It has been said that the police officer on the beat is the most powerful person in the American justice system. More powerful than a congressman who makes laws, more powerful than a senator, even more powerful than a judge on the United States Supreme Court. This is because a police officer on the street has the complete power over a person’s life.
With his baton he can send a man to the hospital, simply by stating that the man resisted his will. With his pen, he can deprive a man of his personal freedom, simply by stating that he observed a violation of a penal code. However, perhaps the most awesome power that a police officer has is attached to his belt, the power to take a human life with his gun. The police officer’s “license to kill” comes with virtually no legal accountability; a successful criminal prosecution of a police officer involved in a shooting is so rare as to be virtually nonexistent in American jurisprudence.
Similarly rare, though more common than criminal accountability, is any form of adverse professional consequences for an officer who kills an individual in the line of duty. When a police officer kills an unarmed man, almost certainly, nothing will happen to him. He will not face any form of criminal prosecution, and, more likely than not, there will be no professional consequences whatsoever imposed on him.