While the lack of police indictments in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have elicited worldwide protests in the last two weeks, new reports reveal that cases like theirs are far more common than previously realized. In fact, between 2007 and 2012, The Wall Street Journal reports more than 550 police homicides went unrecorded.
The FBI's Uniform Crime Report is meant to document every homicide in the country, but local police precincts are not legally required to give their internal data to the FBI. When WSJ asked 110 of the largest precincts in the country to provide their numbers, they exposed this alarming gap in reporting. Agencies gave different reasons to explain why they hadn't reported (or had underreported) their police homicides. "Some agencies said they didn't view justifiable homicides by law-enforcement officers as events that should be reported," states the Journal. Other precincts didn't even consider the killings to be "actual offenses."
A different report from WNYC highlights another startling lack of action regarding violent officers. The NYPD does keep records monitoring cops accused of excessive force, but that data appears to have no impact on getting those officers off the street. For example, Officer Donald Sadowy allegedly beat robbery suspect Darvell Elliott unconscious during an arrest in 2010. Elliott was proven innocent of the crime and sued Sadowy for the assault. The NYPD paid out $20,000 in that settlement. Officer Sadowy has been sued for excessive force 10 times in two years — and yet he has not been taken off street duty.
Including Sadowy, WNYC found that a small percentage of officers generate the most lawsuits and allegations of excessive force: 15% of officers generate half of the cases involving subjects resisting arrest. "Police departments around the country consider frequent charges of resisting arrest a potential red flag," the report states, because sometimes an officer may use this charge as a justification for excessive force.
Some crime analysts claim the NYPD's inertia regarding its own repeat offenders is simply shocking negligence. Others, like Robert Kane, the director of the criminology and justice studies program at Drexel University, believe that the department lets officers like Sadowy remain active because it condones their actions. "I would only expect that officer to be taken off the street if the organization didn’t value the aggressive behavior," Kane told WNYC. Whether or not he's correct, the facts are clear. As a city and a nation, we do not have a clear picture of just how many Michael Browns and Eric Garners are killed by police officers every year. And, the data we do have has done nothing to stop the police aggression.