For Accountability Among Officers; Abolish The Police Bill of Rights

I don’t quite understand why so many people have been upset about the Pledge of Allegiance being recited in American public schools. Indoctrination of our youth has been a keystone to our values since day one. From teaching our youth that there’s a benevolent God who can snap his fingers and blow you up into a million little pieces at his whim if he doesn’t feel you are correctly worshiping him—but he loves you unconditionally. Or with cartoons like “School House Rocks,” which presents the political world in such an upbeat fashion that’s completely unrealistic. You know, a bill goes to the house, goes to the Senate, then is signed into law lickety-split. It’s never presented realistically. The reality is legislation goes to the house where it’s approved then stalls at the Senate because half of the Senate doesn’t accept a basic standard of reality, where it then goes to sub-committees to be argued until one of the parties destroys the filibuster and shoves the legislation through.

This level of indoctrination is the root cause as to how so many people can watch video after video of a police officer shooting—or any video in which terror and power go hand-in-hand—and find some way to justify the actions in the favor of law enforcement. We have tens of millions (if not more) of Americans who cannot fathom for a second that someone in law enforcement could do anything but be a “good guy.”

Written By: Anton Sawyer

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It’s completely factual to this slice of the American pie that if a police officer had to unload a full clip into the back of someone who was trying to flee, it was clearly because the suspect had done something they shouldn’t. Adding that the reason the suspect was trying to flee was that they knew they were guilty of a crime. It’s also those who live in an all-or-nothing world where if you even question law enforcement about any tactics they use as being equal to using the American flag as kindling. In reality, most of us who support law enforcement oversight are really doing so because of one reason: we bought into the “School House Rock Reality” that no American is above the law and is bound by the same Constitutional Rights as those in uniform. All we really want is to see those who abuse their powers be held accountable for their actions, nothing more. Most American’s don’t want to see the police defunded completely. Most Americans are not in favor of the idea of completely gutting any and every law enforcement task force. We just want to know that we aren’t going to be pepper-sprayed, shot, harassed, or any of the like when confronted by the police. Most just want to know that a selected group of their fellow American’s haven’t just been given a license to kill with zero possibility of repercussions if they do so. The first step in this is by removing the statewide Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.

According to critics, for more than four decades, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights has been one of the biggest obstructions to police accountability, hindering investigations and shielding misconduct from public scrutiny in whichever states still use them. Before it was repealed in April of 2021, Maryland was known for having the most “generous” (favorable to the police) Bill of Rights in the nation. Shortly after enacting it in 1974, fifteen other states followed in adopting their versions of a police bill of rights. It didn’t take long before the shields being given by these laws would bear fruit. With these changes including not having to release any of the information to media, having up to a week after an incident before you would talk to an investigator (allowing everyone to get their stories straight), in essence, a completely different set of rules, the deck was incredibly stacked for the boys in blue.

By 1977 a Howard County police chief abandoned his call for public disciplinary hearings, citing the new law. A court ruled that an officer who was fired after using excessive force had to be reinstated and given back pay. That same year, a human relations commission in Prince George’s County was told it could not investigate police brutality allegations. In a sick twist to cause-and-effect, one of the states that adopted these Rights was Wisconsin. This is the same state in which the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August 2020 sparked protests. Because of the shielding from the same due process procedures allowed by their Bill of Rights, during those protests, two more people were shot. As the decades progressed, so did the brazen attitude of law enforcement.

Bowling Green State University released a study called “On-Duty Shootings: Police Officers Charged with Murder or Manslaughter, 2005-2019,” which showed some concerning numbers. “Since the beginning of 2005 (through June 24, 2019), there have been 104 nonfederal sworn law enforcement officers with the general powers of arrest (e.g., police officers, deputy sheriffs, state troopers, etc.) who have been arrested for murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting where the officer shot and killed someone at incidents throughout the United States. Of those 104 officers, to date, only 35 have been convicted of a crime resulting from the on-duty shooting (15 by guilty plea, 20 by jury trial, and none convicted by a bench trial).” The report continued, “In the cases where an officer has been convicted, it is often for a lesser offense. Only 4 officers have been convicted of murder (there were four officers whose murder convictions were overturned, but the officers were later convicted of federal crimes arising out of the same incident).”

We see it time and time again, when those who are given power without proper regulations, will never fail to disappoint in their actions. They will push it to whatever boundaries they can. If none are set, then it will never stop. There is hope, however. In June 2020, over strong objections from police unions, the New York state repealed a law that had kept police disciplinary records secret since 1976. The law known as 50-a, shielded police records from being released, thereby adding an additional layer of protection from accountability. And as I mentioned before, the Maryland Law Enforcement Bill of Rights was repealed in 2021. When it came to that repeal, Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan—who was a fervent supporter of the Bill Of Rights—made the most accurate statement of the day when his veto got the override treatment by the state legislature. “[The repeal] will result in great damage to police recruitment and retention, posing significant risks to public safety throughout our state.” Not feeling like they have the confidence of the citizens they are charged with has been a common reason as to why the numbers of active law enforcement officers have been dropping as of late.

According to the New York Post, more than 5,300 officers have either retired or left the force in 2020, a 75% increase from 2019 when 3,053 officers departed. This is not an isolated incident. In Kansas City, MO president of the FOP Brad Lemon said in May of 2021, “We’re going to lose about 100 to 110 officers this year which is a huge increase over any other year we’ve ever had.” In the outskirts of Denver in Aurora, Colorado the number of officers who left the Aurora Police Department increased 61% from 2019 to 2020, according to data gathered by human resources. A former Aurora police officer who recently quit spoke with local news affiliate Denver7 on conditions on anonymity said of the Aurora Police Department, “There is not support for us." She also blames the high turnover rate on faulty policies that fail to protect officers.

And there’s the rub; how do you protect police if a legitimate mistake is made that has a tragic outcome, and knowing when it is a mistake and not an abuse of power? Police have the toughest job on the planet, and I get that. They are tasked with making split decisions that could result in life or death. Because of this, I understand the need to allow them to do their job on their terms and trust their judgment. But they are human. As we have seen time and time again, when left unchecked, power runs amok and people die. However, until this balancing act has been perfected, there has been too much blood on too many hands to not err on the side of caution at this point.

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