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Police Transparency

W. Scott Cole

Posted on May 26, 2019 01:32

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Most police officers are good people trying their best to do a very difficult job, but like any job sector, there are bad apples. The problem is finding out who and how bad those apples are.

There seem to be more and more instances in the news of cops shooting civilians where it turns out to have been a bad shooting. It also seems there is very little, if any, punishment for those cops. The District Attorney investigates and almost always says the shooting was justified; the police department investigates and either says it was justified or just shuts up.

The problem is that all the records of those investigations are sealed so nobody can see them. That extends to more than just shootings. Almost every incident of police misconduct gets shut behind that blue wall, and police departments fight every attempt to view those records. Very few people have the resources to go through the courts to force the records to be unlocked for the public, even if they fall under open records laws.

USA Today had the resources and took on the job for us. It took them a year to come up with statistics from 44 states. They were unable to pry open the records of six states in that year. What they found is surprising in some ways, and in others, not so much.

In the last 10 years, from thousands of agencies and departments, they found at least 200,000 incidents of alleged police misconduct that sparked investigations. Of that, more than 110,000 were internal affairs investigations, which showed that 33,000 officers had been decertified for their misconduct.

The report shows that most of the misconduct was for routine infractions, which is not surprising in itself. Everyone makes little mistakes on their job, for which there may be punishment, but it isn’t too serious. However, there were many thousands that involved serious misconduct and/or abuse.

There were 22,924 investigations of officers using excessive force, 3,145 of sexual misconduct, including rape and child molestation, and 2,307 cases of domestic violence.

One major problem was the dishonesty that makes so many people distrust the police. There were 2,227 cases involving perjury, evidence or witnesses tampering, and falsifying reports, with 418 reports of officers obstructing investigations.

Perhaps most surprising to many people is that these numbers are less than 10% of the officers in the nation; but there are those who are investigated over and over. The report shows nearly 2,500 were investigated on 10 or more charges and there were 20 that faced over 100 or more investigations.

Decertification varies from state to state, with Georgia and Florida decertifying thousands of officers, meaning they can no longer be police officers anywhere in the state, while some have handed that punishment to just a few. Maryland, for instance, even with the problems in Baltimore, have decertified just four bad cops in 10 years.

For minor infractions, I can understand the records being sealed. Minor complaints are no big deal, but for major infractions, there needs to be stronger laws forcing police departments to open their records so we can all see just who the bad actors wearing badges are.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on May 26, 2019 01:32

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Source: WashPost

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