A total of 44 complaints have been filed against Syracuse police officers for the use of excessive force against unarmed criminal suspects. A special “Force After Fleeing” report was released yesterday, May 5, listing details of injuries sustained by people after they had surrendered to the officers. The report contains complaints dating back to 2012.
Of the 44 complaints, the Syracuse Civilian Review Board determined that 16 had substantial evidence of misconduct. Incidents resulted in broken noses, broken eye sockets, dislocated joints, bruised ribs, and numerous abrasions, lacerations, and contusions.
Suspects injured were being pursued for crimes of varying severity from petty theft to drug distribution. Some complainants also accused officers of making discriminatory remarks and racial slurs during the arrest. The report also revealed that the majority of the cases involved white police officers and black complainants.
In the report, an unnamed retired Syracuse police officer was quoted saying that the practice of “roughing up” suspects who surrendered after fleeing was a common practice in Syracuse as well as in “most urban jurisdictions.” Syracuse police spokesman Sgt. Richard Helterline declined to comment, as did the mayor’s chief of staff, Bill Ryan.
The board has made several recommendations to the Syracuse police department, including the suggestion that it adequately train its leaders to “ensure that they have the requisite knowledge and integrity to thoroughly investigate, accurately report their findings, and hold their fellow officers accountable.” It has also requested the public release of the ratio of arrests that result in the use of force to arrests that do not.
The conduct of the Syracuse police force provokes the question: where is line drawn? How much force is necessary to uphold the law, and when is it simply considered extraneous and motivated by something other than justice? More people — 49% in one Harris Poll — are using the internet to ask legal questions like these, and this is especially true for those who may have had a questionable encounter with law enforcement.