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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SAY WHAT? :Local Cops See Torture as Just Part of the Job




Last week, a New York court sentenced a former patrol officer to 30 years in prison for torturing a Haitian immigrant.


The immigrant, Abner Louima, tried to intercede when he thought a group of policemen were roughing up a fellow Haitian outside a Brooklyn club in 1997. For that, the immigrant was taken to the police precinct, beaten by several policemen on the way and raped with a broken broomstick by officer Justin Volpe in the police department bathroom. Volpe afterward told investigators that Louima's injuries were caused by homosexual intercourse.


Louima's case got national attention and his torturer got a sentence - but it was a model case. However, even in the most transparent of systems accidents can happen: Recall how the initial jury on the Rodney King trial acquitted the officers that brutalized him. They were convicted in a retrial.


In Russia, convictions for police brutality are rare and sentences like Volpe's are unheard of, a highly-placed source in the St. Petersburg police department told me.


For example, this year a policeman in St. Petersburg was convicted of chaining a witness with handcuffs to a heater, beating him repeatedly in the face, and then forcing the beaten man to buy him alcohol and soda.


For this, the officer was given a suspended three-year sentence, with a right to resume his service on the force in one year. He was the only officer convicted of torture in the city in 1999.


"It doesn't mean that there is no police brutality. Check the records at any trauma clinic," my source told me. "Dozens of people report being beaten in detention each month, but these cases are so hard to prove."


Human rights advocates suggest that about 50 percent of the criminal suspects in Russia have faced torture and ill treatment. Official statistics on investigations of police abuse don't exist, but it is known that there have been very few convictions for torture. Many torture victims said that law enforcement officers had threatened them with repercussions if they complained about the brutality.


If these torture cases go to court, the police officers are usually acquitted because of the lack of evidence, or they get suspended sentences. Being familiar with the system, I would guess that the reluctance to investigate police brutality is caused by solidarity within law enforcement. But my police source's point of view is different.


"Apparently, the courts understand that police brutality is caused by the officers' being eager servicemen who are trying to get evidence," he explained.


As Judge Eugene Nickerson imposed a 30-year sentence on officer Volpe, he said "it would be difficult to overstate the harm Mr. Volpe inflicted on Mr. Louima, the police department and society at large."


But harm to the society could have been avoided if the New York police had simply followed the example of their Russian counterparts. Volpe and his team should have silenced Louima by menacing him with death threats or just killing him, and then gone to a Brooklyn bar for a couple of beers. That way, nobody would have learned that a New York cop is capable of raping a suspect with a broken broomstick.


And we all would have been happier for it, ignorance being the bliss that it is.