More officers charged in fatal police shootings in 2021. Not everyone is seeing progress.

On Tuesday, the manslaughter charges were filed against three police officers in suburban Philadelphia after investigators say the trio heard gunshots outside a high school football game last summer and fired toward a crowd. Wrong police bullets beat to death an 8 year old girl and injured three others, the documents allege.

It became the first known public case in the country this year in which an officer was charged with manslaughter or murder in connection with a shooting while on duty.

Over the years, such a shooting could have been cast aside as a tragedy by prosecutors and grand juries that tended to belittle officers, said Cedric Alexander, former president of the Organization National Organization for Black Law Enforcement and a law enforcement agency MSNBC said analysts. But it may be changing\

“We are all paying more attention to this process, and prosecutors know that investigations must be done in a more thorough and balanced manner,” Alexander said.

Historically, the charges against Officers using lethal force are still rare, and convictions for serious charges are even more unusual. But police experts say there has been a notable push the other way around: With increasing pressure on prosecutors to thoroughly investigate cases and guilty verdicts obtained in recent trials against officers, charges and convictions for murder while on duty are no longer beyond belief.

In 2021, 21 police officers in the United States were charged with murder or manslaughter as a result of a shooting while on duty, the highest level in a year, according to criminal justice professor Philip’s database. Stinson at Bowling Green State University began tracking such incidents. in 2005. His data focuses solely on police shootings and was initially based on media reports.

In the past 5 years, in 2020 there are 16 officers; 12 in 2019; 10 in 2018; and seven in 2017.

“I think we’re seeing a change,” Alexander said. “Although it’s not a big change, the public is demanding more accountability.”

But despite the record number of police charges, Stinson said, the increase doesn’t reflect a statistically significant change because the sample size is still small. Every year, police kill about 1,000 people nationwide, according to Mapping Police Violence, an organization that collects data on police use of force.

Stinson said he doesn’t believe prosecutors are necessarily strong in the way they bring charges, but rather, when convictions occur, it simply shows there is enough evidence to support their actions. an officer is extraordinary they have passed the protocol.

Of the 155 officers charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005, only about a third have been convicted of some crime, while a third have not and the remaining cases are still pending. reason, Stinson found. Black Americans are also killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans, according to a report Washington Post Database analysis.

Senior convictions by police officers last year, Alexander said, have shaped the public perception that there can be consequences, including when a murder involves people of color.

In April, a grand jury found Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, a Black man was killed in 2020 when Chauvin knelt on his neck – an act that prompted worldwide protests calling for an end to the apartheid regime .

Eight months later, in the same courtroom as Chauvin, former Minneapolis suburban police officer Kim Potter was was convicted of manslaughter in the April 2021 deadly shooting of black driver Daunte Wright. Potter believes she accidentally killed Wright when she mistook the gun for her Taser.

The third officer, Eric DeValkenaere, who served in Kansas, City Missouri, is was convicted in November of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the fatal shooting of Cameron Lamb, a Black man, in a 2019 case in which prosecutors said police produced evidence.

“While this is not a sea change, the public is demanding more accountability.”

policy expert cedric alexander said

Other upcoming trials will also examine whether it is increasingly common to win convictions against police officers, including one scheduled for this month in Kansas against an officer charged with involuntary manslaughter in the 2017 murder of a Black man in his driveway; in Texas, against a former Fort Worth cop who had indicted for murder in 2019 the death of Atatiana Jefferson, a Black woman was shot through the window of her family home while babysitting; and in Minneapolis, against three former police officers who also face federal and state fees regarding Floyd’s death.

While there appears to be a recent uptick in prosecutions or indictments against police officers, the lack of comprehensive national data on a variety of measurements – the use of force by police, police deaths and the filing of charges, said Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor who studies high-risk policing practices – only provide a picture full.

He said a unified data collection system would help researchers and policymakers better understand trends in police homicides over time and why there could be an increase or decrease in homicides. prosecute. Several factors – such as a local prosecutor preferring to investigate, increased media attention to cases and a change in public opinion are influenced by a social movement. larger gatherings – could happen, Alpert said.

“It’s discouraging when we don’t have this data and don’t seem to care,” he added.

Last year, more serious crimes occurred while the total number of fatal police shootings appeared to have decreased. ONE Washington Post Database, the source of media reports, has counted at least 888 fatal shootings, down 13% from 2020.


While the coronavirus pandemic has not curbed deadly police shootings in 2020, According to researchers, experts suggest that the apparent drop in 2021 can be explained by policy changes taken into effect by some police agencies following protests for racial justice or some officers. more cautious or even fearful of the consequences of the use of deadly force.

Patrick Yoes, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, whose membership includes more than 360,000 officers, said the charges and convictions by officers should be treated as individual incidents and not representative represent all law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, he said, there are ongoing expectations that there are charges against officers or dissatisfaction with the outcome of a trial when an officer is acquitted and the “dehumanization of law enforcement” law” from anti-police rhetoric has made policing more difficult and may impede progress.

“There is nothing wrong with saying that we need to improve the criminal justice system, but we believe that law enforcement is also in a state of crisis,” says Yoes.

The complex nature of police homicide investigations and whether an officer should be charged has become a source of tension in Delaware County, where three officers with the Sharon Police Department Hill faces one count of voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, as well as 10 counts each of reckless endangerment.

The officers – Devon Smith, 34, Sean Dolan, 25, and Brian Devaney, 41 – have been released on bail and are expected to appear in preliminary hearings this month. Their attorneys said in a statement that the August 27 shooting that took Fanta Bility’s life was a “terrible tragedy perpetrated by armed and violent criminals who turned a high school football game into a crime scene.”

Officers were on patrol when a crowd was leaving the football game and gunfire rang out. Jack Stollsteimer, the Delaware district attorney, said in a statement later that “discharged their official weapons toward the Academy Park ballpark.”

Fanta was killed in a barrage of shots, and her 12-year-old sister was also among those injured.

Protesters call for police to be held accountable for the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility at Delaware County Courthouse in Media, Pa., on January 13, 2022. Matt Rourke / AP

Investigators said the gunfire initially came from an argument between a group of young people about a block away from the stadium.

One of the officers told investigators they believed they were being shot as the scene turned chaotic, according to toll documents.

But while some community members and civil rights groups rallied to impeach the officers, Stollsteimer, who was elected a Democrat in 2019 on a reform agenda, has drawn scrutiny for His initial decision charged two teenagers, both black, with murder in connection with Fanta’s death.

However, Stollsheimer’s office withdrew the murder charge after a grand jury recommended indicting the officers. Other charges against the teens are pending, and one of them pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for injuring a bystander child and illegally possessing a firearm, prosecutors said.

Ultimately, whether or not the charges against officers lead to a trial and conviction, this latest case highlights the need for cooperation and trust between police, prosecutors and the public. like the public, Alexander said.

“We have to remind ourselves that there is a long history between communities of color and the police and the wounds have yet to be healed,” he said. More officers charged in fatal police shootings in 2021. Not everyone is seeing progress.

Jake Nichol

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