When Bad Cops Happen to Good People
How Power, Immunity, and Corruption Threaten Our Basic Human Rights
- Police Shootings
- Data suggests that nearly 14 people are shot by police every day. The risk is greatest for Black men—a consequence of institutional racism and a loophole in the 13th Amendment that allows slavery as punishment for a crime. Despite attempts to reform policing with body and dash cameras, the number of deadly shootings hasn’t budged, and consequences for killer cops remain lacking. Without better data and meaningful consequences for negligent officers, this horrific pattern will almost certainly continue.
- Police Excessive Force
- The murder of George Floyd put the issue of police excessive force on a national stage, but there are thousands of other cases of excessive force we will never hear about. Every incident of excessive force must be taken seriously. Even non-fatal incidents erode public trust in law enforcement, put American citizens in danger, and serve as alarm bells alerting us to aggressive officers. With no accurate data on when, where, and why the use of force is applied, and with limited punishments for dangerous officers, we cannot put a stop to excessive force without serious legislative effort.
- Police Discrimination
- When an officer pulls someone over without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or arrests a person without probable cause, it’s very likely the officer is illegally profiling based on race, ethnicity, gender presentation, religion, or another status. Why is profiling so common? Part of it may be unintentional implicit bias. Still, it’s also due to a broken law enforcement system that encourages offers to engage in conscious discrimination and psychopathic behavior to get ahead. Discriminatory practices damage the very foundation of America and fundamentally degrade our ability to sustain a just and fair nation.
- Police Sexual Abuse
- Police sexual misconduct is the second most prevalent complaint against law enforcement after excessive force. Data suggests that 40% of police officers involved in sexual misconduct have at least one prior sexual misconduct incident. Why do police departments turn a blind eye to ongoing sexual abuse, and why are officers so rarely prosecuted—let alone convicted—for it? The “Blue Wall of Silence” protects officers without question, and thanks to the way consent is defined under the law, many officers can successfully use the consent defense to defeat sexual abuse charges, even when the power imbalance makes consent impossible. These factors create an environment ripe for sexual abuse.
- Police Bribery and Fraud
- More than 35% of wrongful convictions in the U.S. are caused by police misconduct, including witness tampering, interrogation misconduct, and evidence tampering. A corrupt cop may coerce someone into a false confession, plant evidence at a crime scene, or accept a bribe to look away from criminal conduct—and in most cases, the cop will face no disciplinary action. Police departments allow and even promote corruption through poor supervision, low pay, a culture of impunity, and high pressure to convict. The result is a serious weakening of our right to due process.
- Lies of Law Enforcement
- Lying is ingrained into the very nature of policing. Police are rewarded for arrests no matter how they get them, and prosecutors and judges turn a blind eye to police lies and perjury to keep the convictions coming and the system working. Many officers believe lying is necessary to get dangerous people off the streets faster. Still, the effect is actually the opposite: police lies chip away at the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Overall, it is less detrimental to society for a murderer to go free than it is to promote, encourage, and reward lying by law enforcement.
- Physical Inmate Abuse
- A study of 12 state prisons found that inmates suffered more physical assaults by prison staff than by other inmates. What does it say about the state of law enforcement when officers are engaging in physical violence, sexual abuse, and sadistic torture more often than people actually convicted of crimes? Time and again, courts have ruled that abuse like prison retaliation and solitary confinement violate the Eighth Amendment. Still, the practice continues, and vulnerable groups like women, trans people, and disabled people are targeted the most. We call our prisons “correctional institutions,” but clearly, they are not accomplishing that goal.
- Inmate Neglect
- Many states have outlawed the death penalty, yet law enforcement officers are still executing inmates—just through jail neglect instead of lethal injection or the electric chair. Institutional neglect includes disregarding physical and mental health emergencies, allowing facilities to fall into disrepair, and failing to provide adequate health treatment, nutrition, and exercise, all of which can put inmates in danger. Issues like overcrowding and understaffing exacerbate negligence, but so far, we have failed to prioritize prison reform to solve the root cause of these issues.
- Psychological Inmate Abuse
- Nowhere in our world is the potential for psychological abuse more pronounced than in prison, where freedom and autonomy are taken away; jailers have complete power over the jailed; and degrading insults, threats, and violence are commonplace. Even without abuse from corrections officers and other inmates, studies have shown that prisoners undergo negative psychological changes to survive the prison experience, particularly when they are subjected to solitary confinement. We must change our thinking about prisons and eliminate the psychological abuse that causes unnecessary inmate suffering and undermines the interests of society at large.
- Prosecutor Misconduct
- For prosecutors, convictions mean career advancement, pay raises, and respect. Many will do whatever it takes to achieve the most convictions possible, even if it means engaging in misconduct like introducing false evidence. While innocent citizens spend decades behind bars for wrongful convictions, prosecutorial misconduct is rarely investigated, let alone punished, and there is little data on this issue. Some states have made efforts to hold unethical prosecutors accountable, but we must take drastic measures to put a stop to all wrongful convictions.
- Judicial Misconduct
- Though state, county, and municipal court judges control the futures and freedoms of millions of U.S. citizens in the criminal justice system, they work under very little oversight. Their decisions have a lasting impact on defendants’ lives—and thousands of these defendants have been directly harmed by judicial misconduct like bias, improper application of the law, and failure to recuse. We trust that judges make rulings based on lawful and objective reasoning, but the entire system fails when a judge acts unethically and is not held accountable.
- Civil Rights Violations and the Family
- Police violence has a ripple effect that deeply impacts friends, family, and community members who know the victim, particularly in the Black community. As resilient as many of these individuals are, there is no denying they also experience trauma that negatively affects their physical, mental, and emotional health. While working to put an end to the crisis of police violence, we must also take steps to improve the resources for loved ones who are left to pick up the pieces after a violent police interaction.
- Posting Bail
- Cash bail is inherently unfair because it allows wealthy people to avoid jail time while poor people are forced to serve time they may not deserve. Bail reform efforts over the last 200 years have aimed to make bail more equitable, yet in some cases, they’ve only created more issues. Meanwhile, bail reform critics say reducing the use of bail has emboldened criminals and contributed to a rise in crime. The best solution isn’t an either/or proposition; it’s both/and. Policymakers must address injustice in the bail system while promoting public safety and increasing support services to help potential re-offenders.
- Juveniles and the Criminal Justice System
- The juvenile justice system was created in the 19th century to rehabilitate rather than punish wayward youths. Despite these lofty aspirations, today’s juvenile justice system is plagued with problems: overcrowding, understaffing, deplorable conditions, abuse, and neglect. Children at risk from poverty and crime enter the school-to-prison pipeline and cycle through the justice system, conditioned to think of prison as an inevitable rite of passage. Neither the juvenile court system nor standard police procedures deal effectively with juvenile delinquency, and, in fact, are both counterproductive. We have to view our expenditures in juvenile justice the same way we see funding for education: as investments in the future.
Part I: Bad Cops
Part II: Inmate Rights Violations
Part III: Unjust Courtroom Practices
Part IV: Family Impact and Concerns