Magazine article Insight on the News

Crime Rate and Killings Drop, but Critics Say Brutality Is Up

Magazine article Insight on the News

Crime Rate and Killings Drop, but Critics Say Brutality Is Up

Article excerpt

Although American cities are enjoying a hiatus from rising crime rates, citizen-rights advocates are crying foul -- police brutality is on the rise, they say, and minorities suffer most from such injustice.

New York City recently was the site of a memorial ceremony honoring the 116 police officers killed in the line of duty nationwide in 1996, the lowest figure since 1959. Last year saw one of the sharpest reductions ever in serious crime, and in most cities, police are enjoying newfound respect.

But the rosy picture of cops who "serve and protect" is marred by a number of high-profile cases scrutinized on the evening news. Few Americans are likely to forget the horrifying Rodney King video nor the police killing of Jonny Gammage, cousin of former Pittsburgh Steeler Ray Seales.

More recently, 16-year-old Kevin Cedeno was shot in the back and killed by New York police officers. Last year two NYPD cops put 18 bullets into an unarmed man sitting in a stolen car; just last month a grand jury declined to indict the officers.

"We have received, literally, hundreds of calls from victims and the families of victims of police brutality," David Love, a spokesman for the Center for Constitutional Rights, tells Insight, "and they're coming from all over the country."

Critics admit that it is difficult to quantify police brutality -- no national statistics exist on the subject. Community review boards publish their findings on a monthly and yearly basis, but the data are not collated.

Nevertheless, damages paid to victims of alleged police misconduct in New York City, a barometer for the rest of the country, increased from around $7 million in 1988 to more than $24 million in 1994. Much of this money is paid through negotiated settlements designed to contain larger expenditures should civil complaints come to trial.

Such settlements may save money, but they also prevent a full public disclosure of such cases. In most cities, police personnel records are confidential; any entry into those records as a result of an investigation by a citizen review board also are confidential and accessible only with a court order.

How to react to police misconduct, however, is secondary to how to prevent it in the first place, says Ron Hampton, ex-Washington cop and current executive director of the National Black Police Association. …

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