Police are from the same cloth as all court witnesses, drawn from the general population that ranges from the angelic to the amoral to the sinister. Neither the law nor good sense merits cloaking police with any more presumption of believability nor honesty, than any other witness.
Recent examples that police include those to heavily beware of include:
– Two weekends ago, a Minneapolis police officer shot dead Justine Ruszczyk, a 911 caller who reported a possible assault in progress. No video footage exists of the incident, the police officer who shot the caller has apparently remained silent (which of course is his right, as much as police often act berserk when their own suspects do not talk to them), and the Minneapolis police chief has resigned in the midst of this scandal.
– Praised be the Maryland Public Defender’s Office for making public a video from earlier this year seeming to show Baltimore police planting illegal drugs in a residential area. The related prosecution got dropped as a result.
– Speaking of Baltimore, two veteran Baltimore police detectives — Evodio Hendrix and Maurice Ward — on July 21, 2017, entered guilty pleas in federal court over charges involving robbing arrestees, claiming non-existent overtime pay, and forging documents.
Material mis-steps by police are not isolated incidents, even if the above examples are among the more extreme police mis-steps. Police work under extraordinary pressure, often exhausted working when most people are sleeping, often too quickly dashing off incident reports that become their gospel (so that they may return to the street or end their shift), and are bound to make serious errors. Their badge and uniform do not shield them from such mis-steps.
What can the population at large do about this state of policing affairs? We can start by acknowledging that the public over the decades has allowed the criminal justice system to get overgrown and overly harsh, abdicating our own role in looking out for each others’ welfare as opposed to seeking a policing and prosecutorial solution to even minor claimed ills that do not need police and court intervention. In community after community in the United States, millions of Americans greenlight what has become a police state, with police trolling for those with marijuana, for those minding their own business enjoying several cold ones without any car keys nor intention to drive, drivers possibly over the alcohol drinking limit, and the list goes on. Too many politicians cower about possibly lost votes if they stand up for a smaller, more manageable, more sensible and humane criminal justice system rather than the current state of affairs that allows too many presumed innocent people to be detained without bond pending their trials, too many people to be racially profiled, too many non-violent convicts to suffer overly-severe mandatory minimum sentencing, and too many innocent people to be convicted.
Of course, we want police to humanize all people, and one way to accomplish that is for us to humanize police. Plenty police mean well, but how many police who mean well stand up when they witness colleagues who violate their oath of office, stand up to orders that disserve the public, and stand up for them to have the resources and time to minimize getting the wrong people arrested, convicted and harshly sentenced? For a police officer to stand up in that way, the officer needs to be ready to risk losing his or her police fraternity, his or her job, and all the substantial pay, overtime, pension, and other benefits that come with the position.
Prosecutors, judges and jurors do a gross disservice to criminal defendants and the rest of the public to cloak police with any more a presumption of honesty and reliability as witnesses than they do with civilians. We all are humans, all with the potential and ability to do great and abysmal things. Police are far from Übermensch immune to such failings.
Northern Virginia criminal defense attorney Jon Katz has been fighting for thousands of criminal defendants since 1991. For a confidential appointment, please call Jon’s staff at 703-383-1100.