Citizen Policing

By Shirmel Hayden

According to the California Innocence Project, the definition of police misconduct encompasses illegal, unethical actions or the violation of individual constitutional rights by police officers in the conduct of their duties. Examples of misconduct include dishonesty, fraud, coercion, torture to force confessions and abuse of authority.

Over the past few months, and even before then, stories about police brutality, misconduct, excessive force, intimidation and law enforcement practices by police departments seem to be at the forefront of media outlets. These actions seem to have created what I have seen as a division among law enforcement and citizens, and created an “us-them” environment rather than an environment of trust.

Hayden 1In the age of social media, more stories via video have surfaced by using cell phones, tablets, camcorders and uploading the video to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and other outlets to document encounters with law enforcement. As a result of the actions of some police officers, many citizens have launched a series of social movements at colleges and universities, transit stations, in front of police department, marches and protest in many cities across the world. In light of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, citizens have spoken out about the lack of responsibility in public service, public servants have taken.

According to the 2010 Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP), as a method of analyzing police misconduct the following statistics show that from April 2009 to June 2010:

  • 5,986 reports of misconduct have been recorded
  • 382 fatalities were linked to misconduct
  • $347,455,000 had been spent in related to settlements and judgments. *

In response to the social media, the state of Illinois as of Dec. 30, 2014, passed a new eavesdropping law, making it illegal and a felony to record police officers without consent. According to Illinois Policy (2014), earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the eavesdropping law that made it a crime for citizens to record conversations with police or anyone without the other person’s permission. The court held that the old law “criminalized a wide range of innocent conduct” and violated free-speech rights.”

Hayden 2Given the recent events between citizens and law enforcement, a new bill was introduced and approved through the House and the Senate, as well as Governor Quinn, making it a crime to record police officers without their consent. As Illinois leads the way for other states to following such laws prohibiting the recording of police officers, my question is, how does law enforcement ensure the rights of citizens are not violated? How do citizens hold law enforcement accountable for unethical practices? As I understand public servants are held to a higher standard, where is the check and balance for misconduct and misuse of power? What other states are to follow?

*Reflects the most recent general statistics on police misconduct.

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