Policing the Police By Megan Dowling

Due to the current miscommunications between law enforcement and the public, many programs have been put in place in order to resolve the issue at hand. Federal laws have been put in to place to address police misconduct. These laws cover the actions of local, state, country, and federal police officers. The U.S. Department of justice is a federal executive department of the U.S. government. It’s job is to enforce the law and administer justice in the United States. Once a claim is made pertaining to an unjust situation, the department of justice steps in.

I chose to focus in on police brutality and how policies should be put in to place as a result of police brutality attacks because my Uncle is a police officer. When I was little he loved his job; he would always tell me stories about how he arrested and helped put the "bad people" in jail. He initially became a police officer because he wanted to help people and of course in return get recognition for his efforts on behalf of the community. As police brutality attacks became more noticed as a result of technological advances, police departments became scrutinized and he was categorized as a power hungry abusive cop. The title of "police officer" holds a lot of responsibility and my research really interested me and brought to light police brutality issues and techniques to resolve these issues.

First Major incident involving Police Brutality

It was not until an incident that took place in the early 1990s that policing the police rose to a status of national significance causing the department of justice to become involved with police departments. This controversial situation took place in Los Angeles, California on the night of March 2nd in 1991. Rodney King and two of his friends were driving on the highway and were spotted by two police officers for driving at high speeds. When Rodney and his friends were pulled over and commanded to exit the vehicle, King didn’t completely adhere to the officers commands and lacked major respect for them. His actions triggered a severe response from the officers forcing him to endure over 50 baton blows and several kicks.

Left: Rodney King after beating [pictured right]

As a result of this heinous attack, the LAPD was forced to scale back. This incident triggered a national response and initiated awareness regarding police abusing their power.

Although this incident was embarrassing for the LAPD, it was beneficial because the issue of police misconduct was addressed. The outcome was policies were put in to place. The Independent commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, also known as the Christopher commission, was created in response to Rodney King’s beating. This commission was established essentially to restructure the LA police department by setting a basis of guidelines for officers on the force. This document highlighted the problem of excessive force, racism and bias, complaints and discipline, and more in efforts to to display right from wrong.

Warren Christopher gives Police Chief Daryl Gates a copy of the Christopher Commission (Los Angeles Times)

Baltimore Police Brutality

One area that has experienced numerous incidents involving police brutality attacks and where attention has been called to is Baltimore, MD. Baltimore-born pastor the Reverend Graylan Hagler talked about law enforcement’s "tradition" of dehumanizing blacks. Hagler made a speech in which he urged the audience to address the problem of black versus white; the real problem is blue [Hagler states]- the color of the police uniform.

Youtube- "Graylan Hagler fights for the planet"

The incident involving Freddie Grey was the event which gained national, even international attention in the city of Baltimore.

Baltimore, MD (baltimore.org)

Freddie Gray was a 25 year old black American Man who was arrested on April 12, 2015. He was arrested by the Baltimore Police Department for the possession of an illegal switchblade (a type of knife). Gray was assisted in to a police vehicle to take him to the police department, however he didn't end up making it there. While he was being transported in the police van, he fell in to a coma under "suspicious circumstances". He was then taken to a trauma center to tend to his injuries. The circumstances under which Gray obtained the coma were initially unclear. Eyewitnesses could attest that the officers involved used "unnecessary force" when arresting Gray. This claim was denied by all officers involved in the incident. After his passing, it was said that his death was of an unexplained spinal injury he suffered while in police custody.

Left: police officers escorting Gray [right] in to police van (allenbwest.com)

It was admitted after the fact that the officers on the scene failed to provide Gray with medical attention despite his concern for his well-being and he was never seat belted in to the van. Other previously arrested prisoners in Baltimore have also described “rough rides” in which the police vans seemed to deliberately drive dangerously to injure passengers.

The result of the events that took place were catastrophic. Hundreds of young people throughout Baltimore clashed violently with the police. The police were forced to dress in riot gear. Protestors threw rocks, bricks, bottles, and cans at the officers, several of which obtained injuries from this vicious form of protesting. Officers were felt compelled to use pepper spray in defense of the attack they were enduring.

It was reported that seven member of the Baltimore Police force were seriously injured and one of the police cars was set on fire. The police received information stating that gangs had partnered up with each other to take out law enforcement officers. In order to contain the rioters, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Black initiated a city-wide curfew between 10pm and 5am for a week.

After the Freddie Gray incident and the many protests and disagreements that followed, Baltimore residents of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status pushed for a real change in regards to neighborhoods and the criminal justice system. The death of Freddie Gray in April 2015 shook the city of Baltimore causing a reaction of incredibly violent protests. It brought to light the force that police officers were using when dealing with minorities

As a result of the Freddie Grey incident, the Baltimore PD underwent a meticulous inspection. The Baltimore PD was being speculated by the entire city of Baltimore. In light of the incident, new policies and plans for the department were put in place. One newly developed software said it would ensure that officers received and read vital information about policy changes and training. This new software cost the department about $60,000 its first year. Alerts were sent directly to officers once there was an establishment of a new policy, a new piece of training, or any other necessary information. These alerts were sent via computer, tablet, or smartphone. The software also provided the officers with quizzes and if they fail to complete this information within 2 weeks of receiving it, supervisors would be immediately notified. The importance of this software was backed up by evidence. It was said that every time something was improved or a policy was updated, it was important because it usually put in to place as a result of not just one thing/incident, but many; therefore it is important for the officers to be alerted of the updates.

"I think we were stuck in the mid-1980s. Distributing policies and procedures in our profession has advanced thanks to technology. BPD is now embracing that technology," -Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis [referring to the new software advancement]

Prior to the Freddie Gray attacks, another policy that was put in place was the use-of-force policy, which had been outdated since 2003. This new policy was announced by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake over a year after the death of Gray. It was said that the use of force by officers is "one of the most scrutinized areas in policing". The goal to improve the Baltimore PD was to focus on obtaining an effective police department as opposed to an aggressive one. Ultimately, the new use-of-force policy focuses in on de-escalation and requires officers to intervene if they see an officer crossing the line.

Baltimore Police Badge (policeman.com)

After the attack on Freddie Grey, an initial 150 Baltimore police officers were furnished with body cameras. They were instructed to record their interactions with the public. This introduction to the body camera was in hopes that eventually all of the police officers in Baltimore would begin wearing them. This 2 month pilot program was ultimately successful, for the policy of requiring officers to wear cameras was launched.

Since Police Departments (especially the Baltimore PD) are under such scrutinty, the 11.6 million dollars it took to implement the cameras is not seen as a cost; it is seen as an investment.

Police Body Camera

Baltimore saw one of the most intense responses to an incident involving police abusing their power. Time, effort, and energy were all required to improve the Police Department to ensure something like this would not happen again. Policing the police is necessary to avoid police brutality and police abusing their power. It is important that policies are continuously being put in to place to better the structure of police departments in order to ensure community safety and cohesiveness.


A Bloody History of Police Brutality in Baltimore." The Root. N.p., 24 June 2016. Web. 05 Dec. 2016

@ACLU. "Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win For All." American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.

Hardgrove, Julia. "JavaScript" Police Department Body-Worn Camera Program Information - Baltimore County. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2016.

Images, Robert Nickelsberg/Getty, Ty Wright/The New York Times, via Redux, and Brendan Smialowski/Agence France – Presse –– Getty Images. "Policing the Police." The Marshall Project. N.p., 16 Nov. 2016. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

Marbella, Jean. "After Freddie Gray, Politics, Policing and Communities Feel the Difference." Baltimoresun.com. N.p., 24 Apr. 2016. Web. 04 Oct. 2016.

McLaughlin, Sam Brodey and Jenna, Patrick Semansky/AP, Tom Philpott, Alexander Sammon, and Jon Young. "Eyewitnesses: The Baltimore Riots Didn't Start the Way You Think." Mother Jones. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

"Police Permit Review Panel." Police Permit Review Panel - Los Angeles Police Department. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

Sun, Baltimore. "Policing Baltimore's Police." Baltimoresun.com. N.p., 05 May 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2016.

Sun, Baltimore. "Sun Attacks Freddie Gray Officers, Again." Baltimoresun.com. N.p., 04 Oct. 2016. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

ThinkProgress. "What Has Changed About Police Brutality In America, From Rodney King To Michael Brown." ThinkProgress. N.p., 08 Aug. 2016. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

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