All 50 US states fail to meet global police use of force standards

Every state in the US fails to comply with international standards on the lethal use of force by law enforcement officers, according to a report by Amnesty International USA, which also says 13 US states fall beneath even lower legal standards enshrined in US constitutional law and that nine states currently have no laws at all to deal with the issue.

“While law enforcement in the United States is given the authority to use lethal force, there is no equal obligation to respect and preserve human life. It’s shocking that while we give law enforcement this extraordinary power, so many states either have no regulation on their books or nothing that complies with international standards,” Amnesty USA’s executive director, Steven Hawkins said.

Amnesty found that in all 50 states and Washington DC, written statutes were too broad to fit international standards, concluding: “None of the laws establish the requirement that lethal force may only be used as a last resort with non-violent means and less harmful means to be tried first. The vast majority of laws do not require officers to give a warning of their intent to use firearms.”

via All 50 US states fail to meet global police use of force standards, report finds | US news | The Guardian.

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United States: Force Against Prisoners With Mental Illness

Jail and prison staff throughout the United States have used unnecessary, excessive, and even malicious force against prisoners with mental disabilities, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released last week.

The 127-page report, “Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons,” details incidents in which correctional staff have deluged prisoners with painful chemical sprays, shocked them with powerful electric stun weapons, and strapped them for days in restraining chairs or beds. Staff have broken prisoners’ jaws, noses, ribs; left them with lacerations requiring stitches, second-degree burns, deep bruises, and damaged internal organs. In some cases, the force used has led to their death.

Staff in US correctional facilities are authorized to use force when necessary to control dangerous or highly disruptive prisoners. But as Human Rights Watch found, staff at times respond with violence when prisoners engage in behavior that is symptomatic of their mental health problems and even when it is minor and non-threatening, such as urinating on the floor, using profane language, banging on a cell door, masturbating, complaining about not receiving a meal, or refusing to come out of a cell. Staff also sometimes use force to punish inmates who annoy or anger them.

via United States: Force Against Prisoners With Mental Illness | Human Rights Watch.

Guilty of Being Poor

Here’s something you might not know about Ferguson, Missouri: In this city of 21,000 people, 16,000 have outstanding arrest warrants. In fact, in 2013 alone, authorities issued 9,000 warrants for over 32,000 offenses.

That’s one-and-a-half offenses for every resident of Ferguson in just one year.

Most of the warrants are for minor offenses such as traffic or parking violations. And they’re part of a structural pattern of abuse, according to a recent Department of Justice investigation.

The damning report found that the city prioritized aggressive revenue collection over public safety. It documented unconstitutional policing, violations of due process, and racial bias against the majority black population.

One woman’s story illustrates what’s happening to more and more people as municipal revenues become the focus of police departments all over the country.

It began with a parking ticket back in 2007, which saddled a low-income black woman with a $151 fine and extra fees. In economic distress and frequently homeless, she was unable to pay. So she was hit with new fines and fees — and eventually an arrest warrant that landed her in jail.

By 2010, she’d paid the court $550 for the single parking violation, but more penalties had accrued. She attempted to make payments of $25 and $50, but the court rejected those partial installments.

Even after being jailed and paying hundreds of dollars above the original fine, she still owes the court $541 — all because she lacked the money to pay the initial fees.

This woman’s story is repeating itself in town after town.

It’s even worse for the homeless. A majority of cities now prohibit sitting or lying down in public, and nearly a quarter make it a crime to ask for food or money.

via Guilty of Being Poor | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.

It’s Not Just Ferguson

English: Timeline of yearly U.S criminal justi...

The Department of Justice confirmed on March 8 what many of Ferguson’s residents have been saying, and protesting against, for months: the city racks up millions of dollars each year in fines and court fees by illegally harassing its black population. What the federal government did not say, however, is that the practice of criminalizing black people to raise money for police and court systems is not rare; local governments across the country have been doing it for years—ironically, to offset the spiraling costs of the incarceration boom of the past three decades.

In an afternoon press conference, Attorney General Eric Holder described Ferguson as “a community where local authorities consistently approached law enforcement not as a means for protecting public safety, but as a way to generate revenue.” Holder said the pressure to keep revenue flowing has generated constitutional violations at “nearly every level of Ferguson’s law enforcement system”—including inappropriate use of force.

“Once the system is primed for maximizing revenue—starting with fines and fine enforcement—the city relies on the police force to serve, essentially, as a collection agency for the municipal court rather than a law enforcement entity,” said Holder, later adding, “Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them.”

Holder’s conclusion, coming after an in-depth, six-month investigation in Ferguson, could have easily described many cities and local jurisdictions across the country.

Ironically, the trend appears to have been driven by the incarceration wave that preceded it. Many of the laws that states now use to impose court fees and fines were passed in the 1990s and early 2000’s. “Jurisdictions began to look for sources of funding to support their criminal justice systems,” explains Alexes Harris, a sociologist at the University of Washington who is researching the topic now.

“As a result of…hyper-incarceration that began in the mid-1970’s, systems of government could no longer afford what they were doing. Essentially, policy makers decided to shift the burden of the costs of prosecution, incarceration and criminal justice management onto the backs of the people it processed.”

While the court fees and fines generate revenue, Harris argues they are also about social control. “The legal justification for creating layers and layers of policies that allow courts to assess fines and fees from traffic tickets to misdemeanors to felony offenses is that jurisdictions need money to run their systems of justice. But in practice—in effect—the system turns into a strict system of control, and this control is over poor people.”

via It’s Not Just Ferguson | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.

Law Enforcement Officers Find Better Ways to Work With Mentally Ill

When a police officer in Memphis killed a mentally ill man who was wielding a knife, the public outcry was strong and swift. Now, 28 years later, that tragedy has given rise to a movement to teach police how to better deal with people with mental illness they encounter in the community. That movement is Crisis Intervention Training, the so-called “Memphis model” of policing that was developed in the wake of the 1987 tragedy. CIT is a curriculum to teach law enforcement officers how to recognize when someone is having a psychiatric episode, how to de-escalate these potentially explosive situations and how to keep people from jail when they need mental health treatment.

This week, hundreds of law enforcement officers along with mental health advocates and providers convened at the McKimmon Center on the NC State University campus in Raleigh for a biannual conference on helping all those people work together better to serve North Carolinians with mental health problems.

“We now have about a 26 percent rate of officers around the state who have been trained since 2013,” said Jack Register, the incoming head of the North Carolina chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “The idea is that now we have people who understand that what they’re experiencing with someone is not criminality but psychiatric concerns.”

“You have to slow down and take your time with the person and don’t rush the situation,” Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page said. “Sometimes people are in a point in their psychosis that you can’t talk to them. But I found more often than not, we can talk to them and calm then down.”

He said this kind of interaction can save lives.

The evidence backs Page up: Research has shown that “police-based diversions” and CIT reduced the number of arrests for people with serious mental illnesses. In one study, the number of re-arrests for people with psychiatric problems dropped by 58 percent after officers were trained. The CIT training benefits officers too; other studies have shown that fewer law enforcement personnel were injured after training.

The 40-hour training program includes basic information about mental illnesses and how to recognize them, information about and visits to providers in the local mental health system, a review of laws and contact with people with mental health problems and their family members. The goal is to help officers learn to recognize potentially explosive situations and defuse them, getting people to treatment rather than jail, or worse.

“Basic CIT … is basically set up as a diversion model to keep low-risk offenders from going into the jail system on low-level crimes as opposed to getting them into the mental health system for services,” said Lori Ray, CIT coordinator for the Durham PD.

“Our view as caregivers is the CIT training is a big plus to reduce the amount of violence that might be the normal reaction of a police officer coming in with a command presence and issuing orders that won’t be followed,” said Tom Hadley, a board member of the Wake County chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). “The normal officer might not recognize that there’s something else going on with this person. We’re trying to avoid violence from either side.”

via Law Enforcement Officers Find Better Ways to Work With Mentally Ill | North Carolina Health News.
and Training Improves Police Response to Mental Health Crisis | North Carolina Health News.

‘Tactical Retreat’ Policy Would Emphasize Safety In Police Interactions

The St. Louis Police Department is eyeing a new strategy to deescalate tension between an officer and a suspect before a scene turns violent. Dubbed, “tactical retreat,” law enforcement officials would remove themselves from a scene to reduce the need to use deadly force.

Tactical retreat entails stepping away from a scene until an officer arrives for back up, which also allows time for a more thorough assessment of how to approach a suspect. Proponents believe that doing so is a sign of “smart policing” that can avoid deadly encounters.

However, there are many officers who contend that tactical training is actually counterproductive. On one hand, knowing that officers are expected to step back may empower suspects to the detriment of police and others close to the scene. Others view withdrawal as a sign of weakness. Moreover, many officers argue that implementing a tactical retreat policy actually undermines police efforts to uphold public safety, insofar as it paints them as the aggressors who need to be reformed.

John Firman, the Director of Development of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, disagrees with opponents of the deescalation method. “The only case you wouldn’t do that is if someone’s life is critically at risk at that time, for instance if the person is shooting at someone else,” he explained. “The real question is, ‘How soon do you need compliance’? If a person is mentally ill and they’re wandering around and screaming at people, they’re not going to comply. If I’m an autistic child and you say ‘stand up,’ I’m not going to comply. How quickly do you need compliance, how much do you need, and what are the threats to safety? A smart officer is going to assess all of that and do anything necessary to minimize potential that there’s going to be further damage.”

via ‘Tactical Retreat’ Policy Would Emphasize Safety In Police Interactions | ThinkProgress.

Cleveland police tactics violated rights of citizens

The Obama administration on Thursday issued a report accusing the Cleveland police department of using excessive and deadly force against citizens in violation of their constitutional rights, the latest development in a growing national debate over the fairness of local police tactics, especially in minority communities.

According to the Justice Department report, Cleveland police engaged in a “pattern or practice” of unnecessary force — including shooting residents, striking them in the head and spraying them with chemicals. The Justice Department and the city agreed to establish an independent monitor to oversee changes in the police department, including better training and supervision of officers. And the Justice Department urged Cleveland civic leaders to hold police accountable for their improper actions when necessary.

“In recent days, millions of people throughout the nation have come together — bound by grief and anguish — in response to the tragic deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference. “The tragic losses of these and far too many other Americans . . . have raised urgent national questions. And they have sparked an important conversation about the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect.’’

via Cleveland police tactics violated rights of citizens, Justice Department probe finds – The Washington Post.