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Our mission is to reduce the number of injuries and deaths due to injuries, 
through prevention, improved trauma care, and improved rehabilitation.

 





"
While they were pepper spraying me, some of the remaining officers shoved Alejandro to the ground on top of Gina and her 5 year old daughter." 
Andres Soto


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The issue is national in scope and reaches people all across this country. For too many people, especially in minority communities, the trust that is so 
essential to effective policing does not exist because residents believe that police have used excessive force, that law enforcement is too aggressive, that 
law enforcement is biased, disrespectful, and unfair." Janet Reno, April 1999

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 4, 2002

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Broken Bonds of Trust Police Abuse and Misconduct 

Human interactions depend upon a basic level of trust. When we
leave our homes each day and go out into the world, we trust that other drivers will obey the traffic laws, we trust that other citizens will
fulfill their responsibilities as members of a civil society, and we trust that help will be provided to us should we require it. 

When this trust is violated, we can become paralyzed with fear, and in extreme cases, suffer injuries, and even, death. In too many places in the United States and around the globe today, people are struggling with this violation of trust and safety. 

A high level of trust between the community and the police is a fundamental necessity for a civil society. Police are charged with the special responsibility of protecting us and enforcing our laws, and therefore, are in positions of power in our communities. But too often throughout the U.S. the police act irresponsibly, abuse their power, and violate our trust. Our newspapers frequently report incidences of police misconduct, abuse, and brutality, and frequently the victims are from a vulnerable population, including racial and ethnic minorities, the homeless, the mentally ill, and young people. For example, recently a Sacramento, CA officer was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in his cruiser, and was reported to have a long history of abuse charges. In Richmond, CA during the weekend of Cinco de Mayo, Latino residents were targeted by police and jailed and others were detained, pepper-sprayed, and
injured for simply questioning police activities in their neighborhood (Click here to read a personal story about police misconduct in Richmond, CA) Similar instances of police misconduct occur frequently around the nation. 

Barriers to Accountability 

In its report Shielded from Justice, Human Rights Watch reports that "Police abuse remains one of the most serious and divisive human rights violations in the United States. The excessive use of force by police officers, including unjustified shootings, severe beatings, fatal chokings, and rough treatment, persist because overwhelming barriers to accountability make it possible for officers who commit human rights violations to escape due punishment and often to repeat their offenses." 

Shielded from Justice looked at police misconduct in 14 cities and found that each of these cities lacked effective public accountability and transparency (open and public sharing of information and documentation) and repeatedly failed to appropriately respond to officers who have committed such violations. 

What Needs to Be Done! 

The Trauma Foundation believes that a there should be independent oversight committees charged with monitoring the police and holding the agencies and personnel accountable for police misconduct, abuse, and brutality of all sorts. 

What You Can Do!

  • See if your city has a Police Commission or similar civilian oversight body.
  • Check out the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) web site for recommendations on types of civilian oversight committees and their powers.
  • Assess how well your city's oversight committee functions. How are its members selected. In what ways can it be strengthened?
  • In addition, there are state and federal resources for complaints against the police, particularly if your city or town does not have a civilian oversight body. See your state Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In Rights for All, Amnesty International made a series of detailed recommendations to the Federal government and local and state authorities to combat police abuse. A summary of these recommendations, and some additional recommendations, are given below: 

State, federal and local authorities should ensure that abuses including torture, brutality and other excessive force by police officers will not be tolerated; that officers will be held accountable for their actions; and that those responsible for abuses will be brought to justice.  International human rights standards on the use of force and firearms, and on the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and discriminatory treatment, should be fully incorporated into police codes of conduct and training and strictly enforced.  

The Administration should seek, and Congress provide, adequate funding to allow the Justice Department to fulfill its mandate under the Police Accountability Act provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to compile, publish and regularly analyze national data on police use of excessive force (including all fatal shootings and deaths in custody).  Adequate resources should also be provided to allow the Justice Department to continue to pursue "pattern
and practice" lawsuits against police departments engaging in widespread or systematic abuses. 

Funding should be provided to enable US Attorneys in jurisdictions throughout the USA to increase investigations and prosecutions of police officers suspected of violating federal criminal civil rights violations. 

Police departments should be required to keep detailed records on the use of force and to report publicly at regular intervals, providing statistical data on shootings and other use of force, in-custody deaths and injuries. They should also provide data on the number and type of complaints filed, and on their disposition and outcome. 

The federal government should increase its use of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to seek to eliminate racially discriminatory practices by law enforcement agencies.  The Administration should actively support passage of the Traffic Stops Statistics Act of 1999, in order that the extent of racial and ethnic profiling in police traffic stops can be comprehensively and systematically evaluated. Meanwhile, all states and local agencies should follow the lead taken by some US police departments by voluntarily setting up their own monitoring systems. 

All police departments should introduce training programs designed to minimize the risk of unnecessary force and death or injury in certain common situations, including vehicle pursuits and coping with mentally ill or disturbed individuals. Training programs should also include gender issues and sensitivity to minority groups. 

All police departments should ban dangerous restraint procedures such as hogtying and chokeholds.

The federal authorities should establish an independent, national inquiry into the use of OC (pepper) spray by law enforcement agencies, including a review of all deaths and injuries reported after use of the spray. Meanwhile, police departments which continue to authorize the spray should introduce strict guidelines and limitations on its use, with clear reporting and monitoring procedures. 

Law enforcement and correctional agencies should ban the use of remote control electro-shock stun belts and suspend the use of all other electro-shock weapons pending the outcome of a rigorous independent inquiry into the use and effects of such equipment. 

All police authorities should ensure that police canine policies conform to best practice and are designed to minimize the risk of unnecessary force and injury. 

All police departments should establish early warning systems to identify and deal with officers involved in human rights violations. They should establish clear reporting systems and keep detailed records in order to identify, and take remedial action in respect of, any patterns of abuse, including racial bias or other discriminatory treatment. 

There should be greater transparency in the investigation of complaints of human rights violations. Complainants should be kept regularly informed of the progress of investigations. The outcome of all criminal, disciplinary and administrative investigations into alleged violations, and into all disputed shootings and deaths in custody, should be made public promptly after completion of the investigation. 

State, local and federal authorities should establish effective, independent oversight bodies for their respective police agencies, with powers to investigate and review complaints against the police as well as broader policy issues and patterns of concern, and to issue detailed public reports. 

A Personal Story of Police Misconduct in Richmond, CA