Manslaughter charges were filed against three police officers in suburban Philadelphia after the trio heard gunshots outside a high school football game last summer and returned fire at a crowd, accidentally killing an 8-year-old girl and injuring three others. It became the first publicly known case this year in which an officer was charged with either manslaughter or murder in connection with an on-duty shooting, NBC News reports. In earlier years, such a shooting might have been brushed aside as a tragedy by prosecutors and grand juries who were inclined to take officers' word, said Cedric Alexander, former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement. That may be changing. "We are all paying more attention to the process, and prosecutors know that investigations must be done thoroughly and in a more balanced way," Alexander said.
Charges against officers who use lethal force remain rare, and convictions for serious charges even more unusual. Experts say there has been a noticeable shift the other way: With growing pressure on prosecutors to thoroughly investigate cases and guilty verdicts reached in trials against officers, charges and convictions for killings in the line of duty are increasing. Last year, 21 police officers were charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting, the highest in a single year, according to a database by Bowling Green State University criminal justice professor Philip Stinson that started tracking incidents in 2005.
In the past five years, 16 officers were charged in 2020; 12 in 2019; 10 in 2018; and seven in 2017.
"I think we are seeing a shift. While this is not a sea change, the public is asking for more accountability," Alexander said. Despite the record number of police officers charged, Stinson said, the increase doesn't reflect a statistically significant change because the sample size remains small.