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Howard Safir: Police Brutality Is Inexcusable — and Rare

Apr 08, 2015
Ideas
Howard Safir is the former commissioner of the New York City Police Department (1996-2000) and Chairman and CEO of Vigilant Resources International (VRI).

The shooting in North Charleston, S.C., is an enormous tragedy. The horrific video that is now being seen around the world will do a great deal to hurt the image of police officers and police departments.

Are our police departments brutal, racist, and out of control? By every objective measure they are not. When we have incidents like the Brown case in Ferguson and the Garner case in New York, the media paints with a broad brush, as if these were the norm. That is not the case. Only 1% of encounters between police and citizens result in any use of force at all. Every year hundreds of thousands of police officers put their uniforms on and have millions of interactions with the public. In 9 out of 10 cases, citizens are happy with the interaction, and in 99 out of 100, no force is used. Police brutality and misconduct are inexcusable. They are also relatively rare. Police officers are human beings — they make mistakes and sometimes even commit criminal acts. When that happens, they should be held accountable, and they are.

Police officers have seconds to decide whether to use their firearms in any given violent confrontation. The general rule is that it must be in protection of your own life or the life of another. Those seconds, and the training and judgment of the individual police officer, change everyone’s lives forever. Having been involved in a shooting early in my career, I ­remember to this day how quickly it all ­developed, and how I reacted instinctively based on my training. If an officer hesitates too long, he could indeed join the 126 who lost their lives in the line of duty last year.

Our citizens gain nothing from demoralized police forces that believe they do not have public support. Demoralized forces will not be as effective as they can be, and that would have a tremendously negative impact on public safety. Effective police departments rely on the public and the community every day. It must not be “us vs. them” but officers and civilians working together to protect law-abiding citizens.

Policing is a noble profession. Men and women put their lives on the line every day. When one of them commits a crime, or is racist or brutal, swift and appropriate punishment should be carried out. But to ascribe these traits to the majority of police officers is wrong and untrue.

Trayvon Martin
Trayvon MartinMartin Family/AP

Trayvon Martin

Feb. 26, 2012 Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shoots unarmed 17-yearold Trayvon Martin after an altercation in a Sanford, Fla., subdivision. The incident sparked a national conversation about race and prompted President Obama to say that were he to have a son, “he’d look like Trayvon.” Zimmerman, who argued that he acted in self-defense, was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July 2013.

Ernest Satterwhite

Feb. 9, 2014 Ernest Satterwhite, 68, is shot and killed in his driveway by a white public-safety officer in North Augusta, S.C., following a slow-speed car chase. Justin Craven fired multiple rounds through the driver-side door of the vehicle. The officer alleges that Satterwhite reached for his weapon; Satterwhite’s family disputes the allegation. Craven was charged with a felony for discharging his gun into an occupied vehicle on April 7, the same day Michael Slager was charged with murdering Walter Scott. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

An undated photo of Dontre Hamilton, provided by Dameion Perkins.
An undated photo of Dontre Hamilton, provided by Dameion Perkins. AP

Dontre Hamilton

April 30, 2014 Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney fatally shoots Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed 31-year-old African American with a history of mental illness, in a downtown park. Manney alleged that Hamilton, who appeared to be homeless, attempted to grab his baton during a pat down. Manney says he shot Hamilton 14 times in self-defense. Manney was fired in October but was not charged in the shooting.

Eric Garner
Eric Garner, right, poses with his children during a family outing.National Action Network/AP

Eric Garner

July 17, 2014 Eric Garner, 43, dies after being wrestled to the ground as New York City police attempted to arrest him for selling illegal cigarettes. In a cell-phone video recorded by a bystander, Garner can be heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” The phrase was soon adopted as a rallying cry by protesters. On Dec. 3, a grand jury decided not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s death.

Mothers who have lost sons due to police action, including Tressa Sherrod (R), mother of 22-year-old John Crawford III, attend a press conference calling for police accountability and reform on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 10, 2014.
Mothers who have lost sons due to police action, including Tressa Sherrod (R), mother of 22-year-old John Crawford III, attend a press conference calling for police accountability and reform on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 10, 2014.Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

John Crawford III

Aug. 5, 2014 John Crawford III, 22, is shot inside a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio, after picking up an air rifle from the shelf. While police say they repeatedly asked Crawford, who was black, to drop the gun, surveillance video shows that police shot the man soon after approaching him.

Demonstrators autograph a drawing of Michael Brown during a protest against the fatal police shooting, in Atlanta on Aug. 18, 2014.
Demonstrators autograph a drawing of Michael Brown during a protest against the fatal police shooting, in Atlanta on Aug. 18, 2014.David Goldman—AP

Michael Brown

Aug. 9, 2014 Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer, fatally shoots unarmed 18-yearold Michael Brown, setting off months of unrest in the St. Louis area. Protests erupted nationwide in November, when Wilson was not indicted in Brown’s death. But the shooting prompted a Justice Department investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. In March, after the scathing report found instances of overt racism among officers and a pattern of arrests targeting black residents, Ferguson’s police chief and city manager resigned.

Levar Jones

Sept. 4, 2014 Levar Jones, 35, is shot multiple times by 31-year-old Sean Groubert, a white South Carolina state trooper, seconds after being stopped for a seat-belt violation, all of which was caught on the officer’s dash cam. Jones, who was black and unarmed, survived and can be heard on a video asking, “Why did you shoot me?” Groubert was later fired and charged with assault and battery, which carries a sentence of 20 years in prison. A verdict is expected later this year.

Demonstrators protest the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice block Public Square in Cleveland on Nov. 25, 2014.
Demonstrators protest over the shooting death of Tamir Rice in Public Square in Cleveland on Nov. 25, 2014.Tony Dejak—AP

Tamir Rice

Nov. 22, 2014 Tamir Rice, 12, is fatally shot and killed in a Cleveland park after police responded to a 911 call reporting a person with a gun. The caller warned that the gun may have been fake, but the officers say they didn’t know that. Officer Timothy Loehmann shot Rice within seconds of arriving on the scene. Rice’s gun turned out to have been a toy. A group of political and religious leaders have called for criminal charges to be brought against the officers involved, and a grand jury plans to hear evidence in the case.

The daughter of Rumain Brisbon (L) begins crying as she kneels in prayer at a vigil for her father who was fatally shot by police, in Phoenix, Ariz. on Dec. 8, 2014.
The daughter of Rumain Brisbon (L) begins crying as she kneels in prayer at a vigil for her father who was fatally shot by police, in Phoenix, Ariz. on Dec. 8, 2014.Deanna Dent—Reuters

Rumain Brisbon

Dec. 2, 2014 Rumain Brisbon, 34, is shot and killed by a Phoenix police officer following a drug-related traffic stop in which Brisbon, who was black, fled, refused arrest and appeared to be reaching for a weapon. Brisbon was shot by Mark Rine, a 30-year-old white officer. The incident set off several demonstrations in downtown Phoenix. On April 1, a Maricopa County attorney announced that criminal charges would not be brought against Rine.

People pay their respects at an ever-growing makeshift memorial where a homeless man known as "Africa" who was shot by police, in Los Angeles on March 3, 2015.
People pay their respects at an ever-growing makeshift memorial where a homeless man known as "Africa" who was shot by police, in Los Angeles on March 3, 2015.Frederic J. Brown—AFP/Getty Images

Charly "Africa" Leundeu Keunang

March 1, 2015 Los Angeles police officers shoot and kill a black homeless man named Charly “Africa” Leundeu Keunang, following a confrontation in the city’s Skid Row, an area with a heavy concentration of homeless people. Officers said the man attempted to take one of their guns.

Xiaxong Carter, 10, daughter of Naeschylus Vinzant, wipes away a tear while she holds onto her mother, Laneisha Butler during a protest against the fatal police shooting of her father, in Aurora, Colo. on March 11, 2015.
Xiaxong Carter, 10, daughter of Naeschylus Vinzant, wipes away a tear while she holds onto her mother, Laneisha Butler during a protest against the fatal police shooting of her father, in Aurora, Colo. on March 11, 2015.Brent Lewis—Denver Post/Getty Images

Naeschylus Vinzant

March 6, 2015 Naeschylus Vinzant, a 37-yearold unarmed black man, is shot in the chest and killed by Paul Jerothe, a police officer in Aurora, Colo. At the time of the shooting, Vinzant was violating his parole and had removed his ankle bracelet. He also had a violent criminal history but was unarmed as officers tried to arrest him. Jerothe, a SWAT team medic officer, has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Demonstrators prepare to march in protest against the fatal police shooting of Tony Robinson in Madison, Wis. on March 11, 2015.
Demonstrators prepare to march in protest against the fatal police shooting of Tony Robinson in Madison, Wis. on March 11, 2015.Michael P. King—AP

Tony Robinson

March 6, 2015 Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old biracial man, is shot by a white Madison, Wis., police officer after Robinson was allegedly jumping in and out of traffic. Matt Kenny, a 45-year-old officer who was exonerated in a 2007 shooting of an African-American man, got into an altercation with Robinson when he entered an apartment in which Robinson was reportedly acting aggressively. Kenny, who says he was attacked by Robinson, was placed on administrative leave with pay pending the results of an investigation.

Protesters carry a photo of Anthony Hill while marching through the street demonstrating Hill's shooting death by a police officer in Decatur, Ga. on March 11, 2015.
Protesters carry a photo of Anthony Hill while marching through the street demonstrating Hill's shooting death by a police officer in Decatur, Ga. on March 11, 2015.David Goldman—AP

Anthony Hill

March 9, 2015 Anthony Hill, a black 27-yearold Air Force veteran, is shot and killed in Chamblee, Ga., by Robert Olsen, a white DeKalb County Police Department officer. Hill was naked and unarmed at the time of the incident and was apparently knocking on multiple apartment doors inside a housing complex. Olsen has been placed on leave. An investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is currently under way.

People participate in a rally to protest the death of Walter Scott, who was killed by police in a shooting, outside City Hall in North Charleston, S.C. on April 8, 2015.
People participate in a rally to protest the death of Walter Scott, who was killed by police in a shooting, outside City Hall in North Charleston, S.C. on April 8, 2015.Richard Ellis—Getty Images

Walter Scott

April 4, 2015 Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man, is shot and killed as he’s apparently fleeing North Charleston officer Michael Slager, 33. Slager, who is white, alleges that Scott reached for his Taser. A video recorded by a bystander appears to show Scott running away from the officer as he’s shot in the back eight times.


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