So lying in bed last night I was thinking a lot about my own experiences in law enforcement and all the stuff going on today with good cops and bad cops. I have come to the conclusion that the issues with law enforcement are mostly of our own making. There are a couple of issues, but one really deals with society as a whole. there is at least half, and I am pretty sure that is an understatement, of the country that would rather support some rough and tough cowboy rather than the nerdy Dudley do right. That is, at least, until they get jammed up with the law.
So many cops now want to be so much more like Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry) and not enough like Sgt. Joe Friday. The truth is that Harry was exactly what people are fighting today, a cop who has preconceptions and beliefs. He always thinks he is right and will do whatever is necessary to get what he wants and/or sees as justice. He doesn’t care about Miranda, he doesn’t care about killing. He doesn’t even care about authority himself, but he expects everyone to respect his authority.
Then There is Detective Sergeant Joe Friday. His motto is literally, “just the facts”. He only wants to hear the facts of the case. He wants to make as objective of conclusions he can when investigating. Friday understands his role as a detective and leaves innocence or guilt to the judicial system.
So many officer’s today loose sight of the fact that they don’t determine innocence or guilt. They in essence do exactly what a special counsel does for congress in an impeachment proceeding. They are SUPPOSED to investigate every angle and lead, then prepare a report which they then take to a prosecutor who makes an initial determination of probable cause. If he agrees there is probable cause to make an arrest of someone, he creates an affidavit for application of warrant which includes a probable cause statement from the police officer and takes it to a judge asking for a warrant. There is also the option in some jurisdictions as well as the federal system to take it before a grand jury to get an indictment which is simply a formal charge which begins court proceedings headed toward trial. These methods are highly flawed, but that is a topic for another post.
Now if a police officer feels the crime is serious enough and the individual they believe who committed it is a flight risk or a danger to the community they can often make a warrant-less arrest and hold someone for 20-48 hours (depending on jurisdiction) while they get a warrant from judge.
The point of all this is that a police officer is not someone who is supposed to decide if someone did something or not. Many officers now decide who committed a crime before they have really even investigated anything. The other difference between these two fictional cops is the use of force. Both men are technically detectives. In San Francisco the term of Harry’s day was Inspector. LAPD to my knowledge always used the term detective. Detectives don’t often have as much need to use force on the job as beat cops. That never stopped Harry. He is all about using his authority via force and pulling out his big .44 Magnum revolver every chance he gets. As a society we think violence is cool. I see and hear people all the time making fun of people who are nerdy or geeky or simply are more about knowledge than being physical. Then they love those who assert themselves with guns or do a million other things which are considered aggressive and assertive.
Ask yourself though, if these two men were real police officers today, which do you think would have a better record of finding the actual perpetrator of crimes? Which would have helped prosecutors have a higher conviction rate? Which would have helped prosecutors put more innocent people in jail? Which is more likely to racial profile and be unfair to minorities? To me the answer is quite obvious.
Police are part of the justice system and it is important that they focus more on the facts than their own biases and personality. Everyone has bias, everyone has their own personality which affects how they live their life. It is important for police officers not allow these things to affect their investigations. AND, they certainly shouldn’t let bias or personal issues affect their use of force.