This flaunting of both departmental rules and federal law on the part of local police departments is the clearest indication that they consider themselves beyond the law they are sworn to enforce. And why shouldn’t they? The systems by which they are supposed to be held accountable are intolerably weak, where they are not broken altogether. Where are the stiff fines for the police chiefs who ignore the requirements of federal law? What good are departmental sanctions when officers get filmed blithely using techniques that those sanctions supposedly banned two decades ago? It has become plain that, in far too many cases and in far too many places, local police departments have made of themselves what Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776 concerning the use of British troops to enforce the law in the colonies — “independent of and superior to the civil power.” Once there, these departments operate with impunity according to the informal dynamics of American law and American justice that were born when the country was. And, among other things, that means more Eric Garners and Michael Browns and Tamir Rices, the latter a 12-year old shot down by a cop in Cleveland who’d been hired anyway despite the fact that responsibilities of being a cop in a suburb were too much for him. Makes me wanna holler, too.
I think we need a special prosecutor’s office in every state whose sole job is to deal with and investigate officer misconduct, shootings, and accusations of abuse of power by any police officer within his jurisdiction.
This office should be independent of any other state or local law enforcement agency or attorney’s general office, so we no longer have cases where a prosecutor who works closely with a police department is also the one tasked with deciding whether or not to take a case to trial.
And I think we need to remove the decision of whether or not to indict a police officer from a Grand Jury and put it into the office of that special prosecutor.
I think badge cams are still a good idea worth considering as well, but it’s clear that even when there is video of a homicide by a police officer that it is not a panacea.