Trying times test the foundations and principles that form the basis of our society. Providing a forum for the viewpoints of those with whom we vehemently disagree is a foundation of our Constitution. The same reverence is afforded providing all people due process-at a bare minimum as notice and an opportunity to be heard.
Although many officers have no protection, due process for others is generally set by ordinances, policies, rules, or regulations of their employers. Those rights allow the officers to learn the nature of allegations against them and have their voices heard prior to losing their jobs or pay.
In the context of protests focused on the patent unfairness of labeling a segment of society with a broad brush, law enforcement officers have all been adjudicated guilty villains by many of the same people claiming to seek justice. Irrespective of the good, positive efforts of any single officer or law enforcement agency, badges have become the targets of vile verbal attacks, false indictments, and in some cases deadly ambushes. Now some officers are being denied their basic constitutional rights, and the ultimate losers will be the citizenry.
Law enforcement officers, like other public employees, can be and are subjected to intense investigations in response to allegations of wrongdoing. United States Supreme Court precedent allows law enforcement agencies to require officers to cooperate with any investigation. Through those investigations, agencies are able to ferret out the dangers of inadequate training, bad culture, ineffective applicant screening, poor equipment conditions, and other missteps, mistakes, and malfeasance. The results and the statements are available to the public under Georgia law. Throughout the United States, the overwhelming majority of law enforcement agencies perform these investigations in a professional manner, adjust their protocols and policies, and remove bad actors from their ranks. However, the rapid termination of a law enforcement officer deprives the agency of the opportunity to perform such investigations.
Amid demands for immediate termination, cooler heads must prevail. The law requires any use of force to be judged from the perspective of the officer using the force. The standard is a reasonable belief. Therefore, the immediate termination of an officer robs the public of a view into the mind of the officer. This is well known in police and governmental leadership. This is why anyone who advocates and promotes the rapid termination of an officer should be the subject of scrutiny. The primary focus and question in that analysis is simple: why are you afraid to let the truth come out?
While we are asking, what is this new standard for law enforcement officers amidst the current cries for reform? Clairvoyance that a person holding a weapon, or threatening to have one, is merely making idle threats? Are officers required to subject themselves to great bodily harm to allow a person to resist a lawful arrest? Is the average officer now expected to give an assailant the first shot- sometimes literally- in every confrontation? If these are the standards, please tell us where we can find these wonder cops who do not feel pain, never get scared, have the reflexes of a superhero, and possess the patience of a saint.
In a world where officers are expected to cure the ills of poverty, homelessness, lack of mental health treatment, sex trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence, all the while protecting themselves and those around them from violent attacks, where is the consideration for the fact that behind every badge is a human heart. They feel, they grieve, they mourn, they strive to be the best example of their noble profession, and every one of them wants more than anything to survive their next shift.
Deadly encounter after deadly encounter with law enforcement officers begins with resistance to lawful commands. Long after the facts fade from the headlines, the videos of the officer reacting to violent resistance survive in our collective consciousness. The few and extremely rare instances of unlawful force brought at the hands of officers who should never have worn the badge become lumped together with appropriate uses of force that solely became necessary because a citizen refused lawful commands or violently resisted arrest.
If we are holding officers responsible to faithfully fulfill their duties, elected officials must be held accountable to provide due process to society’s public servants. Citizens also bear a responsibility to redress their grievances against officers in court, not on the street. Our public has a right to demand the best police force and services possible, and those who take the oath to protect and defend the lives of strangers deserve at a minimum the constitutional rights they are expected to extend to others.
Lance LoRusso is a Cobb County defense attorney.