In a move that is sure to piss off a lot of people, USA Today has published a nationwide database of law enforcement officers that have been investigated for misconduct. The link to the article (which contains a link to the actual database) can be found here.
According to the article, the “records detail at least 200,000 incidents of alleged misconduct, much of it previously unreported . . . more than 110,000 internal affairs investigations by hundreds of individual departments and more than 30,000 officers who were decertified by 44 state oversight agencies.”
This must have been a Herculean effort to put together. The article notes that “[d]espite their role as public servants, the men and women who swear an oath to keep communities safe can generally avoid public scrutiny for their misdeeds. The records of their misconduct are filed away, rarely seen by anyone outside their departments. Police unions and their political allies have worked to put special protections in place ensuring some records are shielded from public view, or even destroyed.”
I have a couple of things to say. First, the article is correct that these types of records are often intentionally shielded from public view and given legal protection. In Louisiana, LSA-R.S. 40:2532 prevents release of a “law enforcement officer's home address, photograph, or any information that may be deemed otherwise confidential, without the express written consent of the law enforcement officer” to the press. Of course, when news organizations have sought internal affairs records and details of misconduct, law enforcement has sought protection under the “otherwise confidential” language of the statute. They should not be permitted to do so. In my view, any internal affairs records or reports/allegations of misconduct should be freely available for public inspection, subject to redaction of personal data. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Second, I do not mean to excoriate all law enforcement officers by this blog post. As a criminal defense lawyer, I necessarily have an antagonistic relationship with law enforcement. In other words, law enforcement's role is to prevent crime and to arrest those who are alleged to have committed crimes, while my role is to zealously represent those same persons alleged to have committed crimes. I've cross-examined plenty of police officers. Hell, one of my cousins is a cop. I'm 100% sure he's a good cop (I even searched for his name on the misconduct database, and of course, he wasn't on there). There are lots of diligent, respectful, good police officers.
However, I hope that this leads to a changing of public perception. Too many ordinary people (and, unfortunately, too many judges and prosecutors) simply believe that ALL cops are good cops and that any complaint of misconduct against ANY cop is unfounded. That is simply not the case. If nothing else, the 200,000 incidents of alleged misconduct and 30,000+ decertifications across 44 states should be evidence of that. Police brutality occurs. Planting of drugs and other evidence occurs (I've seen this on surveillance tapes). Cops can and do lie on the witness stand (I've seen this too). I hope that this reporting by USA Today will go a long way in correcting the misperception described above.
If you feel like you have been mistreated by a police officer, are under investigation for a crime, or have been arrested for a crime, make sure you call the Law Office of Alex Kriksciun today!