Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Local papers do Lord's work analyzing excessive force

Every local newspaper should be tracking information about local excessive force complaints, IMO, because nobody else does it. A Corpus Christi Caller Times report ("Tracking the use of force," May 22) found that nearly 1/5 of "deaths in custody" statewide occurred prior to or during arrest. More than a fifth of deaths in custody occurred in Houston.

The Caller Times found the statewide database of deaths in custody maintained by the Texas Attorney General is rife with data entry errors and contains little useful information. Writers Nancy Martinez and Sarah Viren found that f
ew complaints by citizens of excessive forces are sustained at Corpus Christi PD, where the "internal affairs department sustained, or found sufficient evidence, in 27 of the 976 complaints." I was quoted at the end of the article on that subject:
Scott Henson, director of ACLU's Police Accountability project based in Austin, said to his knowledge, no organization in the state keeps track of excessive force complaints.

"The big problem is we have a small amount of officers who are responsible for the majority of complaints. The other officers turn a blind eye and support the blue wall of silence that support that kind of behavior," Henson said.

"Local newspapers do it. There's no one else. I don't have the staff to do it. We do an annual report on racial profiling data at traffic stops."

That's at least been my experience - local newspapers and disgruntled family members of brutality victims are the only folks you ever see pursuing this critical information. I've been down that road, and even for an experienced researcher the lack of uniform reporting makes data a jumble. It's a shame the state doesn't do a better job of tracking such information.

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