Another Conversation with my Frustrated Friend: Bad Apples

speedy trial PA“Patrick you must have seen the video! It was horrifying!”

Yes, I have seen the video, and yes, I was appalled.

“I couldn’t believe he shot the guy in the back! While he was running away no less! How could anyone watch that and not cringe?”

You’re right, it was indeed painful to watch. (We are speaking, of course, of the Officer in North Charleston, SC., who shot a fleeing suspect in the back, multiple times.) It is tragic when lives are lost due to the actions– or in-actions– of someone in  a position of public trust who fails in that duty, or worse, abuses their authority.

“Doesn’t it make your blood boil? I mean, some of these victims of police violence could be someone you otherwise would have represented in court on charges that don’t carry the death penalty! Instead they are dead!”

Ah, there’s the rub. I represent people in a system that requires a certain amount of civility in order to bring about satisfactory results. I must maintain civil relations with the police in order to perform my job and effectively represent my clients. In that regard, I’m very fortunate to be in Pittsburgh, though. Our police force is one of the better-trained forces in the nation.

“Really? How so?”

The State has minimum requirements and standards for the hiring of Police Officers. Pittsburgh actually has much more comprehensive standards and training for Officers, including ongoing community relations training that goes far beyond what is required.

“What about cases like Johnny Gammage, or that one kid who got beat up?”

The fact that one has to go back in History pretty far to cite a particular case in Pittsburgh is actually an example of the improved policing tactics and community relations Pittsburgh police have been focusing on. And this goes back to before the current news cycle and Ferguson, MO. Believe me, as a former Prosecutor, I realize the implications of a video showing a Police Officer not only gunning down a fleeing suspect, but also planting evidence to exonerate himself.

“Doesn’t it bother you that you yourself may have had cases where a defendant claimed evidence was planted, or proper procedures were not followed, but didn’t have the good fortune to have someone video the act?”

If I started dwelling on that, I’d go insane, my friend. You want to know who really gets boiling mad about situations like this? District Attorneys. Police Commanders. City Council members. Mayors. Judges. That one video, of that one incident, can undermine the dedication and hard work of literally thousands of Police Officers. It can actually damage existing cases, especially cases involving the Officer in question. It opens the door to question nearly every testimony ever given by that Officer in his entire career.

“I never really thought about it that way. I mean, we see the Police rally around their own so often…”

You didn’t see that in this case at all, did you?

“No, they filed charges pretty quick.”

Look, I’m in no way defending the actions of ‘bad apples’, however, I am suggesting the News does not show you the hundreds, even thousands of stops conducted by police each day that don’t result in a suspect death or civil rights violation. These events that do occur get repeated and magnified in the media swirl of public lamentations and accusations, but none of that will count in court. In court, we deal with provable facts, not conjecture.

“Are you saying there’s not a problem?”

Absolutely not. It’s clear from the sheer number of instances that there is a problem, and cities should be taking a look at Pittsburgh and how our police force is proactive in training Officers to deal with the public more effectively. The fact is, it makes the Police work easier in the pursuit of any case when they have the support of the community. They are more likely to get people who will cooperate as witnesses, etc.

“What about police wearing cameras?”

You know, it’s an irony that body camera recordings mostly exonerate the actions of the Officer and not the suspect. In cities where they’ve been used, as much as 97% of complaints against Police are refuted by the video evidence. So even though it seems like cameras would be a God send for me as a Defense Attorney, they most often work in favor of the police.

“Isn’t it true that reports of police violence actually decline when they wear cameras? That would make it seem they cause the officers to show restraint..?”

Certainly that would be a factor to a bad apple type of Cop, but most Officers would simply be doing their job according to departmental procedure and it would be recorded as such. You have to consider the other side of the coin, which is, people tend to behave themselves better when they know the police are recording the encounter. Suddenly, making false accusations, or attempting to provoke an Officer, are quickly revealed as falsehoods. That can go very badly for a defendant in court. A Judge is not likely to look kindly on a defendant who is lying about their treatment at the hands of Police. Conversely, all the Judges I am acquainted with would be hopping mad if a Police Officer were caught planting evidence or lying under oath.

“Our own Police Chief was pictured holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign and caught some flack for it…”

Honestly, Chief Cameron really  impressed me when he did that. It was an unmistakable message that racism of the kind we saw in Ferguson will not be tolerated on his watch. Another example of why I say police departments in other cities would do well to take a cue from Pittsburgh.

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