Almost half of all states have laws which shield officers engaging in police misconduct, according to an investigation Thursday. Now police unions are defending the policy.
The investigation was conducted by WNYC. It found a total of 23 states and the District of Columbia have rules allowing police disciplinary records to be confidential. For DC Police Union President Delroy Burton, the policy is fair to the police officers.
“It’s intrusive to have unfettered access to these records,” Burton told WNYC. “It allows people to go on witch hunts of police officers.”
Detectives’ Endowment Association President Michael Palladino, echoed his support for the policy as well. Law enforcement has been under increased scrutiny for some recent incidences of alleged police brutality. Some have said the police are becoming too militarized while others have claimed there is systematic racism.
“Even if someone saw that an officer was accused of misconduct and cleared of the allegations, that’s the only thing they’d focus on,” Burton continued. “They would take that accusation and run with it. Not only could this ruin his career, it could put him or his family in danger.”
Others, however, disagree with the policy. Robert Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government, says police should be under more scrutiny, not less.
“Police officers are the public employees who have the most power and control over people’s lives,” Freeman told WNYC. “And the result of 50-a is that they are the least accountable. It should be the reverse.”
There have been several incidences of alleged police misconduct that garnered national attention in the last couple years. Freddie Gray died in April from spinal injuries while in the custody of Baltimore police. Michael Brown was shot dead after robbing a store and assaulting police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo.
Both deaths resulted in several protests as well as riots and looting. Many have argued the incidences show systematic racism since they involved a black individual dying at the hands of a white police officer.
Another incident involving police misconduct resulted in the death of Eric Garner. New York City Officer Daniel Pantaleo, was accused of choking Garner to death in 2014. Garner was heard shouting that he couldn’t breathe as he was wrestled to the ground. The incident made national headlines and sparked a debate on police using excessive force and institutional racism. At the time Pantaleo caught Garner selling untaxed cigarettes.
After persistent media and public pressure, some basic information about Pantaleo was released. The policy, though, still made it incredibly difficult to review what discriminatory actions were taken. So much so that in July, reports Time Warner Cable News, a judge ordered the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board to turn over the disciplinary records of Pantaleo.
There has also been a national backlash to police using what is known as civil asset forfeiture. The practice allows police to confiscate private property if a person is assumed to be engaged in criminal activity and the person doesn’t need to be charged.
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