Thursday, March 02, 2006

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

I'm a law-abiding sort of guy, and I respect law enforcement professionals. It's a job that's full of danger, long hours, and less-than-stellar pay, doing a necessary and sometimes ugly task to protect us all. But the question above, which translates as "Who guards the guards?" seems increasingly relevant in Upstate NY. In Watertown, City Police Officer VanWaldick put several shots into the chest of an ex-girlfriend's boss/friend after breaking into the victim's home. Previously, the police had been called when he was stalking/harassing this ex and, according to reports in the Watertown press, the local cops didn't take official action. Here in Jamestown, Officer Michael Watson was arrested for troubling behavior involving allegedly stalking/harassing various women, some of which was allegedly known to other officers. Then in today's Plattsburg paper, there's this story that two officers returning from a training session may have had a few drinks before their auto accident. From that area, although I don't have links, there was a long-running case in Ticonderoga involving an officer allegedly taking his 17 year old girlfriend to Glens Falls bars.

I don't want to single out a few bad actors/bad apples as a condemnation of the entire group. The problem, from my standpoint as a Con Law lawyer, is that Equal Protection and Due Process require the laws to apply equally and fairly. What runs through all these stories is the dreaded "appearance of impropriety." Maybe the actions by police departments in each case were the sort of discretionary acts usually done in vehicle accident/domestic/harassment incidents, in deciding whether or not to make arrests or file reports. However, given the special status of the police in our legal system, the situation in each case ends up looking ugly and looking like special treatment for certain alleged offenders, which only hurts the effectiveness of law enforcement when their credibility and actions can be called into question.


Blogger jackbear said...

It would be interesting to know what type of "ethics" training our law enforcement professionals recieve in preparation for this career, as well as during their service.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my favorite quotes, I use it as a .sig file on my email.

So many are killed in the line of duty, especially recently here in Central New York, but I can easily think of more abuses. Coming to mind are several: the Buffalo Cops ticket spree, but not themselves as they illegally park is just one example. And then there was that whole Mark Virginia "accident" by the cops. Imagine being bludgeoned or strangled to death with a night stick just cause you are a bit jittery by nature and are driving through a "nice" neighborhood in a beat up van on your way home at 3 in the morning. Then, last summer the cops spent 3 hours chasing a deer all around downtown/the lower westside. The poor thing was scared to death. After chasing it with sirens and cars, terrifying it, when it was no longer fun, they shot it in the head. Three hours was plenty of time to get an animal control agent and a tranquilizer gun. But no, where is the fun in not being above the law.

I have known cops who laughingly tell terrible stories about how they beat and harass suspects and otherwise trammel upon on their rights.

Don't get me wrong, I am no bleeding heart, but I do believe that enough people have bleed over the Constitution that their blood shed should not be in vain.

2:04 PM  

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