Encouraging Appropriate Use of Technology in Citizen-Law Enforcement Interactions
The expert testimony, research, scholarship, and lived experience collected by the Commission revealed the following:
- The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) researched the police response to demonstrations that occurred after Michael Brown was killed in August 2014 and found that the use of military-grade weapons and vehicles was “inappropriate, inflamed tensions, and created fear among demonstrators” (DOJ, 2015). During the first week of the demonstrations, the police placed military-style, armored vehicles visibly in front of the community (DOJ, 2015).
- Weapons like Tasers and tear gas were used in the St. Louis region during the unrest following Michael Brown’s death (DOJ, 2015). Nationally, in 2013, 81 percent of local law enforcement agencies have authorized their officers to use energy weapons, such as Tasers, against citizens, up from 60 percent in 2007 (BJS, 2015).
- Technology often requires additional expenses including those needed for modifications and additions to legacy systems to support interoperability, additional training, and data storage.
- In 2013, 71 percent of local police departments required their officers to wear protective armor at all time, up from 65 percent in 2007 (BJS, 2015). From 2007 to 2013, the proportion of local police departments that used in-car video cameras rose from 61 percent to 68 percent. And, nationally, in 2013, 32 percent of local police departments used body-cameras (BJS, 2015).
- No national database exists to track the types and number of weapons and equipment that local police departments purchase using federal funding, or to track how those weapons and equipment are put to use (McCaskill, 2015a). There is likewise no reliable national data on the uses, composition, and sizes of SWAT teams, although it is estimated that the percentage of small towns in the United States that had SWAT teams has increased from 20 percent in the 1980s to 80 percent by the mid-2000s (McCaskill, 2015a). In the 1980s, SWAT teams were deployed approximately 3,000 times per year, but that number has grown to approximately 50,000 deployments per year (The Economist, 2015). In 2013 and 2014, 624 local police departments received Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) from the U.S. Department of Defense, which are vehicles that can weigh up to 17 tons, cost up to $600,000, and damage roads because of their weight (McCaskill, 2015a).
- In 2015, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (MO) proposed legislation entitled, “Protecting Communities and Police Act” (McCaskill, 2015b). The bill is designed to reform the processes by which local law enforcement agencies receive weapons and equipment from the federal government, increase training requirements for police departments, and improve data collection on the uses of weapons and equipment by local police departments (McCaskill, 2015b).
These findings prompted the Commission to draft several calls to action to encourage policy changes regarding the use of technology by law enforcement with the hope that these calls will help eliminate unsafe and unnecessary police practices, increase accountability and data collection of police departments, and improve citizens’ trust and confidence in the police.
To that end, the Commission issues the calls to action found below.
Suggested Reading List
Department of Justice (DOJ). (2015). After-Action Assessment of the Police Response to the August 2014 Demonstrations in Ferguson. Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Retrieved from http://ric-zai-inc.com/Publications/cops-p317-pub.pdf
- Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). (2015). Local police departments, 2013:Equipment and technology. United States Department of Justice. Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/lpd13et.pdf
- McCaskill, C. (2015a). Protecting Communities and Police Act. Senator Claire McCaskill-Full Bill. Retreived from:http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Protecting%20Communities%20and%20Police%20Act.pdf
- McCaskill, C. (2015b). Protecting Communities and Police Act. Senator Claire McCaskill-Bill Summary. Retreived from http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/protecting-communities-and-police-act
- Taylor, B., Woods, D., Kubu, B., Koper, K., Tegeler, B., Cheney, J., Martinez, M., Cronin, J., Kappelman, K. (2009). Comparing safety outcomes in police use-of-force cases for law enforcement agencies that have deployed Conducted Energy Devices and a matched comparison group that have not:A quasi-experimental evaluation. Police Executive Research Forum. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/237965.pdf
- The Economist. (2014). Cops or soldiers? The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21599349-americas-police-have-become-too-militarised-cops-or-soldiers