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A few seconds matter, especially for police officers

Police officers are sworn to uphold the law. Society grants them many special privileges to enable them to carry out their duties. So it is always interesting to observe the manner in which they are charged with crimes and prosecuted.

These cases stand out because they are not especially common. Some would argue it is because most police officers are dedicated to their service and their profession. Others might argue that it is because they are given a pass for violations that would otherwise bring arrest and prosecution for civilians accused of similar conduct.

A Federal judge sentenced a former Des Moines police officer to 63 months in prison for kicking a man in the face who was being held down by three other officers during a traffic stop.

The defense attempted to characterize the incident as a few second during a 14-year law enforcement career. But of course, this would describe thousands of criminal cases. The criminal justice system spends much of its resources dealing with incidents, the occurrence of which covers mere seconds, but the consequence last decades.

Was the sentence influenced by other events involving police use of excessive force? Likely, as how we see actions by the police, and whether they are justified, depends greatly on the context.

When police misconduct is characterized as the actions of a few bad apples, judges and juries are more likely to be forgiving of police violence than when it is seen as a part of a pattern and practice of institutional behavior.

One report noted that of 11,000 cases of police misconduct charged during a 21-month period, only 1,063 resulted in convictions of the officers. By comparison, in 2010, a Justice Department report showed U.S. Attorney's maintained a conviction rate of 93 percent.

Police misconduct should be viewed as a serious matter, as unpunished, it can undermine faith and trust in the criminal justice system.

Source: desmoinesregister.com, "Former D.M. officer gets 63 months for kicking man in head," Grant Rodgers, June 22, 2015

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