Earth & Conservation

How Did Police Violence In The U.S. Get This Bad?

The recent fatal shootings of black men by police officers has put police brutality in the spotlight. Have the police become more violent?

According to a 2015 report by Human Rights Watch, the United States has "largely failed" to address United Nations recommendations on reports of police brutality and racial inequality in the U.S. justice system. A torrent of recent incidents has raised the question once again -- how has police violence gotten so bad in America?

As Trace Dominguez explains in this Seeker Daily special report, human rights observers both inside and outside the U.S. point to a troubling militarization of law enforcement across the country. Police departments are deploying equipment and training procedures that were once exclusive to America's armed forces.

The trend can be traced back to the 1970s, when Richard Nixon introduced the concept of a "war on drugs" to the nation. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan expanded on the initiative, passing federal laws allowing local police to cooperate with military agencies and use military equipment.

RELATED: Which Countries Spend The Most On Their Military?

The militarization further escalated after the September 11 terror attacks, with both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense contributing funding to local police around the country. As a result, many domestic law enforcement departments now have weapons like grenade launchers and vehicles with mounted guns.

But critics says that military training and protocols have been even more damaging than the equipment, in regard to violent police incidents. Multiple reports -- including one from the Department of Justice -- note that police are better trained in self-defense than they are in community building and de-escalation techniques.

Another major contributing factor to incidents of police violence, critics say, is simple lack of accountability. The standards for police brutality differ wildly across jurisdictions, and even in cases where police brutality is clear, alleged crimes are almost never prosecuted. A 2014 study of New Jersey brutality complaints found that 99 percent were never even investigated. In another study, the national average of complaints investigated by internal units was less than ten percent.

In 2015, President Barack Obama announced that the federal government will no longer provide heavy military equipment to police, but the debate over militarization is still ongoing.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

The Economist: How America's police became so heavily armed

CNN: Obama will restrict grenade launchers, military equipment from local police

New York Times: Long Taught to Use Force, Police Warily Learn to De-escalate

Washington Post: U.S. cities pay out millions to settle police lawsuits