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Incidents of police brutality have finally gained national attention over the past several years. Police departments all over the country are taking a belated look at their use-of-force policies and how they impact their relationships with the community. In New Jersey, the Camden Police Department recently released a new use-of-force policy, after several years of training and revision. The stated goal is to make the use of force be out of the “ordinary”, reserved only for those situations in which it cannot be avoided.
One core principle of the department’s stated policy is the notion that, much like doctors, police officers should first do no harm. The 18-page policy document is anchored in six such core principles, all focused on minimizing the use of deadly force. Officers are directed to de-escalate situations, only responding with force when absolutely necessary. If force is needed to prevent harm to others, it should be used in proportion to the situation at hand, and medical aid should be immediately provided for any injuries that result.
Accountability is also a major part of the written policy. Many police departments use body cameras and dashboard cameras to record police activity, but under Camden’s policy, officers are required to stop and report uses of force that are unlawful or in violation of the policy. Officers are to be accountable to each other and to the community.
The document has been described by some as one of the most progressive use-of-force policies in the country. The policy was vetted and approved by members of both the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Fraternal Order of Police.
The Camden Police Department also began a new training regimen in 2015 to de-escalate situations without force. Before that, the city was in crisis, with trust in the police severely disintegrated; the entire department was disbanded in 2013 due to severe corruption. Since the new policies have been in place, however, both crime and complaints of police brutality have dropped significantly, according to reports.
An incident in late 2015 illustrates the effects of the new policy. A mentally ill man pulled a knife on a customer in a fast food restaurant before exiting the establishment. Instead of drawing their weapons, Camden police formed a circle around him and walked with him down the street, directing him to drop the knife. Eventually he did, and he was taken into custody without any injuries. The officers recognized that the man was in crisis and diffused the situation without drawing their weapons, something that would not have been possible before the new policies were in effect.
Of course, written policies only help when they are consistently followed and enforced by supervisory decision-makers. Law enforcement actually provides an implicit endorsement of police misconduct. Without careful, conscientious policing and law enforcement administration, situations “on the street” can turn violent very quickly.
If you believe you have been the victim of police brutality or misconduct, call the Philadelphia civil rights lawyers at Williams Cedar. We will thoroughly review the facts of your case and take every necessary step to ensure that your rights are protected. With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call us today at 215-557-0099 or 856-470-9777 or contact us online for a free consultation with a Philadelphia police brutality lawyer.