Police brutality has an obvious effect on the victim who suffered it. It leaves emotional scars, possibly physical scars, and, likely, a lack of faith that any police officer will behave differently in the future. The best outcome? Surviving the incident of brutality. The worst outcome? Death. In a larger way, police behavior in a community determines how law enforcement is viewed by that community and nearby communities. So when we look at the pandemic of police brutality in the United States, we must examine its effect on first-degree victims, and we must consider its impact on second-degree and third-degree victims as well.
Police Brutality in Communities
In the past decade, the public’s understanding of police brutality has grown exponentially, and no year was more illuminating than 2020. Before the greater public’s awareness was expanded by news stories of police violence that often included video from cameras worn by police or from bystanders, knowledge about the frequency and breadth of police brutality was largely limited to its victims and their communities. For these people, police brutality may have been the norm, instead of an exception.
The spectrum of police brutality includes many offenses, ranging from excessive or unnecessary force, non-righteous officer shootings, and racial bias to civil rights violations, misconduct, and not administering medical aid to injured suspects. History has shown a consistent failure by police departments to be accountable for their officers’ behavior and to be transparent about their mistakes. Because of this history, citizens in some Arizona communities experience policing as a danger, instead of a security.
Repairing the Damage
The goal of police reform must be repairing the damage done by years of police brutality and gaining public trust in communities. Many ideas have been put forth as possible components of a solution. For example:
- De-escalation training: Police departments need to learn how to de-escalate situations without violence.
- Mental health expertise: Police departments need to recognize a mental health situation and take appropriate action. Social workers could add value to police departments by providing this expertise.
- Mental health internal resources: Police departments can improve their internal recognition and acceptance of—and access to—mental health resources for officers.
- Accountability: Police departments need to encourage the public and its officers to report police brutality, and then they need to properly investigate the reports. Investigations should be as impartial as non-police ones, and officer punishments should be no different than that of regular members of the public.
Every five days, an Arizona police officer aims a gun and shoots at a member of the public. In Phoenix in 2017, a “fatal arrest” occurred when police tried to arrest a man on an outstanding warrant for a misdemeanor charge. These kinds of events do nothing to bolster public opinion about the safety and security provided by police officers. If you have been a victim of police brutality, you need legal help.