1. In 1989, 5 minority teenagers were convicted in the attack and rape of the Central Park Jogger. Then Mayor Ed Koch branded it “the crime of the century” and words like “wolf pack” entered the urban vocabulary. It was a racially charged era that feared mobs which led to the teen’s quick arrest and conviction (Milton, 2012). Although they knew nothing of the attack, they were forced into “confessing” by New York City Police. 13 years later their convictions were overturned in a civil rights lawsuit that began with their false confessions and ended in a miscarriage of justice. (Milton, 2012). Two Constitutional Amendments relevant to the case are the 5th Amendment, which prohibits an individual from being a witness against oneself (U.S. Constitution, amend. V) and the 14th Amendment, the equal protection clause (U.S. Constitution, amend. XIV).
How far can the police go in seeking the truth? The Central Park 5 case tells the story of 5 minority youth who were arrested and wrongfully convicted of the brutal rape and beating of a white woman in New York City. Although no physical evidence was found linking the boys to the crime, police coerced confessions from the youth using threats and false promises. In his documentary, Ken Burns (2013) explores the violations of due process by the police and prosecutors in the case. Burns shows how police put overwhelming pressure on the boys to confess, and breached the code of ethics by interviewing the boys before they were charged, in the absence of counsel, and for over 24 hours. In addition, police broke protocol on collecting evidence and questioning suspects in the case. Defense attorneys were unqualified. At one point in the film, Yusef Salaam is alarmed to see his attorney sleeping through testimony (Burns, 2013). With confessions secured, police turned a blind eye to the rest of the evidence and the 5 youth were tried and convicted based solely on their testimony against themselves (Milton, 2012).
The Equal Protection Clause was the basis behind the Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) case which dismantled segregation and was the basis for rejection discrimination among people belonging to other groups as well. 1990 New Yorkers wanted the 5 youth to be guilty and when the desire was that strong it superceded facts and truth (Milton, 2012).
The response to the Central Park Five has come to represent unequal treatment of racial and ethnic minority males by the criminal justice system and the injustice now seems clear (Gruenewald, 2015), what is less obvious is why the news media failed to question the handing ling of the case.
The societal and financial costs of the false confessions were also astounding (Gruenewald, 2015). Each man served prison time. Reports surfaced of a $40 million dollar settlement with New York City. All of this does not factor in the cost of incarcerating the 5 men for the total of 40 years, which cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per inmate, per year.
There were also societal costs associated with violations of due process. Matias Reyes, who later confessed to be the real attacker of the jogger and who’s DNA matched evidence from the crime, went on to rape again, multiple times and murdered a pregnant woman (Gruenewald, 2015).
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1. Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).
2. Burns, K. (2013). The Central Park Five (Video File).
3.Gruenewald, Jeff. 2015. “Savage Portrayals: Race, Media, and the Central Park Jogger Story.” American Journal Of Sociology 121, no. 2: 611-613.
4. Milton, David. (2012, December 18) “Anatomy of a wrongful conviction: The Central Park Five, a new documentary film.” Retrieved from www.civil-rights-law.com.
5. U.S. Constitution, amend. V.
6. U.S. Constitution, amend. XI.
2. Terry v. Ohio (1968) established what is now known as stop and frisk, or a Terry stop (Torres, 2015). This means law enforcement can stop anyone they reasonably suspect has committed, is committing, or will commit a crime and initiate a frisk if they suspect the person is armed and dangerous. Although considered a pro-active police practice, a stop and frisk cannot be initiated without meeting the minimum legal requirements of reasonable suspicion (Avidij, 2014). Studies of the effectiveness of stop and frisk show it only produces modest results and an inconclusive reduction in crime (Rosenfeld and Fornago, 2014) and legality studies find strong evidence of violations of the 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure and the 14th Amendment protections against discrimination (Fagan, 2010). Specifically, evidence points to large racial and ethical disparities in the hands of stop and frisk (Torres, 2015). Minorities are kept under constant police scrutiny, which increases their chances of entering into the legal system (Torres, 2015).
There are several reasons why a police officer may initiate a stop and frisk procedure; proximity to the crime, suspicious behavior, and high crime area (Avidij, 2014). An officer can initiate a stop and frisk based only on reasonable suspicion, which is open to interpretation influenced by the officer’s judgment (Avidij, 2014). In addition to the crime scene, behavior, and location factors, studies show being part of a minority group is a factor in an officer’s decision to stop and frisk suspects (Gelman, Fagan, & Kiss, 2007).
In the 1990’s, stop and frisk was the primary method to combat lower level disorder and to stop gun violence in NYC (Daniels v City of NY, 2003). Once in place, it was not long before the racial and ethical consequences of stop and frisk came to light (Torres, 2015). After two high profile cases of police misconduct on African Americans, then New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer released a report on the use of stop and frisk. The report found:
“The NYPD “stopped” 9.5 blacks for every one “stop” which resulted in the arrest of a black, 8.8 Hispanics for ever one “stop” that resulted ion the arrest of a Hispanic, and 7.9 whites for every one “stop” that resulted in the arrest of one white……….blacks were stopped 23% more often than whites, across all crime categories…Hispanics were “stopped” 39% more often than whites across crime categories. (Spitzer 1999, IX-X).
Post – Daniels, stop and frisk debates focused on violations of the 14th
Amendment – protection against racial discrimination (Torres, 2015). From 2004 – 20012, blacks and Latinos were significantly more likely to be stopped then whites, making up 83% of all stops. A majority of frisks were also made up of racial and ethnic minorities, with 57.3% being black, 32% Latino, and 3% Asian (Avdija, 2014). At that time, Blacks in NYC made up 23% of the population, Latinos 29% and Whites 33% (NYC Planning 2011). Stop and frisks made on blacks and Latinos were more than their proportion to the cities population (Fagan 2010). It has already been proven that stop and frisk has leads to modest and inconclusive results. Given the low success rates of stop and frisk, opponents argue stops against racial minorities cannot be justified and violates the 14th Amendment (Fagan, 2010).
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1. Avdija, Avdi. (2014). “Police Stop-and Frisk Practices: An Examination of Factors that Affect Officers’ Decisions to Initiate a Stop-and-Frisk Procedure.” International Journal of Police Science & Management 16: 26-35.
2. Daniels v. City of New York, No. 99 Civ. 1695 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).
3. Fagan, Jeffrey. (2010). “Report of Jeffrey Fagan, PhD. Expert Rep., Floyd V New York, No. 08 Civ. 1034, U.S. Dist. Court S.D.N.Y.” URL: https://ccrjustice.org/files/FaganSecodSupplementalReport.pdf.
4. NYC Planning, 2011. NYC 2010: Results from the 2010 Census. Department of City Planning, New York, NY. URL:http://nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/census2010/pgrhc.pdf.
5. Rosenfeld, Richard and Robert Fornango. 2014. “The Impact of Police Stops on Precinct Robbery and Burglary Rates in New York City. 2003-2010.” Justice Quarterly 31: 132-58.
6. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).
7. Torres, J. (2015). Race/Ethnicity and Stop-and-Frisk: Past Present, Future. Sociology Compass (serial online). November 2015; 9(11), 931-939. doi:10.1111/soc4.12322
3. Members of the public are more willing to cooperate with the police when trust and confidence is high (Tyler, 2005). This cooperation helps police effectively manage community problems. Without the public’s cooperation, this management is much more difficult, costly, and ineffective (Sampson ; Bartusch, 1998).
Recent studies show the American public lacks trust and confidence in the criminal justice system (Tyler, 2005). Among races, 63% of whites expressed confidence in the police, as compared to only 31% of African Americans, with Hispanics falling somewhere in the middle. As a result, the relationship between racial and ethic groups and public confidence and trust in the criminal justice system are intertwined with concerns about racial profiling and bias (Tyler, 2005).
“Hardly a week goes by without a newspaper or television account of an incident where police officers are alleged to have treated a person who is a minority group badly, with a subtext that the person’s race accounted for the mistreatment. (Mastrofski, Parks, DeJong, & Worden, 1988).
The first step in building a positive relationship with the community understands why some people view the police in a negative light (Tyler, 2005). In a recent study, the factors that were found to influence public satisfaction with the police were demographic variables, neighborhood crime conditions, and experience with the police – either direct or indirect, noting unpleasant experiences left a greater impression than pleasant. Therefore, in order to establish trust and confidence with the community, police should remember that treating individuals respectfully and professionally during each encounter will support this (Tyler, 2005).
Law enforcement officers feel high profile minority deaths during encounters with police are isolated incidents and not a sign of an overall disconnect between the police and the public (Clement & Lowery, 2017). However; officers admit following the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown and other high profile deaths and the protests that resulted have forced them to change the way they do their jobs. It has made it much harder (Clement & Lowery, 2017). 70% of officers surveyed reported they had become more timid about questioning suspicious people and 75 said they were less likely to use force when necessary. 90% reported they were more concerned about their own safety (Clement & Lowery, 2017).
The problem with minority distrust is two-fold. First, minority residents report a higher rate of crime victimization than whites and therefore, supporting police and maintaining police presence in their community would only benefit them (Tyler, 2002). However; minority citizens are also more likely to be targets of disrespect, humiliation and physical violence by police (Tyler, 2005), so they are less likely trust the police.
How officers view their job, how their perform their job and the publics trust and confidence in the police has all changed as a result of high profile incidents and the resulting protests (Clement & Lowery, 2017). In order to ethical conduct, police have to listen to the public and the public has to have a greater understanding the risks and challenges associated with their role. Departments can improve relations with de-escalation trainings and the use of body-worn cameras (Clement & Lowery, 2017).
Police policies and practices are central to building trust, most importantly the fairness by which police exercise their authority (Tyler, 2005). Neutrality of decision making, respectful and polite interpersonal treatment and allowing individual’s input for decision making were all deemed as important for building trust and confidence (Tyler, 2005). When police abuse their authority, trust declines and there is less cooperation by the public. Therefore, good practice would be for the police to focus on adhering to procedural standards to maintain the trust of the public (Tyler, 2005).
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1. Clement, Scott, and Wesley Lowery. “Survey Reveals Disconnect between Police and Public Attitudes.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 11 Jan. 2017, www.washingtownpost.com/investigations/survey-reveals-disconnect-between-police-and-public-attitudes/2017/01/10/65b24f3a-d550-11e6-a783-cd3fa950f2fd_story.html?utm_term.
2. Mastrofski, S.D., Parks, R.B., Dejong, C. & Worden, R.E. (1998). Race and everday policing: A research perspective. Paper presented at the 12th International Congress on Criminology conference, Seoul, Korea3. Sampson, R.J., & Bartusch, D.J. (1988). “Legal cynicism and (subcultural?) tolerance of deviance.” Law and Society Review, 32, 777-804.
4. Tyler, T.R. (2005). “Policing in Black and White: Ethinic Group Differences in Trust and Confidence in the Police.” Police Quarterly, 8(3), 322.
4. The police code of conduct requires officers to use the minimal amount of force when enforcing laws and maintaining order. They are expected to subdue suspects physically, which can lead to injury, even death. They have the right to use force when necessary, but this can lead to the misuse of authority or the engagement in unnecessary or excessive force. Therefore, these codes were developed to make explicit the minimal force requirement that would be considered reasonable, and only as a last resort option (International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2002). Specific mention is also made for the need to control the use of firearms by police:
“The use of firearms is considered an extreme measure. Every effort should be made to exclude the use of firearms, especially against children…In every instance in which a firearm is discharged, a report should be made promptly to the competent authorities (United Nations, 1979).
Despite internal and external controls, inappropriate and excessive force is an ongoing problem. A 1998 report on police brutality in the US found police abuse remains on the most serious and divisive human rights violations in the US. This includes, unjustified shootings, beating, choking’s, and rough treatment (Human Rights Watch. 1998). While the use of force is rare compared to the total number of police-citizen encounters (Lersch & Mieczkowski, 2005), its study is important because force “can cause injuries to officers and/or citizens and is the major police issue that leads to community unrest and negative attitudes toward the police” (Alpert & Dunham, 2010). Aside from various forms of injury and injustice experienced by victims, taxpayers bear cost of investments and lawsuits (Porter & Prenzler, 2012).
In their article Reducing police use of force: Case studies and prospects (Prensler, Porter & Alpert, 2012), researched seven case studies that assessed the impact of interventions to decrease the use of force by police. The findings showed evidence for an effective range of interventions that can be linked to individual, cultural, and organizational explanations (Prensler, Porter & Alpert, 2012).
The first intervention identified was the application of and Early Warning System that targeted individual officers with a high number of use of force complaints against them. By addressing the use of force issue early, this could potentially save the officer from a career damaging mistake (Prensler, Porter & Alpert, 2012). The Early Warning System raises the issue of an appropriate accountability and disciplinary system, as studies have found that excessive force has been linked to poor discipline (Prensler, Porter & Alpert, 2012).
Cultural strategies to reduce force included the use of community policing in high crime areas (Prensler, Porter & Alpert, 2012). Male officers, who are younger, less experienced and on the front line are more likely to use force. Pairing them with better trained, more experienced officers could help reduce the use of force (Prensler, Porter & Alpert, 2012). Additionally, community policing makes officers more visible and accountable with in communities, encourages community contact and helps reduce stereotypes or feeling of indifference (Prensler, Porter & Alpert, 2013).
Finally, organizational strategies to reduce the use of force need to b regulated, revised and reviewed (Prensler, Porter & Alpert, 2013). Considerable interest in effects of “less – than- lethal” weapons, including OC (“pepper”)spray and CEWs (Conducted electronic weapons or Tasers) have been investigated as potential ways to decrease use of force. Although there is still potential for misuse, studies show injuries those weapons have far fewer injuries than those with a gun (Alpert & Dunham, 2010).
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1. Alpert and Dunham, 2010. “Policy and training recommendations related to police use of CEDS: overview of findings from a comprehensive national study.” Police Quarterly, 13 (2010), pp 235-259.
2. Human Rights Watch, 1998. Shielded from justice: Police brutality and accountability in the United States. New York. (1998).
3. International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2002. “Law enforcement code of conduct.” Police Chiefs Desk Reference, IACP & Bureau of Justice Assistance, Washington, DC (2002). PP. 34-39.
4. Lersch and Mieczkowski. 2005. “Violent police behavior: Past, present and future research directions.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10 (2005), pp. 552- 568.
5. Porter and Prenzler, 2012. “Police Integrity management in Australia: Global lessons for combating police misconduct.” CRC Press – Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton (2012).
6. Prenzler, T., Porter, L., & Alpert, G.P. (2013). Reducing police use of force: Case studies and prospects. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18343-356.
7. United Nations, 1979. “Code of conduct for law enforcement officials.” Retrieved April 1, 2018 from http://www.2ohchr.org/english.law.codeofconduct.htm(1979).