Indicting Police Officers, Holiday Letters, The Year In Music

Air Date:
Heard On Central Time

Recent high-profile incidents like the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Dontre Hamilton each led to police officers cleared of indictment on criminal charges. We explore why it’s difficult to indict police officers. Then we talk about over sharing in yearly holiday letters and review the high notes in music this year.

Featured in this Show

  • Scholar: Police Less Likely To Be Indicted For Crimes Than Civilians

    The Dontre Hamilton case is the latest to become part of what a University of North Texas political science professor asserts is an ongoing trend of police officers not getting indicted for shooting a civilian.

    Protesters are still demonstrating in New York City after an officer there wasn’t charged in the choking death of Eric Garner. There’s also lingering unrest in Ferguson, Mo., where Officer Darren Wilson walked away without an indictment for shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown.

    According to Kimi King, a professor of political science at the University of North Texas, police officers are in fact far less likely to be indicted for being involved in a shooting death than a civilian is. She pointed to the latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which shows that U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of those cases — the remainder went on to trial.

    “Yet when you look around the country, you see repeatedly, in looking at police homicide cases, that those numbers just simply are not comparable,” King said.

    In her home state of Texas, King said Houston juries haven’t indicted a police officer since 2004, though there have been allegations of upwards of 288 police use of force that resulted in a homicide. And in Dallas, grand juries indicted one officer in the 81 cases of police shootings reviewed in the last four years.

    King said one explanation for why it’s so difficult to indict a police officer for not just shootings but any crime involves prosecutorial discretion and the often symbiotic relationship between local attorneys general and law enforcement.

    “Prosecutors need the police,” King said. “Remember, in all of their other criminal cases that go on every other day of the year, police departments need to have a relationship with the local district attorney, and the district attorney also needs to have a relationship with the local officers.”

    Officials are increasingly attempting to remove local prosecutors from the equation so that cases get turned over to either a state attorney general or go to federal prosecutors. King said that doing so could be an effective solution.

    “So for those people who are unhappy about police behavior, my suggestion would be that the route you go for some reform is that you remove that local connection,” King said.

    It’s a strategy the Hamilton family pursued on Monday after Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said the shooting was justified self-defense. And in fact, the U.S. attorney for Milwaukee announced just a few hours later that the Department of Justice would review the case.

  • Why It's Difficult To Indict A Police Officer

    Monday’s decision by the Milwaukee County District Attorney not to charge a former Milwaukee police officer in the shooting death of Dontre Hamilton is the latest among several cases across the country where an officer was not charged. What is the legal explanation for these decisions? An expert explains what grand juries and district attorneys look at when they review an officer-involved death case.

  • The Case Against Holiday Letters

    You know those holiday letters that people send, telling you about their year, their accomplishments, and sometimes uncomfortable personal stuff? Our guest makes the case for getting rid of holiday letters for good.

  • Can't-Miss Music From 2014

    NPR’s Stephen Thompson has his finger on the pulse of today’s music, and he’ll share some of the best bands and songs from 2014.

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Mike Arnold Host
  • Cynthia Schuster Producer
  • Kimi King Guest
  • Elissa Strauss Guest
  • Stephen Thompson Guest