I have recently had occasion to be interviewed as to my thoughts on the potential for law enforcement abuse in regard to the indiscriminate use of traffic stops within Johnson County.
Referenced was the history of misconduct leveled against those within the Greenwood Police Department and elsewhere throughout Johnson County as a whole. Specifically, mentioned was the resignation of a police officer in Greenwood with connections to the Mayor who had been compelled to relinquish his police powers.
I had responded that I do not believe that Johnson County is any worse or better in regard to the retention on its respective police forces of individuals not cut out to hold police powers. It is my belief that the more instructive issue to be examined is the response of respective police or other law enforcement agencies upon discovering any unlawful conduct on the part of its membership.
In years past, counties throughout the state have been rightly scrutinized in relation to the specific classes of individuals who have been targeted for police stops. Specifically, the targeting of African Americans, Hispanics or other minority groups had been examined and in some instances proven unjustified.
I believe today, in response to the prejudicial application of laws within the context of traffic stops, Indiana counties have done an adequate job in significantly reducing such misconduct through police hiring practice as well as enunciated policies that have expressed a no tolerance policy in regard to discretionary police practices that had allowed prejudicial police stops to continue unabated through the years.
In today’s world I believe that indiscriminate police misconduct is still a pervasive problem. However, I believe that the majority of unlawful traffic stops today are not nearly as readily motivated through prejudice against particular ethnic groups but by inadequate screening practices that have allowed unfit individuals to have the power to conduct lawful traffic stops among any and all members of the general public.
Whether through personal vendetta, envy or jealousy of a vehicle coming across their path, or intolerance for a taxpayer’s questioning of why a stop was initiated, unfit police officers have the power to affect anyone and significantly erode public confidence in our local judicial system.
Whether through the hiring and/or retention of those psychologically not qualified for public service, to those who have demonstrated a pattern of abusive conduct fueled by alcohol and/or drug addiction, law enforcement on the whole is no better or worse than society at large in possessing members within its ranks capable of demonstrating actions that run counter to the public interest.
Recognizing this reality is a critical component to effectively maintaining the most ethical police practices possible. It is my belief that only through the ongoing leadership by example among those in charge of law enforcement practice within both the prosecutor’s office as well as respective police agencies will Johnson County allow itself to be spared from newsworthy reports that cast the law enforcement community here in an unenviable light.
Most importantly, it is the role of experienced defense counsel to fully discredit the credibility of such officers with a history of misconduct through the defense of prosecutions that they have caused to be initiated. In this manner, lost prosecutions can become the most effective public weapon in extracting a legal cost among prosecutors who are willing to vouch for the testimony of officers with a history of misconduct.