It doesn’t take long to locate a story on the internet about some cop abusing his authority and power on a defenseless civilian. Just go here to get started. We’ve run articles recently about cops tasering elderly or disabled people, using excessive force, arresting people for no apparent reason other than “suspicious activity” or some other made up charge. As we read about these incidents, which are happening more and more, we want to know that by the end of the story, the cop ends up in jail. We only want police officers to be subjected to the same law and in the same way as any other American citizen. But how many times does that actually happen?
A truly bad cop might get fired, transferred or suspended. In other words, a “slap on the wrist.” So, why is it that they seem to get away with a whole slew of crimes that would otherwise put you or me in jail?
Quite simply, police unions have acted on the notion that all people are equal, but some are more equal than others. Since the 70’s, there have been efforts to enact legislation granting law enforcement their own Police Officers’ Bill of Rights (POBOR). A Congressional act never passed, but police unions around the country didn’t give up. States now have their own POBOR’s based on the original federal legislation proposed in 1971 by the former New York Democrat Representative Mario Biaggi, who was a cop before he was a Congressman. So, cops literally have their own set of rules that protect them from the laws that they’re allegedly paid to enforce. Mike Riggs of Reason highlights some of their special treatment.
- the officer gets a “cooling off” period before he has to respond to any questions.
- the officer under investigation is privy to the names of his complainants and their testimony against him before he is ever interrogated.
- the officer under investigation is to be interrogated “at a reasonable hour,” with a union member present.
- the officer can only be questioned by one person during his interrogation.
- the officer can be interrogated only “for reasonable periods,” which “shall be timed to allow for such personal necessities and rest periods as are reasonably necessary.”
- the officer under investigation cannot be “threatened with disciplinary action” at any point during his interrogation. If he is threatened with punishment, whatever he says following the threat cannot be used against him.
These are some of their entitlements only after their department has decided to pursue an investigation based on a complaint from a civilian or another police officer. If the crime is egregious enough, and the department heads decide to investigate, they have to inform the officer and his union. Reason points out that different states have different rules pertaining to what happens afterwards. Most, however, include the following additional benefits:
“Their departments cannot publicly acknowledge that the officer is under investigation; if the officer is cleared of wrongdoing or the charges are dropped, the department may not publicly acknowledge that the investigation ever took place, or reveal the nature of the complaint. The officer cannot be questioned or investigated by ‘non-government agents,’ which means no civilian review boards. If the officer is suspended as a result of the investigation, he must continue to receive full pay and benefits until his case is resolved. In most states, the charging department must subsidize the accused officer’s legal defense. A violation of any of the above rights can result in dismissal—not of the officer, but of the charges against him.”
Not only do police officers have special privileges, there is also not much incentive for departments to prosecute or even investigate their own. The only way a bad cop is going to face real penalties is if a district attorney or an outside law enforcement agency takes up the case, and that is not likely to happen.