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Holding police accountable

By Scott Tibbs, February 2, 2009

Two recent letters to the editor (January 19 and January 30) took a strong stand in defense of a Bloomington police officer who shot a teenager wielding a knife. By all indications, the BPD handled the situation (and the investigation) very well. There are many times when the use of deadly force is both justified and necessary. The shooting downtown was one of those times. Nonetheless, I am concerned with an attitude that seems to dismiss criticism of law enforcement and use of force.

When we give government the power to use lethal force in a constitutional republic, it is absolutely necessary that the use of force be carefully examined and thoroughly investigated. The disaster in Waco 16 years ago is one example of why, as are concerns about the use of paramilitary tactics by law enforcement. (See columns by Radley Balko from February 15, 2006, June 21, 2006, June 23, 2006 , November 20, 2007 and January 23, 2009.) We have all seen news stories about police brutality and unjustified shootings, in addition to falsified evidence.

It is the use of paramilitary tactics by police that are of grave concern to me. Balko has done a great job researching and reporting on the results of these raids (especially "no knock" raids) over the last few years. It is my position that overly aggressive use of force creates confrontations that need not happen and that overly aggressive use of force unnecessarily endangers too many lives. Keeping drugs from being destroyed, flushed or otherwise disposed of is a poor excuse for using these tactics.

When human beings are given power, that power will often be abused. Asking tough questions and holding police accountable for their decisions is not a sign of disrespect for the police. We can hold police officers in high regard while still recognizing that police officers are fallen human beings who are as vulnerable to corruption and violence as any other human being. The issue is not disrespecting the police, the issue is about carefully guarding civil liberties from a government that will always lean more toward state power than individual liberty.