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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Police Misconduct and Crime Statistics

NOTE: For the latest police misconduct statistics, refer to the April 2009 National Police Misconduct Report or for realtime information on police misconduct refer to the National Police Misconduct News Feed on Twitter.

A Seattle Times columnist, Nicole Brodeur, put up an interesting opinion piece today where she rightly questions the timing of Seattle mayor Greg Nickels' announcement that crime statistics in Seattle are at an all-time low "thanks to the Seattle Police Department" while there have been a slew of incredibly violent high-profile attacks on citizens that have gone unsolved in the first few weeks of this year.

Generally, studies show that a reduction of civil rights in conjunction with increases of police brutality (studies show a 25% increase in police misconduct cases since 9/11) can result in short term reductions in certain types of criminal activity. However, those studies also suggest that after the initial reductions, criminal activity will rebound quickly and grow beyond previous levels.

Researchers suggest that the reason for such sharp increases in criminal activity after an initial crackdown on civil liberties by more aggressive police forces is that citizens quickly grow distrustful of those aggressive police departments and become less willing to volunteer information to them or even unwilling to call them in the case of an ongoing incident.

Indeed, the SPD's recent difficulties in solving cases combined with more vocal complaints of a percieved "no-snitch attitude" of many citizens by officers (the same officers that are publicly vocal about their own policy of "never rat out a fellow officer") seem to indicate that this may very well be exactly what is occurring after years of increasingly blatant cases of police brutality and misconduct tied with the very visible unwillingness of the police chief to hold officers accountable for their brutal conduct.

Typically, such situations tend to spiral down as local governments act to disable controls on their police forces and further reduce checks on their power as an effort to reign in an increase of criminal activity. This results in an increasing sense of distrust from the public and an attitude shift from a fear of consequences for breaking the law towards apathy towards consequences which are just as likely to occur whether you break the law or not. This is caused by increase in arbitrary arrests and cases of police brutality without cause. (as seen lately with the incredibly frequent violent assaults on jaywalkers by undercover officers).

It is surprising to see this dynamic being played out in Seattle and just how well the research models predict these patterns of cause and effect.

Yes, Nicole, it may all be relative, but what you are seeing isn't a casual aberration, but a very stark case of well documented and researched cause and effect... the result of a police force run amok and a city government at first unwilling, and now unable, to reign them in. Expect to see even more blatant cases of police misconduct this year, more announcements by city officials defending obvious abusers, and a further increase in more brutal crimes as a result.

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