In Houston, a police officer with 35 substantiated complaints of misconduct He was the main witness in a drunk driving case that led to a 25-year prison sentence. That defendant was later acquitted.
In Baltimore, the Attorney General’s Office requested that Nearly 800 convictions are voided Because they relied on testimony or investigations by officers on charges of misconduct against them.
These are not rare cases. Combine that with the growing national interest in the many victims of police violence, and it’s no wonder that trust in the police exists in low record.
We know from first-hand experience that the vast majority of police officers work hard and serve their communities with honor. But we also recognize that officers with a history of misconduct are often allowed to remain on the force — and continue to participate in arrests. Without a process to track police misconduct, prosecutors often do not know when to rely on testimonies from suspicious officers, undermining their trials and the credibility of their cases.
Prosecutors should be better informed about police officers who have engaged in misconduct to prevent those officers from getting involved in their cases. This is the only way to prevent them from tainting the pursuit of justice in prosecutions, while, just as important, sending a message to police departments that they will suffer consequences if questionable officers are allowed to remain on the job. This can be an important tool in accountability when other discipline methods cannot or cannot be followed.
As part of the George Floyd Police Justice Act, federal lawmakers have proposed creating a national registry of police misconduct. but Bipartisan talks over the measure have stalled newly. We urge lawmakers to keep pushing for registration, but attorneys general across the United States don’t have to wait for a federal database. They can work now.
Prosecutors are uniquely placed to monitor and investigate dishonesty, bias and other harmful behavior by police officers. Equally important, plaintiffs have a legal and ethical obligation to report to defense counsel when any evidence witness—including a police witness—has credibility issues. This includes incidents that may not be recorded in the national registry proposed by the George Floyd Police Justice Act, such as when a judge previously determined that the officer was unreliable.
Unfortunately, many prosecutors do not track police misconduct in an organized and systematic way. Instead, prosecutors share information with each other about police officers through word of mouth and narration, if they share it at all. In addition, some prosecutors’ offices do not collect disciplinary information from local police departments. This approach threatens to pursue plaintiffs in cases involving officers with credibility problems without even being aware of the officers’ history — let alone revealing that information to the defense.
One way that prosecutors can effectively fulfill their ethical obligations and hold officers accountable is to maintain office-wide databases of police officers whose credibility has been questioned. A small but growing number of prosecutors—including those in Ramsay County, Minnesota, and Bernalillo County, New Mexico—are creating police disclosure lists (also called “Brady lists”, “Giglio lists” or “don’t-do lists”). Communication”) that helps prosecutors demonstrate to their communities that they are independent of the police and take steps to ensure the integrity of their cases by exposing problematic behavior to the defence.
To help prosecutors develop their police disclosure lists, the Institute for Prosecution Innovation at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice recently published its data. Police Misconduct Procedure Manual. The guide details 11 recommendations for creating and maintaining police disclosure lists that are fair to defendants and protect police due process rights.
For example, prosecutors working in criminal cases do not have to accept the participation of police who have engaged in misconduct simply because police departments are unwilling or unable to remove them from the force. Instead, prosecutors should use their police disclosure lists to identify high-profile officers and prevent them from testifying. Prosecutors can decline to prosecute cases involving officers with a history of serious wrongdoing altogether. These simple actions send a message to the police and the community that official misconduct has dire consequences.
Prosecutors will also benefit from access to police disclosure lists to neighboring jurisdictions. In-state police officers may move to another department when misconduct issues arise. Plaintiffs must, when legally feasible, agree to share their list with other plaintiffs in their state — and beyond — to prevent a police officer moving to a nearby jurisdiction from evading accountability.
The deep mistrust between the public and law enforcement must be repaired. Elected prosecutors can be at the forefront of this movement by systematically informing defendants when their cases involve officers with a history of misconduct, and by showing their constituents that they will find ways to hold the police accountable.