Police officers must be held accountable

Zach Dumais, Opinion Editor

I wanted to preface this article by saying that I originally wanted to be a police officer after I graduated. Due to the facts that will be stated in this article, my goals have changed. I do not mean to come at this article from a “partisan perspective” as it has been created by a variety of parties and factors. The issue of police brutality is incredibly complex and I do not mean to oversimplify it.

As we all saw, 2020 brought the issue of police brutality to a boiling point with the horrific murder of George Floyd. The whole world watched as Derek Chauvin placed a knee on George Floyd’s neck for over 9 minutes, which ultimately resulted in his death. This situation was a tragedy and unfortunately, not all that uncommon. According to the Washington Post, as of Oct. 30, 2021, U.S. police have shot and killed 901 people in the past year. In order to put this number into perspective, that is a little over 2 people/day. A reasonable person may ponder whether our society is so violent that this amount of force is needed to keep us “safe” or is it that the system is flawed?

There are several issues at the source of the police brutality problem with the first being a lack of accountability. Police officers are protected by their departments and legislature in numerous ways. For example, the Supreme Court recently failed to rule against qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects officers from “frivolous lawsuits,” but it also protects them from being sued for police brutality. Even if an action is brought against a department, it is the taxpayers who ultimately pay out for the actions of officers. This does not seem like an effective way of discouraging “bad apples” from acting with impunity. Perhaps payouts should come from insurance policies that individual officers or departments carry that would incentivize them to act within the law they are sworn to uphold.

The second issue that is of concern pertains to the mentality of police officers. As affirmed by Castle Rock v. Gonzales, the Supreme Court stated that police officers have no duty to protect citizens from harm. Their duty is solely to uphold the law which seems a bit backward in a free society. Many police departments also do not require their officers to live in the areas that they police. Police officers are taught to be suspicious and hostile to the public. Why do we have officers in Erie, Pennsylvania (and throughout the country), wearing body armor and baseball hats, armed to the teeth with weapons, and driving around in armored vehicles? (i.e., SWAT vehicles) Many officers attend tactical shooting courses where they can hone their combat skills with the surplus military equipment given to them by their departments. In order to aid this effort, according to Insider, the U.S. has spent over $15.4 billion militarizing police. Imagine what other uses that money could have had. This state of mind is best described as the “Warrior Cop” mentality, according to author Radley Balko. I understand that the world is dangerous, but with today’s police approaching everyone as a threat, there is no room for this type of policing in a democratic society.

I understand the difficult situation that officers are placed in every day, but a free society cannot function when there are officers carrying military weapons, kicking in doors at 3 in the morning and whisking people off in unmarked vehicles, such as in Portland. Surely there must be an explicable reason as to why police brutality rates are so much higher in the U.S. than other wealthy countries? I believe that solving the issues outlined above are a good start to answering that question and working toward a just and safe world. Police must be held accountable, and their mentality has to be altered so that there is less hostility between the public and police.