High-profile cases of police abuse, in New York and across the US, in the last decade have put the spotlight on police conduct. Along with that conversation has come how to hold law enforcement accountable for their wrongful actions. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done for reasons that we will explore here.
The issue of police union contracts, which are written to favor the police and make accountability less transparent, is front and center in the discussion. Police, including in big cities like New York where they can generate lots of political power through their organization. Let’s get into why it’s so hard to prove police misconduct due to specific clauses in police union contracts.
Disqualified misconduct complaints
Police know the rules better than victims who suffer at the hands of the bad actors in the system. Accordingly, they know that if they can just run out the clock on a police misconduct investigation, the complaint will be dismissed. Similarly, misconduct complaints that are not immediately submitted are often thrown out.
Protecting Officers From Immediate Interrogation
As any investigator knows, collecting evidence, including eyewitness testimony, as soon as possible after a possible crime is a key to getting to the truth and resolving the issue in a just manner.
However, police union contracts prevent officers involved in or suspected of misconduct from being subjected to immediate interrogation, often requiring many days before an event before they are eligible to be interviewed.
requiring the city to foot the bill for police misconduct
Many police union contracts require the city they work for to pay for any damages resulting from police misconduct. This creates a disincentive for the local government to prosecute police crimes.
Given the many forms of police misconduct, this creates a situation where lots of crimes go unpunished.
We must look at reforming police union contracts in order to truly foster a political and legal environment that holds police accountable for misconduct.