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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rodney King and use of force

[ note- this was a multi-student question - my questions and answers are included - the references the other students used are included, but not their responses to the questions or answers]

Has the Rodney King incident increased police and law enforcement accountability? How? What other incidents over the years have contributed to police and law enforcement accountability? What other law enforcement reforms did the Rodney King incident pave the way for?

The Rodney King incident did not increase police accountability. It was the latest stop in the merry-go-round of activist complaints regarding use of force incidents. This has been a continuing process in which first the chokehold was targeted for prohibition, then the baton, and then the Taser. Simply put, every use of force method that police use has been the target of complaint. I do not have the data to either prove or disprove that use of force complaints correlate with whichever force method has been the latest method sanctioned However, this cycle can be perceived anecdotally. The King incident occurred after the chokehold had been forbidden, although “some officers have recently argued for a restoration of the tactic, saying the King case proved that police do not have adequate techniques to restrain suspects”(Rainey, 1993, para. 10) The King case led to criticism of the baton, as “use of the baton would provoke an even greater crisis in the Rodney King affair” (MacDonald, 2003, para. 10 ). A National Institute of Justice report discusses the use of the Taser; “Taser use has increased in recent years...Tasers have caused controversy...Organizations such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union have questioned whether Tasers can be used safely” (Alpert et al., 2011, p. 1). It is not that police accountability has increased as it is that the focus of complaint has moved. LAPD did not even begin to track “meaningful statistical analysis of the lethal, less-lethal and non-lethal force used by LAPD officers” until 2008. (Los Angeles Police Department, 2009, p. 2).

In fact, the King incident led to a DECREASE in police accountability. MacDonald quotes a sergeant in accusing that “After King, a 'culture of cowardice'... descended on the top brass” (2003, para. 13). Former LAPD officer and L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine reinforces this assertion by stating that “under the LAPD ... administration there was an atmosphere where officers were demoralized to the point that they did not aggressively enforce the law” (“Do politically correct police tactics threaten public safety?,” 2007, para. 6).

Does the presence of a police supervisor at an incident such as the Rodney King arrest increase the civil liability of a police or law enforcement agency? How? How is civil liability today different from what it was during the Rodney King incident?

Theoretically yes, because a supervisor's presence during a use of force incident would either indicate that the use of force was within the department's procedures or was a case of deliberate indifference. If the officer's use of force was within policy, then there was no need for supervisory interference; “Good policies and procedures, following legal mandates, maximizing performance, and the use of control documentation, help protect the department in the event of a civil suit”(Wittie, 2011, p. 18). Deliberate indifference is the the standard for civil liability for supervisors; “The supervisor must know about the conduct and facilitate it, approve it, condone it, or turn a blind eye for fear of what he might see” (Civil liability for use of  deadly force – part three: Supervisory liability and negligent/accidental act, 2008, p. 102).However, this applies to individual liability, not to departmental liability, as “The U.S. Supreme Court has specifically defined the framework for suits against individuals and municipalities but has never formally addressed the requirements for §1983 supervisory liability suits”( Perkins, n.d., p. 5).


Alpert, G. P., Smith, M. R., Kaminski, R., Fridell, L., MacDonald, J., & Kubu, B. (2011). Police use of force, Tasers and other less-lethal weapons (No. NCJ 232215). National Insitute of Justice. Retrieved June 5, 2015 from http://www.ecdlaw.info/outlines/11--05%20NIJ%20Force%20Research%20Report.pdf

Civil liability for use of  deadly force – part three: Supervisory liability and negligent/accidental act. (2008). Americans for Effective Law Enforcement (AELE) Monthly Law Journal. Retrieved 5, 2015 from http://www.aele.org/law/2008LRJAN/2008-1MLJ101.pdf

Do politically correct police tactics threaten public safety? #486-487. (2007, May 7). Retrieved June 5, 2015 from http://www.fulldisclosure.net/2007/05/do-politically-correct-police-tactics-threaten-public-safety/

Dudley, W. (1991). Police brutality. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.

Geller, W. (1996). Police violence: Understanding and controlling police abuse of force. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Johns, E. (2012). Police brutality: A lifelong learning process. Retrieved June 6, 2015, from https://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Content/getdoc/bf52c8f8-b78d-40fd-ad88-c3e425c47b28/Johns.aspx
MacDonald, H. (2003, Autumn). Chief Bratton takes on L.A. City Journal. Retrieved June 5, 2015 from http://www.city-journal.org/html/13_4_chief_bratton.html

National Institute of Justice. (2013). Racial profiling. Retrieved online from http://nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/legitimacy/pages/racial-profiling.aspx

Perkins, R. (n.d.). Separating municipal liability from supervisory liability in section 1983 Excessive force suits. Retrieved June 5, 2015 from http://federalism.typepad.com/crime_federalism/files/R.Perkins.Sec.1983.Paper.pdf

Rainey, J. (1993, September 29). Final suit over LAPD’s use of chokehold settled. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 5, 2015 from http://articles.latimes.com/1993-09-29/local/me-40159_1_police-officer

South University Online. (2015). MCJ6401 Critical/Controversial Issues: Law Enforcement: Case 1: The Rodney King Incident and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Retrieved June 5, 2015 from myeclassonline.com

Wittie, M. C. (2011). Police use of force. Politics, Bureaucracy & Justice, 2(2). Retrieved June 5, 2015 from http://www.wtamu.edu/webres/File/Academics/College%20of%20Education%20and%20Social%20Sciences/Department%20of%20Political%20Science%20and%20Criminal%20Justice/PBJ/2011/2n2_03Wittie.pdf


One problem with force escalation on an incremental, or "plus one" basis is that it places both the officer and the suspect in greater danger with each level of escalation.  My personal opinion is that in the extreme case it can encourage suspects to resist, as they attempt to game the arresting officer's level of commitment to the encounter.

Going back to Rodney King, since the use of the chokehold as a control method had been banned, the option left to the officers was the baton, which as Group 3 pointed out, the officers thought they were acting in accordance with law in using.  In the trial, the judge found that only the last 6 baton strikes were illegal.

Had the officers been able to use the chokehold, would the encounter have been less brutal?  After the King incident, LAPD reconsidered the issue, "considering reviving a form of the chokehold--effectively banned nine years ago--as a safer tool than the baton in subduing combative suspects in non-life-threatening situations" (
Rohrlich, 1991, para. 1).

The problem, of course, is that EVERY use of force method presents risks of injury and death.  People have died in baton beatings, they have died from chokeholds, people have died from Tasers, they have died from rubber rounds, and they have died from pepper spray.  There is no such thing as a 100% non-lethal option.  And yet, police must use force in the performance of their duty.  Ergo, there will always be deaths resulting from the "non-lethal" subdual of suspects.

This does not make it moral or legal to use excessive force, however, what a cop in extemis and an ambulance-chasing lawyer would consider "objective reasonableness" are always going to be very different things.
Rohrlich, T. (1991, September 2). L.A. Police Considering Reviving the Chokehold :  Law enforcement: Advocates say its use is safer than the baton. Opponents say it can kill, and has. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1991-09-02/news/mn-1113_1_police-commission


What I would have to do would be to look of number of deaths in an arrest situation and then compare that to the number of deaths in an arrest situation where the suspect resisted arrest.   There are always going to be instances in which a cop overreacts or takes out personal frustrations on a prisoner;  this is just as much a facet of human nature as is crime itself.
But how prevalent is that as a percentage of arrest related deaths?  if you look at the vast majority of publicized cases, the subject is resisting arrest during the incident.  Any use of force can result in death; use of pepper spray can cause respitory problems, using a chokehold on a resisting suspect can result in an air cutoff as opposed to a blood cut-off, etc etc.
How about pursuits?  A panicked driver fleeing arrest is speeding and looking at the emergency lights in his mirror and plows into a tree.  Is this this police's fault?

This is a personal opinion, but if someone is resisting arrest, and he gets killed, I don't really care.  I watched the video of some idiot getting shot last week during the floods;  the deputies were yelling at him to get out of floodwaters, and he tried to tackle the deputy.  I have no sorrow for him.  People put themselves and the policeman in danger, and then expect miracles from policemen who may be weaker than the subject, exhausted from the many hours of overtime police in budget crushed jurisdictions are expected to work, or surprised from a sudden attack, and then expect that policeman to make some Hollywood martial art
move or the Vulcan nerve pinch and make a clean subdual.  That is not realistic.

Do we want to lower arrest related deaths?  Minimize law enforcement contacts.  End the War on Drugs.  Do away with the 175,000 regulations and petty ticketing.  Stop arresting people for not mowing their lawns ( I quit using Reddit after a 4 day argument in which people though it was just grand to put people in jail for an unmowed lawn).  Worry about
mala in se crime and public safety.

Do we want less  conflict between the black community and police?  Go back to ending the Drug War, which causes of 60% of street contacts between police and black men  (unsourced, I have to look this up)

The cops have a job to do; using force is part of that job.  If criminals were cooperative in the first place, we wouldn't need police.  Hell, NORMAL citizens can be uncooperative under circumstances.  Here is a video of use of force in crowd control


Not criminals, just belligerent drunks.  However, if the idiot that got peppersprayed had asthma, he could have died.

Use of force has potentially lethal consequences.  Stupid people will instigate use of force incidents in numbers that will make future deaths a statistic certainty.


This kind of propaganda does lead to a demoralized police force.  NYPD officers turned their back to Diblasio after he showed up at a funeral he was asked not to attend (Schabner, 2014).  Many NYPD officers feel that the officer (whose funeral that was) was murdered in an atmosphere of hate partly fueld by previous remarks of Diblasio's.
This is a nation-wide affair; "rank-and-file brethren in police departments nationwide, says police feel under siege and demoralized by the bias against them" (Bello, 2014, para. 4).  Policemen understand thst there is a "select group out there now who are making us out to be the bad guys"
(Bello, 2014, para. 11).
Bello quotes a police union leader who says that this bias is preventing police from doing their job; "
"The biggest fear now is that police may become so afraid of getting in trouble that they won't take risks when answering calls" (2014, para. 21).
This result of this hesitance is higher crime rates.  In Baltimore, where the union admits that the police are "under siege" (CNN, 2015, 2:10), the police are afraid of getting arrested for performing their duty.  As a result, "Arrests have dropped sharply" and the city has had a record amount of murders (PoliceOne. 2015, para. 3,1).  This is a pattern repeated in New York, Ferguson, and every other city in which this anti-police propaganda has been employed.
Bello, M. (n.d.). “It can be fearful”: Police feeling under siege. Retrieved June 7, 2015, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/12/22/police-react-shootings/20773395/

CNN. (2015, May 28). Baltimore union: 'Police are under siege'. Retrieved June 7, 2015 from

PoliceOne. (2015, May 31). Baltimore sees its 40th homicide in May, a record month. 
Retrieved June 7, 2015 from http://www.policeone.com/patrol-issues/articles/8559540-Baltimore-sees-its-40th-homicide-in-May-a-record-month/

Schabner, D. (2014, December 27). Hundreds turn their back on de Blasio at NYPD Officer's funeral. ABC News.  Retrieved June 7, 2015 from http://abcnews.go.com/US/nypd-officers-turn-back-de-blasio-cops-funeral/story?id=27851746 


The incident was misrepresented completely.

At the following link, at approximately 25% down the page, there is a frame by frame breakdown of the video at the time the officer drew his gun.  Two people approached him rapidly and one mimed drawing a gun on the officer, at which point the officer drew his gun.


from your article, para. 7 

"Despite the disturbing allegations, sources say there is currently no evidence that the men were involved in improper shootings or other misconduct"

I think this comes down to cultural and personal expectations of police work.  The majority of cops join up to fight crime.  That is going to reflect in those officers'  attitude to the use of force ( and this goes back to the Hobbesian part of the we/they viewpoint in the other discussion).  Taking criminals off the street is a "win" in that viewpoint.  In addition, the proper use of lethal force is about as intense and objective  test of professionalism in police work as there can be.  I can see a policeman being proud of having successfully resolved that situation, even if most cops would rather not take life.

On the other hand, I understand that there is a mentality that police should resolve enforcement situations with the least amount of force as possible, and preferably none.  The people that have this mentality would be horrified of the first mentality.

When examples of officers that subscribe to the first mentality are brought to public attention, there are going to be more people that hold the second mentality, and there will be a public outcry.

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