This morning, Campaign Zero—a group which advocates for criminal justice reform—released its Police Use of Force Project, which documents the policies for how and why officers can use force on civilians in 17 major cities across America.
The results are shocking.
Each department was evaluated on four primary criteria:
- Failing to make life preservation the primary principle shaping police decisions about using force
- Failing to require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance, and otherwise eliminating the need to use force
- Allowing officers to choke or strangle civilians, in many cases where less lethal force could be used instead, resulting in the unnecessary death or serious injury of civilians
- Failing to require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor
Only one city, Philadelphia, scored positive marks across the board. The rest of the cities had a mixed record, though three—Houston, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis—failed in each and every category.
Perhaps the most galling to me is how few of these cities require cops to stop their colleagues when they get out of control—something that one Department of Justice study found some 84 percent of police officers say they’ve personally witnessed. Surely it is common sense to say, “Don’t let a fellow officer use excessive force.” That’s a good rule not only for civilians but also for the officers’ own safety.
Beyond these four initial points of evaluation, the project found other serious policy oversights, including but not limited to:
In four cities (Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Antonio), cops don’t have to give any verbal warning—even if there’s time to do so—before shooting someone.
In Baltimore, police seeking to incapacitate a suspect are essentially directed to shoot to kill: They’re supposed to aim at the chest, head, and throat.
In Minneapolis, cops don’t have to report tasing, physically attacking, or pulling a gun on someone.
(If your city isn’t on that primary list, check out the project’s collection of use of force policies from police in America’s 100 largest cities—or rather, from the departments which agreed to share this information with the public.)
Transparency is also a problem. Some cities keep their use of force protocols private from their citizens, while others make heavy redactions before putting their policies online. For instance, here’s a portion of El Paso’s use of force policy:
To be fair, this project’s findings aren’t all bad news. Many departments on the 100-city list have good use of force policies in place—policies their colleagues would do well to imitate.