Ron Martinelli, Ph.D., CMI-V, BCFT, CFA
Forensic Criminologist/Police Practices Expert
Copyright © 09-09-15
The militant Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement currently fills up the air and print space of national and international news. They appear to be everywhere. Protest marches, disrupting political candidates during rallies and speeches; and activist members even making appearances on FOX NEWS and other national media outlets.
It appears that after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton met with BLM activist leaders and encouraged them to develop a platform of the changes they would like to see in American policing, they have developed a 10 point program for ending police shootings and alleged acts of brutality that they now refer to as “Campaign Zero.” Since the news media has only sporadically covered this plan, I am taking an opportunity to discuss it, along with my impressions of its viability. Here’s a hint. Very little of the BLM’s 10 point program is rational or viable. Let’s discuss the plan point by point.
In attempt to understand the Black Lives Matter movement, you must first realize that the entire movement is founded upon a number of false narratives. Some of these I have recently written about. For instance, in introducing the BLM’s 10 point plan, activist supporter Molly Weasley of the blog politicalmurder.com erroneously writes that “More than 1,000 people are killed each year by police. Of those, nearly 60% were unarmed.” However, Ms. Weasley fails to list where she pulled up that statistic. That’s because one doesn’t exist. It’s a blatant lie.
Here’s the truth about officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths in the U.S. This information is easily found by researching the U.S. Department of Justice FBI Uniform Crime Reports and the U.S. Census Bureau. Blacks comprise only 13% of the entire U.S. population. Between Jan., 2009 and Jan., 2012 there were a total of 1,491 officer-involved deaths of citizens. This equates to approximately 372 not 1,000 deaths a year. Of these, 61% involved white males, only 32.2% involved black males and 3.2% involved males of other races. The final 3.2% of police-involved deaths were female subjects. This means that twice as many white males die in police use of force encounters than black males.
In contrast, the majority of peace officers are feloniously killed and injured by armed suspects. The FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed & Assaulted statistics document that in 2013 alone, 27 peace officers were killed by firearms. Of those, 26 or 96% were killed by suspects using firearms. Eighteen of the 26 officers (61.5%) were killed by suspects armed with handguns. During that same year, 434 (69%) of 626 federal officers assaulted by suspects, were assaulted by armed suspects. Of those, 198 were attacked by blunt instruments, 121 by vehicles, 88 by firearms, and 27 by suspects yielding edged weapons.
Now let’s put these statistics into further context that can be better understood. Approximately only 120 black males a year die in police encounters where force is used. Considering the total black male population in the U.S., this equates to only one out of every 173,871 black males dying at the hands of police. For you math majors, this equates to a ratio of 0.00078 of one percent of black males being killed during a police use of force.
Next, let’s compare the already very low number of black males dying during police use of force encounters to the overall U.S. homicide rate. During the three years from 2009 –2012, there were 56,250 homicides nationally. Of those, approximately 19,000, or 39% were homicides of black males. Whereas only 3.2% of black males were killed by police; a slightly higher percentage of 3.4% of black males were actually killed in justifiable self-defense shootings by other private citizens. Yes, that’s right. Civilians defending themselves actually kill more black males than police do on a yearly basis!
Here is another interesting statistic. 17,719 of the 19,000 homicides or 93% of black males were killed by other black males. Surprised? As a retired police detective, I’m not. This is what is referred to as “black on black crime.” Black on black crime is an inconvenient truth for the BLM movement that they never seem to address. You should be asking yourself why? Here’s another one of those inconvenient truths. The yearly FBI statistics of Law Enforcement Officer Killed in Action record that approximately 41% of officers killed by violent means are killed by black males. A review of the available statistics indicates that black males murder police officers at a rate nearly 8 times higher than black males dying during police use of force encounters. However, you never will hear anyone from the Black Lives Matter movement, or the mainstream media mention this. Why not? You tell me.
Now that I have, in part, discussed the foundation of the Black Lives Matter movement, let’s analyze the movement’s 10 point plan to repair law enforcement and our justice system.
#1 – End broken windows policing. The BLM demands an end to this time tested and proven policing strategy where patrol officers proactively enforce minor misdemeanor crimes. They especially want this enforcement curtailed in minority neighborhoods. Minor crimes to them are violations such as prostitution, minor drug sales, drug influence, petty thefts, vandalism, and weapons possession. Really? Are those the crimes you want the police to forget about in your neighborhood? Do you think that there might be a relationship between these misdemeanor crimes and more serious and violent crimes? Of course there is and that is why in every community where the proactive “broken windows” enforcement strategy has been applied, overall crime has been reduced. When that strategy is removed, crimes will rise. New York City is an excellent example of this.
#2 – Community Oversight of Law Enforcement. This involves the use of civilians overseeing and monitoring police actions including uses of force such as a Police Commissioner and civilian review boards. Having worked on one as a consulting expert, I have no problem with this concept as long as the members of the police commission or civilian review board are (1) properly vetted for background and biases; (2) not politically selected; and more importantly (3) professionally trained in the law and police practices. The problem is that while a number of large cities employ civilian review boards, relatively few are successful. This is because their members are politically selected, have biases against police and lack the proper level of training needed to make forensic, rather than emotional or political decisions.
#3 – Limit the use of force. This demand is intended to establish standards to monitor how force is used by police. We already have this; it’s called “the law” and department policies. State and Federal statutes and Federal civil rights case laws provide legal criminal and civil standards or guidelines by which police actions and uses of force (all 4th and 14th Amendment issues) are evaluated and judged. Police departments develop and implement administrative policies that are enforced through the disciplinary process. All states have commissions on peace officers’ standards and training that have codified standards of police practices. There are also national bodies that provide codified police standards. In fact, no other criminal justice profession has more laws and standards than law enforcement and this is rightly so.
What is missing in the BLM’s demand regarding limiting police uses of force is specifically what techniques, tactics and/or weaponry they are suggesting be limited or removed. That’s very important to know. Without knowing this, their demand to “limit the use of force” is far from viable.
#4 – Independently investigate and prosecute police for alleged violations. As the director of a team of professional investigators, medical personnel and applied scientists who are trained and experienced in independently reviewing officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths and other uses of force; I am in favor of this. Even though I find that in the majority of cases, law enforcement generally does a credible job of investigating uses of force; I also find that even at the Federal and state level, detectives’ investigative and applied science skills can be lacking. I also find that major investigations can be hampered by budgets, manpower constraints, the lack of forensic equipment and the occasional bias. I favor an independent, multidisciplinary approach to the investigation of serious police uses of force.
#5 – Community representation. Again, I am in favor of this. It is also important to know that for several decades, police departments have done nearly everything possible to recruit, select and train suitable minority candidates to become law enforcement officers. However, this has become a most difficult task. This is not due to racism as has been suggested by the BLM movement; but rather because candidates from all communities we see often lack the appropriate education, social, mental mindset, and/or physical skills needed for this unique and demanding job. Many applicants cannot pass a background check. As an example, last month the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported that only two out of 100 applicants for the position of deputy sheriff pass their comprehensive, multi-phasic selection process and background examinations to be accepted into their sheriff’s academy. As a former police academy director and a field training officer, I can attest that the wash out rate in the academy and in the Field Training Program is significant.
The BLM movement, the media and the general public needs to understand that when you appropriately demand that police be properly selected and well trained; you naturally restrict the selection process. You can’t have it both ways. You don’t want to have underqualified, armed police officers on the street making split second decisions involving detentions, arrests, vehicle pursuits and uses of force including deadly force.
#6 – Body cameras and filming the police in action. This point would require that police officers and their vehicles be integrated with video devices. Again, I am generally in favor of this. However, there are several problems to its implementation that need to be overcome and understood. First, it is very costly and the majority of police departments would not be able to afford it. Federal grants would go far to make this happen. Next, the public needs to understand that forensically, video cameras don’t always depict the “totality of circumstances” that is critical in the ultimate analysis of a police action or use of force. The camera only shows what it is pointed at and we live in a 360˚ world. Departments also have to implement reasonable policies on the use of body cameras so officer safety is not affected.
Next, the BLM movement wants to ensure that citizens have the right to record police interactions. They already have this right. It’s called the 1st Amendment. However, what is needed is better police training that reminds officers that citizens have this right. However, citizens also need to be reminded that once a person records a police encounter; that recording automatically becomes forensic evidence. Police have the right to collect and review evidence; but not “confiscate” a citizen’s camera or cell phone. Again, mutual training is needed so that the delicate balance of evidence collection and civil rights are satisfied.
#7 – Better police training. Few police administrators, trainers and officers will argue with this point. We are always clamoring for more and better training. The BLM wants more training on “racial bias.” Police officers receive plenty of this training at the police academy. I would suggest that who really needs to receive better training are private citizens and the news media. I would make this training mandatory. In my opinion as a police expert, citizens beginning at the elementary school level should receive training on their civil rights, the law and the job and legal authority of police officers. Members of the news media covering and reporting on police actions should receive mandated training on these issues and police bias as well. This is evidenced by the lack of knowledge of police practices, police legal authority and civil rights reporters demonstrate daily when they report on police investigations and uses of force. As long as the BLM movement recognizes that education and training is a two-way street, I support this point.
#8 – Ending “for profit” policing. The movement wants “an end to quota systems and limits on fines for low-income people.” As a retired police officer, I would agree that quota systems are bad; they still exist in some areas; and should be permanently removed. However, the Courts and municipalities set the bail schedules for fines. It would appear unconstitutional and unduly discriminatory to give preferential treatment to low-income offenders, over those who earn more. Therefore, this is not a viable solution. Here’s a better one that is guaranteed to both reduce the crime rate while allowing low-income offenders to keep more money in their pockets. Stop committing crimes! It’s just that simple.
#9 – End the “demilitarization” of the police. This point seeks to end the Federal government’s 1033 Program that provides military grade weapons to local police departments. I think BLM supporters need to first identify what types of military grade weapons they do not want their police to have. Then we can have a reasonable discussion. There are a number of items of equipment that enhance police and community safety. There are admittedly others that are frivolous and not needed. Let’s identify each. This will not be difficult to do.
#10 – Have “Fair” police contracts. The BLM movement believes that union labor contracts offer police officers too much protection in instances of misconduct. Supporters call for the elimination of barriers that prevent the public from reviewing an officer’s disciplinary history. In addition, they call for an end to paying officers while they are on administrative leave while being investigated for an alleged use of excessive force.
Obviously, there are many obstructions to the viability of this final point. They are referred to as labor laws, an officer’s civil rights and due process. Let me get this right. BLM activists march against police alleged abuses of civil rights; yet they have no problem with taking away some of those same protections for police officers? They want police officers immediately suspended without pay before they have been found guilty of alleged violations? These activists so vehemently protest police alleged violations of due process in deadly force confrontations want to violate that same due process for an officer(s) being investigated? Does anyone see a problem here?
Next, regarding the public’s “need to know,” versus their “right to know” about an accused officer(s) personnel files. Said files are protected by labor and other civil laws. There are firm criminal and civil remedies already in place to ensure that this balance is maintained. The trier of fact in any determination as to whether or not an accused officer’s personnel file can be opened to the public is the Court. There are no problems with this system and I agree with it.
In summary, much of the 10 point “Campaign Zero” program of the militant and violent Black Lives Matter movement lacks substance and viability because they have no factual context to support the changes they wish to make to our current policing and criminal justice systems. To date, they have been unwilling to listen to or even research reliable forensic facts when those facts are plainly out there. Until they are willing to honestly look at the socio-criminal and political issues that drive high crime rates and this new War on Police that they in part have instigated, they can never be taken seriously.
Ron Martinelli, Ph.D., is an internationally renowned forensic criminologist and police expert directing the nation’s only multidisciplinary Forensic Death Investigations and Independent Review Team at www.martinelliandassoc.com.
“Examining the Prevalence of Death from Police Use of Force,” Johnson, Richard,
Ph.D., © 2015, University of Toledo
U.S. Dept. of Justice, FBI Uniform Crime Report Supplemental Homicide Reports
and U.S. Center for Disease Control death classifications, Jan. 2009 – Jan. 2012.
National Safety Council, Injury Facts (2012), www.nsc.org
“Black Lives Matter offers 10-point plan to curb police killings,” Weasley, Molly, http://politicalmurder.com, 08-21-15
“Black Lives Matter activists outline policy goals,” BBC News, 08-21-15, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34023751
“Black Lives Matter has a plan to radically change America’s police,” Speiser, Matthew, 08-24-15, http://www.businessinsider.com/black-lives-matter-has-a-policy-platform-2015-8
“Police Disproportionately Killing Black Men – A False Narrative,” Martinelli, Ron, Ph.D., 06-22-15, www.DrRonMartinelli.com, POLICEone.com