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Justifiable homicides by police on the rise

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment August 22, 2012 10:30 AM

Yesterday’s lethal shooting by the Boston Police of an armed man in the South End (or Back Bay by some people’s definition) reflects a curious pattern that has emerged over the past decade. Even while crime rates have remained relatively level, the number of felons or suspects killed by the police in America has risen fairly steadily (see figure below). Although not quite as frequent as in the violence-peak years of the early 1990s, since 2000, the incidence of justifiable homicides, as they are classified, of felons/suspects by the police has grown nationally by about one-third, from approximately 300 to 400 per year.


Are police fatalities on the rise?

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment April 13, 2012 05:15 PM

Thursday night’s deadly shoot-out in Greenland, N.H., occurring on the same day as a fatal stand-off in Modesto, Calif., has some observers around the country wondering if the job of a police officer is perhaps getting appreciably more dangerous. And, oddly enough, a story in last Monday’s New York Times, under the ominous headline “Even as Violent Crime Falls, Killing of Officers Rises,” would seem to confirm the impression:

"As violent crime has decreased across the country, a disturbing trend has emerged: rising numbers of police officers are being killed. According to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 72 officers were killed by perpetrators in 2011, a 25 percent increase from the previous year and a 75 percent increase from 2008."

There is more to the matter than the Times noted in its suddenly and sadly relevant story. These are the FBI figures on the number of police officers feloniously killed (as opposed to those killed accidentally) that the Times would have used for its report, data which show a sharp rise in fatalities.


Who's to blame for the chaos?

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment October 11, 2011 12:15 PM

Who is to blame for the chaos that erupted in the early morning hours near the Rose Kennedy Greenway, as the Boston Police used their muscle and might in an attempt to control and manage a raucous crowd of protestors?

Were the protesters wrong in literally overstepping the ground rules by trespassing into newly renovated space? Or were the cops wrong in overstepping their authority by using force and the power of arrest in the name of peace-keeping? In such situations, neither side is typically blameless.


Vancouver riot - Disappointing, but not surprising

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment June 16, 2011 11:00 AM

Yesterday, when I spoke with Constable Jana McGuinness of the Vancouver Police Department about the city’s preparations for post-game crowd control, she insisted that their kinder and gentler, “Meet and Greet” approach was foolproof. She guaranteed that there would be no repeat of the city’s 1994 riot, just as confidently as Canuck forward Daniel Sedin predicted victory. Reportedly, the police had learned from earlier mistakes, and were equipped with “best practices” for managing the throng expected in the downtown during and after the decisive hockey game.

Pressed further about worst-case contingencies, Constable McGuinness explained that the population was different -- more mature -- than in 1994. As evidence, she pointed to the well-mannered crowds during the 2010 Winter Olympics hosted by Vancouver. She rejected my suggestion that the way in which a city identifies with its local sports team, especially on the rare occasions that it competes for a championship, is fundamentally different than how a multi-national crowd reacts to a wide array of competitions held every four years.


Policing frenzied fans

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment June 15, 2011 11:30 AM

The Stanley Cup Finals have featured a remarkable contrast between two very different municipalities—different in terms of nationality, of course, but also in relation to geography, demography, climate, culture, and especially sports history. But one important similarity surrounds how the police in Vancouver and Boston are preparing for crowd control in the event of either victory or defeat in tonight’s winner-takes-home-the-Cup rubber game.

Both these wonderful and proud cities have endured fan riots in the wake of major sporting events. Bostonians are all too familiar with the tragic death of Victoria Snelgrove, the 21-year-old Emerson College student who was killed by “non--lethal” weaponry used by Boston police officers who had been deployed outside of Fenway Park in anticipation of a World Series title. 

Other Boston sporting events have sparked widespread rowdiness and vandalism, most notably the wild street celebration that erupted after the 2001 Super Bowl as the last-second field goal attempt sailed through the uprights to give the underdog Patriots an unexpected victory. Delirious and drunken fans set fires and tipped cars in several areas around town, overwhelming the limited ranks of the Boston Police working the late shift that evening.

Notwithstanding its reputation for civility, Vancouver has had its dark moments. A major riot after the Canucks fell to the New York Rangers in a hard-fought 7th game of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals caused over a million (Canadian) dollars in property damage as well as injuries to dozens of disappointed fans.


Police cops a pathetic plea

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment May 12, 2010 10:04 AM

Sgt. Robert Ralston, a 46-year-old Philadelphia police officer, admitted yesterday to having lied about being shot by at on April 6, while patrolling one of the city’s high crime neighborhoods. The cop’s confession, however, came some five weeks after the city had launched a massive manhunt in the heavily minority-populated area in search of Ralston’s phantom assailant.

The officer had described his attacker as a black male with “cornrows” and a “mark or tattoo under his left eye.” The level of detail with which Ralston embellished his tale made it sound that much more authentic. Plus, who would question the word of a 21-year veteran in blue?

Apparently, the bullet that grazed the officer’s shoulder had come from his own weapon and was shot by his own hand, with no one else around. His motivation is yet unconfirmed; however, the prevailing theory is that Ralston was angry over having been transferred from a white community in South Philadelphia to the black neighborhood in West Philly.

Adding injustice to insult, the disgraced cop was granted immunity by the prosecutor in exchange for his admission of guilt and a promise to pay the city back for the cost of the dragnet. Unfortunately, this special deal does nothing to compensate the residents of community for the dreadful experience of being blanketed by SWAT teams and K-9 units.

"I think it's despicable," said resident Tanya Ennis. "The cops were stopping every man with dreadlocks. Every black man was harassed."


About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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