In an earlier post on the outrageous levels of police brutality in the US, I said that it was not necessary to paint every police officer as a menace because of all these killings, and that all it took was for as few as 10% of the officers to be sociopaths for these abuses to be a regular feature. I just plucked that 10% figure out of thin air but later got curious about whether that was a reasonable estimate and decided to dig deeper.
Because of the highly local nature of US policing, it is not easy to get a figure for the total number of police officers all over the country but this blog says that “In 2008, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 765,246 full-time police officers in the United States — roughly 251 police per 100,000 residents.” Given that there are about 18,000 police departments, that averages out to over 40 police per department, with a wide range depending on the size of the city.
First off, one police officer for 400 people seems like a lot.
But if my estimate of 10% is correct, that would mean we are talking about 75,000 police officers as possible sociopaths who treat violence and abuse lightly. I am not sure how reasonable that is but even if we made it as low as 1%, that would still give us 7,500 police sociopaths, more than enough to result in abuses on an daily basis somewhere in the country. And if we had even 0.1% who were extreme sociopaths who bordered on sadists, that is still enough to have horrendous abuses occur regularly.
So police departments have to be made to realize that as long as measures are not taken to identify and weed out the sociopaths in their ranks, they will continue to face this problem. That means that police chiefs and mayors will have to confront the leadership of the police unions who often have terrible attitudes on race and the use of force and seek to protect even the worst officers from being fired. For example, 57 officers of the Buffalo police department have resigned from the emergency response team in support of the two officers who were suspended for pushing the 75-year old man Martin Gugino, causing him to fall to the ground and hit his head and start bleeding. The police union chief has defended the two police officers.
As hard as it may be to believe, two of the three other officers who were present at the murder of Floyd were fairly new to this department and were being trained by Chauvin, the one who kept his knee of Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes and ignored his please that he could not breathe. Yes, Chauvin, someone who had had 17 complaints filed against him, was the one chosen by the department as the training officer to show these two how to be a police officer. The mind boggles. Can anyone be surprised why the culture in that department is so toxic?
There have been some small positive movements. Minneapolis has banned the use of chokeholds by police and Seattle has banned the use of tear gas for 30 days. Other places have announced similar measures. These are small steps but as long as sociopathic officers remain on the force, they will continue to poison the culture.
What has enabled the police to ignore calls for reform for so long is that fact that they have historically had a lot of support from the white community and the establishment for whom the protection of their property is their main concern and the lives of poor and minority communities was a distant second. It used to be the case that when there was similar unrest in the past, the media would quickly pivot away from talking about the atrocities that triggered the unrest to tut-tutting about the destruction of property. That has not happened this time, at least not to any significant extent. In the last nine days there have been demonstrations in 380 cities and they have defied curfews. The large number of white people that have taken part in the protests of police actions and the support they have got from even businesses should be a warning to the police that their reservoir of support may be draining away.