Policing the Cops

| August 19, 2002

Policing the Cops - Time for a Police Complaint Database

The number of law enforcement personnel who have been convicted of crimes has grown five-fold since the 1990s. Police brutality, in particular, has become a household phrase. But as citizens increasingly worry about protecting themselves from the very people who are supposed to be protecting them, they are at a loss for constructive ways to do so. The major block? Citizens have no way to access complaints against police officers, Joe Loya reports in Pacific News Service, so they remain fairly uninformed.

Communities nationwide have begun to speak up, creating civilian review boards to investigate complaints against police behavior. But these boards have proven generally ineffective. A better solution, Loya argues, would be the creation of a comprehensive public database that logs citizen complaints against police officers. Such a database could identify patterns of violence by law enforcement officials and draw attention to 'problem officers.'

Police departments claim they do their own investigations, and that information gathered on police officer's records by outside sources could be abused. They also content that unproven allegations could soil the integrity of officers. Yet police enforcement often puts public safety ahead of privacy rights when making drug busts based on hearsay, and have shown little concern about inaccuracies on Megan's Law lists.

Until police departments find better ways to curb the violence of their officers, many citizens would feel better being informed of the records of their local officials. When law enforcement groups know they are being held accountable by the public they serve, they might be more careful.
--Rebecca Wienbar
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