photo from wral.com
by Jennifer Corr
It was supposed to be a day of celebration on Ryan Porch’s birthday. Instead, he found himself beaten unconscious at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect him, Iowa City police officers.
“They pulled us out of a bar on my birthday and beat us both unconscious, then filled their report with lies about how we were intoxicated and violent and needed to be restrained. We were quietly waiting for my brother’s girlfriend to pick us up,” said Porch.
A study done between 2002 and 2011 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that cases like Mr. Porch’s are not uncommon. Out of 43.9 million residents who had face-to-face contact with police officers between those years, 535,300 residents experienced excessive force. Some believe the reason behind these incidents may be poor training, a few “bad apples” and poor choices made in the heat-of-the-moment, while others believe that incidents is a symptom of corruption.
While the report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics is telling, it is important to note that the statistics and information on police misconduct is limited. According to Peter Moskos, a professor of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay, there is no “clearing house” to analyze incidents of police misconduct and brutality, and the data collected is given voluntarily by law enforcement agencies.
In a speech at Georgetown University made by former FBI director James Comey, the lack of data collected on arrest related fatalities and the non existent data on non fatal incidents of police misconduct was addressed.
According to Comey, not having the appropriate data leads to “ideological thunderbolts” among police officers and citizens, causing unrest and distrust. Instead of improvement, relationships between police officers and citizens have been damaged. Members of law enforcement, like Peter Scotti, are directly impacted by this damage.
“From my perspective, I’ve seen a huge change in disrespect for law enforcement,” Scotti, a former investigator in NY, said.
In his 32 years of service, Scotti claims that he has never witnessed any corruption or bad behavior from other officers.
“Does it happen? It probably does happen. I don’t know what a cause of that would be. Maybe a lack of training?” he said.
Many have recommended training as a method to confront this issue, and there is proof that recruit training can reduce incidents of police misconduct. A 2006 study of the NYPD found that police recruits who performed better during their training were less likely to be terminated for misconduct later in their careers.
“The police academy should be more of a weed out process than it actually is,” Moskos said.
The 2017 Australian study, “Promoting a Culture of Fairness: Police Training, Procedural Justice and Compliance”, analyzed how high pressure and discretionary environments within police departments associated with cynicism, misogyny and racism can act as a road block to positive change. One aspect of this environment is called the “code of silence,” where officers are reluctant to report misbehavior from other officers because of a fear of scrutiny, danger and sense of loyalty. The study found that police recruits who were taught how to recognize prejudice were more likely to take action in the workplace and not go along with this “code of silence.”
The U.S faces the same issue, as the U.S Department of Justice found that 61 percent of officers do not report abuse by fellow officers. “The concept of ‘good cops’ seems more and more fantastic to me as time goes by, especially after seeing an entire police department torment my family for wanting two of their officers held accountable for a violent crime,” Mr.Porch said.
Retired state trooper, Jim Marrone, recalled that most of the officers he has met were good people, and that a cause of police misconduct may be the fact that officers are put in situations where they have to make serious decisions in real time.
“If you feel like you’re not safe, you have to protect yourself, and you only have seconds,” said Marrone.
A similar point was made by Scotti, who said that incidents of excessive force can happen in the heat of the moment or the excitement caused by a long police chase. However, he stated that there is no gain in using excessive force, as officers do not have an established immunity from lawsuits.
According to Moskos, the only established “loophole” that the police have is that the court is generally “nice” to police officers because of the quick decisions that have to be made under pressure, unless their actions were unreasonable. The standard for police officers is what a good officer would do in that same situation.
“I am in complete support of blue lives matter and all officers willing to risk their lives to serve and protect the community. It’s not black and white with their decisions and situations they deal with, so I don’t believe it’s ever appropriate to think all officers are bad people,” said Steven Galietta, an aspiring police officer.
Moskos believes that decreasing incidents of police misconduct comes down to “messy and boring details”, such as better training and hiring standards. The problem, according to Moskos, is that there is no simple template that departments can use. Moskos also pointed out that while the idea of better training and hiring standards sounds nice for most people, these changes would cost money and lead to less applicants.
“Who’s going to do it?” Moskos said.
Since Ryan Porch was injured in 2013 by police officers, he has taken his fight to a Facebook group called “Police Brutality Corruption in America” along with others who are left with no answers as to why police were brutal to them and their families.
“We get a lot of people who have been through similar issues, they have no idea where to turn with an entire police force gas-lighting them, so we direct them to out-of-town lawyers, offer advice, we have authors, sociologists, counselors, lawyers and journalists in the group who we can refer people to if need be. Other than those things, we let activists know when and where rallies are going to be and try to help people stay safe and what’s going on in American law enforcement,” Porch said.