immune from the financial impacts of these civil payouts. Since 2010, St. Louis has paid over $33 million and Baltimore was found liable for about $50 million for police misconduct. Over the past 20 years, Chicago spent over $650 million on police misconduct cases. In one year from period from July 2017 through June 2018, New York City paid out $230 million in about 6,500 misconduct cases. What if this money was used for education and work infrastructure? Research suggests that crime would decrease.

The report cites parallels:  In health care, for example, physicians and hospitals carry malpractice insurance. Even if the city  uses  taxpayer funds to cover the police department’s malpractice insurance premium, there are  real benefits to this approach; for one thing,  if the city’s malpractice premium goes up, the city will get valuable information  about which police officers, like which physicians and which hospitals, are responsible.

These proposals merit consideration. Another big  step forward would be the amendment  or elimination of the doctrine of qualified immunity, which I wrote  about  last  month.

Thanks to the  ubiquity  of cellphone cameras, well-meaning Americans can  no longer tell themselves that all police officers are “good guys” and anyone reporting brutality or other lawless behavior must  have deserved it. We’ve seen too much. On  the other  hand, it  is really important that we restore respect  for law enforcement, and for the officers who are following the rules and doing a  dangerous job in order  to  keep communities safe. We won’t restore that respect and encourage co-operation with law enforcement until there are structural changes that remove the “safe harbors” exploited by the bad  apples who   undeniably exist.

These approaches are worth considering–as are the suggestions for relieving police of duties more  logically discharged by social workers and/or medical personnel. (Whoever decided to label that proposed shift of responsibilities “defunding police” should be banned from engaging in any policy debate ever again…)


  1. “These approaches are worth considering–as are the suggestions for relieving police of duties more logically discharged by social workers and/or medical personnel. (Whoever decided to label that proposed shift of responsibilities “defunding police” should be banned from engaging in any policy debate ever again…)”

    Into whose trash cans or shredding machines are these reports discarded? Who is accountable for the decisions to ignore common sense change to save lives?

  2. One pillar of libertarianism that needs to be embraced is the idea of letting liability law and the courts do the job of rooting out inefficiency and malice among producers in markets and public service agencies. It may require expanding civil courts to handle the workload but it would be a better and more equitable use of resources than the bureaucracies required to administer reams of regulations and oversight. Also, some kind of gateway mechanism is needed to ensure frivolous suits are screened out – similar to the way medical malpractice suits work in Indiana.

    But as it is, we have a crony-capitalist economy and government where an individual business, industry and/or special interest group can get a statute passed to shield them from liability. The most egregious such law in Indiana is called Right To Farm, which shields famers from civil liabilities caused by anything they do growing crops and raising livestock. It’s a get-out-of-jail card for assaulting the environment and public health.

  3. Ms Suess-Kennedy: your points are well made. Perhaps a third or fourth point might be: 1. to screen and hire better candidates, and 2. Pay police officers a lot more.
    Dennis Southerland

  4. Well said, Patrick!

    The “Right to Farm” is a scam just like “Right to Work” or anything else misnamed coming out of ALEC.

    The shifting of liability to the police department might also force the “good apples” to hold the “bad apples” accountable since claims would go against their department. As it stands now, what incentive do brown shirts have for keeping the worst offenders accountable?

    The US Marshalls killed a man who already confessed to a crime and was turning himself in. According to the picture, one or two did the killing, but there were another ten standing around. If a gun was planted afterward, wanna bet they all say they saw the gun. Wanna bet they all turned off their cameras if they even had them on.

    The brown shirts murdered a person who was asked by protestors to keep them safe. He shot a redneck Trump supporter because the guy was getting ready to stab a person of color at the protest. He used his weapon for precisely the reason we have the right to bear arms.

    Police murdered the protector for killing one of their brown shirts. The media has gone quiet on this case because I suspect the Marshalls were given the order to take this guy out. It doesn’t take this long to tell the truth of what happened, so I can only imagine the meetings behind closed doors to get out a plausible story and who tells it and who keeps their mouths shut in public.

    If you can tell who the good apples are in our law enforcement agencies, please inform the rest of us how you can tell the difference.

  5. The death of Mr. Prude in New York in 2018 screams loudly of the need for more types of training within police departments to handle the mentally ill. Seems to me that any officer dispatched to find a naked man with a history of mental problems, outdoors in March , would certainly know that he is not facing down a criminal. Paramedics should have been dispatched immediately upon observation of the individual, simply for no other reason than knowing he will probably need treatment for frostbite and hypothermia, not wait until Prude has suffocated in his own vomit. And I continue to scratch my head how three, four or more officers, in most of the recently known instances that are in the news, are unable to subdue one person without injury to that person. There is a training program called Crisis Prevention Intervention that teaches deescalation skills and non violent take down skills. I was privileged to partake of this training while working in a hospital setting as a member of the security team. It is training that I believe should be an integral part of all police training.

    Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI Training) | CPI
    The Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) is an international training organization that specializes in the safe management of disruptive and assaultive behavior.”

    Another aspect of policing that needs review, is why is every shot supposed to be a kill shot? Unless an officer is implicitly being attacked, with intent to kill, by the perpetrator, why isn’t emphasis placed on a shot to the leg/knee that would drop a person immediately to the ground. Even if the perp tried to get up to run, they would run very slowly and could be easily stopped and then placed in restraints. Is it because many officers have come from military training where they are taught shoot to kill because in a war zone, it certainly is a kill or be killed arena? But in our cities and towns, they are not yet a declared war zone. Those words “defunding the police” are certainly a misnomer, but there is a definite needs for different type of training, in my opinion, than what is being shown to this point.

  6. In this morning’s paper, there was a front page article reporting that the Trump administration is reviewing Federally funded training for law enforcement that deals with “white privilege” and profiling sensitivity. They want to cut that training that has caused all this mayhem.

    This is the latest shiny object from the orange hairball to deflect the reports about his dissing the military – most of his life.

    Finally, every policeman’s union in Colorado just endorsed Donald Trump.

    We are entering, with all four feet, into the police state that so many dystopian authors have warned us about.

    Well done, somnolent voters. YOU allowed this to happen by remaining uninformed and by staying home on election day. YOU are to blame for the failing of democracy.

  7. I’m sorry…still trying to get my head around the notion that “bad apples” come from “rotten trees.” Been around a few apple trees in my life. Even the healthy trees produce a bad apple every now and then.

    Looking at qualified immunity is a good idea. It is so hard to win excessive force case even when it’s clear excessive force was used.

    I so wish some presidential candidate would address civil forfeiture, which incentivizes a lot of law enforcement abuses. Given their history though, Biden/Harris though might actually support it. There might have been a day in which Trump opposed it, but he’s gone so far in the other direction that’s not going to happen now.

    In my legal career addressing the abuses of civil forfeiture in Indianapolis, I found more support among Republican politicians than Democrats.

  8. Police malpractice insurance is a good idea. Having insurance company standards in on vetting of the risks of new hires before (hopefully) the protection of police unions could help blunt the need for qualified immunity, though to be sure, such immunity should go away. As for good apples/bad apples, police do not enjoy a monopoly. Think Falwell, Madoff et al, and the tree, Trump.

  9. To me it seems that the police have one of the most difficult jobs in the country – one that they are often unqualified to carry out and who are untrained in the methods needed to achieve their goal – public safety.

    But It’s hard to feel sorry for people unable to discern and act on behalf of their own self interests. When they suffer, there is little anyone can do about it because they make such abominable choices. Why, I am asking, are police so silent about taking guns away from people who have no lawful need for them and are so unqualified to use them? Given America’s worship for lethal weapons, shouldn’t the people charged with maintaining public order be better armed than the citizens they are serving? The pathetically ignorant attitude that “we need these weapons to protect ourselves from a government that might impinge on our rights” is hopelessly obsolete. That ship has sailed. Your AK-47 (or all 6 of them) is a pea shooter in the face of flame throwers, tanks, bombers, armed drones, bazookas, hand grenades, artillery, and serious machine guns. The only point of pretending that you can protect yourself against a government assault is to enrich the NRA and gun manufacturers, or perhaps some kooky ideology that suggests you need to be locked up for your own safety.

    Until police forces across the country come down on the side of sensible gun legislation, which involves limiting gun ownership to hunters and others with legitimate reasons for owning them, and keeping them away from people who only fire them once or twice a year, they remain a principal part of the problem.

    With one-third our population, Japan has one twentieth of the U.S. rate of gun violence. Until our police start working to take the guns out of the hands of people who have no legitimate use for them, crimes of violence will continue; feeble-minded choices on both sides of the law will continue to be made. Is there a sane person in the U.S. that believes 300 million is the appropriate number of guns for our country? Where are the police on this issue that affects them more than anyone? There is way too much hate out there. Why enable it with guns?

  10. Hypothesis:

    While we like to be specific and distinguish racists from misogynists for instance, all “ists” stem from one condition, authoritarianism. It is the belief in the personal entitlement to run the lives of others, in fact to define who they are. While it has many causes one primary one can be emotional immaturity, simply not inhibiting your negative emotions in defining your relationships.

    Those negative emotions, primarily anger and fear, in fact stemmed from the survival skills of fight or flight which are not required much in civilized society because we’ve found that more thoughtful actions now work better.

    An exception can be the mean streets of poverty and that means that they can attract emotionally immature, less civilized more uninhibited people on all sides of the law.

    People outside and inside the law can be armed, those inside almost always are, and those outside only sometimes and many of them, never.

    It’s a hell of a pot to throw emotionally immature into. Bad things will happen frequently.

  11. Patrick, “…some kind of gateway mechanism is needed to ensure frivolous suits are screened out – similar to the way medical malpractice suits work in Indiana.

    Screening out frivolous suits are already screened out…by the lawyers themselves. Since the attorneys take these cases “on contingency” and get paid no money up front, they must fund the expenses of the suit themselves–investigations, professional witnesses, research, etc., sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Consequently, the lawyers are quite careful in choosing which suits to pursue (invest in). The lawyers prefer to pick sure winners, and then they have to fight like hell to make it happen.

    My sister is a mal-practice/product liability lawyer. She says her firm takes only one of 300 cases brought to it and wins only one in a dozen cases, all but one of the other eleven cases are settled short of trial, almost always to the disadvantage of the claimant. And also almost always the damaged claimant is an individual who is near destitute and has no other resource and no leverage to get a fair shake, whereas the defendant is almost always wealthy and connected and has every leverage available, including the money to hire professional liars as expert witnesses and/or the connections to get away with defying subpoenas.

    No. Nothing whatsoever should ever be made statute that reduces or limits the liability/responsibility of swaggering big time players for the damage they do in the china shop.

  12. Pete, you have an amazing ability to analyze a problem and even more amazing ability–reminds me of Plato and Eric Hoffer–to express it in English. Love to read your comments. You should write a book: we’re in need of another Eric Hoffer.

  13. Speaking of accountability. My novel “Who Is Johnny Pistolseed” paints a bold, ugly and comedic picture of the lengths the Blue Mafia will go to avoid accountability. It is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon.com. Reading it will add something to this discussion, I’m sure; believe me. lol

    Pardon the Blurb:
    Johnny Pistolseed may not really exist. Or he may. In fact, this novel may be very close to the marrow of the bone we call truth. Whatever, Johnny Pistolseed is the code name given to a mysterious character who saves rogue policemen’s lives by dubbing guns–an almost impossible trick–into their dead victim’s hands in cop-cam videos. Pistolseed is a tragicomedy, with emphasis on comedy, set in Indiana and California. It is the third volume of my Joseph’s Easel series.


  14. We had a murder in our neighborhood last year, an old vet who lived a lone. The police were there, investigated thoroughly and came to no conclusions immediately. Someone had broken into his house , robbed & shot him! Within a month the Mayor & crew of uniformed cops were here to walk the neighborhood with us. It was a hot day and I began talking to one of the officers walking next to me. I commented on his uniform that was black or dark navy blue & how hot it must be. He confided that the uniforms were hot & the over 20lb. bullet proof vest under his uniform made it even hotter. I was glad to know they were watching over this “Hood”. I can remember as a kid, our Dad who was in Army & fought in WWll, always told his kids if you ever get stopped by police, cooperate and we’ll have our say in court. Dad went to law school on GI Bill and was looking at the situation from all his experience. When your in a war zone, you don’t plead your case. That’s what the courtroom is for, where hopefully there are lower levels of adrenaline, where a civil decision can be made. Something tells me cops aren’t getting the support they need to work the streets, back up mental health experts, social workers to take over some of the work load. I don’t think the pay reflects the risks they take, and if we had a more satisfied police force, we wouldn’t see the frustration expressed in unneeded violence so often.

  15. @Roberta (Robbie) Dunn: In total agreement with your recommendation for CPI training. Hard to believe police departments don’t provide it or something similar (maybe some do?).

    But to your second point about not shooting to kill, but to wound or disable instead.

    Actually, if an officer has a reasonable belief (hopefully a real one) that a suspect is threatening her/him with death or serious bodily injury with a gun — or other weapon such as a knife — that would require (and legally authorize) the officer to shoot at a suspect in the first place, officers are specifically trained not to try to shoot to “wing” or non-lethally wound a suspect in an effort to neutralize him/her. While that might seem wrong or inhumane, there are sound policy reasons for why police officers are taught that way. Below I have copied and pasted some of those reasons from the website “www.ajc.com”:

    “Police officers are trained to shoot as many rounds as necessary at the threat they are confronted with until the threat is neutralized – that is, they are trained to fire until the suspect is unable to shoot or in some other way injure the officer, other police or bystanders.

    Why not “shoot to wound” instead?

    For a couple of reasons: First, shooting to wound someone may not stop the threat. If a person is shot in the leg, the threat may still exist as a suspect could still use his or her hands to fire a gun or stab with a knife.

    Second, and most importantly, it takes a skilled marksman to hit someone exactly in the arm or leg, and, most officers are not skilled marksmen’s. In fact, outside of an old-fashioned TV Western, few people can make that shot, no matter the training.

    Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, explained in a position paper for the Institute the physics involved in the notion of training officers – who are often running after suspects – to ‘shoot to wound.’

    ‘Hands and arms can be the fastest-moving body parts,’ Lewinski said. ‘For example, an average suspect can move his hand and forearm across his body to a 90-degree angle in 12/100 of a second. He can move his hand from his hip to shoulder height in 18/100 of a second.

    ‘The average officer pulling the trigger as fast as he can on a Glock, one of the fastest- cycling semi-autos, requires 1/4 second to discharge each round.

    ‘There is no way an officer can react, track, shoot and reliably hit a threatening suspect’s forearm or a weapon in a suspect’s hand in the time spans involved.’

    David Klinger, a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, put it another way speaking to ABC News — with officers trying to stop a threat to their life or the lives of others, ‘Why would we want to injure or maim people?’ he said. ‘It doesn’t stop them.'”

    A more detailed and lengthy explanation for this training can be found at:

  16. You’re not allowed to say this.

    “If you can tell who the good apples are in our law enforcement agencies, please inform the rest of us how you can tell the difference.”

  17. The “bad apple” excuse has always struck me as curiously apt, even though it seems most people are unaware. The point of the bad apple is that it corrupts all the other apples in the basket with it until eventually all the apples are rotten, and the basket is spoiled. Seems just about right to me.

    Also, regarding policing, hiring practices and training need thorough review. First, just like people with pedophilic tendencies tend towards jobs involving children, is it any surprise that people with violent or autocratic tendencies are interested in policing? Second, there are training options being used right now that stress a “warrior mentality.” That’s a huge problem. Police are public servants working for us not independent mercenaries at war with us.

  18. Her is what I posted on Facebook.
    The Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) group I belong to in north county San Diego is actively trying to work its way to finding how to participate in supporting POC in the never ending saga of the topic today. Here is the teaser:
    “Here are a couple of sobering statistics from The Brookings Institution: A Black person is killed about every 40 hours by police, and Black people are 3.5 times more likely than white people to be killed by police when they are not attacking or do not have a weapon.”
    I am sending todays blog to our group. I hope that national SURJ picks up on this strand by Sheila Kennedy.
    What can you do to move these ideas from our heads to agencies that will implement our ideals and ideas? What are YOU going to do?

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