The UC California pepper-spraying incident showed that police brutality can crop up anywhere – even in broad daylight in a liberal American state in 2011. Yet there are definitely some police forces around the world among which violence is more part of the culture than it is in others. In forces where officers don’t receive enough in the way ethical training there is a danger of them being turned into little more than armed gangs – and particularly dangerous ones since they’re better equipped than most gangs. Even worse, if the government controlling the police is unscrupulous, the officers can be a tremendous threat to the freedoms they are theoretically supposed to be protecting. Here we list the roll of dishonor – the ten most brutal police forces on Earth.
American police forces aren’t as bad as those of most of the more authoritarian countries on this list, but their recent (as well as more historical) behavior is still enough to raise a few eyebrows. For example, 16 formal excessive force allegations have been raised against Chicago PD in the last few years, including 10 filed since 2005. Muriel Collison, an attorney representing some of the plaintiffs, said: “We’ve never seen anything like it. We do have pending cases in other municipalities, but never more than one at time. So it’s a little alarming.” Some of the department’s more notorious acts are the fatal shooting of Aaren Gwinn in 2008 and the beating of the dialysis patient Stretha Van Alston in 2009. Then, panning out to the behavior of other American police departments, of course we have the numerous offenses against protestors in recent times – from the unprovoked pepper-spraying at UC Davis in 2011 to the beatings and attacks on Occupy demonstrators (an iconic image of which is shown above: 84-year-old Dorli Rainey after being pepper-sprayed). What’s more, the list of other police brutality cases over the past ten years – particularly in states such as Colorado, California and New York – is as long as one’s proverbial arm. Surely this can’t be the only way for a country like America to keep the peace?
The Chinese police come in at number nine in our catalog of dishonor. As you might expect from an authoritarian state, public service is not its police force’s top priority. Chinese armed police are widely held to be corrupt and to habitually use torture to extract confessions from suspects. Especially poorly regarded are the Chengguan, officers who handle very low-level crime in China and who have been responsible for several deaths due to overzealously accompanying their arrests with violence – including a 2008 incident in which they beat a man to death after he filmed an altercation between villagers and officials on his camera phone. Many of the service’s problems are tied up with its lack of funds: according to inside sources, Chinese cops often have no cars, modern forensics gear or even proper handcuffs, and their rudimentary training makes them incompetent in most activities except violence. Definitely not the right people to ask for directions if you’re lost.
8. South Africa
Incidents like the South African police setting dogs on illegal immigrants in 1998 may have been shocking, but they’re only tip of the iceberg when it comes to brutality in recent years. In 2010/11, 797 people died in police custody or as a result of police action in South Africa, an average of two per day. One of the most high-profile incidents was the murder of Andries Tatane, who was beaten and shot to death with rubber bullets in an attack by six officers in 2011, an incident that was captured on video and which brought international publicity to police brutality in South Africa. Many explanations have been proposed for the increase in violence, including the former National Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele encouraging officers to use deadly force and the organization being made more militaristic.
If you’ve seen City of God then you’ll already know that the Police in Rio de Janeiro are considered extremely violent. Raids on the city’s numerous drug gangs are run like military operations, and with the use of heavy firepower, while killings by police officers over the past ten years have been likened to executions or the work of death squads. According to the UN, law enforcement officers kill an average of three people per day in Rio de Janeiro. Mind you, their casualty rate in return is usually very high due to equally heavily armed criminals who are not afraid to shoot back: in 2004, for example, 52 police were killed while in the line of duty, and many more were murdered once off duty. In some senses it’s hardly surprising that the police force has developed a preference for going in all guns blazing.
The Russian police force and secret services are notoriously brutal, but it’s only recently that complaints against the police have found their way into the mainstream Western media. The eye-popping allegations leveled against the service include officers using pedestrians as human shields during a high-speed pursuit, the brutal torture and killing of a journalist in Tomsk, and the shooting, beating and tortures of other civilians. Even the higher-ups in the force are not exempt from such charges: a former police chief was convicted of going on a drunken shooting spree in a Moscow supermarket in 2010 that left two dead. The formerly communist country has also so thoroughly embraced capitalism that armed police escorts are available to hire for anyone with enough money to purchase them. What would Marx have thought of that?
5. North Korea
The West doesn’t get much news from the totalitarian state of North Korea, but what little we do know about their police force suggests that they put much more effort into cracking heads than helping the public. North Korean officers have been captured on video using excessive force against protestors – including brutally knocking one man to the ground with a riot shield – and kicking a detainee already beaten to the floor during an interrogation. Their prison system is also believed to be among the most inhumane in the world, with torture routinely practiced, the execution of those who attempt to escape and, according to released political prisoner Lee Soon Ok, thousands dying of starvation and overwork every year. Small wonder that North Korea’s police force is arguably even less humanitarian than the country’s other institutions.
The “contested” elections in Iran have really brought police brutality to new heights. The Iranian government has itself confirmed that 36 protesters were killed during the 2009-10 Iranian election – though opposition sources put the death count at double the amount – with the police as well as paramilitaries held responsible. Of the 4,000 arrested, many are claimed to have been brutally tortured and raped in prison, with some even dying as a result of the abuse meted out. At least some of the accusations were confirmed by Iranian police chief Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, although he claimed that any deaths were the result of “illness.” Maybe it’s the same kind of illness that led to protesters being killed during the 2011 demonstrations as well.
Egypt’s police force is well known for its brutally straightforward methods of extracting information. NGOs estimate that there are hundreds of torture incidents each day in Cairo alone, many of which incorporate electric shocks and which are aimed at extorting self-incriminating confessions. People on the right side of the legal system aren’t safe either: even human rights lawyers have reportedly been attacked and beaten up while attempting to visit their clients. The causes of such brutality are deeply rooted: before the Arab Spring the police were an instrument of repression for the old regime, and many officers have evidently found it difficult to shake off old habits. When added to the usual suspects of poor training, understaffing and ill discipline, this has led to many ongoing issues surrounding police handling of suspects and prisoners.
Officers of the law in most countries are expected to protect and serve the public as their most important duty. Pakistani police, on the other hand, are considered by two separate Transparency International surveys to be the most corrupt organization in the country – no mean feat. One of their most infamous acts was torturing and slicing off the penis of a 24-year-old man in the Larkana District police station in 2007 and trying to pass it off as a suicide attempt. Members of the organization have also been accused of torturing suspects and later refusing to release them to their families unless paid substantial amounts of money. The situation has only gotten worse during the recent devolution of the government, while the number of Habeas Corpus cases filed increased by 300 percent between 2002 and 2007. With police like this, who needs criminals?
The Mexican police force has long been accused of inefficiency and corruption, and recently they’re certainly doing their best to live up to that reputation. In just the last few years, police officers have been accused of the 2011 racial murder of a Nigerian man in Mexico City and even being complicit in the disappearance and murder of women in Ciudad Juarez. Their record of cruelty to demonstrators is also almost worthy of Iran: in 2004, they allegedly tortured 19 protestors at the Guadalajara demonstration in an attempt to get them to sign self-incriminating confessions, and they were also accused of sexually abusing victims at a 2006 protest in San Salvador de Atenco. Mexico may have among the world’s worst problems with drug cartels, but that’s no excuse for such actions on the part of its law enforcements officers.