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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Why Cops Are So Hard to Fire

      [Police officers accused of serious misconduct including physical abuse are] able to keep their jobs and benefits--sometimes only temporarily, but always longer than they should have--thanks to legislation written and lobbied for by well-funded police unions. That legislation is called the "Law Enforcement Bill of Rights," and its sole purpose is to shield cops from the laws they are paid to enforce....

     The rights created by these bills differ from state to state, but here's how a typical police misconduct investigation works in states that have a law enforcement bill of rights in place:

     A complaint is filed against an officer by a member of the pubic or fellow officer. Police department leadership reviews the complaint and decides whether to investigate. If the department decides to pursue the complaint, it must inform the officer and his union. That's where the special treatment begins, but it doesn't end there.

     Unlike a member of the pubic, the officer gets a "cooling off" period before he has to respond to any questions. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is privy to the names of his complainants and their testimony against him before he is ever interrogated. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is to be interrogated "at a reasonable hour," with a union member present. Unlike a member of the pubic, the officer can only be questioned by one person during his interrogation. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can be interrogated for only "reasonable periods," which "shall be timed to allow for such personal necessities and rest periods as are reasonably necessary." Unlike a member of the pubic, the officer under investigation cannot be "threatened with disciplinary action" at any point during his interrogation. If he is threatened with punishment, whatever he says following the threat cannot be used against him.

     What happens after the interrogation again varies from state to state. But under nearly every law enforcement bill of rights, the following additional privileges are granted to officers: Their departments cannot publicly acknowledge that the officer is under investigation; if the officer is cleared of wrongdoing or the charges are dropped, the department may not publicly acknowledge that the investigation ever took place, or reveal the nature of the complaint. The officer cannot be questioned or investigated by "non-goverment agents," which means no civilian review boards. If the officer is suspended as a result of the investigation, he must continue to receive full pay and benefits until his case is resolved. In most states, the charging department must subsidize the accused officer's legal defense....

Mike Riggs, "Why Firing a Bad Cop is Damn Near Impossible," reason.com, October 19, 2002

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