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So What Does It Really Take to Indict a Police Officer?

The recent decisions by grand juries not to press charges against white police officers involved in fatalities of unarmed black men in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY has led the headlines in recent weeks. 

These incidents have called into question the difficulty of charging police officers with crimes, even with video evidence, and what alternatives there could be to address police misconduct.

Pitt Law Professor David Harris explains the difficulty of charging officers, and how police departments are changing.

Harris emphasizes that police officers are authorized to use force, so convicting police for inappropriate conduct means proving, for instance, that excessive or unreasonable force was used, with the intention of depriving an individuals of his or her rights. The burden of proof is high, Harris observes.

Although police departments in Pittsburgh and other cities are making plans to provide police with body cameras, having video footage doesn’t make charging police much easier and can’t determine any outcome, Harris says. Although such footage does help by providing an indisputable record.

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