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John Oliver examines America's police accountability problem

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HBO

John Oliver tackled police accountability on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, in the wake of multiple police-related shootings around the country.

“The trust between police and the communities they serve is clearly a cornerstone of civilized society,” said Oliver. “Unfortunately, that trust has been rocked following a series of controversial police shootings from Alton Sterling to Philando Castile to Tamir Rice to so many others — I literally cannot mention them all. And cumulatively, these deaths taken with countless small incidence of police misconduct, have led to a common refrain.”

For Oliver, it all comes down to accountability in one of the toughest jobs in the country. “But that’s all the more reason for ensuring that it’s done to the highest standard,” said Oliver of police work, adding he doesn’t buy into the mindset that there will always be “bad apples” in every institution.

“That is a weirdly blasé attitude because bad apples can erode trust fast,” he said. “Snow White wasn’t afraid of apples before she took a bite out of that one really bad one, but I’m telling you, the next time an old lady comes at her with a piece of fruit, Snow is gonna get the f— out of there.”

He continued: “That argument — it’s just a few bad apples — has some real problems. For a start, it doesn’t address bad laws and policies that good officers are made to enforce, which we’ve touched on multiple times before. Criminal justice is kind of our show’s signature bit. It is to us what assessing the shape of your poop is to Dr. Oz. Also, you can’t claim there’s just a few bad apples when no one knows exactly how many there are. There are nearly 18,000 different police departments in America, and they are not great at reporting or sharing data.”

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In the absence of data provided by the police, one researcher took it upon himself to gather information from Google alerts. “His stats are truly chilling,” Oliver said. “Out of thousands of fatal police shootings since 2005, only 77 officers have been been charged with murder or manslaughter. And to date, only 26 have been convicted. And while the truth is many police shootings are justified, 26 seems suspiciously low.”

Oliver believes part of the problem is how an officer’s misconduct is investigated by his colleagues, “which does not inspire confidence.” It’s also something the Department of Justice has found to be problematic.

Oliver’s deep dive also shows how local policies can make it possible for disciplinary records to be destroyed and how officers can avoid an investigation by resigning and transferring to a different police department, he explained. And even when officers head to court for their actions, roadblocks can get in the way of justice.

Watch Oliver explore police accountability in the video below.