Sunday, September 03, 2006

Respecting the police

I was deeply saddened by the death of Trooper Longobardo. He died in the line of duty attempting to apprehend an escaped criminal.

Readers of my blog will often see comments from me critical of prosecutors, and sometimes of police as well. While I will not hold back in my criticism of police or prosecutorial misconduct when I see it, that should not be misread to imply any dislike of the police.

One of my best friends is a New York State Trooper. I've known him for 20+ years, and I know that could have been him. I know his wife and his children, and I know what his loss would mean to them, not to mention what it would mean to the rest of his family and his friends - including me.

I deal with police officers more than most people. I see Troopers in Court a few times a week, and deputies once in a while. Occasionally I cross-examine police at hearings and/or trials. It's easy to perceive us as being on opposite sides. In reality we're all serving different roles with the same purpose - making sure justice is served. They are mostly good people trying to do the right thing. I disagree with them on occasion but I have little doubt that the vast majority mean well the vast majority of the time.

Police officers have very difficult and dangerous jobs. It's not that their work is that way all the time. They have easy days as well. But just about every police officer has those moments when they look death square in the face. And they have to deal with the most unsavory characters on a pretty regular basis.

My main concern related to policing is not the inevitable misconduct that goes along with putting humans in difficult spots, but rather the policies we (as a democracy) put upon our police to enforce. I'm an outspoken critic of the drug war not just because it's a failure, but also because of the situations it forces police into - situations that tempt them to lie, cheat and steal as well as situations that put them in grave danger. I serve as General Counsel, pro bono (for free), to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of primarily retired (but with some active duty) law enforcement officers who oppose the drug war for these reasons.

Meanwhile, the focus on speeding tickets and DWI enforcement is a horrendous waste of the skills and training we invest in our police - turning them into trolls under bridges.
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