I recently received a letter from a long-time supporter of the ICLU, gently chiding me for -as he saw it -taking cases to "embarrass" authorities rather than "to improve general civil liberties". For example, he said, I doubt there would be an ICLU investigation if a policeman stopped you for speeding, but let you go with only a..
I recently received a letter from a long-time supporter of the ICLU, gently chiding me for -as he saw it -taking cases to "embarrass" authorities rather than "to improve general civil liberties". For example, he said, I doubt there would be an ICLU investigation if a policeman stopped you for speeding, but let you go with only a warning."
Obviously, the reference was to our request that a special prosecutor review the case of the police officer who was involved in a recent, highly publicized incident. And the correspondence reminded me once again (as if a reminder were needed!) how difficult it can be for the ICLU to communicate accurately, even to our supporters, why we take the positions we do.
According to press accounts, the IPD officer in question was going 103 miles per hour. He was pulled over by a state trooper, who described the officer’s subsequent behavior as hostile and belligerent. The trooper attempted to take him into custody, at which point other IPD officers arrived on the scene and forcibly "rescued" their colleague. The state trooper filed a complaint with the Marion County prosecutor, who declined to press charges.
At that point, I think most of us ordinary folks had a reaction precisely opposite that of my correspondent. Most of us believed that if a private citizen had been apprehended going 103 miles per hour, had resisted arrest and called friends to our defense, we would — quite properly — have had the book thrown at us.
The prosecutor may have had perfectly legitimate grounds for his decision not to pursue the state trooper’s complaint. But there is an inherent conflict of interest whenever a prosecutor–any prosecutor–is asked to charge a member of his own police department. His or her success in court depends to a large extent upon the good will and support of those same people. In a very real sense, they are partners; if they do not enjoy a good working relationship, law enforcement overall suffers. The prosecutor is between the proverbial rock and hard place — if he pursues the charge too forcefully, he may damage an important working relationship; if he doesn’t, citizens may believe there is a double standard. The end result is a loss of respect for the justice system, and a cynicism that adversely affects the vast majority of conscientious, hardworking police officers.
Neither the ICLU nor the State Police are trying to "embarrass" anyone. We are trying to address a statewide problem. In the upcoming General Assembly, we will work with legislators to introduce a bill requiring that all charges against police be pursued by a prosecutor from another county. The result would be to relieve prosecutors of a real dilemma, and to restore public confidence that the laws are being applied equally and without favoritism or bias.
We believe such a law would improve both "general civil liberties" and public support for law enforcement authorities.