Posts Tagged ‘public safety’

According to an article from the Syracuse Post Standard and, New York State has announced it will offer grants to law enforcement agencies for the purchase of equipment need to record police interrogations.  Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announced the availability of the funding on July 15.  Recording interrogations, the Governor said, would prevent wrongful convictions and protect officers from false accusations.  In his words:

“Fairness and integrity form the foundation of our justice system and New York state is committed to providing local law enforcement with the resources necessary to improve the effectiveness of the process,” Cuomo said in a news release. “Wrongful convictions not only harm the innocent, but they allow the actual perpetrators of crime to remain free. The new equipment that will result from this funding will improve the strength of New York’s criminal justice system, making all New Yorkers safer as a result.”

What’s interesting to notice is how the issue is framed in terms of public safety and the integrity of the system.  Yes, recording will prevent the catastrophe of convicting the innocent, but at least as important, convicting an innocent person leaves the real predator on the street, able to kill or rape again.  And the thrust of the idea is to bolster the “fairness and integrity” of the system, because wrongful convictions eat away at both.

Readers, does New York State have mandatory standards, or any standards, for the recording of confessions?  Does your police department record interrogations?  The article states that “345 law enforcement agencies in 58 of the 62 counties statewide video record suspect interrogations, according to the governor’s office,” and supplies a partial list.

For those who want clarity on how the Miranda warnings, and the government’s use of the “public safety” exception, here’s my interview on WESA FM Public Radio on the program Essential Pittsburgh.  This wide-ranging discussion allowed host Paul Guggenheimer and I to thoroughly explore all the aspects of the Miranda warnings.  How it is actually used by police?  Does the warning actually stop people from talking to the police, undermining efforts to prosecute the guilty?  And how it might impact the prosecution of the Boston bombing case?

In the days since the federal government’s announcement that they would not read the Boston bombing suspect the Miranda warnings, under the “public safety” exception, I’ve had some conversations with some acquaintances — all reasonably bright, aware people.  I’ve asked them what they thought would happen to the bomber in the courts if the government did not read the suspect his rights.  The unanimous reply: the Miranda failure means he’ll be freed because some court will let him “walk on this technicality.”  Those conversations, the uninformed media coverage of the issue, and the willingness of politicians of both parties to twist the law for their own political gain are what motivated me to write an op-ed for yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and to discuss the issue on the radio.

We’ve seen it before: a scandal breaks in an American police department over excessive force, racial profiling, or unlawful searches or stops and frisks.  The federal government threatens to sue unless the police department makes specific changes.  But opponents argue that the changes the feds want will keep police from doing their jobs: fighting crime.   The same argument is occurring now, in Oakland, California, with foes of reform saying that implementing the federal demands will keep police from fighting crime.

These assertions are simply untrue.  They are excuses to avoid the hard and necessary work of reform.

For almost two decades, the U.S. government has had a new way to confront problems in police departments.  In 1994, Congress enacted the federal “pattern or practice” law, 42 U.S.C. 14141, which allows the government to step in where an investigation shows that police are engaged in a pattern of depriving citizens of their constitutional rights.  A bad incident, or even a few of them, aren’t enough; it has to be a regular practice.  Where the federal government has stepped in — in Los Angeles, in Cincinnati, in Pittsburgh, and in other cities — there has been resistance, but eventually a package of reforms was agreed upon and put in the form of a federal court order called a consent decree.

That is where Oakland and its police department stand now: poised to moved toward reform under the proposed consent decree.  But the agreement has attracted the typical opposition argument: police and law enforcement resources will be absorbed with compliance and paperwork, and real crime fighting will be neglected.

Not so, says Samuel Walker.  Walker, professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Nebraska and the foremost scholar of police accountability in the U.S., points out that policing that follows the law and the Constitution actually enhances public safety in important ways.  In his Sept. 26 article in the East Bay Express, Walker explains why public safety actually requires police officers to obey the law as they enforce it.

Is keeping crime under control forgotten in all this? No. Police experts from around the country know that constitutional policing is a necessary element of effective crime control. For more than 25 years, the community policing movement has maintained that controlling crime and disorder requires the police to have the trust of the people they serve. The police rely on neighborhood residents to provide information as victims or witnesses to crimes, and provide valuable insights into conditions in their area.  Trust and cooperation are lost when the police engage in unconstitutional and unprofessional conduct…[Even a] single incident of police abuse has long legs and travels far. People not only do not trust the police, but, at its worst, police misconduct also generates fear of the police. Effective crime-fighting cannot work in such an environment.

The resistance to change argument here has a familiar ring for readers of Failed Evidence:  change is too expensive, and it will interfere with getting the bad guys.  It doesn’t wash with regard to science, and it doesn’t wash here, either.