Over the last couple of years, it seems as if not a month has gone by without some outrageous story of police brutality, death and no prosecution. Protesters have been vehement that several of these deaths were due to blatant racism, from Missouri to New York. In Oxnard, there were two police-related deaths that locals believe were due to racism and stereotyping — Alfonso Limon, an innocent bystander who was raked by police bullets in the midst of a shootout in October 2012, resulting in the highest ever wrongful death settlement in Oxnard at $6.7 million; and Robert Ramirez, who died while being restrained by police as he was overdosing on methamphetamines in June 2012.
While most of the officers involved in these deaths across the nation will never have to stand trial, we are burdened by the number of those who would have gotten away with police brutality, even murder, if it weren’t for onlookers who recorded the incidents. (We can’t help but be disturbed about those who have.) Take, for instance, South Carolina police Officer Michael Slager, who was filmed earlier this month shooting a man in the back and then apparently trying to plant evidence. It wasn’t until the video surfaced that allegations of police brutality were taken seriously and Slager was arrested on murder charges. It’s horrific to think that Slager may not have stood trial for this crime against humanity. While Slager’s victim was a black man, the reality is perhaps not so much racism, but that an officer was paid to serve and protect but chose to kill instead. While Slager is an extreme case, brutality may not be rare at all, as 10 San Bernadino deputies are now on paid leave after a video was released showing them beating a man who had already been restrained.
Late last month, however, another precarious situation arose in Oxnard, this time without videos from onlookers. Police were alerted to a domestic abuse call. According to the police report, the first officer to the scene, 8-year veteran Officer Roger Garcia began speaking with the man who made the call, when the woman in the apartment, Meagan Hockaday, 26, mother of three, came at the two of them with a knife. The officer then shot the woman dead. The incident, from the point of first contact, lasted 20 seconds. We are disheartened with the haste in which Hockaday was killed, even if it was in self-defense. This is Garcia’s second police-involved shooting. Garcia allegedly had completed Crisis Intervention Team training that is supposed to help officers handle crises with less force.
According to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, as of 2011, the most recent national data available, there were over 1 million people employed in law enforcement, and even considering all of the reports of police brutality, it is understood that by no means are the bad seeds in the majority. Many, if not most officers, work hard and persevere in some of the harshest environments. We are not condemning law enforcement in general, but when it comes to absolute power, we know there is a lot of potential for corruption. With enforcers of the law equipped and even trained to maim or kill when necessary, there is room for devastating consequences.
There are two critical steps that all law enforcement agencies should follow: 1. Use body cameras for accountability. Law enforcement departments that are now equipped with body cameras have seen complaints rapidly decrease. In Rialto, for example, over a 12-month period, officers were equipped with body cameras. Chief Tony Farrar found a “50 percent reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly 10 times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment.” 2. Continuous Crisis Intervention Team training for all officers as to ways to handle mentally ill persons. Research has shown positive results in interaction between officers and those with mental illnesses, according to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
We applaud our local law enforcement agencies that are now using body cameras, but there is still work to do to improve the system and prevent unwarranted tragedies. Society should look to law enforcement as those who will protect us, not those we need to fear.