An Honest Insight on Our Relationship with Law Enforcement

On August 4th, a Los Angeles jury returned a 2.25 million dollar verdict against the County of Orange as a result of its finding that the policies of the Orange County Sheriff's Department had been a substantial contributing factor to the rape of a young woman by a Deputy Sheriff. How could that be so? Because the Deputy had raped another woman 2 months earlier and the Department was already aware of that accusation, but had taken no action to remove the Deputy from his patrol position.

As a defense attorney, one of the most difficult parts of my job is convincing prosecutors, judges and juries why the blind worship of law enforcement that has become so commonplace in this country is harmful to society. This is not an anti law enforcement rant. It is not mere lip service when I say there are lots and lots of good, honest hard working LEOs in this country, but it seems it has become an almost controversial statement to remind people that they are only human beings.

Instead, we are indoctrinated to treat the men and women in this profession (one with relatively low barriers to entry) as deities, something better than and above us mere civilians. We are told of how they risk their lives daily for us (though truth be told, being a police officer isn't even in the top 10 most dangerous jobs according to Bureau of Labor statistics), that we should afford them some higher level of respect and, more importantly, deference. Criticism of law enforcement is immediately demonized as something subversive and un-American.

What all of this sentiment ultimately leads to in my profession is jurors who are willing to afford dishonest officers a benefit of the doubt that they would never consider for any other witness. What it leads to more broadly in society is lawmakers who fall over themselves to vote for any legislation deemed pro law enforcement so that officers enjoy greater protection in their jobs, even when they have committed serious misdeeds, than almost any other profession. In fact, even when terminated from one agency for cause, the privacy protections officers enjoy in California often prevent the former agency from warning another department that the officer is seeking employment with so problem officers can often bounce from department to department with no one the wiser.

The response I often get when I voice these concerns is, "why should I care?" The answer, simply, is that when we as a society fail to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that law enforcement officers are human beings like the rest of us, flawed and capable of doing wrong and sometimes even evil, it is we as a society who pay the cost. I see this cost in courtrooms across California on a daily basis. At best, this attitude allows officers to routinely violate our Constitutional rights with almost no fear about repercussions. At worst, innocent people go to prison. At very worst, two women are raped, one preventably so and the taxpayers of Orange County will have to reallocate 2.25 million dollars that could have gone to a much better cause. Perhaps if it happens enough times, we can begin to look more honestly at our society's relationship with and attitude towards law enforcement.